March 27, 2017

California Sunset

Who doesn't love a California sunset? I was inspired in the moment to paint this from the back deck of my home. I had a red-orange ground prepainted with acrylic in my pad. I mixed some cool gray for the clouds and rooftops. I layered on yellow and my warm greens, hoping to dull or paint over the orange entirely. That didn't quite happen before sundown–the light changes fast–resulting in an underpainting that is so hot it's burning up. It's a neat effect, but not at all what I intended.

March 3, 2017

Drawing From Life

GREAT IDEAS MAY COME TO YOU IN THE SHOWER, or while driving, but even the most brilliant illustrators don’t whip out designs without some visual reference. Sure. The internet is a decent place to start your search. But there are disadvantages to limiting your research to a pool of still images curated by an algorithm. Furthermore, drawing from photos has a multitude of drawbacks as described in this well written article by Veronica Winters. Join me as I take you by the hand away from the comfort of your chair and into the real world in search of live reference.

Observational Drawing
Otherwise referred to as “coffee shop drawing” or just “people watching”, this is the practice of drawing people in the wild. To get the most out of this, your attention must be focused on your subject. Not yourself. Think of it as a recorded observation on paper. Forget about your individual style, your reputation, your Artstation, Etsy and Instagram. The goal is to learn something about people. People are interesting and behave unexpectedly when they aren’t aware they’re being watched. Which makes for great character reference! Whether searching for reference or inspiration, observational drawing is a beginning drawing exercise that should really be taught and sustained at all levels.

Drawing from a Model
One way to create a character is to directly reference a live model of your choice. The following images show how Disney animators based Alice on a live model named Kathryn Beaumont. Conveniently, she also voiced the character.

By doing this, they were able to more accurately depict the character’s size, age and mannerisms, among other things. It’s not clear whether they are tracing over photos, but they do appear to be drawing her very literally. I can see some problems with this, but in general, figure drawing is extremely important and should be practiced often because it allows you to focus on details.

Drawing a Live Animal
Have you ever tried your hand at animal or creature design, only to realize you don’t know what the hell you’re doing? I have. Disney animators found themselves in that situation in the late 1930s when they were tasked with creating a believable, but not overly realistic Bambi. They studied live animal models to get the anatomy and movements just right. It wasn’t convenient for the production, but it was an investment of time and talent that resulted in a landmark film.

I doubt the old Disney animators would have relied on the internet as much as we do today. Another awesome thing about drawing from life, is that the playing field is level and accessible to everyone. And it's not limited to people. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of various subjects for present or future character design, and the confidence to draw anything in public or in private without fear.

Have you ever wandered away from the computer in search of live reference? Have you ever been inspired to design a character based on somebody you saw? Share your stories below.

February 5, 2017

Forget Everything You Know About Caricature

JOHN K. (THE CREATOR OF REN & STIMPY) has written a lot about this topic on his blog "John K Stuff", so let's kick off this post with a quote from John. "When you sit down to caricature a person, you should try to bury all your preconceived notions of what 'caricature style' is.” This is the best advice a budding caricature artist could receive. An artform that is predicated on exaggeration and the depiction of an individual must be unique. Not formulaic.

I’ve found that the best way to approach caricature is to practice it a lot over a long period of time. Years. Then put them all together so that you can see what’s working and what’s not. Literally print or photocopy them and attach them to a piece of cardboard or corkboard. At work, we have a place where all of the caricatures go. A colleague once told me that it was her favorite part of the office. It has become sort of a shrine. A year after it started, when employees had moved on to greener pastures, my colleagues (non-artists) moved them over to a separate board so they would not be thrown out or forgotten. This was truly a grassroots movement within the company. People universally love to see themselves drawn by someone else. And they love to see people they know drawn. Humans are so vain.

Here are a few of my personal favorites, and let me tell you why. Each one is primarily a behavioral exaggeration of a person, as opposed to a purely physical or facial exaggeration. It should tell a story about your subject. Caricature shouldn't call attention to your artistic skill level. Everything down to your choice of medium and linework should reflect your subject.

How do you approach caricature? How often to you do caricature? For more about John K., follow him on Twitter @JohnKricfalusi1

January 27, 2017

Character Flaws: The Evolution of Unintelligent Character Design

IF YOU WERE TO DO AN IMAGE SEARCH FOR CHARACTER DESIGN right now, you’d likely see something like this. They look like professional Character Designs, don't they? Slick digitally colored characters, turned around in space. Let's take a closer look.

Sometimes, Google search results can be misleading. The algorithm uses filenames, site context, and image recognition to group images. Then it optimizes based on clicks. The most clicked images are considered to be a match. That's fine if you're searching for pictures of antique cars. But as we become dependent on the internet for answers, I would expect to see more authoritative examples of character design from a variety of films and games. There is a glut of fan art and student work that is spoiling the results.

I see a lot of good looking humans. Looks are important, but looks aren't everything. Personality is a key ingredient. So is story. A telltale sign of amateur character design is a lack of story. Even if characters are well drawn, they can't exist without a story. There's a term for characters without a story. Doodles.

