Thursday, July 31, 2014

Silent Tragedies

by Donato

What is Dead May Never Die - Damp Hair    30" x 30" Oil on Panel   Donato Giancola

Within a month, I will be opening the first exhibition of my art in New York City in years at the newly renovated spaces of Last Rites Gallery. This show will feature not only my art but that of Fred Harper as well.  Fred is a long time friend who helped land this exhibition at the exceptional tattoo artist Paul Booth's gallery in mid-town Manhattan.

I am thrilled to get the chance to share many of my recent oil paintings and drawings with a large audience.  The show, Silent Tragedies, will feature recent interpretative works from the worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to a handful of paintings from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire 2015 Calendar, and works related to my water/beach mythologies. The show will comprise of approximately twenty oil paintings and a dozen drawings, including a few of my favorites from this past year, most notably that of Tyrion and Shae from the Martin Calendar.

The theme of tragedy runs deep in much of of these works, thus the title of the collection, and the reasoning for my previous post here on Muddy Colors regarding Torment in Art. I believe a person's true character reveals itself under moments of extreme duress. Taxing an individual to their emotional limits forces them to make decisions and choices which cannot be carefully planned nor over thought, one must respond intuitively.  It is from these intuitive responses that we see an individual unmasked and unfiltered. The works of Caravaggio, de Ribera, Velazquez, Waterhouse and Michelangelo among others all speak to these issues of tormented and burdened humanity, and I am continuously drawn to their art.

For years as an illustrator I felt the best works were those that conveyed a strong and directed spirit of character - a person in commend of their fate and motives. As I reflect upon the art which I now gravitate to, I see that these themes no long entice me the way they once did.  I am most sympathetic and prefer to converse with narratives where the protagonist is unsure of themselves, caught in a precarious situation or loss. It is through these moments that I find we define ourselves more thoroughly and empathetically as humans, and the reason I now choose such themes when possible in my art.  It is not that I have abandoned the older themes, but rather feel the need to explore a new path opening before me.

Through the use of careful draftsmanship,  dynamic compositions, and my love of fine oil painting, I hope to poetically convey narrative while challenging my viewer with emotional turmoil.

I am not sure how these original works may be received, but I am grateful for the chance to share them with you over the coming months.

Recent works from Donato Giancola

August 30 – October 4, 2014
Opening reception with the artist August 30, 7-11pm

Last Rites Gallery
325 W. 38th Street #1
Between 8th and 9th Avenues
New York, New York 10018

I Threw Down My Enemy    33" x 45"  Oil on Panel

Mechanic - Thresholds      18" x 24"  Oil on Panel

Nienor and Turin - Cabed-en-Aras    11" x 14"   Pencil on Paper

The Tower of Cirith Ungol    48" x 36"   Oil on Panel

The Aftermath of the Whydah     in progress    96" x 48"    Oil on Panel

For those of you who wish to learn about my thoughts in this direction and how it has landed me numerous major awards in the field of narrative art I will be holding class lectures online this Fall with the SmArt School.

Information and lecture descriptions at

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Sculptor’s Secret World, Part 6: Jon Matthews

-By Tim Bruckner

I’ve never known any sculptor who can read and translate 2D art into 3D with such skill and creativity as Jon Matthews. That he is a truly gifted artist is confirmed by the superb quality of his work, piece after piece. Whether an action figure or a collectible statue, his sculptures capture the essence of the artist’s intent without compromising it in the translation. His interpretation of Mike Mignola’s Batman is one of the bravest, most inventive and original pieces I have ever seen. Ladies and gentlemen, Jonathan Matthews!

Most of what I do as a figure sculptor for DC Entertainment is to translate a specific two dimensional artist’s style from the comic page into three dimensions. I’ve always had a talent for noting certain eccentricities in the way an artist renders parts of human anatomy or the way they use their particular medium. Seeing what makes one artist’s work specifically different from another’s is one step in the process. Figuring out how to represent those stylistic oddities from the page to 3D is another. Over the years, I’ve attempted to translate quite a few different comic artist’s drawings into three dimensions in either action figure or collectible statue form. I’ve had some great successes and some pretty epic failures, but the inherent challenge each new artist represents is always fun.

In the most successful outcome, the sculptor’s work is almost invisible. From every angle, the sculpture needs to match or evoke the 2D artwork. I try for a result that looks effortless… of course the work is anything but.

