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My wife and I watched the Disney film ‘Tangled’ again last night.  I bought this DVD before I’d even seen it which was rare for me, but there was something in the trailers that told me that even if the story was weak, the artwork would be worth it.  I wasn’t disappointed in either.  I posted on Facebook that ‘this artwork makes me high,’ and I wasn’t kidding.  There’s something about cartoons with a lot of life in them that just gets me excited.  While Disney may not do it for everybody, and I’m not a huge fan of every one of their movies, this style makes me want to be a better artist.  It makes me hungry to sit down and draw.

No matter what creative avenue you’re strolling down, if the scenery isn’t doing it for you anymore, and you’re bored, find something that will reignite that old passion and put a spring in your step.  I have a few go-to books and movies that do it for me.  Tangled is now added to that library.

I’ll often get people asking me if I want to animate, and the answer is a flat out ‘No.’  A number of years ago, when the general consensus seemed to be that Flash animation was the next step in editorial cartooning, I did create a weekly animated editorial cartoon called ‘Beaver Fever.’  Sort of a Rick Mercer/Jon Stewart wanna-be cartoon beaver with guests and commentary, that sort of thing.  A lot of people liked it, including some big media outlets in Canada, but nobody wanted to pay what it would take to keep me doing it, so I scuttled that ship.  I didn’t enjoy the work.  It felt tedious and mechanical.

Knowing what you want to do is essential in any career, but equally important is knowing what you do not want to to do.  I do NOT want to be an animator.

But I love movies.  I mean, I REALLY love movies.  I’m not obsessed with them, by any means, but I can watch some movies over and over again.  Tangled will be one of those.  I would love to work designing characters for movies one of these days.  Not full-time or anything, just a commission once in awhile.  It would be great to see some animal I created brought to life on the big screen.  That’s one of those things I regularly throw out there into the ether, because it seems to have worked well for a lot of other dreams that have become reality in my career.

Never underestimate the power of passion.  Glen Keane has worked on some of the best animated movies out there, often as Supervising Animator.  I’m talking about Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and of course, Tangled.  There are many others of course.  Those who followed the comic strip, Family Circus, as I did growing up, will be interested to know that Glen is the son of cartoonist Bil Keane, and was the model for the character Billy in that strip.

While I have known and admired Glen’s work for years,  I am most in awe of an artist who has been working in the field for as long as he has, a man who has done and seen it all in the world of animation, and yet still has that passion in his voice for his craft.  You can tell he is still excited to be doing what he’s doing.  Watch this video and you can see it.  Listen to how he talks about this character.  To Glen, she is real, she has life, and most importantly, she has passion.

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A DVD in the hand

My DVD’s arrived in the mail this week, some of my promotional copies from PhotoshopCAFE.

While it seems like quite awhile ago that I finished the challenging task of recording my first training DVD, it really hasn’t been that long at all.  At the time I was working on this project, it felt like a monstrous undertaking.  In retrospect, I wouldn’t change the experience, because I can now look back on it with a great sense of accomplishment.  Holding the finished product in my hand is made all that much sweeter because of the difficulty and stress I went through recording it.  Many times during the process, I thought to myself, “there is no way I’m going to finish this, and if I do, it’s going to be an incoherent mess.”

I’m now working on my second DVD for PhotoshopCAFE, and while it will still be a challenge,  I find myself without any of the anxiety I felt while working on the first one.  Without challenges forcing you to step out of your routine, there is no growth.  Even though I already knew that, it would appear that I need to be reminded of it once in awhile.  This DVD did just that, and I’m grateful for the lesson.

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The Royal Fishbowl

Let me begin by saying, I am NOT a royal watcher and there is no chance I’ll be up watching the wedding in the middle of the night.  That being said, a lot of people are following the media feeding frenzy leading up to the nuptials, so I had to do a cartoon or two on the event.

One of the most difficult things for me to do is create an image like this for an editorial cartoon.   Newsprint is a muddy, ugly medium for illustration.  The usual effort that I put into a painting is completely lost when the image is printed in a newspaper, so I have to be careful not to waste my time on detail that will never be seen.

