Coming Up From the Baconalia

So New Year’s happened and then I kind of went radio silent for a few weeks on here, which might feel awkward if I hadn’t resolved after the first week to just not beat myself up about the level of activity on the blog.  I’ve jumped pretty heavily into playing with my new art materials, especially the markers that I got, and so a lot of my creative energy has been focused on producing visual art over doing a lot of writing.

When I look at the backlog of comics I have to read, I mostly just feel a bit of despair at the prospect of diving into all that material and devoting brain cells to unpacking it.  I have the entire run of Pretty Deadly: The Rat to look at (I bought it monthly and just stowed the issues until the whole thing was out so I could read it in one go), and my brain just spins when I think about trying to analyze it; Kelly Sue DeConnick produces some really excellent stuff, but I always feel under equipped to tackle her work.  Slightly less daunting but still worthy of sighs of aggravation are the outstanding issues on the Life is Strange series as well as Die #10 which really does deserve some deep thought that I just have not had the bandwidth for lately.

I think the sense of overwhelm is coming from a combination of low-level exhaustion from the end of the holidays (I spent two weeks unclenching from work, and now I’m back to work while needing time to unclench from celebrations) and the general ennui that tends to pervade January.  It’s legitimately the worst time of year as the days are still extremely short, the holidays are done, and also at work we’re all scrambling to drag students over the finish line of first semester.  It’s terrible, and the sense that I should be doing more with my free time is this low-grade buzz in the back of my head that always assails me around the end of the work week as I look at the weekend and wonder if this will be the time that I jump back on the blogging treadmill.  I’m working on this post on a quiet Saturday night at the end of the month, and I honestly don’t know if I’m going to feel like writing more once this update is done.

The saving grace here is that Rachael and I have discussed this general malaise, and we agree that a lot of it just seasonal.  Eventually things will improve (I suspect that I’ll feel better right around the time I get grades finalized and hammer out some lesson plans for the start of February), but in the mean time, it’s okay to accept that this is a sort of Baconalia (that is, a festival of sluggishness that is embodied by our Bacon plushie who just sits on the couch all day).  It’s okay to take breaks from making stuff, especially when making stuff is something you really enjoy doing.  Of course, I then have to remind myself that I haven’t stopped making stuff exactly; I’ve just shifted my focus to something that’s not well suited to a blog format.  I’m posting artwork on my Twitter account almost daily, and that’s been really fun, although the eternal gnawing views monster is never happy with the modest but genuine engagements I get through that outlet.  It’s the worst to make a thing that I find generally satisfying for myself and then have the satisfaction tarnished as I wait hopefully for someone to like or share my work.  The refrain that you should always make art for yourself first is cold comfort when you don’t receive frequent external reinforcement that the art is actually good.

Anyway, here’s some stuff that I’ve made in the last few weeks.  I like a lot of it, even as I wonder how I could have executed it better.  In the mean time, I’m going to go back to doodles and television and reading comics just for fun and thinking about tabletop games that may or may not happen.

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This was fun as an experiment in playing with extreme highlights.  I liked the effect on the head when it was half colored, so I decided to lean into that concept of the character’s energy blast being so bright that it whites out parts of his body.  It’s fun, though these kinds of pictures often emphasize to me how basic my grasp of muscular anatomy is.  I was really irritated that I had to keep redrawing the hand; you can see the erasure marks on the paper from where the graphite got ground in after I overworked it.  While the coloring is okay, I actually think this image is kind of boring and static; the pose feels stiff when I look at it.  I think something’s off with the perspective, like I didn’t foreshorten the torso enough in comparison to the legs to give a strong sense of the character moving towards the viewer, and as a result he just looks like he has stubby legs while he’s moving parallel to the camera.

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I was playing around again with foreshortening in the torso here, and again I think I whiffed the execution.  The figure definitely reads as leaning over, but he just seems top heavy in comparison to his legs.  I didn’t get the position of the hand right, so he’s posed in the middle of sitting up instead of looking like he’s resting his weight on his elbow.

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The more I look at this one the more I see problems with it.  There are still a lot of quirks to coloring with markers that I haven’t adapted to, and it’s especially obvious here where I made mistakes.  I was experimenting some with how to draw eyes here, and while I liked the effect okay before it was colored, now it looks really off.  I’m constantly having to relearn that every line on a comics-styled face ages it dramatically.  That’s pretty clear here.  Also, I think this was the picture I did in the last few weeks that made me realize I am fascinated with drawing hoods, but I have no idea how to proportion them so they look right in comparison to a figure’s head.

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I am obsessed with making my full-body figures look dynamic, and I was pretty proud of how this one turned out.  There are some elements in the execution that I don’t love (that back foot swinging around looks rough in comparison with the rest of the legs, and the shoulder on the forward arm looks dislocated to me), but overall I think it’s a good piece.  I am very gradually learning how to use speed lines to imply motion.

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This portrait was a lot of fun for a couple different reasons.  The first one is that because the character is a humanoid chicken, I didn’t feel as much pressure to avoid shy away from extra detailing.  He’s supposed to look a little grotesque, which is actually a very freeing effect to go for.  Also, because he has a beak instead of a fully functional primate mouth, I was forced to think through how the eyes and eyebrows should work together to communicate emotion.  I wanted him to look happy, and I think I fell short on that; he seems more surprised than anything (chickens always look surprised though).  Fuzzy eyebrows were a fun detail.

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There is so much junk on the hand in the drawing; I hated doing it.  On the flip side, I like the effect and I feel like the texture of the bits on the hand do a good job of giving it a sense of volume despite the two-tone coloring.  The face came out great; that slight raise of the eyebrow like he’s a little embarrassed to be noticed is delightful.

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It’s a Star Wars pastiche with X-Men characters.  I don’t feel like explaining it.  The coloring took three days of work off and on, and in the end it came out pretty decent.  I’m eventually going to have to learn a lot more about how color schemes work so I can simulate different kinds of light.  The clash between the sunset tones of the background city and the foreground characters being in apparently white light bothers me now that it’s finished.  Part of that was lack of planning, but it was mostly just my limited understanding of how to use colors.

