See You At The Expo!

Tonight I’m flying to California for the CTN Animation Expo. Can’t wait! Before I leave I wanted to post a few items of interest:

1. Update on my freelancing presentation.
I’ll be giving a talk at the Expo on Saturday, November 19, 4:30pm, called “Be Your Own Boss: Freelancing Tips and Tricks”. In an earlier blog post I said the talk would be 30 minutes. It will actually be an hour and fifteen minutes. Tickets to my talk are sold out but I’m told that when my presentation is over I can move everyone over to another room in the building (not sure which one yet) for an ongoing Q&A. If you weren’t able to get a seat at my talk you can still catch the Q&A. Just wait around outside the Exec Boardoom at around 5:45pm so you can join us as we file out.

2. Check out Stephen Silver’s new “Posebook” app.
Speaking of the CTN Expo, the amazing character designer Stephen Silver will have a booth there again this year. He’s got a new project that I think is pretty neat: He’s creating a new series of iPhone/iPad app for artists called Posebook. It’s a collection of professional costumed models in over 2,000 full-body poses (no nudes), hands, and close-up facial expressions for sketching. There’s also 6 instructional videos included as well as 25 sketches from some top character designers in the biz. That’s a lot of goodies for $9.99.

The first volume, “Males”, has just been released on iTunes. The second volume, “Females”, is coming soon. I recently downloaded the app and can’t wait to give it a try. Once the dust settles around here I plan to post a review along with a sketch or two. But from what I can tell so far it’s a great product.

3. I’m being interviewed on “On The Box”.
Several years ago I illustrated a cartoon Gospel tract for the ministry of Living Waters which has consistently been one of their best sellers – over 5 million copies have been printed in English and it has been translated into 20 languages. Last year, with the help of some talented animators I produced an animated version of the tract which to date has had over 300,000 hits on YouTube.

While I’m in California Living Waters has graciously invited me  to do a short video interview on their webcast, “On The Box”. It will air live on Thursday, November 17 (11:30am Pacific) and then be uploaded to their YouTube channel for future viewing.

Gotta go pack my bags. I’ll be back in the studio on Monday, November 21.

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March is Sketchbook Month

Sketchbook

Well, not officially. But it will be on this here blog. At least for this year.

Care to join me?

Life has been crazy busy lately with no signs of anything slowing down. As a result it’s been a real struggle to keep anything resembling a regular sketchbook. I still draw quite a bit but its always to please a client and meet a deadline. Rarely am I able to draw something I *choose* to draw for practice, to push myself, or just give myself a creative breather. As I’ve said before, I feel kind of a like a professional athlete who plays hard at every game but then never has time to come to practice.

Character designer Stephen Silver does absolutely brilliant work and one reason is that he’s a ferocious sketcher. He’s fond of saying, “A page a day keeps the competition away.” So that’s my goal for March. Do a page a day for an entire month. (To make it more manageable I’m going to limit myself to weekdays only, otherwise I might get discouraged and fall off the wagon.)

As an extra motivation I’m pledging to post at least one drawing from each day’s work here on the blog. Not because I think my work is so wonderful—quite the contrary, I can be very hard on myself. No, I’m primarily doing it because frankly I need the accountability.

Of course knowing that whatever I draw will wind up here in full public view leaves me tempted to play it safe and only sketch things I’m already good at drawing. But that would defeat the whole purpose. If I’m going to continue to grow and improve I’ve got to push myself to try new things and master new skills, whatever the results may be.

If you’d care to join me in this unofficial “Sketchbook Month”, leave a link to your blog/website in the comments section you can do so by visiting the official Sketchbook Month blog.

March is a month of new beginnings when the snow melts away, the grass turns green, and the birds start to sing. What better time to shake the dust off my sketchbook and start turning over new pages?

Thoughts on Life Drawing

The human form is one of the hardest things for an artist to master. It is incredibly complex—the hundreds of bones and muscles in the body can twist and pull into an infinite combination of expressive poses. In addition, people come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It’s important for an artist to study different body types so he can convincingly illustrate characters with variety and personality

The best way to master the human form is simply to draw it…again and again and again. To keep my skills from getting dull I regularly attend drawing co-ops in my city (a co-op is simply a group of artists getting together to draw real live models). Although I’m a cartoonist, I consider life drawing to be one of the most important and helpful exercises I can do. The more I understand the human form, the easier it is for me to simplify and exaggerate it with cartooning.

It’s hard to understate the value of drawing from life. Photographs can be helpful, and there are some good reference books out there for artists. But because photos are 2D they tend to flatten the form. Also, because a photograph is permanently frozen it can suck some of the life out of a pose. For the serious artist, nothing beats the freshness and energy of drawing from a live model. Drawing from a photo is like eating reheated leftovers rather than fresh food hot off the stove.

