How Neal Adams taught me to love.

Most artist I know have two main styles in their lives, I am no exception. I want to share a story with you in the hopes that if you are like me, you don’t fall into the same trap I did. The problem was that one style was holding me back from my true potential and it took a critique by Neil Adams to open my eyes. I did a lot of conventions back when I worked in comics, and then, just as now, I enjoyed getting critiqued by the artist I admired. One such artist was Mr. Neil Adams. I’ll spare you all of the gory details and just summarize what was said, some for your benefit, but mostly for mine. I wish I could say it wasn’t brutal, but that of course would be a lie. It was, but I deservedly so. I knew it, as soon as he said it I knew it. What did he say that was so life changing ,well, I’ll tell you.


In my critique portfolio I had 2 types of samples, kind of a fusion style & an exaggerated realism style. I was better at the realism, I had gotten work doing realism, but boy did I love fusion. I showed Mr. Adams my portfolio and he thumbed through it in a few minutes, blowing through the fusion and lingering only slightly longer on the realism. Then the critique started, words like disgusting and offensive flew from his mouth and hit me like a freight train. This went on for almost 30 minutes. My insides felt like a piece of chewed gum long after every ounce of flavor had been ground out of it.  To his credit he had warned me before hand that he wasn’t known for kind critiques, and of course I had been told as much from others I knew. I kinda wanted this though. I know ,”Why on earth would I want that?” you ask. Well I felt as though I had received enough of the “Your doing great.” and “Love it!” to last forever. They don’t help and I wanted help. So, upon hearing of his reputation, I worked up the nerve to go and get the critique I deserved. What happened next changed my life.


He said, “Look it’s not like I’m talking to a person without any talent here.” “Your doing some nice realistic stuff.” “What I don’t understand is why your doing this shit.”


I explained to him that I just loved fusion art and wanted to steer in that direction.


“Don’t.” He said. “Look your doing a style that a lot of guys would love to do, and your decent at it. Why would you do this? There are a ton of guys doing this style better than you will ever do it, stick to what you do naturally.” He looked at me, I think partly waiting for a response and partly seeing how I reacted to what he said, then he continued. “For most artist there will be two styles in their lives, the one they are good at and the one they love. Learn to love the one your good at and understand you love the other because you can’t do it. It’s not your natural style and won’t ever be. It’s a grass is greener situation. You want to be successful, you want to make a living doing art, train yourself to love the style you do naturally and be happy with yourself that you can do it well, and you will.” He paused, “You have talent young man use it.” then smiled.


I thanked him for his valuable time, shook his hand, thanked his wife for her patience, then went back to my booth. I told the guys what was said, after much prodding on their end. They more or less encouraged me to brush it off and keep doing what I was doing. I shook my head and told them I needed to listen to what he said. He has a wealth of experience I could only hope to one day have. He wasn’t being mean, I believe he knew what I was doing and wanted to make sure I understood why I shouldn’t continue down that path. I think he wanted his message to be perfectly clear and it was.


I went home and began to think about my art differently and it did take a bit of deprograming. I now love realism and rendering. I have put all my energy into becoming the best I can at that style and have no desire to attempt anything else. I can honestly say that doing realistic art is what makes me happiest. I get a lot of work, all realism and I believe its because you can see my passion in my pieces. Since I’ve learned to love the style that comes most natural to me I’ve seen a change in it. I can only attribute that to my mindset.


If Neil Adams wouldn’t have told me the things he did I would still be attempting a style I wasn’t suited for. I know some people will disagree and say I should have kept on doing what I was doing and eventually I would have gotten better. I don’t believe I would have. I believe I would have done a passable representation of that style but, I wouldn’t have reached my full potential as an artist. I think I let my love of the style make me believe that I was supposed to do that style, instead of just admiring it. I may be wrong ,but we will never know.


My point is, if you are like me and find yourself torn between 2 styles, be sure your not forcing yourself to do one just because you like it. Be sure it’s the right style for you and the one you truly love. You’d hate to waste years being frustrated only to find you don’t really enjoy drawing that style. There are plenty of things in art that will inevitably cause you frustration, don’t add unnecessary things to that list.


I hope this helps a few of you out or at least gives you something to ponder. Sorry I was away for a couple weeks I had to fly home due to a family illness and didn’t take anything but my sketchbook and some clean undies. I’ll include the sketches I made while on the trip below.  As always keep drawing and stay true.

