Tuesday, 30 August 2016

ConBravo: Digital Art + WebComics

This is a sub-post of the whole convention, covering “Webcomics Q&A” (Fri) and “Digital Art 101” (Sun). Quotes are not exact, any errors are my own, enjoy.

By the time of “Digital Art 101” on Sunday I’d found my stride for recording panels, so I’m starting with that. The panel at 1pm had a very long line, but everyone got in, and it ended up being Q&A style with the following panelists: Andrew Gregoire (AG)* ; Tammy (T) ; Vitaly Alexius (VA)* ; Meeshka (M)* ; Alison “Oceantann” (AO). (*: means also in webcomics later)

Photo Order: AO, M, VA, T, AG

Q1: The best way to start? Program and tablet to use? Personal preferences?
T: Whatever you start with is fine. Some use Bamboo. Don’t have to start with expensive stuff.
VA: Go with Photoshop. You can also buy a used tablet, some sell for pretty cheap.
M: Photoshop, I’m from the old generation when we used to bootleg it.
AO: I used a Bamboo for 13 years, just switched.
AG: I don’t recommend Touch, can get a little annoying. It costs $600 more, than you’ll want to turn the touch feature off.
T: I lean [on the screen], and sometimes if it turns on by itself, it’s annoying.
AG: I don’t like the disconnect of my hand being here and the cursor being on the screen somewhere else. Love seeing my hand and the line I draw. For programs, I use Photoshop mainly but recommend Manga Studio as a cheap alternative. I use it for some things. (Around boxing day it goes on sale?) Sketchbook Pro is good, like $49, but not great for text if doing comics. Nice to have perspective tools.
T: “Krita” is another one I use, it’s still in alpha or beta. Functional program that you can also animate in.
AG: And I think GIMP is like open sourced Photoshop. There’s some web based photoshop as well, I don’t know what it does, if it gunks up layers eventually.

Q2: How do you deal with backgrounds?
VA: I have about five terabytes of photography. At every comic con, I go out and take pictures of stuff. Build up an archive, some of them I can use in comics, or use as a reference in making comics.
T: I don’t see it as a background, but as a part of the whole picture. Wouldn’t have a character in a background; I’d consider the chair or table as part of the subject, then a wall behind that. That kind of helps me.

Q3: Favourite thing to draw?
AG: People, I like drawing people and life drawing. Sitting in a cafe and seeing crazy characters in this world. I’m a creeper?
AO: Some great people in history also did that.
VA: I like backgrounds, putting as much as possible into them, cityscapes or water falling or that.
M: I was inspired by Boris Viahayhill(??). Muscular men and women in fantasy settings, heavy metal. I want to draw very detailed things on people, like bums doing squats.
AO: I like drawing cute anime things. My favourite artist was (missed it). Drawing things that make people happy. That makes me happy.
T: I like drawing my characters, the girls.

Q4: Do you find a disconnect between digital and traditional? How do you work with that?
VA: I started with oil painting. Style was very similar to Lawren Harris of ‘Group of Seven’, so when I came to Canada [from Russia] and saw him, I thought “I have to change my style”. That’s when I switched to digital, with high resolution and detail style, high contrast.
M: I started traditional, with oils and acrylics. Switch to digital was easier to expand, don’t have to worry about how expensive that stuff is, when you need to preserve the oils you have. I now find traditional very lacklustre, more flat versus what I can express digitally. Which is more robust, can make mistakes and experiment more.
AG: Good having the Ctrl-Zee.
AO: Ctrl-Zed.
AG: Ctrl-Zed, and I’m Canadian too, oh dear. It’s amazing. It can be a crutch. Doing traditional made me more sure about the lines and flow, I got more confident with drawing by the end of it. So when I did have the transform tool and poly lassos, those are simply extra tools to push my drawing - I already had the confidence. That’s my disconnect.

Q5: Do you tend to build stories around art, or art around stories?
VA: For me, the art first. Take a bunch of pictures, an abandoned building with my friends, then I look at them, and paint, and the story comes out.
AG: Most of my stuff is one shot humour comic. I write ahead of time, then do the art to supplement the joke. But when I start drawing the comic, I put the word bubbles in first, so that I don’t cover up the art. I have a friend who does all the art first then thinks, I’ll put in a joke, which for me is totally backwards, but he makes it work. Helps avoid talking heads.
AO: Story first, a feeling, then try to create it. I can’t even think of how to do it the other way around. Make a story given the character? No, she’s just there looking cool.

