Destined for Death (Metal)

I can finally reveal the cover I illustrated for Dauthuz‘ first full-length album — in all its original black-and-white glory and goriness.
Dauthuz, skull, tshirt, album cover, death metal, old school

Mind you, this version — the one I prefer and give you here — differs signifcantly from the definitive cover art, as can be seen on their website.

I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. The band couldn’t get behind the design as originally intended by me, and so they had some changes made (by someone else than me). I don’t like it — but there’s no pleasing everyone, and that’s just the way is. So I’m not going to complain or throw a fit. But I do feel a need to explain what I feel has gotten lost in the final design.

For starters, gone now is the simple triangular composition, and with it the tight negative space surrounding the skull and corpses; gone now the eye in the right socket, and with it a centrifugal focal point. On that last note, the focal potential of the center skull is even further undermined by the bright candy red color scheme of the background — an area that due to its radiance, now “pops” to the foreground.

And it’s not just the layout that took a hit. Subtle references to some of my favorite artists and bands are no longer there anymore. Take the eye, for instance. It was meant to be a design nod to Mark Riddick, one of the industry’s greats, whose work has been of great influence to me. Now it’s just a gaping hole, void of any reference.

Oh well, it is as it is. But it does make me think about how I want to go about things in the future. And, well, I still got a solid portfolio piece out of it, which also counts for something.

The album titled by the way, Destined by Death will be out in November.

Livin’ Hard and Ridin’ Fast

Earlier today someone asked me, “Do you have a site or a blog I could check to see some of your work?” Which reminded me that I do actually. And with that realization came the one that I’ve been sitting on some news for quite a while now.

My last post was about the new Cardinal logo which I ended by noting that I was working on several more. And well some of them, they are about done and with others, progress is being made.

While on the subject of band art, I also want to mention — if I haven’t done so in a previous blog entry — that I completed designing my first fully-illustrated album cover. The band members were so pleased with the design that they also had it printed as an on-stage backdrop of about ten by six feet. And it’s already seen some live use at a gig last weekend. Even so, the band have requested me not to show it in full just yet because they want to do a big reveal for the label and their fans in an official kind of way sometime soon.

I can show you, however, something entirely else — a cartoon I recently finished drawing. There’s a bit a of a story behind it, the details of which I’ll recount at a later date, probably sometime later this week. So for now, just enjoy what you see here.

old school biker (finished).jpg

“Why Aren’t You Doing Caricatures?”

Last week, some friends asked me why I don’t do caricatures. I told them it takes a special skillset to draw caricatures, let alone ones that are clever and lifelike. My friends were confused by my answer. After all, they reasoned, if you can draw caricature-like figures — how hard could it possibly be to draw caricatures? As I will make clear below, it’s very, very hard. To me at least it is.

Here’s the thing. If you ask me to draw just some old guy, then I will come up with one in less than no time. I got plenty of imagination, and I know some basic tricks to age a character with a few pen stroke (see fig. below).

 

age.JPG

But, if you would want me to draw you a portrait of my late grandfather — I wouldn’t even know where to begin! What makes portraiture so challenging is that if you don’t precisely match on canvas the inclinations and angles of the head, the face, and the ears, you’ll end up with a portrait that bears very little if any resemblance to your subject. To be sure, I know there are certain tools and tricks portraitists can play with when they go about doing a portrait (e.g., like tracing silhouettes) — and yeah, I suppose I could also employ those very tools and tricks. Yet, even so, I would still struggle to really nail a portrait.

My sister, on the other hand, has such a knack for portraiture, she makes it seem effortless. The figs. below show a portrait of my late grandfather coming to life by her hand.

But don’t ask her to draw a looney cartoon of an elderly man, because, well — cartooning is unfamiliar territory to her.

Now, how does this all relate to the art caricature? Well, to be a good caricaturist, you need not just be a good cartoonist who knows how to draw grotesque but humanly true characters, you also need to be a good portraitist who knows how to capture the likeness of the subject.

In reality, there’s even more to it than this. What separates a really good caricaturist from a merely okay one is that the former really knows how to capture the subject’s personality and his attitude — his unmistakable essence, if you will — while the latter just exaggerates and distorts the obvious (that is, what the eyes see). Meaning you need to intimately know your subject if you want to be good at it. And that’s probably, definitely another reason why I tend to stick with fantasy.

On Good Bad Art

I read a lot on how to draw human figures and landscapes; I read a lot on what makes a good visual narrative; I read a lot on the history of comics, on what comics artists from various decades and places have been doing, and why; in short, I do a lot of reading on making cartoons and comics — and yes, funnily enough, I end up spending more time reading about it than actualling doing it. There is an upshot to this, however. Sometimes, in this erudition, I stumble upon these little inspirational nuggets. One such nugget for me is what renowned 1970s’ punk manga artist King Terry has said about his philosophy for artists (as quoted in Frederik L. Schodt’s Dreamland Japan).

