Valkyrie Painting (finally)

A lot of things have been limiting my art production. First, we had a baby. We didn’t really bother with anything but learning to be parents right after Halvor was born. Then Bethany went back to work, and I was taking care of him during the day. The little squirt barely let me shower and put clothes on, much less get a lot of painting done. Then when I finally started figuring out how to get some work done and had begun painting on this valkyrie piece, our apartment flooded. Luckily none of our stuff was seriously damaged, but after moving all our possessions back and forth trying to dry the carpet out, we eventually had to move out for a couple weeks.

Well, I’m back and I have an artwork to share.

I started this piece with the combined goal of making something nice (hopefully), and also testing to see if the oil painting with overlaid drawing technique from my folktale princess piece would be viable for book illustrations.

Concept:

Not too long ago I had been listening to music from Wagner’s Ring Cycle and reading a little about Brunhilde and some of the other characters. I started to think that making a painting of a valkyrie or shield maiden would be cool. I sketched out some little ideas and started doing more research. I thought maybe I would have a woman all armored up and spearing people from horseback! Sounds pretty sweet right? But, the more I read the more my concept for this painting changed. That isn’t to say that the Norse epics don’t include plenty of foundation for a valkyrie staining the field of battle with the blood of her enemies. However, I started to focus more on the idea of valkyries enabling the transition of slain warriors to the immortal realm of Valhalla. I combined this with the idea of the valkyrie bringing drink to the warriors in the hall of the slain and decided to try to illustrate a tender valkyrie bearing mead from the gods to ease a fallen warrior’s final moments of life—a sort of rite—the last sip of mortality and the first taste of Valhalla.

With this in mind, my idea of how she would look and dress also changed. I based her partly on this silver amulet from Sweden (found on Wikipedia):

Wikipedia commons: A silver figure of a woman holding a drinking horn found in Birka, Björkö, Uppland, Sweden.

I also decided to give my valkyrie wings. That was a decision I felt would help compositionally and would also easily distinguish her from mortal women. I’m not displeased with any connection that draws to depictions of Christian angels either.

Process:

The process was very similar to that described in my post Painting a Princess. Only this time I planned  from the beginning to bring the drawing back as an overlay. I began with a small sketch of the basic composition and then spent quite a bit of time compositing reference. Various vintage photographs from the internet as well as a few photos I took myself were cut up and combined into my composition. My preferred method is usually to shoot all my own reference, but, sometimes I get impatient if I don’t have models available. For just the valkyrie I ended up referencing 3 vintage photos, an eagle’s wings, my wife’s arms and hands and a grouse wing I happen to have around the house—similar story for the viking warrior (there is even a little bit of Elvis and a little Colin Firth in there).

With all of my reference composited I did a pencil drawing.

Valkyrie drawing by Jameson Gardner 2016. Study for Painting

I then photographed the drawing and mounted it directly to a panel and sealed it with matte medium for painting. I sometimes use the photographs to make a print which I mount and paint on so that I can keep the original, but again, I was a little impatient. Looking back, I think a lot of those decisions on this painting were made with the baby’s schedule in mind.

With the panel ready to go I began painting. I tried to include adequate detail and opacity in the areas of interest but also be a little more transparent farther from the center. The idea here is really just that I am more comfortable painting with oils and I like some of the detail and opacity for faces etc., but I want a sort of watercolory feel. Which is why, when finished with the oil painting, I photographed the whole thing and used my photos of the drawing to bring back the pencil lines that had been obscured by paint, but which would still be visible in a watercolor.

Four stages of process painting valkyrie by Jameson Gardner © 2016

In order to get a really high res digital version of my painting without a giant scanner, I usually take it in 3 or 4 overlapping segments in landscape orientation. I left enough room around the edges and overlap, enough to be able to eliminate the vignette that my 50 mm lens creates. I used the 50 mm to minimize distortion ( the last thing you need when photographing artwork or even reference, is lens distortion.) I also usually take a shot of the full image to use as a guide when stitching them together, which I do manually (unfortunately, photoshop has never yet succeeded in putting my artwork back together without distorting it). I corrected any angle problems with the guide photo and made sure the dimensions and proportions were accurate. Then I scaled it up to the final size and brought in my higher res segments. I aligned them to the guide, which in this case was actually the photo of the original drawing, using the edit-transform-distort to drag the corners and line up all the details. I put the new layers on top at 50% opacity. This can take a little time depending on how easy it is to identify landmarks to align and how close they are to the corners. The closer to the corner you can align things the faster it will go. Then I manually merged the segments with layer masks and moved the drawing on top as a multiply transparency at around 55% opacity.

