Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Tools of the Trade

 by Donato

Every once in a while, during the course of a drawing or painting, I need to turn to my secret tools of the trade.  These typically are called into service during particularly difficult technical moments of creation.  Every artist has them,and they are the key to their success as a freelancer or studio artist.  If you watch closely in many tutorials, you can see the camera cut away just as the real magic happens or when a key aspect of technical problem solving is engaged, like the rendering of soft fleshy skin tones or dramatic lighting effects on metal.

It is in the light of global artistic advancement that I am sharing with you a few of my secret tools today, with the tube of paint posted above being one of my true secrets in the nuclear arsenal and the real reason i can paint metallic effects so effortlessly.  With a base coat of local color laid down on my painting, I then turn to this tube of paint for the final glaze and last touches it brings to spectacular highlights and deep, transparent shadows on metal.  Holbein is the only maker that I know of for this paint, and it has worked wonders for me over the years, as seen in the example below.

One of my other key tools was a little harder to come by, it is a length of red chalk used by the artist Fra Bartolomeo back in the 1500's.  I was able to pick up this amazing find while on a trip (or pilgrimage!) to Florence in 1997.  It was in a paper shop literally across the street from the Palazzo Pitti which houses some of the greatest portaits of the Itslian renaissance, from Titian, to Raphael to Carravaggio.

This fragment as been one of the key tools I have turned to since using it in my first toned drawings back in 2002, executing a portrait of Gandalf for the Lunacon convention.  It has just the right amount of red, and consistently deposits a sharp, crisp line on the paper.  I have been able to create over a five hundred red chalk drawings with it since!  The chalk is so hard, it just keeps on going, like it is being magically refreshed drawing after drawing.  I can't imagine creating one of these drawings without this special tool.

I hope this provides a little insight on how critical it is to get the perfect tool for the job, allowing you to take numerous short cuts and avoid hours of tedious labor in the execution of a work of art.  The better the tools, the better the art.  Start your searches for these today.

Next posting I will share the source of my brushes and manufacturer of the paints I use and how critical these are in the creation of my work.  Below is a teaser!

But seriously, the best advice I ever received regarding creating my work was from my 'potential' (which turned into long term) representative Sal Barracca back in 1992 when I was fresh out ot art school and beginning to make samples to break into the book cover marketplace. He told me to:
 "Go out and buy some nice brushes."
I did, and it was a transformative experience working with great tools to refine the details I was chasing after in my work then.  Up until that point I was making due with little nubs and mediocre brushes to try and create subtle blending and details.  Sal did not say, buy such and such brand, he didn't say what sizes, price, or even where to get them...just try out a better tool.  Get to know how it works, get to LOVE how it works, and make it your own.  Then real magic can happen.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

IMC 2017 Scholarship!

Thanks to all of our Patreon supporters, who have graciously donated month after month, we have reached one of our most sought after stretch goals. We are super excited to announce that Muddy Colors will be providing a FULL PAID SCHOLARSHIP to the 2017 IMC!

The 2017 IMC has been completely sold out for months, but we reserved a spot for one deserving reader to attend. The scholarship includes full tuition, a meal plan for all 7 days, and housing right on campus for the entire workshop. The only thing our winner needs to pay for is their travel expenses to and from the workshop.

The IMC is a 7 day workshop focused on making you a better artist with the help of some of the best illustrators and fine artists in the world. All disciplines (traditional or digital) and skill levels are welcome.  Old or young. Novice or pro. Anyone may apply for this scholarship. More info at:

The IMC workshop takes place in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA. (Nearest major airports BDL, BOS)

The IMC workshops runs for 7 days, from June 12-18, 2017

All you need to do to apply for the scholarship is fill out this form right here. In this form, you will be asked to provide a link to 6 different pieces of art that you would like submit for consideration. You will also be asked to tell us why you think you should win. That's it! After you fill out the form, you will receive a link via email that will allow you to edit your submission as many times as you want.

