Thursday, May 31, 2012

Looking Back and Laughing

Sorry for the short hiatus these last couple weeks. It's been a fairly busy time, with being a single dad this week and fighting the lines last week to get my National ID here. The government requires every resident in the UAE to get a national ID by May 31st or else you pay a fine everyday after that. True to character, I waited until the last minute and had to wait in line for what felt like 2 days to perform 10 minutes worth of work. Anyway, back to the blog....

I've decided to change things up with the blog and no longer provide you with sleeping material. I am not going to waste your time with long drawn out explanations of things. I am going to give a brief explanation of the project and post it. Done and Done. So here is the project this week....

If you remember last year, I submitted concept art for Smiley and Grim to a contest. Needless to say, it didn't work out. So for the halibut ("hell of it" who aren't familiar with my lingo) I decided to re-do that project using the knowledge and skills I acquired since then. Boy was I rough around the edges back then. It's amazing how much one can improve by drawing regularly!! I can't wait to be able to look back on this new one and laugh at how poor this is! Here it is 1.0 vs. 2.0

Smiley and Grim 2011 or 1.0
Smiley and Grim 2012 or 2.0

Monday, April 30, 2012

Page 1 and The Art of Storytelling

So for the past 5 years, a friend of mine and I came up with the idea to start a graphic novel, and for the past 4 years or so, life has gotten in the way of actually doing anything tangible toward that end. However, this move to Dubai has afforded me the opportunity to actually put in a real effort and for the last 4 months, I've completely invested myself into learning about how comics are made. The hardest part to grasp is also the most essential: how to tell a story visually.

Perhaps one of the greatest comic storytellers of all-time was Jack Kirby. Stan Lee was recently quoted in an interview, "Jack Kirby, the great thing about him was, every panel was dramatic. He wasn’t the greatest artist in the world — I mean, he wasn’t da Vinci — but he could make panels look so interesting that you couldn’t wait to turn the page and see the next one." Unlike the wooden characters in comics of that time,  no page was wasted with Kirby, every panel was overflowing with energy and drama. It's safe to say that, comics (and perhaps action movies) are what they are today, because of Kirby.  Take a look at the below fight sequence to understand what I mean:

Even by today's standards, this sequence is impeccable. The action floes from one panel to the next. The reader is drawn in and captivated by the action on the page. Let me remind you that no one was doing anything like this at the time! For readers, it must have been mind blowing. As an artist, I am still in awe of this ability. I share this because I have recently completed the first of our graphic novel and I can tell you from experience that visual storytelling is hard goddamn work! So when you go out and enjoy the Avengers movie this weekend, take a moment to thank Jack Kirby and all of his awesomeness!

Before I show you page one, let me give you some background on this graphic novel entitled Smiley and Grim. My friend who write the script describes the comic as this:  

"This is Pulp Fiction meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On a daily basis the average person can run afoul of angels, leprechauns, elementals, the avatars of gods, demons, vampires, and the rest of the lot. Smiley and Grim get paid absurd amounts of money to deal with these and everything in between. They live and work by a code - a strange, mysterious code - which serves to make them the best there is in a world where good is relative to everything. 

Smiley and Grim may very well be the linchpin holding together a world where the gods live in luxury penthouses and floating mansions, serving as the storm that sweeps down whenever the atmosphere between godly factions become strained or deific pressures get out of hand. As respected as they are feared, they tread lines of reality even the greatest powers cannot always see clearly."

Now for page 1:
 Script for Page 1:

Page 1 – Two demons arrive at the Arena to meet a friend, who is not so pleased to see one of them.

Panel 1- Exterior -A Warehouse District. We are on the roof of a building. Across the street is a pair of limos parked on the street on either side of the entrance to an alleyway. The alleyway divides a factory on the left from a warehouse on the right. in the distance we see the towers of a city. The alleyway itself is full of limos and cars. There are two men walking up the alleyway wearing suits.

2- Inside the alleyway, the two men are approaching the entrance to one of the warehouses. Another man, smaller, stands beside the guard at the entrance. The guard wears black pants and a black tank top, he is covered in tattoos, thick black mutton-chop sideburns and some wild black hair.

