Things I Didn't Know About Color, Part One (It's Going to be a Long Series)

As I said, I'm a big dummy and there were several things about color, painting and watercolor specifically that I didn't know. Apparently these are all things that everyone else in the whole world already knew and took for granted, because when I would tell people that I had just figured these things out, they would look at me like I just said, "hey, I just realized that these hard white things in my mouth are for chewing food!"

So even though you all know all this stuff already, I will repeat it so you can get a chuckle out of what a dummy I am!

Get this - I never realized before that not all watercolors are transparent.

That totally blew my mind. I always thought that all watercolors were transparent and that all oil and acrylic paints were opaque, and that was one of the big differences between the different types of paint.

I will pause here and wait for the laughter to subside.

It turns out that not all watercolors are transparent at all. They all have different levels of transparency. I use Winsor & Newton Artists' watercolors, and they have an awesome chart on their website here that you can also download as a pdf. The great part is that if you click on a color, it will take you to another page that will tell you if the color is transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque or opaque (the four levels of transparency).

So why is this important? Well, lots of reasons, but mostly it's important when you're mixing color. This is because (I know, you already know this) if you mix two transparent pigments, you will get a brilliant result that is vibrant and still transparent (and long as you don't break one of the other rules, more on that in a later post) but if you mix two opaque pigments, your mixture is going to be pretty muddy and obviously not very brilliant or transparent. And if you mix three (or four) transparent pigments you will still have a transparent and colorful result (if you've chosen your colors right) but if you mix three or more opaque pigments you're going to have a muddy mess that isn't pretty at all. And there's all the ranges inbetween, like mixing one transparent and one opaque, etc. So there's a full range of results you can get, based on the opacity alone, not even considering the other properties of the colors.

Also watercolor pigments all have their own level of Staining ability, which means that if a pigment is one that tends to "stain" that you can't lift it off paper or canvas after you've laid it down. And also it seems to me in my limited experience that the pigments marked "Staining" are very intense and stronger than other colors and tend to overpower them in mixes. So it's helpful to know all of that stuff about each color when you're trying to mix a certain color. Which is why it's always a good thing to keep as small a palette as you can know everything there is to know about the colors you're using, at least when you're first starting.

It turns out that the reasons behind these properties have to do with the pigments themselves, so the transparency qualities are true of not only the watercolor version of each color, but the oil and acrylic version of each color as well. For example, Alizarin Crimson is transparent as a watercolor and also as an oil paint and as an acrylic paint. And Cadmium Red is opaque as all three types of paint as well (and all Cadmiums are opaque, by the way, which has been helpful for me to remember).

Anyway, more of this drivel to come. For God's Sake, if some of you normal people read this and it turns out I'm wrong about everything, write a comment and let me know so I don't send the world's three-year-olds off on the wrong path!

I feel kind of sorry for all of you, because it's actually kind of nice to be such a colossal moron. Because I know so little about everything, I get to learn something every day that I didn't know before, and that's actually pretty cool. So in some ways it must suck to be a genius. I'll never know.

Now, I gotta go, the three-year-old down the street is going to show me how to tie my shoes! I'm so excited.

Discouraging and Exhilarating

Sorry I haven't been posting much. Over the past month or so I've been wrestling with a subject that has always held an incredible fascination and intimidation for me: I've been trying to learn about color and how to paint.

When I first started out artistically, I was determined to be an animator. So I put all my energy and focus into learning the art of drawing and all the challenges that come with animating. And I was hesitant to jump into learning about color and all that comes with seemed overwhelming, and I figured that I should concentrate on learning how to draw first and foremost.

As artists (and people), we want to avoid those things that are especially daunting or intimidating. Once we gain a bit of ability at something, it is easy to talk yourself out of working on your weaknesses. We know it's bound to be frustrating and that we will fail a lot before we ever begin to succeed. So why put our fragile confidence at risk by challenging ourselves?

But we must. Otherwise we become like an artist who cannot draw hands, so he finds himself constantly struggling to compose all of his pictures so that the hands aren't showing. In the end, it would take much less work to just learn how to draw hands.

And there's nothing more exhilarating than a victory over something that you were afraid of and thought you would never conquer! I find lately that I am both frequently discouraged and also exhilarated. I paint at night after work, and frequently find myself heading upstairs to bed feeling frustrated because I have run into some problem that I don't know how to figure out, and wondering if this time I am truly stuck, never to get any further. But in every single instance, by the time I am brushing my teeth two minutes later I have an inkling of a new approach to try, some new wrinkle that may get me through this problem, and let me keep going until I hit the next roadblock. So often within just a few seconds I have gone from discouragement to elation and an excitement about trying out my new idea the next night.