There are really only few stipulations...
1. Submit only once. (You can edit your submission. But if you submit multiple applications, all of your submissions will be discarded.)
2. Make sure the art you link to is in jpg/gif format, and between 800-2000 pixels on the longest side.
(If you link us to a PSD, or some ridiculously large file, your entry will be discarded.)
3. Make sure you are capable of covering your own travel expenses before applying.
4. You have to be 21 years of age or older to attend.

We will stop accepting application at the end of the month, so don't delay!

Simply fill out the form below, or follow this direct link:

Good luck to all our applicants! Our Winner will be announced no later than April 10th, 2017.

And once again thank you to our incredibly generous readers, whose donations have made this scholarship possible. If you'd like to help us provide more scholarships like this in the future, please consider donating here:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Draw Without Borders

-By Arnie Fenner

Above: The principals of the original Illustrators Workshop. Left to right: Robert Heindel, Fred Otnes, Robert Peak, Alan E. Cober, Bernie Fuchs, and Mark English.

"Giving back" has always been a generous aspect of the art community. Knowing the struggle to make and maintain a career (or to simply improve skills and craft), artists routinely share their expertise with others to help them in the pursuit of their goals. Sometimes there's a cost (as for a class or workshop), sometimes not (as at a convention), but the value of what professional artists and illustrators give is significantly greater than any charge there might be for the knowledge offered.

Recognizing that formal art schools often only take students so far, Mark English joined with a group of the country's star artists in the late 1970s to form The Illustrators Workshop. Its impact was immediate and immense and the good it did influenced others to create similar educational experiences over the years.

The Illustrators Workshop eventually transitioned into The Illustration Academy under the guidance of Mark's son John and, though there have been ups and downs, their mission to help artists achieve sustainable careers has continued unabated. With instructors like C.F. Payne, Karla Ortiz, Victo Ngai, Jon Foster, and Mark himself, TIA offers a nurturing environment that helps bring the best out of its students.

Now they've launched an exciting new charitable arts program for women artists outside of the United States. Here's their idea:

"We recently invited a young Iraqi woman named Nahrain to attend one of our online workshops. Only hours from a war zone, in an environment barren of art education, this individual strives to advance her abilities as a comic book artist. Despite societal, institutional, and frankly criminal barriers, she was still able to connect and learn from professional illustrators through our online platform. This moment embodied the profound and empowering ingenuity online education can unlock. It reminded us how interconnected our world has become and yet how unbalanced our liberties remain. 

"As a small organization, we are fortunate to be part of an international community of profoundly talented artists. We are hoping that you can help us deliver art education to aspiring women artists from regions of the world that discourage or prohibit the progress of women in the visual arts. We believe this is a global issue, but we hope to focus our mission on regions and communities that are in critical need.

"We firmly believe everyone deserves the right to pursue their dreams. We are in a unique situation where we have the ability to empower individuals who have been stripped of that right. We are calling this project Draw Without Borders."

Top: John English. Bottom: TIA instructor Gary Kelley.

The Illustration Academy's plan is to offer free online instruction to artists living in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Iran and Turkey. Uninterrupted internet access might be a challenge overseas, but who wouldn't want free instruction from Gary Kelley or George Pratt? The arts can be as controversial and divisive a topic as any these days, but it can also build bridges and promote understanding and compassion. The arts can open doors for communication that politics often close and bolt.

I've lectured at the school; I've poked my head in during various summer workshops and have always come away amazed by the passion of the students and instructors alike. "Draw Without Borders" is an extension of what the Illustration Academy has always tried to do and a sincere effort to offer something positive to those without.

You can hit this link to the the Academy's website to learn more.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

Sadly, Bernie Wrightson passed away this weekend due to brain cancer.  There are many people more suited to describing what an astounding man we was than I. But suffice it to say, he was incredibly influential to an entire generation of comic book artists and illustrators alike. He will be sorely missed.