To him the highest level of achievement for an artist is not the ability to make good art but instead the ability to make heta-uma (which translated means ‘bad-good’) art. By which he means not your it’s-so-bad-it’s-good art but art that is both bad and good at the same time. To illustrate this, I can think of no better example than Dutch absurdist Gummbah, whose work was once ridiculed by editors but eventually got featured in national newspapers and magazines. On first glance, looking at just one figure or cartoon that he created, you may think him possessing no drawing skill or technical ability whatsoever, but his cartooning style oozes soul and authentic personal sensibility — and that’s precisely what makes his cartoons so good … while being bad. I wonder, though,  if anyone would go as far as to proclaim him a master cartoonist. I know I would, but I may be alone in that.

Gummbah

Now, of course you can argue that a cartooning style such as his doesn’t hold up compared to — I don’t know, say the just-plain-good-drawing style of Marten Toonder, arguably the best Dutch comic strip creator to have ever lived. But the point King Terry wants to make is that people, young and aspiring artists especially, tend to value and emphasize technique over style, while, in his view, it should be the other way around. And he’s right. Artists should establish a style of their own first, and only then strive for mastering their drawing skills… or just be content with having a signature style, or any style at all, even it’s bad.
Marten Toonder

Well, ideally, of course, it would be nice if a work of art shows both individual style and technical prowess like — well, for example, the comic strips of Toonder. But it takes a certain talent, an innate gift, to achieve such a level of competence. Not to mention a lifetime of practice and discipline. So, yeah, not everyone gets to be the next Toonder. No, chances are, you will end up like me — inadequate, technically incompetent, lacking knowledge or skills. But don’t get discouraged, there’s a silver lining here. No matter how bad you are at drawing, you can still be an authentic artist and get your work published.

ongeKUNSTeld

It’s been awhile. I went to Norway for a few weeks, where I climbed some peaks and read some books — and nothing much besides. Turns out, I really need a computer to get some drawing done. *self-depracating sigh*

Once home, I immediately got back to drawing, first on another Shape of the Week challenge, then on my first editorial illustration for ongeKUNSTeld, a Dutch art blog.

Ongekunsteld, cartoon, kunst, oriental, middle east, fairy tale, tekening, illustratie, beeld, arabian nights, 1001 nights, sprookje, kinderboek, children's book

 

It is here I want to try something new, something I’ve never really done; say — or rather, write — why I drew what I drew. Now, this isn’t going to be a master class in Character Design and Figure Drawing as I’m still learning and struggling myself, but I do hope it might give those of you who are not cartooning experts yet a taste or understanding for what is on a cartoonist’s mind.

  • Size and Proportions
    A normal realistic human figure has a small head and long legs supporting a medium-sized torso. But that is kinda boring, so what you want to do is mix it up a bit. For example: Give your character a disproportionately large head on a tiny torso, with medium-sized stick legs.
  • Figure Posing
    • Balance
      Balance is all about weight distribution. If you mess that up, your figure — its pose and movement — will feel “off”. A case in point here would be the harem belly dancer who looks like she’s about to stumble. However, her visage gives her an intoxicated look, so I suppose you can explain that away, but that is a lousy excuse.
    • Counterbalance
      As a body moves, its weight distribution shifts. So when setting up a character in motion, you need not only think of the main movement of the body, but also of its countermovement to depict this distribution shift. So an example would be, if your character stretches his or her right leg out in front, his or her left arm stretches up behind the back.
    • Congruency
      It would be easy to just forego drawing figures in dynamic poses. But, not only is that boring, “uncartoony”, it wouldn’t make sense in some situations. Let us look, for example, at my very first editorial cartoon. Untitled-1These two characters are supposed to be surprised, shocked, appalled at what they see, but they just stand there stiff and posed, with their arms drooping, as if they’re indifferent. This creates a sense of incongruence, which is detrimental in cartooning art. Examples of more congruent poses would be the stiff, annoyed posture of woman on the left or the gay strut of the Sultan in the former cartoon.
  • “Soundtrack”
    Let us look again at the latter cartoon. See how it doesn’t convey sound — or any show of emotion? Now compare it to the former. Note, for example, the slight crosshatching on the left woman’s face, the tapping of her foot, and the hand-drawn musical note coming from the mouth of the old astrologer. All these little subtle visual cues make a cartoon come to funny life.

Let me know if you want to read more of these sorts of blog posts.