The example I’ve chosen to walk you through is Jack Kirby’s character, Darkseid.
The challenge with this type of work is finding the ideal intersection between what I know as a sculptor and what the comic artist is trying to represent with their unique perspective on anatomy and the line work they use to represent light and shadow on a dimensional form. Comic art is very much about line work and I feel to make a successful sculpture that represents the drawing, some of that line work needs to be present in the sculpture.

First, I begin the sculpture by compiling as much of the comic source material as I can. I pick out images that stand out to me as key to the character and the comic artist’s representation of same. I’ll search for front, side and 3/4 views of the body and particularly the face. I’ll usually make up a style sheet to tack up in front of me as I work so I can continually check the sculpture against the source material.

With Jack Kirby’s artwork, he takes a lot of anatomical liberties. His proportions are all his own and he reuses certain facial expressions repeatedly. These are just the things I look for when collecting my reference. In fact, the more stylized the source artwork is, the easier it is to represent three dimensionally. If I see the same expression repeatedly being used on the face, that’s the expression I know I need to match-same with the anatomy.

As with any sculpture I do, I’ll start off with a sort of block figure in wax. I’ll do this while looking at the comic art and keeping an eye out for anything the artist does that sets their art apart. In the case of Kirby, my block figure is overly wide and stocky, with huge blocky knees and large, square fingered hands. I’ll pay close attention to how the skeletal anatomy is implied in the art and adjust the sculpture away from realism accordingly.

When I have the block figure proportionally correct, I start thinking about how the sculpture needs to be broken apart. If the sculpture is to be a collectible statue (static, pre-painted and posed) it will need to be cut apart with a mind toward making the factory production as easy as possible. I’ll look for natural breaks in the piece like where arms go into shirts or shoes into pants, etc..

In this instance, the figure was manufactured as an action figure. The sculpture has to be cut apart at each joint that will feature an articulation point, and engineered with either a pivot, ball or hinge joint.

I cut the figure’s head off where the skull would go into the spine and add a sphere and corresponding socket. Your basic ball joint. This type of joint allows the figure to move it’s head in both an up and down and side to side motion. I do the same at the shoulders. For the elbows and knees, I do a hinge joint. The wrists and waste are pivot joints. Between the different types of joints on the arms and legs, you can get a semblance of natural movement. There’s a modified sort of hinge joint at the hips that allows movement of the thighs forward and backward, but in this case, the joint is covered by Darkseid’s little skirt thing he’s wearing. The skirt is a thin piece of wax that lays over the underlying joint and was manufactured in a soft material that allowed the joint to be manipulated. The engineered joints are indicated by the metal pins present in the images.

Engineering the joints on an action figure usually takes some time and consideration. I try to achieve a maximum rotation or movement with a minimum of distortion once pivoted. I cut the joint parts out of a hard foam on a lathe and center drill the plates that make up the joint parts so they can be pinned together and rotate without any off center wobble. As I’m working in the joints, I’m usually beginning to play with sculptural ways in which to represent some of that line work I mentioned earlier.

Kirby’s line work is perhaps the thing that stands out most about his artwork.
The approach I took here was to describe that line work as graphically as I could and to use the shapes I saw repeated in Kirby’s art to describe the anatomy of the figure.
The challenge was to make these graphic indentations remain apparent as light moves around the figure and at the same time describe the muscular and skeletal shapes in a way that is representative of Kirby’s drawings. The effect is a bit harder to achieve in an action figure versus a statue because of the compromises adding the joints requires. You can fake a better brick shaped knee if it doesn’t have to move!

I used Kirby’s anatomical peculiarities in concert with some tool marks intended to evoke his line work to try and capture his work in 3D. The success of the translation is ultimately up to the fan or collector to decide, but for what it’s worth, here’s my take on Jack Kirby.

In the interest of variety, I’ve included some other 2D to 3D translations in which I’ve relied heavily on sculptural line work to achieve the effect.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

-By Dan dos Santos

Oftentimes, I'll get a client that tell me to paint 'whatever I want'. As good as that may sound at first, it's actually quite intimidating. There are a limitless amount of things I could paint, and without some sort of direction, I flounder, usually resulting in a mediocre piece.

I've realized in recent years, that from a creative point of view, I flourish under restrictions. Maybe it's a restrictive subject matter, or a difficult template, or even something as simple as a specific palette choice. However simple, or complex, the restriction... I like having one. The inherent problems immediately causes me to come up with solutions, and ideas begin flowing quickly from there.

