Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting the Shot

-By Dan dos Santos

Helping my model get a more dynamic pose.

For me, one of the most important parts of any job is the photo shoot. Fortunately, I think it's also the most fun!

When I work digitally, revisions and experimentation are so easy that I often find myself making up most things. But oil paints are a bit different. Revisions are really time consuming, and when a tight deadline looms overhead, experimentation is a luxury I usually can not afford.

Because of this, I tend to place a lot of emphasis on my photo shoots. Getting a killer photograph makes the painting process SO much easier, and so much faster. Instead of playing an anatomical guessing game the whole time, I can just look at my reference, and improvise as needed. Why spend days repainting the light source in your painting, when you can move an actual light in just a few seconds and see what it really looks like before you even start?

Typically, I'll spend a full day prepping and shooting reference. Sometimes it's really simple, and just a few snapshots will do. Other times, I build elaborate models, costumes and dioramas... whatever it takes to get the shot I need. For me, much of the design phase of my painting happens in the photo shoot. The lighting, the costume details, the silhouette... all these things are carefully designed in 'real time' through the lens.

(Above: The model shoot for Kalimpura, and the supplemental reference I took to make a more convincing environment.)

A lot of young artists view a dependence on photo reference to be an artistic weakness, and that just is not so. If you constantly rely on your imagination, you are always pulling from the same limited visual vocabulary that you did the last time. Acquiring reference lets you learn about things, and expand your understanding of the way your model and light truly interact. Further more, great accidents happen! I can't tell you how many times something cool happened in a photo shoot (be it an unusual pose, or an interesting shadow), that I NEVER would have thought of otherwise. Sometimes, it's those happy accidents that end up really making the painting great!

Drapery is one of those things that really makes the shoots worth it for me. I've seen many a great painting go awry because of poorly rendered drapery. Conversely, good drapery can really sell an image, especially when it comes to action shots.

(Above: Punching, and getting punched... My friend helps me get some great action shots!)

Get creative with your reference! You don't need to buy the exact stuff you're trying to imitate. You can achieve some spectacular results with common stuff you can find around your house. I've made surprisingly convincing birds from aluminum foil and spray paint, and even leather outfits from black garbage bags. Or, if you have the time, hit up a Thrift store, and buy some old clothes and accessories to cut up and repurpose.

(Above: Don't own a wolf? It's amazing what you can make out of a fleece blanket and some craft paper!)

(Above: Here, a cheap floor lamp stands in for a magic flute)

(Above: Sometimes the reference shoots go SO well, that the painting practically paints itself.)

So the next time you start an intimidating composition, give yourself a fighting chance. Spend the time to do some research, go to the fabric shop, take some preliminary poses yourself, build a model, and see what happens! You'd be really surprised at the subtle, and unexpected, things you fall in love with along the way.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Basics of Bases

-By Tim Bruckner

I was commissioned by connoisseur and collector, Don Bohm, to sculpt a Superman bust of my own design. While working with DC Direct I sculpted thirty-nine different Superman pieces, both action figures and statues. Several I got to design, but they all had to fall within the guidelines of what DC determined was their product parameters. So, the opportunity to design a Superman without it having to be tied to a specific artist, current storyline or the latest incarnation was very appealing.

I have a Jones for bases. There I said it. I like a base that lifts and informs the piece mounted on it. There are instances when a traditional base does just that and sometimes, depending on the subject, a traditional base can be downright perverse. In designing Don’s Superman, I wanted the base to give the piece presence without it weighting it down.

The first design was a steel clad cylinder with the Superman logo suspended in it. It took me days to figure it out. It was only after I made the damn thing that I realized I’d under appreciated the lens effect. After some jerry rigging, I got it to work. Sort of.

Back to the drawing board. I sketched out a few more designs, none of which really worked with the piece.

I wanted the bust to be mounted on a clear cast unit but wasn’t sure how to work that into the complete base. Don and I got on the phone, throwing ideas around. He suggested we use a blue tinted resin as opposed to a red tinted resin. And that turned things around. I sketched out a few more ideas and we settled on one that seemed to work really well.

I constructed the base in two parts, the cradle and the shield. The cradle was made out of 1/8” styrene sheet; glued, sanded and primed. The shield was a bit trickier. I built a form out of heavy card stock, sprayed the interior with mold release and cast urethane into it. With the basic form in resin, I sanded and patched it and then cut out the “S” from 20 gauge sheet wax and spray mounted it onto the form and primed it.

