Category: Digital Art


Well, wouldn’t you know it… I forgot about this place in the woods! Anyway, if you haven’t picked up your Blackwings, head on over to and get yourself some! They are totally worth the hype. Well, at least I think so. I have some Tombow’s which are nice, but these Blackwings are just sooo smooth. Yum.

Some links you may like to visit:

Rad how to – lots of good tutorials on drawing
The Art Center – more good drawing tutorials
Bird Flight Observations – how to animate a bird in flight


I have recently been doing a lot of reading about composition; how to set up a drawing, illustration or painting so that it captures the eye and keeps it moving within the picture.

I saw this image the other day and I think it is a great composition. The image is by Sergio Martinez. What I would like to do is analyze why this picture literally captivates me. Before we go on, make sure you visit his blog and click the image to view it at a higher resolution.

Focal Point

It seems like a truism, but an image ought to have one main focal point. If there are competing focal points the image seems to lose something. If there is one main focal point, the image feels stronger and more complete. I think we can have more than one point of interest, but the trick is to make sure that there is one point that is the ‘focal point’. It should be a hierarchy, where we have one dominant area where we want the viewer’s eye to go. All other areas of interest should be used to move the eye to the focus. More on that in a moment.

You will hopefully agree that the main focal point is the area where the little figure is playing the violin next to the lantern. The next point of interest would be the toy at the base of the wagon, and then the toys above and to the left of the bench on the wagon. There are other points of interest, but these are the main ones that are highest in the hierarchy.

Notice as well how Sergio has placed the violin figure very close to one of the points of intersection of the ‘rules of thirds‘. That is one of the more dynamic positions in an image. It is not a static point directly in the middle of the image, and neither is it too far off the bottom or right of the image. It feels right, right where it is. Moreover it also gives Sergio room on the left and top of the image to move your eye around the image.


The next thing we notice is that Sergio has used contrast to effectively direct our eye to the point of interest. There are a few places in the image with sharp contrast, but the highest contrast appears to be exactly where the little figure is silhouetted by the lantern. The whole area that is lit by the lantern is a higher contrast than the surrounding image. Our eyes are naturally drawn to areas of higher contrast.

Notice, for example, how the buildings on the right side of the image fade in contrast into an amorphous gray into the distance. The reason we can say ‘distance’ when we are actually looking at a 2d plane is because the artist is using atmospheric perspective to add depth to his image. When we look towards the horizon one of the things that happens, due to atmospheric perspective, is that the colors get desaturated – they lose their vibrancy and strength. Hence the colors in the image become grayer as we get ‘deeper’ into the image. Another thing that occurs is that contrast is reduced. Note on a particularly hazy day how the contrast decreases as you look further and further away towards the horizon. Sergio is doing the same thing with the steeple and building that fades off into the distance on the right.

So we have the dark shadows of the wagon contrasted against the bright light of the lantern. The toys behind and to the left of the bench on the wagon are lit by the lantern and are contrasted against the shadows that they cast on the side of the wagon.

Those areas of contrast grab our eye, or at least draw our eye towards them. If our entire image consisted of high contrast areas (or entirely low contrast areas) then the eye would have a harder time getting to the focal point. In fact that would create multiple focal points (or no focal points) and reduce the strength and composition of the image.


In relation to contrast, just a note about the color. More specifically, the saturation (the richness) of the colors. Notice how the main focal point has the most variety and saturation of colors. It is this area that has most of the reds and bright yellows. The other elements, though they do have color, are much more subdued (desaturated – pushed toward the gray) and less varied.

Eye Path

Lastly, let us see if we can follow our eye around the image. A good composition will lead the eye into the picture and then move it around and into the main focal point. It doesn’t ‘capture’ it and force it to stay in one place, but neither does it let it meander around aimlessly.

I do not know about you, but the following is how I feel led into and around the picture:

1. My eye seems initially to be drawn into the picture along the cobblestone road. From the bottom of the picture it curves around where the highlight hits the edge of the road on the right, and then swoops into where the focal point is (the violinist and lantern).

2. The next thing it tends to do is skip over to the Pinocchio-like toy at the base of the wagon.

3. Then it seems to be naturally drawn up the curves behind the Pinocchio-like toy and up to the other toys. The detail in the faces and clothes captures my eye for a moment.

4. Then my eye moves to the left along the wagon. The dark line above the window in the wagon and the pencil/brush strokes all draw me toward the fountain.

5. The dark shape of the vertical fountain stops my eye from going off the left end of the page. The contrast in that area and some of the details of the buildings behind keep my eyes there for a moment.

6. That vertical fountain then draws me upward like an arrow pointing up. The texture of the trees then catch my eye and draw me over to the crescent moon. That arc of the moon then launches my eye along the top of the wagon until it hits the steeple.

7. The whole dark mass of buildings on the right keeps my eye from running off to the right and all the lines and shapes point me back toward the violinist and light. Notice how the staircase, with the little roof, zig-zags your eye down and to the left.

