Thursday, March 30, 2017

How to Talk to Art Directors IRL (Spectrum Live 2017 Edition)

By Lauren Panepinto

I've been art directing book covers for over 10 years now, and hands down the number one question I get from artists is always "How do I approach art directors?" And while email is nice, and postcards can be great, but the best way to meet and interact with art directors is in person. At industry events and conventions, art directors show up to meet new talent, connect with artists they already know, and do a lot of mentoring via portfolio reviews. If you've ever been to a convention like Spectrum or Illuxcon, you know ADs are pretty constantly reviewing as many portfolios as they can between sunrise and when they collapse back into their hotel beds. Art Directors know how impactful direct feedback can be to artists, and we try to make ourselves as available as possible.

Who us? Intimidating? No way!

But meeting in person isn't as safe and easy as shooting off an email or mailing a postcard is. You have to interact with ADs, and that can be scary. Although I know most of the ADs that go to cons are there to help artists and be mentoring, not harsh and judgemental, it can still be incredibly intimidating to walk up to us and ask for your work to be reviewed. If you are the type of person who deals with social anxiety, that can be even more difficult.

That's why, in my four years of writing this column on Muddy Colors, I've tackled this issue in multiple articles:

Approaching Art Directors

The In-Person Portfolio Review

Physical vs. Virtual Networking 

In the past, for most conventions, portfolio review sign-ups in advance have been kind of inefficient. There's always a mad rush, servers always crash, and artists are somewhat randomly assigned to ADs because they're just trying to grab any reviews with anyone they can. At the last Spectrum Live, Marc Scheff & I tried an alternate system, where artists signed up for a few ADs at once, and we painstakingly went through portfolios and matched artists to ADs that fit their work styles and desired fields. Although it ended up in closer matches in the portfolio reviews, it was more work than reward in the end. However, what did seem to work well was the Art Director Lounge experiment. A space was set aside for ADs to sit when they were available to review portfolios, and artists either waited when the AD was there, or met them on the show floor, and decided a time to meet the AD back at the lounge area.

Spectrum Live is back at the end of April and I am excited to report that there are going to be no portfolio review sign-ups in advance. And that's going to be a great thing for artists. Spectrum has expanded the Art Director Lounge area, and now that AD's aren't going to get burnt out by doing hours of portfolio reviews back to back, we'll be much more available around the Lounge and the show floor. I believe this will result in artists being better matched to the ADs for them, as they will be able to approach the ADs they are specifically interested in talking to. It will also allow the ADs more flexibility to shuffle artists around between them, as often happens. An artist will start talking to one AD, and they'll say, you know what, this other AD would have great advice for you, or they would really be able to use your work, tell them I sent you.

Here's the floor plan for this year's Spectrum Live, and you can see, the AD Lounge has been expanded into an "Art Director's Aerie" (how exciting!).

If you're going to be at Spectrum, and you want to get some portfolio reviews from art directors and other artists, here's my advice:

—Read the previous muddy colors posts I linked to above

—Download the "Getting you Hired" Drawn + Drafted Bootcamp onesheet

—Remember that Art Directors at cons are expecting you to come up to them and want to talk about your work and ask for portfolio reviews. Just be polite, slowly work your way into the conversation, or wait for a break or catch them alone, and ask. We'll either look at your work right then and there, or if we're busy at that moment we'll work out a time to meet you later.

—Always have cards or postcards to hand out in case you don't get a chance to have a review with every AD you want, you can still give them your card.

Download the onesheet here.

If you're not going to be at Spectrum, bookmark this page for the next convention or industry event you're going to, and remember, there's nothing to be scared of. The worst thing that could happen is you have a slightly awkward conversation, and trust me, us ADs are used to it. And we're awkward sometimes too. It's better to ask and get that portfolio review and conversation you were hoping for, rather than letting your fear stop you.

See you in Kansas City!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sketching Sanctuary

--Greg Manchess

I just completed a piece with, for a short story entitled, "Sanctuary," and there’s a part in the story of a character that actually does a sketch of two generation ships in low orbit over an Earth-like planet. A small deltoid ship leaving the hangar deck.

I did a few too many thumbnails trying to decide just how I wanted to see these ships. But clients love it when you do that. You just have be careful to show them the only ones you truly want to illustrate. (I've messed that part up many times while trying to please the client, and neglecting my own tastes. Which is why they usually come to you in the first place.)

The character was probably onboard when they drew this scene, but I preferred to use a pov from outside the ships as I wanted to see more ship design. Maybe they were using an extra-vehicular device, much like NASA has developed. I read into it a bit in order to get a good drawing out of the assignment.

The visual was described rather specifically in the story so I needed to make it look like a sketch. We kept it loose to reflect that the character was probably scratching it out in a short period of time. Conveniently, the sketch, completed in soft pencil, then became the final piece for the story.

I also figured the character was a pretty fair drawer.