Skin, hair, texture, subtle transitions of light and shadow…it’s all a big waste of time.  Unfortunately, it’s also what my painted work is becoming known for, so when it comes to including it in my portfolio, I’m on the fence.  It doesn’t belong with the painted portraits and caricatures of people, but probably will be fine in the Illustration portfolio.

Another reason an image like this is tough is that there is a tight deadline on it.  Editorial cartoons need to be drawn and sent as quickly as possible.  Not only am I often competing with other cartoonists for freelance spots in many newspapers across Canada, but the news changes so quickly, that the work put into an editorial cartoon often has to be balanced against the likelihood of getting paid.  This is a big event, most of my newspapers will want to cover it, so I felt it was worth putting a lot more time into this cartoon, as it can be used not only in the usual editorial cartoon slot, but as an editorial illustration as well.  I planned ahead and started sketches three or four days before I intended to send it out.  While I didn’t keep track, I’d estimate that from sketch to finish, it took around eight to ten hours.

For those who have purchased my DVD, you already know the process of sketch, ink, flat colour and shading.   I changed it a bit for this image.  While I did do an initial sketch of William and Kate, I went right to painting on a different layer, with the sketch layer as a guide.  All of the other elements were roughed out in Photoshop, with no paper sketch.

I was pleased with the painted image, and it if it were for a magazine or online publication, I would have continued with the painted look, but had to add an ink layer for newsprint, so it would be sharper and stand out more.  It wasn’t until all of the shading and painting was done that I added the ink.  Many publications have different printing processes, so the cartoons end up lighter in some newspapers.  The ink layer ensures that the image will still look decent, even if the shading gets washed out a bit.  You’ll notice, however that the ink layer was done with much thinner lines than I normally use, because the thicker lines wouldn’t work for this image.

Other challenges with this image included creating a fishbowl castle version of Westminster Abbey, which is very tall and narrow.  You’ll notice mine is squashed, which was something I had to do to fit it in the fishbowl.  I also intentionally went with the molded porcelain ‘fishbowl castle’ look for the Abbey, rather than the crisp pristine stone look of the real church.  It really didn’t end up looking all that much like the real building, but people should get the gist of it.

Not knowing if Kate would be wearing a veil or tiara or what her dress would look like (oh the suspense is just KILLING me, don’t you know?), I didn’t worry about it.  I just put William in the same outfit his father wore when he married Diana.  While I do prefer painting more detailed work, I did have some fun on this.  Were it not for the deadline looming over me on the day I put the most work into it, I might have enjoyed it a little more, but that’s the necessary compromise every commercial artist needs to make peace with.  It’s an enjoyable job, but at the end of the day, it’s still a job.

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Now Available at PhotoshopCAFE!

While the hard copy of my first DVD will be making its debut at Photoshop World this coming week in Orlando, it is now available for purchase as a download from PhotoshopCAFE. The hard copy will be available in the next couple of weeks.

This is a little surreal, having my own training DVD, but part of the natural evolution of being an artist. ‘Learn it, do it, teach it’ is a fairly common saying, and it does tend to bring things full circle. While I will always have more to learn, and will never be finished working to make myself a better artist, it’s been an interesting experience teaching a little of what I’ve learned so far.

This was a huge undertaking for me, and I wondered if I’d ever get it done, but I’m very pleased with the result, and already planning my next title. By all accounts, the second one should be a lot easier.

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Coming Soon: My First Training DVD

Regular readers will know that I’ve been working on a DVD for PhotoshopCAFE for a number of months, now. With a final push through a very busy week, I managed to get everything finished this past weekend. The final editing days were difficult, but I managed to meet deadline, and the DVD is now in production.

Entitled ‘Cartoon Illustration Techniques in Photoshop,’ I recorded over 4.5 hours of training, taking the viewer through the entire process I use to turn a sketch into the finished image you see above. The majority of the lessons are done in real time, so I’m actually working while talking, and only a couple of painting sessions are sped up and narrated. This is the process I use every day when drawing my syndicated editorial cartoons and when creating cartoon illustrations in the same style.