Overall this image has a nice path – allowing your eyes to look at all sorts of little details and ’sub focal points’, but ultimately all of the ‘roads’ lead back to the main focal point. If your composition is solid, as in this picture, then you are well on your way to a successful image/painting.


I’m trying to get back into the habit of drawing something new everyday. Sometimes I only spend a few minutes (like with this fellow here), other times I will be able to spend a bit more time on them. I’m trying to figure out the best digital workflow for drawing, inking and/or painting. I have Photoshop, Painter X and SketchBook Pro and each have their strengths and weaknesses. I also have a regular Wacom tablet, plus I have a tablet PC. The problem with the tablet PC is that it has limited pressure sensitivity – the nice thing is that you draw (more or less) like you draw on paper. The problem with the regular Wacom is the disjunction between what you draw and what you see. You look in one place and draw in another. The positive is that it has more sensitivity. So I’m just going to play around with all the combinations and permutations and see which one feels the most comfortable.

Justo Gallego Martínez

This is a painting I did today of a man who is a fine example of what it means to go after a dream. Wow. Talk about perseverance. You can click on the image to go to a story about what this man is up to.

Dominance War Mini Challenge 3d

This is my 3d entry for the Dominance War Mini Challenge.

This was a lot trickier than the 2d challenge. For starters you were limited to one of three polygon meshes (I picked the middle one, in case you didn’t guess right :o ). You can’t alter the mesh to change it’s profile or vertex count. Also, all the detail has to end up in textures. That means you can’t change the polygon count (which is fairly low to being with – around 400 polygons). To create the detail you have to create a high polygon version (see mine here – it’s just under 7 million polygons in Zbrush), then you have to transfer those details to what is called a normal map. Then you apply that normal map to your low polygon object. This is fairly common in game engines. That way you get the low polygon overhead with the higher details.

The only real problem with normal maps is that if you see the object in profile, you don’t see all the bumps and indentations – that’s because it’s a lighting trick on the surface of the object. Working through the process is a definite learning experience and it can be frustrating to see some of the loss of quality as you move from your detailed high polygon object to your low polygon normal mapped one.

Dominance War Mini Challenge 2D

CGSociety (and other digital art forums) has an annual challenge that, guess what, helps to challenge you! It also had an added benefit of creating elements for your portfolio (since a lot of them can be under NDA). This is my entry for the Dominance War 2d Mini Challenge. Again, I don’t expect to win, there are a lot of talented artists out there, plus I think this one is just amazing. I wanna grow up to be just like him (well, at least in the 2d technical end of things!).

You can check out all the 2d entries and the 3d entries. Note: on the banner there are a number of forums represented, you can click on each of the forum names to get a list of all the entries by individuals of each of those forums. Note2: See if you can spot my 3d entry. I’ll post an image here later… that is if I remember.


Well, if the first month and a half of this year is any indication… it’s going to be a wild ride! Lots of work and lots of plans for personal projects. In that regard I finally finished my Steampunk challenge entry for CGSociety. You can check out the link to see the final video. There are sooo many things I would change/fix/add… I really pushed myself in the last month and I wish I had put that kind of energy into it the entire time, but alas live and learn. I don’t know how well I did in the contest, but it was a great learning experience.

EDIT: I didn’t win anything, but I had a great time creating it and pushing myself! I’ll post some details of the trailer as time goes on… assuming of course, you guessed it, that I don’t forget!


Have you ever worked on a painting, 3d render or shot a photograph and it turned out looking like the subject was a toy instead of something bigger than life? I’ve seen some images made by people where you say, hmm… sure looks like a toy to me – and it wasn’t intended to look like a toy. I had a render of my Mclaren automobile that looked like it belonged in a toy box. What went wrong. Well maybe this will help a bit. It turns out that you can make reality look like a miniature set or a bunch of toys! The trick is to add a lot of depth of field effect (blurring the background and foreground). Add a high angle and voila… miniatures! These people do it on purpose, now I know what I can do to avoid it.


Here is an example of one of the exercises in Bobby Chiu’s Digitial Painting class. The first image is the sketch that Bobby provides. Then you watch the lessons and paint over the sketch (mine resulted in the second sketch). This particular exercise uses a technique that makes the painting look like cross hatching. Very cool. Anyway, you can click on the second image to see a larger version of the painting.

Update 2008

That sort of rhymes, doesn’t it (update and 2008)? I have trouble with rhyming… I think that words rhyme and my wife and kids laugh at me. You would think by now I would have a complex.

Anyway, I hope you had a great Christmas holiday and are enjoying a happy new year! The tail end of 2007 was really busy – as you can see I didn’t post much between September and December. I worked on a number of things, one of which was a project which involved a bunch of animations for TV commercials. That kept me on my toes. So many animations in so little time – extreme animating. It should become a sport or something.

