Friday, June 30, 2017

If I Could Only Keep Ten

-by David Palumbo

Even before I had a career as an artist, I was an artbook collector. Unfortunately, there's only so much bookshelf space in my home and I've slowed down considerably as that space limitation has been tested.  This also dovetailed with a realization that I own quite a lot of books that I have not spent nearly enough time looking through. The result, in short, is that I maintain my collection carefully and I'm not afraid to thin the herd when necessary.  To buy a new book now, I really need to want it. And when I saw that the new Bernie Fuchs book was finally available, I really wanted it.

This morning was my first chance to sit down and give the Fuchs book my undivided attention and it did not disappoint. Slowly leafing through each page, I started wondering if it might be the most inspirational art monograph I've looked through in recent memory. Many times I was so impressed by his composition that I expressed it out loud (despite that my cats are rarely interested) and his dreamy, nostalgic, yet precise and accurate rendering has me recommitted to exploring the balance of realism and abstraction in my own work. These paintings are mostly between 3-5 decades old and they hit me powerfully, leaving me excited to be bolder in my own compositions and rendering. I was already a big fan of Fuchs, but getting a concentrated dose (and a well curated, well presented one as well) touched me deeper than even expected.

And afterwards I started thinking about my favorite artbooks. Favorite by artist? Favorite by educational value? Rarest? Favorite by inspirational value? Favorite as an object in and of itself?

But the question that seemed most interesting to me ended up being: If I could only keep ten (and ignoring dedications and remaques for this decision), what would they be and why? And so here are my ten

The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs, The Illustrated Press, 2017


Sanjulian: Periode 1970-1984, Glenat, 1984

Sanjulian is probably my favorite 70s gothic horror artists, and boy could he compose a montage. And those two features are on full display in this book. I also have some later volumes of his work, and those are good, but the era and subject matter that this book covers is where it's at for me. When I was first starting out, I looked at this book often for guidance in composition and how to suggest story rather than tell it.

Why it makes the cut: I can't get tired of that pure 70s Gothic vibe

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting (Richard Schmid), Stove Prairie Press, 1998

Whenever I'm asked for recommendations on educational books about painting, this is always number one. Schmid lays out his philosophy in pretty basic chapters (Drawing, Values, Edges, etc.) and it feels very plainly stated for a beginner audience. The magical thing is that you can read it even as an expert and still come away with valuable information. I first read this book as a student. When I've revisited it over the years, I continue to find all kinds of wisdom layered in that I'd missed on earlier readings. Add to that dozens of beautiful images that would make it worthwhile even without the text and it's a top ten for sure. There's a newly updated and expanded version that I have not read, but I'm interested to check it out.

Why it makes the cut: It's a timeless source of technical wisdom that doesn't feel at all technical

The Book of Alien, Heavy Metal Books, 1979

 Alien is easily one of my favorite movies and I have several books that are in some way connected to it (Alien Vault, Aliens Set Photography, the Prometheus Artbook, along with several Giger books) and those are all great, but there's something extra about this humble, slim softcover that came out right around the release of the original movie. It has a great mix of concept art, set photos, and stills, and I think also the fact that it exists with no knowledge of the franchise gives it a (now) unique lens to appreciate the film through.

Why it makes the cut: Visually, I just really connect with the vibe and atmosphere of Alien and this book captures it for me in its most authentic form.

19th Century Russian Landscape Painters of the Four, unknown publisher, 1991

I think I bought this from Gallery Nucleus some years back, but it was a bit tricky to write about because the text is completely in an alphabet that I can not read. I finally realized I could just look up the ISBN (9787533017095) and that lead me to some used Amazon listings with a bit more info (like the title). But ultimately, I don't know nearly enough about the four Russian painters featured here. That said, the book is packed front to back with great reproductions of largely unknown (to me) gorgeous painterly landscapes. We really need more books on Russian painters in the US.

Why it makes the cut: All I know is I reliably turn to this book every few months to help me tackle some aspect of an environment or background. 