3-The two men have reached the entrance, the smaller man is there to greet them. The two men are demons, Tergemot (a lizard demon, mostly human features with scale patterns around his eyes) and Linus (a pain demon). The smaller man is Esaia an efreet, a fire spirit, and the guard is a Maori-warrior spirit. Linus is really coked up, and should be looking haggard. This is the person Smiley and Grim are looking for.

ESAIA- Tergemot, NICE to see you. Linus, I’d ask you how you are doing but I doubt I have the TIME. 

4- The guard pulls open the large, thick, graffiti-ed  door to allow them in.

ESAIA - Why don’t you come inside and buy us a drink.

5-The three men step through a curtain into a lounge. This is the anterior space to a large arena. The place is filled with all kinds of people and beings: fish-people, a pair of devi (Hindu goddesses), some insect-spirit guys from South America with dragon-fly wings, etc. They are all very well-to-do, the cream of nouveau riche society as it were.

ESAIA- So you being here means something, yes? Besides just absolute fucking stupidity?

LINUS- My being here is hopefully to forget why you think I shouldn’t.

Part of my self education these last 4 months has been learning how to draw digitally on a Wacom board using Manga Studio EX4 (amazing program BTW). The only time I use paper is when I'm doing brainstorming work for page layouts and character concepts. Anyway, creating this page was a ton of fun...hard work but a ton of fun. 

HARDEST PART: The hardest panel to draw was the first one. I absolutely abhor doing landscape art...more specifically, urban landscapes! It's a necessary evil that every comic artist must become proficient at doing. IT'S SO TEDIOUS!!! 

MOST ENJOYABLE: I had the most fun on panels 2 and 5 because I felt I could use my full imagination in creating the characters. 

That's it for this week. I'll be back next week with character sketches of Smiley and Grim and maybe some other concept art.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The simplest question is often the most unexpected.

This past weekend I attended the first ever Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC). For those of us who were under the delusion that comics cater strictly to American and Japanese audiences, this was an opportunity to see that, like everything else, there is a greater world out there. Turns out that no matter what you are interested in, you can find someone in this world who shares your interest. For instance, who would have thought that the 80's pop group, Wham would have a following here? I know, I know...I also never thought they had a following to begin with but apparently one man on the train is a big enough fan to have Careless Whisper as his ringtone. It's best not to ask why he chose that song or even why I knew the name it, but it serves as a funny reminder that we are never alone in this world.

Anyway, this convention served as one of those reminders for me. Here I thought that there was no market or interest in Dubai/the UAE in comics and yet 10,000 people purchased tickets for the weekend festivities. From the Cosplayers to Arab versions of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, the conference wove a rich tapestry of geekery. While many were there to buy comics, play Magic and Warhammer, I was there on a different mission. My goal was to show some of my work to some comic book artists and get some feedback and advice. I was sort of hoping to find out if I have been wasting my time and well, it turns out I wasn't wasting it at all.

I arrived early on the first day and got to meet a couple of great artists who work for Marvel. Both gave me some great advice, but one asked me a question I wasn't prepared for...What do you want to do in comics? Ink? Pencil? Color? Such a simple basic question, yet I was completely flummoxed.  What the hell DO I want to do? I've sort of done everything on my own for so long that the thought of doing an actual job in comics, kind of scares me. There are all sorts of internal debates that I have with myself about this. Do I want to give up owning what I create? (look up Jerry Siegel, Alan Moore, and Jack Kirby if you don't know what I mean) Am I fast enough to bang out pages by deadlines? Most importantly, am I good enough? The latter was what I hoped to find out. What I discovered talking with the artists at MEFCC was that, I have accomplished in developing the one hardest qualities to have, a cool style. Hearing that my art had it's own cool style made me feel fantastic. See, anyone can learn how to draw by copying other artists, but if they don't develop their own way of doing things, they are simply not successful in the industry. What made Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, Walt Simonson, Alex Ross, etc. successful was that they had their own recognizable style. Not that I cold possibly hope to be in the same ballpark as them but it feels good to know that my style is my own.

