Friday, June 28, 2013

Art book finished

                                                                   By Petar Meseldzija
It has been a long and exhausting journey, but my first art book The Art of Petar Meseldzija has finally been wrapped up and sent off to the printer. The release date is scheduled for August 20th.
For the last 6 months I have been working very hard to put the book together, and I must say that I would never achieve my objectives without help I received from a few people who kindly offered their assistance and expertise. First off all, Dragan Bibin who helped me design the most important features of the book; Dragan Polovina who helped me finish the digital maquette of the book; Rian Gemei from Dark Dragon Books who did the actual job of wrapping up the book; my lithographer Marcel Salome from Re-Art who skillfully reworked all the digital files and by doing so “switched on the lights” in the paintings; and last but not least, Greg Manchess who very generously agreed to write the introduction, a very insightful and a wonderful one, which, to be honest, still makes me blush when I read it.

But of course, all this wouldn’t be possible without Amin Gemei, the publisher, who said “yes” when I asked him if he would be willing to publish my art book.
This hardcover, 160 pages book, with the text in English, will be first presented in August at the comic convention in Valkenswaard, the Netherlands. In September, I will be presenting it at the IlluxCon show in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

In case you want to know more about the book, here are a few links:
Dark Dragon Books
Facebook – The Art of Petar Meseldzija

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Top 10 Questions Artists Ask Art Directors

-By Lauren Panepinto

Hey Everybody! Thanks for the hellos & warm welcomes! I have been following Muddy Colors for a long time, and I've always been really thankful that such a great site exists for our community. Since coming to Orbit, and working in the "geek" publishing world full-time, I've been so blown away by how nurturing the SFF art community is, and I've loved becoming more and more involved. The greater art world just does not have the level of available mentors, the enthusiastic teachers, the intimate cons, and the "helping others is not hurting myself" attitude most fantasy artists hold. Consider yourselves so very lucky.

After that amazing intro from Dan, you all have a little background on who I am, and I thought a good first post would be a little roundup of the questions I most often get asked by artists. There's been some great blog posts lately on this topic, but artists keep asking, so here we go:

(in no particular order)

1—Where do you find artists?

It's pretty random...outside of the icons of the industry, people you just know, here's my top sources for new artists: Spectrum Annuals, ImagineFX magazine, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Cons, the hotel lobby at Illuxcon, agent emails or mailings, artist postcards, recommendations from other artists, recommendations from other art directors. Once I was giving an informational interview to a student from SVA at a sushi bar, and the guy on the other side of me eavesdropped the whole time, and then at the end said, hey, I'm an illustrator, can I give you my card?

The best way is a recommendation from another AD. We talk. A lot. That works for you or against you. Consider yourselves warned.

2—Do you read all the books? Do I have to if I'm doing an illustration?

Ideally, if it's the first book in a series, or especially if it's a new author, then I absolutely read everything I can. The problem is, I'm often designing a cover way before the manuscript is finished. In some cases I get a few chapters. Sometimes a summary. More is always better, because the more of the universe and tone you pick up, the more accurate the art will be. I'm a geek at heart, and it kills me when a cover isn't accurate to what's in the book. Often I talk to authors directly for details (see next question).

When commissioning an illustration, I always pass along as much of the manuscript as I have, but I also will always have worked out roughly what scene we want illustrated, and I will put as much detail in from the book or straight from the author as I can. I don't depend on the artist to have to read the manuscript.

3—How involved are your authors?

They are very involved. And I think this is something that I think is very unique to Orbit. Most publishing houses keep all author communication funneled thru the editor. And there's a lot of good reasons for doing so. Authors can be a bit crazy. That's their baby you're illustrating! But at Orbit we have a bit more of a small team guerrilla mentality. Art sits in the middle of Editorial and Marketing and Publicity, so we're all working on things simultaneously, and overhearing everything develop. The author is contacted by many different people on the team, including art. Some authors have a lot of ideas, some aren't visual thinkers at all and just trust you to figure it out. Either way, there's so much world building and pure imagination in SFF that I feel it's really nice to get the author's point of view in right at the beginning. Even if you don't end up using their specific ideas, they feel like they're part of the process.

4—Where do you get all your crazy leggings?

Black Milk Clothing. 

5—How much time do I get from initial pitch to final art needed?

This varies greatly. Orbit is on a 2-season-a-year schedule, so I get about 50-60 covers twice a year, but things are popping in and out constantly. So ideally I love to give an artist 8 weeks. It's generally closer to 6. 4 weeks I consider pushing it, and there's always crazy insane projects that need to be turned around in 2 weeks. However, if you are a newer artist, there's no way I'm risking a project that needs to be turned around in under a month. And if an artist does get asked to work on a crash, and they can't schedule it in, no hard feelings at all.