Toppi: Sahrazad, Planeta DeAgostini, 2005

Another foreign language book that I can't completely understand (though Italian is a bit easier to decipher) but hits me so hard with visuals that it doesn't even matter. I have seen some Toppi books that are more like typical illustrator monographs, mostly stand-alone pages of beautiful work, but seeing him lay out a sequential story is next level. Though mostly just line art, there's a sequence in colored inks and washes that are some of the most beautiful comic pages I've ever seen.

Why it makes the cut: A great inspiration for dynamic, innovative composition and design

The Art of Dean Cornwell, Illustrated Press, 2016 

If this is a safe space to share, I'll tell you now that prior to seeing this book I was not a huge Dean Cornwell fan. I knew he was probably pretty good, but the random bits I'd been exposed to didn't fully gel. When I finally got my hands on this one, I was blown away. Much like the Fuchs book (same publisher) it is just an astonishing overview of the career of a master painter and visual storyteller. And like the Fuchs book, it's the kind of collection that makes me reevaluate my own work and technique and push myself that little bit harder. I really hope these guys can get a Mead Schaeffer book together one of these days...

Why it makes the cut: It makes me want to be a better painter

J.C. Leyendecker, Abrams, 2008

Leyendecker, on the other hand, was already one of my guiding lights when this book released. I'm not sure I can say much other than it's a must-have for anyone who digs his work. This collection is pretty expansive, with what must be a couple hundred good reproductions (albeit some on the small side) all together.

Why it makes the cut: The lessons in designing through shape and silhouette that can be found in this book make it a regular reference.

Antonio Lopez, Poligrafa, 2004

I'm always attracted to artists who can make something look real while also delighting in abstraction and paint. It's a contradiction that I think engages a viewer much more deeply than highly polished rendering styles. Reproductions of Antonio Lopez Garcia's work might not seem very abstracted at a glance, but that's because you lose the scale of the originals. That said, even shrunk down in a book I find they have an uncanny truth to them. They're just so right. Accurate and precise, but painterly and fractured. There are other books that essentially cover the same works included in this one, but I just happen to like this edition.

Why it makes the cut: A powerful reference for how much life a painting can have, regardless of subject

Mirage (Boris Vallejo), Del Rey/Ballantine, 1982

When it comes to an art book as its own statement, Mirage is my standard of excellence. In comparison to some elaborate art object volumes that have been released in recent years, it might seem pretty humble, but I look at it as a minimalist masterpiece. The presentation is clean, serious, and direct. Conceptually, it is extremely cohesive without ever feeling redundant. Every image adds to the overall world with such unique character that it feels surprisingly expansive, yet it only contains 32 paintings and 12 drawings. Less is more? Looking at this book feels like a museum exhibition: memorable, well curated, and treated with the highest respect for the work. Of course, this couldn't be pulled off if the work itself didn't fully deliver.

Why it made the cut: As inspiration both in presentation as well as demonstrating a powerful body of work with a clear vision, it is hard to top.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Help Us With Our New Site!

Hello all! Thanks to the success of our recent Patreon videos and the continued generosity of our readers, we are finally capable of investing some legitimate money into our website, and we want your input!

Very shortly, we will be revamping the Muddy Colors website. We have been tossing around ideas to make it more of an everyday hub for artists of many genres. The goal for the new site is primarily to encourage more interaction. We'd like to open this up to you, our faithful readers, to get your feedback on what you'd like to see from Muddy Colors. You are, after all, the ones who keep this blog meaningful!

Some changes have already been announced and put into place. We're working on a new logo (one of many prospective new logos above) and overall site design. We've also begun offering our past demos for purchase through our site here.

We also have top secret plans for a few more artists to join our ranks as contributors very soon! Trust me... you are going to be impressed!

While we're very excited about the new direction, and we're not just talking about post topics (though those are welcome too!), we want your input on the site itself. Layout! Features! What would you like to see? Live chat? Forums? Portfolios?  Perhaps it would be nice for posts with new comments get bumped to the top to encourage continued discussion?

This is your chance to let us know what could help make Muddy Colors more engaging to you.

