Monday, December 31, 2012

Character Sketch: Navajo Warrior


I drew this as a birthday present for a friend of mine a few years ago. It's a portrait of him (with heroic proportions). I drew it with a Staedlter pencil and inked it with a crow quill pen and ink.

Happy New Year all!


Monday, December 24, 2012

The Green Bull (a Wandering Koala tale)


Kinghorn never expected to see a murdered co-worker’s body tied to the blade of a windmill he helped have built. He is even more shocked to learn his best friend is the prime suspect!

The case appears open and shut on the surface—but dark secrets never stay buried. Can Kinghorn deal with the truth behind the man he worships and the cause he?s given everything to support? What price will he pay for his loyalty? And what will it cost the city around him? Can even the intervention of the Wandering Koala solve the riddle of the Green Bull?

The Green Bull is a 17,000-word novella with 20 original illustrations and a new essay.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not according to plan

A few months ago I did a guest post on Matt William's blog about my new project, The Green Bull (a Wandering Koala tale). I was so happy with how The Caveman Conspiracy turned out that I decided to do another story in that style.

But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the forum (google it if you don't get the reference). The story grew from a manageble 8,000 - 10,000 word novella (the ideal size for such a venture) to over 16,000 words, a little long for that style. So I decided to make it a regular illustrated novella so it would meet the size limitations of ePublishing.

But that doesn't mean I've abandoned the format. Oh, no, my friends, I have many stories left to tell that will use either that format or a version of it.

Here's a sneak peak at a few of the illustrations:




And while we're on the subject, there's a new Wandering Koala comic available at no cost for a limited time on Amazon.com, Wandering Koala uncovers The Sixth Figure. Pick it up as a stocking stuffer for yourself!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012 Christmas Card

This is it! Today's the day! Presenting my Christmas Card for 2012!


This took longer than usual for several reasons: 1) crazy busy at work, 2) not sure what I wanted to say, and 3) learning new techniques with a new program (Corel Painter 12). But I think it turned out beautifully and is one of the best I've ever created. I hope you enjoy it. And feel free to share with all your friends and families.

And Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cards of Christmas Past (Part 4)

Tomorrow I'll debut this year's Christmas card on the blog. But today I decided to share one of my favorite cards, and one of my favorite illustrations I've ever done. You can probably tell I was feeling a little melancholy that year. Enjoy!



I read Christmas stories and watched Christmas shows.
I put up bright lights and played in the snow.
I bought Christmas presents and made Christmas punch
And sat by the fire eating Christmas Eve brunch.

It wasn’t the same and hadn’t been for years—
The lights and the gifts and the wishes of good cheer.
The snow was still pretty and the decorations still grand,
But somehow it all still felt just a little bit bland.

I wanted to feel that ole holiday Joy
Like I used to feel when I was a small boy.
But it wasn't in stores or on Christmas displays,
And carolers didn't bring it, much to my dismay.

Where were you Christmas? Where was your spirit?
It couldn’t have gone far; I had to be near it.
I’d tried really hard—I’d gone through the motions,
I’d set up my tree and paid my devotions.

And then it hit me: I was trying too hard!
I can’t make Christmas happen—It comes on its own.
So I kicked back my head and stared up at the star.
And I finally saw Christmas again—with Wondering Awe.

Jeff Thomason 11/15/2003

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cards of Christmas Past (Part 3)

This was one of my earliest cards, but still one of my favorites. This was back in the day when I still mailed all my Christmas cards with a stamp, so much fewer people received it. Here's a chance for all those who missed it to enjoy!

Angels Heard On High

The old lady of eighty was home alone.
Being widowed and childless she sat
Watching the fire and stroking her cat
Wondering if the storm had stopped
And if the snow had piled so high
That it had buried her windows and doors.
Then she jumped in her chair startled at the sound
Of plastic and metal on concrete moving around.
Then peered out the window to examine the site
And realized the sound of walks being cleared that night
Sounded like angels she had once heard on high.
–Jeff Thomason, November 6, 2002

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cards of Christmas Past (Part 2)

This year's card is well under way. Until then, enjoy this little beauty from a few years ago. I was going for a style inspired by Frank Miller's Elektra Lives Again, Chinese brushwork, and coloring from I can't remember where. The poem came from one of my favorite Christmas Carols and is probably the best one I've ever written. Enjoy!

Do You Hear...
Do you dance in the wonder of new fallen snow
  or curse the cold wind and the ice-covered roads?
Do the lights and the sights make you feel like a child
  or the gripes and the fights make you want to go wild?
Is your mailbox filled up with kind cards of good cheer
  or fliers with specials and discounts and sales?
Are you happy when carolers knock at your door
  or lament the time spent on songs youˆ‚ve heard before?
Are the hustle and bustle a headache to bare
  or an essential part of the holiday fare?
Are you grateful for every gift that you get
  or ask for a receipt so you can return it?
Commotion or emotion; laughter or tears—
  do you hear sadness, or do you hear what I hear?
–Jeff Thomason, November 30, 2005


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Greeting Cards of Christmas Past (Part 1)

Each year I create a Christmas card to send to family and friends. I'm still working on this year's, but until it's finished I thought I'd post Cards of Christmas Past, one each day, so you can enjoy a little Christmas cheer from past years.

Usually I select a Christmas Carol and use the title to inspire the original illustration and poem. Occasionally I deviate from that as with this card. This time I just went with the overall theme of Gifts.

Enjoy!