Even though I knew I would be overlaying the drawing to complete the image, I was a a little surprised by how much I like bringing the pencil back.

Valkyrie bearing mead painting by Jameson Gardner © 2016

Hope you like it as well. I’m adding some prints of this to my inventory. The Etsy shop was sort of closed down when the baby was born. But if you can’t live without a print of this, I’m happy to take orders by email. Or, any Utah folks could drop by my booth at Sugarmont Plaza on July 23rd. Cheers!

 

 

Star Wars: Can Disney See Past The $ Signs?

New Storm Troopers

This is probably a post I should have written way back when Disney first bought the Star Wars properties. But, I figure I’d better at least get it out into cyberspace before The Force Awakens is officially released. I’d consider myself a Star Wars fan. I remember watching return of the Jedi before I was old enough to be capable of sitting through a full length movie, or of understanding what was going on in it. I spent a lot of my youth reading Star Wars novels, playing Star Wars Video games and drawing Star Wars ships and vehicles. I was at just the right age when the Prequels were released to think pod racing and Darth Maul were pretty awesome, but have serious reservations about little Ani and various other aspects of the new additions to the franchise.

Well, I have some reservations about where Star Wars is going now as well. The first of which is J.J. Abrams. Though some of the material released about making The Force Awakens has admittedly eased my mind on this score, I still get nervous when I think about the latest Star Trek offerings, or…. Lost. I sometimes have nightmares that in a flurry of lens flares the Star Wars cast might wake up on a strange island…

I’ve also been irked by some of the redesign of costumes and ships we’ve been seeing in trailers and other material. Everybody jumped into the discussion of the trifoil lightsaber when we first caught a glimpse of it. But I was also asking myself if I am ok with new stormtrooper helmets and armor, white blaster rifles, or the color inverted TIE fighters. I know some of the new designs are based on original concept drawings from the OT, and that is kind of cool. But I don’t like it when I feel like something is being changed just to change it. It is like a concept artist somewhere wants to make sure it looks like he/she is working hard.

New Tie Fighter

Let’s just talk about the TIE fighters briefly. Why? They have the same silhouette, with only minor changes to the structure of the pylons and such—changes that average joe won’t even notice. So why change them? And most especially why invert the color scheme? It was widely accepted (though Disney may rewrite it…) that those are solar panels on a TIE-fighter’s “wings”. So somebody better explain to me why the panels are now white. Apparently with current earth technology, it is totally possible to make white solar panels. However, there seems to be only two reasons to do it. First: aesthetics. Second: to reduce heat absorption. Well…. neither of those seem to be good reasons in space, unless the Empire decided that their TIEs weren’t easy enough for enemy fighters to see. Ok, enough of that, my wife pointed out the other day that if I were making The Force Awakens everything would look exactly like it did in the OT.  which is probably true🙂

new tie pilot

Now on to my most important point. Disney’s Star Wars Canon. This part casts a shadow of gloom over the whole thing for me. For years and years novels, games and comics were being produced by great minds, licensed, approved and released into what was known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The Expanded Universe told everything from the earliest Jedi to threats against the Galaxy long after our Original Trilogy heroes were dead. I did not read every book or comic—probably not even a significant fraction of the material available. But I did read a bunch. I especially enjoyed the story from directly after ROTJ to 50ish years following. This was because the novels I read told the story of the continued rebellion and A New Republic with both new and familiar characters living in the galaxy that I loved. Isn’t that what Disney says they are trying to do with the Star Wars franchise, isn’t that what J.J. Abrams or Carrie Fischer say in interviews? Well, then why did Disney throw it all out the window? Disney’s only official Canon for Star Wars before the Force Awakens are the 6 films, and two cartoon series? I’m not saying that a cartoon show can’t tell a good story, but I’m not sure the stories cartoon writers are coming up with on a deadline really compare with the Expanded Universe—a monumental feat of continuity and additional depth. So why would Disney do this to us Star Wars fans? Because they like easy money. They don’t want to be tied down with stories other people wrote. You can see that evidenced in Disney’s Frozen (and most other Disney movies). The only thing Frozen has in common with the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Snow Queen upon which it is supposedly based, is that they both involve a guy named Hans.

Well, easier definitely isn’t always better. It may be easier to hire people to write new stories that don’t need to fit into the continuity of the Expanded Universe. But, it is unlikely that the picture of a Galaxy created in the space of a film’s production time will be better than the one crafted over decades by dozens, if not hundreds, of writers working together.

