2-27-13 My Little Bettas

A party betta and a sporty betta, to go with yesterday’s rare betta!

~45 mins each, these are super fun to experiment in.  My favorite experiment right now: mixing in some weird unexpected color, such as the stripes of red and patches of blue in the otherwise pink fins.  It seems to dimension and a “shimmery” quality to things. BettaParty SportyBetta


Feb 26 sketches

When I came upstairs to paint, I wasn’t really in the mood for working on Astrid ’13 any more so I made several toss-away sketches until something stuck.

Finally, inspiration struck and I made a crazy rainbow betta with Lisa Frank-esque eyes.  Somewhere out there, a My Little Pony just got its wings. Betta4_flat

Then I was poking around my own artwork on DeviantArt looking for more inspiration when I came across this old one:


I remember really struggling with this one in 2007 when I spent 2 hours on it (deliberately – 2 hours was the limit).   Even then, I felt like it wasn’t up to my usual standards.

So tonight I re-attempted it:


Ahh, that went much better.  And in less than an hour, too.  I’m continually fascinated by my own learning and growth as an artist.  I dunno if I’ll come back to this one, and I didn’t take any WIPs along the way, so this is all I got for it. 🙂

Trenth 2013 ~ Complete


Another ~2 hours and it’s done, woot!

I was much better about grabbing wips regularly on this one.


(See the previous post to view larger versions)

I’m really happy with how this turned out, but in many ways this was one of the simplest paintings I’ve attempted in a long time.  It lacks a background, character interaction, and hell, her eyes aren’t even open. 😉 Not including things that usually challenge me made it easy to just mega focus on what IS there.   I have to wonder if I can only put so much focus and effort into a piece, and if bigger pieces just spread it too thinly.

Some key contributors to this painting’s success:

  • Limited and clearly defined color palette chosen early in the painting’s life
  • Using an existing character design (my own, prolly ~10 years old now) saved me a lot of the usual iteration on getting a brand new character to look good.  I didn’t spend much time on decisions relating to costuming, hairstyle, face, etc.
  • Simple facial expression
  • Stupid easy background lol
  • I got the pose right in the sketch.  A million times this – having to change the pose 50% or 75% (or worse, 95%) of the way into the painting is expensive in terms of both time and mental energy.

8 years ago I made this artwork (same character) for a class assignment.  I like to look at old work: it’s a great way to see how much I’ve grown as an artist.


7 years ago, shortly before I graduated from my art college, an instructor told me I was “pretty good already” and “could mostly look forward to getting faster”.  I knew that was bullshit when I heard it, and I’m going to keep learning and keep growing so that in 8 years I can look at this painting I’m posting today and think “Wow, I’ve learned so much since then!”

Tren before & after workday wips

35 minutes before I have to leave for work?!  Spend it drawing, of course!

Tren wip 01:


90 minutes before I have to go to bed?!  Spend it painting!

Tren wip 02:


Tren wip 03:


Tren wip 03:


Tren wip 04:


Tren wip 05:Trinth_2013_wip06

Tren wip 06: Trinth_2013_wip07

The color palette was inspired by this random bit of awesome Tigra artwork I encountered while doing some research for work (seriously, my day job is that cool): http://www.comicvine.com/the-initiative/65-42781/all-images/108-194896/siege_ends_the_avengers_fla/105-1094604/

There’s some things that bug me about it but for less than 3 hours spent on it so far, I can’t complain.  More to come this weekend…

Storm wip 04


I put in another ~60 mins tonight, mostly on her hair and overall color/brightness balance.  I think it’s getting close to done but some things about it still really bug me and I might re-work them next time I work on this.

I’m still using my new favorite brush settings:


This post has my earlier wips on this painting: http://majoh.com/blog/?p=326

Matter and shadow

He’s done!


This was a relatively easy painting.  Some things that helped:

  • Strong sketch up front, complete with colors
  • Reference photo off google image search to help with anatomy and pose
  • Extra patience with all the body texturing and fin lines

I wish I’d saved more steps in between the 2nd and the 3rd images.  All I did in between the two was refine, refine, refine: sharpening edges, airbrushing in lighter spots, building up detail.


Nearly all of this painting was done with just two brushes: the airbrush and this new custom brush I built out of default Photoshop brush settings.


It’s my usual “fade brush” (the bottom stroke thumbnail) plus a texture.  I set the brush to 70% opacity and  turn on “Tablet pressure controls opacity (overrides Brush panel settings)”.



These settings give it just a bit of roughness which I think looks much nicer than the plastic looking effect I get when I use the brush without this texture built in.

2-18-13 wips

I swear I’ll go back to Astrid ’13, but right now I’m having way too much fun with these quicker paintings. It’s like I burned off my crappiness trying to find my direction on Magik, but now I’m limbered up and ready to make some good ones.

