Sunday, March 24, 2013

Becky Kramer's Brother poster - process

When 90's cover band Becky Kramer's Brother asked me to draw a poster for their upcoming April 5 show, I was actually really excited. Even though it was just a favor for friends, I wanted to treat it like my first professional job.

I started like every other artist I follow starts any of their pieces: I did thumbnails. Well, FIRST I wrote down all my ideas, then I sent them two versions each of the two ideas I was most excited about - a three-wolf-moon situation with their heads, and them with their instruments in front of, or in, the 'Friends' fountain.

This exercise doubled as 'practice digital painting before you actually have to digitally paint something'

They picked the lower right version since it seemed most clearly 90s-ish.

I armed myself with some reference photos and my trusty Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting book and got to work (although I actually did my first sketches on paper - true to size).

photo refs

(The two bottom photos are by my boyfriend Dave - he is a great photographer!)
11x17 fountain on paper

This was my first mistake and by far my worst - NOT COMPLETING THE SKETCHES before scanning them in. I thought, "I'll have to go over them again in Photoshop anyway, might as well do the cleanup versions in there." Then I learned that freehand linework in Photoshop is INCREDIBLY hard unless you have a Cintiq.

While I was working on this I came across a phrase that someone's art teacher used to say - "Don't make turd sandwiches." You can make the most beautiful sandwich in the world, use the freshest bread and best heirloom tomatoes and Grey Poupon and what have you, but it's still gonna be a turd sandwich if you started with a turd. Likewise you can spend 20 hours rendering and painting, but if it's a bad drawing after 2 hours it's going to be a bad drawing after 20 hours. The next time I make a digital painting, I'm going to get it RIGHT on paper first.

So I finally took everything into Photoshop and proceeded to work in chunks for the next two weeks. I exported a JPEG at the end of each day.

Mar 10 - linework and BASIC values

Mar 11 - probably spent the longest on this stage, this was about 6 hours

I sent them that and told them that if they wanted any changes, now would be the time to tell me. They asked for some houses in the background and for Steve's bass to be slung across his back.

Mar 12

Mar 13

Mar 15

Mar 18

Mar 19

Color is something I realized I know NOTHING about (despite having read the amazing Color and Light). It made me really want to take a painting class where they show you how to actually recognize and choose colors.

I sent this colorized version to them and asked for their feedback and for a couple of days to give my eyes a rest. They asked for their trademark neon shirts, since it was looking a little dark, and for the drum kit to have cymbals.

The finalized poster.

(Text was done by the amazing Thadd Williams, who has a much better graphic design sense than I)

At this point I can only see the things that are wrong with it - but the band is happy, and that makes me happy. I learned from it, and that means it was not a waste. And if it gets any attention for the band, that's even better.

Something else that helped me with this process - I finally bit the bullet and bought a couple of CGMA workshops online. The one that helped me the most was Digital Painting with Erik D. Martin - I picked up a lot about layer organization and painting process. I also learned about the LOCK TRANSPARENT PIXELS option in Photoshop, which was a lifesaver.

Now it's back to regular old daily sketches! Until BKB needs another poster that is...

© Gina Florio 2013

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Daily Sketches Weeks 10-12

Sorry these took so long to get up. You'll see there's missing days here too - I've been devoting a lot of my time to producing that poster for my friends' band, which finally went live yesterday. I'll make a full process post tomorrow.

Mar 3 - started perspective homework

Mar 4 - Benedict Cumberbatch (sketched while watching an episode of BBC's 'Sherlock')

Mar 5 - completed perspective homework

Mar 6 - sketching my friend Heinz (in the band)

Mar 7 - lips practice (from ProkoTV)

Mar 8 - band pose practice (from facebook pictures)

Mar 11 - had a free evening, went to life drawing class

Mar 13 - some pirate-y doodles
Mar 14 - felt like doodling some horses... won't make that mistake again anytime soon

Mar 15 - character doodles

Mar 16 - sketched while watching Dave play the new Tomb Raider
Mar 18 - some environment doodles
Mar 20 - Link... been chipping away at Ocarina of Time for over a year

Someday, my daily sketches will look like this:

Nathan Fowkes - Location Study

Pascal Campion - sketch of the day, 3/22
Justin Rodrigues - Cafe sketches
Brett Bean - life drawing studies

But until then, just have to keep chipping away...