In my spare time I’ve been programming again. I had forgotten how much I really enjoyed it. My university degree is in Computer Science and for my first 20 years in the work force I was a systems analyst and software developer. I had also forgotten how much programming is actually an art form. Maybe I’ll delve into that more in another post.

So what have I been coding? I’ve been playing around with XNA Game Studio – Microsoft’s framework for creating games on Windows and the XBOX 360. It’s kind of neat seeing your project on a console! I’m currently writing a small game I should be able to release in a couple of months. So in the process I’ve had to learn a new programming language (C#), re-learn object oriented programming, learn XNA, and learn all about Game Artificial Intelligence – what a blast!

At the tail end of last year I also completed Bobby Chiu’s Digital Painting course over at It is a 9 week course and covers a lot of material. I totally recommend this class if you have the time and the funds and want to improve/learn digital painting.

Each week you get a video lesson and an assignment based on the lesson. Bobby gives you a drawing and you have to paint over it based on the lesson. There was only one lesson I didn’t have time to complete, but man, that course was awesome. This year I’ll be taking Stephen Silver’s Character Design course… it starts in a few days – I hope I’m up for it!

For Christmas we bought a Wii (Of course we had to buy it during the summer when they were available!). Pretty cool console. So now I have five consoles and a couple of hand held gaming consoles:

  • PS3
  • XBox 360
  • PS2
  • Wii
  • Nintendo 64
  • PSP
  • Gameboy Advanced
  • Who could tell I’m into gaming? Which ones are my favorites? All of ‘em! It all depends on the game.

    So here are some comments concerning the ‘big’ three (PS3, XBox 360, and Wii). It’s interesting to see and use the user interface for each of these consoles. Using only one word, here is how I would classify each User Interface: PS3 – refined, 360 – industrial, and Wii – simple. Of the three I enjoy using the PS3’s interface the most. It satisfies the artsy side of me. Anyway, the UI isn’t what ‘defines’ the console. Of the three I’d say that the PS3 is the most ‘advanced’ as far as graphics quality and speed. The 360 would come second and the Wii third.

    But that’s the gotcha – that doesn’t really matter either! Well, it does if you are into the ‘coolness’ factor, but having played games on all three consoles over the holidays, I would say that the amount of enjoyment you get from playing a game doesn’t depend on the console, but rather on the game and how it plays. I know this sounds obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said! Of course if you have great game play and better graphics or controls, well then its a lot more fun!

    Take for example the Wii Sports games that came bundled with our Wii. It has a tennis game which has fairly low quality graphics and it contains character models that are basically spheres and cylinders with disembodied hands. They are cute (and customizable so they can sort of look like you). They certainly aren’t 8k poly models that have been massaged in Zbrush by a team of artists. But the game is a hoot!

    The Wii game controller really helps to make that game a lot of fun (just remember to have some room around you when you are swatting the virtual tennis ball in your living room). The neat thing is the game was designed so that your characters are moving themselves into the best position and so all you have to worry about is the timing of hitting the ball. If the ball is within a influence zone around your character and you swipe at it – it will, 80% of the time, hit the ball – if you are a little bit late it goes a little off course, if you are a lot late (or early) you miss. So you don’t have to even worry about accuracy. The simplicity of the game and the controller add up to an enjoyable game.

    On the other hand we played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3. I must say that I’m disappointed. We were expecting a lot more from ‘Naughty Dog’, the makers of one of our family’s favorite series of games (Jak and Daxter). It has the fancy models and elaborate sets that take advantage of the graphics and speed of the PS3. But the strength of the PS3 became a weakness in this game. The visuals are so detailed that there is so much noise that often it is difficult to see the important things in the game. The texturing – especially when things were supposed to be ‘wet’ was over done. The specular reflections on everything made the entire screen shimmer and hurt the eyes.

    On top of that, the camera control drove me crazy. They switched between a camera mode where it is following you (3rd person mode) to a camera used for shooting (almost a first person view). That switch was counter intuitive. They did a *much* better job of controlling the camera in Jak and Daxter – the camera worked with you (not against you) in that game. What happened? Yes, the direction of movement of the camera is customizable, but that didn’t help. The switch shouldn’t have happened.

    Moreover, there were times that you would be watching a cinematic and it would end with the camera pointing you in one direction and then the game play would start and the camera would flip so now you were looking in the totally opposite direction of the cinematic – disorienting you totally and pulling you out of the game.

    Speaking of cinematics, the amount of cinematics at the beginning of the game was ridiculous – if I want to watch a movie, I’ll buy a movie. It was more of an interactive story than a game. They could have given you the backstory through game play, but instead they threw in one cinematic after another. Also, there were times between cinematics that you controlled the character, but it didn’t involve any game play. Almost an entire sub level where you just opened doors to find a skeleton at the end. So here we have a game with all the graphics bells and wonderful frame rates, but the game wasn’t fun.

    That’s not to say that the PS3 doesn’t have any great titles. One example I would say is Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction. Great game, nice graphics – Insomniac does it again!