This afternoon I put a couple more hours into Mr. Betta.  I think he’s got less than an hour to go, but the beach was calling so I went off walking instead of finishing him. He’ll wait.  🙂


(Scroll down to yesterday’s post to see where I left off on him.)

After dinner, I had about 90 minutes left before bedtime, so I decided to start something new just to mess around in.  I never know if these are gonna turn out to be worth posting, so I didn’t think to grab a screenshot any earlier than this, which is still pretty early (probably less than 10 minutes in).  I do tend to start very sloppy.

Storm is one of my favorite Marvel heroes and I’m sure she could always use more fanart. Storm_wip01

I got lost in it and forgot to take any wips until it got here (below), and I was like holy crap I should be saving wips, this one’s turning out good!


And here’s where I left off tonight: Storm_wip03

I’m fascinated by the approach of one of my favorite artists, Janaschi, and this particular steps series has been helpful in demonstrating how she builds up a painting from rough shapes:  http://janaschi.deviantart.com/art/743-steps-117910141

Anyway, the work week beckons so I’m off – hopefully there will be time tomorrow night to continue these!

2-17-13 Sketches

I love painting fish.  They’re super pretty and easy to paint.  Fish, especially bettas (my favorite fish) are therefore my go-to subject when I want to just mess around in Photoshop and try some new stuff. 🙂

Below are two paintings I made tonight to play with airbrush and texturing techniques.



Magik (complete)


She’s done!

I’m super happy with how it turned out, and I’m really glad I stuck with this piece for so long and rebooted it halfway.  Throwing out work isn’t easy, but it’s almost always worth it.  I started this back in November-ish and picked at it for a few months and rebooted it at least once.

Let’s go back in time to the earliest WIP I have for this piece:


I feel like I began with a pretty decent idea of what I wanted it to be, but I struggled to get her face right.  Left entirely to my own devices, I draw pretty cartoonish faces.  I’m trying to stop doing that so much.

Come to think of it, she looked like Barbie here – which wasn’t a terrible thing (Barbie was a beloved part of my childhood, after all 🙂  ) but it wasn’t the look I wanted for Magik.


Once I recognized I wasn’t happy with her face, I did a few <20 min sketches to explore alternatives.  This is a good exercise whenever I’m stuck on something or not liking what I’ve got.

I first duplicate the layer I’m working on, which saves the original and gives me a safe “sandbox” in which to experiment.  Here are some of the new heads I tried:



















The last one in this sequence felt right, so I went with it.

But something was still bugging me.  The arm-and-glowing-pentagram thing was something I sketched on a whim during the early stages of the painting but after looking at it for a few hours, I started to feel like it was “one thing too many” and I felt like it was distracting from her face.   So I took it out, and lowered her arm to sit under her sword blade.  All at once, her face seemed free and more like the focus of the top part of the painting, like I wanted.

Feeling a bit in need of inspiration, I searched deviantart and comicvine for fresh ideas. I found a few artworks featuring Magik with a blue sword and some cool armor variations.  This practice of seeking fresh reference halfway through a painting helps me consider things I hadn’t thought to try yet.  In this case: changing the sword to blue.

This WIP was taken shortly after I tried lowering her arm and changing the sword’s glow to blue.  I immediately felt like this was a much stronger direction for the painting: the color contrast was eye-catching against all the red.  The texture in the background added more interest without busying it up too much for my liking.


At this point, I felt like I knew where I wanted the composition and colors to go and all that was left was to finish the painting, a process which took another ~4 hours of detail work and refinement.

This painting was originally all on one layer, which I usually prefer but in this case it turned out to be an annoyance when I wanted to texture just the background and when I wanted to add the sword effects.  Using the magic wand tool I was able to quickly and roughly separate components onto their own layers, eventually ending up with this arrangement:








I did this separation early enough in the process to be working with rough art, not “final” art, so it didn’t matter that things came over with jagged edges and missing parts.  I just cleaned up the edges as a natural part of refining the overall painting.

As for brushes, I did everything with these two default Photoshop brushes. The top one is most like an airbrush and is good for getting smooth, delicate skin and soft shadows.  The bottom one is much more solid and responds to tablet pressure sensitivity by fading in/out as you vary pressure on the tablet pen. I wish I knew more about fancy Photoshop brush effects, but these two are pretty good at meeting my needs.


This painting was a lot of trial and error for me, but I think the effort was worth it.  I wanted to scrap it at numerous points, but instead, I experimented on it.

When you don’t really care about a half-finished painting anymore and want to scrap it, what’s there to lose by going in and messing around with it?  Kill some “sacred cows” – throw half of it out by cropping the canvas, or add a texture, or change the pose of some of the character’s limbs, or change the color palette, or try a different facial pose – it might just make it better.