This is my first DVD for PhotoshopCAFE with plans to record more on other techniques in the near future. It will be available for purchase online and at the PhotoshopCAFE booth at Photoshop World in Orlando next week. As soon as it’s available, I’ll be posting links.

While the entire process was difficult, and more than a little frustrating at times, I learned a LOT about audio and video recording, had incredible support from Colin Smith at PhotoshopCAFE, and am pleased with the result. My intention at the beginning of this was to record the DVD I would have liked to have had when I was first starting out cartooning in Photoshop and I think I achieved that.

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iPad Cartooning: An Ongoing Experiment

Having done some finger painting on the iPad, I thought I’d be happy just continuing to do that. I was getting pretty decent results, having a fair bit of fun, and didn’t feel I was really lacking in any tools that would allow me to create the images I wanted.

I had heard the Pogo Stylus was a compromise at best, and many were using it simply because they couldn’t find anything better. I bought the Dagi Stylus after reading a good review, but it ended up scratching my screen in three places on the first day so I stopped using that right away. The scratches, by the way, are not obvious. I’d have to point them out to anyone wanting to see them. No real harm done, but enough that I wouldn’t use that pen again. I’d almost given up on finding a stylus, until I started hearing really good reviews about the Targus stylus (also sold as the Griffin stylus).

Since it was less than $20, I figured I’d give it a shot. Ordered one from Best Buy, with low expectations. I’m happy to report that I LOVE this pen. It works so well on the iPad screen. The rubber tip looks like it might have the consistency of a pencil eraser, but it actually has a fair bit of give, slides nicely over the screen and doesn’t require a great deal of pressure to activate the drawing apps.

You’ll notice that I’m wearing a glove on my drawing hand. While you can buy pre-fab gloves for this sort of screen work that look nice and pretty, I just bought a pair of glove liners from a local sports store. I cut the thumb, index, and middle fingers from the gloves, so that I can still use my fingers to activate the app features, such as tool presets, zooming, panning, etc. But by keeping the last two fingers on the glove, I can rest my hand on the screen while drawing, without the heel of my hand activating anything on the app. Works very well and as an added bonus, it cleans the screen as you draw.

It should be noted that I do NOT have a screen protector. I tried a couple when I first got my iPad and hated them. The installation was incredibly frustrating, and once I did get one applied well, I didn’t like how it made my images look or the feel of the screen so I removed it many months ago. It is my understanding that a screen protector will seriously decrease the effectiveness of some of these stylus pens, so be warned that if you have one on your iPad, your experience may not be as good as mine.

I do have the Apple case on my iPad at all times, and those three little scratches on the screen made by the Dagi stylus are the only ones I’ve ever had. Since I use the iPad every day, and have been using the Targus stylus quite a bit as well, I’m not worried about getting any more scratches at all, so I won’t replace the screen protector.

The app I used for this cartoon is ArtStudio. I also use Sketchbook Pro and like them both. While I will still do some finger painting for large brush painting, and less precise work, I am definitely going to continue to keep using the Targus as it’s a great addition to my iPad workflow.

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Thank you for continuing to hold…

Lately, I’ve been working on my training DVD for PhotoshopCAFE, entitled Cartoon Illustration Techniques in Photoshop. It has been a steep learning curve with regard to the audio and video software and hardware. Even though I had an animated editorial cartoon for about five months a few years back, this has proven to require a very different set of skills.

I’ve had a number of false starts and have had to rewrite session scripts when I realized that I had forgotten to talk about crucial steps. I’ve also had more than a few sleepless nights trying to make sure that everything I talk about is going to be coherent.

Worst of all, fitting this very large project into my already heavy workload has been challenging and this has taken far longer than I had intended it to. But, I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be a train. As in all things new and difficult, I’ve no doubt that I’ll come out the other side better for the experience with another set of skills to add to my repertoire. I’ll also be in need of a little time off.

So for those who’ve been asking when the DVD will be done, I plan to be able to make that announcement very soon, and thanks for your patience.