After all, you can't think outside the box, unless someone puts you inside a box first.

Artist David Jablow recent completed a series of drawing that I feel capture this sentiment perfectly.

David took a vintage doodle pad with an adult theme, and rather than going with the most obvious solution, he came up with literally dozens of alternative solutions... all of them surprising and wildly creative.

The drawings are fantastic in their own right. But I suspect that David wouldn't have been half as creative if he allowed himself to just draw 'a woman doing whatever'. Having that difficult restriction gave him something to push off from.

The next time you're stumped for something to draw, try challenging yourself. Limit your options a little, or give yourself a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. You'll surprise yourself with the great solutions that come out of it.

You can see dozens more of David's solutions at his Tumblr page:

Or check out his Flickr page which also contains a lot of his preliminary sketches too:

Monday, July 28, 2014


by Arnie Fenner

The celebrities' limos have returned their charges to Hollywood, the exhibitors have palleted up their wares and entrusted them to the Freeman to ship, and attendees have returned home, either happy or sad but most definitely with significantly lighter wallets than they started out with. The dust has started to settle on another San Diego Comic Con International, the biggest, glitziest, and gaudiest "pop culture" convention in the US. Lucca in Italy is bigger (with over 264,000 attendees in 2013) and perhaps more prestigious, Comiket in Japan is certainly much larger (with over a half million attendees), but when it comes to buzz, when it comes to media attention, SDCCI is second to none. Sure, the New York Comic Con has quickly grown to match San Diego in attendance, but…no convention can take over NYC, especially not the way that SDCCI invades and occupies San Diego for the better part of a week each year.

I like to refer to SDCCI as Nerdvana, but my friend Heidi MacDonald prefers Nerd Prom, which was really popular for awhile until it started to be used to describe the President's annual Washington Press Club Dinner. And while I use the term with fondness, it gets annoying when the morning news anchors say it with a smirk to describe all the fans and cosplayers (as if they'd never seen a fantasy film themselves or read a Stephen King novel). Anyway I think I attended my first Comic Con in 1991 or '92 (my memory is fuzzy) and I admit I was a bit overwhelmed. I'd been to World SF and Fantasy Cons, I'd been to various regional shows, but they were positively quaint church socials in comparison. It's only gotten bigger and more crowded and overwhelming (and expensive) ever since as the movie, TV, and gaming industries moved in and came to dominate the con. What started out as a modest little SF & comics get together has evolved into a gargantuan multi-million dollar corporate event that the network news covers, A-List actors line up to appear at, Cosplayers clog the halls at, and which everyone now wants to attend—and relatively few can. Now you might think that 130,000+ give or take is more than a few, but when you consider that somewhere around 300M live in the country that's something like 99.85% (or less if someone with better math skills runs the figures) of the population who'll never darken the convention center's halls.


Above: George R.R. Martin and Donato signing the new calendar at Comic Con.
Photo by Lucia D. Correa.

Even with the heavy presence of the entertainment corporations, there are probably more fantastic artists from around the world under one roof set up, showing and selling their work than anywhere else in the country, perhaps the world. Anyone who says otherwise is saying so with their pants on fire. Illustrators, painters, animators, comic artists, concept artists, sculptors: you name it, they're represented. In spades. Mix in the vintage illustration and comic art dealers and we're talking Artpolooza. My fellow Muddies have been/are regular exhibitors at SDCCI: stories about Donato leg-rasslin' all-comers after hours in the hotel lobby bar are now approaching legendary status.

Above: A group signing in the Spectrum booth. Back row l-r: John Fleskes, Gary Giani, Allen Williams, David Palumbo, Travis Lewis, and Matthew Levin. Front row l-r: Donato Giancola,
Todd Lockwood, and Daren Bader.

Is SDCCI for everyone? No. Most certainly, no. It's incredibly crowded, particularly on Saturday. It is horribly expensive—to attend, to exhibit, to stay, to eat. And by it's very nature it's stressful—and if you're an exhibitor, there's never a guarantee that you'll make a profit, regardless of the number of people in the hall. You can't do everything, you can't see everyone, and half the time you can't even get from one side of the convention center to the other. But you know, there are islands of calm in the maelstrom, opportunities to converse and network and make friends. Besides, there's something to be said for going to a 3-ring circus, at least once: and if you do, regardless of the experience you have, you'll never forget it.

