Monday, December 28, 2020

IS ART WORTH IT?

Well, is it? I honestly don't know anymore. Don't get me wrong; personally speaking, this is the happiest and most comfortable I've ever been in my life; professionally, it has been more challenging that I anticipated. Yes, I have my preferences on regard of what I want to draw and/or paint, but it is still art nonetheless. Sometimes I have to make ends meet and work on something I'm not that enthused, but it beats working 9 to 6 in a cubicle, not that there's anything wrong with that.  I started this blog to showcase my work and also to tell you a tale of perseverance. Also, my goal was to log 10,000 hours in order to become a master in my craft. I have approximately 8863 hours, so I'd need to log 1337 hours more to officially end this self-appointed challenge. I've been away from writing these entries for two years now; needless to say I need to show you what I've been up to. In order to showcase my work I will divide each block on a type of activity. I've been focusing on comic illustrations, digital paintings, portraits, and caricatures. I've been also making some concept art, comics, and personal commissions that I won't be able to share here either because they are incomplete or I have, formally or informally, stated a non-disclosure agreement.  I hope after discussing what I've been doing I can honestly answer if this journey has been worth it so far.

Let's start with a project I made out of love. The Flash, famous speedster from the DC Universe and member of the Justice League, turned 80 years in 2019; so I decided to draw a cover illustration commemorating the character in his birthday. I also love running marathons so I took inspiration on these events for the theme by including 80 speedsters. It took careful planning to sort this list out and I couldn't have done it without the help of my writer and friend, Marcelo Cury. The cover was very well liked and shared on social media, especially for Wally West fans (third Flash to honor the legacy) since I deservingly put him in front of the pack as the fastest speedster of them all. My idea for this piece was to get the attention of some art editors or at least get my work out there for future followers and fans.

Flash # 1000 - 80th Anniversary Edition Cover

Another highlight of 2019 was from my "Icons" collection. I had a profound Joker phase. Since my Icons digital paintings tend to be more realistic in nature I couldn't help to include Mark Hamill as the Joker. For those who do not know, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) did the voice for the Joker in the Batman Animated Series and other animations as well. Some people, including myself, have claimed that he is the best Joker of all. I took as reference a younger Mark Hamill playing the Trickster on the Flash TV series but painted him with the features of the Joker animated version. The end result was better than I anticipated but the highlight of this story was when Mark Hamill himself actually praised my work and thanked me on Twitter. Whenever someone mentions what a great idea would've been for him to play the clown prince of crime, he immediately posts my painting. To say that was one of the happiest days in my professional life so far would be an understatement. I mean, how many times you have the chance to interact with Luke Skywalker and by doing so getting a, and I quote, "Fantastic work Jose, much appreciated." It made my day, hell, it made my year!

Mark Hamill as the Joker

Mark Hamill's Tweet Reply

Speaking of my "Icons" collection, I will show you my recent additions. 2020 was a slow year for these digital portrait paintings of pop icons but I managed to add a few I'm very proud of.



                            

If I've improved substantially in something is portrait painting. One thing of being an artist is that you never stop learning, but for that you need to study, either by taking a class or by meticulously examination of other artists' work. In my case, I'm always looking for portrait artists to get inspired and whenever I have the chance I take classes to improve my style or at least to take me out of my comfort zone. My digital portraits market is mainly in Ecuador, and although I have struggled in making my audience understand my artistic approach, my pieces have become more known to my potential customers. I've been taking some commissions during these two years and I will be showcasing my favorite ones.






Now, one thing I'm pleasantly surprised is how much I've improved in my caricatures. If I'm being honest, I have loved to draw caricatures since I was 8 years old. Somehow it comes fairly easy to me to exaggerate features and still maintain the essence, or the likeness, of that person. Looking back at my early caricatures I understand how crude they were, nevertheless, they always made someone laugh when the person in the drawing was recognized. I would love to do more of these commissions not only because I enjoy them but also because I want to further improve on this technique. One of my strongest suits now is that throughout the years I learned to paint realistic portraits, so when you paint a caricature this way it makes the final product seem much more professional. Here are my favorite caricatures in these couple of years.