6—What's the best part of your job?

Paying amazing artists I love to make amazing covers that I hope end up as show pieces in their portfolio. The collaboration process, whether it's an illustrated cover, a photo shoot, etc. is what keeps me energized. Those amazing projects when you have an author you love write a book you're really into, and get the perfect art for it, and the editors are floored, and the author cries with joy when they see it (it happens), and it totally makes the bestseller lists.

7—What's the worst part of your job?

When you're caught in the middle of warring factions. Art Directors are like the mediators at the UN. When everyone gets along, it's fabulous. When the author, the editor, and the publisher all want different things, it's the worst. That's when covers get killed, or muddied up into oblivion.

8—Why do illustrations get killed?

Luckily it happens very rarely at Orbit. If I am trying to convince editorial to be risky and do something they're not on board for I generally commission just the thumbnails/concepts from an artist. Then we either continue or not. And I am very careful to show all the progress on a piece of art to the editors, publisher, author, and keep everyone in the loop, so we can adjust during the process. But things can go off the rails. I've never had to kill an illustration because the illustrator didn't do their job. Reasons have included: The manuscript coming in after the art is done and it being radically different than was expected, and that affects the target audience, which can mean you need a different style of art. Or the author (this was Iain Banks, so he could do this) can decide that they no longer want to show the awesome equatorial girdle planetary city you've spent weeks figuring out with an artist, and decide they want a "metaphoric" cover instead so fans can imagine the city in their head.

9—What's your pet peeve with artists?

It's generally tied to bad communication. Sometimes it's vanishing—not answering emails in the middle of a job, or emailing the day something is due that you'll need more time. (If you give us a little warning, ADs can almost always massage the schedule a little, but we get cranky if we don't know till the last second, because then it makes us look like we aren't doing our jobs.) The other frequent communication problem is only reading half the email. It sounds silly, but I can't tell you how many times I get half the revisions I've asked for in an email. Do people just get tired? Glaze over halfway thru? I go out of my way to bullet point things, or number lists, but still, happens all the time.

10—How can I work for Orbit?

1) Be the best there is at what you do. Which means either being reallllllly skilled, or having a really unique vision or style.

2) Make sure I know who you are. (see question #1)

3) Be a good communicator. This has been said before across the internet, (thanks, Neil), but I stress it. You have to be good, and/or on time, and/or pleasant to work with. 2 out of 3 will get you work. 3 out of 3 will get you more work than you can handle. Generally I'll work with a less perfect artist if I know they are easy to work with way before I'll work with a perfect artist who's a pain in the ass.


I think each of the above could probably be their own blog posts, and I'm also missing a ton of important topics. I look forward to tackling such issues as social media and marketing for artists, the no spec work controversy, gender issues, getting artists paid and what goes wrong...tons of ideas. But if you have anything specific you want me to write about, or questions you have, definitely leave comments & I'll add them to the list!

Nice to meet you all! I'm super-excited to be here!

Welcome, Lauren Panepinto!

Muddy Colors would like to introduce you to our newest contributor, Lauren Panepinto.

Formally trained in Graphic Design, Lauren has a Bachelors of Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts, NYC. After school, she quickly went on to design book covers for St. Martin's Press and Doubleday Publishing Group. With years of experience, her enthusiasm and expertise quickly rocketed her to the top of her game, where she now holds the very esteemed position of Creative Director for Orbit Books.

I am extremely honored, and humbled, that Lauren accepted our invitation to join Muddy Colors, as she has long been on my 'wishlist' of contributors. I feel Lauren is a great choice for the blog not only due to her extraordinary skill as a designer, but because she can also provide our readers with two extremely valuable points of view. 

Firstly, as the Creative Director of Orbit books, Lauren can give as us some insight into the illustration process from an Art Director's point of view. I am a firm believer that the ultimate goal of commercial illustration is to produce a great cover... not just a great painting. And to achieve that, a skilled Art Director is absolutely essential.

Secondly, as a woman, Lauren can provide us with a much needed feminine viewpoint, which for some reason seems to be surprisingly rare in this genre.

As an Art Director, Lauren commissions a lot of illustration... but she also produces a lot herself! In fact, some of my absolute favorite covers of the past few years have been Lauren's covers for the Joe Abercrombie books (seen above).

