Sunday, June 27, 2010

NYC and IMC pt.3

I've been back from my trip for a week now, and the whole thing seems like a distant memory. Blogging long after the fact, I'll just do my best to recount the experience...

Arriving in Amherst, I had the impression this was a special place to host the class. The campus of Amherst college seems like an education-based themepark with manicured grounds and immaculate period buildings.

Dormitory building...

Checking into the dorm, I picked up my keys and nametag. Glancing at the other nametags waiting to be claimed I recognized many of the names of the other students, and immediately had the feeling that the talent level of the students was going to be quite high. I was expecting only a handful of other professionals, but there were perhaps 25% professional fantasy illustrators and 50% returning students out of 85 attendees. The IMC is now on the radar for serious aspiring illustrators, and rightly so.

Studio building...

Inside one of the studios...

The first day was art school deja vu. After settling into 2 different studios, we posted our sketches up for a day-long critique session. Preparations ranged from thumbnails to completed paintings. The instructors assigned to each studio went through their criticism and suggestions for each sketch. The next day or so was a battle to decide what improvements we had the capacity or inclination to address and to make necessary changes. Many students had full computer/printer setups in their dorm rooms which helped them to adjust their images and facilitate planning. Without a computer, and after spending 2 hours waiting for a photocopy at the print shop, I made the decision to not fight my lack of tools and to just have fun with my project.

Wall of sketches...

Rather than thinking of my illustration as a portfolio piece, I wanted to just use it as an opportunity to try some new things without the pressure of professional results. I made my first color study in oils on a small version of my drawing. Ideally, a few variations of mood/lighting and color should be explored on even smaller panels, but again, I wanted to experience the week without getting bogged down on any one task.

Reference and color study...

The next few days consisted of this routine:
  • Sleep in until around 10am
  • go to studio and see whats going on. Squeeze out paint. Start painting.
  • Eat lunch
  • Lecture
  • Paint a tiny bit
  • Eat supper
  • lecture
  • Paint until bedtime... usually around 3am.
We seemed to be eating all the time. Since the college was being operated for a number of summer groups in addition to the IMC, we were on a strict cafeteria schedule. It was a combination of not burning any calories sitting all day, and being fed bountiful, awesome all-you-can-eat food. I tried to have salad routinely, but I also had just as much pizza and ice cream. The food was like going to a quality buffet; not like the creamed corn and "tater tots" I was expecting.

The cafeteria...

The twice-a-day lectures were a good mix of practical and theoretical. One of the talks was on getting good reference photos by using professional lighting equipment. The stunning action shots that were taken as demonstration have convinced me to step up that aspect of my craft.
Other memorable lectures included discussions on business issues, color theory and "talent"... which BTW is "total crap"...


Faculty of the IMC: (from left) Donato Giancola, Scott Fischer, Julie Bell, Boris Vallejo, Jeremy Jarvis, Dan Dos Santos, James Gurney, Greg Manchess, Irene Gallo.

The artist faculty members also had paintings on the go; which is a good way for students to witness technique and discuss methods with the instructors. My respect and awe for the instructors grew enormously in the presence of their creations...


I had fun making my painting. I used my fingers to smudge alot, enjoyed the freedom to be loose, and basically just gained some experience as I work towards the goal of using oil paints for professional work.


By the end of the week, I hadn't learned to paint masterfully or had my world turned upside down by shocking new information. The experience of the IMC was more a rounded, cumulative absorption of information based on being in an epicenter of illustration excellence. The students and faculty are a caring and sharing community with a common goal, which I'm glad to be a part of.

Another account of the week can be found here:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

NYC and IMC Pt.2

The New York leg of my trip was a busy mix of museums and sights. We were on a tight schedule that was organized in minute detail and designed to extract maximum value from our rented Manhattan flat. Since brother-in-law Ryan was tagging along and staying for free, he was obligated to pose when I needed to draw...

Another museum that has to be mentioned is the Guggenheim. While I don't mean to make this blog a rant against modern art, there are some particularly rant-worthy features of this museum...


A continuous ramp winding in an upward spiral, this museum at the surface offers a fresh and updated take on the museum experience. In reality, walking uphill past pre-sized little alcoves didn't cut it. If you walk up the ramp you get tired and if you walk down it you naturally walk faster past the pieces. Each artwork is set into a little space which serves to limit the scale and viewing experience of the art. Video installations had their projector oddly placed to work with this narrow and inflexible space and the viewer constantly walked in front of the projection. I won't even delve into the single-patron washroom issue. Clearly the building is the star of the show.


Ironically the Guggenheim doesn't allow photography of the exhibits. The Met does (sans flash), so I wonder who thinks a modern video installation is more fragile than a 13th century painting. Maybe the issue is more about copyright and appropriation. Ironically again, there happened to be an exhibit of modern "appropriators"...

