We’ve just completed the 10th (and final) week of my watercolor course at Syn Studio. (For this year anyway. We’re taking registrations now for the next session in January 2014).
I wanted to end this season with a bang. Something challenging, but also a lot of fun.
Immediately I thought about Yupo.
What could possibly be more fun than sending students on the wild and crazy ride this material offers?
Yupo is a synthetic alternative to paper, made out of polystyrene. It is glass smooth, bright white, and almost entirely non-absorbent. It’s such a bizarre experience for a watercolorist, you either toss your hands up in frustration, or embrace the strangeness and laugh.
I think I convinced people to have a laugh at their own expense, to go with the flow, quite literally. I do hope some of them will come back to this material someday. I think it has tremendous potential. I’ve only just begun experimenting with Yupo. To be honest, including two three hour classes this week I have about 7 hours total time with it.
If I might make a few observations from my experiments, however early it might be in the research:
You can see the the extent of the wet-in-wet activity in these 5 minute ‘underpaintings’.
Water and suspended pigments float on the non-porus surface. Wet-in-wet effects travel much further than on paper. Washes will float around for up to a half hour. The slightest touch between two wet shapes is going to make things bloom. Forms you thought you painted clearly can gradually dissolve into new patterns.
You can drop a puddle of liquid, and just keep pulling it out with water or new pigment. Growing a shape organically. “Charging in’ – touching with rich pigment – is highly effective here. (Seen here in the hair. The model was wearing flowers). If anyone is familiar with Charles Reid’s manner of shape welding, they’ll find this very natural I think. If exaggerated.
Let’s move onto some longer poses.
I have this trick for doing 20 min figure poses in watercolor. We do three sets of 10 minutes. Take a break, then do the same poses again, starting from the top. This gives us a 20 min pose, with time to dry inserted between sets. With the Yupo, this is only partially successful. Even when completely dry, a second pass has to be laid on carefully, or it will lift what is below. The faces in these following were blended with the mottled egg of the underpainted head. Small shapes blended into the base wash, and small lights lifted out. Good examples of working Larger-to-Smaller.
To lift a clean white, you have to touch the dry skin of paint twice. Once to dampen, and once to lift. You can see a nice clean lift on the back of this hand. That light shape was extracted out of the hand whereas the light below the breast was reserved. Can’t really tell the difference eh? Only that the natural reserved edge has a thin linear border, whereas the lift is softer edged. Washes stated in one pass have dark ‘tidal lines’ outlining the edge of a wet shape. There are linear deposits of pigment in parallel bands, much like flotsam deposited on a beach by wave action. It can also look a bit like solarized photography.
Often lifting out will happen unintentionally. It can be a bit frustrating at first. But after a few tries, you may come to enjoy how hair trigger it is. The lights on the chest and thigh in the left hand figure were lifted out with a clean, damp brush. The profile on the right was cut out of an oval blob.
Some students made the most of their Yupo supply by washing a sheet under the tap, completely removing a sketch, then starting fresh on the same page.
It is possible to come in with a wet wash and both erase and paint at the same time. I made this figure on top of a previous standing pose involving a swatch of blue silk. The second figure completely absorbs the first. Some areas obliterating, some areas blending, depending on the relative dampness. The first figure is gone, but the blue silk is part of the final effect.
After 10 minutes the thinnest washes might be dry, while the watery areas are still completely fluid. As the pigments begin to skin over you can really see the benefit of lifting out. You can redraw outside contours with a damp brush, cutting in with white.
More dramatically, the entire left side contour of this figure was erased out of a previous reclining pose using a damp paper towel. I just turned the previous recline 90 degrees, and used it as an underpainting. You can see some parallel ‘rake’ marks to the left of her flank caused by the texture of the paper towel. Its a similar feeling to wiping out oil with turps or vine charcoal with a kneaded eraser.
Ok, that’s probably enough said about all this fun and games. Lots to think about here. The TLDR is: Yupo is a lot of fun. If you ever want to loosen up your work, it’s a sure fire cure.
I’ll report some more on this later. If people are interested in further Yupo demonstrations, let me know.
The other day I was substitute teaching for Max Douglas’ Dynamic Drawing class. They’ve been focusing on sketching the figure in motion, which is always a favorite sport of mine. But as I’m currently teaching a watercolor course (Taking sign up’s here!) I thought I’d stay on theme and have them sketching the model with water-soluble ink line and clear water washes.
The washable properties of fountain pen ink are a useful half-step between drawing and painting. A nice transition for a person who is more of a linear sketcher, but wants a taste of painting.
It happens I’d just received a shipment of fountain pen ink samples from Private Reserve Ink. I was inquiring if they had any charts of which colors washed best, and they very generously offered me a chance to test a range of colors. Good timing for the students as I was able to give out some small testers to try in class. My quick experiments the night before showed they have excellent ‘release’ even after the ink is dry to the touch, making them ideal for line and wash.