Q6: Any advice for getting better at composition?
AG: Draw. No, that IS the biggest general thing. I like drawing people in cafes, but not just people, a doorframe around them, or the table. Things that emphasize the main subject matter, which is the person. I find just drawing everything helps.
T: Another thing that really helps - book about Cinematic Storytelling. More for animation, but it teaches you about certain principles that help. Like compositional rules, there were three key ones.
VA: I have a warehouse studio with a green screen. So I pose actual models in the scene.
M: I’m really bad at this because my art’s on steroids the last few months. Expand the canvas, I’m going to freeform! (No, you have to plan this!)
AO: There’s the rule of thirds, and I like having three things. Like a girl, whose two hands and face make a triangle. But yeah.
AG: Composition has been studied for hundreds and hundreds of years. Find great books, study old paintings. Golden Ratio, and you don’t always want something in the centre screen, shifting it off gives space. It’s all guidelines anyway, if you can break a rule and make it good.
T: You can also break it down into shapes. Make a small drawing, somewhat light, the darkest being in front. Basic shapes of whatever you want as a precursor to the illustration.

Q7: For creating characters, choosing the palate, what colours?
Polynomials are blonde females
AG: Usually depends on the character. Angry character, maybe more hot, unless it’s an angry ice person.
T: I’ll pick up a palate from a picture - is it a rainy kind of day? I typically stay with warmer colours. Complimentary colours will always look good together, use the colour on the opposite end of the colour wheel for shadow.
VA: For me, each character has a colour attached. Like the captain is purple, royalty. Orange person is always scared of stuff. Michelangelo would paint things out in black and white first, I do the same. But in layers. I’ll add a different layer on top of B&W to see what looks better, green or a blue one.
AO: Can sometimes use template colour palates.

Q8: On individual creativity versus outside trends. A dichotomy, jump into the pool with everyone first?
AG: I think that’s a personal thing. Style and the like? It evolves over time. So if you like drawing a certain way, and if others like drawing in that similar way - how you treat lines and paint will be uniquely yours even if you’re influenced. Style always evolves.
VA: When you start out, experiment in all possible mediums. Whichever one you like the most, stick with that.
AG: But challenge yourself too. Break out of your comfort zone every once in a while so you can progress and get better.
AO: For a while, I tried to do things that were really popular. Like posters in the dealers room with shinies, but I realized I really sucked at it. I thought, I like cute things, I’m just going to do this.

Q9: Are there things you really want to be able to draw, but haven’t been satisfied with?
AG: Yeah, that definitely, yeah, you’re going to have those days where you don’t seem to draw anything well. Just keep drawing. To draw a motorcycle, I’ll draw 60 of them until I can do it without a reference. “Horses on spiral staircases in a crowd are the hardest things.” Keep drawing them. You’ll pick out cheats, shapes you need to describe it. Draw the thing you don’t know how to draw, over and over, until you know.
VA: Yeah, pretty much just practice.
M: No matter how long you’ve been practicing, with me hands is my vice. It violently enrages me that I cannot draw a stupid hand. Pages and pages, and I still don’t get it right. I pout and cry in the corner for a bit, then sketch again next week. You go back and forth, there’s those days.
VA: Maybe find an instructor in your town, who you can hire to help you draw that specific thing. Every day in Russia for 4 hours, I had to paint really specific stuff. Now I can do that no problem.

Q10: What do you find tricky?
AG: There’s lots of complex stuff in animals. (“Horses on staircases”)
T: I don’t draw men very well.
VA: Animals, but anything I don’t have a practice in. If a client thinks of something absurd.
AO: Old people? And animals.

Q11: More on composition, I’m not good at setting up a shot, getting characters where they need to be. I looked at Columbus movies, freeze framing that, it’s supposed to be good for cinematography. In your opinion, do you think that helps art?
VA: Definitely copy the masters. In Russia we’d go to art galleries, copy this painting, figure out how it works.
AG: I would put on Pixar films and recreate “The Incredibles” in a sketchbook to see how they approached composition and editing. As long as you’re not turning THAT into a piece, and are using it to learn, copying is fine.
T: In classes we’d freeze frame movies, you’d have five minutes to draw something. With the time limit you can’t do detail, just get shapes and the idea.
M: What I started doing was, rather than starting from an art perspective (which didn’t occur), I tried to apply principles of photography. There’s so many more resources in a concrete, direct way. Tried taking that more familiar knowledge, applying it to what I do now.
AO: I didn’t go to art school. Props to you, I feel like I was lazy and should really do that.
T: Art school isn’t super necessary. All the resources are available to you.
VA: The internet now!
AO: It’s the discipline I would like to have.
M: You are surrounded by people and support there.
AG: Art school is great for networking, I got most of my jobs from animation. But it’s not necessary because of the internet and social media.
M: When it comes to practice, while we do have resources online, art in an art school? That time is dedicated to practicing, and you have a mentor pushing you. Even if people don’t feel it’s useful [at the time], you’ll know practice is work, and it’s hard. You have to keep pushing your brain, and art students can maybe take that for granted. Get support from people who know better and can point you in the right directions, who have more mental bandwidth.