Monday, November 26, 2012

Brands and Rebranding


Recently I completed my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Media Design. My Masters Project was to take a real company and perform a complete rebranding. I chose Smashwords, the largest publisher and distributor of independent fiction and eBooks. I began by researching the publishing industry, Smashwords, and its competitors. I discovered what Smashwords key tenants were as well as a mission and vision. I created a new look along with a style guide and all new collateral including a logo, website, ads, widgets, merchandise, and more.

Along the way I learned a lot more about design, marketing, and strategy along with a lot of new programs and techniques.

Above is my project book detailing the process, reasoning, and results. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

An Illustrator who Designs or a Designer who Illustrates

In art school one of my instructors asked the class an interesting question: Are you an illustrator who designs or a designer who illustrates? It was an illustration class but our assignment was to design a personal logo with a matching set of stationary. Our instructor was an illustrator who had been paid to design a few brochures.

At the time I was an illustration major. I had been a graphic design major the first semester but quickly switched. So of course my answer was an Illustrator who designed. Being a graphic designer was considered a fallback for those who wanted to be creative and create art but couldn't.

The funny thing was I really enjoyed my graphic design class (the only one I took until my MFA almost 15 years later), and I was always sneaking into the graphic design classes to observe instruction, critiques, and presentations. Just a few years later I accidentally became a graphic designer/web designer and have been doing it for the past decade.


Looking over my work, I realized that the compositions I approached as a design turned out infinitely better than those I approached as an illustrator. I've also come to realize that design is just as much art as oil painting landscapes. The stigma wasn't from the discipline but the people who pursued it and the reason they chose to do so. Most graphic designers I know are frustrated artists--they chose graphic design because they couldn't do any other type of art but wanted to. My reasons were I stumbled into it accidentally and then discovered web design was art plus technology just like animation was, and art plus technology were two of my passions that go together amazingly well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Digital Painting the Corel Painter way


It's no secret I love Pulp Art (Doc Savage, The Spider, The Bat, and more) and Boys Adventure Stories (Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and more). I love the painted covers. I love the black and white pen & ink illustrations inside.

I've always wanted to create books like those. And a few years ago I published my first one. Pick it up if you haven't already. Links to Paperback and eBook versions are at www.WanderingKoala.com. I wrote the boys adventure type story (but for an older, more sophisticated audience), I drew the black and white pen & ink (and brushwork) illustrations for the interiors, and I painted a cover.

Ok, that last part I didn't do--not really.

I tried. I really did. But I just can't paint. So I did the best I could, and it turned out well, but.... I figured I would never have painted covers unless I hired someone to do them, and I really didn't want to do that. It was bad enough hiring an editor for my second novel. He did a great job and gave me numerous insights that have helped my writing tremendously, but I still want my work to be MY work--100% Jeff.

Then the other day I was watching several courses from Lynda.com (great site to learn to use graphics programs--get a subscription if you don't already). I discovered some really cool and amazing things that Corel Painter can do--things I had no idea I had software for. So I put the lessons to use.

Above is my latest work. It took several tries to get it right, but I think it turned out well. It looks like the background from Tarzan. I'm definitely going to try this technique to have a truly painted cover for my next work, The Green Bull (a Wandering Koala tale), and not just a wannabe painted cover.

I can't wait!


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Color or Black & White (Illustration)



I'm a great lover of black & white artwork, but there is something about color that compels me. Whenever I create a new work, I'm usually torn about whether it should have color or not. Black and white seems to be stronger artistically and design wise, but it always looks unfinished to me. Is it just me, or is it because we live in a colored world and that's one element you just can't remove?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween and the Return to Traditional



Fall is one of my favorite times of year. In this part of the world, the air is chilling, the leaves are falling after putting on a new shade, and the new TV shows are starting. And Halloween is right around the corner.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and I'm not sure why. Is it the costumes? The candy? The Jell-O popcorn balls? The whole jack o'lantern, witches, skeletons, bats, cats, etc. that goes along with it? Probably a combination of all the above.

One of the things I love to do at Halloween is create Halloween-themed illustrations. Usually I get so busy that I don't start until the day before. Needless to say, I've created very few in the past.

But this year was different. This year I'm working on a new story that I've hinted about in other blog posts. But for it I wanted a more refined and higher quality illustration than I've used in the past. That meant I needed to draw more, but not just fun little sketches. I needed to draw great illustrations.

Recently I've been trying to move to a 100% digital workflow. There have been a lot of nice things about it, but the drawing itself just never seemed to be exactly what I wanted it to be. There is too much temptation to be sloppy, to just lay down lines and shapes without thinking them thru because they're so easy to change, and an overall lack of real texture. So I decided to try moving back to traditional media. And the results have been good. Really good.

I've been using a calligraphy pen, something I stumbled onto back in college when I was buying all sorts of art supplies to experiment with. On of the supplies was a calligraphy dip pen for lettering. For some reason I decided to try inking a drawing with it. And I loved the result. But I hated the mess. So I got a calligraphy pen with its own ink supply. I really liked how it crated shapes and how quickly I could ink with it. What I didn't like was the line quality. It seemed so lifeless. Over the years I experimented with other tools and other line qualities, but I never found exactly what I was looking for, not even in digital.

Recently I pulled out a calligraphy pen (not my original one, because that one had been stolen along with a lot of other things when the house I was living in was burglarized, but that's a story for another day...) and started to sketch. I really liked the shapes it made. This particular pen made a thin enough line that I had to go over it a few times to build up the thickness I needed. And in doing that, the line became more naturalistic and had some life. Was it the perfect line? No. Was it a great line that led to great illustrations? Yes!