© Gina Florio 2013

Thursday, March 21, 2013

TED Talk: Young-ha Kim

In this video, celebrated Korean author Young-ha Kim talks about how we all start out as artists, but eventually, most of us stop.

"It's not the hundreds of reasons why one can't be an artist, but rather, the one reason one must be that makes artists."

The main points of his speech reminded me of that essay, Draw Like a Six Year Old by Phil McAndrews, that I posted about a while back. It's one of my favorite things that I've ever read about art and drawing.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that drawing is supposed to be fun and it becomes more like work. But it is supposed to be fun. Your six year old self did NOT question his or her desire to draw something they thought was awesome. I remember once I drew an entire comic about the letters of my name becoming conscious, animated beings and exploring my house. Yes, the letters G, I, N, A and F, L, O, R, I, O were each separate, freethinking individuals hopping around. At one point the letters of the first name got separated from the letters of the last name and they were trying to find each other again. Six year old me thought this was the greatest idea I'd ever had. Of COURSE I should commit it to paper! And so I did. I bet my mom still has it.

Borrowing this from Phil McAndrews since it's great. One day I'll be able to illustrate my blog posts with my own work.

Something else he said also struck me - the part about how the artists inside us don't vanish, they get bottled up and come out as anger and jealousy. I feel like this is something I've been noticing more and more lately, ever since I read that Cracked article, 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person. It says, "Do the math: How much of your time is spent consuming things other people made (TV, music, video games, websites) versus making your own? Only one of those adds to your value as a human being. [...] It's incredibly comforting to know that as long as you don't create anything in your life, then nobody can attack the thing you created. It's so much easier to just sit back and criticize other people's creations. This movie is stupid. That couple's kids are brats. That other couple's relationship is a mess. This Internet writer is an asshole. I'd better leave a mean comment demanding that the website fire him. [...] Whatever you try to build or create -- be it a poem, or a new skill, or a new relationship -- you will find yourself immediately surrounded by non-creators who trash it. Maybe not to your face, but they'll do it. Your drunk friends do not want you to get sober. Your fat friends do not want you to start a fitness regimen. Your jobless friends do not want to see you embark on a career. Just remember, they're only expressing their own fear, since trashing other people's work is another excuse to do nothing."

I've started to witness this in real life - you're either a person who creates, or you're a person who sits around judging things other people have made. That's not to say it's THAT black and white, or that artists don't judge. But I've found that the established artists I've met at classes and workshops are always very careful with their words. They give constructive criticism but are careful to not discourage new artists (like myself). And I've found myself thinking this way too. Bad singer on American Idol? At least they're up there, putting themselves out there, actually TRYING. That's more than you can say for most people in the world. Certainly more than you can say for the person on the couch trying to make themselves feel better by trashing them.

The very last anecdote he shares about Martha Graham is just perfect. And it echoes this Noah Bradley post that I wrote about some time ago. All those nagging questions and doubts you have when you're starting out on this are the work of the "artistic devil." It's not that hard. Get out of your own way. Just do it.

© Gina Florio 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Taking a Break

In extreme contrast to my last post, today I am going to not bog you down with a bunch of words. Instead I'll just leave you with this awesome music video.

Happy Saturday!

© Gina Florio 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

One Year of Art

Before you read: This is a very long, personal post... I wrote it because I've been concentrating on art and drawing for about a year now, and I'd like to have a record where I am at this place in my life. Feel free to skip it if you're just here for the art and links to other things.

I can't pinpoint an exact date that I started on what I will just be totally cheesy and call "my artistic journey." But I know that it started around this time last year, in mid-March.