I happened to assist to two conventions during this time, Florida Supercon in 2019 and C2E2 in Chicago in 2020, right before the pandemic started. I always have a good time in these cons, although I can fairly assess that the enthusiasm for these types of events have wound down. In any case, it is a great place to meet colleagues, fans, and heroes. C2E2 may be my third most favorite comic-con, but due to the increasing threat of the Covid-19 virus in late February, when it was held, attendance diminished substantially. It is hard to imagine these packed events happening anytime soon now.

Me at Florida Supercon 2019

My wife at C2E2 2020

One fun project I was commissioned to do was of a Felix the Cat pop art acrylic painting. I always like to challenge myself with new ideas and this one I really enjoyed. I though it would look cool to print vintage comic strips and covers of Felix The Cat on a canvas of 30 x 40". Take into consideration that I had to arrange all those in Photoshop to obtain the desired composition. After that, I painted a huge Felix the Cat in acrylics and it turned out very cool. Like I've said many times before, I'm not much into Pop Art. My main critique is that they tend up to be just decorative pieces without a strong message. Whatever Pop Art's message of mass consumption was, it was done more effectively in the fifties and sixties when it was more relevant. They look really cool though and I have to admit that I enjoyed making this and wouldn't mind making more if the opportunity presents itself.

Felix The Cat

One of the perks of this job is that during your breaks you can come up with work for YOURSELF.  In order to understand this one you have to be a Flash comics fan. You see, a life objective of mine is to be able to draw one published comic for the Flash, or at least a cover. During one issue there was a missed opportunity to include my favorite Flash, Wally West, possibly due to editorial meddling and conflicts. I decided to draw, ink, and color the character and paste it onto this published page of the Flash issue # 761. It was a fun drawing that let me vented all of my frustration of DC Comics choices regarding this character.

Flash # 761 - The Return of Wally West

Another cover I have to mention is a commission I got for a brave kid that is battling ATRT, which is a primary central nervous system tumor. Jonathan is constantly battling this disease and despite everything he has endured, he has such a great attitude towards this. He is a big fan of the Hulk, so his uncle asked me to include him right next to Hulk in a custom comic cover. Once I knew about this disease I immediately donated what I got for the commission to this noble cause. I realized that making him smile is compensation enough. I put my heart and soul into this piece and to my understanding he really liked it. If you want more information to help him, his Instagram account is @jonathansjourney2020

Hulk and Jonathan

And one last painting for the masses. At the end of this crappy year we were all excited for The Mandalorian second season, and let me tell you that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni didn't disappoint. They brought my love for Star Wars back. Here is a painting of Din Djarin and Boba Fett for his immaculate return to the Star Wars universe.

Boba & Mando

Last but not least, let's talk about the pink elephant in the room. The Covid-19 virus was something the world did NOT expect. We weren't ready for it and some people suffered a lot for it. When the pandemic broke out mid march and the quarantine started, it was really tough to overcome the fear, anxiety, helplessness, boredom, and plain uncertainty. I always draw and paint at my studio and realized soon enough, after a couple of weeks of spending time with my family and trying to solve primary logistics tasks, that I could work from home without a problem. Some people didn't get that opportunity. So I started drawing and running (on a treadmill) whenever I could. Both activities were therapeutic. Instead of watching the news, fake or real, all day I decided to spend most of my time doing these activities and while spending time with my wife and children. They were a tough couple of months but I am grateful I personally didn't suffer immediate loses and that we could be together as a family to overcome such a hard time. I started my quarantine project, not thinking on sales but to somehow entertain my fans and myself as well.  My "comic confessions" started as a small challenges but it grew to become an ongoing project. Basically is one panel (using a format established in the infamous comic Heroes in Crisis), in which the character either confesses or makes a statement in front of a camera. The words, courtesy of my associate Marcelo Cury, turned out to be more ambitious that I had foreseen. I have drawn 90 characters or 10 pages so far, so I would expect to at least do 10 pages more for next year. I hope I have provided some distraction to people around the world who have been less fortunate than myself. Here I have made a big file containing the 90 characters.