Lauren is also responsible for one of the most clever covers I've ever seen, which she created for the Dystopian novel 'Parasite'. When I saw this cover on the shelves, it literally stopped me in my tracks.

Being a Creative Director means a lot of work. To be as active in the community as Lauren is, doing constant conventions and portfolio reviews... even more so. So I am extremely thankful for Lauren's willingness to add to her already impressive workload, and share her insights with all of our readers.

I hope you will all join me in welcoming the inimitable, Lauren Panepinto.

For more info on Lauren, check out her interview with Sam Weber HERE.
And her interview about 'How to Contact an Art Director', HERE.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Bad Guys of Oz

-Greg Manchess

It’s been a fun but strange process to develop my own particular twist on the Wizard of Oz. Starting from an assignment used at the Illustration Master Class to visualize the story with a steampunk slant, I painted a semi-accurate twist on the original theme.

The result became a cover for Spectrum 17, and led to much curious interest in the tale from my perspective. I followed up with a design of the Bad Guys of Oz: the Wicked Witch, her henchmen, nasty trees with bad apples, and of course, flying monkeys.

Here are a variety of the sketches I used to fit the characters together, much like the good guys from the first painting. I gathered plenty of reference for the costumes, trees, and monkeys, and then redrew them all to fit my needs.

The painting was sold at Galerie Daniel Maghen last year during the opening for "The Book Show." From that sale, I landed a private commission to redo the first painting, but with a slightly different approach. Playing with that sketch, I explored more of my visualization of the witch, which led to the following thumbnail sketches.

As the vague ideas grew into more concrete imagery, I followed one of them and produced a rather large piece for this year's show about favorite movies. This new original debued at Spectrum LIVE 2 in May. I’d gone beyond the original movie’s look, but still held on to its influences from my childhood.

With the universal interest in All Things Oz, I feel that I can explore Oz with my own take on it and still stimulate the fun of the original. I have a couple more pieces planned, and at some point, I may do a string of paintings that all relate to somewhere over the rainbow.

Wicked Witch of the West, oil on linen, 24 x 36

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

New Oil Paintings

-By Justin Gerard

I have recently took on 2 private commissions for some larger format oil paintings and today I'd like to share my initial stages from them with you.

For those of you who have followed along these last few years, you will probably know that finding a good working method in oil (that doesn't turn me into a werewolf or raise the dead) has been somewhat challenging for me these past few years.  I wanted to find a way that would allow me to work with many thin layers, somewhat like watercolor; but that did not involve solvents or harm the archival quality of the painting. 

It has only been in the past year that things have finally begun to really make sense to me, and that I have finally become comfortable taking on larger oil paintings. 

The first of these is for Greg O'baugh, and the scene may he is commissioning, may look familiar to some folks...  

Yes, this is Smaug. Greg actually purchased the original watercolor of Old Smaug at Illuxcon a few years back.  Since then he has asked if I might be interested in repainting this one, and this time in oil, without the aid of any of my digital trickery.

Usually I would be very apprehensive about something like this. Wether traveling, painting or reading, I usually don't like to retread the same ground twice.  There is still so much to do and explore and learn that seeing a place twice seems like a wasted opportunity.  But this image is different. This one is a challenge, and one that I have always wanted to do as an oil painting.

For many years I have been secretly convinced that I can't do traditionally what I can do digitally.  And no matter how many of you have told me in exasperation to JUST DO IT, I have always had great reservations.  So now this is a chance to finally give this one the treatment it deserves.

I hope to share more of the work-in-progress shots as this develops and I look forward to hearing what you think when you compare the two separate approaches.

The second image is also Tolkien themed and is being commissioned by Dan Perkins.  It is of the Ents marching up to break the dam above Orthanc and will be 30" x 50" on panel. 

If the characters in this digital color comp look familiar, it is because they are mostly from my 2012 Sketchbook.  The 2012 sketchbook was done chiefly as studies for a series of larger oil paintings like this one that I hope to keep producing over the next few years. 

Part of the reason that these scenes are painted so much larger than my other work is because of the lack of solvents. The only medium I will be using with the oil paints, is walnut alkyd oil, (and that only sparingly.)

I hope you will follow along and when these are finished let me know what you think about the conversion from watercolor and digital to oil.

Next: The Color Phase and a no-solvent, fast-drying palette

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cintiq Tips, Part 1 of 2

I totally doctored this official Wacom photo.

I just upgraded from the Cintiq 12WX to the 13HD, so I thought it might be a good time to share some of the tips, tricks, and general practices I've developed over the last year and a half of digital drawing. I held out for many years before making the digital leap, but I'm glad I finally did. My apologies in advance to those not in the digital drawing camp — this is going to get pretty technical for 2 posts.