That's a great feeling!

Any success I have ever had in learning about art I have made only by making every single solitary mistake you can ever make. I don't have any natural talent to speak of; I suppose that what I have is a combination of stupidity and stubborness that makes me keep going when a wiser person would stop and spare themselves the aggravation.

Anyway, I've been wanting to write about it but I was hoping for more tangible results to show first. Those haven't come yet so I will just write this post for now. I will talk more about it when there is more to say. As I often tell my kids, you can't really fail as long as you never give up, because as long as you are still trying, you haven't really failed, right?

(If you just rolled your eyes at my corny sentiment you can relate to my long-suffering kids).

Or as Mary Pickford put it: "If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."

Thomas Edison is an expert in the subject of stick-to-it-iveness. Many people before him tried to invent a commercially viable light bulb. But they all gave up, because nobody could figure out a filament material that was suitable. Edison experimented and tried over 6,000 materials before he finally discovered one that would work.

6,000. Think about that! In the middle of all of those experiments, when it seemed he would never figure it out, people told him to give up. They were probably trying to do him a favor and save him from wasting his time. They told him he had failed enough already. But his response was:

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Edison is the poster child for success through perseverance and so his quotes should carry a lot of weight; he knew what he was talking about. So for all of you out there, struggling to expand your knowledge and gain some insight into a part of the world that is not yet illuminated for you, I salute you, and take comfort in knowing that I am toiling away in my own dark corner somewhere! Hopefully you can take some solace and encouragement from these other Edison quotes:

Discontent is the first necessity of progress.

Hell, there are no rules here - we're trying to accomplish something.

I find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.

I never did anything by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work.

Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Restlessness and discontent are the first necessities of progress.

There is no substitute for hard work.

We don't know a millionth of one percent about anything.

What you are will show in what you do.

When I have fully decided that a result is worth getting I go ahead of it and make trial after trial until it comes.

The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense.

His quotes may seem cliched and tired but at least he has the right to say them...he lived as he advised others to live, that's for sure.

In many ways in life it seems that we're not really supposed to talk about our failures and we're not supposed to admit to the things we don't know. I can only imagine that that must be the reason that more artists don't talk too much about the learning curve and the struggles that it takes to become an artist. But rest assured that everyone goes through it, and there's no shame in trying to learn what you don't know. The only shame is when people stop developing because it's uncomfortable, or hard, or intimidating. The times in life when we're uncomfortable, struggling, or intimidated are the times when, looking back, we have learned the most.

"Composing Pictures" by Don Graham, and a Request for Information

I wasn't really going to write about this, because everybody else already has, but Don Graham's seminal book about design, "Composing Pictures" was recently reprinted. This is a big deal because it's been long out of print and the only way to get a copy was to pay a lot of money.

The reason I post about it now is that the price and availability of it keep fluctuating on Last week it was priced around $75 and only available from resellers. I'm sure it will be available steadily from now on, but just in case it's not, right now it's selling for a totally-worth-it $26.37 on amazon. Here's the link.

Who was Donald Graham? Here's what I think I know (and someone correct me if I'm wrong): he was an instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute who was selected by Walt Disney in the 1930s to teach art instruction at the Disney Studios in preparation for making "Snow White". As I understand it, he was instrumental in teaching the animators how to move away from the cartoon conventions that had been the basis of the shorts and start studying and understanding how real humans and animals are constructed in order to handle the complexities of the characters in films like "Snow White" and "Bambi". In the studio documentary, there's scenes of an art teacher instructing the animators, and I'm not sure but it might be Don himself teaching the class.

At there's more information about him.

Quick question for anyone out there that might know: apparently at some point, all the teachers of the Famous Artists Course wrote each wrote books called "How I Make a Picture", describing their process and talking through their philosophies. Norman Rockwell's is the most well-known and available, but it's near impossible to find any information about the other editions. If anyone has any information about any of those other versions (particularly Robert Fawcett and Al Parker) let me know. And if you know someone at the Famous Artists Course, ask them why they won't republish these great books!!!

Mystical Forest

Mystical forest just completed today..

"Tinner for Schmucks" final project..

My illustration class is coming to and end, and for my final project I have decided to create a series that relates to the "tin man" piece that I did earlier. If the tin man were real, what would he do for entertainment? Go to the movies of course like the rest of us.
So the first piece is "Tinner for Schmucks" based on the film with Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd.
I started with a sketch, and inks, and then brought it into finish it up with paints.
Ultimately I would like to reproduce the entire movie poster.