To all you who want to tell me that it is ok, “all my favorite Star Wars stories still exist as ‘Legends‘”, I say, would you be ok if Disney acquired rights to all Tolkiens work and then issued a decree that the Silmarillion was just “Legends“—that if it wasn’t in a Peter Jackson movie or one of Disney’s upcoming Bongo the Hobbit adventures it wasn’t part of the official story? Well the unfortunate part is a lot of people would be ok with it, because they haven’t read it and don’t know what they are missing. That is why Disney can get away with the way they are Handling Star Wars.

So, to you Disney minions who now hold the reigns to the greatest scifi franchise in existence. Please at least read some Star Wars novels and consider the events and storytelling therein. The only way the Expanded universe becomes canon now, is if you guys reference it for future creations.

Thanks

(All images in this post are from StarWars.com ©Lucasfilm 2015. —Included here under fair use as a profitless commentary on the upcoming film)

Digital Exercise

After the digital failure I mentioned in my last post, I felt like there was a blatant gap in my skill set. It seems like everybody who is anybody can paint digitally these days. Back in school when I had my first digital painting class, I thought my work was on par with my fellow students. However, I ended up focusing more on traditional media and my peers who kept up with digital painting are now killing it, while my skills are sadly wanting.

So, I decided to practice (they say that is how you get better at things). I dug up an old piece of reference and just started making an image. To start with, it felt as digital painting always does for me—like I’m fighting the pixels. They just don’t do what paint does and I spend time trying to wrangle my tools rather than focusing on making a good image.

Then with time, I started to work out a process by which I could reasonably control what was happening on the screen. By the time I finished this piece I felt I was doing alright at this digital painting business. Of course, that is when I saw the latest digital piece Miranda Meeks, one of my old classmates from BYU, had made…. and I decided to go buy a big panel to do some oil painting🙂

Here is my digital exercise:

Digital study of woman by Jameson Gardner

Below is an animation of some of the stages of progress. I decided before finishing it off (above) that she was leaning too far forward, so I tilted her back and then did the background.

Animation of progress on Digital Practice

Standard Bearer

I wanted to add something with a sort of fantasy battle bent to my portfolio. The concept was a warrior carrying a standard or banner behind which an army could rally and charge. Initially, I intended to work in watercolor and then make some digital enhancements. Justin Gerard is a great example of an illustrator who often works this way. Justin’s work has a sort of whimsy that I wasn’t really looking for, though, and I made the mistake of also looking at some fully digital work from Blizzard projects and things like that. I started covering more and more of the watercolor underpainitng with digital, but still trying to leave some of the texture showing through. The result was turning into a horrible hybrid that did no justice to any of the styles, or concepts that inspired it.

This is one of those instances where I hesitate to share some of the images from this process. But, since I make fun of people on social media who only share the best parts of their life, and only the most flattering photos of themselves, here goes.

First up the Drawing and watercolor underpainting.

Underpainting and drawing for Standard Bearer painting

Next is my first pass of digital “enhancement”. At this point I was realizing that I hadn’t done my drawing and underpainting large enough and with enough detail to leave this much of it showing.

First pass digital

I started adding more and more digital color etc. But I wasn’t willing to go full opaque digital, I was still trying to keep texture and color from the underpainting—I was also having a hard time forcing myself to zoom in and get the details right.

Failed attempt at digital painting standard Bearer

Like I said it all turned into a frustratingly horrible hybrid that made me wonder how I ever thought I could make art. I then decided to give it one last try. I would go back to the physical watercolor painting, seal it, and paint the whole thing in oils. There were definitely some draw-backs to this. The texture of the paper wasn’t may favorite, and I was limited by the original scale. But, at least it was a medium that sort of makes sense to me.

First sections of Standard Bearer painting in oil

I immediately felt a little better when I put down the stylus and picked up a paintbrush.

Oil painting of Standard Bearer charging into battle. By Jameson Gardner

Like I said, texture and scale were limiting, but I feel like this is 147 times better than my digital attempts. I learned some important things from the experience. First, pick a style and stick with it (at least for the course of one painting). Next, if you want to do all Justin Gerard you need to draw and paint at a scale where you can get all the detail. If you want to go all Blizzardy you need to be willing to go full out opaque digital. I’m not giving up on that either, I’ve been practicing my digital painting skills and have already produced some studies that are more appealing than where this project was going. Maybe I’ll post one of those next.

