Sunday, January 13, 2008


it's been a crazy winter for me, crazier than my usual craziness. among other things, i've been reflecting a lot on my life and career (such as it is).

one of the things that really bothers me is how rarely i've taken advantage of opportunities in my life, how many chances for this or that i've thrown away for one reason or another. this is true of my life in general, but you don't need to hear about that. it applies even more directly to my art.

i'm not stupid, i'm perfectly aware that i am an above-average cartooninst. but the fact remains that, through a variety of projects for all sorts of clients, (most of whom gave me wide creative latitude), i've rarely measured up to my artistic potential. anyone who's seen my sketchbooks knows that they are far better than any of my books or covers. but sketches only show the potential of art. hearing that you have "lots of potential" from your fourth-grade art teacher is great, but at the age of 34, i feel that i should have realized that potential by now!

looking back at the work i did in high school and college, i was much more adventurous, mixing sculpture and graphics and all sorts of other fun things. the results were usually dreadful, especially since i was very technically limited in painting, but at least it was interesting. years of working on very specific projects like "dare!" has definitely led my down a literal path.

i've not only abandoned ideas and techniques that i once used, i've also abandoned -- or at least failed to incorporate -- some of my most powerful influences, probably because they didn't directly apply to the cartoon work at hand. while eyvind earle and don bluth are fantastic, i've never followed up on influences like matt mahurin, sue coe, ben shahn, or modigliani, not to mention russian propaganda posters, japanese woodblock prints, nouveau posters, or figure painters like lucian freud. i've also abandoned conceptual work, everything i do is either character design or scene illustration -- the most unconventional composition i've done in years is the cover to JLU #4... which certainly isn't saying much!

so in my haha spare time, i'm trying to reclaim a bit of artistic sanity by pushing myself to try (or retry) things i should have done long ago. i have made up a list of specific study assignments and projects i will attempt over the next year. hopefully i can build up a portfolio of new art that appeals to a broader range of artistic demands (and even push my "cartoony" work much further), but if nothing else, it will be a challenge.

and who doesn't like a challenge?

anyway, here is my first study, "skin". now there are 3 ways to paint a person: concentrate on the light source and ambience, as the impressionists did, focus on structure by using light/dark and cool/warm to "carve out" the figure, and luminence --
actually concentrating on the skin itself, with its translucence, blotches etc. of course, you can use all 3 approaches in a single painting, but in all things there is an order, so one of them has to dominate. i usually concentrate on light (which is how i was taught at college), but for a decade i've been jealous of the luminous skin painted by masters like lucian freud. so this was a first attempt at luminous skin, using an old, semi-"realistic" sketch. no filters or brush tricks, just a PSD paintbrush, set alternately at 33%, 66%, or 100% opacity:

(as always, download them for the best colors.)

there are a few more skin studies i would like to tackle, but since i have very limited time, i will probably take a stab at some other studies first. but wait...

i liked how the painting turned out, it seemed a waste not to do anything with it. so i decided to turn it into a more fully developed illustration, inspired by the title that originally popped into my head: "jimmy nosferatu, last of the undead tattoo kings".

it gave me a chance to incorporate some of my old influences and approaches into a freud-based figure painting: tattoos, of course, have always been a part of my work, even maria sports tats! although (like everything else) they usually appear more as parts of a character design, not as part of an actual illustration. and i'm no stranger to traditional and modern japanese graphics, having fed on both as a kid. (although i obviously didn't kill myself trying to replicate an exact style -- why do what anyone could do with a little photo reference?) i also had fun playing with off-registering the graphics, a trick i employed all the time in college, using -- gasp!!! -- xerox copies and tape. and the turquoise is compliments of mughal art, where it (and mint green) are always used to great effect to highlight forms. so...


Bentos said...

Woah, extreme skin crawl here Ben, nice work.

I often wonder what pretentious, angry, cocksure 19 year old me would think of compromised, sedated, much more circumspective 29 (nearly 30!) year old me.

I don't think either of us would have liked each other really.

fionabearclaw said...

listen mister. it's really really distressing when you go to a fancy pants art school but you can learn more from a blog post or a comment on a drawing forum or a book on cartooning. there's gotta be a way to be helpful without giving art students' major crisis's.