Saturday, December 11, 2010

Good bird, bad bird

Can I paint a better than usual picture and fuck up badly the next one? Sure! This happens often and it's probably because I'm studying art formally after many years of undisciplined drawing. I know what I need/want to do, but bad habits, haste and small "superstitions" always try to take over, and sometimes they succeed. Well... onto the next ones.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cross pollination

I keep noticing that training certain skills improves other apparently unrelated skills. I haven't done much exercise to develop smoother line drawing, but after about two years of animal studies I'm becoming much more confident with lines too.

Geese, ducks, swans (from life)

Cougar (from photos)

I guess that's because most animals don't stand still, so you have to become very fast to draw them live and improvise a lot. This has forced me to rely on less pen strokes to draw the outline. As a result now I appreciate line drawings a lot more. I prefer to sketch animals using more lines to give them a fuzzier feeling but now I alternate the ballpoint pen with thin markers.

It feels funny to realize how much I had missed before, now even my random sketches have much more variety than they did a few years ago. Here's a few bunnies and fish drawn from the mind during a train trip.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Studies from photos. I'm going through different ways of laying the color looking for quicker ways of doing color studies. For now I prefer very spotty and wet-looking watercolors since acrylics are already fine for smoother colors and finer details... I need to diversify a bit what I do with different media.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Human studies (with some intruders)

I've started the great attack against my biggest limit... proper human portraits. These will be mostly based on studies from since the site has an excellent archive of models of all body types and of different races. I don't want to learn on idealized human bodies since I already tend to idealize too much. I'll post most on my CA sketchbook only like the quick animal studies.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"I remember" done

The restricted earths palette is great, I'm already in love with it. It makes saturation and temperature so much easier to experiment with! I added only some cadmium yellow here.

I selected the extinct animals from the list on a precious but utterly depressing site:

Here is a detail of the figurines: 
Starting from upper left they are:
- Baiji (aka Yangtze River Dolphin)
- Aldabra Warbler
- Po'o-uli
- Nukupu'u
- Christmas Island Pipistrelle
- Conondale Gastric-brooding Frog
- Partula snails in general (more than 50 species wiped out at once, one of the saddest episodes in the history of biology)
- Aldabra Banded Snail
- Alaotra Grebe

I tried to make them as recognizable as possible but I guess they show better in the sketches (the ones circled in red are the ones I used, except the frog which I improvised while coloring):

The one at the top (the Warbler) is actually represented belly-up, because for many of the animals listed on the site all the references I could find were photos of specimens preserved in some museum. Better than nothing though...

Monday, September 13, 2010

"I remember" WIP

On the way back from holidays I thought of a vulture girl wearing several necklaces made with the skulls of extinct species (not dinosaurs but animals which got extinct in historical times). The idea was that vultures have tasted the meat of many extinct animals and so they remember even obscure ones. Didn't make much sense, but apart from that it would be impossible to find enough references of skulls of extinct animals as most of them are obscure species which hadn't been studied much. The only preserved specimen are probably lost in the archives of museums across the world. Also the choice would have been limited to vertebrates and to animals of similar size, which are silly limitations given that most endangered animals are not vertebrates and they are often small.

Take two after some research: the necklaces are not made with bones but with sculpted figurines of the animals, each one with an attached strip of cloth with the specie's name. The girl is a Griffon vulture, a species which can live more than 50 years in captivity, and all the figurines will be of species which have gone extinct in the last 50 years (a minuscule subset of them).

On to the color test, with the same limited earths palette of the unicorness:
The things in the background are construction cranes. Seems appropriate since so many recent and ongoing extinctions are due to wild urbanization. Graphically their straight lines should contrast with the curvy vulture and form a nice framing along with the staff (modeled after a Pyrenean Ibex head).

Cinder maiden

No odd symbolism here, just a cinder/blackboard colored unicorness. :-)

Since I keep losing control of color saturation I'll be working for a while with a restricted palette based on earths: titanium white, ivory black, natural sienna, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and ultramarine. This painting is done using with this palette. It's a very simple palette which forces to pull the most out of each color and to think of color temperatures rather than hues, which is the key to controlling saturation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A small treasure from the past

I'm amazed at how little printed information exists about the anatomy of wild animals and how hard it is to find it. Any university bookstore has books with anatomy schemes of cows, dogs and other domesticated animals, but schemes of muscles or bones of any wild species are rare, often only found scattered in specialized reviews. Over the years I've collected on internet several gigabytes of anatomy schemes, skeleton photos, dissection photos etc., and I've bought the best books I could find on the topics. I've found stuff about some really exotic species but not as much as I'd like to. In order to find information on penguin fin muscles I had to dig them out of the Challenger Reports, the logs of an XIX century explorer ship, which also contain a few thylacine dissection drawings - very few of them, possibly the only existing study of this kind, of a species which nobody will be able to study again...