Heroes Playing Poker

Heroes Playing Poker Parody of Dogs Playing Poker. By Jameson Gardner Art

I’m sure most of you have seen some of the paintings by C.M. Coolidge of dogs playing poker. According to Wikipedia Coolidge was commissioned to create the paintings as part of an advertising calendar for cigars. Dogs Playing Poker has become an icon of American low-brow art. It is the type of art the common man can get really get behind—the type of art that looks great cut from a magazine or calendar and slipped into a cheap frame to be found 30 years later in your grandmother’s attic among Uncle Leonard’s boyhood effects.

Naturally, I had mixed feelings when I was approached by a client about doing a parody of one of Coolidge’s paintings—a portrait of the client playing poker with a few favorite comic book superheroes. The concept was undeniably fun, but not the type of art I had seen myself making as I studied in college. I took the job.

First step, as always, was to work out an initial sketch. The basic composition was already set by original Dogs painting, so I just had to figure out how to fit in our new characters. This is the first sketch I sent to the client.

Sketch for heroes playing poker commission by Jameson Gardner Art

When that was approved I shot and composited reference photos.

Composited reference for Heroes playing poker painting by Jameson Gardner

Using the reference I began the final drawing onto which I would paint. I also sent photos of this drawing to the client, getting feedback until the drawing was approved.

Drawing for Heroes Playing Poker Painting by Jameson Gardner

Finally I got painting, and then it was just a matter of pushing paint around until it landed in the right spots… Which can be a little tricky when it is supposed to be a portrait of someone specific, but their head is only 2 and a half inches tall. (Yes I did negotiate an increase in painting size, but the client only has so much space in his office.)

Painting process of Heroes Playing Poker by Jameson Gardner

Dogs Playing Poker by C.M. Coolidge

Heroes Playing Poker Parody of Dogs Playing Poker. By Jameson Gardner Art

Hope you enjoy!

Colorado Part 2: Subjects of Opportunity

I rarely find myself making plans for a photo shoot. In fact, the only times I really have were for magazine article and cover shoots for the BYU Universe, my own engagement photos and illustration reference shoots. Otherwise I’m usually taking photos of opportunity. I like to have my camera with me, and if I see something I like I can stop and get it. That of course is what all my photos from my Colorado cabin vacation were. I actually had some half baked plans about visiting certain places when the light was just right. However, I didn’t do any of those things. But I did carry my camera and shot what I liked.Night photo of the Milky Way among trees. By Jameson Gardner

I’ve been wanting to get some star photos for awhile now. But living in a light dome, as most of us do, It meant driving 3 or 4 hours to make it worth it. I hadn’t gotten to it when vacation time rolled around. So, my first subject of opportunity, once we got out of the light pollution and up to 10,000 feet, was the stars. My methods may have been a little unconventional, but then if you get the image you want, is there a right way?

I didn’t want to be maxing out my ISO and getting noisy or having my shutter open too long and have the stars turning into little lines. So I used my fastest lens and also used it on the lowest stop to get the most light. I think I ended up doing f1.8 with a 10 or 15 second exposure. That meant less noise and faster exposure, but also that my foreground elements wouldn’t be as sharp, and my field of view was limited. I did a bunch of expirementing, including using other lenses etc. Once I knew the view I wanted, I did two parallel columns of 4 shots and stitched them together manually (photoshop just doesn’t get it quite the way I want). This solved both the field of view problem and also when viewing the full image, the depth of field issue with the trees isn’t really an issue at all.

View of valley up Hall's Gulch, Colorado. By Jameson Gardner

This one (above) was also a panoramic stitch. We came across this view while on our way up Halls Gulch. I wanted better resolution on the details and less distortion than my 18-55mm was offering. so I went for the 50 again. I’m not real big on going crazy with processing. If you’ve read my other posts you know that I sometimes feel that editing way beyond what was really there can be dishonest and detract from the actual beauty of that scene or person as well as from the truly amazing moments that don’t require you to drag a bunch of sliders etc.

I do like to make sure that the values and colors are at least as good as they looked to my eye, though. It is amazing how the human eye can automatically adjust when focusing on a slightly different areas of what you are looking at. A camera can only output a single exposure (though, raw data is great because it records more and lets you be flexible in post) and that is often the culprit when you look at something and say “wow that looks great”, then take a picture and think “at least it did in real life” (composition is the other half of that coin). These clouds are a great example. In my image above, they look pretty much like they did when my eyes focused on them at the time. However, if I had exposed for that, the landscape would have been way off. So I got my best all-around exposure and then made adjustments after stitching.

