Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Art of the Economic Draftsman: Spray Fixative

Howdy folks, and welcome to another installment of the Art of the Economic Draftsman.  This week we take a quick look at workable spray fixative and ultimately, of course, saving some precious dollars and cents to roll into other areas of your illustration business.

Spray fixatives range in price like most art supplies and the price you pay really depends on how much you rely on it for your own personal process.  I should also point out that there are some fixatives that are specifically better for certain mediums (see Sennelier Delacroix fixative for oil pastels).  It's always a good idea to try out some different brands and take note of which product works best for your style and what helps to produce professional quality artwork. 

The spray fixative I normally use is the Utrecht® Workable Fixative.  This 11 oz. can has a list price of $7.69 but it is more often than not on sale for around 5 dollars on the Utrecht website (my normal supplier).  This fixative is one that I trust and it gets the job done for what I use it for - usually to hold down a charcoal or graphite drawing in which I plan to apply a wet media over top of.  This fixative is also great for an "onion skinning" drafting style in which an image is edited and re-edited with layers of neutral acrylic washes over each drawing layer (hence, "onion skinning").  The acrylic paint, being plastic, can get a little tough to draw on with a plain old Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, so a light application of spray fixative will generally go a long way, creating a nice toothed layer to work on.  A comparable product, in regards to performance, is the Krylon® 1306 workable fixative which retails at about 7 bucks online for an 11 oz. can.  While one can see that these are two reasonably priced items,  there is still a way that money can be saved...especially if your artistic process, like mine, requires a minimal use of spray fixative.

Last week I was waking up from a relatively good night of sleep while my fiancée, Marji, was getting ready for work.  I shuffled past the bathroom, said good morning to Marj (as always), and carefully descended down the shadowy stairs to the kitchen where I would brew up some fresh beans.  As the coffee pot gurgled into its own waking life, I slumped back up the stairs to turn on my computer and effectively start my work day when I heard a curious sound.  Curious...yes...but only because I have heard it almost every weekday for years upon years.  The brief escape of compressed air and hair product resonated down the hall in the early morning calm; Marji, applying a quick spritz of Suave® Extreme Hold Hairspray in an effort to tame her misbehaving curls.  Awaiting the invitation of my computer's desktop, the clean slate of my morning brain made a connection of audio signals between the application of hairspray and the application of spray fixative.  Genuinely interested, and ignorant, my questions about hairspray were seemingly endless.
   Does that stuff hold pretty well?
   Yep!  As long as it's not humid.
   How big is that bottle?
   Ummm...(looks at the bottle)...11 ounces.
   What's the biggest bottle I can get?
   Costco sells huge ones.
   Is there an unscented version?
   How much does that cost?

The last question had the most surprising of answers:  "Oh...about two bucks at Walgreens."

So, $2.00 and some change later (you didn't think I would actually use up Marji's hairspray when she went to work did you?), I was experimenting with the integrity of Suave® Unscented Extreme Hold Hairspray as an artistic medium.  For my own personal process, the hairspray does a great job and thanks to my lovely fiancée, I now have a cheap option for art supplies and a hair dryer to speed up my painting process!    


Sunday, September 23, 2012

A brief note on political signage.

Now that the political season is in full swing, suburban America is being invaded everywhere you look.  Front lawns, public street corners, sporadic patches along the interstate, mailboxes and televisions are all being bombarded with political signage, pamphlets and smear campaigns.  Mayoral, gubernatorial, presidential, congressional and even propositional hopefuls are all vying for every last spot of good ol' fashioned public domain to advertise their positions to the open forum deliberation of the American electorate (i.e: registered voters).
That being said, I usually don't pay much attention to these advertisements, preferring instead to put in the time to research my candidates and propositions on the ballot, thus making an informed and responsible decision (I tend to take my inalienable rights seriously).  However, the amount of political signage I have seen in the general vicinity of my house is quite alarming this year and a thought crossed my mind when driving down the street the other day...If there is supersaturation of visuals in a given field of vision election year after election year, why not go wild and preemptively design a promotion that really stands out.  Something to get our attention; to generate some interest and conversation among us voters, at least enough to suggest more than a passive once-over of the voter pamphlet that comes in the mail.  Make me excited (more than I am already) to pick a side on these issues or back a candidate or just vote period (and please don't make the print so small that I almost rear-end the car in front of me trying to read it).                             