If you've ever wondered WTF's the deal about Comic Con, I found the nifty brief history video at the top of this post. If you're intrigued, well, the next SDCCI is only about 360 days away, give or take.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Temple of Art

Over the past two years, Alan Amato has been traveling the world, photographing fine artists from all sorts of disciplines. He then has the artist re-interpret their portrait in their own personal way. So far, the results have been pretty amazing.

"Temple of Art" is a film documenting that process, capturing the lives of more than 50 artists from around the world. But it needs support if it's to get made. Check out their Kickstarter page, and help if you can.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hot Lights On a Budget

Good reference can make a huge difference in your painting, but photography can be an expensive and jealous hobby.  It is always there when I get a little extra money, nagging away and telling me I need a new lens/body/bag/strap/flash/gadget...  I try my best to resist but photography has a Borg like ability to assimilate my will.

Because my wallet is generally smaller than my wants, I am always looking for a cheap way to do something well and I came across some intriguing options on Amazon and thought I would give them a try.  I have always wanted a set of hot lights for my photography.  I have a nice set of strobes (flashes) that I use but hot (or continuous) lights are nice because they are always on so you can move them around and see in real time exactly what your light is going to be like.  They used to be really expensive for good color corrected lights but that has changed.  Not only that but with CFL or LED bulbs they aren't all that 'hot' anymore (halogen and tungsten bulbs are powered by liquid hot magma I think).

Plus, the tungsten and halogen kits are much warmer.  I wanted a kit that was closer to daylight.  See this chart to see where the temperature of the light falls.  If you aren't familiar with what this means, it will be useful if you do much photography and are going to buy a set of lights:

Back to the hot lights.  I bought this set: LimoStudio - Photography Photo Portrait Studio

Update 11/2914 - If the LimoStudio kit is not available, this is a similar kit:

CowboyStudio Triple Lighting Kit


It comes with two tall light stands and one small one, three light heads, three 6500k CFL bulbs and a case.  All for $38.  Wow.  They aren't very rugged, but for indoor use, they feel like they will last.

The umbrellas are delicate, but with reasonable care, they should hold out.  They are designed to reflect the majority of light back, but you can also turn them around and shoot light through them like a softbox.

I do have some gripes and fixes though.

Gripes - The bulbs that they came with stink.  They are quite bright (200W equivalent which means they put out as much light as a typical 200W incandescent bulb), but at 6500k, I had a really hard time getting good skin tones, even with a grey card (for getting accurate white balance) and messing around in Photoshop.  The highlights were too cool and the shadows a yucky orange/green.  I also found that even with as much light as they put out, I could use more.  More light means more options with your camera, i.e. lower ISO for less grain, more options with your f-stop to get a sharp image and faster shutter speed.  All useful.

Fixes - I went to Home Depot in search of some 5000-5500k bulbs.  I found a 4-pack of 5000k spiral CFL bulbs for $8, but they weren't as bright as the ones that came in my kit, only 100W equivalent.  I remembered seeing a 4-socket head on Amazon, so I bought 2 4-packs of bulbs and a 200W flood, all 5000k, went home and ordered two 4-socket light adapters.

Here is a link to bulbs I purchased at Home Depot: EcoSmart Daylight 4 pack

I bought two of these for $10 each: Flashpoint 4 Socket Adapter

After impatiently waiting for them to arrive, I was ready to go, now with 1000W of total light!

With two main fixtures, I can use one as the primary light, and another as a fill, or double them up for an 800w equivalent single light source and good simulation of daylight.  Here is a shot of my setup from a photoshoot just earlier today.  You can tell that I have a supportive wife by the big hooks in the ceiling that I can attach my grey photo backdrop to, transforming the family room into a temporary photo studio.  The backdrop is nice for isolating the subject, but not mandatory.  You can use a sheet or a solid color wall with similar effect.  The background fill light also helps with that too, eliminating shadows.

I dialed my camera's white balance to 5000k to match the lights and shot away.  Here is a shot of the model from the shoot today:

I was very happy with the range of skin tones and information in both the highlights and shadows.  I shot the image with Nikon D7000 and a 50mm lens, ISO 400, f 3.5, 1/60th of a sec, handheld.

