Monday, August 27, 2012

Tutorial # 11 - Using References

To Use References or not

As always, I’d like to start this off by saying, these tips and thoughts are reflective of how I like to work. If they help you in your artwork, that’s great! It's the reason I do these. However, they are meant for you to use in order to enhance your own work. All of my ideas and techniques may not work for you. So, take what works best for you and apply it!

Here we go!

Referencing in comic book art has been one of those topics that has sparked heated debate. Some think that referencing from life, photography, etc. is a cheat and a way to steal art. On the other hand, there are artists who use referencing as a tool to enhance their pieces. So, do I use reference? Yes. However, that doesn’t take away from my creativity or my drive to create kinetic artwork. Using reference as a tool should not be confused with tracing art.

Referencing is not tracing

There are countless forums and topics where readers take an existing piece of art and overlay it with a page from their favorite book in an effort to show how the art from the comic book was traced. Here is where the confusion between tracing and referencing lay. In using reference, an artist is constantly looking to enhance the storytelling of their own work while keeping the illustration grounded in a reality that makes sense for the project. Referencing helps an artist figure out proportion, perspective, and purpose. (Remember those 3 P’s I talked about in Tutorial 7? If not, read it!) When I look at references, what I am looking for is the emotion or “performance” of that piece to help energize my artwork. I like to think of it as how animators referenced the action of the human body while they drew cell after cell. So, referencing (in my mind) is not tracing. 

How I use references

While I was surfing Facebook, I ran across a photo of Power Girl that I loved. Maybe it was because I love drawing Power Girl or maybe because it was the smile, but at any rate, it automatically made me want to sketch Power Girl. So I used a picture from Vegas Power Girl as a reference for my sketch. Check her cosplay photos out at

What I enjoyed about the reference was the heroic yet relaxed way Power Girl was standing. I loved the weight the model held and the twisting of her body in space. Those where the things I wanted to keep in my sketch. I’m not much of a portrait artist, so, I knew going in that this would not be a direct portrait of Vegas Power Girl. Rather, it would be my interpretation of her mixed with my idea of Power Girl. With that in mind, I started sketching. 

I quickly found out that I didn’t want to place both hands on her hips like the reference. I wanted one hand to be up as if she was thinking. It originally was going to be joke. Her wondering if she would wear the old costume or the new one. The joke fell short when I realized that I was already sketching her with her old costume on. Oh well. I redrew the far arm and gave her head a slight tilt to show she was thinking.

After I got my general pose down, I used elements from past Power Girl illustrations I'd done with details, attitude shading and weight of Vegas Power Girl to finish out my pencils for the sketch. Moving onto the inks, I found that, because the photograph is taken at a slight angle (and since I was sketching my Power Girl straight on) the legs and hips of my drawing had to be lengthened to offset the curve of the photographers lens. (See! Reference is not tracing.) I corrected that in the inking process and took out some of the shading I added in during the penciling process so I could have cleaner lines. 

And there you have it. I use references to inform my eye and make my pieces stronger. Use your reference to explore the world around you and infuse your work! 

Here is the fun part of this tutorial. Download a copy of the finished, inked illustration of Power Girl and color her. I want to see what you guys and gals can do and, this ties into the next tutorial which will be huge! Once you are finished, upload your piece to our facebook page and let us have a look!! So, warm up photoshop, get that wacom working and get to coloring! 

Also, if you are looking for help referencing for fight sequencing and action poses, look no further! Check out our Martial Arts Pose File Book! What you will find that sets this one apart is our emphasis on correct fighting and technique. In this book, you will find many different techniques that will be presented in three different ways. The first set of photographs will show you a posed version of the technique. The second set will show you an in action version of the same technique. The third section will show you these techniques in a combat one on one situation. It does not matter if you are a martial artist . If you are an artist, this book is for you.
Order your book here!

Be sure to check out our next tutorial! And now I leave you with your reference moment of zen!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Korra Eats an Apple Tutorial

Today's post is from Janet "saltygirl" Wade.  Pay attention, boys and girls. 

i've been meaning to contribute something to the airbender/legend of korra fandom for quite some time now.  the only thing i've ever done was a sketchy of aang as elvis, or aang-vis if you will, that was a compilation of artists from all over who were fans of the show.  but w/ the 1st season of korra already done i was pumped to do something else.  something a little more...badass.

& if you've ever watched "the legend of korra", you know just what i'm talking about.  korra is the embodiment of badass.  she's the avatar, a teen girl, a girl who can do amazing things & is so confident of herself that i want to BE her.  well, ok let's not get carried away here. 

i've wanted to do a korra pinup for some time but couldn't figure out how to pose her.  every other amazing pieces i see show her bending, & yeah i know she's the avatar & it's her thing, but i wanted something a bit different. something that was casual but also showed off her awesome arms & torso.  a pose that let you know she was a badass w/out even trying.  my husband suggested i make her do push ups.  the thing about when i do these vector pinups, i base them off of an actual photo reference.  which means i take a pic of myself doing the pose.  which means if korra was gonna do some casual push ups, then i would be doing push ups too.  um, no thanks.  then some1 else suggested i take it a step further & make her do a casual 1 armed push up.  say wha???  ok now you're just being crazy.


so i picked an easy pose, something mundane but because she's doing it it's not so mundane.  like eating an apple.  & cocking an eyebrow at you because you're creepily watching her eat an apple.

sketched it out.  used ref snagged from

outline everything.
shapes, shapes, shapes.

close up of those beautiful blues.

"can't a gal eat an apple?"
& here we are w/ a very casual but still badass pose.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

It all ended in San Diego

Finding out that DC would not look at my work.