The rest of the Challenger drawings is here (links to chapters are towards the bottom of the pages).

Puffins are regularly eaten in some countries but good luck finding a scheme of their wing muscles. I could only find very crude schemes from a cute study about their swimming motion. I see it's not very useful information for most people, but it's kinda... embarassing? To discover we are so abysmally ignorant about many animals we like a lot, like penguins. We kill them by the milions and treat most of the corpses as trash, yet it seems nobody bothers to take a closer look at the little wonders.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Coloring test and an antelope

I've had a really unique holiday this year... I'll post a report soon. In the meanwhile I've done a tiny coloring test for the avatar picture, hopefully no further tests will be needed.

Also found a cute recent sketch I forgot to upload anywhere:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Avatar WIP - value study

Still not sure about the throne's back - from a distance the Mandelbrot version (the second) reads more clearly and the typical patterns rendered around the edges of the fractal's main body look like smoke, which can be nicely connected to the lamps.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Alex the Mastermind

The initial idea was to send this as a presente to Dr. Pepperberg as a token of appreciation for her efforts to understand animals. Maybe I'll do it anyway, but I'm not sure this version of the image is appropriate for that. As much as I like anthros they are not the answer to everything and this parrot just doesn't feel like an anthro version of Alex.

I like to study anatomy thorougly and so I have always played with the anatomy of the anthros I draw and invented unusual designs like this one. I especially like functional designs which keep key features of the original animal but don't show stuff which is blatantly against physics (such as wings on a human-size creature) or would be very awkward for a real creature. That's why the owl in Harvest Moon has a birdlike body with backward knees, vestigial wings and fake beak over a human mouth. Such designs are cool for original characters like that one, but in this case, the more I look at it the more it feels weird.

When playing with anatomy with a realistic style the risk of falling into the Unbcanny Valley is always high and I think I crossed the line with this parrot. Maybe it's the beak - I left it as in the real bird because it's Alex's "face" I wanted to show after all, but maybe I should have gone all the way and used a vestigial beak like I did for the owl. Maybe it's that the legs bent in that odd way are too promintent (and very different from those of a real perched parrot) and look Exorcist-y. Maybe it's that the coloring is not very good, I did this before learning the details of color temperature and also I didn't pay enough attention to texture, and as a result the feathers look like octopus skin, and are too much detached from the rest of the picture.

I'll let this rest during vacations and give it a freshed look later. If I still have this impression I'll do a remake with either a different anthro parrot or a with a regular parrot.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Incredibly cheesy bunny

What can I say, I like bunnies and everybody feels like painting something cheesy from time to time. :-)

They are actually Irish hares, and the soil slice is based on a photo of soil from a place in Ireland, and I used the palette of the Irish flag as a base. I was tempted to put a celtic symbol on the tree or on a rock but that would have pushed the cheesyness to really dangerous levels.

This was mainly a speed test, it was done from scratch in 4-5 evenings including several corrections along the way (like redrawing the smaller bunny about 4 times and the girl's muzzle several times). Also looking to put more texture in my paintings. The brush strokes here are even too small, I'll try larger ones later, though with acrylics laying down broad strokes is a real pain... acrylic paint just doesn't have the right density, viscosity and ease of mixing to allow good broad strokes. I need to try oils as soon as I get the chance.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Purring avatar's symbolism

 While drawing this and observing many Hindu icons I felt that this kind of pose and image composition has a sort of hypnotic effect, after a few hours I literally couldn't stop staring at it. It's not too strange since those icons are made to be displayed in homes and observed often, so they must have a very balanced look in spite of the wild saturated colors of most icons. Such icons have stood the test of time for millennia and have been invented indipendently in other cultures (like the Vitruvian Man drawn by Leonardo), so I'm tempted to think that a humanoid in this pose has some sort of subconscius relaxing effect on humans.