So please feel free to drop us a comment with your suggestions. Send us ideas. Send us thumbnails even! Whatever you'd like to share, we'd like to see! Even if it's just a comment stating what you don't like. We looking forward to hearing from you all!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning Live

-By Donato

Next weekend will find me and a host of other artists at the Society of Illustrators in Manhattan for Art Out Loud 10, a live painting demonstration to entertain and educate the 50 odd attendees who can make the trip.  I will humbly be sharing the stage and trying to hold my own with the highly talented Wayne Barlowe and Greg Manchess.

It has been 6 years since I was last at the Society for one of these events, and I am looking forward to connecting to another generation of painters and taking a few glimpses over my shoulder at what Wayne and Greg may have to share!

Looking back at my artistic development, the chance to watch other artists at work has provided me with insights and knowledge which no textbook, how-to-step by step, or even videos have been able to provide.  The subtle choices each artist makes is laid bare, and you as a participant, get to absorb it like a sponge.  All of it.  Even the parts you don't realize you need or thought relevant.

For it is not until later that some minor decision, some little gesture, some handling of a tool or medium which you took in first hand, will come back to you and help inform your own artistic development.  I speak of this for the live drawing and painting 'demos' I have been exposed to have left deep impression on my work - Jerome Witkin and his draftsmanship work with anatomy, Vincent Desiderio and his layering of glazes and precision of paint application in his initial block ins, Darrel Sweet and his gestural flips of the brush.

Tickets are now available for this event.  If you cannot make it, then I recommend that if you do watch 'how-to' videos, seek those where you can see the hand of the artist at work, not just their effects. Take in their full body language and tune into their pacing and pauses.  How much are they observing their references?  Planing a stroke of color? Blending on their palette? Contemplating compositional choices? There is so much to learn in those quiet moments in between the mark making...

Art Out Loud 10
Saturday, July 8
12:00 - 4:00PM

Society of Illustrators
128 E. 63rd Sreet
NY, NY, 10021

Top fantastic illustrators will demonstrate their skills and techniques in an open forum. 
Featuring artists Wayne Barlowe, Donato Giancola & Greg Manchess!

Plus! Have your portfolios reviewed by renowned art directors Irene Gallo (Associate Publisher, Creative Director, Tor Books) and Lauren Panepinto (Creative Director, Orbit Books/ Yen Press). 15 minutes reviews. Reservations required.
Photos from Art Out Loud 2011.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New Downloads Available!

This month's download is an "Introduction to Mixed Media, with Dan dos Santos" and is available to download right now!

In this 3 hour demonstration, Dan dos Santos discusses and shows how to implement a wide variety of mediums, including pencil, acrylic, gouache, colored pencil, markers, fluid acrylics, airbrush and oil paints... all in a single painting.

Want this video? There are two ways to get it...

Anybody who is currently a $10+ Muddy Colors Patron, or signs up at the $10 donation level before the end of June, will receive this video free with their donation! You can sign-up for our Patreon here:

Or, if Patreon isn't really your thing, we get it. You can still purchase this download through our Gumroad store at the regular retail price of $20 right here:

Be sure to check out the trailer below to get a taste of what's in store for you:

Detail of Final Painting, "Jean Grey" by Dan dos Santos

Also, new to our Gumroad store is Greg Ruth's recent demo "A Portrait in Pencil". You can find this video, and all of our other instructional videos, in our Muddy Colors Video Shop:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Two—Count 'em, TWO!—Ray Harryhausen Exhibitions!

-By Arnie Fenner

We're all agreed that the late Ray Harryhausen was a legend in the special effects industry, right? And that his movies—whether The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Jason and the Argonauts, or The 7th Voyage of Sinbad—helped influence many of us to become artists of one sort or another? Ok, with that established: if you're traveling this summer there are two exhibits of Ray's work you'll definitely want to see if you get the chance.

If you're in London you can attend "The Art of Ray Harryhausen" at the Tate Britain Museum, which will run June 26 through November 19. Ray's drawings and stop-motion models will be matched with some of his influences, including works by Gustave Doré and John Martin.

