Sunday, June 17, 2012

Some thoughts on portraiture of anthro characters

A small oil portrait of the character Tedros, done for Anbessa on Furaffinity.

There used to be a lot of rules on how to do official people's portraits before impressionism and the modern art era. One rule which stuck me as odd is that smiling was strongly discouraged because it could distort facial features and would make the painting tiresome to look at for a long time. It is true that smiling expressions can be annoying to look at unless the smile is very subtle (e.g. the Mona Lisa) or the whole painting is very stylized (e.g. portraits by Boldini, the impressionists, caricatures, etc.). Also telling the model to keep a neutral expression allowed him or her to relax and display their most natural attitude.

I have no idea whether this concept may apply to anthro characters. After all there is no real model to copy from and many animal muzzles don't look very expressive to untrained eyes, especially when they sport a neutral expression. But it's an interesting challenge because neutral expressions are always hard to draw convincingly, it's easy to make them look dull or silly.

Even if you draw a realistic anthro muzzle, the most straightforward way of making it expressive is to map cartoon expressions like these onto its features:

This kind of "standard" expressions can actually be applied to anything (animals, objects, etc.) as long as it has the equivalent of a mouth, two eyes with visible white and a discernible pupil (so we can understand where the gaze is pointing) and very mobile eyebrows. A lot of RL animals look like they have no expression just because the white of their eyes is not visible and they have no facial features similar to eyebrows, while animals like cats and blue-eyed huskies feel very expressive because they have both.

I often abuse eyebrows to exaggerate expressions in my pictures and I know sometimes I'm guilty of stepping into the 'TUDE eyebrows minefield. So in this picture I downplayed eyebrows a lot (though the dark patterns around the eyes work fine as proxies) and I tried to keep a neutral expression. I'm quite pleased with the result. Now I have a few other ideas to test in small portraits like this one...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Next painting: Puffins!

I think I found a good pipeline for working in oils but I posted about that in the NSFW side of the blog.

The next painting will be my anthro puffin character Angelica posing in the acquarium where she works along with some non-anthro puffins. It's supposed to be part of a classy advertising campaign she does for the Genoa Aquarium of the future where she works. I guess I have weird ideas about the future of marketing. :-)

I'll use strong colors for this one. In the last year I've been focusing obsessively on desaturated colors so I could better understand and learn color temperature, but I actually prefer bright, sunny and weird colors in paintings.

A proper model sheet of Angelica is on its way too.

Fur rendering in oils

After the avatar painting and a few other tests I have a viable pipeline for working with oils. It's quite simple actually:

1) Pencil sketch
2) Underpainting in acrylics
3) Final color in oils

I used to do digital value studies for all pictures before coloring them in acrylics but that's no longer necessary now, I can design the values directly in the underpainting layer and the oil layer will mask any small mistake or change of mind. I guess I also developed a better intuition for values so I need less preliminary studies, but breaking up the work by doing some steps in digital and some steps in traditional media doesn't help concentration. For simple pictures where there is no background I'd rather do as much as possible on the canvas/sheet, it also saves a lot of time.

Rendering soft-looking fur is always one of my top priorities. Because of that I leave figure borders a bit blurred unless a neat border is necessary to make the picture readable, as in the detail picture above under the chin. Many anthro characters have complex patterns of stripes, spots and brighter/darker areas of fur which make it really difficult to keep the figure readable at a glance. Complementary underpainting is of great use here: even if the colors painted over it are quite different from each other (in this case they ranged from dark brown to dark blue to cool gray and white) the same color is visible in trasparency in all parts of the figure, so there is a nice color unity.

Crosshatching is also very useful to suggest softness. Many anthro artists who want to paint relistic fur resort to painting the individual hairs, but that creates a lot of regular detail all over the figure and looking at so much regularity quickly becomes tiresome for the eye. I prefer the slight randomness of crosshatching, which makes the surface look soft but also relatively smooth.

Also crosshatching doesn't need to follow the expected direction of hairs in every spot of the fur coat, so the strokes may follow any direction which is useful to enhance the volumes and the lines of action in the image. In the details above I directed the brush strokes on the shoulder, arm and torso so that they would enhance the muscle volumes and the arm's line of action.

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Finished! It was quite an ordeal but I'm glad I set the idea aside until I developed better painting skills, I could never had painted this picture decently one year ago.

I changed a bit some of the items since the sketch version I posted a long time ago, see the description on DeviantArt for a full explaination of how I reworked the traditional symbolism:

One last WIP shot took some days before. The main figure was more prominent without the rosettes (fur spots), it gave the picture a simpler design but I prefer the final version with colorful rosettes since the cold colors of the fur already contrasts a lot with the scenery colors. I painted the rosettes in yellow/orange and violet to give them a slightly iridescent look.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Panic signs


I just learned that the looks of oil paint varies a lot more than I expected depending on the kind of surface, the kind thinner used to rinse brushes, and even the size of brushes and brush strokes. In spite of all coloring tests I still tend to panic about some details, especially in the early stages of painting when a color mix looks different from what I expected.

Here I panicked a bit while painting the first layer of green behind the throne because it looked much more opaque and saturated compared to the miniature test, and as a result the brushwork looks dull. Around the lamp the color looked OK and the brushwork is much more natural:

When using acrylics a mistake in the underpainting is a big deal, but luckily with oils it is much easier to blend further layers of paint with the first ones even after a few days. So there is no point in worrying about subtle nuances of color in the early stages.

This is a later stage where the green area is still too flat but the colors are beginning to fall into place. I haven't used any black: all the dark areas are a very dark violet which I'm also using to darken the other colors where needed. When painted thick this violet becomes almost black, but it remains translucent so it sends nice violet reflections when light hits the surface. Being complementary to the green and yellow of the throne's outline it should make for a more interesting color scheme in the end.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Time to restart the blogs. Ill luck struck me during 2011 as I had to face several health issues which drove me away from large projects like paintings, and it took a while to find the will to react to them. Now things are going well enough I guess. I revised my life priorities making more room for drawing and painting and I'm working steadily towards a more professional approach now. During most of 2011 I chose to focus on small commissions so I could learn the basics of art business and time management and also do a lot more exercise on coloring. Now I'm actually beginning to feel confident with palette choices, at least for smaller pictures.

I've tried oil painting too and I'm switching to it immediately for paintings, I'll keep acrylics ust for illustrations on paper. I always though oils were the most difficult media to handle but it turns out that most of the effects I failed to achieve with acrylics are easier to achieve with oils. Finally complementary underpainting which WORKS! Painting wet-in-wet with oils is just more fit for my mindset, I like to have time to think between brush strokes. It's also much easier to fix small mistakes.

My first large oil painting will be the Hindu-like avatar picture which has been patiently waiting for over two years. I've already made a small color test in oils. Still a few details to add or correct but this time it's a reasoned and thorough color test, unlike the improvised crap which was the previous test with acrylics.

Full version already started, with underpainting in acrylics to spare some time. This one along with the following 1-2 paintings will be my first exhibited painting in a collective exhibition in May.