Q12: Opinions on the ‘Starving Artists’ idea?
AG: You shouldn’t be one, if you have talent and money you don’t need to be broke and living in squalor. I think it’s a negative thing that a lot of people take advantage of, like companies who throw an art contest for logos designs. I get upset by that, hard working people who get taken advantage of, it’s something art people will have to group together and deal with.
AV: For my commissions, I looked at this website, recently closed. Projects there, is a rate for professional artists. I go by that. I’ll try to find the link again, see my deviantart.
M: Bit of a rant coming, so sorry. Companies take advantage of musicians, composers, the whole guilting “If you love what you do, you’ll do it for free”. Don’t be afraid to give them the finger. Remember the “Oregon Trail” game, where you can die of exposure. Also, know you are on an economic scale affecting the people around you, and setting the precedents. There’s this race to the bottom mentality, with certain vendors who will take official art through a photoshop filter and sell it for $5, and people don’t realize what the guy’s done. Have a realistic outlook, but if the average market rate is $500, don’t charge $50 because you’re desperate, it’s your new bottom standard. Becomes harder to climb there. If it’s a charity and you’re all in the same ship, okay, but if other people are getting paid, be careful.
T: Be careful of “free internships” too. Places hire you for free labour and disguise it as school credit or exposure. They want to take advantage of you and use your work and not credit you. At least get minimum wage.
Audience Member: Look at yourself as a tradesman and a professional.
M: Turn things back at an interviewer. Would you do this for 40 hours for free? There’s no “so much experience” gig that has ever led anywhere. Behind your back they’ll say “this guy does it for free”.
Audience Member: Idea of “why pay $500 for something you did in an hour”? Because I could do it in an hour, not several days!
AG: Time is worth money.

Q13: What’s average time worked on a piece, and the longest time?
VA: 60 hours is average for painting. Longest was 11 months. A city painting.
AG: I can draw a comic in half an hour; it’s not good.
T: Sometimes, really fast. In animation, you have to draw fast and efficiently. A sketch in maybe 15 minutes. I’m not great at rendering, so maybe a day, two days sometimes.
AG: One time I was doing 75 seconds a week, 2 minutes a week, pumping it out, I had to get good fast. Hand drawn? I like to keep it to 25 seconds per week. You have to break a character down into parts, practicing, to make it good.
AO: I’m not sure. Ever since I got my sitique(??) companion, I work in the passenger seat of a car, so I’ll do 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. So maybe 6 hours? 12 hours?

Q14: What do you think is the best method to get faster?
AG: Study animation. Seriously, you have to be fast in animation, there’s so much drawing. And it goes back to practice, you get faster the more you do it.
T: Don’t fuss over small details, they won’t be that noticeable in the end. With an illustration, maybe, but overall they’re not going to be staring at someone’s hands. Think about the overall. Don’t think of a person as a neck with a head and body, think of the whole thing at once.
VA: Find someone who can draw fast in animation, and throw money at them.
AG: Start general, then go specific, you’ll get faster that way. There are times when I’m thinking I have to get this eye right, and then I haven’t even put detail on the body. And in the end it looks terrible, but this one eye, man!
M: If it’s quick, I’ll be saying I hate it, I hate my life, throw it out or the digital equivalent. It’s practice, like language or reading.

Q15: Drafting makes flat, non-detailed images. How to add depth to an image?
VA: Textures, lots and lots of textures. Go with a camera, and take pictures of rocks. Then apply it in Photoshop.
AG: Things in the back will be lighter than in the foreground, and foreground colours. You want thicker lines closer up, then as you get further back, treat your lines and subject matters lighter.
T: For drafting, I’m assuming CAD, I’d suggest more 3D oriented. Look at perspective to add the depth, that’s going to make the most impact. A benefit of colouring or editing features.

That was it - locations were given for where to find people, if you wanted to come by their tables. “We have cards too, I can give you an email addresses, you can stalk us, you want my chequing account?” As I noted at the top, some of these were the same artists as had been in the “Webcomics Q&A”, which is below.