Above and below you can see some of the recent illustrations I've been working on. None of them are mere sketches. Each has a mood, a background, and each tells a story. I even went back to my old black & white ways, something I haven't done recently but keep meaning to. The color is still laid in digitally, mostly because physical media doesn't scan as well as I'd like it to, although I think the oil pastels might...

Anyway, enjoy my latest work and return to physical media. And these are only the beginning.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Style


Style is an interesting thing. It's something unique to each person. Some style has style while others don't. It's something that is developed, yet it almost happens subconsciously--someone can't sit down and say, "I'm going to create a style and it'll be like this."

So how does one go about developing a style? It's a time consuming process, and some would argue one that never has an ending. But there are a couple of things one can do to speed up the process. And they all involve a sketchbook.

First, every time you see something that inspires you or catches your eye, emulate it in your sketchbook. Emulate--don't slavishly copy. Create something original using the aspects that caught your eye.

Second, go thru your previous sketches and artwork. Look for things you tend to do well, things you do poorly, things you like, and things you don't like. Make a conscious decision on what you will continue to do, what you will stop doing, and what you need to improve. Then do it. In your sketchbook.

You'll still spend a great deal of time developing your style, but these exercises will focus your effort and speed up the process.

So what does this have to do with the above image? I've been working towards a certain type of style, and with this illustration, I think I've reached it.

What do you think?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Should Digital Art Look Digital?


I've always thought that art materials should be true to themselves. What I mean is a watercolor should look like a watercolor, and an oil painting should look like an oil painting. Just because you can make watercolors look like oils doesn't mean you should. Each material has unique properties that allow you to do things you can't in other mediums as well as certain restrictions you have to work around. It's part of what gives artwork its charm.

But that brings up a bit of a problem when it comes to digital art. The computer has a unique look to its graphics, but it can also do an amazing job of emulating traditional art (thanks to Corel Painter!). So should the same rules apply to digital art as traditional art?

On the one side I'm inclined to say yes. The computer has introduced a whole set of new "looks" that hadn't been done before. But then I look at these (like vector illustrations and flash animation) and I'm taken back aghast at how ugly they can be. Too sterile, too mechanical, too generic.

So that flips me to the other side where I see the computer can emulate the natural media without the messy cleanup or the expensive art supply bill (of course, it's not like computers and graphic software are cheap, so that's probably a wash).

This has led me to experiment a lot with style. I tend to not like my work that is too "computery" so I've been trying to get a look that is closer and closer to natural media. But there's no reason I can't throw in a few digital flairs here and there. And maybe that is the answer. Maybe a mostly traditional route with digital flourishes is the unique look.

Take a look at my latest sketch and let me know.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Science is a Fickle Mistress


Without science, there wouldn’t be science fiction. It’s an essential ingredient. Some stories—like hard science fiction—center around a scientific principle, theory, or discovery. Others—like space opera—rely on the results of science, but don’t delve too deeply into specifics.

What's great about science, at least for scifi fans, is it is always changing. Anyone who’s studied the history of scientific thought will see that science changes its mind more often then a lady about what to wear on a date. Here are just a few recent examples: 

Astronomy

The ancient Greeks believed the Earth was the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it. They believed the sun, moon, planets (or moving stars), and stars were on spheres, one for each body in the sky, and constructed an elaborate system to explain their movements. But as more objects were discovered and their movements more carefully mapped, the spheres couldn’t keep up.

Then in the early-16th century a German named Copernicus postulated the theory the Earth revolved around the sun others had proposed the theory earlier, but Copernicus had math to back him up). Others followed him and were promptly punished for their heresy. Eventually the idea became generally accepted.

Then science changed its mind again and said the Earth doesn’t revolve around the sun, but around its center of gravity. But don’t expect that to be the final word on the matter. 

Physics

Issac Newton was a smart guy who began the modern movement of science. He is credited with many discoveries such as the Law of Gravity, Laws of Motion, and many others. Many believed he had “gotten it right”.

And then this obscure clerk in Germany named Albert Einstein proposed a couple of theories, one relative and the other special, that took center stage and led to quantum physics. Newtonian physics just couldn’t describe the microworld. When GPS satellites were launched into space, Newtonian physics couldn’t cut it but Einstein’s equations made the system work.

In the 1970s, a new theory called String Theory came into favor to explain the very fabric of existence. Then several different flavors popped up such as M-Theory and Superstring theory. Then they fell out of favor. Then they fell back into favor. And the story is far from over.

And don’t get me started on the Unified Field Theory…

Biology

Just a decade ago the egg was considered to be one of the worst things a human being could eat with its high cholesterol. Then a few years ago a new study came out that said eggs were good for you and should be included in a healthy diet. So, did the egg’s effect on the human body change? No, scientists just changed their minds on it.

Sugar, artificial sweeteners, and corn syrup have an equally jaded past. At one time anything with sugar in it was considered the devil and many foods moved to artificial sweeteners. Then people realized sugar was natural and easier for the body to digest than artificial sweeteners. Soon after high fructose corn syrup was seen as the anti-Christ and removed from food to be replaced with all-natural sugar (or dehydrate cane juice if your marketing team was especially clever). Just like eggs, sugar and its effect on the human body haven’t changed, but that doesn’t stop scientists’ minds from changing.

Dinosaurs 

Dinosaurs are one of the most rapidly changing theories in science. A century ago they were dumb beasts sluggishly dragging themselves across the landscape. Soon researches decided they were intelligent and quick lifting their tails as they ran. Current theories speculate they weren’t lizards at all but giant birds. And then there’s that asteroid that got people laughed at in the 1970s for proposing it was the cause of the dinosaurs’ demise but is now the most widely accepted theory. 