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This one was a ton of fun to draw, even if I did have to redo each hand two or three times to get their proportions with the rest of the body right.  I particularly like the way the hair turned out here.  The face is pretty good, but I think the mouth should have been slightly bigger, and I should have reduced the size of the shine on the pupils a lot.  As it is, there’s a magical girl vibe to the face that doesn’t really mesh with the rest of the body.

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I’m going to brag on myself for a moment here (because sometimes it’s good to acknowledge what you do well) and say that I am getting pretty good at visualizing interesting poses.  It’s all covered up in the finished drawing, but I spent a fair bit of time puzzling out the placement of the legs to make sure I knew how the entire figure would fit together.  This whole drawing probably took significantly less time than some of the other ones I’ve done in the last couple weeks, but it feels like a way more interesting piece of art.  I’m a little bugged that I didn’t account for drag when I drew the wings though; it makes no sense that they’d be extended that way.

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This doodle came together in about an hour from concept to final colors.  It was really fast work.  The proportions are a little weird (I have a tendency to over extend torsos when I’m working on a flat surface because my perspective squishes the image slightly).  I am weirdly proud of the way the sweat pants look though.  I’ve been trying to figure out how you give texture to non-fitted clothing for a while, and I finally had some success here.  The weirdly shaped hoodie makes another appearance here as well.

All The Drawings

While I continue to cast around for something else to call my drawing posts (Learning Sketchbook was great!), here’s a big post with all the stuff that I finished at the end of the year plus a few things I’ve been working on since after New Year’s.

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I didn’t feel like coloring this one.  Drawing skeletons is exhausting.

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Rictor and Shatterstar are very good boys who really enjoy their Saturday mornings together.

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I got a bunch of Prismacolor pencils for Christmas, so I drew a Psylocke (the new one, not Captain Britain; I know it gets confusing).  The skin tone pencils are a lot of fun to work with, even though I tend to be really shy about applying a lot of color.

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Finished out my sketchbook with a picture of Illyana that’s done with the same pose I drew her in back in June.  The difference in my style between the two pictures is super striking.

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I also got some markers.  They are fun (again, especially the skin tones).

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Apparently having markers makes me way more ambitious.  By this point, coloring takes the majority of my time when I’m working on a piece.  Part of it is definitely learning to work with a new medium, but also my drawing style is still relatively simple so that I just don’t know how to spend more time on a piece before I move on from pencils.

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The inset panels are mostly okay, but I think I nailed the profile of the face in this one.  There’s a lot of experimentation in this one with how to apply markers for coloring, which I think comes across most strongly in the texture contrast between the black section and the pink.

My 2019 In Review

Let’s go ahead and get the typical boilerplate stuff out of the way: as an educator I don’t usually spend too much time dwelling on the end of the calendar year because it falls halfway through my annual project of teaching some kids some stuff and hoping that they at least retain the bits about being kind to one another and maybe how stories and language work a little.  This is an exercise I engage in because everyone else is doing the same thing, which makes it timely content.  The actual act of reflection is sometimes difficult for me, not because it’s painful but because it’s just not a regular frame of mind for me.  The whole point of keeping a blog is for me to fire and forget my thoughts.

Okay, I think that’s shaken the cynical cobwebs out, so let’s talk about the year and (I guess) the decade.  Again, it’s an entirely arbitrary benchmark that I don’t put much stock in, but folks are doing it, so let’s just try to go with the flow.

I suppose the proverbial elephant in the room regarding my year is the fact that Mom died back in May.  That was a massively disruptive event in the short term, and I had a lot of really complex feelings about the act of grieving and my perception of the social expectations surrounding it.  I went to counseling over the summer to help me process a lot of that stuff (that was good) and I recently realized that much of what I internalized as the appropriate way to grieve was directly received from my mother.  She was much older than I was when her own mother died, but it was pretty formative event in her own life.  I was still very young when it happened, but I think years of observing her building so much of her identity around the relationship with her mom put this unexpressed image in my head of appropriate grief for a parent.  It’s supposed to utterly wreck you, and the mere mention of the deceased should bring you to the brink of tears for years after they’ve passed.  It should feel like a gaping wound that everyone can see just by looking at you.  You’re definitely not supposed to be able to keep it together at the funeral.

Instead, I’ve been mostly fine.  To be sure, I miss her, and there’s definitely some sadness whenever something reminds me of her, but it’s just not the overwhelming psychic devastation that I’d been led to believe it would be.  I still feel a little uneasy discussing these thoughts because they seem so utterly alien.  Questions of whether I appear to be a bad son occasionally float around, but then I remind myself that anyone who would think that is not worth worrying about.  I’m really fortunate to have always felt totally secure in my parents’ love for me, and the distance that emerged between us as I got older isn’t unusual, let alone something for which I should feel ashamed.

So yeah, that happened this year.

Turning to more positive things, I learned how to draw this year!  I’m okay at it!  This is a skill that I completely lacked a little over a year ago, and now I have a decent working knowledge of human figures and faces.  I’ve definitely gravitated more towards a comic book style as I’ve practiced more, mostly because I enjoy comic books and that visual language is the one with which I’m most familiar.  There’s still a lot that I need to learn, obviously, but I feel way more confident after a year of regular practice.  My personal project of sharing almost everything that I’ve drawn this year has been so much fun, and it’s left me with a great visual record of my progress.  I didn’t meet my goal of completely filling out my first sketchbook this year (I have three blank pages left on New Year’s Eve, and I just don’t have the stamina to do three drawings before midnight), but I’m so happy with the artifact I’ve made for myself.  If anyone who knows me in meatspace ever wants to see a thing that I think is super cool, I’ll be happy to pull it out and show it off in the future.  I eagerly await the indeterminate moment in the future when I want to cringe at the results of my first year of serious practice.  For now, it’s probably best to let it belong to the rest of the blog: finish it and move forward to new projects.