I prefer the smaller Cintiq because I don't like drawing big. It's one of the few things that my art school teachers chided me for that I never came around to (I understand their point, I just had different goals). Plus, I feel like the 24HD version would dominate my work space — I like to leave room for other, more traditional modes of creating art. Lastly, I just don't like moving my arm that much. If you sit and draw full-time, every extraneous movement can start to add up.

Avengers 34 Digital Composite (step-by-step)

As for placement, the small size allows me to keep it in front of my computer, hanging off the edge of the desk. (The 13HD's new stand doesn't allow the same degree of overhang, but I like the new angle.) Essentially, it operates as a second monitor, so the only thing that ever graces that screen is the drawing.

Since I have 2 monitors, I use 2 windows for the same project. Under Window > Arrange, you'll find the "New Window for..." option. After moving this window to the Cintiq, I can switch between the 2, depending on the task at hand.

my Cintiq screen at actual resolution

The trick to using both screens seamlessly is the "Display Toggle," which transfers the cursor from one screen to the other. (If you do this while grabbing a window, it will send it to the other screen.) By assigning this function to the upper button on the pen, I can use my drawing hand to switch between screens. (More on button assignments next time.) Also, under your computer's display settings, you should be able to specify the orientation of the 2 screens to each other so that the cursor travels between them in a close approximation of real space.

Daredevil #9, Page 9 Digital Sketch. 2012. Photoshop.

Speaking of work spaces, Photoshop enables users to position palettes and save arrangements according to taste. I use 2 distinct modes. "Layout" is for work that doesn't require direct drawing. This includes coloring, post-production corrections, and graphic design (and any non-graphic work). While I'm still using the Cintiq to navigate about the screen, I'm not looking at it (much like an Intuos tablet), and so all my palettes are on the main screen. My "Cintiq" work space moves the application bar and a handful of palettes — tool, layers, color, and swatches — to the Cintiq. Those are the ones most useful for drawing and painting, but they're small enough to leave room to work. (If more room is needed, pressing F6 clears away the color palette, and Tab removes them all.) A nice consequence of the HD upgrade is that even though the screen is roughly the same size as its predecessor, there's more room to draw because the palettes take up less space in high-definition.

breaking in the new Cintiq 13HD

My favorite drawing trick was assigning the "x" key to the bottom button on the pen. This alternates between the foreground and background colors which, when sketching, I always set to black and white (by pressing D). As a result, I can draw easily with either color without resorting to the eraser. In the next post, I'll talk more about button assignments and tools.

digital painting from my Iron Man 3 poster

Sunday, June 23, 2013


-By Todd Lockwood

Back in November, illustrator Jim Pavelec invited colleagues Randy Gallegos, Mike Sass, Aaron Miller, and me to participate in a panel discussion at Illuxcon regarding the fantasy illustration market. Jim wanted the panel to be a forum for ideas on how we could affect positive change in the industry. We met the morning before to hash out some ideas, and took our thoughts to that panel.

If you want to give it a listen, visit this link on Vimeo, or on the Drawn Today podcast.

In the first half, we talked about the state of the industry. It’s a bit grim.

I’ve been a professional illustrator for 32 years, the last 19 years of which I spent in the fantasy industry. Magic, D&D, and publishing provide nearly all my income. I’ve been lucky, but over those 19 years I’ve seen wages stagnate for many artists—in some cases, even falling from what they were 19 years ago.

Randy Gallegos pointed out on CGHub:

“(A) $500 commission in 1994 would need to be $785 in today's dollars to have the same buying power. But that same commission is generally still $500 (or less) today. Put another way, that $500 commission today has the same buying power as $318 in 1994.”

Meanwhile, work-for-hire contracts have become the norm, preventing young artists from building a catalog of images they can profit from throughout their careers.

Add inflation to the factors at work, plus higher tuition for art students, and the truth for aspiring illustrators is daunting.

Not only artists are hurting, of course. Publishers are taking a beating. But artists seem to be last in line to get paid when the money runs out.

It’s not due to evil, scheming clients; the real world has simply become tougher. The economy took a hit. E-publishing is making traditional paper publishing difficult; books sales are down. Globalization and the Internet have put artists all over the world in competition with each other. I’m frequently amazed that fees haven’t dropped through the floor. Competition is fierce; the "dream" of working in these fields compels some younger or just-starting illustrators to undercut prices just to get a foot in the door. Even working professionals too often feel forced to take what they can get.

