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posted by marrael 2013-06-26 01:41:22

Advice on Publishing, Part 4: Cover Art
More for authors going into self-publishing, I do think this is a good run-through of the considerations and skills that go into designing a good book cover. Artists aiming to be cover artists can benefit, and at the least, you can stick a link to this up on your website so your author friends start considering your work. I personally feel painted art makes a real impact and is a bit more sophisticated than stock photography, but I am, of course, biased.

Sad that this has to be found on a joke site, but it does give good drawing advice.

How to Draw Boobies (Warning: has boobies.)


Changes in the Works

posted by marrael 2013-01-26 23:19:01

Years ago, this site was created on a great idea--that no art would be displayed on member portfolios on the site, until it has been passed by a jury of three moderators, and those moderators would be chosen from existing artists based on the quality of their own art and ability to articulate how to improve a picture. Moderators stayed unknown to the artist having their work judged, but not from each other. It all was set up to make sure that both the quality of the art that appeared, and the quality of the critiques given was very high.

We succeeded in that. The downside is that our moderators do have other jobs, critiquing art is time-consuming, and the image queue always lagged behind. Weeks behind. Months behind. We are now approaching a portfolio that has waited what is now approaching a year for its verdict. And I am ashamed. Not because I haven't done what I can for the images in the queue (but I can only be one out of THREE moderators needed to pass a picture), and nagged, and rewarded the moderators who have contributed, but the manpower or time needed to keep the system working smoothly, and not in stops and starts, just isn't there. Discouraged, and with other pressing things in my life, I also stopped blogging here, and patched bugs or problems on a very lethargic basis. 

I went away to recharge, and lately got an interesting message: Don't wait for consensus. Just do what you think is right, even if you go it alone. It got me thinking.

It is important to me that this site is a place an artist can come to to get constructive critiques, even if just one, or two artists on a jury panel can pipe in at a time. One or two critiques are not three, but it's better than none, and whereas in the past artists could not see any of their critiques until three moderators had spoken, I'm going to make all the critiques now "LIVE" at any time. This is the beginning. I'm also thinking of giving mods and artists the option of making the critiques public (not the same as revealing the moderators), whether it's to share, or to contest the critiques. And ordinary site members are free, as ever, to comment, but I'd love to give them a taste of what it's like to be a moderator and score images based on different attributes of the pictures. It's all in fun, and really, to make the site helpful as always, but also more education, active, and fun as well.

If you have farther suggestions of the changes you'd like to see, and I'm sure there are many, please feel free to comment. And I ask humbly for patience too, as I work on the changes!


The Prodigal Webmaster Returns

posted by marrael 2012-06-17 05:57:51

 A quick post to ease myself back into regular bog posts again; this one will just contain a bunch of helpful tips and tutorials:

 halla and hart: On painting skin tones, and why lighting = pale is a fallacy
Terese Nielsen talks about drawing the human head for practice in this Muddy Colors Guest Post (and points toward a book I need to hunt down!).
And one from a Fantastic Portfolios member artist: Tips for Realistic Figures and Faces
This one from the Art Order that I can totally connect with, dealing with The Downward Spiral. Psst... it's worse for artists who lose time for art due to parenting or other familial responsibilities!
More later. Welcome back to Fantastic Portfolios!


Pinterest's Prickly Problem

posted by marrael 2012-02-28 00:27:41

If you're familiar with Pinterest, online discussions about Pinterest's copyright issues have been heating up recently, and (I believe) I may have mentioned the site on the Flog before. Pinterest is a website and online tool that lets you "pin" images online onto a virtual pinboard on your Pinterest account, and you can create unlimited boards (and pins), amassing (essentially) galleries of images grouped by theme, media, colour, or subject. It's fantastic for idea-gathering; whether you're working on a room design, party plan, or for that matter, a painting or character design. But lately the argument has come up that the site hurts artists and crafters. I'd like to examine that in today's Flog entry.

When I first started using Pinterest, I mostly pinned photographs of interior decor I liked, public domain paintings by dead artists, interesting photo textures and colour combinations, and catalog photos of dresses and fabric I thought were inspiring. (In fact, on one board, I pinned pictures of kimono fabrics and gowns because I planned on putting a fairy in kimono-inspired costume. The end design was my own.)

I still find Pinterest a fantastic tool for artists--if you play by the copyright rules. That is, that you only pin images that the creator has said are OK to be pinned, and if you are using reference photos, the copyright holders of the photos need to be OK with you copying the photos wholesale (or the figures more or less wholesale, in the case of models modeling for artists). Keeping in mind that expressions of ideas in photography, art and writing are automatically copyrighted (whether or not the fancy © sign appears) by the creator, ideas themselves are free--so this applies to things like mood, "feel", colour combinations, and even style--so if you want to paint modern figures in the method of Alphonse Mucha, go for it! I'll stick to my original guns that Pinterest is a useful tool for gathering inspiration in a very organised and accessible way.