“Webcomics Q&A” was at 10:30pm on Friday. My note taking was more haphazard, I often didn’t note who was answering, and have pieced together the panelist names after the fact. Panelists and their comics were: Chris Grady (CG) “LunarBaboon” ; Andrew Gregoire (AG) “ARG!” ; Don (D) who used to do comics, if you recognize a full name tell me ; Vitaly Alexius (VA) “Romantically Apocalyptic” ; Meeshka (M) married to VA and helps with art.

Photo Order: M, VA, D, AG, CG

Why did they start?
CG: started for therapy, going through tough times.
D: was reading Channel8 and Cyanide/Happiness, looked kind of fun. Also therapeutic based on a stress at the time.
VA: noted that in Soviet Union (where he was born) the only thing not banned was Robocop, a US dystopia. So his writing was dystopian, dark humour, finding light in dismal situations.
AG: started as a journal, therapeutic, then some people found it funny, so he continued.

CG said he stopped watching TV [to find the time]. Kids in bed before 10pm, a matter of what can be made in the shortest amount of time, with less detail, that will still resonate with people. “I have to go really simple.” He changed his style, in some way that’s helped. His day job of teaching he likes to keep as a day job.

D was asked why he doesn’t make comics any more? At some point, the ideas became too big to fit on a few panels, “so I thought I’d try animation”. It became a medium he had more fun working with.

The hardest part? 
AG?: The writing. So tired and having to think of ideas.
Someone said as long as you’re not offensive or making fun of a group, it’s fine. If you don’t like dick and fart jokes, you’re lying! (Personal Aside: I don’t. Seriously, no, strive for better.)

Ever wanted to change something, but thought it would upset fans?
D: Nope. I take the audience’s opinions into account, but it’s good to explore different things and not be limited. One time I tried colour and people went nuts.
CG: My father started as a parent father, but I didn’t want to write about that all the time. Sometimes it will be dark or sad, but in the end, you have to think about why you’re making this comic. Is it just for those people? Most of us make comics to bring out what’s inside of us.
Related: Sometimes you have to make yourself happy. It’s always the most negative comments that pop out, but that’s not the majority of your following. Many are silent. Also, if you think it’s just okay, people love it. If you think it’s great, they won’t like it. [Go figure.]

When you get into a rut?
AG/D?: I just write, everything, as if I’m a college professor who’s an expert on something that I know nothing about. That gets me out of it.
CG: If you’re so down, how do you make anything? Hard if you make a humour comic. But if I have trouble getting out of bed - write about that. Want something people can relate to. Sometimes it’s really hard, but you have to turn it into something.

M?: As a creative person going through treatment for bipolar, I was stuck in the same thing. Music lyrics was dark and morbid, then had a manic phase of putting out poem after poem, then a block and a rut. And I would go hysterical and 5 months would go by and I’d only write the dumbest thing. What helped was getting into the mindset. Picture how your life will be. See yourself in a happier scenario, pull yourself into a better life. Write a lousy self insert that you never publish?
VA?: If inspired by reading Russian Harry Potter fanfiction? Sort based on that, as voted by readers. If I want motivation for humour, say. Which helps me find things in my own universe. 

The balancing act. Anything you do to get into the mindset?
AG/D?: That exercise, pretending I’m a professor lecturing.
CG: If I don’t have the idea already by the time I sit down, it’s not going to happen. I can draw and ink, but that’s it, so I’ll have some [plan] from the subway home. Or if you don’t have it in you, that’s fine, don’t put out something you’re not proud of.

Anything made it hard when you first started? Blockage, but you did it anyway?
?: Tons of passion at the start. Some who put Google analytics on the site, then if the numbers don’t come in, they get obsessed. Don’t, concentrate on doing something good. “At some point, I just stopped caring about it.” I enjoyed making this.
?: Surround yourself with people that are going to support you.
M: When I was 17, I was convinced I’d do art full time. Had trouble breaking in, my ex said, “you know, art isn’t really a real job”. I should have kicked him in the ass; I stopped art. I’m back, with this guy.
?: Any time there’s a person telling you “be realistic” don’t listen to that.

Assuming traditional art start? More digital art?
?: I had to get a tablet where I could see my pen line. I know some don’t need it.
CG: It’s easier on the screen and kind of fun, but I still prefer it by hand.
VA: I switched after about 3 weeks of doing it with the tablet, now I can’t stop.
For software, all mention Photoshop. MangaStudio (usually on Boxing Day they go 90% off, $50). Sketchbook pro. Flash.