I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on some of his work. Here are some stellar examples from his masterpiece, 'Frankenstein'.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Revisiting Forgotten Knowledge

-By John Jude Palencar

"Tree Goblin, John Jude Palencar, Watercolor and gesso, 8.22"W x 8.32"H

When I first began to seriously develop my art I was in high school. Transparent watercolor was the chosen medium of my art teacher Frederick C. Graff. Over the years I have moved away watercolor and used pastel, egg tempera, oil…finally settling on acrylic. Occasionally I will paint an oil or egg tempera… mostly, I’ve worked in acrylic. It suits the illustration field and my artistic temperament.

Recently I decide to visit the past through watercolor. Realizing that I have been away from the watercolor medium for so long and that it would take a bit of time to acclimate my watercolor senses to their former sharpend perception. I was shocked to find out that it would not be as easy as I had thought it would.

Since my absense the world of watercolor paper has changed in some cases, drastically. It seems that certain manufacturers have cut corners and now produce inferior papers. Others have changed recipes for economic reasons (?). Since I am at the beginning of a new search for a selection of papers. I will have to find my old favories to see if they have undegone any alterations to their cellulose personalities.

Following, are my first attempts. Even though these are watercolors they are not of a pure nature… meaning, I have introduced an opaque medium such as gesso or gouache and even a touch of acrylic or ink. However they are about fifty to seventy percent watercolor. Depending upon the area of the painting you’re looking at! While they were intinally approached with true watercolor methods in mind, I had to change my approach due to the aggravating attributes of the watercolor paper & probably my long forgotten knowledge.

"Centurion", John Jude Palencar, Watercolor, Gesso & ink, 19.75"W x 15.25"H, Hotpress WC paper.

I had purchased a 300lb hot & coldpress paper. You would think for the cost and weight of this unnamed paper that it would have insured an admirable result. A decent paper should be able to take a beating from a number of common watercolor techniques. But it failed miserably. I was able to rescue each attempt by introducing and opaque medium. If I hadn’t these attempts would have been completely lost in a sea of mud and chewed up surfaces. I guess it's an opaque rescue.

To render something with pure transparent colors yields wonderful effects and beautiful results - That is my goal.. Therefore these attempts are only the beginning (again).

Part of my reason for using opaque mediums in these work was due to the failure of the paper. I will not mention the manufacturer. But it simplying did not have enough sizing in it. The paper acted like blotter paper. A good watercolor paper should not behave in this manner. I’ve spoken to other illustrators and painters about this…. They all confirm that some papermakers are cutting corners in their manufacturing process. I don’t know if this is because of enviormental regulations or simple cost saving shortcuts.

I do know there are good papers still out there….. please help me find them…..

Hey - if anybody knows of a decent watercolor paper. (or watercolor board)… Please comment and list what you like about the paper and what you don’t like. Please list the sheet sizes too.

Thank you -


"Pripyat", John Jude Palencar, Watercolor & white gouache, 10.25"W x 13.00"H, Coldpress WC paper.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

by Howard Lyon

I just have a quick post for tonight.  Wrapping up a couple commissions on the easel, but I had a Magic: the Gathering card release that I wanted to share, along with some of the process.

This painting was a ton of fun to create.  Mark Winters was the Art Director for this one and he just knows what I love.  He gave me the green light to go after a St. Michael and the Dragon type imagery, looking to artists like Raphael and Guido Reni.  When that is the inspiration, it is going to be a fun commission!

The Archangel Michael defeating Satan, 1635 - Guido Reni

St. Michael Overwhelming the Demon - Raphael
Here is the sketch I submitted:

And the final, which I am excited to share was accepted into Spectrum this year:

Here is a gif of the painting steps:

And the image on a card for good measure. :)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Some Self Reflection

-By Justin Coro Kaufman

I’ve painted self portraits fairly regularly for the past 10 years or so. It's a great exercise on a few fronts. For one, its nice to paint a head that will hold exactly how you want it for as long as you want to paint it. It's not easy to spontaneously find someone to sit for 5-6 hours while you paint them.