So, is art worth it? Hell yeah it is! Maybe it is not as glamorous or meritorious as I would have imagined. Maybe it takes a little bit more time than anticipated to get your work out or to get your big break. Maybe I live in a country were my skills are not yet appreciated or understood correctly. And maybe, just maybe, I'm trying so hard to draw and paint what I enjoy more than what the market is asking me to deliver. Yes, maybe it is hard, but tell me of something worth doing that it is not. In the direst of times I understood now that if you are an artist by heart, becoming one is just unavoidable, or at least it should be. If you fight against it, you will end up repressed and unhappy. So for me it's not actually a choice. I'm an artist and I have to make it work, for me, for my family, for the people to happen to like my work, and for those who don't really care one way or the other, but for a glimpse of a second they find solace by looking into one of my pieces. Did you notice that when the world stopped, art did NOT! And why do you think that is? Art is expression; art is a form of communication. Some of my work may seem banal in nature, but I have received joy, happiness, admiration, and inspiration through comments regarding my work. So art won't stop even if the grinds that makes the world "turn" does. So why would I bother to stop it in my life? I will continue to work hard to achieve my goals but if that doesn't happen, I can now testify that art IS indeed worth the journey.


Godspeed,

Jo




Thursday, December 27, 2018

LOST & FOUND


Let me tell you a story about a guy who wanted to be an artist so badly that he started to count the hours he spent honing his craft in order to reach 10,000 hours and convince himself he has truly become the artist he so desperately wanted to become. I will not let the suspense kill you so straight out of the bat I will reveal this artist is none other than me. Who am I? As of now, I am the guy who has spent 7246 hours drawing and/or painting and who is feeling his set out goal will never be achieved. Somehow I feel like I had been with the gas tank warning light on for a couple of years. In my initial plan I should've reach my goal after 10 years or so. It may take longer than that and not because I want it to. The truth is, life always finds a way to make it more interesting, and although I feel pleased with my progress, the intrigue that comes with the job is making me truly anxious. My first blog, and the beginning of this long challenge, was on September 1st, 2010. How can eight years have passed already? I started this lifetime goal of setting my own rules to become a master in art so long ago and I remember like it was yesterday. By the way, you can check the rules here 

I've been happily lost, wandering in the woods if you might, not sure which road to take. Is it safe to take this way, or the other? I have probably been staring at many doors for way too long in order to shut them completely. Should I become a comic book artist? An illustrator? A cover artist? A portrait artist? A caricaturist? A political cartoonist? A fine art painter? Should I make a statement with my art? Is it possible not to? Should I become more progressive, more artsy, more bohemian? Am I an artist who wants to tell stories? Am I a storyteller? Am I any good? All these questions have been debated to me by me and I haven't found any answers yet. What I do know by now is that I AM an artist and if God permit I will still be in the years to follow. Thus, I was lost but now I've been found. So without further ado, let me showcase the art I've created in these couple of years that I'd been wandering through the corridors of doubt and growth.

In my attempt at becoming a comic book artist, improvement has been very slow, mainly because I haven't done much in that regard. In all of the career options I have previously stated, none is more ungrateful and demanding than making comics. Not only that, but it is also undervalued by the majority of the audience. Could anyone believe that painting a realistic portrait in oils is easier than making comics? I wouldn't blame you if you don't. The hard work and hours you have to put into these well though out pages in order to make them look professional are so much that it is not economically feasible to invest my time in that area for the low, or zero payment I could get per page. I trust that if I'd do it every day it would become easier but in order for that to happen I would need to get paid. Since there is an oversaturated market of comic book artists, the average rate for unknown artists is very low and the competition is fierce. Don't let me start on how hard it is to break in the industry living in Ecuador. I made a couple of pages here or there for a personal project and thinking of my time as a proper investment but reality soon checks in and puts a stop in any momentum I could've achieved. I have gone to a couple of comic conventions hoping my big break will finally happen with no success yet. Sometimes I wonder if participating in the artist alley is a waste of my time, but on the bright side I meet fellow artists, fans, and get to make a buck or two selling merchandise of my art, that mainly consist in prints and t-shirts, to cover my travel expenses. I don't mean to be whiney about this though, after all twenty years ago I would have never dreamed that I would get the chance to be in the artist alley and have fans of my own.





