Friday, March 24, 2017


Greg Ruth

Endings scare the shit out of most or all of us to some degree. Whatever the cause of it... a desire to not see what we're doing come to an end, or a natural reaction to the idea of death, who knows? But it's a devil that stalks us all, even more so by infinite degrees for those of us in inventive or creative endeavors. The full blank canvas of making art and the lack of safety net that inherently provides could easily encourage us to avoid this state at all costs. Wh
en we love a thing we're working on, we don't want it to end, and when we just want it to be over we can be afraid of what that might mean after. Basically finishing is HARD, but there is likely nothing more essential to any creative person than achieving this.

Finishing gives you permission to begin. It provides authorization to continue and offers, like every new day's morning light can, the ability to reinvent and start over. Not finishing keeps you stuck in a Groundhog's Day of nightmares creatively. It shows an inability to let go, to recognize a need to end, even if the piece hasn't reached the zenith predicted by its beginning. Finishing makes you a better artist and allows you to start over being an even better one.

A page from EDENTOWN
Another page from EDENTOWN
Not finishing leaves undone business that is hard to let go of creatively. I've had two major books never reach their end, and they both continue to plague me by calling out for me to return to finish them. They drive me crazy. One, discussed at length HERE, called THE CALENDAR PRIEST, meant as a loose follow up to my first full length graphic novel, SUDDEN GRAVITY, and my first and last creator owned project at Vertigo Comics, EDENTOWN. Both stalled out fro entirely different reasons, but both share the same nagging sensation of never achieving closure. Characters I adored stand tapping their feet staring at me in my mind waiting for me to honor them by telling their story, plot lines and story conflicts clog my creative pipes because I tend to withhold some of them to use in new work, because of the terrible what if... factor. Not finishing for artists makes us greedy for our work, and that is wholly unhealthy. I have trouble even now, having decided never to return to those, that maybe... just maybe I will. It's terrible. It's exile versus departing.

A misfired scan as evidence of outside forces conspiring against your intentions
What finishing does for us is important on a thousand different levels, first and foremost, it's so you can start the process all over again. Why is this the most essential bit? because an artist doesn't just make a piece, the artist makes many. The ethos of finishing forces us forward, and keeps kicking us out of whatever glorious or terrible nest we make for ourselves. It is how we grow, through challenge and change, and it is how we get better. But it is also how we redeem ourselves. We've all of us done terrible works, perceived or real, and for many of us those have even seen print. finishing and getting on with the next thing helps us cathartically shuffle forward, take lessons from whatever failures we just achieved and apply them to the next thing. One of the reasons I adore comics, is that a writer/artist gets to do this through a cycle of many on a single page. It fast forwards this process of development and allows you to become by the book's end, light years beyond where you were when you started.
From an unfinished book about a neighborhood bully seeking to be something better.

But finishing also gives us another important thing as a gift: it gives us closure and distance so we can see what we have done. It means we have done a thing to its full end and taken a thing to its furthest horizon and we know how to stop and move on. For professionals showing this capability is how we get more work and continue to be professionals. An author/artist that has a deep catalogue of completed books, gallery shows tend to get more largely on this basis. Even if you aren't a superstar or have enjoyed some larger level of success, the mere evidence of seeing the continuation and develop of working and finishing can be enough to be allowed to do it again. Finishing is then, the most important thing to provide one with the opportunity to begin.

After his debacle of a 2nd film following his freshman superstardom in Sex, Lies and Videotape, Steven Soderberg was asked if after having gone through that rise and crash if he had any advice for other storytellers, and he did: "The secret to surviving the dips and rises in any career is to get to the second effort, and finish it so you can hurry up and get to the third." I've remembered this and brought it up as often as I can when discussing art making, because we are so often seduced by the notion we as artists are making a single piece of art, and then another, when we really should remember we are really supposed to be making as many damned pieces as time on this earth allows us before it's over. Our capacity for volume is dependent on a number of things, and different for each of us, so one person's stock of accomplished works should never be compared to another. The key here that IS important is to remember to FINISH YOUR WORK. Even if that finish means walking away because you don't know where else it can go, or surrendering to life's intrusions that prevent you from continuing. DOn't hold onto to unfinished things like they get better by waiting for the right time. They don't. They moulder and hang on you like rocks ties by fishing hooks, and they keep you from being free to explore new directions that are all that making art is about.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Love the Mullet: Working on Grafix Dura-lar

'Business in the front and party in the back.' Dura-lar, aka, the Mullet of painting surfaces.

I first stepped into working on Dura-lar on a journey for the above. I wanted a surface that I could do detail work on the front side, but also be able to cut loose, get aggressive with my mark making on the reverse, and NOT mess up all the hard work I'd already done.

I tried vellum, or the modern version of vellum that comes in a pad (like a thick tracing paper). But it wrinkled when wet. Which can have some cool effects, but not what I was after. I do Yupo once in a while, but almost all the work has to happen on the front, because it isn't nearly as translucent.

Then I discovered the Grafix Dura-lar. It does not wrinkle no matter how wet you get it. And it has taken everything I have thrown at it from graphite to oil paint, like a champ.

The first thing to know is I use the MATTE version. Not the 'wet media' version. The matte will take dry media (Prisma, graphite, charcoal, pastel.) and wet media (Acrylic ink, acrylagouache, enamel, oil paint).