So I guess if I took a photo of an appropriated work and made an appropriation of the appropriation, I would be a post-appropriator. This could get complicated.

As you reach the end of your Guggenheim experience you are likely to be inspired by the great works of appropriation and eager to express your appreciation of the art at the giftshop... the only logical choice is a lego museum (0nly $40.00) "this model promotes awareness of the fascinating worlds of architecture, engineering and construction, inspiring the builders of tomorrow."


Its not about the building... really..!

Anyhow, On the the IMC!

Monday, June 21, 2010

NYC and IMC Pt.1

I'm finally back home after a 2 week trip to New York and the Illustration Master Class (IMC) in Amherst, Mass. This was my first time at both places, and I had a good experience and would attend both again.

New York was definitely a spectacle. It was massive but also friendlier and easier to visit than I anticipated. The cab drivers are nuts. I get the feeling that Manhattan property prices and 911 has served to blunt the city`s edginess... It wasn't the stereotypical New York from the movies. My perspective from rural Canada is that NYC is likely unsustainable as it currently functions; no one I asked knew where all the garbrage went to. Innovation and change will spring from cities like New York first... it simply has to.

Times square in the rain...


Our first major museum to visit was the Metropolitan. Compared to the other great museums I have visited in the world, it doesn't have many A++ attraction pieces like the Mona Lisa, but it had a bit of everything for a satisfying museum experience. Unlike Paris where the Louvre, Orsay and Pompidou divide the wealth of artworks into relatively clean divisions of classical and modern, you will go from rooms of classical sculpture directly into rooms of totem poles and then on to modern furniture design.

A nice Andromeda sculpture... proving again that monsters and babes have always been cool. There is alot of fantasy art in museums; just dont let the snobs know. :)

Visits to great museums are a rarity for my Western Canadian eyes. Optimally, I get the chance to thoroughly study the works, make some notes, and do some sketching. My observation about the paintings which I respect and prefer the most were noted in my sketchbook:

Common attributes of great paintings:
  • breadth of tonal areas- resting space
  • focus of rendering and detail- both tight and simple
  • low chroma and high chroma balance
  • soft edges
  • use of accurate and pure value or color to describe... not line.
* FOCUS IS KEY* Anything that disrupts focus is bad


I feel modern classical realist art suffers from this lack of focus. Much of the modern realist work that attempts to emulate masters from the past lacks this artistic balancing. The reasons are likely that the revival of this type of art is still a new trend... the practitioners haven`t strayed too much from the uniform surface finish of learning studies to discover the benefits of a varied approach. Below is a nice example of a painting that balances the demands of the model with the benefits of being selective to surface quality.


A close up...

A Leighton...

Also showing variety of rendering and finish...

The Met is an exhausting experience best served up in smaller portions. I cruised speedily through most of it to allow myself time to digest the paintings. It would probably take me about a week to get through the whole collection with a semblance of thoroughness. An interesting offshoot of the museum`s variety is that there is a distribution of visitors across the various collections which is telling of the depth, interest and merit of works...


Without examples (and the implied respectability) of pop-culture, name-brand artists like Warhol or Pollock, the galleries of modern art are largely a wasteland. The irony of this large-scale modern art is that when grouped together in a gallery, the scale of the pieces cancels each other out, and the art loses its ability to impress us with size or simple graphic qualities. Why would viewers want to waste valuable museum time and torture their aching feet to look at 20 modern paintings when other parts of the museum offer so much more depth and satisfaction in a smaller space? Their graphic simplicity allows me the option to glance at the work from across the room and decide that its not work trekking 100 feet to take a closer look.

Another empty room of modern work. I wonder how much great art and artifacts are in storage to make room for this simple spectacle?

Anyhow, the Met was great. The variety was perfect for visiting with non-artists who could go their own way. The entrance fee was by suggested donation, which might come in handy if you just wanted to slip in for free and do some drawing for an hour or two.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Off to IMC

Well, I'm off to the IMC a week early, giving me less time than everyone else to prepare. Going to see NYC first, so thats a good trade-off.

I made 2 concepts based on my 2 character designs. The first one I tried to fit most of the tall character in to get the feeling of height. The issue became clear that in the given horizontal format I need to use that the character becomes too small in the scene to see clearly at trading card size. I think I will make a vertical composition from this pose and do a second painting just for the practice, because I've already done the prep work, so I might as well.

The second concept, I zoomed in closer to the character. His broad shoulder elements work better in filling the horizontal space. Since I designed such detailed characters, seeing them closer helps cut down on the clutter and makes the character more intimate. I'm calling this tonal rough good enough for now, and I will wait for feedback at the class. One change I will make is to reposition the axe so that it comes forward more in perspective , thus crossing and obscuring the body less. I will also aim to have a simple shape arrangement on the left to delineate the background in the distance by the axe. I hope to do a color study in oils before I really get down to business.