The problem Pinterest poses for artists, crafters and photographers is this: Not everyone who uses Pinterest (or indeed, anyone who uses the Internet) is versed in copyright law, and while it's always been impossible stopping anyone from saving your images on the Internet, now Pinterest is essentially letting them take a picture and republish the image on Pinterest--whether or not your website has a "Pin It" button, and whether or not you allow such distribution and say so explicitly on your website. (Pinterest allows anyone to install a "Pin It" app in their browser.) Now, all pins provide (after a bit of careful looking) a link to the original source of the image. But the ease of "re-pinning" an image already on Pinterest means an image of yours can get a fair amount of distribution and re-distribution on Pinterest without any clicks going to your website, when one of those clicks could become potential revenue. It's like Google Image Search, but without a person having to go to your website at all to view the full-size image and become a potential buyer.

I get this argument. If you're on Etsy, know that Etsy now has a "Pin It" button on every Etsy product page, and the cry from some vendors is that they've found their Etsy product photos on Pinterest, at the same time visits to their actual Etsy store (and their sales) have been going South. "Pin It" definitely does not work to an Etsy seller's benefit the way the Etsy "treasuries" do, in which clicking on an item in a Treasury brings you to the product's buying page. (Pinterest doesn't discourage Etsy sales either, but it does put the purchasing page an extra click away. I don't think that's too much of an impediment for someone who wants something, but can imagine a casual Pinterest user not even bothering to check out t...

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Drawing Tutorials and Exercises

posted by marrael 2012-02-18 17:07:57

Just a collection of links today while I recover from some (more) traveling undertaken this past month. These online sites will be especially useful if you've had little or no formal art education--you'll get a taste (or reminder) of the exercises that students of drawing do. First one is the most nifty:

Figure & Gesture Drawing Tool
(Yeah, it's the online equivalent of the drawing exercises done with a live model.) Before you think it's just hours of bliss copying a nude girl's likeness on your canvas, know that that isn't the only point of figure and gesture drawing. The great thing is, the page itself explains gesture drawing exercises, and you get a choice of BOTH female and male models.

Still here? 
Wings on Humans Art Tutorial 
 (found via Elizabeth Barrette's blog entry, Wing Tutorial Art)
I wish I could credit the maker of this tutorial, but am having trouble finding the original source. If you know, let me know!

Fantasy Art Study on Ning
This group combines drawing studies and exercises on both drawing and rendering techniques (mostly traditional media) and subjects of fantasy art. So if you think you need the basic lessons, but still want them focused on fantasy art, this is a great site! Regular "study group" exercises (using Andrew Loomis' Figure Drawing for All It's Worth and Peter Stanyer's The Complete Book of Drawing Techniques) are posted on the site, and the comments section is where members can respond by posting results from their own practice. It's a place which encourages participation because of this semi-formal format where you read the tutorial, then show your own work.


Getting It Done

posted by marrael 2012-01-30 23:57:38

During my casual surfing on the web, links get bookmarked into my "to blog" list sometimes, and I delete them from the list as they get blogged, tackled or decided against. (It's a handy way to tackle surfing and a to-do list in one.) Now, that "to-blog" or "to-do" bookmark list isn't really today's blog subject (but if you found that tip useful, you're welcome), it's that there was a certain link that sat on the list a long time because, well, I thought linking to it would look like I was advocating smoking, and rudely. (I'm not.) Here it is: 7 Lessons Smokers Can Teach Us About Getting Sh*t Done.

The seven tips really apply for those who are mums, or working day jobs, or juggling those two things on top of playing caregiver for older relatives, or night classes, whatever situation you may be in that keeps art from becoming a full-time vocation. And while I've always appreciated artists and creative people who post photos of their work spaces online, I also have resented those lucky gits who don't have to share their work spaces, or have to clear it all up when it's mealtime (I paint at the dining table) or have to stash paintings under the wardrobes to dry where they will (hopefully) not be found or disturbed by the toddler. Sometimes after all the precautions I take, accidents still happen (like soup being tossed and landing onto a painting three feet away), but if one is determined, one can make art (or smoke) anytime and anywhere. Painting on-site for location paintings and speed-portraits has pretty much cemented this lesson for me.

If you've got a sketch or an idea to work on, but find yourself surfing or watching TV instead, put a pencil and a sketchbook in front of yourself anyway and see which activity wins. That's all this week!