Not only are the lights useful for photography, but they work well when painting from a live model too.   To summarize, for about $80 I have three tripods, a couple umbrellas and about 1000 watts of effective light and at a versatile temperature.  I have used them a few times now and am very happy with the results.

Thanks for giving this a read and I hope you found it useful.

Howard Lyon

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Craft is Universal (also, Craft Cocktails)

-By Lauren Panepinto

All of you readers of Muddy Colors know me as an Art Director and a Designer-of-Book-Covers, but if any of you also follow me on social media, you have quickly noticed that I have another sphere of geekdom:

How I ended up as big a geek about cocktails as I am about, say, Dune, is kind of a long story that started with a wine allergy, passed through a bunch of classes and gorgeous vintage books, thru helping my husband launch a cocktail garnish company, and ends up with me skipping San Diego Comic Con every year for a different convention, the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Which, again, if you follow me on facebook or instagram, you've seen the literal flood of cocktails this past week.

(clockwise) Cthulhu's Kiss by Zac Overman at Fort Defiance (extra credit for tentacle garnish), proto-tiki drinks at Cane & Table, a Ramos Gin Fizz (and lovely 1930s murals) at the Sazerac Bar, a Brandy Milk Punch and a La Louisiane at Kingfish, a Bramble at Kingfish, and two St. Germain-based drinks I suspiciously don't recall from Bellocq