Private Reserve offers an interesting selection of colors. I’m particularly partial to Vampire Red and their somewhat electric Daphne Blue. I’m quite sure these colors are not light fast over the long term, but if you are sketching for pleasure, or for reproduction/illustration rather than the gallery wall, that’s not a problem. Even so, any color fading that might occur will only serve to create an ‘old-masters’ drawing :)
Over our one night workshop I had people sketch fast poses with some disposable Staples.ca ballpoints that happen to be water-soluble – just to get them thinking about sketching shadow masses as ‘internal contours’ which they will melt with water.
Following this warmup we moved to the pen and spotting darks with the fountain ink – which we turned into paintings simply by melting with clear water. I can’t get enough of this magic trick.
Then adding in a third value with black Pentel Pocket Brushes. I’d have recommended the Kuretake #13 (first tests here) which has washable ink cartridges, but I couldn’t expect people to be ordering those pens on short notice.
I encourage anyone who wants to transition from figure drawing into painting from life to try out this exercise.
Last night was the end of the figure drawing section in my 10 week watercolor workshop at Syn Studio. We did three days; fast sketches, portraits, and then this long pose. We were working with photographer Rebecca Carins as our model. I’ve become an instant fan of her work. And, in fact, she’s just released a book – the opening is tonight in Toronto if anyone is at large in the city.
I’m seeing some solid progress among the student work as we continue to invest in the process. Everyone was able to complete this complex setup in 3 hours, and in general this mix of tight drawing and loose washes is starting to click with people. If anyone’s interested in the course, we’re running it again in January. Here’s the info. (Syn Studio)
In what is becoming an annual tradition, I was recently at Dawson College doing a demo for the Illustration department watercolor class. Thanks to Lucy Trahan for the invite.
Another annual tradition, in honor of Halloween, is my annual PoeTrait. (Ok not every year. Here is my PoeTrait from 2009). I could have sworn I did that last year.
As I was looking for a suitable subject to demo, and it had been awhile since I sketched Mr. Poe – here he is again, this time in watercolor.
I should say, I don’t consider myself a portraitist, in the sense that I prefer to draw my idea of a person, rather than a dead-on likeness. So you’ll forgive some exaggeration in his physiognomy. I want to capture the barely contained churning thoughts roiling in his stately dome. And that pale sickly complexion that hints at his upcoming descent into the drugs and madness which ended October 7th, 1849, the day of his inadequately explained death.
Here’s the progress between my three passes of watercolor. Admittedly the changes are quite small in the last step – but that’s what you want – you’re just reinforcing the tiny dark shapes. In a high-key image like this, there aren’t that many darks – mostly just in his hair. When working Light to Dark, Large to Small, often each step is much faster than the step before. But you do need to let it dry between passes, or your final dark touches won’t be crisp.
In the event I’ve piqued an interest, here’s an online resource to read some Poe.
Dr. Sketchy Montreal did a homage to Brian Froud’s Labyrinth this afternoon. Our model Safa graciously channeled the Goblin King Jareth. I’m sure Bowie would have gone topless if it had been allowed in 1986.
These are experiments in drawing directly with an Extra Fine Lamy Safari, and a Kuretake Brush Pen. (Which I had seen in people kits, but not really recognized as superior until this review by fellow USK’er Kalina of Geminica.com). Both of these cartridge fed pens are water soluble (if you use the name brand refills). I had a couple of small vials of Alizarin and Cerulean stained water which I used to melt the black line. The addition of the Kuretake really adds to the effect. Previously I’ve done this with a Lamy Joy calligraphy pen – but it has a massive 1.9 mm nib, which makes the water-melting-line part very dangerous business indeed. I still love my old Pentel Pocket Brush for dark accents, but it’s water-proof, so it can’t be used in tandem with the Lamy in the way the Kuretake can. Tho’ the Pentel is half the cost. So – I’m not revoking my Pentel Pocket Brush recommendations, but you might want to pick up a Kuretake as well!
I get this long mail from someone saying they really really really want to be a concept artist (in games or film). So they want to get an internship. I have a hate-on for internships, even though it probably worked for someone out there who will immediately email me and say I’m an idiot. BUT – here is my advice to this fairly common question:
Hey XXXXX, nice to meet you. You have accidentally pushed the ‘RANT’ button.
So, what’s the deal, – why are you looking for an internship?
Are you in your next-to-last year? Going to graduate next-next year I mean, and are looking for an internship to beef up your work experience? You want to go from school right into a concept job! (That’s a tall order my friend :) Not impossible, but rare. (Want to show me your stuff? I could give you an honest opinion).
So, here’s the issue – concept art is not an entry level job.
It’s kind of a high level position. There are a few concept artists for a team of hundreds of production people. So it’s quite difficult to find a relevant internship.