On the blog itself, I’ve had an incredibly productive year in terms of output.  Participating in Inktober and doing my extremely on-brand obsessive completion of every day’s prompt without pause went a long way towards helping me maintain momentum through the fall when I typically get tired with the added work load of a new school year.  My output on the blog took a distinct turn away from personal topics (outside of a few reflections related to Mom’s passing) towards comics and movie criticism.  If I were to go back through this year’s posts, I would probably find remarkably little about myself explicitly on display, but there is a wealth of thinking and reaction to the things that delighted and irritated me this year.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, I find the mental grinding that accompanies engagement with someone else’s creative output really pleasant most of the time.  Occasionally it feels like work, but so does everything else.

If there’s a thing I’ve internalized over the last decade (and there are many), satisfaction with things done is a far more reliable metric of contentment than frequency of moments of delight.  This is a tangent, but I have never mastered the art of unabashed expressions of enthusiasm, and I think this is the thing that leaves me feeling most alienated from other members of various fandoms that I want to interact with.  You think this thing is cool!  I think it’s cool too!  Also, I am extremely uncomfortable with being enthusiastic about anything, so we’re probably not going to get much farther than that.

The reason I point this thing out is the stubborn desire I have for people to notice who I am based on the things I keep in my life.  My blog’s a running account of where my mind is focusing its attention, and I hope vaguely for someone to say, “I like that thing too!”

One thing which I have not discussed on the blog this year is the fact that I experimented with a thing tracker in 2019.  I’m not sure of a better name for it because it’s just a spreadsheet where I logged things that I encountered this year.  You can see what mattered to me based on the categories I maintained.

  • Comic Books – 147 trades read (I’ve not tracked most of the individual issues I’ve been reading this year, so the actual number’s probably slightly higher)
  • Books – 15 read (I have always felt I wasn’t a prolific reader, but I think I just enjoy books with pictures more)
  • Video Games – 18 finished (the vast majority of these are games that can be completed in a weekend; there are probably four or five that have play times that approach sixty hours)
  • Minutes Exercised – I quit tracking this when around halfway through the year.  I know I spent over a thousand minutes working out in that time, but my workout schedule got disrupted in the second half of the year with the move.
  • TV Shows – 51 seasons watched
  • Movies – 40 watched
  • Words Written – 132,428 (This applies only to words that have been put on the blog, but I’ve barely done any other kind of writing this year, so it’s pretty accurate)

The most fun aspect of keeping my things tracker has been the ability to look back and recall what I’ve seen this year and when.  A lot of the television and movies happened over the summer when I spent two weeks living like a bachelor while Rachael was at a novel writing workshop.  We watched all of Schitt’s Creek in this calendar year.  There was a glut of movies that we saw in December, mostly because of all the celebrating over the winter break.  I spent New Year’s Day 2019 watching the My Little Pony movie and playing Bandersnatch on Netflix.  The comics I read tended to be parts of long running series that I picked up when they were on sale.  I have read a lot of Star WarsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Runaways this year.

The one caveat to my logs is that I only noted new stuff that I encountered this year; there was a fair bit of revisiting familiar stories, but I didn’t make note of any of that.

Going into 2020, I’m not sure what I want to accomplish.  I think I will do the tracker again, but I’m going to have to recalibrate a little bit with what goals I want to set for myself.  There were definitely categories of things that I lost interest in tracking early on, and I haven’t bothered to note them here because there’s just no data to pour over.  Others I way underestimated what I could accomplish in a year.  Back in January I thought it’d be ambitious to read twenty comic book trades this year.  I passed that benchmark in a month.  The trick there is that I don’t know if this sort of pace will be replicable in 2020.  I read a lot of comics because there were a lot of things I wanted to read; who knows whether that will be true going forward?

On a more public level, I think my primary goal for this year is going to be resisting the temptation to obsess over national politics.  The last presidential campaign was an incredibly stressful thing, and I already have all the information I need to cast my vote in November.  The current embarrassment has got to go, and I’ll vote for whoever Democrats put forward as the candidate.  I have preferences like anyone else, but the bottom line is that there will not be a worse choice than what we already have.  Obsessing over the horse race is only going to cause anxiety about things beyond my control.

I think that’s everything to wrap up 2019.  Let’s get on with another year then.

(And for the decade stuff, whatever.  I got into my dream career, started a blog, and moved across the country to a place where I’ve never been happier.  Next question.)

Learning Sketchbook 21

There are phases where you plateau when you’re developing a new skill, and then there are phases where it feels like you’re just taking off.  After last week’s relatively low output of two drawings (to be fair to myself, the one I spent the most time on did have two figures who are interacting with each other), I upped it to six.  A couple of them are definitely the result of quick drawing sessions, but the last four have felt significantly more dynamic and visually interesting than anything else I’ve done in a while (and I didn’t use photo reference for them either).

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After doing a few figure drawings, I find that I like to reset with a portrait.  It’s fun to work on a face in detail and try to draw out the parts that convey more subtle emotions.  For this week’s portrait I drew Rogue, and I used a photo reference to get the basic shape and expression, but then I elaborated on it with her traditional trappings, like the big wavy hair with the skunk stripe and the green accents.  It’s pretty obvious to me that I rushed this one (from roughs to colors, I did the whole thing in under an hour), and I feel like with some more care it could have turned out much better than it did.

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This minimalist sketch of Daken was another rush.  It’s probably my least favorite of the set, but I think I did a decent job with the musculature on the back.  Drawing his tattoo was fun, especially because its abstractness and intricacy means that there’s no real set way to do it.  Much of my drawing time was spent just looking for good reference panels of his back, which are harder to find than you’d think.  I feel like the proportions of the arm are slightly off, like if he were to lower it down by his side it’d be far too long in comparison to his torso.  Oh well.

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Here’s where my drawing week started to get really good.  The character is Tempus, who I drew during Inktober this year, so I wanted to try to do something different with her.  I think it’s really fun to draw characters having fun instead of just fighting, so I imagined what sort of outfit she might wear for a night out dancing.  There are elements that are still recognizably Tempus, from the tennis skirt to the purple and white vertical stripes on her top, but it’s generally a far more casual look.  I didn’t use any reference for this pose, so I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out.  If I look at it long enough, I think I’m probably subconsciously mimicking the finishing pose from Yuri’s short routine in Yuri!!! On Ice.  I just realized that; no wonder it looks good!  My primary complaint with this piece is that I didn’t really get the angle of the head right, so the silhouette of the nose feels off.  Tempus is white, but I think I ended up making her look more East Asian in the end.  Still, I feel like the gestures are really strong here, from the arm across the stomach to the set of the shoulders (I don’t think I typically do good shoulders).