Its also interesting to try to look at and convey your face as objectively as possible. We all have this somewhat distorted self image of ourselves. To try to see past that and instead focus in on conveying shape/edge/value relationships takes practice, But its helpful in getting better likenesses of other people too.

I like doing self portraits all prima without underdrawing. It’s a perfect subject to practice drawing with a brush as its as complex as you want to make it but its not too committal. I try to light myself with the same light as my support and practice mixing flesh tones by literally holding the paint up to my face. I try to paint with deliberate marks and as little blending as possible using mostly natural bristle egberts and rounds to paint thickly. Above all else, I try to have fun and experiment in ways I might not have the balls to do on a painting with more riding on it.

I went through and pulled a few self portraits from over the years that I thought I’d share, and also sat down and recorded a little time-lapse of one too.

This is the first one that really clicked for me. This was around 2005. We’d just started MB and everything was fresh and new. I look like a kid.

This was around 2007-2008? Getting thick with that paint! Not the best likeness but remember feeling like I'd made some breakthroughs on modeling form.

2008. Just liked this one because it was done on a piece of junk wood and ontop of a failed self portrait.

This was 2009. Painted during a beard-off we had at work.

2010. Won the beard off. Was around this time I overheard some construction workers cracking jokes about how I looked like Jesus while walking to work one morning.

2010 Decided to do something about that biblical look.. If you grow your hair out its 100% necessary to cut a sweet mullet before you shave it all off. And paint it.

2012 beard’s back!

2014 Set up two mirrors for this one. Painted it with leftover paint from an another self portrait but ended up liking this one better.

Painted this one in 2014 as well. Put in a few sittings on this.

Early 2015. This was the first one I painted after we moved up to Washington.

Here is a photo and a timelapse and of its current state. Might work back into this one and refine some things.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

10 Things...Storytelling Pictures

--Greg Manchess

Before you click away thinking that this is about writing and not painting, think again. I recently read Pixar’s "22 Rules of Storytelling" and was captivated by how similar they are for building visual stories.

I’ve made a selection of many of their rules that parallel how well they can work for visual pieces.

2. Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer.
Likewise in painting, think about the kind of work you like to look at as a viewer, not as an artist. Your audience will see your work the way you see others’ work. Paint from this detached perspective to capture an audience. It isn’t easy. It takes focus and it takes stepping outside of yourself to get a clear perspective.

3. Trying for the theme is important, however you won’t see what the story is about until you’re at the end of the story. Got it? Now rewrite.
You start with a general idea of your visual, but it takes drawing and designing and redrawing and redesigning to understand it. This is finding your visual story. The middle stuff, the work and struggle, the fear, the failed attempts mean nothing if the final is a solid painting. Visualize your story. Now trim it to the most important aspects. Find the aspect that tells the most in the simplest way. That’s your point.

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Simplify. The most powerful word in Creativity. Complexity works less than a direct, simple piece. Do not over-tell. Cut extra thoughts lose. Trim story-telling additions that aren’t necessary for the idea. Extraneous elements must all work toward the whole or they are visually useless. Crop them off. Delete. Scene-setting an image must only include the parts that tell. An image must read quickly and strongly, no matter how subtle or complex. There’s no extra room to explain if the audience didn’t get the idea on first view. There’s plenty of room left if the viewer gets it in their gut with the first look.

7. Come up with your ending before you figure the middle. Seriously. Endings are hard. Get yours working up front.
For the artist, the entire story is the ending. The finished painting. Start with the end in mind. What’s the final impression for the viewer? The struggle is immaterial if the final work is not compelling. Plan for that final look that projects a lengthy story in milliseconds. The ending visual tells the backstory to the scene and characters of a painting.