The second exhibition is "Ray Harryhausen—Mythical Menagerie" hosted by Science Museum Oklahoma (in Oklahoma City, OK, of course), which will open on July 29. This show will include 150 models, bronzes, illustrations, and storyboards from throughout Ray's career. It closes on December 3, so there will be plenty of time to make the trip.

Both shows are made possible by the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation.

And since we're talking about Ray about some clips and interviews?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Inspiration: Piranesi

-By William O'Connor

At the end of the 18th century a revolution was in the air. Not only were the people of France and America beginning to strain against their tyrannical monarchs, this revolution had grown and evolved to consume the sciences, philosophy, religion and of course, the arts. New ideas of astronomy, biology and physics transformed the way that artists perceived the world around them. Discoveries in archeology unearthed long lost ruins and artifacts from the ancient world and with them, new and previously unimagined concepts that would lay the foundation of the Romantic Movement in art.

One of the most imaginative artists from this period is Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

Born, trained and working in Italy all his life Piranesi was surrounded and influenced by the unearthly ruins of ancient Rome as they were beginning to be studied academically for the first time.  As is evidenced by his etchings and engravings is the  lack of conservation that had been given to the Ruins.  For a thousand years Rome had been scavenged for stones, and large spaces like the Forum and the Colosseum had been used as sheep pastures.  Piranesi creates intricate landscapes documenting these monuments like a scientist, but also adds a sense of dramatic scale and regal power that seems to live in the ruins despite their neglect.

Late into his career Piranesi began his “Prison” series.  A fantastical journey into completely imagined fantasy dungeon-scapes.  These underworld environments of smoke and winding stairs, gates, and bridges, ropes and wheels always, for me, evoke a wonderful sense of drama and atmosphere.  The tiny figures could be monks or dwarves or orcs moving though the Mines of Moria or any epic Dungeon Crawl.  In the decades and centuries to come Piranesi’s magical labyrinths would inspire artists as diverse as Coleridge’s 1797 poem “Kubla Khan”, M.C. Escher, the Surrealists, and just about every fantasy game designer and artist.

Below is a wonderful lecture about Piranesi's work, particularly his Prison etchings, and both their cultural and artistic significance.

Next time you are designing a dungeon for an adventure, or writing a story, or concepting environments, look to the grandfather of fantasy concept world-building, Piranesi.


Limited Time: 2 for 1!

In case you haven't seen it yet, anyone who signs up (or upgrades) to Muddy Colors $10 video option before the end of the day today, will also receive a copy of Greg Ruth's 'A Portrait in Pencil', in addition to this month's video, totally free.

Hurry up, this offer expires in a matter of hours! You can sign up here:


Friday, June 23, 2017

Deciphering Flesh Tones

-By Howard Lyon

Color is a fascinating and challenging part of painting.  It can be defined as hue, saturation and value. Today, I am going to focus a little more on saturation. Saturation being how intense or gray a color is.

Before I get going though, I think I need to add a disclaimer to this post. Painting from life is the best way to understand color. Also, photographs of paintings are by no means the same or close to observing a painting in person and only capture a small range of color and value discernible to the eye.

With that out of the way, I do think there are some important things we can learn about color using the computer and photography. Also, photographing paintings for later study can help to reinforce or add to observations made in person. I mention this along with the disclaimer because I am going to use a photograph of a Bouguereau painting to make some observations today.

I have long been fascinated by William Bouguereau’s paintings. There are other artists whose work I admire more for their artistry and subject, but I am hard pressed to think of another artist who achieved such a high level of technical skill. He could draw with great accuracy and had a wonderful eye for value and beauty, but for me it was ability to paint skin with very subtle shifts in hue and saturation that draws me in.

When Bouguereau was at his best, the flesh in his paintings looks like there is blood flowing just under the skin, vibrant and alive. You also see so much color. There is no ‘flesh color’ but many slight changes in hue and saturation that work together to create the impression of flesh.

In an effort to understand color a little better, I came up with a way of examining a photo of one of his paintings. I did this a few years ago and posted it on my site, but I did a little variant this time and I think it is more useful. Again, it is full of limitations, but maybe it will further cement knowledge you have or generate some new thoughts.