Fickle mistress means unlimited story ideas

All this changing is bad if you’ve accepted science your religion and believe “that’s the way it is. Period.” New discoveries are an anathema to that group, because they change previous views. What science believed yesterday isn't what they believe today, and tomorrow they'll be on to some other theory.

And for scifi readers and writers it’s wonderful, because it means we’ll never run out of things to write about. Every new discovery or theory can be turned into a dozen new stories. And who doesn’t love a great new story?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Play Ball!!! a Cully Koala cartoon short

For decades I've wanted to create a Cully Koala animated cartoon. The  I never thought I'd be able to because of technical limitations. But technology has exploded, and anyone can create beautiful animation  (they just need to know how).
Cully was originally conceived as an animated character. I used to watch and love Peanuts and Garfield cartoons. I thought they were animated cartoon characters; I didn't realize they started out in comic strips in the newspapers. When I created Cully, I wanted him to be like a Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Garfield, etc. I didn't have anyway to animate him, so I followed the examples of Charles Schultz and Jim Davis and created a comic strip. Once I discovered Calvin & Hobbes, Cully took on a whole new dimension. But I still wasn't completely satisfied.
Then I discovered Richie Rich and Archie comics, and created a Cully comic book of my own. The characters worked much better in the longer format. I thought maybe comic books would be a doable outlet. But it lacked something.
A few years ago I took a graduate class in animation and discovered a way to animate with Apple's iLife. I created a really cool short, but it was so much work that I knew that route wasn't viable. There had to be a way to let technology do the grunt work while I concentrated on the creative side.
Enter Anime Studio Pro. I've been considering this program for a while, and even downloaded the demo to try it out, but I'd never had the results I wanted. I was about to give up and go back to drawing cartoons by hand, but I said to myself, "Self, you've got to push thru. You've got ideas, and this program can make them happen."
And it did.
Let me know what you think!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Character Sketch: Princess Ballroom

You've probably noticed I've been pretty quiet on this blog. Why, you ask? I've been working on an animation project. It should be finished soon. until then, enjoy my latest character sketch:


This was inspired by Princess Knight by the great Osamu Tezuka, a graphic novel that was recently released in English and I just finished reading. The story itself was kind of a mess, but the drawings were really nice. The style was more early-Tezuka then late-Tezuka. There was a strong influence from Disney cartoons.

This was drawn in Corel Painter X with the background rendered in Adobe Photoshop with Painter texture drawn on top. Overall it turned out well, but I don't think it's a style I will keep exploring.

Stay tuned for the upcoming animation. Here is a sneak peek:

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Character Sketch: A Real Cowboy



So I'm back to character sketches and character designs. This time I turn to the West for a cowboy.

I drew this in Corel Painter X. I'm really starting to enjoy the look of digital inks. As I mentioned in a previous post, digital art should look like digital art and not traditional, and this is another step towards creating a unique look for my work.

I created two versions to test coloring styles. For the first I used my typical painting style in Painter from the half page comic days. For the second I used a new style with Photoshop shadows. I thought the second version would looks better, but I think I like the first.

I think the background turned out exceptionally well. The figure I'm not as happy with. It's good, but not great. He feels a little stiff.

But let me hear what you think.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Digital Painting - New Tool or New Medium?


This may surprise a few people, but there was a time before computers existed. No really, there was. Back then artists created work with paint, watercolors, ink, charcoal, and other physical mediums, not Photoshop or Wacom tablets. Once computers were invented, it didn't take long for computer graphics to rear their pretty heads. At first they were pretty primitive and had a distinct look. (Check out The Last Starfighter to see what I'm talking about.) By the 90s, computers were powerful enough to create work that looked like it had been made by hand. That lead many to ask whether computers were merely a new tool to create work that looked like traditional art, or whether computers were a new medium with it's own look and characteristics.

They were both right.

Many people use computers to mimic traditional art methods. But not me. I've said many times that a watercolor should look like a watercolor, and an oil painting should look like an oil painting. While you can create photorealistic oil paintings or rich watercolors that look like oil, one has to ask why. Each medium has really cool and unique properties, and the artist should take advantage of them. And that doesn't apply strictly to visual art either. Movie adaptions of books should take advantage of cinema and not try to follow a book to closely, as should book adaptions of movies.

I've been working with a number of computer programs including Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter (which does an amazing job of emulating natural media), Google Sketch Up, and others. I've been trying to create a style that looks digital, but not cheesy-we're-still-stuck-in-the-90s digital. The drawing above is my latest attempt. It has all the hallmarks of a traditionally drawn and painted work, but there's no question it's digital. I'm happy with how it turned out. I think an illustrated eBook with this type of art would be pretty cool, especially on a tablet. Maybe for my next project...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The next phase of painting


Man has been creating art for as long as he's existed--at least as far as we know. He's used every medium, tool, and device he could get his hands on. In the ancient world, painting on walls was very popular. Unfortunately, most of those walls have fallen and taken the paintings with them. In the middle ages artists used more portable canvases such as wood panels and stretched canvas. More of these exist today but not in their original locations. For those works specifically designed for a space, something is missing.

In the 21st century we have the same tools as previous artists--oils, watercolors, graphite, charcoal, pastel--and we have a few additional tools: pixels and electrons.

The illustration above is my latest attempt at digital painting. I tried making it look like a traditionally painted painting, but that just isn't me. And in today's world, very little traditional painting and illustration is used. Just look at a a movie poster, book cover, magazine graphic, or even newspaper. All of these used to be filled will hand drawn and painted illustrations. But today they use photography and computer generated works. It's the current trend. The good side is it is much quicker and cheaper to create media. The bad side is legions of artists are graduating from art school with little opportunity to use their skills to earn an honest living. What does this mean for the art? Good question.