The Artists Father by Jameson Gardner

Next up, my Father. I shot this while he was relaxing on the cabin porch. There isn’t a  whole lot to tell other than that the lighting was good, and my mom thinks he needs a new hat. But, the men out there know that it isn’t so easy to replace a good hat.

Alpine Outcropping by Jameson Gardner

This outcropping is another example of what I was saying before. I saw it and thought, “wow that is perfect.” but it didn’t come off quite the same until I was able to make some adjustments.

Elk Skull at Ruins of Miners Cabin. By Jameson Gardner

And finally, this skull. We found this near the crumbling ruins of an old cabin while hiking. I believe it belonged to an elk. Like my father this one didn’t take much. I just bent over took a photo and it came out nice🙂 I hope this, like the others, really just captures a moment and a feeling. Stay tuned for my final installment of Colorado vacation photos, in which I will be sharing some artifacts.

Painting a Princess

Graphite sketch of princess with decorative french hood. By Jameson GardnerI’ve been drawing and painting again (bet you wouldn’t have guessed). I wanted to do a queen or princess with a kindof renaissance feel. I’ll admit right up front this isn’t supposed to be a historically accurate period piece. I guess it would be more of a historically inspired fantasy piece. Using a combination of some headdress references i found on Pinterest, a vintage photograph (for her face) and my own imagination I figured out the gist and went ahead and started drawing. It wasn’t for a client, so I didn’t plan it all out in detail—I just wanted it to have a certain feeling. I did the drawing on a some paper that I inherited from my grandmother. I’m not sure how old it is, but it had definitely yellowed and even has a little bit of foxing starting to show up. That is right—the image above is not just a bad scan with smudges, that is the actual color of the paper.

Originally I was thinking to achieve the feeling I wanted I would use watercolor. I got attached to the drawing though. I wanted to keep it, and decided to print a copy to mount and paint. Unfortunately, I get impatient and wasn’t willing to wait 4 days and pay extra to have it printed really nice. I ended up with decent copy from a copy shop (I made them print it on my paper, which helped a lot). I mounted it on a masonite panel being careful to preserve the top surface so that it would absorb my paint. Just in case, though, I tested some water with a brush on my backup copy and determined that no matter how much fixative I used, the ink was not going to hold fast if it got good and wet.

Plan B: I coated my carefully preserved top surface with matte medium and broke out the oil paint.

Progress on oil painting of princess by Jameson Gardner

I started with a wash of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine and lifted some highlights out of that before I went to town on the opaque parts. It is 11 x 14″ so she has a 3 inch face. I know some people are great at painting small but this is right on the verge of being too small for me so keep that in mind while you judge🙂

I used a very limited palette Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine, and White. You can get lot out of just a few colors and it is way easier to feel unified. I tend to do some transparent washes at the end to unify things even more as well. You’ll notice the blue of her blouse, pretty bright above, is tempered by some Burnt Sienna in the final below.

Oil painting portrait of princess by Jameson Gardner

I tried to be transparent where I could and let it just fade away rather than paint up to the edges. I also decided not to paint a background and just let my original wash show. This was all to try to keep it in line with my original vision. I’m pretty happy with the result but I feel like I lost the quality of the graphite drawing in her face in a way that I wouldn’t have with watercolor.

To get a high resolution image I took multiple photos in segments and merged them in photoshop. I let photoshop do it and—as usual—the old girl didn’t catch the vision of how to bring things out proportionally. So I did it manually. When finished I wanted to double check to make sure I hadn’t skewed or stretched it. I overlayed the digital file of my original drawing, which lined up pretty much perfectly. That is when I had the thought that maybe I could get closer to my vision by bringing back some of the pencil over the top. All it took was that drawing on a couple of transparency layers and there it was🙂

The original painting still looks pretty good (even better in real life) but I think the pencil overlay version really matches what I wanted to share. So, here it is:

Fantasy/Renaissance Princess by Jameson Gardner Art

Is that cheating? Well if you belong to some kind of purist traditional school, yes definitely. But, let’s face it, these days the fact that I drew it on paper with an actual pencil and then painted with actual paint probably puts me closer to those purists than to a lot of what is being produced in the digital world.

I hope you enjoy! I’m considering making prints of this—if you’d like that, leave a comment, head over to my Website and shoot me an email, or contact me through my Etsy shop to let me know so I can see what kind of interest there is. Thanks🙂