Of course, I could also say that it started when I was born. When I was little, I drew all the time, during school, after school, on every piece of paper I could find. I could entertain myself for a good few hours if someone set me up with crayons and paper. For career day in third grade where we had to dress up as our role models, I went as Marie Curie. [HUGE EDIT: Wow, don't know how I did that... I meant to say MARY CASSATT. Wow. Anyway.] There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be an artist when I grew up.

It's a little hard to say exactly what happened. I started writing and illustrating my own "books" in third or fourth grade, and I discovered I really loved writing stories. In late middle school and high school I was still drawing, but I started to focus more on writing. I also started reading a lot of graphic novels at this time - I particularly remember Blankets, Bone, Maus and Persepolis. I started to see how words and images could really work together to tell a story.

In tenth grade, within a few months of each other, I saw the films Garden State and Lost In Translation. Those movies opened my eyes to the kinds of stories you could tell with a film. I began to see movies as the ultimate medium. They can combine every single form of artistic expression - images, words, music, and the fourth dimension of time - pacing - to tell a story. I decided that year to go to school to study screenwriting.

I attended Emerson College in Boston, and in one of my very first classes there, I had to produce a short video. I don't even remember what it was about - but I remember going to the computer lab to edit it on whatever version of Final Cut Pro was around in 2006. And I remember looking at the time on the computer screen and being shocked to realize that 6 hours had passed. On that day, I discovered I loved to edit. I loved determining the particular sequence of images and the pacing of the story. I changed my major to post-production in sophomore year and never looked back. I stopped focusing on writing. I also pretty much stopped drawing altogether.

I worked really hard in college. I wasn't a partier. I did lots of internships and extracurriculars on top of my classes, basically living and breathing editing, and loving it. But after I graduated in 2010, I got a job, I found an apartment, and I sort of... started to coast, a bit. I was enjoying my newfound free time on evenings and weekends, spending my (also newfound) spare money. I remember thinking that I had worked really hard and now it had paid off, and I deserved to just enjoy this time, going shopping, hanging out with friends, playing videogames, watching TV. I was relaxed and happy. But of course, after a couple of years, I started to get restless. I wasn't sure what was wrong with me. I thought, I have it so great! Why am I so unhappy? I realized that there was no longer anything driving me. While I was in school, I always had a goal I was working towards - good grades, getting into college, choosing a major, finding a job. Then, suddenly, I found myself with a job, an apartment, a great boyfriend... I had it all. I had everything I'd been striving for my whole life. Almost like Inigo Montoya at the end of The Princess Bride, I was at a point of... what now?

I tried a lot of things to fill the gap. I started running. I watched Youtube videos about how to do your hair in certain ways (and almost always failed at accomplishing them). I basically replaced my entire wardrobe. I even dabbled with drawing here and there, but always hated what I drew (without, of course, having the rational thought that maybe I needed to LEARN first before I got better). In early 2012, I was at my lowest point. I was feeling extremely unfulfilled by work. I remember a few weeks where I spent the majority of my free time just trying to find the best free phone games to entertain myself with during downtime.

But then one day, in March of 2012, I was on Reddit (as per usual) and came across a link to this post on someone's blog. I still don't know who Josh Beswick is, and I still don't know what it even was about that particular post, but when I read it, it was like a switch flipped in my brain - I immediately knew: I need to learn how to do this. I need to have the ability to make images like that.

I went a little bit overboard at first. I started buying more art books than I would ever have the time to read. I started reading more art blogs than anyone has any business reading. (I read the entire, fairly extensive, backlogs of Gurney Journey, Deja View, and the Character Design Blog.) And I started researching off-hours art classes, more than I could ever afford to take. I started drawing more, and still hated what I was drawing, and lamented it all the time. I'm pretty sure Dave thought I had gone slightly insane.

After six frustrating months of trying to learn on my own, I started taking VisComm 1 at the Concept Design Academy in October 2012. And the rest is pretty much history - I've been keeping the blog since then.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind year. I'm happy to say that I think I've improved at least a little. More importantly, I've learned that improvement takes a lot of time and conscious effort, so I don't get as fed up with failure anymore - I try to learn from it and move on. And I'm pleased to say that I no longer feel bored or restless. Ever. There's too much to learn and not enough time in the world to learn it in. But lately I've been struggling with an entirely new big question - now that I have this passion and drive again, what am I going to do with it?