Of course hearing that I have style was the good news. The "bad" news (not really though since I was there to learn)...I was told that I need to work on making my anatomy work more natural and lifelike, my coloring is weak and needs to be improved, and most importantly, I need to work on using line weights correctly in my inking. This was the one are that I wanted to learn about more than anything since I started inking my work. It's perhaps the most basic lesson, and yet has completely escaped me. Basically, wherever light hits an area, your line should be lightest/thinnest and heaviest where there is shadow.  Below is one of my drawings that shows this mistake:
This is a character sketch of Grim that I did for a comic I am working on with a friend of mine.
The light source is supposed to be coming in from the upper right side; however, the line weight on that shoulder is exactly the same as the other side.  Anyway I did some drawing/inking with that lesson in mind and created this picture yesterday:
This is another character sketch of Grim transformed into a werewolf.
This I feel is a marked improvement over the previous one. The light source is directly above and the line weight reflects it.

Anyway, that's all for this week. Next week I'll explain more about this comic that I am working on and perhaps even share the first the page along with some of the character designs.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Convergence in Chaos

Convergence by Jackson Pollock, 1952

 Wow, has it really over a year since my last post? I think that this qualifies as a fresh start and not a continuation of the previous blog. This is going to be a long post so be ready. Let's see...what has happened in the past year? Not much really...My darling wife received a great opportunity to work in Dubai so I quit my job, packed up the family, and moved to the Middle East. Other than that, life has been pretty slow. This generally happens every five years or so. My wife finds a great opportunity to advance her career and I come along for the ride. Whatever I am doing career-wise, I choose to stop and follow my wife on her path to success. I'm man enough to admit that I'm lazy and generally apathetic about career advancement, so I have no shame in following my high flier of a wife. 

I've become a seasoned pro at starting over and finding my own way in a new environment. However, what's different about this move is that for the first time, there is no pressure for me to find a job. My amazing wife has moved up to the big leagues and given me the opportunity to do whatever the hell I want. I have to say, it's been 4 months and it's incredibly overwhelming to have time and freedom at my disposal. Actually overwhelming isn't nearly an adequate enough descriptor...IT'S TERRIFYING! My God! I am 37 years old, I have a 3 (soon to be 4) year old daughter, and I am seriously considering starting my professional life over as if I am 18 again?? I must be insane! I no longer have the luxury of not giving a shit about what people think about me. Everyday, I ask myself, what will my daughter think about me when she grows up? Will I be an inspirational example of how never to give up? Or will I be another tragic example of wasted talent and poor decision making? In the months building up to this move I racked my brain trying to figure out what to do with myself. What avenue could I possibly explore?? Would I go back to school? Perhaps, try to make a go of it in art?

The only thing I knew for certain was that at least for a short period of time I was going to be Mr. Mom with my daughter until we found a suitable day care/school for her. The time I have spent with her has been interesting to say the least. It has been rewarding, and at times insanely frustrating and exhausting. Who would have thought a person so little could drive a grown man to such emotional highs and lows? I have no idea how stay at home moms and single mothers do it! Thank God we got in her in a school part-time a few weeks after we arrived...I actually started to want to go back to work!  On the days that my daughter was in school, I decided that I would not waste a single moment watching TV or playing games, etc. Instead I would spend them drawing. So for the last two months, I have been spending nearly 6 to 8 hours a day drawing...I think I have actually developed a mild case of carpel tunnel in the process, but the pain has been worth it. I have felt more personally fulfilled in those hours spent than I have in all of the years I spent in the working world. This is going to sound incredibly insane, but the joy I have felt has sort of brought me into a depressing period in my life. Let me explain...

As I sat here at my desk, thinking about what to write, I started to think about my life and my choices that have made into the person I am at this very moment. I suddenly realized that my life is like a Jackson Pollock painting (see above). You look at one of his paintings, and you ask yourself, "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT??" "THIS IS ART??" "A MONKEY WITH A BRUSH COULD HAVE MADE THIS!"