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Making Textures

Here's a fun way to make a free custom texture for use in a piece of digital artwork:

Step 1:

Get your hands on a sheet of nice quality drawing paper.  I like to use some 80 lb Strathmore stock that I usually find in the bowels of my storage cabinet.  Choosing a paper with a little bit of tooth helps in manufacturing authentic creases and what I like to call "random stray fault lines" to occur during the rest of the texturizing process.

Une feuille de papier.

Step 2:

Make the choice...start folding the paper in nice uniform perpendicular segments or just arbitrary randomness.   You can even go crazy and just crumple it up and toss it under your copy of Gardner's Art Though the Ages for a while.  Note:  A copy of Gardner's Art Through the Ages is NOT required for this procedure.  To illustrate this process I have chosen uniform folds:

Back the left...
again...back the left.

 Step 3:

This is the point in which this technique really starts to take stride.  Regardless of the choice of paper, the folding process should reduce it down to roughly the size of a standard back pocket on a pair of pants.  Henceforth, all that is required for the next step is some jeans and your ass:

Operation paper fold...complete.
The folded paper making its way into a butt pocket on a pair of comfy ass jeans.

Step 4:

Make sure the piece of paper from the previous examples is in the "butt pocket" of whatever pair of pants you choose to wear for the day.  This part of the project can last anywhere from a day to weeks depending on the amount of weathering you wish to accomplish for your own texture.  The idea is that eventually a human being has to sit down and the natural rhythm of a person standing up, sitting down, and just plain walking around all day will transcend into that piece of paper.  But why the "butt pocket" you ask?  This pocket takes the most wear and tear throughout any given day.  Just think about how much you sit and stand up...and sit...and stand up...and just one day.  For this example, I weathered this paper on a Saturday of running some errands: last!

The transformed paper, and original custom texture in all its splendid glory, can now be scanned and manipulated in the digital program of your choosing.  Creating textures can be a fun process with a fun story behind pun intended.  There is, of course, always the easier way to find textures by conducting an internet search, but the process I have just highlighted (to me at least) is a way to create a one-of-a-kind touch to an illustration by literally putting yourself into it. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A day in the life of my creative process.

Last week while I was driving to work I heard a story on the radio.  This is more times than not the source of most of my editorial ideas as I consider NPR a very reliable source for accurate, and mostly impartial, news.  The story in example for this anecdote will be the recent chapter in the allegations against world famous athlete Lance Armstrong.  For those who don't know, Armstrong has been accused, on numerous occasions, of using performance enhancing drugs that are obviously illegal in the sports community.  The concept that came to my mind was an image of a mere mortal man (did I mention he beat cancer?) who absolutely shattered every meaningful record in cycling now being reduced to a shattered remnant of a once heroic being.  Shattered, being the key word here, invoked the mental image that I then ran with after some rough ideation sketches:

The first, and very crude, sketch.  Getting the idea down on paper is the most important part.
Through sketching more ideas come to mind which are written down as notes for future reference.
During the sketching process, I am mostly concerned with concept and layout as opposed to detail (this will come later).  I usually move on to the next step after I have determined which elements I will omit and include, the composition and color scheme of the finished piece.  This is where the idea goes from a crude representational sketch to a more refined drawing which I can then paint:

A watercolor painting on top of my more "finished" drawing.
Another element created traditionally.
 During this step I also paint a background (sometimes many):

A textural hand painted background.
From this point, all of the elements are scanned and carried out to finish in Adobe Photoshop and/or Adobe Illustrator.  The flexibility of these tools allow for the workflow of the editing and finishing process to flow intuitively and naturally.  As you can see, in this case, I knew I wanted to yellow to be a dominant color in this piece (relating to the yellow jersey of the leader in the Tour de France and also the yellow of Armstrong's LiveStrong foundation).  I painted a dark background originally but it wasn't working out the way I wanted it to so I made the change on the fly to make this piece a monochromatic scheme; manipulating the hue but keeping the texture of the hand painted background:

The final image, with all the elements.