I still love editing. I'm still very passionate about the act of storytelling, which is what editing IS (especially in reality TV, where the story is usually created in post!!). However - almost no one who takes classes at Concept Design Academy or 3kicks is taking them just for fun. They're taking them because they want to be concept artists and character designers. Many of them already are working in the entertainment design industry but are just trying to improve their skills. And so people in my classes will ask me what my goal is, and I will say... I'm not sure. I always give sort of a waffle-y answer about how I enjoy art but I also enjoy my current job. And the general response is usually surprise. They'll look at me strangely and say something like "you seem more serious than that."

And it's true. I am more serious than that. In January I took the time to listen to Bobby Chiu's "The Perfect Bait," and the free portion of Noah Bradley's "The Art of Freelancing." And both of those things, coupled with the amount of time I've now spent doing this, made me realize - I want to do this. I want to make my living as an artist. And I need to say that I want it. I never want to say it aloud because I am so fucking terrified of failure. But I need to start saying it. I think storyboarding or concept designing would be a great career path. And more importantly, I think I'd be good at it, if I got my artistic skills up to snuff.

There's a lot of stuff I'm scared of. Mainly I'm scared of being too old, and everything that comes with that. But despite that... I know what I want to do. And I have to start being honest with myself about what I want, because otherwise I'll never get it. I want to work as an artist in the entertainment industry. And I'm going to try my hardest to do it.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Zen Pencils, and Photoshop woes

Sorry for the lack of posts. I was unexpectedly off of work again this week, and when that happens I like to try to stay away from the internet to focus more on actually making art instead of just looking at other people's art and reading and thinking about art. Usually that doesn't end up happening, but I'm happy to say I've logged a lot of drawing/painting hours this week, mostly in Photoshop which I am really enjoying learning. As a junior in college, when I was teaching Avid, an editing program, to some younger students, I always used to tell them: "I can show you Avid tutorials all day, but the only way to really learn the program is just to import some footage and try to edit something yourself." And I've found that's totally true with Photoshop - I had watched a million tutorials before, but it never TRULY sinks in until you start using it yourself. After about a week of fussing around and being super frustrated, I'm starting to understand how to actually achieve the look I'm going after. It's really not too different than learning any other material - you can buy all the paint brushes in the world, but then not know how to use them until you experiment with holding and moving them in different ways, with different paints, etc etc. And then after years of using a certain brush a certain way, someone will come up and show you an angle of the wrist that produces a totally different affect. Or, you know. I'm not a painter (yet) but I IMAGINE this is a thing that happens. Whatever, it's my blog and I'm sticking to that analogy.

The thing that has frustrated me the most by far is line drawing with the Wacom. I was almost in tears the first day, because I had drawn up a rough sketch and scanned it in thinking I'd refine it in Photoshop. And then no matter what I tried I could NOT draw a good clean line for the life of me. I eventually chalked it up to a lack of line confidence/arm strength/general drawing skill and figured I'd just have to keep at it... until today, when I came across THIS POST by Jesper Ejsing on the Muddy Colors blog. Note that there are about FORTY COMMENTS saying that line drawing in photoshop with a tablet is nearly impossible. Commenter Jari Paananen says: "I switched to Cintiq three years ago - and haven't looked back. Before Cintiq it was Draw Line - Undo - Draw Line - Undo - DrawLine-Undo-DrawLine-UndoDrawLineUndoDrawLine - Okay, that will do even if it's not even close to the line I wanted." Which was exactly my experience. Needless to say I felt validated.

ANYway. I wanted to post about an awesome short comic I found last week that illustrates a quote from Chris Hadfield, a commander at the ISS.

Rest of comic HERE.

The art is by Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website with these comics called Zen Pencils. It's really worth checking out - The art is great and the quotes are great too. Here is another of my favorites:

Rest of comic HERE.

Lastly - extremely sad news today - Google Reader, the way in which I consume 90% of my internet (and ALL of my art blogs), is being put out to pasture for no reason that I can discern. Does anybody know of a good replacement?