It's completely chaotic and a goddamn mess; however, what you don't realize is that Pollock's paintings generally started with him either drawing a figure or a word on the canvas then he let his emotion take over. They say that if you stare at some of his paintings long enough you will eventually see the original figure or word. What you see initially in that painting is a culmination of layers and layers of decisions and emotions that have buried its essential self. Isn't that what many of our lives are like? I truly believe that we are all born with something unique, call it talent or purpose. The decisions we make on a daily basis determine if our seed grows or dies. This realization sort of depressed me. I looked at my life and it was completely unrecognizable. My talent has been buried by years and years of foolish decisions. I could have felt this joy in creating art for the past 18 years, what the hell was I thinking. I am now at the point where after staring at the painting long enough, I finally see my original purpose. However, the challenge now is to make sense of the chaos.

So where will I be going with this blog in the future? Well I figure, starting Monday, I will start sharing some of my work and talking about what I hope to do with it. This is a big weekend for me since I'll be showing some of my work to professional artists to see where I stand.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For your consideration, Mr. Lee and Mr. McFarlane

A few years ago when I had one of my dalliances with art, a friend of mine, who is a very talented writer, and I hashed out some ideas for a graphic novel. I even did a couple character sketches for him. But like most things I worked on back then, it sort of fizzled out. However, that was the past. Now there is a new and improved me (Me 2.0) who wants to follow through on projects and actually finish something.
This is the original character sketch
I did for one of the characters, Grim

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote to him and said I was hungry for a project...FEED ME! I asked him if he would be willing to work with me again on the graphic novel we came up with. That night he sent me a script. I am probably driving him crazy as of late because I send him concept art almost everyday. It sounds crazy but I think I am now addicted to drawing. When I am not drawing, I think about drawing. Everything I see, I think about how it would look on paper. 

While working on some character designs, I came across this art contest ad sponsored by the immortal Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn), which they would like to see submissions for new superheroes.  The winner gets to a trip to San Diego Comic-Con to meet Stan Lee and accept an award and more importantly, the winner also gets to take a trip to Todd McFarlane's studio in Arizona to sit with him and talk art and learn a few things. Another cool prize is that a limited run of action figures will be made of the winning character. How freakin' sweet is that???

Needless to say I was just a little excited about this and immediately began working on some new character pages. I will say that coming up with a design worthy to submit has been a challenge. However, its has been an extremely rewarding experience. I can't believe how quickly and creatively I am working. What normally would take me days to complete, I can design, draw, and ink (both pen and brush) a full 11x17 page in about 5 hours.I have been through several iterations of the character layouts the past few days and am having trouble figuring out which layouts works best. So I need your help dear reader(s). Please take a look at the 3 drawings below of the main characters of our novel, Smiley and Grim, and vote which one is best as well as give me any constructive feedback. Just put the number you like along with your feedback in the comments for this blog entry. I want to get this right because I am not only a perfectionist but I really want to win this contest...It's an amazing opportunity. Thanks!!
Smiley and Grim #1
Smiley and Grim #2
Smiley and Grim #3

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Jack of All Trades or a Master of One?

I know it's been a long time since my last post but I have still been working on my sketching every day. I've learned a lot these past few weeks, the most important of all is that I still have a long way to go. For Christmas, my lovely wife spoiled me and bought me a book of art by my favorite comic book artist, Jim Lee. Not only did she buy this book for me but she found a way to contact him and asked him to personalize the book for me. Lo and behold the below picture is what is drawn on the inside cover of my book along with his note. Needless to say I was as giddy and a school girl on Christmas day. It was definitely the best gift I've ever been given and I can't even begin to say how cool it was that Jim Lee took the time out of his schedule to do this and mail it to us. 

Once I had this book in my hands, I was immediately inspired to draw so I decided practices on some of Jim Lee's art for DC Comics holy trinity of characters: Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman. The first sketch I worked on was Wonder Woman. This was a lot of fun since I rarely draw female characters and and I learned a new technique using a whiteout pen. The pen is used when adding highlights to areas that are all black...simple concept and ingenious!!!

The second sketch I did was  of Superman. This pic really got me to start paying attention to light sources in my work. I am also improving on my figures insofar as it relates to poses and muscles. Still struggling a little with faces and expressions but I know that will come with time.