While you ponder it, enjoy my latest work, and be sure to comment and let me know what you thing.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Exploring the mysterious caverns and caves below the ground


I've always been intrigued by images and stories about caverns and caves below the earth. Maybe that's why Mole Man is one of my favorite villains--it certainly isn't because of his powers or stories that have been told about him.

While exploring a new digital painting style, I thought the style would lend itself nicely to rock formations. And it did. Then I had to decide what to fill the caverns with. After all, it isn't the rocks alone that make these stories so interesting, but the exotic creatures and plants one finds down there. So I created a collection or unseen beasts based on the works of George Méliès and a gargoyle. The colors are the palette I've been using from old Steve Canyon covers. The characters were inked with a Zebra disposable brush pen and colored in Adobe Photoshop.

Overall, I like how it turned out, but it isn't exactly the style I'm going for. Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The shape of the canvas matters

I've been experimenting with a new style created from an amalgamation of things I've learned from past styles. (One of these days I'll settle on one--no, really, I will!) The style was meant for an illustrated novella, so naturally I created it vertically.


But I wasn't very happy with the results. I had moved on to another illustration, but something in the back of my mind said it had a lot of potential and only needed a little tweaking to realize it.

So I tweaked. I changed the format from vertical to horizontal, and wallah! Success. I'm much, MUCH happier with the result. But don't take my word for it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Batter Up! (Wandering Koala plays ball.)


I don't like baseball--playing it or watching it--but I do think it's visually interesting and makes great art. So I decided to make art with it!

This was inspired by a collection of old comics I recently purchased. Back in the early days of the golden age of comics, superheroes (or costumed characters as they were called back then) would appear in anthologies, World's Finest and Comic Cavalcade, and share the cover doing some mundane task like playing baseball, waterskiing, or walking a tightrope in the circus. Until World War II, and then they punched out the Axis. I always liked those covers (the everyday and the propaganda ones). I thought Wandering Koala would work well in a similar situation, so I drew it.

As usual, I drew this with a Staedtler 2B, inked it with a paint brush and sumi ink, and then colored it in Adobe Photoshop. It turned out well. I just with I could bring myself to use hard lines instead of the more painterly look. One of these days. I just found a whole bunch of great old Steve Canyon covers...

As always, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Color Illustration: Chained and Doomed


I'm not sure why I felt like drawing a six-armed beast with a blade in each hand ready to slice a chained Wandering Koala, but I did. Chains look really cool, have great texture, and take forever to draw. I really like how there are only two colors on the beast, and yet he looks like he's in full color. I also beat up the Wandering Koala more than usual with cuts, bruises, and torn clothes. Usually he escapes untouched, but that can get boring after a while.

I drew this with a Staedtler 2B pencil, inked it with a brush and sumi ink, and colored it in Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. I used a more painterly style, because this was a fantasy illustration and fantasy looks best in surreal paints.

Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Cover: Jak Phoenix 2


What you see above is the cover to the latest novel in the Jak Phoenix Adventures series written by Matt D. Williams. I illustrated the cover, and it is pretty darn cool if I do say so myself.

If you read the first novel, then you know the series is classic space opera. The title character would rather kick back with a cold one than save the galaxy, but somehow he manages to do both. What's nice about this second book, The Markazian Deception, is it has all the charm and character of the first, but it is a completely different kind of story so you don't feel like you're reading a remake. So what's it about? Here's the synopsis:
Destroying a megalomaniac’s dreaded star cruiser was just part of another day for Jak Phoenix. The real trouble comes when it’s time to find steady employment.
The Miraltans simply need a pilot to help them evade trouble with bandits along their shipping routes. While the job doesn’t sound like it’s boiling over with excitement, it may be the easy money Jak and Baxter are looking for.
But, things aren’t always what they seem when Jak finds himself forced to take sides in a dispute he doesn’t fully understand. Never a man to volunteer help easily, Jak is quickly thrown far out of his element and finds his choices could jeopardize not only himself, but his friends and countless others.
Friendships will be tested and loyalties will be questioned in the second action packed Jak Phoenix adventure!
Sounds pretty exciting, doesn't it? This book is another classic work of space opera that's lots of fun to read and filled with wild shenanigans, back room deals, and several twists to hold your attention until the very end. It's currently available in all eBook formats from Smashwords, for the Kindle from Amazon.com, and will soon be available at other retailers and in paperback--but why would you want to read a paper book when an eBook is so much better?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wandering Koala meets The Heckler



The Heckler was a great comic from the 90s created by Keith Giffen that ended way too soon along with Justice Society of America and Green Lantern: Mosaic. It was clever, witty, and made fun of so many conventions. I wonder, why didn't DC bring it back with its New 52? I really enjoyed The Heckler and wanted to see more of his adventures.


So I drew one.


I used a painting texture style that I developed while illustrating a children's storybook a couple of years ago. I really liked the effect and thought it would suit this work. The line work was created with some funky Zebra disposable pen brushes I purchased at JetPens. I included the black & white version below. It works really well in black & white, something I always try to do. Not only do I end up with two illustrations, but if an illustration works in black & white, then it seems to work better in color.



As always, let me know what you think.
________________
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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Digital Watercolor - Ladybugs


I've begun an exciting animation project, and as part of that I've been trying to come up with a style for the background paintings. I've created animations in the past, but I've never been happy with how the backgrounds turned out. I've studied hours and hours of animation, and the backgrounds I've been most impressed with were the ones created in watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolor). But I'm not the greatest watercolorist, and doing them on paper and scanning them in would add to the already incredible time burden.

