Saturday, September 27, 2014

Character A Day: Huck's Performance

Oh muh dar-lin'
Oh muh dar-lin'
Oh muh dar-lin' Clemintiiiiiiinnnnne................

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Character A Day: A Little Philosophizin'...

To me, the idea of painting an elaborate scene on one flat sheet of paper seems so antiquated... especially for someone like me who isn't the strongest painter in the world.  What if everything is going along swimmingly and suddenly you massively screw one important detail?

What if you try to fix that screw up and the picture just keeps getting worse?  What then, start over?

In the "old days" that's exactly what you would do. Egad.

About 3 and 1/2 years ago I started drawing pictures in seriousness.  Mostly I copied my favorites so I could learn the techniques and to assure myself I could produce something that looked like I knew what I was doing.

I worked digitally, meaning I built the picture up in stages... on layers... until the combination of all those layers formed the finished product.  If I seriously screwed up something on a layer - and I often screwed things up - I could go back and redo only that layer.  The other layers remained intact.  Thus, I was able to isolate the goof to one single element.  No repainting the whole stupid project.  That would have been horrible.

I felt that I was learning so much that some months ago I seriously considered upgrading from my trusty Intuos graphics tablet to a Cintiq.  For the full size model, an investment of between $2,000 - $2,500.  A lot of money to spend on what has essentially been a hobby.

I read the reviews and did my research; the people raving about the Cintiq would say, "It's just like drawing on paper!" or "It's the closest you can come to actually drawing on paper!"

And it occurred to me: you can draw on actual paper for a whole hell of a lot less than $2,000.

So I thought about that, and I did some drawing on paper.  And I noticed that my paper drawings kept a cartooney flavor not so much because I intended them way as because my battle with physical medium showed through.  And that's what cartoons are all about, in a way, a means of depicting things that says: this isn't serious, but it is telling you something.

The cartoonist renders exaggeration; the realist amazes you with his or her pure skill.  Exaggeration can happen whether you mean to or not when your physical medium technique is less than perfect.  To me, exaggeration is funny; realism is not.  No, it is patently unfunny.  That's why I never cared for super heroes... the style was semi-realist... and I much prefer funny drawings.  Cartoons, brother.  Cartoons!

When I was a kid I bored of Batman and Green Latern but give me Sad Sack... or Daffy Duck... I could stare at those drawings forever and ever.

Anyway, the point to all this is I considered: what if I worked a cross-medium, physical + digital?  How would that work?  I paint my elements on paper; I scan then into the machine; I clean them up and set them to layers.  My combined layers form my composition.  I keep the paintings very simple and set light and shadow digitally at the end of the project so all elements are consistent.  How good  would that be?

I'm beginning to believe: pretty dang good!

Here's a digital clean up of Floral Rugg.  No matter how hard I try I can't paint her better than that.  No one will confuse this cartoon with realism.  It is exactly what it should be: an imperfect rendering that is funny because of its imperfections.  Not to mention because it's a bear wearing a hat with a flower growing out of it.

Here's her little brother, Billy Bear:
Light and shadow says: this bear has got substance.  The quality of the painting says: don't take it too goshdarn seriously!

If you put a gun to my head I couldn't paint him better than that.  Now that's funny!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Character A Day: Maw Rugg

Paw Rugg ain't nuthin' without his Maw Rugg... so let's paint her.

Draw, draw, draw, paint, paint, paint:
Do yer thang in Photoshop with the masks and whatnot, and then pull into SketchBook Pro and...

... fix, fix, fix:
Jean Van Der Pyle did the voice for Maw Rugg and she was funny as all get out.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Character a Day: Pa Rugg

Anyone remember Hillbilly Bears?  I sure don't but I recently discovered them and they seem like a lot of fun.  So....

Paint, paint, paint...
...scan, pull into Photoshop, mask, isolate, pull into SketchBook Pro, and...

...Fix, fix, fix:

This time the medium was gouache on a paper with a high cotton content.  Friendliest environment in the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Character a Day...

... keeps the !@#$% doctor away.  Or brings him because, frankly, today's exercise was making me a little crazy.