Don't get me wrong. Good characters can inspire a story. Fun unique characters and creatures. Bipeds. Quadrupeds. The possibilities are endless! The world doesn't need another human warrior coming-of-age story. And the adorkable kids look like adorkable kids I've seen before.

Let’s say that you don’t know anything about character design for games and animation. How would you distinguish good from bad when it’s all lumped together like this?

Feel free to jot down your thoughts in the comments section!

January 18, 2017

Watercolor Painting: Autumn Light

California is graced with unusually warm Fall weather. Now that we're in the midst of a cold and rainy winter, I'm looking back on this painting from November and realizing how lucky I was. As the leaves change color, and the days get shorter, the temperature around 4:00 pm rarely drops below 50°F. This is great, because I'm able to capture the beautiful autumn light with big color washes that dry in under 20 minutes. Warmer weather means faster drying times. Furthermore, the golden hour window is approximately 30 minutes (between 4 and 4:30). After that, I have to stop. The light is completely different.

Check out the animated gif below!

December 28, 2016

Landscape Painting: Tilden Park

This is an acrylic painting from "Inspiration Point" in Tilden Park in Berkeley, California. Aptly named, it's a beautiful view to say the least on a very warm Fall day with a clear view of the bay and the Marin County shoreline in the distance. I was really happy with how this turned out.

December 12, 2016

San Pablo Reservoir Watercolor

I wanted to provide some information for those of you who are interesting my process. Once you start painting, you realize that getting there is half the fun. I typically paint with a buddy, setting aside about 3 hours which includes driving to a nearby location, finding a comfortable spot to paint, setting up, painting for an hour and a half to two hours, talking and drinking coffee, and packing up and going home.

In the painting of the San Pablo Reservoir (below), it was early afternoon, but the sun was already very low because it's winter in North America, creating some really nice contrast naturally. I always look for naturally occurring color and/or value contrast.

The underpainting was roughed in with thinned Cad Yellow and Prussian Blue. Working from light to dark, I added dark green. I mix my own greens, with Cad Yellow, Prussian Blue and Sepia. I added little red accents to the foliage in the lower left to break up the strict green/blue palette. Lastly I painted back in the shadow areas with Permanent Red and Sky Blue gouache (light over dark). Then I painted the bark detail on the light side of the tree with thinned white gouache (light over dark).

October 12, 2016

Watercolor Paintings

I'm taking a break from traditional sketching this summer to learn more about painting. It requires the same skills (composition, simplifying forms, value contrast) with the added challenges of mixing wet media, understanding drying times, and color contrast.

These were all done in Burlingame, California at various times of the day.

October 16, 2015

Sketchbook: Architecture

Beautiful old San Francisco Eastlake on a corner lot in Pacific Heights. Fresh coat of mint green paint. 

The Burlingame Episcopalian Church

September 25, 2015

Color Study: Arabian Nights

Occasionally I do these when I need a break from design and ideation. It's not a brainless activity, but it's more analytical than creative, requiring the ability to make comparisons between what you see and what you paint.

Below is a copy of a shot from Arabian Nights (1942).

August 2, 2015

Figure Drawing Palo Alto

This is a group that I attend every now and then in Palo Alto hosted in a spacious community center near Stanford. It's not geared toward animation or games or anything, but it's a solid group and by far the least expensive in the Bay at only $8.

Colored Pencil on Newsprint.

July 28, 2015


More caricatures of people I work with. Lately, I've strayed away from the straight caricature by incorporating gags and lettering. The challenge is to suggest their personality by drawing them into a funny situation. Plus the illustration style itself has to sell the idea.

June 17, 2015

Background Design Process: The Comedy Club

This is another post focusing on my professional work at CrowdStar. I'm going to take you through my background design process.

First I started with a small marker sketch using iPad proportions (below). I also blocked in some values with a gray marker. Simply planning ahead will make my Photoshop job easier.

Scan it. Open it in Photoshop. And starting painting in a layer right on top. Watch the nifty 2 minute screen recording below! 


Check out the rough painting below. 

And the final vector illustration (below). This is what it would look like in the game with the HUD and the Funny Fish and some props.

June 16, 2015

Carolands Gate House

I took the plunge into the world of Plein Air recently. This is an 8x10 oil on hardboard. It's pretty rough. This is really my first oil ever. It's going to take a lot of practice to get good at this.

On another note, somebody called the cops on me and my friend. The citizens of Hillsborough sent a clear message. Oil painting of historical buildings which happen to be near elementary schools will NOT be tolerated. Anyway, here is my friend Brandon Jones's digital painting from that morning.

February 23, 2015

January 13, 2015


Happy New Year! Let's kick it off with some hand drawings. Some are copied from photos. Some are my own hands in front of a mirror. Always feels good to practice hands.

November 10, 2014


Another drawing of a co-worker at CrowdStar. I've done 30 or more of these over the years. But lately it's been like a fever. Soon I'll do a big post with all of my co-worker caricatures.

November 6, 2014

Palo Alto Figure Drawing

Occasionally, I have "off" nights when I'm not happy with my materials. Look at the range of depictions of this model. Only after switching tools several times was I able to capture the beauty of her twist and the sublime look on the her face (top) with a degree of looseness and tonality that made me happy.