As a concept artist, you are the most important link in the chain. You are the pilot. The Jockey. Your brain-sweat is fuel for the engines. In other words – a few million dollars is burning under your chair as you work. The whole shebang is depending on you. If your work does not cut it, well, that’s bad.
Most interns in film/games go into PRODUCTION. (Not art). So they literally push the coffee/doughnut cart, run print jobs, do power points for meetings, make posters of schedules, pick up journalists at the airport. Junk like that.
If you want to be a concept artist, that’s not going to help your resume one tiny bit. It won’t matter an iota.
All you need is a great portfolio. Your work is the only only only thing that matters.
This is one of the rare jobs where the only question is “Can you do it – in the style we want.”
Which is truly a great thing!
Because it means it’s a job where you can get where you want to go by dint of pure effort! Not many things in life are so democratic.
That being said, there were concept interns at Imagemovers where I worked. (Ok, ONE concept intern. Out of 25-ish staff in the concept/matte department supplying 300-ish production people with work). But that company was a rare exception, and has long since been shuttered. (Probably for wasting money on things like interns!).
So it does exist – but only in the big studios. Start at the top, and work down. The smaller the studio, the more likely they won’t have interns, or their interns are just slave labor. This is ESPECIALLY difficult if you are needing to get paid while you do it. And why should you do it for free? Many places I’ve been at that tested internship programs, they were used as free labor, doing things like color-swapping textures all day. Or renaming art assets in a database. Also zero usefulness for your portfolio. It’s not even quite legal to have unpaid internships, (I think) but a lot of places get around that somehow.
You can see my theme is: Internships suck, work on your portfolio instead :)
If I could do anything (by going back in time) I would head to a great Atelier tradition school – like Safehouse Atelier, Watts, LAAFA, – in fact, here is a big list: http://www.artrenewal.org/pages/ateliers.php
I like Safehouse because I know a lot of great artist that came out of there. The instruction is top notch. (Carl Dobsky and the rest of them there, all super duper artists). (edit: I just heard Safehouse has shut down, oops).
Doing even a short time in one of these places will do more for your art than interning at a studio could ever do.
So, overall, the only thing you need to do is:
1: Decide where you want to work,
2: Identify the exact style they like, (by researching their concept artists and all their released PR art, or, you know, playing the games and stuff).
3: Make your work look EXACTLY THE SAME. (Not copying of course, your new designs, that fit exactly into the mould).
Most studios will be mildly pleased if you can do more/better/other styles – but won’t hire you until you can do exactly what they do. That sounds rough – you have to be 100% pro before you start! But it’s not too bad. If you’ve been dedicated at school, it should only take a steady year of self training after graduation. Concept art demands you be solid – but not as good an artist as you need to be a (fantasy/sci fi) illustrator or (realist) fine artist.
To recap: If you want to be a concept artist – don’t work in any style you don’t want to pursue.
Don’t take a job in casual games if you want to work in AAA hyper-real. It’s a waste of time. Don’t work on a AAA horror game if you want to do indy-edgy-too-hip-for-rendering-minecraft-don’t starve-style. It’s a waste of time. Don’t take a texturing job if you want to do concept. It’s a waste of time.
It is better to work a non-mentally-taxing Joe Job (Barista anyone?) and draw all night, than to get work experience doing the wrong thing. Anything that stops you painting every day will just slow you down, make your goal further away.
You *could* consider learning 3D. BUT. That’s a HUGE distraction, and a BIG risk you will get sucked into the vortex of doing 3D work. They need a lot of 3D dudes and only a handful of concept artists. But, it’s an asset to your concept work. It can be used to improve your painting. (Render stuff and paint over it). BUT – it’s a rabbit hole, so don’t do it unless you have a strong will. 3D will take over your art.
Anyway, back to the main rant, not the 3D rant. It’s hilariously simple really. Art Directors just want you to be exactly as good as their current guys :) Simple! You can do it! I did it and I wasn’t ever the greatest artist in school :) Even if you were starting from zero, you could get good enough in 3-5 years. And if you went to a great school, you won’t have to start at zero.
Hope that helps!
Second project for the watercolor class at Syn Studio was this cast drawing subject. A small statue of Ganesha. The goal here was a classic demonstration of Tea, Milk, Honey – my phrase that encapsulates a working method which is simultaneously Larger-to-Smaller, Fluid-to-Gel, Wet-to-Dry, Lighter-to-Darker.
Here’s the progress steps. Drawing>Tea>Milk> and then Honey (above).
Key thing to remember: Work Wet on Dry: Each pass must be bone dry before the next. This allows you precise control over what edges are hard and what are soft.
Note how color in the first pass is super arbitrary. Just have fun with Pouring the Tea. Then you can draw in shadows with Milk, and re-enforce only the darkest dark cast ‘contact’ shadows with the final Honey pass.
Since this one we’ve done another day on still life subjects, and are graduating to working with the model. This promises to be a lot of fun, introducing people to life drawing with watercolor!