I did a lot of research on Hindu symbolism in order to make this picture with the right spirit and choose meaningful details. The official avatars are usually bound to an age of the world, and this is my avatar for the digital, post-industrial age which is beginning. Notes on the symbols:

- I already wrote why she is a snow leopard; they are "superstar" animals, mysterious, sexy, etc., and they strike the fantasy of most animal lovers.
- She's nude because in this age modesty is not very prized, people compulsively need to to show their goods, especially if they are young and/or feline. She has four breasts because everybody and their dog seems to have some exotic fetish.
- Maybe I'll enlarge the breasts as they are a symbol of abundance, and all in all we live in an age where a lot of people live better than their ancestors.
- The tie is a must, it's the most recognized symbol of Western society and economical power. But it can be appropriately worn by a Hindu deity because there is much mixing of symbols from different cultures, and we have to live with the results even when they look weird or uncanny.
- One hand blessing with the traditional gesture because spirituality is very much alive and people still look for comfort in such gestures.
- One hand holds a flaming wooden dagger. Natural resources make tools and grant great power, but they also run out.
- One hand holds three scrolls hidden by a veil. Traditional avatars could hold a scroll as a symbol of knowledge, but nowadays knowledge is so vast that one scroll is not enough. (She might also hold a CD in the final version.) But they are half hidden because, even though knowledge is more precious than even and a source of power, it is often despised and hidden away by veils and distractions, so that people are discouraged from pursuing it.
- The spear with three prongs is a traditional symbol which represents the three "guna", the three possible natures of worldly things: 1) things which are pure and just created (sattva), 2) things which have been altered (rajas), 3) things which are destroyed or dead (tamas). Some philosophies use the three categories to classify food, so natural food such as fresh fruit is considered more pure than cooked food, which in turn is more pure than heavily altered/manufactured food. This spear has two broken prongs and only the tamas prong left, because in our age stuff which is heavily manufactured and basically pre-digested is attempting to replace everything else.
- The axe is a traditional symbol too, it represents the wish to cut all bonds of the soul with wordly desires and material things. An old foolish ideal which is eventually crumbling to dust as we understand that mind and body cannot be separated. So her axe is crumbling too.
- The wounded paw is not a hand but a real quadruped's paw and represents the many suffering paws of the animal world. It is bandaged because we try to remedy some of the troubles, but it's not enough to heal the wound.
- Other anthropomorphic avatars like Ganesha never sport a tail, probably because it would make them "too animal". But this avatar is not a mythical animal: she is actually a fusion of human and animal at all levels, physical and spiritual, since we now understand that our future depends on biodiversity and the future of other animals. So her tail has to be prominent to remind of this. It will hold a lotus blossom, symbol of purity, because her tails is the most animal part of her and nowadays only wild animals seem to inspire with feelings of purity.
- The Karanda-makuta (head gear of lesser deities) is the only traditional symbol I have used as it is, but might be changed in some way for the final version.
- The bottom part of the throne will be shaped like a tree trunk/roots.
- Avatars are often depicted along with an animal which is their ride, for example Ganesha is shown with a harnessed mouse. I've chosen the kakapo as her ride as it's a very famous animal but also on the brink of extinction. One of many contradictions in our dealing with othe animals.
- The plate on the left contains traditional sweets of Northern India and the Himalaya region, where snow leopards may be found.
- The cup on the right contains maize cobs and Romanesco broccoli. Maize is the most powerful plant of the planet (if not the most powerful species in general) since humans in the USA and other Western countries are totally dependent on it for their food, so it deserves to be there. The other plant is there because in spite of all problems and ignorance there is a bit of diffused scientific culture, and a small effect of this on everyday life is that many people are fascinated by little things which are better appreciated by knowing the science behind them, such as the fractal broccoli.

The back of the throne was originally supposed to be shaped like a Mandelbrot set but I'll probably use a variant of Apollonian Gasket fractal instead since the set's border is too irregular and unsettling, while avatars are usually shown on thrones with regular, kinda reassuring shapes.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A hooting dancer

I've been out doing some much needed drawing from life and other things. I'm getting more familiar with birds but I need to pay a lot of attention when I sketch, if I get too carried away I become careless and I begin fucking up proportions and key features of the animals. I sketches this dancing barn owl while keeping an eye on many references to avoid that. (The wing shapes are not very accurate, I just wanted to imagine them as large flat shapes as it is more useful to imagine how they could move. I tried to preserve the shape though. Owls have a quite dinstinctive wing shape when seen from above and below.)

Now they have penguins and camels in the nearby zoo. Sketching penguins with ink is great fun and interesting, I'll need to do many more next time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The purring avatar

Partial sketch for the avatar picture - this was especially inspired. I'm doing a lot of research on Hindu symbolism and other Indian lore to make this painting, building a symbolic meaning for each element of the picture just as in traditional icons; some are modified versions of traditional Hindu symbols. I'll make a detailed list later as a few important items are still missing around the base of the throne.