What the heck is going on here!? Let me explain. I am sampling colors from the face and hair. Each number and circle on the right show where I sampled a color. On the left, in column ‘C’ I filled the square with the sampled color and corresponding number. Column ‘B’ shows each of the colors, but with all of their values more or less equalized to a middle value. Column ‘A’ shows the colors with their saturation levels maxed out.

For me, column ‘A’ is the most revealing. When the colors are all shown at full saturation, the narrow range of hues used is much more obvious. Look at row 8. That color is from the white of her eye! It is really a very gray yellow, but it isn’t as clear until the color was pumped up to full saturation. It is also neat to see the progression from swatches 5 – 19, from the top of the forehead to the chin and up the neck and see the small shifts from orange to red and back to orange.

In the image above, I have arranged the same colors descending from red to yellow to show the spectrum of colors used in a clearer way. I kept the original numbers paired to the swatches. Again, we have the sampled color in column ‘C’, the colors almost equalized (there is a little variation) to a middle value in column ‘B’ and the full saturation in column ‘A’. Now, column ‘B’ stands out to me. Look at the top three rows, where the reds are nearly the exact same hue, but vary in saturation. They appear more blue or purple, warmer and cooler mostly due to their different saturation levels (they aren’t the exact same hue, but quite close). Look down the rest of column ‘B’. See how the colors vibrate and pulse in and out based on their saturation? More so than the fully saturated column ‘A’. The variety you can get by changing the saturation just a little is very exciting to me.

Color starts to do some interesting things as you drop out the saturation. You can achieve a sense of blue, green and purple by dropping the saturation of red, orange and yellow. It is as if grey starts to take on the properties of a compliment when placed next to a color of similar value. The gray gives your more saturated colors life that they don’t posses on their own. By working the saturation, you can create the appearance of blue veins under the skin, the purple flesh some complexions have around the eyes and cheeks and the cooler tones around the mouth and jaw.

If you are curious about giving this a try, next time you are painting flesh work in a neutral gray of similar value to the color you are working with and see what happens. See if you can create the appearance of color beyond those you squeezed out of the tube. That isn’t to say you should or shouldn’t use a full range of colors to paint flesh, but it is a worthwhile approach and exercise to try it if you haven’t.

Of course this won’t make you paint like Bouguereau, but hopefully it will either remind you or help you see how wonderful gray can be in adding life to your work.

*The photographs in this post are from the Art Renewal site and the Truth in the Bright Light of Day blog.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

AD A/B Testing

By Lauren Panepinto
So I was up at Illustration Master Class this weekend and as I was portfolio-reviewing, I noticed a trend gaining popularity with artists, and I was happy, because it's something we talk about over at Drawn + Drafted's art business bootcamps a lot. Having a leave-behind that has a choice involved. Usually a choice of business cards that have different pieces of your art on the back.

Alix Branwyn
The snake is the most popular (also the one I chose) - the visual hierarchy is more more clear in that one, and it really pops at the smaller size
It seems like such a little thing to do (and the advent of Moo cards offering up to 50 different backs to business cards or postcards made it very easy to pull off), but making someone stop and choose really has a big effect.

Bruce Brenneise
The purple/spaceship card is the favorite, and I'd suspect that's all about how it has a lot of color, but doesn't get hard to read at the small size, where #1 is a little confusing to parse what's going on, and 2 & 4 are more monochrome

Irene Gallo of Tor Books and agrees, when we were talking about it on facebook, she said "being able to pick my favorite after a review makes huge difference in how well I remember people. It's kinda weird how much a difference...I'm suddenly emotionally involved, I've made a _choice_. (Also, artists don't always know what their best work is)"

Martin Gee
Surprisingly to no one, the Boba Fett, BB8, and C3PO/R2D2 ones are most popular, but Martin uses the whole set (with the belly band shows) as a set to give away to Art Directors and bigger clients. The Boba & Boba one just kills it for fan fave character + adorable clever concept.

So there's not one, but 2 bonuses for making cards with multiple backs: first, making someone stop and choose between options does a great deal to cement your work in their memory.