I know I need to get lots of experience in character painting.  So I decided today I would start with a fairly - or so I thought - easy one: Magilla Gorilla.  I found a good picture on the web and traced it and made my worksheet complete with color markings:
Seems simple enough, although I gotta tell you there's something about that left hand I'm not too crazy about.

Anyway, I broke out the Cel-Vinyl in the belief that I can apply big, flat, matte surfaces and tried my hand at painting Magilla.  I used gouache for the line work and some of the details.

I'm gonna be honest with you, I really don't like that left hand.  It looks like Magilla is flashing some sort of gang sign or something.  Also, if you look close you'll see that the Cel-Vinyl doesn't come out near as flat and matte-like as I had hoped.  I don't blame that on the Cel-Vinyl, I blame that on my own basic incompetence with paint and a brush.

I do appreciate the fact, though, that once you have your flat surfaces down you've lost your guide lines.  You can check your worksheet for reference but basically you're working blind.  That means you have to draw in your lines with your brush... and that encourages some pretty bold lines.  Wimpy little lines just don't cut it, so you have to make decisions... and they come hard and fast.

Normally I don't want to make my decisions while I'm wielding the brush; I like to have more control over the process.  Maybe it's better though, that loss of control.  It forces you to draw.  It forces you to really look at your character and decide how he/she is going to look.  Maybe it's the kick in the rear we all need to experiment a bit, to be bold, to try things we're not entirely comfortable with.  Maybe.

I was so unhappy, initially, that I was going to stop.  But that won't work... you have to trudge on.  Even if all you have to show for your day is some crappy painting that doesn't look like anything.  So onward I trudged.

Now begins the laborious process of removing the white paper.  There was so much bric-a-brac left behind by SketchBook Pro's "magic wand" that I wound up importing to Photoshop and creating a mask.
I set the background to blue so it would show through the layer; thus you can see that all the surrounding paper is gone.
Photoshop's mask is the best way to isolate an object.  I really wish SketchBook Pro had such a tool - they try to let on their new and improved selection tool-set acts as a mask - but it doesn't.

Now my image is thoroughly digitized.  I did a few things.
  • First I used Photoshop's level control to maximize the colors and the contrast.
  • I wish I didn't have to but I used a blender brush in SketchBook Pro to smooth out the paint.  Geez, I'm such a poor artist....
  • I decided to fix the fingers a bit on that left hand... and I still don't like it.
  • I fixed up the left eye a little bit.
  • I applied a shading layer and set a gradient over Magilla, dark to light from top to bottom.
  • I added a little vanilla yellow to that exposed banana.  Banana "meat" is not white, it's a very nice vanilla color... IMHO.
  • Finally, I imported to Photoshop and set a drop shadow.  Also, I set the background to white.
Now Magilla is looking pretty swank.  Hell, it even looks like I know what I'm doing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Nap Time with Yogi and Boo Boo

So the sponging thing intrigued me and I wanted to try more of it.  If you have a caddy of Cel-Vinyl - which I do, in 8 ounce bottles - you can pick the color you have the most of (or conversely, the most unused) and use that for sponging.  You can then digitally adjust the color with your software.

Note: Photoshop will jump on any color... including black... and change the hue like a trooper.  SketchBook Pro, on the other hand, only recognizes color.  You can't change black to something else... but that's fine.  I was sponging with orange paint - a color I don't use often enough - and SBP adjusted it nicely to the blue that you see.

This is a pretty good way to ensure you'll use your colors consistently and you won't have one bottle of mauve-green that stubbornly insists on not going away (mauve-green, now that I think about it, would be some sort of brown... which would probably get used.)

I'm cutting my friskets out of copy paper which I suspect is how a lot of people did it because it works so well... even with the sponge slightly damp it works perfectly.

Here Art Lozzi advised a gentleman to cut his friskets from acetone sheets:
I think the advice that is missing here is, "Use punched acetone cells and an inking board or some system that holds the cell in place."

Because when I try cutting friskets from acetone 2 things happen: (1) I find the stuff hard to cut, although Mr. Lozzi does address that here: "Score the shape you want without cutting through, then push the shape.  It will fall out."  And (2) it's hard to hold the cell exactly in place while sponging and I always wind up with a mess.  I don't have that problem with copy paper.  And, incidentally, copy paper is a lot cheaper then acetone cells and you can always replenish your supply at your closest WalMart.

I'm sure with a little practice I'd get a lot better at cutting friskets from acetone but, still, the punched cells held in place by a post system would eliminate placement problems.

Anyway, using my klunky system I came up with a Yogi and Boo Boo composition:
I'm especially happy with the wood textures where I used the "whole sponge" approach.

The figures of Yogi and Boo Boo are illustrative of why Cel-Vinyl is the preferred medium for covering large, flat areas.

Cel-Vinyl, when you get good at applying it (I'm still no good at applying it), lays flat.  With some careful repainting you can pretty much eliminate brush marks.  This of course was its original use: to paint cells evenly and consistently. 

That said, I'm having a few issues with my bottle of brown Cel-Vinyl where it wants to separate from the binder and lay unevenly.  I addressed that with some repainting... and adding a little white helps a lot... but it shouldn't be happening.  Still, after scanning in Yogi I found a lot of anomalies and I had to use a digital "blender" to smooth out the paint.

I really shouldn't have to do that.  Boo Boo, on the other hand, because he was a combination of brown and yellow (the binder in the yellow helped solidify the brown paint) laid out flat and even and no touch up was required.  So I guess it's a little hit and miss.

Details were painted in gouache which is a medium that allows for correction of mistakes.  Trust me, I make mistakes.

I see that my challenge now is to paint figures as flat and evenly as I can against abbreviated, highly sponged backgrounds.  That's the look I'm aiming for and I'm hot on the trail.

Stay tuned.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sponge Test

The backgrounders at Hanna Barbera understood one thing very well: you draw with shapes.  They don't have to be fancy, they don't even have to be accurate.  They do, though, have to be assertive.  Declarative shapes.  Shapes that say: this is something!

So a-learning I must go, meaning I looked for the simplest most Art Lozzi (or Art Lozzi-like) background I could find... and I think I found it here:
First of all, Yogi and Cindy Bear are sitting on a blue log.  A blue log!  What's with the blue log?  Because here's the point: it doesn't matter what color it is, it doesn't matter that logs are normally brown (or grayish brown)... what matters is that this simple shape leaves no doubt in your mind.  It's a log!!

That's the lesson... and the genius... of early 60's era HB.  Simple, declarative shapes that backgrounders could paint all day but leaving no doubt in your mind, no confusion, as to what they were trying to convey.  It's might be a blue log but what we see is "log."  Period.

Second, notice that most the background detail isn't painted but sponged.  Now, that's a tricky one for me and it took me awhile to understand how to do it (I never claimed to be the smartest guy on the planet).

Again, because the shapes are simple and declarative, the sponging technique suits them well.  It adds texture; it makes things interesting.  So I tried it - but removing Yogi and Cindy Bear; and I didn't bother with the foreground flowers - and by relocating that log I came up with this:
Not exact but pretty similar to the original.  Doesn't that just scream Hanna Barbera?

For this exercise I didn't knock myself out trying to duplicate the color of the background objects.  Instead I sponged them with black Cel-Vinyl and then re-adjusted the color in Photoshop.  I would have done that in SketchBook Pro but the hue adjuster in that program is pretty wimpy in comparison to Photoshop's.

The sky was painted in gouache but I wonder if that was worth the effort (not to mention the paint and the paper?)  I could have easily simply filled a layer with that background color.

There's something strangely satisfying about putting shapes to paper and watching them become a composition.  I intend to do some more of that.

Mmm.  Good.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's All in Your Perspective...

In theory you can make a picture more interesting by capturing a dramatic perspective.  But after I get my perspective I like to exaggerate it.  After all, I draw cartoons.

Using the perspective tool in SketchBook Pro 7 - and then tweaking it - I drew this...
... and was about to paint it when my wife mentioned she preferred a brick chimney to the art deco design here.  I didn't design it; this picture is based on a house located a few blocks from mine.  That's the chimney that came with it.

Anyway, after changing out chimneys I created this:
Nice picture book home but if I wasn't so damn literal I also would have changed out the front door bars for a period door... such as the one to my own 1920's era home.  A solidly built wooden door with loads of glass panels.  Ah well.

In my neighborhood security bars are the rule, not the exception.  And incidentally, the actual house on which this was modeled also has security bars over the windows.

I like the colors and I especially like how physically painting elements on paper rather than coloring them digitally imparts a somewhat cartoon look to the whole enterprise.  Which is what I was shooting for...

The paintings themselves are unimpressive because I do no shading with paint.  If you shade each element independently, I figured, you'll wind up with cross-signals as to where is the light source.  So I wait until I "composite" my elements before applying digital shading.  In spite of that there are still a few glaring cross-signals.  Mwah mwah.

Peace on the home front.  Imagine a retired couple sitting in their living room watching the T.V. or, better yet, reading their books as the sun goes down on yet another gorgeous, unclouded, dry California day. 

Finish a chapter.  Then dinner with a glass of Merlot.  Then to bed, up by 5:00 a.m.

SketchBook Pro 7... a mini review.

Got it a couple weeks ago.  Similar to Adobe, Autodesk (the software house that produces SBP 7) encourages the "subscription" purchase option.  A small amount per year and you get all upgrades and new versions as part of the deal.

The price to subscribe to SBP is more than reasonable... $25.00 per year.  At that price they're essentially giving it away.  If you prefer you can purchase the license outright: $65.00 for SBP 7.  Based on the new functionality being offered... and the promise of yet even more functionality... I highly recommend subscribing.

I won't belabor all the new features.  Their website does a much better job of explaining them than I ever could. 

I haven't even started to experiment with Flipbook.

Probably due to all the new features this version of SBP tends to be buggier than previous versions.  I've had several crashes... and SBP never used to crash before.  And I still can't use the dang canvas rotation feature.  I don't know what it is... I'm running Windows 7 on a fairly new machine.  In truth I have never been able to get that feature to work and I've been using SBP since 2009.

What's infuriating is the ulta-inexpensive ArtRage rotates the canvas effortlessly.  I think you can spin it round and round if you're so inclined.  Corel Painter rotates with no problem as does Photoshop.  So c'mon, Autodesk, what exactly is the problem?

My latest project (next post) was done with no importing to Photoshop.  All the transformation, selection, and gradient tools I needed are now in SBP.  I couldn't be happier. 

Eliminating the unused paper on scans is also pretty easy.   This is part of the work flow if you import paintings and place them into your digital compositions because you'll have to isolate the painted object from the surrounding paper.  Up to now I've used some form of selection tool in Photoshop, refined the selection, and then set a mask to eliminate the paper.

In SBP 7 the process is similar.  Be sure to (1) set your background layer to transparent - another new feature of SBP 7 - and (2) copy the scan layer so you don't inadvertently destroy it and have to scan all over again.
  • Start with an overlarge selection using either the lasso or polygonal selection tool.  
  • Hit "edit/cut" and the bulk of your unused paper is now gone.
  • Now hit the remaining unwanted areas with the "magic wand" selection tool which does a very accurate job.  Again hit "edit/cut."  
  • It will probably take a few passes but the painted surface will be completely isolated on a transparent background.
Extremely useful.

The one critical tool you won't find in SBP is Photoshop's Level Control.  With the level control you can optimize each layer relatively easily and quickly.  The adjustment tools that come with SBP are a pretty abbreviated set: adjust Hue/Tone, Brightness/Contrast, Gray Scale, and Invert.  I suppose clever use of the hue adjustment in conjunction with the brightness adjustment can get you close... but it's nowhere near as convenient.

Overall Autodesk has hit another home run with SBP 7.   The new tools are - as we've come to expect - intuitive, easy to learn, and tutorials are available if you need them.  I was using the perspective tool almost immediately, just as if I'd been using it all my life, without any sort of tutorial reference.  It's virtually self-explanatory.

I can't recommend SBP7 highly enough.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Touche Turtle and Dumm Dumm

Much has happened over the past month... all of it "un-art related" ... but I'm back having just completed another piece.

This is based on the Mel Crawford illustration for the Touche Turtle Golden Book:
The large white area to the lower right, of course, is to allow for typeface.  I changed a few things.  The sharp foreground defining Touche and Dumm Dumm's area always looked like a quick cover up of a mistake.  I used a french curve to draw a more sedate forground eye path.

Also, that sickly yellow shading of the cement walkway always looked like the local bums urinate at that bush by the bus and it flows downhill.  Sick, yes.  So no yellow highlighting. 

I think the spaces remaining form a good composition leaving plenty of room for the text of the story.

All elements were painted on paper, then scanned and "composited" to a digital layout.  The pidgeons were the very last thing I painted and I have to say, I really enjoyed painting them.  Quick little paintings but they hold up.

Final shading and touch up was done in SketchBook Pro.  That took about 5 minutes.  Really, Crawford's painted object themselves form a pretty complete composition and there is very little need for finishing.  In fact, it would be easy to overdo it and destroy the quaint quality of the picture.

Now here's an interesting thing about combining physical and digital art in general... and about Photoshop in particular.  Please take a look at that "cloudy" sky.  In fact, the blue sky peeking through the clouds is what was painted; I painted the positive space and let the negative space imply clouds... or maybe it's the other way around, maybe the positive space is clouds.  I dunno.  I can't keep stuff like that straight.

But here's the point.  Rather than commit to a particular shade of blue and then find I have to paint it all over again, I painted that pointillist sky BLACK!  ... not blue, black!  Photoshop then allows you to go back and colorize that black area, and that's how I arrived on that particular shade of blue.  Slick, huh?

Here's another collision between the physical and digital realms.  In some areas such as the leaves of the tree to the left and the foliage adjacent to the building on the right, I superimposed leaves over the sky.  You feel you can see individual leaves.  Now how do you do that when those leaves have been painted... sponged, actually... on a piece of paper?  How do we make the paper "invisible" so we can see the sky through it?

We can do that by setting the blend mode of that leaf layer to multiply.  The multiply blend mode essentially melds to darker colors and absorbs them while the lighter areas are rendered invisible.  This way, the painted area is visible but the white paper on which it is painted disappears. 

But be aware that the multiply mode can create problems, particularly if you set a leafy area over a very colorful background.  For instance, if I set my leaves over a red building the white paper would disappear but the leaves themselves would adopt a red hue.  The "multiplied" layer will absorb the darker colors underneath it.

So in those areas where you want to superimpose leafy or fluffy or wispy textures over a background it can get tricky.  Proceed with caution.  Choose your background colors wisely.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Lil' Color Theory...

Very little, because it's a subject of which I know next to nothing.  But I think I can recognize tasteful use of color versus garish use of color.

I've never taken an art lesson but in Junior High School I did take an art appreciation class.  I slept through most of it but I remember the instructor telling us, "You can remember every color in the rainbow.  In order, no less!  And it's easy: Roy G. Biv!"

Roy G. Biv of course is an acronym for the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo (?), violet.  I think the indigo is there just to give the last name a vowel.

Anyway it would look like this:
The nice thing is that the primaries, red yellow and blue, nicely sandwich the secondaries, orange green and violet (again, I'm not sure what indigo is doing in there).

Okay, so what.  Well, I know nothing about color design but I do know this: when folks make a cartoon there has to be an effective "read" of the animated cell paintings against the background painting.  That is, the characters or the focus of your action should be relatively easy to see.  And probably the best way to insure that is use opposing colors.

That brings us to this scene from The Man Called Flintstone:
What do you suppose prompted the animators to make the desk blue?  How many blue desks have you ever seen?

Well, my guess is that the blue is the best read again the predominantly orange background.  Consider, a brown desk runs the risk of "blending into" the background:
I used Photoshop to "re-color" the desk.  But notice the brown desk, although IMHO very tasteful, isn't as obvious as the blue.  That is: in theory it doesn't "read" as well as the blue desk (I actually like the desk being brown).

Also consider our color wheel, good ol' Roy.  It might be a little hard to see but blue pretty much is the opposite of the main background color (which I feel is orange).  From a color theory standpoint, I suppose, blue is the color most opposite to orange.

There are other choices, to be sure, but see if you think they work as effectively as blue.
Green works but... ugh!  Garish.
Interesting.  A little busy, maybe.
Red is a little too close to orange, I think.  Not terribly effective.

I'll be honest with you, I'm perfectly fine with the brown desk.  I think it works and I think it contrasts enough to be effective.  But that's just me.

The pros decided a blue desk worked best and who am I to argue?  The lesson is obvious enough: use opposing colors to emphasize "read."

Monday, July 7, 2014

The "Modern" Stone Age

I tried my hand at one of those backgrounds from The Man Called Flintstone.  I chose the one featuring "Bedrock Hospital."  I likes the color scheme... I like all that orange... I liked the contrast, and overall I like the composition.  Very sedate but at the same time it grabs your attention.

Here's my attempt:
I didn't bother with the brontosaurus wearing a whiskey keg a la a St. Bernard that you see in the original.  I think the melodramatic background featuring those bleak mountains is interesting enough.

This was all painted with Cel-Vinyl but, as with most digital artwork, it was built up in layers.  Thus the process was: draw an element, paint, scan, clean up, place in a layer.

I went a little nuts with some things, especially that tree to the right.  I didn't paint it that dark and grey, I painted it with actual colors but then I added shading and I think I overdid it.

I spent all Saturday morning trying to capture the chiseled look of the lettering to the words Bedrock Hospital and Emergency Entrance but I couldn't get it.  Finally I settled for what you see; this lettering was done digitally and a "shadow" put to it.  Meh.  I think if I tried it again I could get it right.

Once all the elements were painted and fitted together I put a tiny bit of lens blur to it in Photoshop and highlighted the orange overall coloring.  The color contrast is nice: orange accented by bright green.  And orange and purple mountains against a light green sky.

As for the Cel-Vinyl, I got it to behave with the addition of a little Blick's Matte Acrylic Extender.  Now it behaves more like a controllable medium rather than drying virtually the instant you put it on paper.  When I called Cartoon Color the other day looking for some of their transparent base, I was told it was out of stock and they wouldn't be getting any more.

I asked if they could recommend something and someone told me polyurethane should work.  Well, the problem with polyurethane is the overpowering smell.  I got a little can but between the smell and the glossing agent (even though I got the "satin" finish) I didn't like it.

I much prefer the extender.  Now it feels like real paint and, similar to what I had read, it behaves similarly to gouache.  Dollar for dollar Cel-Vinyl is actually cheaper than quality gouache so that's something to think about.  I got their "sampler" ... 11 colors and black and white... in the 8 oz squeeze bottles.  Trust me, that's a lot of paint.

Since I have a ton of gouache, though, I think that'll be the medium for the next project.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Man Called Flintstone

Released in 1966, the movie The Man Called Flintstone demonstrates a level of production excellence that we weren't used to seeing in HB TV product.  The animation was very, very good and the backgrounds, well... they were magnificent!

The story was fairly straight forward... Fred Flintstone is a dead ringer for Secret Agent Rock Slag.  When Rock gets injured Fred is persuaded to act as a stand in.

The Pebbles and Bamm Bamm angle really didn't add anything to the story and their silly songs slowed it down.  But the TV audience had grown to love Peb' and Bamm and so it was obligatory the film devote some time to them.

Composite of the aerial view of prehistoric Paris.
I admit I wasn't aware of this movie in 1966... the year I turned 14.  I only saw it recently and I was amazed.  When I watched the opening credits I was pretty sure Maurice Noble had overseen the layouts... but no, this was pure Hanna Barbera.

Hmmm... miles instead of kilometers.  Well, the times were prehistoric, after all.
The blue desk (gotta luv it!), the DJ in the fedora, probably even those crazy microphones were on separate cells superimposed over that lovely primary orange and brown background.  There's a real lesson in color here.  Blue and orange wouldn't seem to be compatible colors but this shot isn't garish in the least.

The overall quality of the cell art and especially the backgrounds is superb.  Now this is interesting...
... Bill Perez oversaw the seasoned veterans.  Perez had an extensive biography and as the movie demonstrates he maintained standards of design excellence.  So I guess it makes sense.  Plus, Bickenbach, Takamoto, Eisenberg, Singer, et al must have been extremely busy with all the TV shows they had going every Saturday morning.

Could Bill & Joe possibly have envisioned that within 10 years starting their own studio... within 10 years of pitching Ruff 'n Ready to TV stations... they would be overseeing a project demonstrating this level of quality?

Quintessential HB, this is how they should be remembered.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gettin' Physical in the Digital World

Well, a month has gone by.  Not a whole lot to report but a few things have happened.

A month ago I got a whole bunch of Cel-Vinyl paint from Cartoon Color... great people, by the way; I spoke to the lady who packed my order and she couldn't have been nicer...

Anyway, I bought all this vinyl paint because I had read on Drake Brodhal's tumblr that it handles like gouache... a paint I am very interested in.

"Working with cel-vinyl acrylic (aka Cartoon Color) is more similar to working with gouache than regular acrylic paint.  It’s what BG painters used on HB, WB, Nick and CN cartoons and is the choice medium for many of my favorite contemporary artists.
Cel-vinyl is very opaque, self-leveling and dries to a matte finish. When working in my chosen style, all those traits are preferable over those of regular acrylic paint. Standard acrylic paint has a variety of opacities and sheen even across colors in the same set and is much thicker which can build up (in my case, unwanted) texture. Both dry permanent, but cel-vinyl can paint on various surfaces (plastic, wood, glass, etc) with similar durability to standard acrylic paint. The main disadvantage to cel-vinyl acrylic is that it appears slightly duller and generally can’t achieve the same deepness in its darks or vibrance in its pure hues as regular acrylic. The difference is fairly slight and can be counteracted by mixing in other acrylics.
 To quote a far wiser and more talented artist, “It’s the best stuff on Earth!”
So there you have it, straight from the "horses mouth," so to speak.  An experienced backgrounder endorses Cel-Vinyl as the preferred medium of HB artists.  I just had to have it.  So I bought a box full and tried it.

And hated it.

Basically, due to my inexperience and my complete misunderstanding of the medium, I was disappointed it didn't handle more like watercolor.  Well, it's absolutely nothing like water color.  For starters, it gets sticky and gums up the brush.  It dries damn near instantaneously.  I tried mixing colors on my plastic pallet plate and later I couldn't wash the dried paint off.  And mixing colors, for that matter, is a crap shoot because certain pigments overpower others and what you often wind up with is mud.

On and on.  But those are amateur complaints.  Now I've used it more and I'm learning to love it.  There is, though, a long learning curve.

Anyway, my first few "painted elements composited in Photoshop" projects would up in the trash.  I just couldn't get the Cel Vinyl to work for me.

In desperation I purchased $160 worth of quality gouache paint.  This is starting to get expensive now.   As I say, I was desperate.

My first "painted elements" project using gouache came out pretty well.  I used a scene from the Golden Book "Ben and Me" featuring paintings by Campbell Grant.  I love the simplicity of his designs and I especially enjoy his use of color.

My method is pretty simple.  For these projects I'm simply tracing the elements.  I transfer the tracing to a sheet of good art paper and I paint it.  When all my elements are painted I scan them into Photoshop and arrange them... or as I say, "composite" them.  I'll add a few final digital touches and the result is a series of paintings arranged into one picture.  Pretty ingenious, if you ask me, because that's how you create digital art: you paint different elements on different layers and arrange those elements.

How wonderful, I figure, to use physical pictures instead of digital images.

Here was my layout with all the traced elements combined.  I did this in Sketchbook Pro:
Ben's looking mite ghostly, wouldn't you agree?

Now to trot out the paint and start on Ben.  The time around I really hashed it.  I ruined the coat... I just had no understanding of how to mix color.  And then I tried to re-paint that coat with my Cel-Vinyl... well, you can see where this is going.  Ben was ruined.  Wad up that paper and put it in the trash.

But, wait a minute.  I retraced the coat to a different sheet of paper and tried again.  Here's my gouache rendering of Ben with the new coat superimposed on the original "ruined" painting.  Not half bad... not good, but not half bad.
The reason I actually chose this picture as my project was because of that beautiful wood floor.  I really got a lesson in how to use a liner brush in painting this one:
Then I painted the wall to Ben's right:
This scan demonstrates how gouache is very much akin to watercolor.  Just as temperamental... but we love it, now don't we!
I won't belabor this post with the pictures of the back wall or the lantern.  Both were painted primarily with Cel-Vinyl... see?  I'm starting to get the hang of it.  Here's all the elements "composited":
I even added a parchment-colored vignette style "frame" to the composition.  This picture is pretty similar to the original.
 Now... we take a turn.

I opened the file in Photoshop and thought, hmmmmmmmmmmmm.  I shouldn't do it... but I'm a-gonna do it!

Using the lighting effects filter, I put a spot right behind that lantern and another pin light so we don't lose Ben in the dark... and created something I couldn't possibly do with just paint:
So what do you guys think?  Too much?

Next project should be a Yogi Bear based on a Hawley Pratt/Norm McGary painting.  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Art of Speed Buggy

When my wife leaves the T.V. set on, it's tuned to a news channel.  When my father-in-law watches, it's tuned to basketball.  And when I watch... it's cartoons.

One Sunday morning I left it tuned to Boomerang and noticed a cartoon called Speed Buggy.  I wasn't terribly impressed by the cartoon itself but what caught my eye were the backgrounds.  Hand painted in the Peregoy tradition, all done with the usual Hanna-Barbera competence.

This series ran from 1973 to 1975 although  I never watched it.  At that time I imagined myself "too old" to watch cartoons.  Thankfully I've grown to become much younger because I watch tons of 'em now!

I ordered the Complete Series, a 4 DVD set, and last night I made some captures.  I have to say I am impressed.

The credits list Iwao Takamoto as the Creative Producer.  Character design is by none other than Jerry Eisenberg.  Production Design is credited to Bob Singer.  Thus far, classic HB.

I couldn't find specific credits for the background artists but the following are listed under Layout; unfortunately I have never heard of any of them... although apparently I should have:

John Aherm
Hak Ficq (yes, I am spelling that correctly)
Moe Gollub
Frank Gonzales
Adam Szwejkowski

A little research shows that this was one high-octane crew.  Nothing second-tier about this assemblage, no sirree!  You want great background paintings on demand?  These are the guys to pop them out!

These backgrounds are handled so deftly, so professionally... so beautifully!... that I can only be amazed.

This episode, Speed Buggy Falls in Love, has our intrepid auto and pals going to Eastern Europe - behind the Iron Curtain - to attend a race. 

Whereas I've got them out of sequence, what counts here is the beauty of the paintings.  When possible I isolated the background by itself.
The bad guys hole up in this classic decrepit warehouse.

Love struck Speed Buggy is lured into the bad guys' castle.

Classic Eastern European airport lobby.  Check out the marbling on the counter.  That takes some real brush skills.
...and contrast it to the sleek, modern American airport interior.

Here's the bad guys' castle.  Bad guys live in a castle?  These ones do!

The unveiling of their "sexy" car... the better to lure Speed Buggy to his demise.  Check out the detail work to the work bench and the stone walls.  And, man! check out the size of the hinges on that back door!!

Just a nice street scene.
Comin' to retrieve Speed Buggy.
A nice aerial view of the Eastern European auto race course.
There were dozens upon dozens of backgrounds painted for this episode.  This type of semi-realistic painting... in gouache, no doubt, because it had to be mounted behind a glass platen for filming and gouache is nice and flat... was done by what I can only describe as expert painters.  It was painting on demand: new scene, new paintings!!  Chop chop.  And this crew pumped them out.

Imagine the skill it would take to pop these paintings out on a schedule.  My guess is they were mostly based on photographs.  For instance, the "Eastern European" airport counter could just as easily be Union Station... or the Santa Fe station in San Diego.  And this shot of the airport exterior...

... looks an awful lot like Disneyland.

There was some stunning attention to detail regarding the stones set into the castle walls and arches:

The inevitable chase occurs.  Check out the countryside in this composite of the Speed Buggy making his getaway:

... I especially like the little roadside shrine.

When the airplane carrying our pals lands in this unnamed... or vaguely named... Eastern European country, it landed at an especially picturesque little airport:

Bear with the bits and pieces of the airplane.  Check out the airport.

When this episode was done, HB had a pile of these background paintings.  How much you want to bet that at some point they got sold on Ebay?

The painters must have worked around the clock to produce so many high quality backgrounds.  That kind of talent doesn't grow on trees, my friends, and I wonder if it really ever gets displaced by people who are crafty at Photoshop.  This was the old-fashioned way of doing it by people who were enormously talented and industrious. 

In my humble opinion... my very humble opinion... the quality of the background art outshone the story, the writing, and the horrible jokes.  This was just one episode; I haven't even scratched the surface in uncovering all the wonderful paintings to this series.