Note: There’s a mold release specifically designed to release silicon from silicone. By spraying both primed parts liberally with that release, I was able to get clean molds without any of the primer becoming bonded to the interior of the mold.

I cast both parts in resin and put them up on the table to make sure they fit and that the clear cast was the right density.

I finished the cradle with a hammered steel spray. For the shield, after sanding and buffing it out with 000 steel wool, I masked off the “S” interior shapes, gave them several coats of gloss varnish and then airbrushed in a few coats of a darker blue transparent glaze. With the masks removed I gave the entire shield several more coats of gloss which really helped increase its transparency. Note: There are several kinds of clear resins. The two basics are semi-clear and water clear. The A side of the semi-clear has a light amber tint to it and needs to be countered with the addition of a small amount of purple or lavender tint. I used the semi clear for the shield. The water clear offers a very clear casting but is really expensive and is a pain in the ass to use.

Don’s completed bust mounted on the “S” shield base. Next, the creation of the bust from sketch to clay, to wax to resin, to Paint Master.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

From all of us, to all of you! Whether or not your country celebrates the holiday, we hope you'll all find a little bit of time to reflect on the blessings in your life, and spend the day with those you love most.

'Burial of Uncas', by N.C. Wyeth

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Flash Gordon Series by Titan Books

Vol. 1 On The Planet Mongo 1934-1937

Greg Manchess

If you're gonna go through life with a name like 'Flash', you'd better back it up by being very cool under fire, have a hot I'd-better-go-with-you girlfriend and a brilliant father-figure scientist buddy at your side.

That would be Flash Gordon. The best airman this side of Mongo.

My grandmother used to send me clippings of the Flash Gordon Sunday strip out of the Chicago Tribune when I was a kid. They didn’t run it in my local Cincinnati Enquirer. By the time I discovered it on a trip to my grandparent’s house, I had no idea where the story had started or where it was going.

I didn’t care. Those clippings were like jewels of color that I studied and studied.

Whoever this Alex Raymond guy was, his artwork was enough to get me curious. With his graceful, information-charged lines, I could daydream about Flash’s world, make up images of Flash and Dale and Dr. Zarkov as real people.

But over the decades, I’d lost hope that I’d ever get to revisit those strips in quite the same way.

But Titan Books has been publishing the entire series in one beautiful volume after another. Recently released is volume 3, “The Fall of Ming 1941-1944,” preceded by volume 1, “On The Planet Mongo, 1934-1937,” and volume 2, “The Tyrant of Mongo, 1937-1941.” The production is excellent and makes a gorgeous set of books, collecting several years in each volume.

Vol. 2 The Tyrant of Mongo 1937-1941

Vol. 3 The Fall of Ming 1941-1944

The beauty of the pages is that they not only capture the color, but they capture a bit of the age of the strip. It allows me to remember my excitement as a kid, only now, I know what I’d been missing.

Alex Raymond’s work is as exciting today as it was in the 30’s and 40’s, or even my childhood. The pages are lovingly produced. Titan respects these pages as much as the fans and presents them as fresh and alive as if inked yesterday.

In production now is volume 4, “Kang The Cruel” by another fabulous inker, Austin Briggs.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cedarlore Forge: Interview with David DelaGardelle

- by Cory Godbey

I return to you, dear Muddy Colors readers, once again! If you missed the introduction in my first guest post, I'm Cory and I am filling in this month for Justin Gerard who has fled the internet to go get married IRL. My first post was on the importance of personal work. This entry will be an interview with the absurdly accomplished maker of swords and fine weaponry, David DelaGardelle.

David, thank you for joining us! First of all, tell us a bit about your background and how you got started making swords. What led you to establish Cedarlore Forge?

Thank you so much for having me! It’s an absolute honor and privilege, as I have been inspired and amazed by the work shared on this incredible blog since it’s beginning.

Looking back on my life I feel like I’ve been a swordsmith at heart ever since I was a little boy. I was raised in a creative and encouraging environment, thanks to my loving family. I grew up on a healthy diet of classic literature, including the epic fantasy works of authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Bunyan, and Chesterton. Also, I spent every summer running around the Northwoods of Scandinavian-heritage rich Door County, Wisconsin, which undoubtedly inspired my fast growing imagination. In many ways, I almost stumbled into swordsmithing by accident as a young kid with my life-long friend Andy Davis. Andy and I had been friends since middle school, both being like-minded fiery-hearted Tolkien-obsessed kids; we quickly setup a makeshift workshop on his parent’s farm property to try our hand at blacksmithing on the weekends. What began as a joke hobby quickly became something serious as it evolved into a business we fittingly named “Mad Dwarf Workshop”. We setup a website our freshman year of college to sell our simple forged knives and swords, like the ones we had read about in childhood. Heroic stories about defending the weak and fighting for truth in ancient mythology, folktales, and Anglo Saxon poetry fueled my creative fire from the start and still do to this day. I loved the idea of crafting a beautiful symbolic object to encapsulate those positive themes. When it came down to the tangible art itself, Andy and I learned primarily from numerous books and websites. We were blown away by the endless free knowledge available about the craft for which we took full advantage. In 2012, after several successful years of working and learning together, Andy and I parted ways as business partners but not as brothers and friends. I then established my solo swordsmithing endeavor; Cedarlore Forge.

Cedarlore Forge is my artistic exploration of the Northern European mythopoetic tradition, in the form of uniquely hand forged swords and artwork. I craft each piece with meaning and purpose, a mythic story to tell, and a truth to be known. I work with the raw materials as closely as they would have been used thousands of years ago by historical swordsmiths. To this day I am still learning this amazing craft, as it is an endless art form with no limit to the amount of perfection you can aim at, and effort you can pour into each piece.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that your Tolkien inspired work will strike a chord with most Muddy Colors readers. What is it that draws you to that tradition of fantasy? What do you hope people feel when they see your work?

Fantasy is an incredible world for artists to explore because in a strange way by exploring other worlds it helps us see our own more objectively and truthfully, and helps us appreciate beauty in the simplest of mundane things. I think the old enlightenment or “rationalistic” mindset of looking down on fantasy as something childish and contemptible is thankfully dying away in our culture, because it’s obviously neither. I love Tolkien’s argument against those who mock fantasy as “escapism” when he said:

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . . If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” - J.R.R. Tolkien.

And I couldn’t agree more. I want to help people “escape” their own “mind and soul” and look outside of themselves at what is objectively and unchangingly true and beautiful. The sword is a symbol that can easily do that in a human being. A sword is an object that serves almost as a litmus test for ones own soul. It immediately gives a weight of responsibility to its wielder, and with it you can do incredible good or incredible evil.
 So I want each sword I forge to tell a story, challenge people to fight the darkness in their hearts, defend beauty outside of themselves, speak truth, and be a symbol and a character in and of itself.

What does it take to craft a sword? Describe the process that goes into swordsmithing.

It always starts as a spark of inspiration in my mind before it goes anywhere else. I begin designing it first by either sketching out rough ideas on paper, or going straight into Photoshop to render the sword digitally. It all depends on the piece and its complexity. Once I have a design locked down I begin work with the raw materials. If the sword’s blade is pattern welded than I compile the layered billet together and forge weld it into a single bar in my forge. If the blade is mono-steel, I select the right bar of high carbon steel according to the dimensions of the sword. Then I will do a mixture of cutting, profiling, and forging to get it to the right shape. I work on giving the blade its bevels by rough grinding them in on my belt sander. Once the geometry is close, but not sharp, I begin heat treatment, which is the most crucial step. I harden the blade by heating it to non-magnetic temperature (bright red/dull orange) and then quench it in oil. After hardening, I temper to give it flexibility and so it won’t break under heavy use. I then begin crafting the hilt out of a wide variety of materials to choose from, such as: steel, iron, bronze, brass, wood, antler, and leather. The hilt is tightly and securely assembled so to never come apart, and the scabbard is fashioned out of similar or complimentary materials. I take the final stages of finishing each sword seriously, as the fine details matter a lot to me in my work. Each choice of color, material, polish, and patina speaks volumes about what the piece means and what it stands for.

You did some work for Marvel on Thor. What was your experience working with them and how was it seeing your work on the big screen?

It definitely was a huge opportunity and blessing for me in my personal career as a self-employed artist. This movie project gave me the opportunity to step out in faith and give all I have to go full time as a bladesmith. It also certainly helped spread my work out there a bit further than it would have spread otherwise. But it was not the most rewarding project I’ve worked on by any means. I much more appreciate working with one individual average person to help them bring their dream to life. I love building relationships with my customers and exceeding their expectations in the swords they dream of owning. That’s what brings me a huge amount of joy in this craft.

What is the most difficult part of being a swordsmith and what is the most rewarding?

I think for most bladesmiths it is balancing design with function. I think every true professional swordsmith would agree that you need to have solid historically time tested function and quality as your foundation, and then upon that you can build and express yourself as an artist with aesthetic design embellishments. Design should never compromise quality and the functional use of the sword though. Both design and function are very important in their own rights, but function should be the leader of the relationship.

The most rewarding thing would undoubtedly be holding a finished sword in your hand that started in your minds-eye, that you have literally poured your blood sweat and tears into. Steel, iron, bronze, wood, and leather are all things that go into making a beautiful sword, and all of them fight you every step of the way in their own ways. You have to patiently learn to master each, and no one ever truly learns to flawlessly master any of them in his lifetime. But when you do manage to fight through and are holding a finished well-balanced sword in your hands it is indescribably rewarding.

You also pursue illustration in addition to weaponry. Tell us a little about that.

Traditional art and illustration fits into my work hugely, especially since I briefly began to study it in college before stepping into swordsmithing full time, and for a years I hoped to be a full time illustrator. Even though swords are my primary bread & butter; illustration and drawing work still plays a huge role in almost every piece I make, as I design each piece out on paper before forging it. I often create visual back-stories for each piece, complete with characters that would wield such a weapon, and the decoration and ornamentation that adorns each sword.

I also often do illustration work for individuals and organizations in between sword commissions, for everything from magazine covers, CD covers, to book illustrations, such as my most recent project; “The Narrow Road”, a novel based off of John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrims Progress.

What sort of hobbies do you enjoy outside of swords?

Answering this question will sadly reveal how pathetic I am…
But in all honesty, I really am doing what I love. Sword making started out as my hobby when I was only 13, and it still is today even when I’m not forging a sword for a client.
 But other than swords I love filling up my sketchbooks with my own fantasy art. I’m an outdoor fanatic all year round and love Bushcraft survival skills. I love CrossFit, craft beer, pipe smoking, bonfires with friends, and good food smothered in Sriracha.
 But most of all and more than anything else, spending time with my beautiful wife, traveling with her, and enjoying the tasty baked goods she makes (not covered in Sriracha).

Where can people keep up with you online?

My website with a gallery of past swords and art can be found at:
You can support me and my work by liking Cedarlore Forge on Facebook.
My Flickr stream.
And you can follow me on Twitter: @cedarlore

Good denizens of Muddy Colors, it has been fun! I may or may not be back for one more post. All depends on Justin's schedule. If this is in fact the last one, well, I have had a great time! Big thanks to Justin and Dan for inviting me to fill in.

As before, you can see more of my work over at, or find me over on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

One final note: I just set ablaze my yearly Fire Sale. If you're interested you can discover all sorts of treasures on my shop before they burn up.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Inking — Part 1 of 3

Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #5 Cover. 2013.
Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on bristol board with digital color, 11 × 17″.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of how to ink a page, I want to cover a bit of the why. I'm hardly qualified to give a history lesson on the practice, but I can say with (moderate) confidence that it was always a necessary part of comic book publication. Early printing methods simply weren't capable of reproducing the subtle grays of pencil — but even though technology has improved, the practice remains solidly in place.

inks by Joe Rivera over cyan print

If we think back even further, it becomes apparent that "inking" has existed since the first printed art objects. From woodcuts to engraving, printmaking is a relatively new technology that has only flourished over the last 600 years. The techniques originally created to cope with the limitations of the medium eventually grew into a style unto themselves.

my Dad's inks at full resolution (with George for relative size)

cyan print of my digital "pencils"

So what is that style? It's any distillation of the experience of seeing, rather than a rote copy of nature. It's an approach that isolates what's important about a scene by exploiting the differences between objects. There's a reason that we can watch an animated film — 2D or 3D — and still get caught up in the story. What matters to us is the characters, not their visual proximity to nature. Even the most fully-rendered print by Durer, with it's many subtle values, is a kind of hyper-reality — it's a cartoon in the sense of being a type of exaggeration. That's what inking's all about: selecting what's most important about an illustration and leaving out everything else.

my digital "pencils" at full resolution

The time lapse video at the end of the post is more about the thought process behind inking, rather than the physical act. (I'll cover more of that next time.) In it, I'm digitally inking over a fairly refined sketch (with a Cintiq 13HD in Photoshop). While it won't show you which brush to use on what paper, I hope it can reveal some of the decisions I make when going from a sketch to a finished piece. In most cases, it's all about clarity — making sure that what the viewer sees is what I want them too. You could, of course, be as loose or rough as you like with your inks, but having only two value options can really focus the mind on composition.