Nicole Grosjean
The unicorns are the winners, the full illustration over the watch (though those watches are awesome!)
Unicorns are easily a fan favorite, but the illustration reads easily at a small size and the unicorn has a pleasing silhouette, where some of the other cards are a little busier.

And second — you have a very concrete way to focus test your portfolio pieces. It's going to quickly become obvious that one image will run out the fastest. Many of the artists I talked to also seemed surprised at which image was the winner. Pay attention, because other artists and art directors may have one favorite, and non-industry fans a different favorite.

Nicholas Elias
Showing off the cool multi-design display case that you can order with your Moo cards. I'm pretty sure I took the top card (Ares) - his silhouette really pops here with the lighter background.

It's also a great way to see how your work is shrinking down. Remember it's especially important for those folks who are interested in doing book covers - your illustrations HAVE to look great in thumbnail. And they have to grab someone's eye as they scan across a shelf. Seeing which of your pieces catch people's eyes is invaluable info. Reverse engineer what you did, and apply that to all your other compositions as well.

Julia Lynn Powell
The portrait card on the right is the most popular, and you can really tell in this picture how well it pops off that card. That one was my choice too, and the piece is gorgeous in person, so this was a great reminder.

Really what this let's you do is called A/B Testing...on ADs! So I'm calling it A/D Testing from now on.

You're welcome.

Clark Huggins
Clark says he runs out of the Blue Faced guy (the ad for Reckless Deck) and Captain America the most,
but I love that Aquaman - such a great book cover composition.
 Thanks to all the artists who posted pics of their card choices! I'm putting notes under each image about which have been most popular, when noted.

Naomi VanDoren
Naomi says she runs out of the two fox dragon ones (top right 2), but i think I picked the bottom right - more book cover like for me to remember.

Angela Rizza

Anne-Katrin Hermanns
Anne-Katrin splits her art between scientific illustration and fantasy work, so it's helpful that she can keep cards with both options at the same time, without having to cram multiple images on a small card.

Brandy Heinrich
She says the Koi is the fave

Candice Broersma
The top left 2 are the most popular, although I'd have a hard time picking here. So much good book cover feels.

Christine Rhee
The bear & the goldfish & face pieces are most popular. I definitely would pick the bear, but I was lucky enough to get a whole set...again, a good strategy for wish list clients

Dawn Carlos
Nice strategy - she uses the top card (a cheaper non-Moo print) to pass out at cons with her booth location written or stickered on, then at her booth people can choose between the Moo cards below.

Dominick Saponaro
The left two are the most favorite
(I picked the blue frog - and I later hired Dom to do covers that related directly to that piece)

Elizabeth Leggett

Gwenevere Singley
The middle two go first. My choice was the 2nd from the left. Great conceptual illustration.

Jennifer Geldard

Jon Hunt
This is a 2-sided postcard

Kate Santee
Roller derby wins!

Laura Garabedian
The bottom three are the more popular, the tree in the bottom middle a slight winner. I think I picked that one too, cool concept.

Lily McDonnell
Unsurprisingly the Joker is the fave

Linda Adair
The angels (left 2) are the more popular ones. I love the Halo effect on that one.

Louisa Gallie
The tree is the fave, the girl with the knife the runner-up

Marcelo Gallegos
The two faces on the patterns go first, and I agree with the feeling that they must go bc they are so easy to read at the smaller scale and the orb just pops.

Marisa Erven
Bottom left is the fave - which I agree with, definitely draws you in, over the other two

Matthew Warlick
He's actually run into a problem - this is a double-sided card but people generally take two thinking it's two different cards. 

Preston P. Jackson
the center 2 cards ar ethe most popular, depending on whether Preston is at a fantasy event or general art event. Im pretty sure I picked the fantasy one in the middle.

Randy Vargas
These are new so no crowd testing yet, but my would be the top right bc it's book covery, and the dragons would probably be fan faves

Sam Lamont
Cthulhu beats skeletons
Robbie Trevino
The big yellow hand is the fave (and was my pick)
Tanya Finder