Friday, January 24, 2014

Art Philosophy: The Right Color

 Mark Twain once said something to the effect that the difference between the right word and almost the right word is a big one. I believe the same is true for color.

I've created numerous sketches and works of art in black and white with one color, and some have been very successful while others fell flat on their face. A large part of the success/failure was the color I chose. Some colors really do have the ability to stand on their own and make a work feel complete, while others just don't. I'm still not sure what the difference is, but I've noticed colors that are mid to mid-dark and have high intensity seem to do better than light or dark colors and muted tones. I've also noticed the primaries seem to work better than the secondaries or some intermediate mix. (Before you say anything, green is a primary for light.)

When I started Wandering Koala Digest 3, I was pretty sure I wanted to to be green to complete the primaries (the first one was red and the second blue). I wasn't sure of the green, but I thought something in the ectoplasmic family would be good, and it was. The page above really looks like it's colored, even though there are only 4 colors (5 if you count the white paper). It's amazing how the addition of just one color turns a black & white comic into what could be considered full color.

I hope you like my latest efforts. Let me know!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sneak Peek: Mistakes

This story has taken me a while to finish, because I really wanted to try something different. I've been looking over the past Wandering Koala Tales (and boy has the catalog been growing!) trying to decide what I liked, what I didn't like, and what direction I want to go. I've tried a lot of different genres--novels, comics, graphic novels, short stories, novellas, and anthologies, and a lot of different media and styles exploring the world of the Silent Wanderer.

One important element of the Wandering Koala when I created him and his world was the flexibility to literally do anything I wanted. And while I've had fun doing that, it's probably been kind of schizophrenic for the reader to follow the story told in so many different formats and style and not even in order. And the publishing schedule has been erratic.

With the launch of the first Wandering Koala Digest, I've finally figured out the format that works for the stories I want to tell that both provides the flexibility for the character and the wide range of tales I want to tell but is still easy enough for the reader to follow so he doesn't get lost. And a bimonthly schedule gives me the time to craft quality tales while still providing a regular dose of Wandering Koala action at predictable times.

With the third Digest I think I've finally figured out the art style that I'll stick with for most, if not all, of the tales. I'll admit it isn't the most polished art I've ever created, but polish isn't what I'm looking for. Wandering Koala was inspired by Boys Adventure stories like Hardy Boys, Pulp Fiction like Doc Savage, and adventure comics like The Phantom that were pumped out at a frantic pace by people who had energy and excitement oozing out their pencils and typewriters. The tales were fast and furious and spoke to something visceral inside the reader instead of merely stimulating the intellect (although they certainly did that with the wide range of topics and knowledge the authors possessed and displayed). This art style is a lot more raw and rough and expressionistic. It's supposed to illustrated the mood as much as the scene (and maybe even a little more).

I'm in love with this first page, and I'm excited to release the whole story in February 2014 so you can enjoy it as well. Be sure to leave me a comment and tell me what you think!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sour Grapes, or Typical Rantings of a Graphic Design Degree holder

Recently a friend of mine shared a blog post by a graphic designer via Facebook. This wasn't the first time he had shared one, and I doubt it will be the last.

In this post he was lamenting the loss of the HTML/CSS guru and blaming it on web standards. I found this post odd, because whenever I look at job listings, there are just as many listings for an HTML/CSS guru as there have ever been. The author of the post talked about how web standards had eliminated all the quirks that used to exist between differing browsers. I wondered if this guy had built a website in the last month, because there are still a mountain of quirks one has to deal with just as there were over a decade ago when I started designing sites. True, many of the old quirks have disappeared, but with the introduction of HTML 5 and CSS 3 have come dozens of new quirks designers and programers have to deal with. If you write old code (HTML 4 and CSS 2) then yes, the code will be very consistent across browsers with very little need to write extra code to handle the quirks (but it will still require some). But who wants to hire someone to write old code? Most people have jumped onto the HTML 5 bandwagon thinking they need it without really understanding what it is or why it exists.

Reading that post, I was reminded of another rant another friend had posted about the decline of the art industry. At one time, the author had a booming business, but his clients had moved to outsourcing to cheaper labor in other countries that could deliver the same product. His solution was a certification program to block new entries into the job market.