Book Review: 100 Ways to Create Fantasy Characters

posted by marrael 2012-01-24 22:36:47

100 Ways to Create Fantasy Figures 
Author/Artist: Francis Tsai
Publisher: Impact
Francis Tsai wasn't a name I immediately recognised picking up the book. But he is a talented concept artist and freelance illustrator who's worked for all the big companies, and who didn't start out in traditional art school. On that fact in the introduction alone, I was immediately intrigued and encouraged. He draws a distinction between design-based art education and illustration-based art education, and if concept art is an industry you're aiming for, he makes clear that it's beneficial to have the skills taught in both. (Design helps in effective visual communication and problem-solving, while illustration/fine-art training focuses on observation, documenting and reproducing visuals in various media.) Chances are, unless you're in a course specifically for concept art, you probably have a grounding in one field, and would need to be practice the other on your own. (Or if you're like me, you've got to work on both all on your own!)

It's practical, thought-provoking advice like this that makes clear this isn't just a book of examples and tutorials. It's a book that reveals, from experience, the art skills needed to become a concept artist, or a book, comic, or media illustrator, and how to go about getting and honing those skills. Observation and constant sketching is a must (which made me realise that joining the local urban sketchers wasn't as "useless" to me as I thought), as is gaining a visual vocabulary, learning the problem-solving approach to designing characters, places, AND the final art pieces. This book is not just for browsing through; Francis Tsai goes from the "big picture" advice and long-term strategies for a striving artist, before going into the 100 ways of creating fantasy figures.

So we come to the 100 ways, and if I hadn't already been impressed with the preceding stuff, the bulk of the book is packed with inspirational techniques and strategies to stretch and strengthen one's art. In many ways, I think the book should have been titled toward this end, as the 100 tips aren't JUST for fantasy figues, but artwork that balances figures and/or monsters in their environments and in the art. This book is a keeper: you can always open it randomly for a new technique, or use it more systematically, say, when you need to create a sympathetic character or conversely, a monster; and when you need inspiration, a "hook", or just to climb out of a rut.  

So, there are no walkthroughs in this book, but it's packed full of art examples, good tips and advice. It's not a style you're going to learn how to recreate, but it's a guidebook on how to develop your own style, and how to add to your drawing and design skills, and how to make art directors happy (or, happier, at least). Highly recommended.


It's 2012!

posted by marrael 2012-01-16 00:30:00

I have been a bad, bad blogger; I went on holiday and let myself succumb to the post-holiday slump. Anyway, now that's over, welcome back, and into a new year: 2012! I'm not even THAT late, because if you follow the Chinese calandar, the new year (the Year of the Dragon, if you were curious) doesn't actually start until January 23rd! (Ha!)
If you were worried your errant blogger wasn't returning, or had run out of topics to cover, have no fear of that. First up: Spectrum, that yearly anthology of gorgeous contemporary fantasy art, is accepting submissions for their next compilation until January 27th. I'm going to admit: I think I have nothing up to snuff (yet. There's always next year!) but if you're feeling good about your chances, get your butt moving on your entry! 
Next: An epic post on the silliness of girls' poses on fantasy book covers was posted recently by the fabulous fantasy writer, Jim C. Hines. (I'm linking to his LJ entry but it's mirrored on his site too.) After you're done laughing and wiping the tears from your eyes, catch his follow-up post, in which he provides links (some of which I've also provided on this blog). This one, however, I must highlight: Men's Versus Women's Poses 

Last one for now: Small Business Resolutions Worth Keeping. There are a few tips on the page, and my favourite is the one about prioritizing and limiting distractions. Having a timer on one's FaceBook/Twitter/surfing time sounds excellent. As is having daily/weekly/monthly goals. (I have a monthly goal to finish at least one "big" painting per month. And this year, a modest but doable goal, I think, to post at least once per week at Fantastic Portfolios.)
See you next week!


Preciousness, Red Lines and Miscellaneous Links

posted by marrael 2011-12-13 23:22:03

When I was in secondary school (in the British Commonwealth, this is the name of school you attend between ages 13 to 16, after primary school), I was certain my art teacher was out to get me. Sketches I'd loving tickled onto the paper with my timid 2B pencils would return to me with corrective lines gouged into the drawing, sometimes in what looked like 8B charcoal. Every art student got them, but with my work it'd always seemed more heartbreaking because I'd had widespread assurance the originals were so pretty. Yet, my drawings would still receive more corrective lines than others. (Thanks, Mrs Ong.)