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This is the high point of the week.  It’s a real delight to periodically draw a character who’s relatively famous in X-Men fandom, and to have such a clear vision from the beginning of what I wanted to do with the picture.  Rachel Grey as Phoenix has gone through a lot of iterations since she first appeared in the ’80s, but I thought it’d be fun to go with one of her less prominent looks.  There was a brief period just before she got written out of the ongoing plot in the late ’80s where she fully embraced Phoenix as her legacy identity (I think this might have been the first time she actually adopted a genuine costume too) where she had this really rad, super simple outfit that was basically a workout leotard with a gold bodice and red limbs and just a hint of styling on the neckline with the stylized raptor head.  She wore gold gloves in the original look, but I’ve always liked the look of long sleeves hooked over the thumb, so I streamlined a little bit.  The pose is probably inspired by stuff like the double page spread in All-Star Superman where Superman’s flying towards the sun.  I think what I’m happiest about is the deeply androgynous look about Rachel here; she was always a gawky looking character before Alan Davis redesigned her for Excalibur, and I appreciated that nonstandard look.  The Phoenix in the background probably could have been done with more care, but I reached a point in working where I was just ready to be done so I could move on to something else.  I still like it a lot (and the shot works in both portrait and landscape orientation!)

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While Phoenix was the highlight of the week, it wasn’t the last thing I did.  This picture of Juggernaut feels very classic to me; I didn’t play with the costume design at all, and I went for a pretty straightforward action pose, but it generally works.  The eyes are too wide set, but there are some range of motion issues with the Juggernaut’s design that can be hard to contend with when you think about him in action rather than as static images.  It was a lot of fun to draw someone with super bulky muscles though; the proportions feel way more forgiving than on someone who is supposed to be thin.

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I really like everything I did with this picture of Wind Dancer (her power is that she can manipulate the wind; it’s very what it says on the tin), but after I finished it I realized that I really need some kind of background to give context.  She’s supposed to be flying, hence the back bend and the arched foot, but because there’s no background there’s the problem of the picture reading like she’s just doing a really bad en pointe (or whatever you call that ballet position).  I tweaked her costume a little bit, but she’s such a minor character in the broad X-Universe that most folks wouldn’t notice.

I have space for thirteen more drawings in my sketchbook, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to fill them before New Year’s (especially because the holidays are going to be so busy with Dad coming to visit).  I’m trying to take a laissez-faire approach to it to it, but I also know myself, and there is definitely the possibility I’m going to mildly fixate on it as we do our usual celebrations.

Learning Sketchbook 20

After last week, where I felt like I was underachieving with four finished drawings, I managed to hit an even lower completion count this week with a whopping two, one of which I definitely did not feel lived up to my expectations.  The other one turned out pretty well, and I spent some time on Twitter discussing how my process went while working on it because I tried to be a little more deliberate in deciding what I was doing at various stages of completion.  If you missed that thread it’s okay, because I’ll be recapping it pretty thoroughly (with a few more thoughts probably) here.  So let’s look at some pictures.

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How hard is it to draw a guy flying headfirst towards a brick wall while angled away from the viewer?  Kind of hard, it turns out.  I started on this one the day after Thanksgiving, but then I had to set it aside because the long weekend filled up with holiday chores.  When I got back to it, I found that I really wasn’t feeling it very much.  The angle of the arms really bothered me, and the scale I’d settled on left me with minimal room to do any interesting detailing on the figure.  I think I colored it in about half an hour just so I could call it done and move on to something new.  It’s a shame, because the idea of Cannonball being so happy that he’s turned in mid flight while careening towards a second wall tickled me a lot when I came up with it.  Someday I’ll revisit the concept, but today is not that day.

My primary artwork this week has been focused on a piece with Cyclops and Emma Frost.  I’m participating in an X-Men fanfic exchange at the end of the month (I did this last year and somehow decided it’d be fun to do again), and I got really excited at the idea of doing some fanart to accompany the fic that I end up writing.  This is obviously putting the cart before the horse because I’ve only had the prompts for a week now, and I’m just barely beginning to piece together an idea for the characters I want to work with.  I don’t have a keystone scene in mind, let alone a plot at this point.  What I do know is that folks love romance, and if I can figure out an angle on a specific pairing then I should be able to put together something at least a little satisfying.  In the meantime, I wanted to practice some romantic couples poses, and I figured that Scott and Emma are just as good as any to play around with.

Image source: Lindsay Adler Photography (click picture for link)

This is obviously not a drawing; I decided that it may be helpful to find a reference for a romantic couple, and this was the image I settled on when I was Googling.  Most of the pictures I saw were focused more on the soft romance, but I wanted to use something that was less cuddly and more smoldering.  My conception of Scott and Emma as a couple is that they don’t hug, even in private; there’s no way they’d pose that way for a picture.

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From that photo, I sketched out to the basic figures with a few tweaks.  Scott appears a little more tentative than the reference guy because there’s more distance between him and Emma and he’s not leaning his head so far down to meet hers.  Emma’s maintaining a bit of distance from Scott instead of leaning into him the way the reference woman leans into her partner.  There’s an impression more of Emma leading Scott rather than them embracing, which works great for me.  Once I had the poses in order, I did some rough detailing on their costumes, but I kept shading with the pencil to a minimum since I knew I’d be coloring everything later (the place where it’s most obvious I was adding texture with my pencil was with the hair).