© Gina Florio 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013


The inspiration for this post came from this short documentary on the making of John Mayer's new album cover art. John Mayer, on a long, rambling search for an ephemeral look that he couldn't quite describe, eventually came across David A. Smith from England, who may be one of the last people still doing the meticulous but beautiful work of traditionally hand-painted and lettered signage and glasswork.

While I watched this, I was reminded of a documentary my parents rented when I was in high school called 'Rivers and Tides.' It chronicles the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a Scottish 'sculptor' who works almost exclusively out in nature. His creations are not permanent - they are meant to fade, slowly but surely, back into the wild from which they came. As Goldsworthy says, "Each work grows, stays, decays – integral parts of a cycle which the photograph [of the work] shows at its heights, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expressed in the image. Process and decay are implicit."

It was without doubt the slowest film I have ever seen, in every sense of the word. I'm fairly certain I napped through part of it. But looking back, I think it influenced me a lot. The trailer is below just to give you a sense of his work. (The trailer does its best to convince you it was filmed in the late 70s, but don't be fooled, it was made in 2004.)

Both artists go through an incredibly painstaking process to create beautiful works without ever sitting down at a computer. They must have an extraordinary amount of patience and take extreme care when working, because one wrong move could ruin hours upon hours of work. David A. Smith's medium of choice is LITERALLY as fragile as glass. Because, you know... it is glass. Jokes. Tell everyone you read a hilarious blog today.

Patience, as well as hand-made work, seems to have gone out the window lately. It seems cliché to write about the fast-paced, always-plugged-in world that we live in, but it's true. And yes I appreciate the irony of writing a blog post about this problem. But quality work that takes time and is done by hand is harder and harder to come by. Everyone wants everything as fast as possible.

I was raised Quaker. (Yes they still exist, no they didn't die out, no my family doesn't live on a farm, yes we can use electricity, no my dad doesn't wear a funny hat. You are almost definitely thinking of the Amish, or the guy on the Quaker Oats box.) Quakers are probably best described as the hippie faction of Christianity - they believe in simplicity, solutions through peaceful means, and in "finding the light within," emphasizing a personal and direct relationship with god. The Quaker churches (called 'meetings') I went to also did not have a conventional service. The gathering would generally sit in silence for an hour - basically, group meditation - and if someone had a thought they'd like to share, they could stand and speak aloud. I have fond memories of these services, and believe they taught me the two very important lessons of learning to sit quietly and patiently and turn my focus inwards (probably something I do too much of these days), and also to pay attention to what other people might be thinking or feeling.

Patience is an important thing for children to learn, I think. The name of this post comes from the French word, attend, which literally means 'wait', and which in turn comes from the book I'm reading, Bringing Up Bebé, about an American mother's experience having and raising children in Paris. (NO I'm not expecting children soon, it's just an interesting read.) The French seem to have the child-rearing thing down pat. One among their many great methods is to teach children that instant gratification is just not possible. 'Attend' is said to children all the time, to teach them patience and to help them understand they must be considerate of others before getting what they want.

I am glad to have learned patience so early on. Yet, I'm still certain I would not have the patience to create work on the level of what David A. Smith or Andy Goldsworthy do.

I actually feel quite impatient lately, mostly with my art. I understand why. I realize that I'll probably always have a complicated relationship with my own artwork, but right now the results of my work are so far from the original conception that it's hard not to want to skip to the point where I can just DRAW and have it at least somewhat resemble what I'm thinking about. My skills just aren't there yet. I often catch myself looking for quick fixes. But I think it's good to remember that the journey is of the reward, and that the process of struggling is important. It's how you learn, how you earn the skill.

I may keep a blog, but I also think it's important to step away from the internet, go out into the real world, and do things by hand. (It's Rule #4 in Steal Like an Artist: Use Your Hands. It recommends keeping separate desks for traditional work and for your computer/digital work, if you have the space. Can't wait till I can do that.) I have no doubt that my forgetfulness, impatience, and scatterbrained state of mind lately is caused by my constant proximity to computers and the internet. I've focused on setting boundaries for myself for the past few months to keep distraction at a minimum. I try to remember: Do one thing at a time. Take the time to really look, really think. Have patience. Slow down. Wait.