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Another iPad Finger Painting

This finger painting was done on a new app that I bought for the iPad, called ArtStudio. I had been using Sketchbook Pro, and even though I still consider it a great painting app, I now prefer ArtStudio by a wide margin. Without going into great detail, I’ll just say that this is as close to Photoshop as I’ve seen in an iPad painting app, and I found it very easy and enjoyable to use.

There are third party stylus pens available for the iPad, but they all seem to have mixed reviews, and one I tried put a few little scratches on the screen, so I’ve opted out of trying another one just yet. For now, I’m content to just keep on finger painting, as I don’t think I’m really losing anything.

I don’t know how much time I spent on this painting, as it was just ten minutes here and there over the past couple of weeks. It is doubtful that I’ll ever produce any finished work on the iPad, but I’m enjoying using it as a sketch pad.

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Business As Usual

While I normally try to have a blog entry done every week, lately I have been remiss, simply because of my heavy workload. Because of the projects I’ve agreed to, and the fact that I want to put my best effort into them, I have decided not to take any new commission work until the new year.

Here is a brief update of the various items I’m working on, in addition to the daily editorial cartoons.

Cartoon Illustration DVD
This has been a big learning experience so far and I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about PhotoshopCAFE. I’ve had a ton of great support while I learn the ropes. In a perfect world, I’d like to put everything else aside just to pour all of my energy into this, but the bills have to be paid, so it’s a juggling act.

There have been a few hiccups, but nothing insurmountable. The first install of Photoshop CS5 Extended didn’t take, and it was freezing up daily. A reinstall thankfully solved that issue and it’s been working well ever since. Camtasia Studio 7 is the video screen capture software that I’m using, and so far, it’s working smoothly. For any Mac users out there, I’ve been told it doesn’t work well on that platform, so fair warning, but I’m on Windows and the only issue I experienced was a conflict with my Wacom tablet. A download of the latest tablet drivers solved that problem.

I’ve been using a CRT monitor as my main monitor for years as I’ve always preferred them to LCD screens, but due to aspect ratio limitations and the requirements for recording, I finally had to make the switch to the 24″ Samsung that I’ve been using for my painting demo display. I’ve used a dual monitor display for years, but the new size makes it feel like I’m using three. Whether it was the LCD or the larger size, the first couple of days I had a splitting headache and sore eyes. I’ll admit to being worried that this was going to be a major problem, but I’ve since gotten used to the new display and am quite enjoying the increased screen real estate.

Lesson plan and sketches have been approved, test recording has been done and submitted, so all that’s left is the actual recording, which I’ve started this week. I won’t lie, it’s been pretty intimidating, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be pleased with it when it’s done.

Totem Prints
The paintings are no longer available at Editions Gallery in Red Deer as I removed them earlier this month. After a number of months in the gallery, there wasn’t one sale and apparently not much interest in them. Whether it was because of the style or the subject, I don’t know, so I’m just going to accept that Central Alberta may not be the right market for these paintings, at least not now.

The paintings are selling well in Canmore and Banff, and I made a trip into Calgary yesterday to pick up another batch of prints. This is the first batch of framed canvas prints and I’m very pleased with how they look. The framed Wolf and Moose Totem paintings will be available in both Banff and Canmore today in the 18″X24″ size.

A line of matted paper prints will be available at Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore today as well. The Moose, Wolf, Grizzly, and Ground Squirrel in two sizes, 11″X14″ and 16″X20″. Each print is mounted with a black matte, open edition, ready for framing. I’ll eventually have all of the Totem series available in matted paper prints.

New Totem Paintings
Another live painting demo is scheduled for Two Wolves Trading Co. in Canmore on November 13th and 14th, working on a bighorn sheep as my next image. I’ve wanted to do this one for awhile. I already have the next four paintings planned out, and have secured the rights to the reference photos for three of them. As I haven’t done any new paintings since I finished the Wolf, I am very anxious to get started.

There are a couple of other projects I’m working on that I can’t talk about yet, but needless to say, I’m busy, and while there are days I’m hanging on by my fingernails to balance it all, I’m doing what I love for a living, and grateful for it.