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Once I was happy with the roughs, I went back over all my graphite lines with a black colored pencil to make sure the line definition didn’t disappear when I started coloring.  The effect is very similar to how inked lines look, but it has the advantage of not having as severe bleed through in my sketchbook.  The big downside is that colored pencils are not designed for extensive line work, and I have to frequently adjust how I’m holding the pencil to make sure I don’t have a blunt edge making the lines look blurry.  At this point, I noticed some slightly wonky things with the pose, specifically with Scott’s hand on Emma’s waist.  The palm looks a little short for it to be fully extended, which is why there’s a heavy line at the wrist; I was trying to create an effect where it appears that the hand is bending sharply towards the viewer.

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When I color, I typically begin with accents, shift to colors intended for really large spaces, and finish with skin tones. Here I did the gold trim on Scott’s costume first along with both figures’ hair.  Because his costume is all blue, I took considerable time on Scott.  I managed to get some pretty good muscle definition particularly on his arm and torso at this point, although I did find myself sort of taken with the all white costume with gold trim.  I’m even kind of partial to the white pants with blue shirt look that I got when I stopped to take this progress photo.  For Emma, because she wears nearly all white, I left her coloring for after I was done with Scott.  I did go ahead and shade the inside of her cape though, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get confused about the blobby space between her and Scott.  It’s really interesting to look at the image here and see how much more depth the left hand figure appears to have compared to the right hand one.

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Here I’ve finished coloring Scott’s costume, and again you can see just how flat Emma looks in comparison without any extra color.  Also, I can honestly say that I have never spent this much time thinking about a character’s crotch as when I was considering how to color Scott here.

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And here’s the finished drawing!  Because Emma typically wears stark whites, I decided to shade with the black colored pencil (in some other recent drawings I’ve used light blue, but it didn’t feel like it would give the right look for this costume).  There’s only a bit of light shading along the edges of masses to convey roundness and in areas of depression like the crease along the hip.  It’s pretty wild to me how Emma’s pelvis shifts from being a sort of uncanny blob before the shading to suddenly looking like there’s a working skeleton underneath there.  For the skin, I very gently applied a red pencil to Emma.  There are some spots on her face that are still totally white, which I’m not sure was the right decision.  I think the effect is to make her face look a little shiny, which seems to me as someone who doesn’t play with makeup like not what she would actually want.  The alternative was to make her look vaguely pink, and I really just need to get some skin tone pencils.  For Scott I used a red-orange, which still  weirds me out; who knew that red-orange colored pencil consistently gives a pretty good approximation of semi-tanned white skin?

Learning Sketchbook 19

Last week was Thanksgiving, so I was actually way busier than normal (stupid holidays).  Given that, this week’s sketchbook update is a little sparse compared with what I wanted to get done.  I only have four finished sketches, which is less impressive given that I’m currently at a point where I finish one from concept to colors in around three hours.  A couple of them turned out really well, and one I ended up abandoning before I finished the coloring because I just didn’t like the concept enough to keep working.  Let’s get to it!

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I’ve drawn Spiral, the six-armed villain from Mojoworld before during Inktober, but this time I decided I wanted to do something a little more interesting than just a straightforward full figure pose.  Spiral’s standard design is full of fiddly bits from her samurai styled helmet to her mixture of partially cybernetic arms to the simple fact that she has six arms, so I wanted to simplify the look enough that I could just focus on some figure and perspective work.  The design here heavily borrows from the Spiral of the Ultimate universe, who is just a mutant with six arms rather than the stupidly complex creature of the 616.  It was fun playing with the proportions of the arms to give a better sense of depth to the picture, although I question some of my choices with what to have the hands doing.  Spiral’s always portrayed dancing, but I don’t have a good mental reference library for hand positions, so that’s why she’s making the Wolf Pack sign from circa 1997.  I was really hesitant to color this picture because the lines came out looking super clean after I was done with the pencils, and I’ve learned that any color at all will instantly make graphite look washed out.  In the past I’ve played around with using black colored pencil to make lines pop in areas that have low contrast colors, and so I just decided to trace all the pencils with colored pencil on this one to keep the definition.  I’m not happy with how fuzzy the lines look, but at least you can see them.  For the rest of the coloring, I worked in two stages, beginning with just light blue pencil to do low lights on the hair as well as coloring the clothes.  It was kind of a cool effect to have the monochrome coloring, but I ultimately decided I wanted to practice doing skin tone as well.  I think coloring skin is the most anxiety inducing part of working on a picture, and I’m glad to realize that the more I just do it the better I get at understanding how different colors in my palette are going to look.  The last thing I want to pat myself on the back for is the fact that I made Spiral look super buff; I feel like anyone who has that many arms and swings a bunch of weapons around all the time should have some good definition in their arms.

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Another repeat from Inktober, Husk is a character who gets really underserved in the comics but who has an interesting concept and character profile.  Her power involves being able to slough off her epidermis to reveal a new layer of skin that’s taken on the properties of pretty much whatever material she wants.  She’s basically super gross deluxe Colossus.  With this one I knew that I wanted to do something besides a generic action pose (everyone draws Husk ripping her skin off), so I decided to highlight the fact that she’s generally just a sweet kid who wants to do really well at mutant school.  Her eventual arc in the comics is to realize she’s not cut out for superheroing and go to school to become a counselor, so it seemed best not to dwell on the punchy parts of her concept.  Where the Spiral drawing was all about sticking to cool colors and was nearly monochrome, I wanted to really emphasize the warm colors in Husk’s costume.  There’s a ton of yellow on the page with a lot of orange low-lights worked in for some depth.  The skin looks a little washed out in comparison, but I’m still struggling to figure out how to get better saturation on skin without running over into unnatural looking colors (also, I need to scan my drawings instead of taking phone photos; the lighting conditions impact the look of the photo so much compared with what I see when I’m drawing).  There’s something slightly uncanny about Husk’s face here; for portraits like this I don’t use reference, and I can tell when I compare it with my reference practice that there’s definitely something off in my proportions that just doesn’t stand out to me while I’m working.  It feels connected to that common problem in comics art where any given artist’s faces tend to look very samey.

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I did do a little coloring on this one, but I didn’t like it enough to bother with a picture, so all I have are the rough pencils.  The concept was Iceman sliding by a boardwalk and making flirty eyes at a cute guy.  The background irritated me because the perspective felt super off.  Someday I’ll practice drawing environments; today is not that day.