Y’know…ahem…just sayin’.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Applying Transparent Color in Photoshop

By Justin Gerard

In a recent post I was asked if I'd go into more detail about how I apply and saturate color when I work digitally. Today, I'll be giving a brief overview of this.

Please note that this post is geared toward people who are familiar with Photoshop, but still searching for how to best use it to colorize their illustrations. Photoshop Geniuses may find the following a little basic. (Digital ninjas, yetis, warriors, and Kevin Sorbos will find this utterly beneath them)

For the purposes of this post, I created the above monochrome watercolor to colorize. I usually work over full color watercolors, but this should help keep things a bit simpler. (Just know that you can use all these same principles when working over full color work!)

Painting digitally over drawing or a monochrome painting has 2 major pitfalls to avoid:

#1 The Pernicious Photo-tint Look.  (Think: old colozied photographs) We don't want this.
#2 The Vile Plastic Over-painted Look. (Think: purple wolf baying the moon airbrushed onto the side of a mobile home) We don't want this either.

The first pitfall suffers from too much information from the original image, while the second suffers from not enough.  We want somewhere in between.  And thankfully, Photoshop has been built specifically for this. All we have to do is use the right combination of tools within it.


Layer Modes 
To apply color in Photoshop I begin by making a new layer and then selecting a mode for it.  In the example below of Little Red "Gonna-Ruin-Your-Day" Riding Hood, I have applied a flat red color to a selected area of her cloak.  As I change the layer mode we see how the effect dramatically changes. 

As you can see, most of these when used alone, will leave our image looking photo-tinted. (Pitfall #1)

That is where a process of applying a combination of several different layer modes in sequence can be extremely helpful. Consider the following combinations:

Notice how the final effect in all of these offers a more natural looking saturation of colors. Here's why this works:

A surfaces true color is only revealed in the area between the direct light and the shadow. 

For this reason, we are only used to seeing "true" red in limited areas. When we see an object painted in a single shade of red, it looks wrong and somehow flattened.  This is because where the object receives direct light, the red will take on the color cast of that light, and where it is in shadow, it will take on the color cast of the environment's ambient light. Furthermore as objects recede from the viewer the color is further altered by atmospheric perspective.

Certain layer modes saturate more heavily than others. Some darken as they saturate, others lighten.


Normal layers are great! If you are just getting started, you should work with just these until you feel you understand them.  They behave the most predictably and are extremely versatile if you are using brushes with low flow or opacity.
However, if you are adding digital layers over top of a traditionally painted image you will find that eventually you obliterate portions of your original, and the that the final effect is plastic and uneven. (Pitfall #2)  To truly take advantage of Photoshop's power, you need to use transparent layer modes.

Photoshop has a dizzying array of options for colorization. What is important is finding what works for you. There is no real right or wrong. It is just whatever you can use to get what's in your head onto the screen.

For me, the majority of my transparent layers are made up of Multiply, Color, Soft Light and Screen.  You can do essentially anything with just these four and end up with a solid image.

Multiply Layers tend to darken and add chroma in a very dull application. This is great for slowly building up colors and adding texture and tone to your image. It is very much like working with traditional watercolor. Great for building shadows and toning your image.

Screen layers are essentially the opposite of multiply, these also add color slowly, but they lighten instead of darken. I use these to add direct lighting over the dark layers below.  By picking a warm yellow color here I am able to slowly work up a nice natural looking lighting effect to my figure.

Soft Light Layers are bonkers. They have no master, and obey no man. The math that governs them is not fully known to science. What I do know is that when a bright color is used on a soft light layer, it will allow for a very bright saturation of color which does not affect the details beneath it.  For instance, I used a bright green color on a soft light layer to really pop the bright greens out from the rest of the image.

Color Dodge Layers scorch out highlights. They are extremely brutal and should be used VERY sparingly. Too much and you are lighting your birthday cake candles with a flamethrower. But when used sparingly, they can help to intensify your brightly lit areas as well as any glints of detail light. I use Color Dodge layers to sharpen highlight areas, add rimlights, and sharpen object profiles against their backgrounds. When alternated with multiply layers it will help push the value range of the image.

Color Layers. Not shown here because I use them so sparingly, but I do use basic color layers to push and pull color in limited areas. The Color layer mode is the classic means of photo-tinting, (and I need not badger you any further with warnings there). Just know that you shouldn't overuse them, but that in limited doses they are excellent.  For instance, killing chroma: If an area is too red, I can select a blue color and lightly apply it on a Color Layer and it will pull the red back into check.

Normal Layers. Finally, there is just no escaping at least some opaque work for me when I work like this. But now that we have already established our value range and our colors are fully laid out, we can add details and opaque work that blends rather seamlessly with the rest of our image.  I also use it very transparently and often set the layer opacity to less than 50%.  

This general sequence offers me solutions to the problems I generally face as I work through an image. Everyone's artistic temperament is a little different, so play around with the different modes in different sequences and see what works best for you.

I hope this was helpful! As always, I take post requests, so if there is something you'd like me to cover please let me know in the comments!