So I decided to go digital and let the computer do the heavy lifting. I've tried several different methods in Corel Painter, the greatest paint program ever created, but I've never been satisfied with the results. I even tried using Brushes for the iPhone.

Then a few months ago I developed a technique to add textured shading to illustrations in Adobe Photoshop for a black & white illustrated novella, The Caveman Conspiracy (a Wandering Koala tale). I loved the results. I wondered if the technique could be used with color to create digital paintings. But how to approach it?

Then today I went to see The Secret World of Arrietty by Studio Ghibli. While watching the film, I studied the backgrounds and thought of a similar technique. Of course, I don't have a tenth of their skill or talent, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try.

So using the shading technique and a texturing technique I developed while working on Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure, I came up with this. I really like how much it looks like a watercolor painting, how bright the colors are, and how quickly and cleanly I was able to create it. It still needs some work and refinement, but I think I'm on the right track.

But that's just me. What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

exotica: A Spoiled Sultan


Years ago I had an idea for series of illustrations where I would design them using musical beats and rhythms, a limited color palette, and animals with their textures throughout. I named it exotica, a word I heard in school when describing unique imports from other countries in the old days when shipping was still done by wooden ships. I completed three illustrations. While the layouts and coloring were cool, the line work was terrible, the anatomy and positioning of the figures needed work, the materials I used resulted in an amateurish finish, and there were a few other problems. I still thought the concept was a great idea, and I always intended to pick it up again.

Recently I completed a series of pulp team ups with my character Wandering Koala and was a little disappointed with how they turned out. I thought they could be better. So I asked myself, "Self, what could you do to improve your illustrating?" I thought giving exotica another go would help.

I love the work of Edmund Dulac. He was a victorian children's book illustrator from the turn of the century (early 20th, not 21st) who painted a lot of oriental scenes (Arabian Nights, Chinese tales, and much, much more). I love his sense of color, design, and the way he designed his figures. I've also always loved the Arabian Nights and things like it,  so I decided to try a scene in that spirit. I laid it out with a Staedtler 2B pencil and inked it with a brush and sumi ink. I thought about coloring it, but it worked so well in black & white I decided to leave it. I love black & white artwork, but so often I get nervous and color it. I need to be braver and just leave the line work.

Let me know what you think. The drawing and design are much stronger than my recent illustrations, but I've still got more work to do. Check back often to see what I come up with next!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pulp Heroes: Wandering Koala meets Lobster Johnson

This is the final pulp team up (for now) of Wandering Koala with my favorite pulp characters. Lobster Johnson was created by Mike Mignola in the pages of his Hellboy comic book. Initially he was a pulp character in the spirit of The Spider or The Shadow sporting twin guns but with a mysterious background. He eventually appeared in his own mini-series and novel. His second mini-series is currently on sale.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pulp Heroes: Wandering Koala meets The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks


This is the third in a series of new pulp fiction team ups. Previous match ups include The Spider and Jak Phoenix.

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk, who also created Mandrake the Magician, and appeared in newspaper comics. The original Phantom was hijacked by pirates and swore an oath that he and his descendants would fight evil. Most stories center around Kit Walker and his girlfriend Diana Palmer.

The Phantom appeared in a movie serial, comic books, a major motion picture, animated cartoons on television with other King Feature Syndicate characters and in his own show as a futuristic version, and mini-series on SciFi. He wears a purple costume and carries guns. Because he didn't actually originate in the pulps, some don't consider him a true pulp hero, but he had the mood, style, and sense of adventure that fits the genre. He is considered by some to be the first costumed character or superhero predating Superman by several years because he had a costume. I still consider Superman to be the first, because it was his introduction that launched the whole genre and spawned so many imitators.

I've liked The Phantom for quite a long time. A guy in a purple suit running around with a dog shouldn't be exciting and enduring, but the character is. Moonstone published an anthology of short stories with illustrations by Ruben Procopio a few years back that was great. I'm currently reading reprints of the old comic strips which are continue to impress me with their draftsmanship and engaging stories. It was while reading those that I got the idea for this series of Pulp Hero team ups.


The illustration was sketched with a 2B Staedtler pencil, penciled with a Papermate Sharpwriter #2 pencil, inked with a brush and sumi ink, and colored in Adobe Photoshop CS. The building was constructed in Google SketchUp and rendered in Corel Painter X.

You can read more adventures of Wandering Koala in his latest adventure Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure. You can follow The Phantom in pretty much any format you like short of radio dramas.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pulp Heroes: Wandering Koala meets The Spider, Master of Men


This is a second in a series of Wandering Koala team ups with some of my favorite pulp heroes and pulp-type characters. The first was Jak Phoenix.

The Spider was one of the most popular pulp fiction heros of the 1930s and 40s. He was created in response to the popularity of The Shadow. By day he was Richard Wentworth, wealthy criminologist who regularly consulted for the police. At night he put on a wig and fangs and stalked those who plagued society as The Spider, Master of Men. He carried two 45s and used them regularly to kill lawbreakers. Like most pulp heroes, he predated Superman, Batman, and the other costumed characters by several years.

The Spider also appeared in two 15-chapter cliffhanger movie serials, The Spider's Web in 1938 and The Spider Returns in 1941. He was brilliantly portrayed by Warren Hull who also played Mandrake the Magician and The Green Hornet. The Spider Returns was originally written to be the sequel to the 1940 The Shadow movie serial, but legal squabbles killed the project. Since The Spider was more or less a competing company's version of The Shadow, filming the script with The Spider instead was an easy fit.