DSC: Ultimate Spider woman

Ultimate Spiderwoman for today's Daily Sketch Challenge over at Deviant Art.

BABES IN THE WOODS (Disney, 1932)

Here is a huge re-constructed pan B/G:

Left side:

Right side:

Now, for viewing even greater detail, I've broken the B/G into four quadrants:

Here is another re-constructed pan shot:

Left side detail:

Middle detail:

Upper right detail:

The gnomes' homes - re-constructed B/G:

The witch's candy house re-constructed pan B/G:

The witch's candy house and nearby land, re-constructed pan B/G:

And finally, a closer look at the delicious candy house doorway!

Gorgeous artwork!

DSC: Red Hulk

Red Hulk for today's Daily Sketch Challenge over at Deviant Art.

Brandon Graham

Brandon Graham's King City often gives me little Krazy Kat like thrills, which is probably the highest compliment I can give a comic. Both strips have these details drawn in at the last second (or maybe they were the first thing set down on the page...we'll never know) for thrilling effect. Your eye gets to read these details as it moves along the page, but only if it puts in the time to really read that page. You can't skim this stuff.

Graham's cartooning has been a slow burn for me...I remember staring at 'Escalator' for years on the comic shelves,intrigued by it but never forcing myself to enter into it. Now I wish I had. I think, as I get older, the kind of work I'm drawn to is the kind that doesn't win you over with a moments glance...and that's not to say that King City isn't visually seductive. But it's strength is in how things move and how landscapes reveal themselves to the readers as Graham moves you along the page...little landmarks that you'll only hit if you're working with Graham in concert.

In December, when I picked King City as one of my favorite comics of 2009 for The Daily Crosshatch, it seemed liked the 'art-comics' corner of comicopia wasn't gung-ho about King-City...or if they were, they weren't talking about it. But, working at a comic store at the time, King-City felt like the freshest thing on the racks, regardless of what corner you were coming from. It's gratifying, as a fan of the book, to see it being embraced by people who have very different feelings and agendas about comics...King-City is the kind of thing that takes more work to deny yourself than it does to let in your world and enjoy.

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

It changes a fair amount for me. I draw at least a couple hours every day and sometimes most of the day is drawing.
My ideal schedule is when I can wake up with a penciled page from the night before and ink that and pencil the next page.
I don't do a page a day every day though the writing and thinking takes longer some times.

A lot of days I'll pencil a page and then go over to a friends house or a coffee shop and slowly ink it while watching a movie or talking to people.
4 pages a week is a good speed for me.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

I do lots of layouts and repencil pages a fair amount before I ink them.
I rarely go with my first idea without tweaking it a lot.

I did a one page comic about how ideas are like raw iron ore that have to be beaten into something before they're any good.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?

I start with a rough idea of scenes I want to draw and make notes for how any pages I think it will take up,
what I want in the scene. ideas for panels and text but leave it pretty open and then when I get to the scene I do lots of layouts to
tighten up the idea before I draw it.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?

A little of both I guess. I like that in comics you can have different focus depending on the mood you're
in, some days it can be all about lettering and others weird panel ideas, or facial expressions.
the possibilities really make for a difficult and rewarding art form.

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

I pencil with mechanical pencil and any eraser. I like the ones that look like white cubes.
Micron Pigma pens #3 and #5 for inking
(5 for lettering also)
I have a refillable brush pen with a cap that I dip in a bottle of ink to fill in big chunks of black.

These days I color my stuff in photoshop since its easy to control how it'll look in print.

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

For comics I use 11 by 17 80 pound vellum bristol. I get it in 250 sheet packages from office supply stores.
sometimes 11 by 17 typing paper.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?

I am really really into reading comics. A lot of the work I do is a reaction to books I've read.
And when I put out books I try to remember and put into them what really has gotten me excited in the past in other books.

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?

I spend most of my time doing comics but a chunk of my income is from side jobs that I don't show anyone.
the money i do need from comics is a nice nudge to get the stuff done in a timely fashion.

9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

I feel like most other art forms I have any interest in can be worked into comics.
Even something like sculpture or photography--you can use as a cover of a book.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

there's a ton of contemporaries that I feel connected to. I feel like I can identify with anyone trying hard to make fun and personal work.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

Yeah, It's a big deal to me. I don't really know many people that don't do art.
My lady, Marian Churchland and most of my closest friends make comics.

It's really nice to have people to bounce ideas off of and who are doing work that gets you excited to try harder.

