Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Operation Desert Storm, Part 2

Often, when I do color work, I don't spend much time doing any real greyscale work but for this poster I decided it seemed appropriate. It's a good practice and usually pays off in the final color piece; it allows you to very accurately nail down your tonal work. I was taught in school that your illustrations (or photos for that matter) should always have 'black' blacks and 'white' whites, meaning that your piece should cover the complete tonal gamut. A common mistake by artists who go straight to color is to end up with a piece that's all middle tones. The results often look muddy. All this technical stuff aside, I just thought it would look good for the subject matter at hand.

I originally thought I would do most of the greyscale art with paper and pencil but convinced myself to try working digitally to see if I could replicate the look and feel of a traditional pencil drawing successfully in Photoshop.

I started with the camels because it seemed like the easiest element to experiment with. When I moved on to the burning oil wells I quickly became convinced that 'digital' was the way to go. My goal, from the day I started working digitally (ten years or more ago), was to create work that didn't look or feel like what people normally expected with digital art. I've spent a lot of time finding or creating brushes in Photoshop that don't look digital (at least to me). Hopefully I'm not the only one who thinks this.  :-)

Happy with the results I moved on to the tech, starting with the Abrams A1 tank, then on to the AH-64 Apache helicopter, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the USS Arleigh Burke-Class Guided Missile Destroyer.

I tried to save jpegs at different points of my progress, not always when I finished an element, that way some of my nitty gritty process can be revealed.

You'll notice on that last image that there's suddenly some background there. Once the main tech stuff was finished I moved on to the American flag, the map, and the basic background texture that I wanted. I forgot to get some close ups of the destroyer; I'll get some added later.

The poster, when printed, will be 18x24 inches; not huge but a good size. My photoshop file is 18x24 inches at 450dpi. It's pretty big. This poster is the first time I've ever had a file get so large that I couldn't save it as a normal photoshop file. I had to use the large format file that photoshop has - a psb. Fun.

Next up: People.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Operation Desert Storm, Part 1

I have recently been commissioned to produce a poster commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. That might sound odd to a lot of people, especially those who have not served or don't come from a family history of military service. I can understand that. Let me say right off the bat that I do not condone war. It is a horrible thing any way you look at it. This blog is not for debating the pluses and minuses of warfare and it's attachment to human nature however. It is a blog for art and the silly things I notice about life.

The poster is to be aimed at vets of the operation and of the first Gulf War in general. So why would someone want to celebrate such a thing? Let me explain briefly:

I am a veteran. I served with the 101st ABN DIV for four years as an infantryman. I was lucky enough to have my service years squeeze between the first Gulf War and September 11th, 2001. I did not see combat. I can, however, understand what such a thing might do to a person. It's the kind of thing we trained for constantly and if my country had called on me to go into combat I would have done so without a second thought. It was my job.

For those who did serve during Operation Desert Storm, it was surely a life-defining time for them. When someone is told that they are about to be sent overseas into a hostile environment where people you don't know will be trying to kill you, I can only assume it to be a harrowing piece of news. You fear you might never return to your family and loved ones. All the things you thought you might go on to do in your life are potentially out the window. That's a lot to deal with mentally. For those men and women to make it home alive must be an amazing thing. To say that they value their lives more than most of us can ever imaging might be an understatement. These are the types of experiences that stay with a person, burned deeply into their memories. It is something they carry around with them every single day for the rest of their lives and this is why a veteran of the experience might want something to help them honor that part of their lives. I respect that deeply; they are, all of them, brothers-in-arms.

Now, on to the ARTWORK itself. Most people, when they think of an artist sitting at home and working on art, picture something like this:

This has largely been the case historically. A nice, large drawing surface, paper, pens, pencils, inks and other supplies all around you. One light, two, three, a window to keep you from staring at a blank wall whenever you look up from the task at hand. I spend many hours at my drawing table. In todays increasingly digital world, however, this is becoming more and more of a common image:

This is my computer set-up. The monitor on the right is a Wacom Cintiq and it allows me to draw directly on it (with a stylus) as I would on a piece of paper (with a pencil). I spend more time now at this desk than I do the other one. I actually look forward to getting over to that good old fashioned drawing desk when I can. It's nice to rest my eyes from the computer screens from time to time. Yes, that's Jane Krakowski on the other screen. I was watching episodes of 30 Rock while I was working this day. And yes, those are M&Ms on the desk and yes, they are bad for you and I shouldn't eat them. They probably have something to do with me weighing more than I'd like to. I'm eating bananas now instead of M&Ms thank you. And the brownies my wife made last night.

So the first thing that happens when you get an illustration job is to get as much information as possible from the client. From there you start gathering reference and thinking about layout possibilities. It usually takes a little while for the nebulous mass that is my brain to start forming ideas. Sometimes I have to sit down and start scribbling to see if that helps. Eventually those ideas will start coming to me (most commonly when I'm on the toilet or taking a shower - two places where I don't usually have paper and pencil, or my computer for that matter) so I rush to the computer first chance I get and start laying those ideas down. You end up putting together different possibilities, passing them on to the client, and making adjustments based on their feedback. Like these:

For this poster the client wanted to loosely portray the emotional story of the soldiers that served during this time period, from the pain and fear of leaving loved ones and venturing into the unknown, through the difficulties of combat to the undeniable joy of returning home. Mixed with that are elements of technology that help represent all the branches of service involved.

An extra element for this poster is the option of a vet having their portrait inserted into the poster. It's a cool idea to allow the poster to be individualized like this but at the same time it's a huge challenge. The poster has to have room designed into it for this possible portrait and yet still feel like a balanced composition if the portrait is not added. Will my poster accomplish this? Time will tell.

So after going back and forth a little this is what we ended up with:

I'm very happy with what we've come up with and look forward to seeing how it develops. Next entry: Getting Underway.