Trust me, I can go on about cocktails at length, but the point is, being involved in other passionate, creative, uber-geeky worlds outside of visual art is important. People who have passion about their craft share the same universal truths about creativity, dedication, burnout, and inspiration—and it doesn't matter what the medium is, the messages are applicable to art and art careers.
I was reminded of this by a writeup of one of the Tales of the Cocktail seminars, Letters to a Young Bartender, in which established pros give advice to newbies that they wished they had gotten, given in the form of letters to themselves. Jackson Cannon participated this year. If you live in Boston you might know Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne, and Island Creek Oyster Bar, where he is Bar Director. He's won a ton of awards in the industry, but there's no better sign of geekdom than designing your own tools.
Here is the letter he wrote to his former self, and I think it's easy enough to see how this relates to any artistic career (just maybe substitute "Fan Art" for "Cosmos"):
Dear Jackson,
Pick your destination. Think carefully about what you really want. Look at your shoes.
Your first step: Get new shoes.
You will not have to map your route to your destination. You will be guided. All of the people you work with from now on will be your guide to the destination you have chosen. If you are clear about what you want, are truthful when people ask you what you want, and make yourself humble and available to guidance, you will reach that destination. If you chose Local Sports Bar Owner, you will be guided there. If you chose Celebrity Bartender On A Reality Show, you will be guided there. 
Some of your guides will explicitly help you and say, “Your next step is to put this glass in this spot.” Some will be less obvious and say, “I’m not sure this is a great fit.”  Some will shrug and their disinterest will help you. Some guides will be outright warning signs. All of them are guides, and none of them know how to get to where you want to go. Your destination is yours alone. They may have some idea of how they themselves can get where you’d like to go, but their path and yours are not the same thing. 
Your first job is to observe. Watch the way the other kid in the black shirt puts away the glassware. Watch the way she puts away the beer. Watch the way your boss looks at the beer when she’s done. Turn on all of your sensors. Observe with all of your senses. Watch the way the bartender holds his hands when nothing is going on. Watch the way he dries his hands. Watch the way his boss looks at him when he’s working. Notice how you feel when you observe that.
Your second job is to do. Jump in. Ask questions. Get your feet wet. Get your hands dirty. No matter what you are told, do it. When you have to do it a second time, do it faster. When you have to do it a third time, do it faster and cleaner. Get on your belly and clean something. Find a ladder, get up there, and clean that. Faster. Catch your boss watching you. Notice how you feel.
Your third job is to get watched. All the time. Feel the eyes of your peers upon you. Sometimes you will feel their envy. Sometimes they will cringe. Sometimes they will look awed. Sometimes they will laugh. Ask for feedback. Ask how they would do it if they were you. Feel the eyes of guests on you. Begin to notice that you are on a stage. Try moving more artfully, knowing that you are being watched.
Fourth: Expose yourself. Go places. Taste things. See the outside. Look inside. Notice. Notice. Notice. Remark. Take risks. Enter contests. Develop a menu of drinks you love (and make those Cosmos). Make a menu that sells itself and notice how you feel. Pour your soul into a project and feel the boots trample on it. Get up. Pour your soul into a project and feel rewarded.
Develop a character that speaks for your projects. Develop a voice. Speak. Recite. Write. Repeat. In a mirror/on a tablet/in a text/on your grocery list/in your pillow/to your friends/to your mother/to a stranger. Say, write, repeat: Every single drink recipe you ever see. Every single drink recipe you ever hear. Every single drink recipe period.
Spend a paycheck. Get the booze. Have a party. Make, say, make again, over and over. When you catch yourself reaching for the bottles before you remember what’s in the drink, then you are starting to get it.
Speak up. Ask. Ask if you can help. Ask if you can run the drinks for a busy server. Ask if you can show the new kid how to juice. Ask if you can pull the tickets off of a colleague’s printer. Ask if you can make a few tickets. Ask if you can taste their contest entry. Ask them to taste yours. Ask if you can do the money. Ask if they will check your work. Ask if you can do inventory. Ask to look at the invoices when the fruit comes in. Ask to look at the liquor invoices. Ask if you can close for a sick colleague. Ask if you can close for a burnt out manager.
Look over the bar top. Look at the women ordering. What do their faces do when they drink what you made? Do their eyebrows go up and away or down and together? Look at the men. They are better trained not to react. Look back at the women.  Look at the entire bar from six paces. Go straighten your bottles. Wipe the sticky ones. Watch the fingers of the man on a first date. Offer food if his hands are too frantic.
Listen. Listen to the bartender ask an older man how he likes his martini. Listen to the hungover barback polish with a cloth that is too dry and isn’t working. Listen to the dishwasher, and learn what a broken glass sounds like. 
Our senses are sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, intuition.
Get a nice apartment. (Nice for sleeping.) Get a place where you can sit outside within a ten minute walk. Just a bench where you can sit and wonder what’s next.
Fall in love. Sleep with a few people. Don’t give it away. Live with someone. Your time will be ever more precious. Don’t f*!& everyone.
Your mate is likely to be near you. You might know her as the new server. He might be your boss. She might be a valet. He might be in the kitchen. Anyone can do intimacy when they’re drunk, and everyone will connect over the shared hardships of this business. Your mate is the one you can talk to about your sister when you’re picking mint for the off-site. Your mate knows how you take your coffee the second time and never forgets. Your mate has impressive flaws that you see the day you meet them and are not cute now. Your mate is a human that you respect. They can list your flaws. They are not delusional about them. (That thing you do is not cute.) Your mate is curious to discover who you are going to be. You are dying to know how their story turns out, and hope that you’re in it the whole time.
Whether it’s kids or animals or plants, get something living and care for it. Be reliable. Pay your rent on time. Get your oil changed. Pay your taxes. 
When you find a home, put down roots. Take your time. Don’t settle. But settle eventually. Have a local. Know your neighbors. Bring your garbage cans in. Pick up litter. Say hi to kids. Watch the news. Know who’s on the ballot. Vote. Watch your community change. Engage with the people who are trying to change it for the better. Take a Saturday off to clean a park. Host a fundraiser. Be known.
Play. Tell jokes. Pick up an instrument. Find your perfect ball: golf, tennis, soccer, foot, basket? Be a fan of a team. Root for someone. Dance. Sing. 
Ice someone. Prank. Punk. Look silly for the laugh. 
Remember you are not the drinks you make, you are not the glasses you polish, you are not the people you train nor the bars you build. You are not the children you create. You are not the failures you suffer. You are not the awards you don’t receive and deserve. You are not your undeserved kudos. You are who you are and what you believe. If you are a bartender, you will know it, and so will the world.  
Jackson Cannon

This is all great art career advice, especially the advice to Observe, Jump in, Get Watched, Expose Yourself, Speak Up, and Listen. 

And far be it from me to have a cocktail-related post without an art-themed cocktail recipe and some beginner knowledge:

I went back to one of the most revered cocktail books, The Savoy Cocktail Book (first published in 1930), and found a cocktail apt for Muddy Colors:

The Artist's Special Cocktail
1oz Whisky
1oz Sherry
1/2oz Lemon Juice
1/2oz Grosielle Syrup 
(this is a red currant syrup, but you can substitute Grenadine)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

The note in the original Savoy Book says:
"This is the genuine ‘Ink of Inspiration’ imbibed at the Bal Bullier Paris. 
The recipe is from the Artists Club, Rue Pigalle, Paris."