© Gina Florio 2013

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Scared is scared

So many relatives drew my attention to this online short film today that I eventually just had to watch it. In the film, in very meta fashion, soon-to-be graduating film student Bianca Giaever asks her six year old cousin what to make a movie about, and then goes on to animate/shoot what he says. The result is not only delightfully adorable, but a great example of simple, cohesive design through and through on the part of the production.

Childrens' ability to just make up stories on the spot is unrivaled by any adult. I wish we all retained such natural carefree-ness with our creations into adulthood.

Post script: I aim to use the word "swizzling" more. That is not an English word, but it should be.

© Gina Florio 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

'Funny Bones' - short documentary of caricaturist John Kascht

One thing I've been struggling with while attempting to draw my 90's cover band friends is capturing a resemblance. At this point, I can draw something that looks like a face. But a face that looks like my friend's face is harder to do. And a face that looks like my friend, from different angles, every time? Forget about it.

I recalled watching this short documentary some time ago, and so I watched it again last week to try to gain some insight into how to do it. While I doubt I'll have time to make sculptures, it definitely helped in some ways. But I still can't get my head around one thing - how does he draw a person multiple times, and wildly vary the proportions of their facial features every time - and yet, every time, it STILL looks like that person? Obviously, capturing a resemblance has nothing to do with facial features' proportional relationships. It's something else. Something fleeting, that I don't know quite how to capture on paper yet.

© Gina Florio 2013

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Daily Sketches Weeks 8 - 9

Last couple weeks of work.

Feb 18 - practicing values and compositions with Copic markers

Feb 19 - how to draw an elephant head

Feb 19 again

Feb 20 - sketching my perspective class professor Gary Meyer in action

Feb 21 - more elephants

Feb 21 again

These elephant doodles were actually shape exercises from a great workbook that Aaron Blaise posted online from his time as a story artist on the canceled animated film 'The Legend of Tembo.' I encourage you to check it out if you have any interest whatsoever in drawing elephants, or even animals in general. He does an amazing job of simplifying the shapes of an elephant's body, and showing you how to caracaturize them as well. Not that I have too much to show for it, but, you know. Practice, practice...

Feb 22 - a sunset watercolor from memory

Feb 23 - some of the many characters in Los Angeles
Feb 24 - Oscar night
Feb 25 - head practice

Feb 26 - more head practice... have looots of trouble with those extreme up and down shots...

Feb 27 - practicing drawing some friends from Facebook photos

Feb 28 - more Facebook photo practice... top right picture actually looks like him, so I'm calling that a semi success

Mar 1 - eye practice

Mar 2 - quick gaming/drawing session with Dave

I've been asked by my friends who are in a 90's cover band to design and draw a poster for their upcoming show in April, so a lot of time these past couple of weeks was devoted to learning photoshop painting (finally). I've been spending a lot of time with a book called 'Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop' which I highly recommend. You should also check out the band, Becky Kramer's Brother, if you're in L.A. and/or into 90's music. They're really good! (And I'm not just saying that because they're my friends - they are actually impressively good. And, yes, their website is supposed to look like that.) As far as the poster/digital painting goes - I've done some of work on it already, but decided not to include it here. I'll do a final making-of post when it's all finished.

A lot of the above sketches were done with the help of ProkoTV - an artist named Stan Prokopenko has been producing some highly entertaining and informative (and FREE) youtube videos on how to draw the head and various parts of the face. I've been going slow with them so far because I've been really trying to practice and absorb them as I go, but I really recommend checking them out. There's an example below, but I'll link to the other ones I've been using.

Other videos:

How to Draw the Head - Front View
How to Draw the Head - Side View
How to Draw the Head from Extreme Angles
How to Draw the Eye - Structure
How to Draw the Eye - Step by step

That's it for now. Hope everyone has had a great weekend!

© Gina Florio 2013