However, as much as I believe in it there’s one part of the life drawing tradition I’ve never understood. Continue reading

“Citizen Kane” Sketches

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One of the gifts I received this Christmas was a two-disc special edition DVD of Citizen Kane. Many movie buffs consider it to be one of the greatest films, if not the greatest film, ever made, so about two years ago my wife and I decided to rent it and educate ourselves (actually, I really wanted to see the movie and she graciously went along). While the pacing is a little slow in spots, it’s a great film that has really grown on me. It’s probably one of my top-ten favorite movies.

In 1941 the gifted wonder-kid Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane at the tender young age of 26! The movie tells the fictional story of Charles Foster Kane, a powerful multi-millionaire, newspaper mogul, and would-be politician. The film is allegedly inspired by the real life of publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and many key events in the film mirror Hearst’s own life. Much of it is less-than-flattering. Hearst tried everything he could to get the film destroyed before it could be released into theaters. He attempted to buy the original print so it could be burned, and attacked Orson Welles’ career and reputation. Hearst couldn’t stop the film from being released but he did strike fatal blows to the career of the brash but talented young filmmaker. Welles never again approached anything near the success of Citizen Kane. It has been said that Orson Welles started at the top and worked his way down.

The first disc of the DVD set includes two audio commentaries. One is by film critic Roger Ebert, and it is one of the most informative and fascinating audio commentaries I have ever heard. The second disc contains a two-hour documentary entitled “The Battle Over Citizen Kane”, which chronicles the dramatic behind-the-scenes battle that raged between Welles and Hearst.

From an artistic standpoint, what makes the film so impressive is not just the intriguing story but the dramatic visuals. Long before computers, green screens, or even color (the film is black-and-white), Hollywood directors had to rely heavily on simple tools like composition and lighting to keep their images interesting. Welles had a masterful eye, and Citizen Kane makes great use of powerful compositions, stark lighting, deep focus, and dramatic camera angles. Great stuff for sketching and study!

I’m busy working on a large client project and can’t post any current artwork. So here’s a few pen-and-ink studies from the film I did almost two years ago when I first rented it. It’s a mish-mash of main characters and background extras with interesting faces. I posted these on my blog way back when I first drew them, so some of my long-time blog readers might recognize them.

I promise to post more new artwork as soon as I can! In the mean time, if you want to watch a good flick and then do some fun sketching, I highly recommend renting Citizen Kane.

Schoolism.com: Memory Sketching

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Yesterday I covered part 1 of my latest schoolism.com assignment (my instructor is Stephen Silver). Part 2 was to do a memory sketch. “Memory sketching” is an exercise designed to strengthen your observation muscles. It works like this:

Go to a place where there are a lot of people (i.e. a mall, airport, coffee shop, etc.). Choose someone in the crowd to draw. Before you pick up your pencil, spend a few moments studying everything about them (their clothing, their posture, their face, the way they do their hair, their height….everything). Don’t look at them for longer than one or two minutes. If they haven’t walked away by then, turn and face the other direction.

Now, close your eyes and continue to study them in your mind. Analyze as much as you can remember. What was that hairstyle again? How far apart were the eyes? What color were the shoes? What was with that funny walk? (Don’t peek. It will completely destroy the purpose of the exercise.)

Finally, when you’ve got your target burned into your brain and you’ve thought everything through, THEN pick up your pencil to draw. And again, no peeking.

This was my first attempt at memory sketching. This guy was helping to take down a small stage in the Mall of America east court. Once I started to draw, I suddenly realized how little I had actually noticed about him. I had to improvise a lot of the details. Memory sketching is HARD.

But that’s why it’s such a great exercise. It forces you to really work your observational muscles for faster and more accurate drawing. It will also help fill your memory bank with facial features, hairstyles, body types, etc. so that you have more to draw on when you have to design a character from scratch. Personally, I’ve noticed that I have a clearer memory of this guy than I do of most other people I’ve drawn.

To see sample memory sketches from other artists, check out these two blogs: SketchClub and Sketchcub East.

Two Reminders…

This weekend is FallCon, Minnesota’s largest comic book convention. Here’s a recent post about it, and here’s the official site. I’ll have a table to display some of my work and sell a few sketches. If you are in the Twin Cities area, stop by and say hi!

Also, don’t forget to watch the season premiere of 3-2-1 Penguins! tomorrow morning on NBC! (I’m a character designer on the show). It airs at 10:30am central time. Check your local listings.