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The week’s finished work ends with this figure drawing of Emma Frost.  Emma’s a really compelling character with a lot of complexities that are worth exploring, but the one thing that often gets overlooked because comics are very much biased towards the straight male gaze is that Emma should be doing more with her wardrobe than just being eye candy.  The artists on the Dawn of X relaunch tend to be a little better about this, so I borrowed from the design that Pepe Larraz used in one of the House of X issues.  I’m still very much a novice at clothing, so I don’t think there’s anything particularly spectacular about this drawing (ugh, feet and double ugh, feet in heels).  The figure is slightly elongated through the torso, which is a consistent problem I have when I draw female coded figures in this three quarter perspective.  The texture of the fur coat is okay though, and I really like what I did with the coloring.  I decided to cheat a bit and color Emma as though she’s in her diamond form, which allowed me to stick to mostly white.  It was fun thinking through how to differentiate the shading on her body and her clothes though.

And that’s it for this week!  Now that we’re moving into the major holiday season, we’ll see how well I can keep up with this level of drawing output on top of everything else I’m trying to do.  Is it normal to feel pre-tired a month ahead of Christmas?

Learning Sketchbook 18

It’s great how if you just take the colon off the title header, you suddenly don’t have an expectation for a subtitle.

Let’s just start looking at the drawings from this week, because I don’t think I have any broad thoughts about my work as a whole.  X-Men characters continue to be my primary subjects because it is really useful to just have a prompt list to work from when I want to draw.  I’m doing enough brain work thinking about the composition without first trying to decide what the subject will be.

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While there are definitely things I feel like I could improve on with whole figure drawings, overall I’ve reached a point where I’m pretty comfortable with my typical output.  I feel like the proportions and apparent weight of my bodies will be consistent with what I’m aiming to convey.  Extremities are still obnoxious (have you ever thought about the sheer number of potential silhouettes a foot or a hand can create?), but that’s okay.  The big thing that I find myself most interested in improving at this point is how I can give bodies and clothing more detail in realistic ways.  This drawing of Illyana has some weird parts (I was trying to make her boots resemble Doc Martens, but I’m still very inconsistent with feet, let alone the shoes that go on them), but generally I like it.  I tried to accentuate the hips slightly more than normal to get the gesture right.  The colors turned out pretty good though; I’m getting a lot of practice with using coloring to create texture on the clothing, and something like the leather that I always imagine this specific outfit is supposed to be made from comes off looking very dramatic.

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I don’t typically enjoy drawing villains just because I don’t build very strong emotional connections with them.  Exodus is an especially weird X-villain because he has a really convoluted backstory and he’s kind of bland in terms of his motivations.  If you think ex-Crusader (like, actual 13th century Crusader) turned mutant zealot, you get most of the character beats locked in.  Once I got the idea that Exodus’s weird pseudo-wings create this halo effect around his head if you’re looking at him from a low-angle, I got a little more excited about drawing him.  I totally rushed the coloring on this one, so it’s not my favorite, but I do feel like the face ended up being pretty okay.

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I’ve drawn Warlock as an accessory in another sketch before, but this was the first time I drew him as a standalone character.  He’s kind of fun because the nature of his body allows you to ignore most of the rules of proportion when drawing him.  He can stretch and squish in ways that other characters can’t, so even though this is a relatively static pose I felt more comfortable being a little less controlled with the line work.  He ended up looking a little blocky, but I adore the way his face turned out.  The vacuum robot is based on our robot vacuum that we just bought.

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The background of this one is pretty bland and forgettable (I have not practiced landscapes), but I actually think the coloring on the figure and the foreground is actually pretty strong.  It makes up for the fact that the shape of the figure looks weird; I wanted to draw him hunched over his workbench, but the curve of his shoulders looks a little weird given the implied musculature.  I really like the shadows on the floor though.

Learning Sketchbook 17: No New Title

I realize at this point that my sketchbook posts have largely morphed into periodic showcases of things that I’ve been drawing (I have this vague notion that I’ll finally change the series title once I fill up the sketchbook I’m using right now because, y’know, “Sketchbook”), and I am okay with that realization.  There are certainly things about my drawing that I would like to improve, but the thing I keep coming back to is a limitation in available tools (which I am hoping might be alleviated as we approach the holiday season).  That’s outside my control for the moment though, so I’m trying to just focus on developing the things that I can obviously attribute to the limits of my skill than what I’m working with.

Because I found myself sort of floundering about for ideas last week (I made The Good Place fanart, and while I’m not ashamed of that fact, it is definitely one of the weirder places I’ve gone for inspiration), I’ve agreed to participate with a couple other folks online in a regular art exchange.  It is, of course, X-Men themed.  We’re working from a master list of characters (located here) that provides a different subject every day for the next four months (no, I am not planning on drawing for every day of this thing; I don’t even know that I’ll stick with it past a month) and sharing our stuff on a private Discord server for X-Men fans that we all belong to.  Because I’ve not bothered to research more efficient cloud storage, I also post everything I draw to my Twitter feed.

Anyway, the pictures I have from the past week are all inspired by that challenge.  They’re mostly fine; I’m still learning a lot about coloring, and I’m developing a real appreciation for the synthesis of inks and colors, mostly because pencils just don’t provide enough definition after they’ve been colored.  I can do some minor fixes at the end with a black pencil to emphasize lines that I want to still be visible, but colored pencil is so much softer than graphite that I have to do a lot of extra sharpening to maintain the line definition, which is not ideal for making my colors last.  Still, setting aside that gripe, I’m most enjoying learning coloring as an opportunity to revisit shading in order to add depth to my work.  Working just in terms of light values is hard if your reference is all in color because the hues can throw off your sense of value when you translate things to monochrome.  Being able to work in at least an approximation of the color I want to recreate helps out a ton because I’m not suddenly losing differentiation in areas that are close in value but different in hue.

Of course, all this talk is way more technical than what I’m typically thinking while I’m working.  Let’s get to the pictures.