12. Is there a particular line quality you like---thick/thin/clean/etc?

I like my own work to be on the clean side but I think any line quality can work in the right hands.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

I'm a fan of ideas and then style is like throwing some stank on the idea to make it look good.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

At it's best it's possibly my favorite thing I've ever done but I do find it hard and frustrating some days.
That's part of what makes it worth it.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

I grew up with such an identity of being a comic artist it took me years to not just obnoxiously talk about comics with everyone I met.
For awhile when I was living in NYC I tried to see what it was like to not mention comics when I met people new I'd tell them that I
lived off a trust fund as an inside joke to my pals who knew how deeply broke I was.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

More Kirby than Ditko, some artists whose work I read I can really see why they do what they do.

There's a lot of older artists who I look up to and try to learn from,
Guys like Moebius and Krs-one whose work is choked full of good tips on living as an artist.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

No, I've wanted to make comics as long as I can remember. It's a huge thrill and my art therapy and entertainment.

18. do you draw from life?

Yeah, I like to go outside and draw, I draw people around me a lot. But I've never gone to any sitting around a naked person, life drawing.
it's not my scene.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

If I'm going to print it I usually pencil stuff first but or myself I draw with whatever.

20. what does your drawing space look like?

DeviantArt Sketch Challenge: Thanos


Man..hands are super tough sometimes. It's one of those things that you can see how they work even in the subtle details..but actually drawing a set of hands takes lots of time and practice.
This is a sketch that I worked on for a Daily Sketch Challenge over at Deviant Art..but the hand was effed up. I did it a couple of times over to try and get it right. I think I like this final result..but yeah more practice on hands needed.


Here's an example of what I was trying to talk about a couple of posts ago, about finding entertainment in the everyday simple things that we all know...shedding a new light on something that is commonplace and mundane and making it funny and new again.

It's a TV commercial for Chef Boyardee's ravioli, and I always say that students learning to make short films should look at TV ads, because in TV they are forced to tell a story and get their point over clearly within thirty seconds.

I like the tone that the ad hits. It's not cloying or juvenile, and they're walking a thin line where the blanket could easily become creepy, but doesn't. They're smart to sell their product as comforting, safe, and a warm reminder of your childhood to try and get preteens and teens to keep eating the stuff and not feel like they've "outgrown it".

Also because calling their product "meat-that's-not-good-enough-to-be-used-in-hot-dogs-pressed-into-squares-and-loaded-with-sugar" didn't rate as well with the focus groups.

"Speed of Life"

The Discovery Channel has begun airing a new series called "Speed of Life". There were three episodes on last Sunday night and the show looks like it will run every Sunday.

The series is made up completely of footage of wild animals shot with cameras capable of taking several thousand frames per second (I think).

It's great reference for animators and any other artist to watch. Just twenty years ago at CalArts I struggled to find any kind of footage of moving animals to help understand how different animals moved. There was no internet yet, of course, and I used to collect nature shows on VHS tapes and laserdiscs voraciously to try and wrap my head around how all types of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish behave and move. It was a frustrating, time consuming and expensive method of study.

These days it's a lot easier. There are a ton of great nature shows out there (I don't watch any of them but I hear many of them are spectacular) and I'm sure they are all worth watching. I really enjoyed watching this one in particular because the frame-by-frame movement can be really helpful for understanding how certain animals are put together and how they move - some of them move so quickly in real life that you can't really see what's happening until it's slowed down. I really believe that the subjects of how an animal is put together and how an animal moves cannot be studied independently of each other ...the two subjects are so closely related that they should always be considered together. You could look at pictures of leopards forever - and pictures are great for studying - but seeing one in motion really tells you how they are put together and why.

Anyway, set your Tivo for it and check it out if you're interested.

HIAWATHA'S RABBIT HUNT(Warner Bros., 1941)

HIAWATHA'S RABBIT HUNT is an early Bugs Bunny cartoon. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Warner Brothers' animation division. The Disney influence was pervasive. All the studios were forced to step up their game. These are certainly among the most lavish artwork pieces I've ever seen from the infamous "Termite Terrace."

First up - a most unusual pan, which starts at the top of the waterfall, pans down and then to the left.

a stair-step waterfall...

a tranquil lakeside landscape...

And now (drum roll please...) THE LONGEST PAN B/G I'VE EVER RECONSTRUCTED!!!

Following is a series of its segments, left to right. This B/G was so big I had to divide it into six pieces to see the details!

Here's a close-up of the "rabbit stew" pot:

Now, a completely different B/G, also including the pot...

Details close-up left:

Details close-up center:

Details close-up right:

Another wonderful pan B/G:

Details close-up left:

Details close-up right:

And finally, a few choice remaining background pieces: