Friday, November 11, 2016

Silver Warrior by Frank Frazetta 

Frazetta's painting are mythic and iconic, this painting was an image I remember seeing in a old Spawn comic book in my childhood and it has stuck with me over the years. Like all of Frazetta's work he paints the moment right before or after an action capturing the highest moment of drama in a picture.

The focal point in this image is between the warrior's face and his sword. He uses every trick of contrast, value and edges to draw your attention to this area. The sharp edge of the sword is juxtaposed against the soft and lost edges of the sun rays. The mountains in the distance and the soft edges of his hair makes the sword dominate the whole image with its dark values and shape. The suns reflection on the sword is another point of contrast since this is one of the the only warm colors in the piece. His silhouette against the backdrop is sharp and easily readable.

Contrast and lighting 
The white on the polar bears is brighter than the white on any other part of the picture including the icecaps in the back. This gives them contrast to the ornamentation and darker values of the sled and the Silver Warrior behind them. This also helps them stand out from the backdrop of the snowy terrain they are standing on.

There is another strong contrast here with the bold dark shadows on the warrior's face with the contrast of the white snow caps behind him. He uses another element of lighting contrast with telling us where the lighting source is in the scene. We can see it is directly above him and in front of him by the light reflection on his vest. This adds another rhythm of light variation in this area that adds more visual interest.

Outside of the yellow on the ornamentation on his armor and the sled as well as the red along his sword from the suns reflection, the whole picture is done in varying tones of blue, black and purple. The purple is absent in the top part of the picture and is only used to give warmth to the shadows of the polar bears at the bottom. These purples disappear as we go up the image to the warrior and where we only get cold pale blues, yellows, and deep black shadows.

Like a lot of Frazetta's work, the composition feels triangular in its shape from the tip of the sword down to the legs of the left sled and to the right leg and back up. It sits heavy to the left and he uses the contrast of the white snow caps to compensate for that on the right. Notice he doesn't need to balance it by placing a huge white shape on the right side, instead he can suggest bigger shapes by placing smaller ones close to one another. This gives variation to the shapes as well since the left side of the caps are much bolder. He uses the blue in the background to suggest a vast empty space behind him.

The darkest value of blue is in the top left corner of the image near the top of the mountain. This gives a sense of depth and distance to what lies behind the mountain and contrasts with the sun hitting his sword and radiating off. We also see that the darkest blacks are reserved for the features on the face of the polar bears and the shadows of the figure riding into battle.

Giving soft and lost edges to the polar bears allows our eyes to drift from one element to the next without feeling like every element is completely distinct from the others. The shadow along the back here also helps define the shapes of the two front polar bears and in both of these we see parts of each of them with lost edges or very slight edges. That gives us the impression of them being almost as soft in texture as the snow around them but out of the core shadows he implies enough shapes to also let us know that these bears are strong and feel grounded to their surroundings.

The edges of the sun rays bouncing off the sword are sharp at first and become lost edges as it moves away from the sword.

The whole shape of the gesture, his ornamental elements and silhouette are connected together in the same shape. Notice how his hair waves to the side connecting with the sharp dark shape of the sword to the shadows across his chest and the shadows on his face that obscure his features.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Robert Williams (title unknown)

I came across Robert Williams awhile back and I was pretty blown away by the weird psychedelic style he has in his paintings. His painting have this weird mix of sexuality and comic book story telling that reminds me of Robert Crumb and a meth induced hallucination. He was originally the cover artist for Gun's N Roses Appetite for Destruction, however his contribution was removed due to retailers not wanting to carry a product on their shelves that depicted a woman being raped by a robot.

My attention bounces back and forth between this monster truck and the couple in the front. Your eye finds the scrap yard last, making it the last "panel" on the page.

A couple in their own stupidity have found themselves making a grave mistake of killing an innocent bystander by running a stop sign. The driver's face is cool and emotionless as if he is now concerned about fleeing the scene of a crime while she is hysterical and will never get over the horrendous act and this is reflected in the caricatures above them.

The man is the truck and he seems almost to not be reacting to the life he just took, there isn't an expression of pride or guilt on either the truck or the driver. He is instead slack jammed with his tongue hanging out from the drugs or alcohol he is on trying to maintain control of the vehicle. His mouth on the picture at the bottom feels intentionally hidden much like his eyes behind sunglasses and we notice the truck doesn't have eyes itself. Only tinted windows.

The monster riding in the back is the woman obviously. She plugs every orifice with poison and self inflicted wounds to forget, she has a death wish. The nervous energy around her is reinforced with the ice picks encircling only her and the hairs that almost stab into her body all over. She is thinking of every possibility imaginable in this situation, looking every which way she can wit her seven eyes.

The end result of the crash is the car ends up at the salvage yard, however we don't get to see the actual vehicle maybe meaning the crash was so awful tha nothing survived. This was more impactful than just showing a graveyard of someone, instead we see the scrap yard and the rest of the story is finished in our imagination.

In the foreground we have the first event to transpire which is a moment before taking the life of someone passing by a stop sign. There are 5 dramatic diagonal lines that move from the right to the left of the picture in the foreground. However of the five diagonal lines that start on the right only two are still carried over on the left side. This shows forward motion obviously but it also keeps us from following them right out of the picture. The lines lead us to the action and it feels like a triangle motion. We start at the couple, then the monsters, then the salvage yard before we end up back on the lines and going to the start again.

The next is this broken glass like shape that sits behind them this stands out from its own abstract background, something that symbolizes frantic action exploding at them out of a moment like a bomb. The monsters have further indications of this with their sharp teeth, the ice picks that surround one of our characters, and knifes sticking out of one of them.

The final element of the composition is the salvage yard. This is in stark contrast to everything else in the painting. The only moving element we even get here are the clouds, their shapes are gentle and move across the calm scene we get of a salvage yard. We get the feeling that some time has passed and this last part feels like a resting place for your eyes to end up at after the sharp cutting edges of the rest of the image.

Most of the edges here are smooth outside of seeing some soft gradations of line in some of the smoke the truck kicks up which connects the blue/white background to the monster truck,

The red wavy backdrop is in stark contrast to the bright blue jagged shape we get in the middle. He makes sure to put white edges on this shape to differentiate it even more from the backdrop and it feels like a very graphic element to add. The colors of red and blue meet to find our next color of purple in the front. The colors used to paint the characters feels neutral or mid tone in value. If these colors were brighter or darker it would detract from the painting too much. The green in the women's shirt is found in the green of the monster up above and there is a nice match up between blue and green in the monster truck itself.

He ties these different elements together by putting different colors from the back drop into the other elements of the composition. For example the red stop sign or the "Rio Grande Auto Salvage" Even the colors up here are again the same as we have seen elsewhere in the monsters, truck and skin tone/clothing of the people in the foreground. Our foreground truck is green, an element that is repeated in each part of the composition. Then above that we have yellow, blue and red along the top of the auto salvage building.

The texture on the hair on her body makes the whole image along with the jagged knife like shape of the horrible event that is transpiring makes the whole image feel nervous. This is reinforced again by the jagged hair around her mouth.


Mass plays a huge role in any painting but the shapes here feel like they all tell the story. From a moment of action, to a moment of terror and resting on a peaceful graveyard for our protagonist's hot rod.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Great Train Robbery by N.C. Wyeth

N.C. Wyeth painted like a writer, he honed in on what is important to tell the story he wanted to tell at a glance so anyone could understand it. He focused in on the most exciting moment of the story and drew the viewer in to use his imagination on what happens next. Once he decided on that moment it allowed him to edit out any extraneous details to keep the drawing as simple as possible. For instance he doesn't use anything more than a simple shape of a hand and face in contrast with the strong silhouettes of the robbers and doesn't bother rendering the train or details on the clothes of the robbers anymore than he needs to.

If he had rendered more of the train the illustration would have lost focus, so instead he crops the irrelevant parts out of the picture to suggest the size of the train. The hand is more effective in showing what is going on rather than spending the time to render another person. Can you imagine what this illustration may have looked like if we saw the man with his hands up at the carriage entrance? The story then would have had to change to be about the person being robbed rather than the robbers.

The focus here is entirely on the robber with a gun. His strong silhouette shape has the most tonal variation and its clear that he is the center of our story since this detail contrasts with the complete lack of detail on the victims and the lack of detail on the man in the back.

Whether this is the first encounter with anyone since they got on the train or they have been moving from carriage to carriage the story is clear these two men have the surprise attack on these individuals and this is communicated with the contrast of the body language of the two characters with their strong silhouettes and sense of moving forward with the simple shapes of the hand and face on the right.

They aren't carrying bags of stolen goods so they must be there for whatever it is that is in the carriage they are entering into.


N.C. Wyeth's compositions sometimes feel like landscape like shapes to me. The shape of the carriage on the left is cropped but is still left in the picture enough for it to move all the way down the image to connect with the silhouette of the man crouching in the back. A similar shape is holding your attention from going off the page on the other side and the combination of this asymmetrical composition draws all your attention to the right of the image.

The right of the image feels heavier and has the most variation in color and tone. Your eye moves along the face of the robber then down along the white of his shirt to his torso, then to the gun pointing at the victims who are simplified with a hand held in surrender and a featureless face. Your eye then finds itself resting on the shapes of the second robber's face.

The negative space shape around the figures are bold and a little bit of visual interest is added to it such as the piece of rope or fabric that hangs from both tops of the carriages.

N.C. Wyeth doesn't spend time rendering anything but what he wants you to pay attention to.
The most variation in tone is on the figure on the right with several value tones used to keep your eye moving from the man in the front to the victims and back and around to the figure in the back.

The second most tonal variation is the man in the back crouching with the knife in his mouth. This is the only detail he allows for this figure outside of the details of the hand because nothing else is needed to tell the story. Less is more.

In order to make the figure fit within the bold negative space of the sky in the background we can see that he uses the white of the back drop along with the white of the shirt on the robbers right arm to blend the shapes together to where the boundaries between the two almost disappear entirely. This is called lost edges and it's used to stimulate interest by suggesting the edge your brain wants to complete the edge and has to become involved in the image to do so which keeps your readers attention.

This lost edges here are in direct contrast with the sharp edges of the rest of the piece and in only a few other instances such as the 2nd hand of the victim and the featureless face do we see soft edges.

He does variations of light to dark edges all around the robber where his back is turned to his light source and as you move down the edges are lost to the broad strokes that suggest motion.

The bounce light from our source of light hitting the carriage wall and reflecting back onto the robber again keeps our attention on him and gives it another level of visual interest. The color palette looks like its mostly confined to browns oranges and yellows with the exception of a dirtier green in the pants of the robber with the gun.

The shapes of the figures and the train feel like one connected shape that extends all the way from the left of the carriage through the first silhouette, along the ground to the second silhouette and into the shadow that connects to the 2nd carriage as the enter into it.

Texture is suggested with the ragged edges along the bottom of the painting.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Hold My Vigil  by Nicolas Delort 

Nicolas explains the origin of this drawing in his blog inkling that this illustration is inspired by Neil Gaiman's American Gods:

"Also, here's an illo I never got around to posting, because I consider it somewhat of a failure. I set it aside and reworked it into "Vigil" (I don't know which one worked better in the end, I think the former had drama that the latter doesn't have and the latter has atmosphere that the former doesn't have).
I just finished trying to clean it up a little in photoshop (on the original the sky is a complete mess). I still like the angle and the two characters in the foreground (Ibis and Jacquel) but I feel like the World Tree and Shadow are a little wonky.
Oh well.
(just for fun, the guy in the front is Mr. Jacquel, holding the cig with his pointy nose is Mr. Ibis, the three cloaked figures are the Nornes and in the background with the hat is Mr. Nancy and the tiny one all the way back would be Czernobog) "
I myself have never read the book so delving into the details of the narrative will not be my purpose here, instead I would like to focus on analyzing the composition elements. Thumbnail composition study

Above is my thumbnail recreation of the composition. The goal here is to take a composition from a piece you like and zoom out on photoshop until only the broad shapes are apparent and to try to copy these broad shapes down as close as possible in values. We break these illustrations down into thumbnails so we can then take the information we gather from them and apply it to our own work. I love this illustration because the angle feels so dramatic and cinematic. Delort's pen and ink style with bold giant black shapes that contrast with the the negative spaces they create make the illustration feel very diagonal with the individual in the foreground wrapping around the top side of the drawing.

Defining a focus when looking at something is best done when you look away from the illustration, then back at it again and see exactly where your eyes fall. My eye falls directly onto the man in the middle. The shadow in his glasses create a interesting bold black and white shape that sits and contrasts with the textured grey tone of his face and hair.

My attention then goes to the 3 hands in the foreground, to the face at the top as it points directly down to the tree. We then see the figure crucified on the tree, then back down to the figure resting on the ground and the 6 figures blocking this area of the drawing in.

NarrativeI'm currently listening to the audio book of American Gods, the book this illustration is inspired from but I am unfamiliar with this scene.

1. a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.

"my birdwatching vigils lasted for hours"

2. (in the Christian Church) the eve of a festival or holy day as an occasion of religious observance."

From the little bit that I have gathered from the synoposis of the book and what I have heard so far I would assume that this illustration is about a ceremony or ritual of sacrifice to appease the Gods.

His composition is bold black and white shapes that make the illustration feel very heavy on the right which is contrast to the abstract shape of the tree. It creates a negative space that feels like it "cuts" down to the feet.

Acouple of things stand out for me in the values I see here. For one the catch light on the foot helps differentiate the foot in the foreground from the midtoned individual to the right of the tree.

Dark shapes on both sides of the tree block the tree into frame. He leaves the white of the paper to create the awesome looking negative spaces but also the catch light on the foot, to add detail to the glasses and the foreground figures' hands.

The catch shadow on the left of the body hanging makes it pop out from the dark shadow he casts on the tree. The shadows the tree casts on itself creates an awesome since of depth.

The whole piece feels like one large shape that moves around in a oblong or elliptical route.


I really dig the foreground texture of the grass. It feels like it continues the push back up to the very bold shape on the top right.

The texture present in the grass helps your mind also define and create the texture along the tree which he pushes further back with the tree limb all the way in the back. There is a catch shadow here in this long black shape that is only 4 simple shapes, but it adds so much depth thanks to the texture in the foreground.


Monday, January 19, 2015

This is the first in a series of blog posts inspired by lee moyer's The Elements of Illustration and Ideas Made of Light blog. I'm going to be taking a lot of the illustration work I myself admire and try to break it down into why it works the way it does. After watching the following video from Anthony Jones I realized that I was missing out on a lot of potential things I could have learned from copies of master works I've done in the past. Too often I've found myself copying a master work, but at a loss to find out why my own work didn't seem to be at the same level or what I should be taking from them. This blog is a way for me to correct this.

Greg Capullo 

Growing up Greg Capullo was my hero, When he began working on spawn he took what was originally a Spiderman and Batman hybrid and turned him into a something closer to Frankenstein or Freddy Krueger.

The Big Picture
The first thing to look at is how the composition has an entirely different second read in its composition. If you take the image and make it black and white and play with the curves a little you get this: 

Ignore the foreground for a second and you can see a composition of a close up shot of a scowling forehead and eye. Symbolizing someone (maybe Satan himself) is watching down on Spawn.  If you look at the general shape of the negative space around Spawn and how the cape cuts diagonally downward with the landscape below rising almost enough to meet it on the right to make an elongated oval shape. The shape of the cape as it goes up and to the left could be seen as the scowling eyelid and forehead. Greg Capullo is known to do this sort of thing to his illustrations on batman:

Thumbnail analysis and 

Here we have a simplified version of some of the value tones and how they contrast with what is around them on the page. There is almost a rhythm to the number of different tones of value and where they are placed. In order for a illustration to be successful it needs to have the full range of tones that define the foreground, mid ground, and background. Capullo uses multiple forms of overlapping and a rhythm of tones that climb from the bottom left of the page to the middle of the page where Spawn is. 

You have the first zombie, that's midtone head is contrasted against the bright light of the moon. Next to him the second zombie is contrasted, both by the midtone tombstone in front of him but also the zombie who is a higher key of white behind him, also notice her hair is yellow. So we are now moving away from the greens in the foreground to the red found on Spawn's cape. It also gives you an idea of where he is placed. We then go back to a midtone with the grave stones that seem to be level with the tree right in front of spawn that cuts into the picture. 

We then see spawn, placed in between two points of interest that tell us where he is in the picture. One sits in front of him, the other a fair ways back. We know he is at the top of the hill, but there is still a distance behind him that wraps around to the declining side of the hill. So we climb up the picture with the different "beats" of tones til we get to Spawn, then we climb only a little more before Capullo shows us more depth of the graveyard beyond the hill.

There is a lot of overlap going on here in the illustration and I've numbered them in order as they work their way back into the illustration. Also note that on Number 6 there are two other tombstones at the same level. This could be just to box the eye in and keep the distances uniform across the picture.


Our focus bounces back and forth between the first zombie and Spawn but carries in a circular route from the first zombie, to the second, then the third, then to Spawn, to the moon, and back to the zombie in the front.

I haven't read Spawn in years so I don't remember any of the stories, but I doubt this was about any particular story. It was much more about the concept. Most of Capullo's covers are more conceptual rather than literal. This cover feels reminiscent of earlier issues of Spawn where he goes to his own grave to dig up his body.

We have a lot of different elements used to create a depth of field around Spawn hes blocked in from the negative space created by the moon, his cape, both trees and the landscape beneath him. The line work in the cape could double as arrows all pointing to Spawn. The zombies are like stepping stones to Spawn that create a circular composition.

The colors of the grass, the green fungus on the zombies and the blue tint of the sky are all the same tonal range. Very dull colors that contrast to the bright red of his cape. He also uses yellow in the third zombies hair to help make the transition.


Our foreground is defined by our darkest values, which contrasts to the light of the moon and the variation picks up the most at our focus point: Spawn.


Capullo uses a variation of light to light and dark to light transitions on the cape which gives an abstract look to it but is still recognizable as a fabric.

The linework here is used to create the texture on the faces of the undead. They contrast with the cleaner shapes of their suites and Spawn's cape.


This was mentioned before, I feel like this is intentionally reminiscent of the original books. Spawn is back from the dead, but something is watching his every move.


The linework in the hair and facial details of the zombies is also implied on Spawn's face.

Grass and moss/fungus on zombies. The crater lines emphasized on the moon.

The contrast points between the zombie head and the moon itself. The contrast between, the bright red cape and the muted blues and greens of the zombies and graveyard.