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Hepzibah’s gonna shoot you. Probably for something stupid that you didn’t even realize you did.

The first one is of the alien skunk lady Hepzibah, longtime partner of Corsair, Cyclops and Havok’s dad who spends his time being a space pirate.  I’m one of those rare folks in X-fandom who doesn’t really care about the Starjammers (Corsair’s space pirate band) at all, but Hepzibah has some interesting visual features to play with because she’s a skunk lady.  The white fur was actually a good opportunity to play with using blue for shading instead of typical black.  You can see that I did use some black pencil on her arms to emphasize the furriness, but on her face and in her hair I stuck to just using blue to fill in the low-lights.  I still have a lot of practice to do with foreshortening, as the arm she’s extending towards the viewer doesn’t look quite right; I think my angles are off between the forearm and the gun barrel, and it breaks the illusion.  The hand actually looks okay.  The one thing I think turned out really well is the gold ring on her middle finger.

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“I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do is win at Candyland!”

While lots of folks really enjoy drawing action poses, especially of badass characters like Laura Kinney, I find myself more interested in stuff that has a sense of humor.  Laura has a little sister, Gabby, and Gabby is objectively the best X-character introduced in the last five years.  Laura and Gabby also have a pet actual wolverine named Jonathan the Actual Wolverine (he was a gift from Squirrel Girl).  Together they do very normal family things, like play stupid board games.  Here, Gabby is thrilled that she won Candyland, a game that requires absolutely no skill on the part of any of the players.  Gabby’s face feels a little weird to me, mostly because I was playing around with the extreme low angle of Jonathan’s perspective.  The coloring on Laura and Gabby’s skin is also way too subtle in the photo; I only used red around the edges (skin colors are still stupid hard for me to approximate), and it barely shows up here.  I am pretty satisfied with the table though.  At some point in the coloring I realized I should have different values for each plane of the table, and I did, and it looks good.

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“Where did these eggs come from?”

I had a lot of fun with this one mostly because it’s based on a funny premise: what if Egg (formerly Goldballs) made breakfast for his friends?  For anyone who’s not reading current X-comics, it was recently revealed that the gold balls that Egg generates from his body are actually nonviable eggs.  You can see where I went with this.  Egg is a fun character to draw specifically because he’s fat; most characters in superhero comics are very much not fat, which makes them sort of samey in terms of figure building.  The other details like making the furniture slightly organic in feel with their tree root bases were a nice nod to the whole Krakoa concept going on currently.  I think the coloring on this one got a little bit away from me, mostly because I kept realizing I had so much brown to work with.  In my colored pencil set I have two browns: Brown and Indian Red (color names are wild, okay?).  If you look at the table you can see the hue difference between them pretty clearly; the table top is done in Brown while the base is Indian Red.  I used both of these colors a lot with the table, but also with the skin tones for both Egg and Triage (the Black guy who has his back to the viewer).  Because Egg is set slightly apart from the rest of the composition it’s not quite so bad, but with Triage especially there was a major problem with everything blending together at a distance.  You can see that I corrected a little bit with the black pencil, but it’s not an ideal fix particularly since I didn’t carry the scheme through to the rest of the composition.  For Tempus I used purple to do the low-lights in her white hair (that was a nice choice) and orange for her skin (she’s Australian, so I figured she probably spends a decent amount of time outdoors getting tanned).  Orange, as I learned with my Dionysus picture last week, actually shows up as a pretty good medium value Caucasian skin tone on my phone’s camera as long as it’s not super saturated.  Other bits that I like include Egg’s apron (it reads “egg”-cellent!), the really rich yellow I got on the circles on his shirt, and his hair (I guess I just generally like how Egg turned out).

Learning Sketchbook 16: Uh…

I’ve been thinking for a while now that at some point I’m going to have to adjust my title scheme for drawing posts, mostly because they feel like they’re going to start coming faster than I’m really improving.  I made some major improvements during Inktober (who knew that making yourself draw a thing every day for a month straight would yield better results?), and it really feels like I’m moving into a period where I’m more interested in doing compositions than studies and practice sketches.  I’m sure this isn’t a permanent shift; I’m constantly thinking about a visualization I saw on Twitter that describes how artists’ perception of their skill compares with what they can actually do and how it relates to the gap between an artist’s ability to recognize what techniques are being used to create various visual effects and their ability to execute those techniques (it’s a variation on the maxim that creators always feel like they suck when they first start out because they have excellent taste and know their own work doesn’t compare to what they like).  I expect that I’m probably going to plateau for a while sometime soon, but I want to push through that to keep drawing stuff.  In the meantime, it feels like it might be disingenuous to continue a series called “Learning Sketchbook” when I may not have much insight to go with my new stuff.  I’ll have to figure that out.

In the meantime, I had to do evening conferences at work last week, and that afforded me a lot of time to sit around and play while I waited for the very slow trickle of parents to come by and chat with me about their students (when you’re the co-teacher of a class, most parents don’t even realize you exist let alone that they can talk with you about their children’s learning).  My explorations with coloring continue apace.

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I’ve been feeling just slightly burnt out on superheroes, so I wanted to do something a little more grounded.  The fantastic slice-of-life comic Giant Days just recently ended, and while I’m reading it in trade so I still have a few more volumes to look forward to, I thought it would be a good time to play around with Esther, Daisy, and Susan.  Being essentially a comedy, the book has a very cartoonish visual style that’s been extremely consistent across its entire run, which created a fun opportunity to play with translating characters who aren’t typically depicted realistically into my own style, which is definitely closer to realism if not exactly realistic.  Add to that the fact that each of the girls has a very distinct look to them, and it was a fun experiment to see how I could make them recognizable.