Any issues with originality, people saying you stole stuff?
?: One did a comic that was similar to mine, the execution was different. It’s going to happen all the time. I DO usually google my punch lines - was this funny before? If I see it, I don’t do it.
?: It’s easy to create a humour meme comic now, everyone can do it, so it’s about delivery and execution, putting your name on it. As long as you’re sincere and not trying to copy. (Referenced April Fools joke 2016, many comics did the same pail-of-water gag simultaneously claiming someone else copied them.) “It was great to see in the span of 16 hours, a meme come to life, get overused, die, get resurrected, and then die again.”
?: If you’re doing a slice of life comic, my life IS like a million other peoples’. But the unoriginality can make it popular. Relatable. Every Pixar movie is about Love.
?: Disney took stories out there [public domain], created character designs, then trademarked.
?: There’s more of the laziness happening, but we have more access to things now. We didn’t have the luxury of the internet 1000 years ago, we’d probably have seen [similar things] 1000 years ago because people like sharing.

Anyone putting stuff out there will be influential. Do you ever feel responsibility for the message being put out there? Social conscience, racism?
?: Yeah, it definitely comes up. I wrote a joke that was probably insulting to the trans community about four years ago. I’ve changed, I look back on this comic and think it’s bad, I took it down. I may make fun of sexist and racist people.
CG: I think about it all the time, there’s volumes of books that my kids are reading. I try to put in messages I think are important, but also be as honest as possible. You definitely think about it. What you say is important.
VA: There are hidden messages in my comic. [in-universe] against people who cannot connect to the internet with their mind, so they’re separated. Tools in fantasy can be used for giving us a message.
M?: I’m half native, I grew up with pressures, I struggle with self-deprecating humour. Some people outside the community who see a joke may not understand, while people within understand it the most. Trouble is, if they see my joke as the stamp of approval, where they can also say that, and no. It’s context.
?: People who share comics with your username and sitelink cut out, loses context. Maybe they’ll look for the source before jumping into “I’m offended by this”? If you understand your audience and yourself, you shouldn’t have to censor yourself, but I don’t want to perpetuate something that has stereotypes outside the community.

The usual proverbs “Art imitates life.” ... “If you don’t know what to write, you write what you know.” ... “Comedy is Tragedy plus time”. Anything in life hit too close to home? Too personal? Did you keep going?
?: Yes. Keep going.
VA: “My work revolves around that.”
CG: If it hits too close, like one comic inspired by something my wife said (“getting on a train”) I switched it so it’s me instead of her, and brought the joke full circle so it didn’t feel as honest. Basically “I remixed it”. Can change who said what [and how].
VA: [speaking of inspiration] Warning label in a purse “this may cause cancer in the state of California”.

The biggest influences to your art, got you to your style?
Responses: Anime. Animation (Disney, Batman Animated Series). Poetry. Calvin & Hobbes - sweet but also dark and real and intelligent.

Much based on Patreon now - issues with getting money from audience, feeling obligated?
?: I guilt them every chance.
CG: I make some money. “The more ways you try to make money with your comic, the less time you have to make the comic.” I don’t feel like I make my comics for the patreon people. I hope the support is because a dollar to them is nothing.
?: Definitely a business side to it, and you need to be somewhat savvy.
D?: YouTube partnership, took years to grow my brand, that was my risk. At first no money.
VA: I did 20 ComicCons a year, but with always flying (or taking train) from one place to another, no time to create.
?: Invest in yourself too. Advertising through Project Wonderful. Once I started making some money there, I could put what I WAS making back into the creation. Need some good content to start.

What pushes you to continue creating?
D?: I’m a storyteller. Revolves around the feedback of other people. If I enjoy it myself or have a video idea, I’ll talk to myself or use a mirror. I’m the most important audience, so as long as I enjoy it I can continue.
AG?: I pitch to a small group of people. If one or two of them go “Hah” I’m good. I get burnout pretty easy. So this, and conventions, or reading comics at the booth is great. Genuine laughter, tells me I am funny.
CG: After 4 years of this I feel way better the mornings when I’ve made a comic than the ones when I don’t. Someone saying “this comic has changed my life”, or even just making someone’s day. I find that I do need the audience. Or it just becomes a diary.
VA?: By reading my comic people can realize they’re in a terrible relationship, and they can get out of it.

Draw inspiration from?
Kids. Relationship with wife. To make fun of myself.

That’s how it concluded - please let me know if you spot a massive misattribution, or can attribute something I questioned. Thanks for reading through, more recap posts to come, follow this blog or the Main ConBravo post for when the links go up.

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