8. Finish your story. Let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
Finish your painting. You must finish many paintings to be good at painting. It isn’t practice, it’s training. It won’t be perfect, but it must be finished. You must proclaim it done. Without finishing you can never achieve a visual moment, and no moment is no story. Finish it and move on. You get better at storytelling by having told stories before. Tell many. Finish them all. (Btw, a client will never hire you if you can’t finish a job.)

9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next. More often than not, the material that gets you unstuck appears.
Make a short list of the things you’re character wouldn’t do, or you wouldn’t want to depict. Work backwards. What aren’t they? What won’t they wear? What isn’t the scene? The visual of what they are, what they wear, where they are, starts to appear.

10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you. Recognize it before you use it.
The images you are drawn to are primitive aspects of your intuitive self. They have lived in you for longer than you can remember. I ask my students to show me the paintings they love to look at. It’s not about the paintings. It’s about how they respond and why. They don’t know why, but they don't have to just yet. Let your favorite painters influence you. When you follow that intuitive thread it leads to more of yourself, what you like, how you want to paint. It reveals who you are through the visual. Eventually, your work will influence other people.

11. Why must you tell this story in particular? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
As above, the images you are drawn to reveal things about you that are deep-seated. Don’t resist by asking why you are drawn to them. Take the journey and follow for awhile. There are things that want to come out, things that you want to share. Aspects of life you want to point to and ask if others feel the same. In turn, they will become attracted and ask questions of themselves. This is compelling. This is how compelling visuals are built.

12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th…get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
The idea that your first idea is generally the best idea is nonsense. Ideas are not fully formed complete and by themselves. Visuals need to be explored to be designed. The idea must evolve. It must go from inkling to hunch to impression to sketch to drawing. Start with the obvious and build by trial, rejection, rework, overrule, retry. Visuals are grown, not born.

15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
In storytelling pictures the inauthentic stands out as false, no matter how fantastic the theme. No matter how incredible or unbelievable the idea, an honest interpretation will convince. In other words, what you question about the image the viewer will question as well. Make it believable by representing a real human experience to the fantastic. You must believe it first, but you must convince next.

17. No work is ever wasted. And if it’s not working, let go and move on—if it’s useful, it’ll show up again.
In visual storytelling you are required to design from simplicity. Be direct, authentic, and convincing. To do this requires exploration and experience. Only you get the experience from the exploration. You save the viewer from having to do it with you. You search and you find; you attempt and discard; you fail and reset. No path is wrong, only research. You will need to experience that path to know it’s not the direction you want. Backtrack to the essence of the original idea and choose an alternate tack. None of this time is useless. It is necessary to get to the point.

18. You have to know yourself, and know the difference between doing your best and being fussy. Story is testing, not refining.
To know yourself as an artist takes time. We all want that too quickly. Take solace in knowing that the more you paint and visually tell stories the faster you will gain that experience. Sound too simple? It is that simple. If you ignore the process you’ll only find yourself stumbling back toward it at some point when you are older, irritated that you could’ve known it sooner. That said, when you do understand the difference between your best and just phoning it in, you’ll know how to create from confidence. Refinement of technique can be learned fairly quickly and maintained through training, but it’s knowing when you’re working well that makes the difference in visual production. Painting is testing, too.

20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like?
Likewise, take a picture that you dislike and rearrange the elements to make it work. How would you improve it? I used to think about this when I saw paintings I admired and still thought I could improve them. Once, as a student, I was dismissed by a pro for asking if art can be improved upon. Since then, I’ve found that almost any visual can be added to, rearranged, edited, etc., to get a different outcome. Does it make it better? Perhaps. That’s also assuming there is a final correct way. There is no correct way. Only efficiency.

22. Putting it on paper only allows you to start fixing it. If a perfect idea stays in your head, you’ll never share it with anyone.
If you don’t take the risk to get your idea on paper or work to develop it into a visual piece, what good is it? Ideas are cheap. They are constantly arriving and leaving. Making the decision to grab one when it appears is only part of the process. It needs nurturing from there. If you don’t work it out, no one will know about it. Or care. Only the ideas that manifest into actual pieces can be admired.