 In my attempt at becoming a cover artist and/or illustrator, progress has been noticeable. My dream job for the time being is becoming a cover artist. In the past I would have given everything to be a comic book artist, but back then I didn't have a clue about practicality and income of that particular career choice. The time spent making comics is not justifiable economically speaking, at least not if you are not a famous artist or considered to be a fast one. I'm not one or the other.  I love to draw and tell stories with my illustrations and you could do just that by creating covers as well. Sometimes I think being a traditional painter would bring me more money, but first and foremost you have to be very passionate about a subject to make a statement, very crafty to convey that message, or in some cases, very skillful to be a con man and sell something to pass as art. What I really enjoy is telling stories, and painting covers do that in one single image. It mixes the best of both worlds. I've been making progress slowly, but the good thing of advancing forward is that you keep adding the miles (sorry for the running reference). I'm probably missing and art director or creator to tell me what the story is about in order to use my full resources to create something special and original. Right now I'm just making cover homages and fan art, which tend not to be specific since I intend to sell them to the public. For instance, a comic book cover about Thanos (the main villain of the Avengers if you happen to be living under a rock) could show him dancing with Death in a huge ballroom (alla Beauty and the Beast) with his infinity gauntlet and all the gems on his right hand, which happens to be holding Death's hand as well. The spectators are the skeletons of all the Marvel superheroes dressed in their usual costumes admiring this slow dance. This cover could be done using mixed media (traditional and digital) in order to convey a more classic look with a modern twist. I never seen this done and it would convey a clear message that in this particular comic Thanos is victorious and that the Marvel Universe is doomed. I would love to paint this but maybe it wouldn't sell as many prints as just plain old Thanos with his gauntlet as seen below. Or maybe it will, what do I know about selling my art?

Finished version

Step 3
Step 1
Step

I'm also doing a lot of commissions, which involve mostly fan art. Somewhere I read that in order to be a fulfilled artist you need to do paid work but also dedicate some time making your art. In my humble experience this is true. It is not that you cannot enjoy drawing or painting a paid job, but you have to remember that you do this because you really love the craft and what better way to show it but by drawing something from your heart. I recently saw a pic of a cosplayer dressed as Bane, I was inspired by the pose and started to paint him in the way I see him in my head. I also did a tutorial on how to create a comic cover for the Comic Con Ecuador. I decided to do a homage cover of The Flash #1 (volume 2) released in June 1987 featuring Wally West as the new Flash. Now that he has another costume I wanted to showcase him in this fan made cover. Somehow I do not like the painted job as much as the previously inked one. I enjoy teaching and I have always considered it as a viable complement in my artistic endeavor. Sadly, when you are an artist what you may lack is the time to spend doing just that.







Did I mention I did a comic cover recreation of Action Comics # 1? Somebody commissioned me to do this and I, like the good bounty hunter that I am, didn't ask any questions. It was a privilege to replicate the lines initially drawn by Joe Shuster. When you do this type of work you end up questioning and learning all the decisions the artist made when illustrating it. In this case, this cover was made in 1938, so it's been 80 years since he made those artistic choices.



The last Inktober I did was in 2016. For those who do not know, Inktober is a challenge created by artist Jake Parker, which consist on drawing with ink (it can be digital ink as well. I asked!) one illustration per day for the month of October.  I think I was so passionate with the project that I really enjoyed each and every one of them, some were more successful than others but I enjoyed the challenge itself. I'm including my favorite ones in this Monsters Inktober 2016 special.