It might be assumed that the most talented artists will always find work, and certainly there are clients who will pay more for the best. Social Darwinism happens. But success is more complicated than that. I know that my “Big Break” came about because I was in the right place to meet the right people at the right time. I’d like to think that I was also the right person for that plum job at TSR, but it could have been any of a great number of artists more talented than me. So I know luck matters too. A lot.

And there’s the other really important factor that can impact our survival—networking and community. Simply put, I wouldn’t be where I am without the assistance of people I met along the way. Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

The art and publishing Community helped me along.

Which brings me to the second half of the discussion.

What if there was a place that artists and clients both could go to get a picture of the current state of the industry? The idea didn’t even have a name in the discussion at Illuxcon, but it evolved into PACT—the Professional Artist/Client Toolkit.

PACT will be a tool to help freelance fantasy, sci-fi, and comic book illustrators negotiate a better living wage for themselves. To learn more about it, visit the Indiegogo page, and see the Member Benefits section.

There’s a lot there to take in, and I’m not going to reiterate it. In short, the idea was simply to create a website that would serve as an “information aggregator for illustrators”—a place where artists could rate their experiences with clients in a fair and anonymous venue, and have access to tools tailored to work in this industry, like sample contracts, and reviews of companies through a process designed to be fair and broad-based.

As it evolves, PACT is looking for ways to offer more benefits to the clients, too.

From the Indiegogo site:

“The site will be constructed by Tecture, a fantastic Chicago based web development company. They are real pros, which means nightly on-site back up and weekly off-site backup, as well as monthly maintenance.  With Tecture in our corner we will be able to grow the site in any direction we need, and you will not have to worry about security, crashes, or an amateurish looking site. But, professionalism costs money (which is kind of the entire point of this endeavor), so the majority of the funds raised through the [Indiegogo] will go to pay for the building and maintenance of the site.”

The whole idea is still taking shape. Once the website is funded, there will be a beta period where members can post their ideas and concerns. The more active and broad-based the membership is, with artists, art fans, and potential buyers combined, the more useful and successful it will be.

This is an all-or-nothing venture. At the end of the fund drive PACT will either get built, or it won't and we'll move on.

It’s not a guild, it’s not a union, it’s not a place where freelancers go to exact revenge on companies, but “a place where we can learn to be more professional, to promote an appreciation and more respectful attitude toward the work we do, and encourage companies to treat us in a more professional and economically viable way.”

It’s community, coming together to look out for each other, something that the people in this industry have always been good at.

I hope you will give it a look, pitch in, and share the links.
Thank you,

Todd Lockwood

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mapping Smoke

-By Tim Bruckner

I’m working on a statue that has several stylized smoke elements. Although I’ve posted before about working with clear resins, designing and developing the smoke sections for this statue presented some different issues I thought might be interesting and helpful.

It starts with a rough clay. I built a simple wire armature mounted to a piece of wood and began laying up clay, developing shape and movement. I have to be mindful of the support the section will need when cast in translucent resin. All castable resins are Thermal Cure resins. When the two parts are mixed together they create heat to turn to the liquid into a solid. The manner in which they cure makes them susceptible to high or prolong heat, resulting in softening and warping. Clear resins are even more sensitive to heat because they don’t’ have a binder or filler like opaque resins to. So, in designing the smoke section, I have make sure I’ve created a support system to prevent distortion if exposed to heat over time.

Once the clay is done, I’ll make a silicone waste mold from which I’ll cast a wax. Now the real work begins – mapping smoke motion. That their stylized, there’s a greater emphasis on the units being more decorative. The smoke needs to feel as if its in motion, spiraling inward, over and around. I lay out a general motion map on one side and then reference that as I work the opposite side. I want to make sure that the shapes of each side work against each other. When cast in translucent resin, those opposing shapes will create a sense of movement as the viewer moves around the piece. Its also important to vary the depth of the motion lines. When working with clear or translucent resins you need to cut deeper into the sculpt than you would ordinarily to break up the light and dark patterns. A deep cut will result in a lighter, more transparent effect. A heavier section with appear darker and more dense. So, referencing front and back makes for a balance of shape, cut-ins and density.

With the wax done, I’ll make a Master Mold of RTV (room temperature vulcanized) silicone rubber. I’ll cast several test castings to gauge how much die to use for the effect I’m after. When I’ve got the right balance of opaque and transparent dyes, I start casting parts. I want the smoke to have a dull, lusterless look, so, after casting and cleaning the parts, I’ll sandblast the resin to add a little “smoky” feel to the finish.