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How I pick a reference for Portraits and Caricatures

In this weeks entry I’m going to talk about how I choose a reference photo when I am doing a caricature or portrait. This applies to drawing painting and tattooing. I want to start by saying this doesn’t mean its the right way to choose a reference, but if you like my stuff then this is how I do it.


Once I have my subject picked I decide on what it is about that person that makes them who they are. Are they a comedian, a monster, a tough guy, etc. I then start the process by finding the reference that captures what it is that I think of when I picture that person in my head. Usually its an expression they are known for or a feature. Once I have compiled a bunch of pics, in large resolution, I can begin to look for the factors I believe allow me to make a strong piece.


1: Black

I try to find an image that is at the very least 1/3 black. People will always comment on how strong or vibrant my colors look in my pieces. I believe, along with a few other things, having a large area of black makes everything around it look much brighter. I remember back in grade school our art teacher had us draw on a sheet of paper with a blue marker. On a separate sheet we did it again, only this time with a black line next to it. Sure enough the blue seemed brighter. I carry that memory and apply it to every piece I do. A lot of times I’ll black out areas that may just be in deep shadow just to strengthen the contrast of the overall piece.


2: Shadow vs Highlight


One of main things I see people do when selecting a piece is shy away from both strong shadows or strong highlights. Not only do the two of these things make turning the form way easier, but they also allow excuses for using crazy colors. When a piece has subtle shadows, highlights, or both I feel you are really setting yourself up for a harder workload than needed. Think of any basic shape, a cube, a sphere, whatever. If one side of that shape has a strong light source, and thus causing a strong shadow on the other, how much easier is it to make the shape look 3d? On the other hand if said shape has a very weak light and shadow how much harder is your job to “sell” that form to the viewer? The same principle applies to your reference. Then use the darks and lights to your advantage. Add colors you don’t see, or that even wouldn’t naturally be there. As long as the values are correct and you make the colors make sense by incorporating them into the backgrounds and reflective colors, have fun. An easy way to start is to imagine a highlight as a colored light, and the shadow as its complimentary color. Once you have a feel for that you can start experimenting with multiple lights and shadows, thats when the real fun begins. I will cover these things more in a future blog about how I use color.


3: Hands and objects


Sometimes you can only do a head, it is a portrait after all. Most of the time however the client will be open to you incorporating other elements into the piece, if it makes it stronger. Hands are that tool. You can make a mad face appear furious by adding clenched hands near it. A person can go from scared to terrified when shielding there eyes and recoiling back. How do you sell “cocky” add a hand gesturing nonchalantly with a cigarette in hand. I can’t express how strong a statement a hand can make. Tell a story and you can captivate the viewer. A pissed off face, doesn’t tell much of a story. Add a clenched hand pointing, now you can picture him arguing with someone. Add a gun now he’s going to shoot someone. Two completely different situations all from adding a hand. That little bit of information didn’t just exaggerate the emotion, it also told a different story. Find a hand similar to that of the reference, use it to sell the piece. Not only will it make your piece look better and more impressive, it will also allow the viewer to create a story. When someone looks at a piece that allows them to invent a story and draws them into the narrative, they usually like the piece more. One more note on this, don’t be afraid to use anybody’s hand to do this. Cant find BB King holding Lucille in a way you need for the composition to work? Easy find some hands holding a guitar that look like they could be his and use them. No one will know, or care. The ability to make a piece much better, always matters more to me in a case like this.


4: Use multiple pieces


This will be the last thing I touch on in this entry, but I think its just as important or maybe even more important, than some of the other points. When you can’t find what you consider to be the best reference, make your own. It bothers me to see people take the lazy route and do a sub par or uninspired piece only because they didn’t fabricate a reference that coulda been better. I’m not saying draw a portrait of a person that isn’t in existence, I sure couldn’t. What I am saying is piece one together. Many many times I have taken the hair from this shot, the eyes from this one, lips from that one & made one image that was way better than any I could find or screen-capture. I’ve also many a time used cosplayers bodies, clothes, even hair (or in most cases wigs) to create a dynamic piece to work from. In the case of something reflective like Vader’s helmet I could use a model, cosplay, or even shoot my own reflective surface with a custom reflection in it, and photoshop it onto an existing reference. I did this once to make Leia appear scared in a reflection. Using a few references to make the best Leia. Then photoshopping it into a reflection I made using a piece of tinted plastic. This let me customize the reflection buy adjusting lights so as to enhance the Leia not obscure her. Then I photoshopped that onto a Vader helmet replica. I had pretty easily created a custom image that told a story and looked way better than I could ever find online. My point is never think you only have what you can find on the movie or stills. Most of the time a much better reference exist in your head, and with a few steps you can bring it to life.