The final drawing I worked on was of Batman (obviously, Jim Lee's original is on the right and mine is  below on the left). This one really made me appreciate how difficult it is to be a comic book artist and it opened my eyes as to how much I have yet to learn.  I need improvement in creating more drama in my figures...notice the difference in the extended leg of Nightwing in his and my drawing. Also, my Batman is running a bit more upright while his is leaning more forward adding a greater sense of motion and urgency to the picture. The area that is the most difficult to replicate is the background. The amount of detail that he spends on the background is incredible and it's the one thing that is often overlooked in comic books. The background is what makes the scene complete.

The thing that blows my mind is how observant you need to be to be able to properly draw backgrounds. You need to pay attention to everything...broken glass, crushed soda cans, buildings, cars, etc. More importantly, you need to be able to draw them accurately. Therefore, a comic book artist needs to be a Jack of All Trades...they need to be an architect, car designer, fashion designer, even a florist to make their art believable. 

 It's a little overwhelming to think about that but it has truly opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world.  I am finally starting to get what Da Vinci was talking about when he said Saper Vadere, "To know how to see." I am starting to look at everything like a crime scene...paying attention to every little detail. You never know when you will need to draw an archway or a Prius with a dented quarter panel. Until next week folks...SAPER VEDERE!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Zen and the Art of Christmas Card Making

After last week's marathon project and subsequent post, I spent the next day and a half staring blankly at my sketchbook wondering what project I can possibly do this week. The last few weeks have been like this. This blog pressures me to constantly one up my previous week's work. I feel that if I don't do something new I'll let down my readers..all 8 of you! Anyway, there I sat. Staring blankly at my tabula rasa (Thanks, Dave!) wondering what I could do. I asked my wife for an idea. She says, why not do a family portrait? A good idea. I could further challenge myself by drawing the thing I hate most...NO, NOT MY FAMILY!...FACES!  
I was inspired. I began to give it some thought and I decided that a neat idea might be to draw our annual Christmas card. Usually, Rachel sets up some sort of still life of snowmen and Santas and puts Sophia in 3 outfits and struggles to take a picture of an active toddler who feels that taking her picture is tantamount to pouring acid in her diaper. So I decided to spare Rachel and Sophia the fun of this and try something different. So here is the Baldwin Christmas card this year:

The best part was that we didn't have to fight to keep Sophia still!
This project was a ton of fun. It was a struggle but I learned a lot about my abilities and I even rediscovered an old Zen concept that I had forgotten about: The Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki

I remember reading Master Suzuki's book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind when I was in college. It was one of those books where the concepts makes sense but you never truly grasp them until the right situation comes around that brings it home. Master Suzuki's quote on the Beginner's Mind is fairly self explanatory but to explain further it is considered a state of ultimate freshness. Try to remember the first time you learned to ride a bike or learned to swim. If you can't remember that far back, try to remember the first time you fell in love. Everything is new in the beginning, it's uncharted territory where you have no expectations, except to experience something new.

My blog has been that way for me. I have been rediscovering art, regressing back to my old lessons and hearing my old teachers correcting my layout and techniques. However, I never regressed as far back as I did when I was struggling to properly draw Rachel's face for this project. I could capture the upper part of the face (her eyes, hair, and glasses) but I just couldn't get the nose and mouth to come out right. I sat there for an hour, drawing and re-drawing her mouth and I eventually became so frustrated I started drawing pseudo smiley faces with her hair and glasses like a 5 year old. Surprisingly these simple renderings captured her essence better than any of the detailed drawings I tried earlier.  In the 2 minutes that followed this realization I was able to draw myself and my daughter.

It was at that moment that Beginner's Mind made sense.  I stopped focusing and struggling on the minute details of the face and simply had fun with it. I felt like I was learning a completely new way of looking at things. I have moments like this when I would play with Sophia and draw her quick sketches on her magna-doodle. For her, my pictures never need to be precise...actually I never have time to be precise since she spouts off a different idea every 5 seconds. It's those moments where I feel like an art God...I can draw her anything and she feels such utter joy with the results.

This leads me to next week's project. I am thinking of trying my hand at a comic strip for the blog. I could use a good idea, so if any of you are willing, send me your ideas/stories that would make a great comic strip and I'll see what I can do.

Until next week!