The Artist's Special Cocktail and the awesome cover of my copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Starter cocktail links & knowledge:

—If you want to order anything cocktail-related such as tools and bitters (everything except the actual liquor) go to The Boston Shaker. And if you have a question, they're fabulously friendly and helpful to newbies on the phone or by email.

—If you buy one cocktail book a great one is The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, from his bar PDT (Please Don't Tell) in NYC. Not only is it great for recipes, the production value on the book was so high it's a pleasure as a design object. It has fabulous illustrations by Chris Gall. Each piece illustrates a different cocktail. You can see them all in the cute promo video below.

Chris Gall's illustrations for The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan

(For extra credit, every serious drinks geek should own a copy of The Savoy Cocktail book. Be careful, chasing vintage cocktail books on ebay gets to be an expensive obsession quickly. There's a company that does exact reprints with all original art and binding called Mudpuddle books, they're all available on the Boston Shaker site too.)

Cocktail DataBase is a good website to look up recipes and ingredients.

—A good app to keep on your phone that has most of the best classic and new recipes is called Bartender's Choice. It's $2.99 and well worth it.

—For those of you who don't drink liquor, you can still be a drink geek, there's some great books on zero-proof and low-proof cocktails out there with recipes for virgin cocktails and homemade soda syrups and other delicious things to drink. Just don't call them "mocktails" — that's just insulting to a good drink. Here's a few great recipes.

—If you want to geek out on cocktail history, the Museum of the American Cocktail is a great place to start. Drool over the amazing vintage collection of tools and books and advertising ephemera.

—If you are already a cocktail geek, you should go to Tales of the Cocktail next year, it's amazing. All the world's best bartenders hanging out in the French Quarter with all the liquor brands in the world throwing drinks and food and samples at you all week. Non-professionals are welcome and it's not expensive to attend. If you go, remember: do not call bartenders "mixologists" and do not expect flair bartending. Although there was a Cocktail showing (mostly in jest) and accompanying 80s party closing nite.

Disclaimer: The author of this post, nor the blog it lives on, is responsible for intoxicated driving or art-making. Please refrain from operating heavy machinery or paintbrushes while drunk. Thank You.

 Thank you to Alex van Buren for the letter transcript and Jackson Cannon for writing it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rise As One

No Man's Land, first painting of the series

Greg Manchess

    During the recent World Cup Series, Anheuser Busch ran a series of TV ads during breaks in the action. Entitled, “Rise As One,” it retold the story of the 1914 Christmas Day Truce that happened in the first months of WW1. If you’re not familiar with the history, it’s a touching story of how the soldiers in both the German and British trenches established a brief peace all on their own, and ventured out into No Man’s Land on Christmas morning, to play a friendly game of football. Soccer. 

One hundred years later, I was contacted by Tarras Productions and asked if I could do a few paintings to give the film a more personal, and special feeling. I was immediately excited as this is the power of painting, to touch the heart of the subject in a way that allows the viewer to complete the scene in their own way. My paintings were to capture the feeling of those moments the agency had in mind.

The British trenches

At our first meeting, the art director thought that they might need 4 to 6 paintings to express the events of the day. They thought that my oil paintings would be a good fit, but they were also looking at a few other artists. They hadn’t made up their minds yet, and their client, Anheuser Busch, was inclined to work with a comic artist.

During the meeting, I quickly realized that if I was to get this job, I had to sell my work right then and there. I had to push them in my direction as I really wanted the assignment. I love that time in history and I thought that my paint would give the film the weight and gravity needed to pull off the emotion of the event.

The German Trenches

I explained how the oil paint would bring out the feel of the mud, the grime, the awful conditions of the trenches, and the depressed facial expressions of the men. I described how the colors could be muted for effect to enhance this, and how a few accent colors could grab attention in certain places. 

Part of an actual trench maintained in Europe

The meeting went well. They loved my work and told me as much. I offered to help find a good comic artist match for them, if indeed the client ultimately went in the direction. It’s always good to help share the work in the field. They said they’d get back to me.

They always say that. I figured I’d lost the job.

That was New York, and I was due to fly back to Oregon the next day. Once back in my studio, I scratched up a page of thumbnails to show them what I was thinking, based on our conversation and some notes they’d sent. A few days later, I got an email from the AD/director who asked if I could possibly do a sketch that looked like a comics page. I knew what they were going for. If they wanted to use me, I was going to have to show that I could handle storytelling in a panel-to-panel approach. 