And that post reminded me of a third post where a graphic designer was ranting and raving about people getting access to professional graphics software (especially of the Adobe family) and thinking they were designers but producing horrendous efforts. (This one I did have some sympathy for, because I have seen some pretty awful work by people who had never learned the basics of design.) His argument was the graphic design was some magical skill only a few possessed and should not be undersold. (He apparently was being underbid.) Graphic Design is a skill, but unlike other art skills (drawing, painting, storytelling, sculpture) anyone can learn it. And anyone can learn it from books or online resources--you don't need a special class or degree.

All three of these posts reminded me of numerous people I have come across who have BFA degrees in Graphic Design but couldn't find a job for years. They blame the market, the economy, and everything else but themselves. For some reason, it never occurred to them that they just weren't as good as they thought they were.

I've been a professional graphic designer/web designer for over 11 years. I got my first job as a designer two months after graduating with a degree in Economics. A couple of years later, I was offered another job replacing a guy who didn't even have a college degree, but was producing professional graphic design/web designer/motion design for large clients and delighting them with his work. Later I worked for several years as a Senior Designer/Webmaster for a large financial institution. In all these different positions, I've worked with many other designers, and I've noticed a pattern: the majority of those I work with do not have degrees in Graphic Design. Those that do tend to have less ability and fewer skills than those who majored in something like Communications.

But there is one thing that holders of BFAs in Graphic Design have that others do not--an excess of EGO. I don't know why, but designers think they are wonderful, everything they produce is a masterpiece, and everyone else is incapable of producing anything worth looking at. And this seems to be unique to designers. I went to art school, and I have a lot of artist friends. The illustrators, draftsmen, sculptors, and others are all nice, easy going people that admire others' work when it is good and recognize that they could improve their own. Those that are professional graphic designers with degrees in something else also recognize and acknowledge good work regardless of the source.

And that brings me back to this post's title: Sour Grapes. The three blog posts I've mentioned were all very negative and very angry. The authors were not having the success they wanted, and so they lashed out placing the blame on various sources. And others who felt the same way or were in the same boat reposted and/or shared these posts thinking they were masterpieces that hit the nail on the head. But never once did any of them even consider that they weren't as good as they thought they were. They never once suggested that they had gotten complacent and hadn't bothered to update their skills or learn new ones. They also didn't consider that the economy is a dynamic place with jobs and careers disappearing or being reinvented in all industries, not just design.

Being an expert with Photoshop is nice, but anyone can learn the commands and techniques. And when the new version comes out, many of the processes, short cuts, commands, etc. will have changed, so the old skills lose value. What does have value--and always will--is an eye for what looks good together, what fonts should be used, what colors, how the elements to be arranged in relation to each other, how to organize a work so it is accessible. These skills will always have a place, although their application may change drastically. Design has as much to do with taste and fads as fashion, and designer that was hot last year may be yesterday's news this year. And these are the skills the designers who write such blog posts seem to be weakest in.

The solution to their dilemma (not as much work, money, or prestige) is to improve their skills and make themselves better designers. Instead, they take the approach that many other failing and failed businesses have tried and that is to eliminate competition and vilify whatever elements they see as the source of their problems. It rarely works, and when it does work it's usually temporary and requires a great deal of maintenance. (Does Detroit and the car industry ring any bells?)

Writing this post, I realize that those who would benefit most from it will probably never read it, and if a few of them do, they will be sitting at their computers yelling at the screen arguing against the points I've made claiming I just don't get it not realizing how ironic that accusation is.

The expressions of the muses on the book cover at the top reminded me of the expression I imagine these blog post writers having and their desire to control the world as if they were the three fates of Greek mythology. Fortunately, they do not have that power. Just imagine what the world would be like if they did.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Character Sketch: Martial Arts Student with a Bow

I'm currently working on the third volume of Wandering Koala Digest, and I'm playing around with different techniques and approaches. I really want to try another all-digital story. I haven't done one since Wandering Koala meets the Beast who came for Christmas, and I wasn't all that thrilled with how it turned out. The Phantom Coach looked cool all digital, but the Beast just didn't. That's one reason I went back to such traditional media as dipping a brush in ink.

So while I finish up the story, I've been doing a lot of sketching in various programs including Corel Painter, Adobe Photoshop, and Manga Studio 5 trying out all the different ways one can make a digital line. Some have turned out well, and some will never be seen in public.

The figure above was created in Corel Painter. The background was rendered in Adobe Photoshop. I really like the look, style, line quality, and colors. I may just have found my next story's style.

What do you think?