I was first introduced to The Spider by a cover illustration by Jim Steranko on a book called The Spider: Robot Titans of Gotham reprinting two Spider stories sitting in Barnes & Noble. I had never heard of the character before, but I had recently discovered that a certain style of art I've always loved was called Pulp Art and this was part of that. So I bought it. I was impressed that the story began with an attack and the action never let up until the end. It's rare an author dares do that.

I also was impressed by his girlfriend Nina who was truly an aeser cognito or perfect compliment for him. When most people talk about a "strong female role" they aren't talking about a strong, confident woman but a rude, duplicitous, witchy female who tries to do everything she can to be a man by having his job and his bad habits. Nina was 100% woman, very feminine, very pleasant, and very nurturing. At the same time she was very strong--not tough--strong. She had principles and values and held to them even when it wasn't convenient or beneficial in the short run. She was confident and loyal. She stood by Wentworth and even risked her own life to save others. She is a true strong female role model. She was very much like the best versions of Wonder Woman--the rare times the writers get her right such as William Moulton Morrison's original run and the Linda Carter TV series. More writers need to take note.

I did more research and discovered there were two Spider movie serials. Reviews online praised them for the number of guns that were fired. Being the fan of movie serials, I had to have them. At the time there was a company that had acquired several film rolls and had transferred them to DVD and sold them on eBay. I bough many, many DVDs from them. In this version, The Spider didn't use a wig and fangs, but a hood and cape with a spiderweb pattern. I loved this look the best, and that's the one I used in my illustration.

The illustration was sketched with a 2B Staedtler pencil, penciled with a Papermate Sharpwriter #2 pencil, inked with a brush and sumi ink, and colored in Adobe Photoshop CS. The building was constructed in Google SketchUp and rendered in Corel Painter X.

You can read more adventures of Wandering Koala in his latest adventure Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure. You can read more about The Spider in a series of eBooks reprinting his early adventures at Radio Archives. And be sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Teamwork in Fiction


After I finished my latest comic, Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure, an exciting murder mystery, I wanted to do something really different. the Sixth Figure was very stylized in a comic book format. It is visually exciting and a great deal of fun to do, but it's not what I enjoy doing most. My very favorite art work to do is a one-page, full color illustration that tells a story. I've also wanted to do a team up with Wandering Koala and another character for a while. But who to choose? Jak Phoenix, of course!

Jak Phoenix is an exciting space opera created by Matt D. Williams in his debut science fiction novel. The sequel, The Markazian Deception, is due this spring. I really enjoyed the first novel, and am looking forward to the second which made me wonder what would happen if the Wandering Koala somehow made it into space and met up with this indifferent adventurer. I usually keep my character in this world with situations that could and do happen in everyday life except for one fantastic element. But I also made sure to give Kyle several magical tools so his world was open to anything. So it is possible for the two to meet.

I laid out the illustration with a Staedtler 2B pencil, penciled it with a Sharpwriter mechanical pencil, inked it with a paint brush and sumi ink, then colored it in Adobe Photoshop CS. I was really pleased with the result.

Plan on seeing more one-page illustrations, both black & white and color. I'm currently writing a science fiction short story, but after than it's another illustrated novella like The Caveman Conspiracy!

Let me know what you think of this latest illustration.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

It all began with an image...

It all started one night while I was reading a biography of H.J. Ward, one of my favorite artists. He painted covers for pulp magazines during the 30s and 40s before he killed himself with tobacco from smoking (bad habits hurt everyone). I purchased the biography quite a while ago but never got around to reading it until a couple of months ago. It mentioned how putting women in terror on the cover sold more copies regardless of what was actually in the magazine. It reminded me of early Wonder Woman comics which featured bondage in nearly half of all the panels, and which were as popular as Superman and Batman in the day.


Does bondage, torture, pain, peril, and the like really sell? An image of Wandering Koala being chained up and tortured came to mind. I thought it'd make a great cover.


I drew a thumbnail and started to lay it out, but never finished. But what I did do was create a story around the cover. I was so intrigued by the imagery I couldn't help myself. Until I had drawn half the comic. By that time I realized I needed a different cover image to accurately reflect the tone. But I thought it would make a nice interior full page panel. And it did.


I drew it with a Papermate Sharpwriter pencil, inked it with a crow quill pen, then colored it in Adobe Photoshop and used Corel Painter X and Google SketchUp for the background.


The comic is available at Smashwords and Amazon.com. A 12-page preview is available online.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Character Design: Vintage Cops

When I was younger, I used to love Legos and had quite a few. One of the sets was a Police Station, part of the Town system. I also got the boat and a couple other police items. I really liked them for some reason. I've never really wanted to become a cop myself, but it was fun to pretend with my Legos.

The drawing at the left is from my upcoming comic book, Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure. I've always loved the early 20th century look of policemen and wanted to use it for my fictional work.

I drew the image with a Papermate Sharpwriter Pencil, inked it with a Zebra Disposible Brush Pen and Pigma Brush felt-tipped pen, scanned it in with a CanoScan LIDE, and colored it in Adobe Photoshop CS. I was really pleased with how it turned out.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Movies need to go immersive, not just 3D

Star Wars finally debuted in glorious 3D, and it was pretty spectacular. The 3D really helped to bring out the details in the background and the extras that really are doing more than standing around. Each scene in The Phantom Menace is really rich. 

While I really enjoyed Star Wars in 3D, do you know what would have been even better? Star Wars as an immersive experience.