This is not the only steps I take to choose a reference, but I feel they are the most important aside from the obvious high res, large DPI everyone already knows (I hope). If you are like me your likeness and overall piece rely heavily on a good reference, be sure to have the right one for you. Until next week, Stay True.


Below are some references and finished work based off of them.



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Basil Bitterthistle: how I create a believable and hopefully enduring supporting character

For todays blog I thought I’d explain how I create a character for my book. There are a few ways this happens for me some organic some not so much. Most the time I will have written a section of the book where I ask myself what needs to be, or can be explained more thoroughly ,in order to create character depth or add conflict to a slow section of the story. When this happens its usually during the outlining stage and I don’t have a complete vision of the story. Once I find theses spots and begin to expand on them the main characters usually run into other creatures and personalities. By the time I figure out the scene or scenes I already have a faint voice for the new character. I can hear how they talk, understand how the speak, what nuances they may have & can see what their overall silhouette would be in my head. I then start sketching, starting with an overall shape. Keeping in mind their role in the story usually will give me a general race or at least narrow it down. I start there just blocking in large shapes and working on how I feel the character will stand, are they meek and hunched over, large and loud, needing a blocky frame, male, female etc. Once I feel I have the gesture down I start with the face. Most my creatures just tend to be older, I’m not sure why they end up being so ,but rarely do I write younger characters aside from the leads. In Basils case, I knew he was the cowardly type and also I seen him as a brownie. I sketched out a wrinkly old brownie with noodle like arms and legs and figured he had to be running scared. Once I have that I'll go back and read his dialogue. This helps me see the face it was coming from and thus start to know what direction to head in for the features. I began to dig up reference of wrinkles eyes and expressions. Scattered them around my desk and started working on the face. Once I had a solid person to look at the rest can easy. Some based on brownie folklore and some from just the look and design of Cammarose (my world) and its outlying lands. His look was almost there, time to paint. I think he would dress in flamboyant colors to reflect his exaggerated body and personality. However he lives a meager  life as a thief of sorts so I thought I’d give him faded attire. This way the reader could see the personality through the outfit ,but it wouldn’t look out of place with his lifestyle. I also made it a bit of a hodgepodge to feel as though he had picked up these items along the way. Once I have a character look I love I go back to the story and flesh it out a bit more. Having a visual template really helps me understand their actions, emotions and behavior much better. Thats it ,thats how I create a supporting character. I’ll go into detail on how I actually drew up this little guy later on along with how I painted him and why I choose gouache to do so. I’ll go into how I come up with main characters and their designs in the future as well. Hope you enjoyed until next time stay true.


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Back for good and with truer content

Hey everyone, I know its been a long time. I'm back to do regular blog posts. I will post at least once a week on Sunday. I will also try to load up extra posts as well but you can always check back on Sunday for a guaranteed post. I'm going to be talking about my art, my book, school, and even my tattoos. I've always kept the two worlds of illustration and tattooing separate, but I feel in order to be true to you ,the reader, I think I need to talk about everything I do in the world of art, including tattoos. So content will vary between which projects, techniques and stories I have to tell ,but there will always be something to hopefully interest you all. I'm going to throw a few pics in here of just some random art I've been up to while I was away. Until next time stay true.
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Elvis Costello Progress (#4)

In this step I almost finished up the jacket and shirt then started to lay in the colors for the skin. I'll usually do a hand or other element that isn't the face to figure out my skin tones and color pallet.

Once I have that done I then can color pick and do the rest of the skin. I try to use a nice complementary pallet to flow well with the background.

Next time we finish this piece up.... see you then.

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Elvis Costello Progess (#3)

Whats going on everyone?! Sorry its been a while since I uploaded a post. The whole family was sick and I was out of commission for a week or so.

In this step of the Costello I added the background to start to see what colors and values I wanted to add to the body.  Then I laid in most of the solid black for the piece. Next..... we start colors!

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