I settled on doing a scene of the three friends after an evening out drinking; Daisy is the very responsible one, but I always feel like she’s the least able to hold her booze, so here she’s being supported by Esther and Susan as they stroll home.  Coloring the figures took me pretty much the entire three hours of the first evening of conferences because I realized it needed to be an evening scene which meant I was going to have to figure out how to shade everything without turning the colors muddy.  There’s a lot of visual dissonance that you have to overcome when you’re coloring a white page for night time.  I feel like I always way overthink light sources and shadows for how simple they end up being in the finished product.  Things seems to coalesce a lot more once I colored the background; it helped immensely to have the pub wall and the sidewalk shaded, even though I did those big areas quickly, and they look a little sloppy compared to figures.  The paper texture showing through the pencils drives me a bit nutty because the whole thing looks a little washed out, but I’m just learning to accept that’s how colored pencils are going to look, at least for me.  Maybe someday I’ll actually learn how to scan my drawings instead of just snapping pictures on my phone to see if that helps things look a little more vibrant.

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Also, because adding color tends to obscure the definition of the pencils, here’s a picture of the finished drawing before I started coloring it.

On the second night of conferences I was way less ambitious (it takes a long time to color a whole page).  I still didn’t want to do another superhero, so I opted instead for an iconic moment from the best show currently on TV.

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Jason Mendoza is a national treasure.

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The uncolored pencils for comparison.  I don’t know how it happened, but I feel like I drew one really good foot and one really bad one on this figure.

And to wrap up the collection of things I drew this week, here’s one that I actually like a lot except that I whiffed hard on the skin tone (see my earlier complaint about needing to figure out how to scan stuff).

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I’ve mostly stayed away from fanart for The Wicked + The Divine up to this point because 1) McKelvie’s designs are so good that I’d mostly just be mad at myself that I couldn’t do interesting takes on them, and 2) colors is just as essential to WicDiv art as the lines are.  Still, I think this Dionysus getting into the holiday spirit is pretty good overall.  I just wish I’d been more aggressive with the orange for his skin tone because he looks white in the photo.  When Dionysus is performing his color palette goes neon, so orange is fine in this moment, but he’s normally brown-skinned.  That the photo makes him look white is embarrassing.

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I’ll leave off with the pencils for this one (which was actually the first of this set of drawings that I did this week) because I thought they came out looking exceptionally clean.  End on a high note, right?

Learning Sketchbook 15: Color

The fact that I just spent a month doing Inktober and then, being free of that albatross, I turn around to do a post about drawing stuff is not lost on me.  I just got really excited about taking a break from inking to learn more about coloring is all.  I spent a little bit of time in the last few days of October reading about basic color theory because I have a very incomplete set of coloring supplies, and I wanted to understand better what I can do with what I have.  More specifically, I only have a standard spectrum set of colored pencils that I carry in my travel kit (it is weird to realize that I’m fast approaching the point where I’m going to be able to legitimately distinguish between a light supply kit and the more substantial stuff I keep on hand at home) and a set of skin tone markers.  Definitely not an expert on everything about visual media, but I’m pretty sure in most cases you don’t mix pencils and markers because of the substantially different textures they create on the page.  So I have one set of basic colors that will work fine in concert with graphite pencils, and I have a set of markers that would be best used with inks, of which I currently only have a handful of nice pens.

Anyway, the end of Inktober means primarily that I can go back to drawing in my sketchbook, which I’ve noted before does not contain the best paper for inking (at least, not when I’m using both sides of each page for practice; whenever I decide I want to do more inking practice, I’ll get a book just dedicated to that).  It feels really freeing to be back on a larger size page, especially with portraits and full body poses.  Everything feels way less clumsy than my Inktober stuff sometimes did, mostly because I was often working with dull tipped pencils and the lines I could make were way fatter than I would have liked on that scale.

So, to get to color theory stuff, I did some reading on how color theory has evolved over the past two hundred years.  There’s a lot of physics involved in the discussion of how color works, which makes sense because colors arise from the types of light that a material reflects and absorbs, and the models for understanding have shifted significantly with time.  I’ve known for a while that modern color printing and projecting use different models of blending than the primary color system that’s typically taught in elementary school, but I never really knew why there was such a divide between the red-yellow-blue model I was taught in kindergarten and the red-green-blue or cyan-magenta-yellow schemae that are used by professional designers in various visual media.  The primary color system is apparently based on Isaac Newton’s original models for full spectrum light where he theorized that the three primary colors are equidistant if you spread the spectrum out on a wheel so that any two primary colors blended together equally will create a secondary color that’s diametrically opposed to the third primary color.  More contemporary color models build off of this idea, but they base the primary colors used off of the types of light that cones in the human eye perceive.  That’s why additive light color models (the ones used for screens and projectors because the more colors projected, the closer the screen gets to white, or fully color reflective) are based on red, green, and blue.  Subtractive color models, which are typically used in printing (because adding ink of various colors brings the surface closer to black, or fully color absorbent), are based on the complements of those colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow.

The important takeaway for me with all this background information is in building a better understanding of how colors blend on a page.  Because of what I have available in the way of tools, I’m trying to think more in terms of the Newtonian color model, which posits that when two complementary colors are blended, they’ll neutralize one another to create a brown hue.  Other bits to understand include the fact that increasing a color’s saturation will often change the hue as well; besides a difference in value between a lightly shaded and heavily shaded area with the same pencil, the visible color may actually change because of the concentration of medium.  Also, and this is more about my conceptual thinking when I’m coloring, all the white I have available is already on the paper, so I need to be thoughtful about where I’m placing highlights and lowlights.  In the past I think I’ve always had an impulse to uniformly color areas, but then I find myself backed into a corner where I have a more limited range of light to play with in the drawing itself.

Anyway, you probably clicked through because you wanted to see some art, so here’s some art.  I started working on this piece on Halloween and spent much of my long weekend thinking about how to color it.  I wanted to use mostly earth tones and to give a dull but still metallic appearance to the plate armor since that’s how the character is primarily portrayed in the comic series she comes from.  There’s a lot of creative use of my black pencil to create the gray shades on the armor itself, but the most interesting bit of mixing I think I did is with the cape, which I colored in orange and blue.  I’ve also included a picture of the pre-colored version of the picture because I’m pretty proud of how it turned out before I committed to this experiment.

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The lighting is strange on this one because I took the picture while waiting to get my hair cut at a new barbershop I’m trying out since the move. It turned out pretty good (the haircut, I mean).