Meanwhile I'm painting the Alex picture, this is a crude approximation of the palette. For the actual picture I've picked a blue underpainting for the parrot and the items in the foreground to enrich the colors a bit. Using saturated/complementary underpainting is really hard to learn but I have a gut feeling that it is an ideal technique for me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Clunky cows & colorful cats

Started the sketchbook on ConceptArt. It's a bit intimidating. :-) Keep an eye there if you like these studies because I won't always post the same pictures here and in the sketchbook: I'll post here only the best ones, the ones where I have something specific to comment, or the ones from 2009 I haven't scanned yet. On CA I'll also post the ones with glaring errors to get (hopefully) more suggestions on what to improve.

Some notes on cows, in fact my first anthro cow drawings ever (I think), done to prepare for one of the next paintings:

Monday, May 31, 2010

"Epona harnessed" finished

I'm not too enthusiastic about the result, this picture hits almost all my current technical limits, but it served its purpose well. I learned quite a lot on handling saturation both by mixing various grays (in the ground and puddles) and by alternating layers of complementary colors (on the body).

Before trying again complicated poses and point of view like this one I feel the need to go back for a while to practice anatomy and improve my palette choices. I'll be starting soon a sketchbook on as now I'm exercising steadily every day and I need most of all to work with more continuity. The best studies and speed paintings I'll keep posting here too (along with WIPs of full pictures of course).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Epona Harnessed" WIP 2

I wanted this picture to be a hard exercise at controlling saturation, so I'm keep it very low except for the most exposed areas of moss-skin. Most of the picture at this point is Van Dyck brown and Payne's gray, with the reddish part being burnt sienna. I'm now covering that with the layers of green and green/yellow, though it will require adjusting later to make the transition from shadow to light smoother, for example on the visible leg.

The thing on her butt is going to be a still smoking fire brand. Horses are branded all the time so it's logical whoever is keeping her tied also wants to mark her as his property.

Phtalo green I find to be the hardest hue to handle along with ultramarine. They are the hardest to mix, due to green overwhelming any other color even when added in small quantities and ultramarine causing sudden hus shifts and losing its hue and turning muddy very easily. But green is also terribly hard to glaze as it tends to turn opaque and lose a lot of strength when dried. Altough it might be due to traces of titanium white or some other pigment in my brand of choice - the great guide to paints by Bruce MacEvoy explains similar issues but it's often hard to tell whether the paint's brand has a quality issue or the pigment is just limited in that way.

Speed paintings are excellent way to test palettes and paints, so I'm doing more of them as warm-ups. Not yet doing one a day but that's what I'm aiming for now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Alex the parrot

I've been thinking for a while of making a picture of Alex the parrot, now I'm cooking what might be the right idea.

This is a slightly anthropomorphic version of him, with hands, bird-like backward knees, and a body shape similar to that of the owl from Harvest Moon. He is in the lab sitting upon a perch, in front of one of the magnetic boards he used in exercises with letters and numbers, but this time he is ready to actually write (with one of his own tail feathers). Other objects are a bird cage (top left) and a studio lamp (the top right things are the arm and the lampshade):

The plush lion is there for a reason: the picture is modeled after icons of Saint Jerome, the patron of translators and writers and translator of one of the most important editions of the Bible who was often portrayed with a lion. I think the role this parrot has had in improving the communication between humans and animals is worth being remembered among the highest and most important.

By a lucky accident the color red is also associated with Saint Jerome - and there is even a picture where the Saint appears with an African gray parrot like Alex:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Epona Harnessed" WIP 1

I removed the antlers she had in the sketches because they didn't look good for the composition (they would be too mmuch prominent given the pose and add too much weight at the bottom of the picture), and also because they didn't make much sense in this context. Epona is the deity of horses anyway... I'll paint proper deer another time.

Epona is lying on muddy ground between two puddles which will show reflected clouds and trees. This time I'm using more natural/desaturated colors and the underpainting is low saturation too, a mix of ochre, burnt Sienna, neutral gray and phtalo green. There are three main areas:

1) The challenge with the ground is giving it the wet/muddy feeling and keeping the saturation very low. I've started with a mix of Van Dyck brown and Payne's gray, and later layers will be the same plus white and possibly bits of other hues.
2) Epona is going to be mostly cool gray and green/yellow - she doesn't have fur but a coat of moss and grass, with the mane and tail made of long leaves like these of some swamp plants. I've started with a layer of red (burnt Sienna) as underpainting for the greenest areas and Payne's gray for the shadows.
3) The reflected sky will be the lightest area, the color will be similar to the mud's but overall cooler and much lighter. Plus some accents of orange on the clouds to balance the green of Epona. The main challenge here is painting a convincing surface texture for the water, but I also want to paint an interesting contrast between the mud and the sky, to make the scene look firmly on the ground and yet suspended in the sky at the same time.