Because the matte is translucent, and not clear, it will ghost out what ever work is done on the reverse. I love this aspect because it is automatic atmospheric perspective, and lets you judge your final, darkest accents on the front.

What follows is a step by step of my Angel and Faith cover #19 for Dark Horse Comics. I am using Prisma Color pencil FW ink and Acrylagouache:

  This is the level I took my digital comp before even beginning to make it real. I like to have most of the design questions answered, which frees me in the application of materials, because I can have fun with such a solid foundation beneath me.

The rough drawing is printed out and is now on my light box with the Dura-lar over the print. I have selected pencils within in a limited range of values.

 Time to DRAW! I did most of the first character with one prisma pencil. Note how FLAT prisma color goes down on duralar. It is almost like gouache!

 I work my way through the second character in darker Prisma values than the first. I am basically working in color zones through out the piece.

  Having finished the characters, I move on to the swords and the falling leaves.

 Detail shots.

For the third character I wanted a softer feel, so I used the side of the pencil for shading.

And here we have the drawing on dura-lar with a piece of white paper behind it. Any values you saw prior to this were the original print-out of my rough drawing.

I flip the drawing over and start working the back side. I mix a quick gradient of Acrylagouache on my pallet, and start filling in the transition of the leaves.

And when we flip it back over to the front, you can see the line-work over the leaves. Some ask, "Why not just do it all on the front?" And the reason is, it would be much harder to draw with colored pencil on top of lumpy paint. And I want the lines to show, for as I get older I realize the true heart of an artist is in the drawing. (No matter how you frost it.)

 Filling in the swords on the back, and the flip reveal.

The below sequence shows the puddle of value I mix for Angel, and the ham fisted 'render' I do on the back side of figures. So there will be some transition in the flat, some base structure, but the detail is all on the front.

Same thing for Faith, filling in her form on the reverse with a painted gradient and crude modeling.

 Ahh... but the magic is in the FLIP! The drawing is doing all the work!

 With my dark and middle values established, it is time to work up the highlights! Again using a range of three lighter value prisma pencils.

And here is the entire scene with the major elements drawn on front and painted on back. Now it is time to have fun!

 This is where the really aggressive things happen. Spatter, streaks, scratches it is all fair game because I know the major details of the piece will be pristine on the front.

 Flipping back over for more fun. You often have to paint in reverse, like an animation cel painter or a glass painter. Protecting things like figures with flat paint before you start up the party wagon of texture.

And the final flip! Sometimes I will cover the entire back with white after it is done.

Hope you enjoyed it!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tools of the Trade

 by Donato

Every once in a while, during the course of a drawing or painting, I need to turn to my secret tools of the trade.  These typically are called into service during particularly difficult technical moments of creation.  Every artist has them,and they are the key to their success as a freelancer or studio artist.  If you watch closely in many tutorials, you can see the camera cut away just as the real magic happens or when a key aspect of technical problem solving is engaged, like the rendering of soft fleshy skin tones or dramatic lighting effects on metal.

It is in the light of global artistic advancement that I am sharing with you a few of my secret tools today, with the tube of paint posted above being one of my true secrets in the nuclear arsenal and the real reason i can paint metallic effects so effortlessly.  With a base coat of local color laid down on my painting, I then turn to this tube of paint for the final glaze and last touches it brings to spectacular highlights and deep, transparent shadows on metal.  Holbein is the only maker that I know of for this paint, and it has worked wonders for me over the years, as seen in the example below.

One of my other key tools was a little harder to come by, it is a length of red chalk used by the artist Fra Bartolomeo back in the 1500's.  I was able to pick up this amazing find while on a trip (or pilgrimage!) to Florence in 1997.  It was in a paper shop literally across the street from the Palazzo Pitti which houses some of the greatest portaits of the Itslian renaissance, from Titian, to Raphael to Carravaggio.

This fragment as been one of the key tools I have turned to since using it in my first toned drawings back in 2002, executing a portrait of Gandalf for the Lunacon convention.  It has just the right amount of red, and consistently deposits a sharp, crisp line on the paper.  I have been able to create over a five hundred red chalk drawings with it since!  The chalk is so hard, it just keeps on going, like it is being magically refreshed drawing after drawing.  I can't imagine creating one of these drawings without this special tool.

I hope this provides a little insight on how critical it is to get the perfect tool for the job, allowing you to take numerous short cuts and avoid hours of tedious labor in the execution of a work of art.  The better the tools, the better the art.  Start your searches for these today.

Next posting I will share the source of my brushes and manufacturer of the paints I use and how critical these are in the creation of my work.  Below is a teaser!

But seriously, the best advice I ever received regarding creating my work was from my 'potential' (which turned into long term) representative Sal Barracca back in 1992 when I was fresh out ot art school and beginning to make samples to break into the book cover marketplace. He told me to:
 "Go out and buy some nice brushes."
I did, and it was a transformative experience working with great tools to refine the details I was chasing after in my work then.  Up until that point I was making due with little nubs and mediocre brushes to try and create subtle blending and details.  Sal did not say, buy such and such brand, he didn't say what sizes, price, or even where to get them...just try out a better tool.  Get to know how it works, get to LOVE how it works, and make it your own.  Then real magic can happen.