There I was, sitting at our booth on Sunday at San Diego Comic Con 2009 3 years ago, my hands clasped over my face. Our booth was put on a horrible lane with no traffic. Sells of our books were dismal. My quest to land some full time comic work failed. My portfolio was over looked by both DC and Marvel. A major production company was debuting a new t.v. show that looked a lot like Jetta: Tales of the Toshigawa. And my wife was back at home and pregnant. What’s worse, I told her that I would come home with something concrete. I looked at my last sketch for the convention and knew I would not be coming back. And, just maybe, comics may not be in the cards as a means to take care of my new family.

It was a hard pill to swallow. After all, I put in my time. Submitted my portfolio to the powers that be. Smoozed with editors. Worked on my craft. I should have been there by now. But, for some reason, I wasn’t. I saw friends and colleagues’ careers sail past me, while I stood still. When I was single, I had time to wait on that one break that SHOULD'VE happened. But with a wife and newborn, it was getting harder to justify the wait. I kept thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

This is a question that many of you will have to face in your illustration careers. To be truthful, the art industry is not one that you go into expecting to make a great deal of money. It’s a lot of work with little payoff. If you do get that comic book gig, be prepared to sacrifice a lot of your time to making the deadlines so the books can come out on schedule. Until you get that break, you will have to endure your fill of positive and (some times) very brutal critiques. In my case, I have had bosses that where so insensitive (That’s being very nice) that they have literally shoved my hands from my keyboard and mouse because I was not using key commands in photoshop. I’ve had designs and illustrations stolen, cheated out of finances, and (when things got good at the company) I got handed my walking papers. Things can be pretty bad when you are a working artist. So, why am I doing this?

While doing a tutorial panel on illustration, someone asked a question. “Why are you doing this?” The woman who asked me was a mother. Her son was a budding artist who was to shy to ask any questions himself. But she caught me off guard and I had to think for a moment. There was a second where I got really panicked. I couldn’t come up with an answer. Then it hit me.

Art is the first thing I remember doing that mattered to me. I told the woman of the first time I found art to be of value. I was in the second grade and I used to draw Batman and Robin all of the time. Classmates would point and sometimes crack on me. But there was this one kid who thought those drawings where the best things he’d seen. One day, out of appreciation for liking my “Batmans” (as I called them), I gave him a drawing. He was so excited, he gave me a quarter for it. No one had (up to that point) been so effected by anything I’d done. It excited me to draw more, share more, and I have been doing it ever since.
Adam and I a our last San Diego Comic Con 2009.
So, back to San Diego Comic Con 2009. As we were leaving the convention hall, I looked at my booth mate, Adam Shaw, and gave him a pound (jive handshake for the unhip. lol). We both knew that was sort of our last harrah. I thanked him for allowing me to be a part of Comic Con. After all, if it wasn’t for a chance meeting at a signing we had, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. And I gathered my portfolio and headed back to my room. While I was walking, I realized why I keep coming back to drawing these funny books. Drawing is the one thing that I’m good at and art has the potential (once you get past the possible financial gain) to effect people in ways that no one can dream of. I’m happy when I’m drawing. My world is complete. That happiness is the one thing that I can hope to pass down to my son should he choose to walk my path. Art is me. So, no matter how much money (or how little) I make, how much the work is ignored or misunderstood or how much publishers over look Jetta or any of my characters, I’m still going to produce. I don’t have to work at DC or Marvel. I don’t have to have that steady gig with IDW. The general public doesn’t have to know I exist. None of that matters. The only thing that matters is that I keep creating. If I can do that, I can give my son more than just a stack of dollars. (That would be great too, I’d like to add.) I can give him the joy of creativity.

Me and my son. This is what it's about.
So, the question goes to you. With all of the possible pitfalls and failures that could hit, why are you doing this?

(Side note: These blogs are a way to make sure that the artist that read them don't make the same mistakes I did and capitalize on the things I did right. Being real about the hardships and achievements of this life is important to me. Be true to yourself and let all the rest slide.)

Until next blog, keep the pencils moving.
Illustrator, Designer, Father, Husband


Check out the artwork from our first MAW Productions contest. The contest was to depict Jetta, Turra, Muley or any of the characters from our books in different spots in time! It could be anytime at all. The future. The past. Anywhere!! Check out the art below and vote by liking your favorite ON OUR FACEBOOK CHAT PAGE. All contest entrants are labeled Contest! Contest! Contest!

This MAW Productions contest entry is by the one and only Adam Shaw depicting Jetta in Feudal Japan offering up some samurai justice! Awesome piece!!

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Brandon Rout depicting a futuristic Jetta with a sword of pure energy. Lightsabers are awesome, people!!

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Jay Parker! In it, Turra is a flapper dancing up a storm. It fits her "go get em" attitude!

This MAW Productions contest entry is again by Jay Parker! In it, Jetta is hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and doing some meditation hippy style. You read the books and you would see why this would fit her! Awesome.

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Kenny Gordon! This one has both Jetta and Turra in the old west smack in the middle of a gunfight and ninja invasion. That's a lot of action expertly done here! Sweet.

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Kevin Johnson! It shows both Jetta and Turra again in modern times! They are ready to go!

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Michael Armstrong! This time, instead of a good guy, he depicted Slash, one of the main bad guys! Slash is a steampunk baddy complete with a top hat in this one!

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Michael Armstrong again! Turra is set to take on Steampunk Slash in her own steampunk style. I want to see this battle take place.

This MAW Productions contest entry is by Michael Armstrong again! In a triple combo, Micheal chose to draw Muley the Mule, Bufford the Dog, and Roy Duck ready to aid in the fight against evil! Awesome!