The Saint of Killers was an tribute to the late Steve Dillon
In my attempt to becoming a portrait artist I decided to have the best of both worlds. On one hand I would paint what I'm passionate about but also taking into consideration monetizing this project in the future. On the other hand, I would paint portraits for private clients. My passion project is named "Icons" and is done mostly digitally. Even though artists tend to improve with repetition, sometimes it is essential to take a course here or there. I took the "Realistic Portrait with Jason Seiler" course in Schoolism.com. I had never seen his work and if I had maybe I wouldn't know it was by him. For all interested in painting portraits this is the course for you. Seiler (jasonseiler.com) is a very talented artist and a spectacular teacher. Somehow after this course I upped my game. Sometimes you can listen to 10 hours worth of classes and with just one sentence (which you may have heard before but didn't mean anything to you by then) you realize what you have to do in order to improve. In this case, I understood that I had to paint what I see, not what I think I see. Once I got that out of the way I started focusing more on tones, shapes, values, etc. I'm really satisfied about my "Icons" collection because these characters are such legends that I want to immortalize them in a book (not that they are in need of my help though). I'm planning to continue painting the icons in the next couple of years, since I want to amount to at least 50 paintings. Maybe in the future I will be printing a coffee table book with all these paintings. I also had the privilege to do a private commission for a good friend who is a soccer fanatic. This is a painting I did of "Kitu" Díaz who plays for Barcelona Ecuador.









My tribute to Stan "The Man" Lee (1922-2018)

Kitu Díaz

Painting portraits is hard and time consuming, but luckily it comes naturally to me. Some artists have this natural ability to draw perspective, to understand and apply colors, to paint abstracts, or to create poses and action scenes. For me painting portraits is like second nature. I know I have a lot to learn regarding this area, but I've seen successful artists who can't paint a face or catch the essence of the subject. I did most of these portraits digitally. For me digital painting is just like painting but with other set of tools. It would be the same difference as comparing oils with watercolor, you know the principles and know what you want for the end result but the tools are just different and you have to learn how to use them correctly. Saying that, you may feel more comfortable with one tool rather than the other. In my case, I'm very comfortable with my digital brushes (for the entire process on how I approach digital painting you can watch the time-lapse painting of my daughter Juliana on youtube. You can check all my videos at my website by clicking here










Even though I haven't painted in oils since art school I wanted to prove everybody that my skills weren't coming from a computer software. Hence, I decided to paint a portrait of my father in oils. As expected I got a bit frustrated with the media but got the hang of it rather quickly. In the end, I used the same approach as I use on my digital paintings with the difference that I got to mix colors and that is always a challenge. In the end I was very satisfied with the end result and fortunately my father was happy as well. What really amazed me is that although I've been painting portraits for years, because of this painting people started to really consider the possibility that I may be a real artist indeed. I know digital art is not well understood by many (it is a rather new media in art) and I know I don't have to prove my craft or my worth to anybody, but we humans are in a constant crave for recognition. I've been noticing for quite a while that people have been minimizing my effort because of the tool I use, and that my friends is just preposterous.  I'm posting some of the pictures of my artistic process in completing this oil painting.










 I may not feel as a master in art just yet. I seriously doubt that I will feel any different when I reach my 10,000 hours. Heck, maybe I will never feel like a master but as a striving artist that wants to better his craft everyday until he perishes. To me that is the essence of art, to evolve and communicate what you are passionate about. I know for a fact that I have come a long way from the beginning of my journey and although I have many goals yet to achieve I can't be so hard to myself and not recognize my own achievements. People may never recognize your talent and hard work, or even comprehend it. I'm not expecting an award anytime soon, although it would be nice. They may never see what you have endured to get where you are now. It is easy to justify what you do by calling it 'talent' and although I do recognize that some special ability or predisposition exists, I resent the word for the meaning people give to it. Talent by itself is nothing if you do not sharpen those skills and properly learn the craft. In the end hard work is what makes all the difference in the world between a talented artist and a great one. I had my doubts, but the minute my only choices were the ones involving making art I knew I was on the right track and I hope I won't ever have to deviate from it.

Godspeed,

Jo