digital sketch, color-coded by layer

I made the transition from rendered paintings to line work in 2008, but I like to think that the switch reaped unexpected rewards when I eventually returned to painting. Having fewer value options has a way of imposing good composition practices. You can almost always save a bad composition with fancy lighting (this was actually a game students played at the Brandywine School) but any sketch with a strong start has a much better chance of a strong finish.

digital layouts for editor approval

Just a quick note about this cover: I don't normally pencil digitally, but I was between studios at the time and this method was easier. To be completely honest, we could've used my "pencils" for the final art, but I had my Dad go ahead and ink it because it's a cleaner style (and we like having original art to sell). My total time for the piece was 18 hours (not counting my Dad's inks). Here's the hourly breakdown.

layout: 2.5
digital sketch: 6.5
digital pencils: 6.5
digital colors: 2.5

I plan on writing 2 more posts on the subject, so if you have any questions or topics that you'd like covered for next time, don't hesitate to ask.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Taking the Time to Improve

-By Howard Lyon

First, I want to say how lucky I feel to have a regular spot to post here on Muddy Colors.  It is humbling, inspiring and a great opportunity.  Thank you.

Sometimes when life gets really busy, either with work or family, it is tough to make enough time in our busy schedules to practice. I will often find myself in the middle of many deadlines and other obligations and the first thing that I will let go is taking the time each day to do a little personal sketching or painting.

This is a mistake though, because I find that I take the most risks and receive the most gains when working on personal projects. I think about growth often. What am going to do today to improve? If want to paint as well as Waterhouse or Rockwell, what I am doing about it? There is certainly much to learn in reading or from teachers, but at the end of the day it will be in front of the easel that most of the improvement will happen.

I may never even approach the skill and quality of the great artists that I admire, but I am certain that if I don't actively work towards a goal of improvement, I will fall much shorter otherwise. I was talking to a very talented and commercially successful artist and asked what they were doing to improve. He looked at me and said "Nothing, I am able to paint to the level I sought." Please take me out into a field and hit me over the head with a shovel if I ever utter such words.

Each morning I try to take an hour or two before I start working and draw, read or paint. This week, I did a little sketch over two days to share here and recorded it. This is about 3.5 hours of painting time done over two mornings. I shot the reference for this about a month ago. I had some floral wreaths made for a painting series I am going to be working on and asked my daughter to model them for me.

I did this little 5"x5" sketch on masonite with a lot more texture on the board than I usually use (if you read my Norman Rockwell post you will remember how struck I was with the texture of the ground).  I still painted pretty thin, but I liked the way the texture underneath worked with my brushstrokes on top.  I need to explore this more.

I started with a pencil drawing, then inked the important lines with a Micron Pigma pen followed by a quick wash with casein and then went right into oils.

Watch the video below to see a time-lapse of the sketch.

I find doing small personal pieces like this immensly rewarding professionally, but also psychologically.  It feels great to start and finish a piece in the same day and they give me a little boost each time.  Some are duds, but often enough there is a spark of inspiration or problem that resolves and I take a baby step towards my goals.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Alexandra Potter and a Tentacle

-By Serge Birault

Here's a picture of the lovely Alexandra Potter:

I've been very influenced by :
- George Petty : For the cartoon shapes and the pose.
- Hubert de Lartigue ( : For the tones and the soft light.

I did this picture last year, but I think I never shared the steps : 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Vincent Desiderio

by Donato

This past week's lectures and presentations to my classes and a gallery talk at the Huntsville Museum of Art left me thinking about an artist who has continued to inspire me year after year.  Vincent Desiderio creates some of the most stunning emotionally ambiguous works that I know.  From his massive work representing art history within books to the sublime paintings of his children, I am constantly moved by both his technical virtuosity and passionate narratives.  I feel both conceptually uneasy and sensually seduced in front of his works, a tension born of his effective marriage of disparate art forms - the cerebral modernist and technical classicalist.

His paintings are luminous, generated through layer upon layer of glazing and deft alla-prima painting, and most oimportantly he is not afraid to paint large, very large. If you can find his book Vincent-Desiderio-Paintings-1975-2005, pick it up.  It is well worth the $150 in what it can do for your conceptual development.

Vincent is represented by Marlborough Gallery in New York City.  While there are not pending exhibitions of his art planned, keep your eye out for his work.  You will not be disappointed no matter how far you must travel to view it first hand...