With age comes wisdom, albeit very slowly. When you're starting out, everything you make with your hands is dear and seen as precious. Every pencil mark and paint stroke is done with a lot of sincerity, and having it ripped to pieces is, well, heartbreaking. Years and years down the line, you get jaded: Sketches and drawings are discarded, revised for the client's liking, taken in directions you hadn't expected, and after producing literally thousands of pictures, you may get used to seeing your own work more critically, clinically, and start to anticipate criticisms--and then heed or disregard those in your work according to your emotional and financial needs at the moment.

The lesson that comes with time: What may be dear and precious in your work to you may not be apparent to everyone else. But then again, if you're lucky enough that your work starts off hugely popular maybe this won't be a hard knock you'll have to deal with! But if your art has weaknesses, red lines (or in my teacher's case, 8B pencil) on top of one's work help open your eyes to your pictures' problems and solutions. And sometimes, because you're getting better at art over time, you start being the one applying the red pen to your own work.

Here's my own recent example: Tangled (Revisited)

While Lori McNee at Fine Art Tips has several drastic examples:
How I Destroyed a Painting to Make it Better
Give a New Identity to an Unsold Painting!
Rework an Old Painting & Make it Sell!

I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. --Jackson Pollock

On to miscellanous links:

The Art Order has issued a new challenge: Levi
This is a delightful article: The Schweizer Guide to Spotting Tangents
A tangent is when two or more lines interact in a way that insinuates a relationship between them that the artist did not intend.

I didn't know this problem had a name! But it is something I do look out for when drawing. Having come across other artists' images that suffer from the problem, this article explains very thoroughly what to look out for, reasons to avoid tangents, and easy solutions. 
And this is a HUGE tangent that is NOT art related, but a hilarious comedy sketch, sort-of related to the preciousness of our artistic talents: Talent Dredge from Mitchell and Webb 
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Paypal, Occupy, and the Little Guy

posted by marrael 2011-12-08 22:41:13

I had a happier post lined up, but thought I'd talk about businesses and ethics for this one. There was a little tea-cup storm on the Internet over the last few days that you may have heard about: The Regretsy vs Paypal Debacle that had many Paypal users (businesses and buyers alike) up in arms; the story even made it to CNN. Regretsy, a site I know I've linked to on here, was taking Paypal donations for a toy drive, and long story short, had its accounts frozen for a made-up reason, before public pressure and petitions made Paypal back down and admit (inamumblemumblefashion) that they had made an error.

When I first ran into the story, I'll admit this, I was trying to quell a mindless rising panic when Paypal's exchange with Regretsy included an insistence that the "Donate" button was only for the use of non-profits and "worthy causes". The Paypal Donate button is the button you'll see on blogs, artist sites and webcomic sites. Sometimes it's called the tip jar. The Paypal Donate button lets the person who uses it decide how much to give, and if the money is going to the artist--well, here was my conundrum: Was I a nonprofit? Did I have to register as a non-profit? Was I worthy cause? Was feeding an artist a worthy cause, or did I now have to give up painting and get a "real job"? What about the thousands of other little people and businesses out there offering services and tutorials and e-books with a "pay what you like" model?

Turns out of course anyone could and can continue to use the Donate button for any reason (and Paypal always takes a little cut from each donation). But April Winchell, when this was still playing out, said something really cogent about Paypal's (and indeed, a lot of corporations') actions: 

We are all working very hard in a bad economic climate, and every cent we spend really matters. And corporations continue to treat us like they’re the only ones who are hurting.

We see the erosion of customer care in every sector. No one knows your name. No one makes eye contact. No one thanks you. Even doctors are practicing a completely different kind of medicine now. They have to see so many people to make the same money they used to that they’ve become more like mechanics. They forget your cancer is attached to a person. And Paypal forgets your fees are attached to people who are trying to make a living, or facilitate something good for other people. 

Wading into politics and social responsibility is not something I planned for the Fantastic Portfolios' blog, but I do believe we seem to be living in a climate where it is accepted (nay, expected) that corporations put money before people. (It's capitalism, right?) Corporations don't say they put money before people, of course, but their actions scream it: they report profits even as they announce "downsizing" measures; workers' productivity keeps going on up (ie. they work longer hours and bear more responsibilities) but salaries don't (unless you're a CEO). When you buy products that say "made in China", think about the companies that have moved their productions there so that they save costs--were those savings really passed straight on to you, or are you (and your society) paying now in other ways? Corporations, as part of their legal definition, are "people" and thus they're quick to scream this in defence when anyone want to take them to task for their socially irresponsible actions. Add to the mess that politicians and corporate donations (and CEOs for that matter) are so deeply and inextricably entangled in some industries (healthcare,...

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