"What is an immersive experience?" you may be asking yourself. It's where all senses are used and not just sight and sound. If you've ever been to Disneyland, Universal Studios, or a similar fun land, you've probably experienced immersive movies, although they just call them 3D. These are the rides where you put on 3D glasses, you hear sound coming from all 360 degrees of the room, you feel your seat rumble beneath you, you feel jets of air shoot across your legs and feet as well as your face, you feel mists of water squirt in your face, you may smell some sweet or not-so-sweet smell, etc. Each of these movies is usually in a dedicated theater and the best ones have some animatronics to go with it.

For a standard, commercial theater, all you would need to add would be rumble seats, jets shooting air at face and feet, jets spraying a mist of water, and maybe a few scents. These few things in addition to 3D glasses and surround sound would actually make the movie goer feel like he was in the movie.

One of the biggest complaints I hear about 3D is, "That's all there was to it? How disappointing?" The experience is lacking, especially after you've been to a Disney World style 3D experience. 3D isn't the next big thing in movies, because it doesn't go far enough. Full immersion is. Now if only Hollywood can figure that out.

Note: The image at the upper right is a panel from the upcoming Wandering Koala uncovers the Sixth Figure comic book, set to be released in March 2012. Wandering Koala certainly looks like he's being immersed in something, doesn't he?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How to Format your Comic Book or Graphic Novel for Smashwords, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble

Comic books are a wonderful genre, but the cost of paper and printing have driven the price so high that the market is in danger. Digital comics offer one solution to this. With the rise of eBooks and eReaders, aspiring comic book creators now have an economical way of launching their own creations, and established professionals may be able to keep their jobs.
Here are the basic steps to publish your own comic book on Smashwords, Pubit, or Amazon KDP:
1) Create your comic so the length and width are the ratio of 1:1.3 or else the entire page will not display on the Nook. (All Kindles, the Nook Color, and other devices don't have a problem but the original Nook does.) This is the aspect ratio of golden age comic books and the original graphic novels in the 80s. Current comics use a ratio of 1:1.5.
NOTE: Make sure your comic is VERY LEGIBLE ie. easy to read at 550 px on its longest side. Most comics formatted for the traditional print comic size will NOT work, because the lettering is too small. You may have to reletter your comic and use fewer panels per page. The best advice is to just format it as if it would be a mini-comic or digest. But also make sure it looks good big, because some people will read your comic on a 27″ iMac and see it in all of its 1100 px glory.
2) Save each page of your masterpiece as a jpg that that is either 825 px or 1100 px on its longest side.  (This size is optimized for the Kindle which all other eReaders seem to copy.) Make sure it is 72 or 96 dpi (if you use Photoshop, Save For the Web will automatically do this.
For Smashwords and Barnes & Noble Pubit:
3) Create a new Word document. Create a custom page size in Page Setup that is 6″ x 9″ and set the margins to 0.5″ on all sides with no header or footer.
4) Create a title page following Smashwords’ formatting guide. Adjust for Pubit using Barnes & Noble's guidelines.
5) Insert each jpg into its own page (except the cover page which can sit on the first page unless it’s too big, then it will automatically move to the next page). This way Meatgrinder won’t automatically resize your images to illegibly small. You will NOT need to resize the image; it should automatically fit in the page. Stretching the image will cause it to become fuzzy, and is a sign you didn't create the jpegs properly.
NOTE: Meatgrinder doesn’t like several hard returns in a row, so adding a return after each image/comic page will cause a warning and put you to the back of the approval line. Just insert one image, then insert the next and it will automatically be placed on the next page.
6) Include an About the Authors/Artists, Other Works, etc. at the end. This is a great place to market yourself and your other works. It will also provide a word count for your work and make sampling work better.
For Kindle Direct Publishing:
3) Create an html document following the KDP guidelines.
4) Insert each image with an image tag in between paragraph tags

with an align attribute in the tag
.
5) Include an About the Authors/Artists, Other Works, etc. at the end. This is a great place to market yourself and your other works. It will also provide a word count for your work and make sampling work better.

Here are some other tips and considerations:
  • Smashwords only allows you to upload a 5MB file, so your comic should not exceed 22 large pages (1100 px) or 33 smaller pages (825 px). Amazon KDP and Pubit have no such limitations. That means producing long graphic novels and trade paperbacks is impossible with Smashwords. My advice is to break it up into parts for Smashwords, but sell it as a complete work at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Maybe someday the 5MB limit will change, but for now that is your best bet. (These page counts are just rules of thumb; the size of your files will vary.)
  • Allow 40% sampling. This will allow a reader to read about half of your story if you’ve included a lot of About Me information and Other works.  A 50% sample will usually do this, while 30% may not let a potential customer see anything. BE SURE to preview at your book to make sure you aren’t giving the whole thing away!
  • Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Sony will only allow a small sample (much smaller than you indicate) so most readers will not be able to see even one panel of your work. My advice for Smashwords is to break your story into 20-page parts and offer the first one for free. Most of your sales will be thru these retailers, so this is the best way to expose new customers to what you have to offer.
  • I’ve said this once, but I’m going to say it again: Make sure your comic is VERY LEGIBLE ie. easy to read at 550 px on its longest side. Most comics formatted for the traditional print comic size will NOT work, because the lettering is too small. You may have to reletter your comic. The best advice is to just format it as if it would be a mini-comic or digest.
To see samples, I’ve published a couple of comics you can download for FREE from Smashwords and Amazon!
Good luck, and happy creating!
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Jeff Thomason is an economist that writes novels and short stories, draws humorous cartoons, creates graphic novels and comic books as well as visionary illustrations, programs custom web applications, and builds unique websites. See his work at www.SkyFitsJeff.com or become a Facebook fan at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jeff-Thomason/185915104772529