Friday, July 21, 2017

Tadema and the Victorian Obsession

by Howard Lyon

Last week there was a post by Dan Dos Santos about a new Alma-Tadema exhibit at the Leighton House in London. Tadema is one of my all time favorites and I hope to be able to make it to the show. There is no substitute for seeing the original, but if we can't make it there, major exhibitions usually come with high quality books and reproductions made from excellent photography.

After seeing the post I went in search of the book that would accompany the show and I found it.  It does not disappoint. It is a nice sized book with excellent reproductions and some large prints.  The text of the book is excellent as well, showing the arc of Tadema's career and how he influenced other artists of his time. We also get some insights into his working methods and family.  I can't recommend the book enough if you are at all a fan of this amazing artist.



Here is a flip-through of the book:


You can order the book on Amazon here: Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity


I found another book while in France at the Musee D'Orsay bookshop.  I couldn't find the book in english in the shop, but a quick search on Amazon dug one up.  The prices are all over the place, which suggests that the supply is limited and when it is gone, the book may be in high demand.  The book catalogs another Leighton House show.  This time it is the collection of Pérez Simón who loves the late 19th century Victorian artists.  This is another fantastic book with a great variety of artists represented.  Tadema is again a well represented, but so are Waterhouse, Godward, Leighton, Millais, Poynter and many other greats.




Here is another flip through:



And you can get this one on Amazon as well: A Victorian Obsession

It is limited in supply, though there are a dozen or so copies below $40 as of this writing.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Center It! (or, Why a Good Illustration Doesn't Automatically Make a Good Book Cover, pt.1)

By Lauren Panepinto
  
I look at a lot of portfolios, and in almost every review, the artist asks me whether their work is suitable for book covers. Sometimes a gorgeous portfolio just doesn't have the "book cover feel" I need to commission them. There's a lot of reasons why a good illustration may not be a good book cover. Remember most of all, a book cover is advertising first, art second. As painful as that simple fact may be to us on the artist side of the spectrum, that fact is undeniable: An "ugly" book cover that is a bestseller is more successful than a "beautiful" one that sells half as many copies. Now of course, those are subjective values, and I'm exaggerating. As an Art Director, one of the main responsibilities I have is to balance the Artist's priority (make a gorgeous portfolio piece) with the Author/Editor's priority (sell books), and that can lead to choices that make business sense but not aesthetic sense (ex: making the type bigger and as a result covering more of the art).

Remember, there are creatives on both sides of this equation. Artists on one, and Authors on the other. And I want to do my best job for both. After all, more books sold means more paying work for both the author and the artist. (And, bonus, it keeps your Art Director employed.)

In most bookstores, you're lucky if you get a cover-out spot, instead of just a spine-out.

Anyway back to the point. A cover sells the book in a way that concept art, interior illustrations, and gaming art really doesn't have to. A good book cover needs to be eye-catching more than it needs to be beautiful, because book covers exist in a highly competitive and overwhelming visual market. A viewer of a table or bookshelf at a bookstore only has half a second tops to scan past a cover, and it's even less on websites.

So what do I look for? (given that skill level is suitable)
—Simple compositions, usually with the Important Thing in the center
Visual Hierarchy, with a strong focal point
—Control of the viewer's eye path thru secondary focal points
—Strong silhouettes and graphic use of negative space (because that reads really well small)

Extra Credit: Depicting common genre checkpoints in a fresh way

Covers need to be visually interesting in thumbnail size too. You don't necessarily need to be able to see exactly what's going on, but your eye is drawn to strong colors, shapes, and silhouettes at this scale.

I think I can probably do a post on each one. I probably should. I already did one on Visual Hierarchy. So let's pick off an easy one, something that I see mishandled in a lot of student and young professional's portfolios: Simple, centered compositions.

Now I'm not talking about compositions that are off-center for a definite compositional reason. Again, if you've nailed the visual hierarchy and eye flow path, then you don't need to center the composition. I'm talking about the off-center for no reason compositions. The ones where, if I ask why the character wasn't centered, I get a shrug at best. At worst, I've heard fresh grads state their teachers told them never to center a character or composition because it was too simple. So I end up seeing a lot of illustrations that just look...mis-cropped. They're not off-center enough to look deliberate. They're just...slightly enough off-center to look like a mistake.

Look I don't want to shame anyone's wishy-washy compositions here, so instead I'm going to show you a whole bunch of covers below that are solidly centered. And I'm going to challenge you, next time you're in a book store, or browsing online, go find an illustrated book cover where the composition isn't centered. Not too easy, is it? And the ones that are off-center, I bet the type takes over the role of center focal point. That's most of the big epic fantasy landscape covers right there.

So the moral of the story is, if you don't have a deliberate reason to have an off-center composition, then just own it. Center that character! Center that planet! Center that giant space slug! (or whatever). Trust me, as I am the one hiring book cover artists all the time. It's not "too easy". It's not "cheating". It's not "playing it safe". When in doubt, just center it.

Jaime Jones

Greg Manchess

Dan Dos Santos

Sam Weber

Victor Mosquera

Richard Anderson

Sam Weber

Dominick Saponaro

Ben Zweifel





Wednesday, July 19, 2017

SmArtSchool Class with Greg Manchess, Sept. 2017

-By Greg Manchess


My SmArt School class starts up again in September!

The images you see here are examples of demonstration pieces I do live during the semester. As we progress through the assignments, students usually have questions regarding certain media, especially oil painting since that is my main focus. But not everyone is working in oils. Some are painting in watercolor, some gouache, and of course, many are painting digitally.

If you thought that digital painting would be frowned on in my class, reconsider. I train that a well-rounded artist should be able to control all forms of media. Having those skills allows an artist to gain a wider range of affect and a broader ability to communicate visually.

All pigment is practically the same anyway. It’s just the binder that makes the difference, and understanding how those binders work for the pigment is the important thing to grasp. From there it’s focused manipulation of those media that one trains for. Digital painting still needs an in-depth understanding of texture, readily apparent in traditional media, to imbue a painting with character.

I recently had a student ask about working with gouache for their assignment. So this demo of Wonder Woman was executed in gouache so we could all observe and talk about working with it. Many think it’s oil. But that’s knowing how to stretch and pull your capabilities to be able to work in many techniques.



I focus on composition skills in my classes a lot. Composition is story-telling and good composition will get your work attention. It all starts with a small rectangle on paper. We talk at length about getting your ideas on paper, about how an artist thinks on paper, and the best way to do that is with a good pencil.

Everything comes from that thumbnail, that pencil skill, alone. Even if you work digitally. Advanced pencil skills are necessary for giving your work life. Class discussions are about getting your ideas to grab a viewer and hold them.



My assignments are mostly based on where you want to take your work, with much attention paid to next steps for your portfolio. We go over business practices and chat about building a book, and ways to attain a look for it.

There are no magic pills, no smoke and mirrors, no tricks. Talent is definitely unnecessary for reaching a level of proficiency in painting. My class is a guide toward reaching those goals after the semester. We look at practical methods for training and gaining usable visual skills, built from real-world experience.