And finally, I end with the beginning rule in mind:

1. Admire characters for attempting more than what their successes have been.
The character they speak of and develop for story can be you as an artist in real life. Be the character that attempts more, reaches for more, tries for more. Your artwork advances by what you attempt, not by what you know. It doesn’t have to be a grand endeavor. It just has to be a tenuous, risky, uncomfortable one. Be brave.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal Tales

by Cory Godbey

Over the years I've had the delight and good fortune to get to play in the gardens created by Jim Henson and Brian Froud. I love these kind of projects and I often feel as if I've stumbled out of the woods and into a dappled, ever-growing, ever-changing meadow. They planted the gardens and we get to enjoy them.

Here and there, I've been given the chance to plant a few seedlings of my own so whether the "garden" is the world of The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth, I've never taken that opportunity lightly. With each book or project I've sought to push myself as hard as I could to honor the original films, characters, and stories.

My next book is a follow up to 2016's Labyrinth Tales (which you can read about right here on Muddy Colors if you'd like!) and with it I'd like to invite you to return to Thra in The Dark Crystal Tales.

From the press release:
Los Angeles, Calif. (February 2, 2017) – BOOM! Studios and The Jim Henson Company are proud to announce JIM HENSON’S THE DARK CRYSTAL TALES, a new children’s book set for release this summer by acclaimed writer and artist Cory Godbey (Have Courage, Be Kind: The Tale of Cinderella). The publication is a follow-up to last fall’s best-selling JIM HENSON’S LABYRINTH TALES, also written and illustrated by Godbey. 
Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal Tales delves deep into the Skeksis-ruled land of Thra in this beautiful look at some of Jim Henson and Brian Froud’s finest creations from the beloved cult-classic film The Dark Crystal.
“The themes woven within The Dark Crystal have never been more important for children or the parents of those children to hear,” said Godbey. “As the UrSkek tells Jen, ‘…we all are a part of each other.’ For this book, my goal was to create three stories which reflect those ideas and honor the tone of Jim Henson’s original, groundbreaking film. These stories explore how a single act can ripple outward and how you can never know who it will touch or who it might help." 
“Cory Godbey brings tremendous beauty to Jim Henson’s visionary creations as seen in the bestselling Labyrinth Tales. We were eager to work with Cory again and witness his take on the colorful, rich world of The Dark Crystal,” said Editor Sierra Hahn. “What new chapters await young Jen and Kira long before their fateful meeting? Cory’s genius is in full effect in the delightfully spun The Dark Crystal Tales.”

This was a terrifically challenging book to write. While Labyrinth Tales is pretty light-hearted, a look at what some of these characters get up to when they're not otherwise engaged in goblin-wrecking adventures, the stories for The Dark Crystal Tales proved much more difficult for me to find. I wanted to write stories that meant more, that while fun still reflected the themes of the film, and were braided together to tell a story larger than each individual story.

I'll delve a little deeper in to the three stories once the book is released later this summer but until then I wanted to give you a look at the creation of the cover.

In the same way that The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth are sort of companion movies, my first idea was to have this book's cover feel like a companion to Labyrinth Tales.

Here you can see the original thumbnail roughs. The second one has decidedly more Podlings.

And then the sketch. It felt more natural to have Jen sitting down.

For the sake of time and flexibility, I often work in pieces. Here's a look at the Mystic. 
Can there be more wonderful characters than these "natural wizards" the Urru?

And here's the undressed (actual term) cover.

Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal Tales will be released later this summer. It's a book that I'm terrifically proud of and one that which I think you'll enjoy, Dark Crystal fan or not.

It was a special challenge to take three stories, stories with characters who can not have met before the events of the film, and have a thread that weaves through and ties them all together. 

Good and evil actions ripple across each story and impact the lives of Jen, Kira, Fizzgig and many other wonderful creatures in the ever-growing, ever-changing world of Thra.