Photo of the real Capt. Hamilton

One hour later, I’d sketched the page and sent it off. Twenty minutes after, I got a call. They loved it, but.....”could you add a little color?”

“I’ll get back to you.”

Capt. Hamilton

Two hours later, I’d sent them a full color rendering of the page. (I’d developed a speedy way to do this: print out the page on copy paper and paint right on it. It dries really fast, and be can scanned immediately.) They were elated.

That’s what sold them and they showed it to Anheuser Busch. The job was mine.

Photo of the real Lt. Zemisch

All we had to do now was figure out the timing and payment, etc. But they had something bigger in mind. They’d decided that they needed more paintings. Thirty of them, in fact. Yikes. So I asked when they needed them.

“Two weeks.”

Lt. Zemisch

“But...that’s three paintings a day. With research, sketches, and sketch approval, that’s not gonna happen. I’m pretty fast, but no one’s that fast. Not in oil paint.”

“We’ll get back to you.”

They must be insane, I thought. That’s it, the job’s gone. But they called back the next day. They had a better deal. They only needed twenty-four paintings. They took away six, yet, they still only had two weeks.

“That’s two paintings a day.” But it didn’t matter, the deadline was set. I wasn’t sure how I’d do it, but I figured I just might make it, if they allowed me to send thumbnails and they’d ok each painting based on those. They were happy to hear that, and agreed. Then they mentioned the gallery shoot.

“Gallery shoot?”

Stray shell that landed in Hamilton's dugout, but didn't detonate...

They planned to put the paintings in a gallery and shoot them at a ‘faux opening,’ with patrons wandering about, looking at them.

“Wait, wait--how big do you think these are gonna to be?”

They thought they were going to be gallery-sized scale, perhaps three feet across for each. I politely informed them it wasn’t possible to cover that much canvas in the time alloted. But thinking on my feet, to keep the job, I told them that I could paint them much smaller, then have them shot by Gamma One Conversions, who could also blow them up to whatever scale they needed for the gallery setting, printed on canvas. On camera, viewers would never be able to tell if they were original or not.

They loved that one. After conference calls, technical talk, budget clearance, and much concept discussion later, I was good-to-go. Huzza!

Signalman Brookes in his dugout...

I figured if I could find just the helmets for reference, I could freehand everything else. That proved a little difficult after calling all over the country and coming up short. I eventually found a WW1 German helmet and a doughboy helmet at a surplus store not even three miles from my studio. Figures. Should’ve called them first.

The thumbnails shown throughout the post are what I drew while looking at tons of WW1 trench reference. The art director signed off on them and I went from there. First step was to shoot reference of my model: me. I posed for every single figure in the series. I had to. There was no time to line up models. 

Starting Friday, March 14th, I had to hit two paintings a day. I figured as I went along, I could adjust earlier paintings while working on the latest ones. My daily schedule was this: Up at 8 am, sketching by 9, getting ok’s by noon, shooting reference and drawing directly to canvas and getting one painting done by 6-ish. Drive to Starbucks, sit and stare over a mocha for one hour. Back to painting until midnight. Watch something until tired by 1am. Back up by 8 am.

As is usually par for the illustration course, everything goes belly-up when you most need it. My stupid email program decided to download every email I had in the dang Cloud onto my laptop. It jammed the thing up tight, while I deleted files for hours. Then my iPhone stopped working, and went into a perpetual boot-up loop. The scanner crapped out, and I burned out a photo lamp late at night while shooting. No backup.

But in the first couple of days, I managed to basically finish five paintings. I shot them and sent the images to the AD for clearance. He loved them. Minor adjustments. So far so good. I pinned those first eight pieces to the wall and started in on the second set, making good progress and staying on target.

But one week in, it all started to unravel.

First, the client had multiple changes to several of the pieces. Not bad, but time-consuming. Second, I was nearly half-way through the paintings when I started losing energy. I slowed down, finding it more difficult to stay focused, and my output dwindled.

I made all the changes, though, packed the first five paintings and shipped them to Gamma One for high rez scans, allowing just enough time for them to get the shots.

That’s when Fedex lost the package.

Next post: trying to find the package while finishing up the next set...with twelve to go.

Signalman Brookes running a message across No Man's Land