Alla Prima versus painting with elaborate drawings (book covers etc)

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  1. #1
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    Alla Prima versus painting with elaborate drawings (book covers etc)

    I've been looking at the tutorials for book cover illustrations. They are all done with very elaborate drawings, I believe. Someone said that drawings were especially helpful and necessary when working with a client and under a dead line. A Swedish illustrator said that in Europe clients rarely expect elaborate drawings, and this is my experience too. At art schools over here, there is (or was) this whole idea that you loose your "creativity" when you work like that, so we basically learned very little professional technique (which is a shame).

    I was wondering if you guys could talk a bit about the process with and without preparatory drawing, technically and "philosophically". One question that comes to my mind is: how do you manage to not loose the initial drawing, or initial "freshness"?

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  3. #2
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    Be the master of that drawing, don't let it master you!

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    I've never been much for making a detailed drawing on the canvas, and then painting over it. It just seems like a waste of time. However, I do endorse making preparatory sketches or studies, either drawings or paintings or both. These are also helpful to clients to give them an visual of what's in your head.

    No baseball player steps up to the plate without first taking a few swings, or a making few hits in batting practice. Going to your painting cold seems more stupid to me than a risk of freshness. That's a mental thing. I can be fresh when I start the painting, but it's because I've made enough separate studies beforehand to know where I'm going.

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    Most clients don't like surprises. Most illustrators don't like to paint in revisions that could have been avoided. A very clear starting sketch will make both of you happier in the long run. Exactly how precise you are depends a lot on how much detail you need to get started, and how important specific details are to the art director.

    For example, if specific background details aren't all that important to the AD, then I'll only roughly indicate them. I prefer to feel some of that stuff out as I paint. The more important a detail is, the more I'll try to nail it down in sketch form first.

    I've included an example I did for a card game. The sketch was pretty rough, not much more than a framework and an indication to get the general point across. There's enough there to know what I'm doing, but it's not so pre planned as to make the final boring to paint. However I'm very sure that level of looseness wouldn't fly with a major book publisher who has a lot more on the line.

    I think it comes down to how much detail you need to get a predictable finish, and how much detail the AD requires to feel confident in the end result. Your style probably would play into it as well. If you are a loose brushy artist you probably don't need a super detailed sketch either.

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  7. #5
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    If you nail the drawing it solves tons and tons of problems later on. It takes longer than rough comps (and should be done after doing comps anyway) but you save time in the long run by figuring it all out in a detailed drawing first.

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    sketches vary tremendously from artist to artist. Some do incredibly tight pencils, some do cocktail napkin sketches, some do half a painting and then go finish it. The better your reputation and history, the more you can get away with in suggested details, but I agree with J Wilson that a well planned sketch helps not only your communication with the client but also produces better finished work.

    Regarding the original question of working over a drawing, I personally believe in it because I know that's how *I* get the best results. I know other artists who get amazing results without any sort of drawing underneath, though they tend to work more in the portrait and gallery markets than illustration. For me, I feel like having a solid drawing lets me work much faster and more confident because I have everything planned out. It lets me see the whole picture as I'm working on the parts, and that keeps me from panicking when a particular section is giving me trouble. Also, the more grasp on your composition you have in the early stages, the better. Basically I do it because I realized some years ago that a little more time in prep can save me days of work down the road. Get it right the first time whenever possible.

    I think that this shows in the style of my painting, though. If I wanted to paint like, say, Ashley Wood, this would probably be the wrong method, but it's what works for me.

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  10. #7
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    Ummm...

    I'm working on a couple of TD things right now. This is the only sketch for one of them, actual size.

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    Dave's advice is extremely sound. But as he indicates, it depends on your temperament. This is quite complex, because someone with a temperament that responds to chances while painting and is impatient with building a painting brick by brick may be someone who is a worrier when they have a deadline. That means you either train yourself to work methodically, even though its against you nature or go with your nature but expect some really bad experiences with a client up your ass. There is no one answer.

    My particular solution to this is to have a methodical approach for commissioned work if it is a tightish deadline and a court a more serendipitous approach to stuff that is speculative, i.e. for galleries or client that understands what they are in for.

    However, if you are someone who is really not happy with the patient thing, you really should be filling your portfolio with stuff that indicates this. Your best work will be that that is closest to your 'working' temperament - so beware!

    From Gegarin's point of view
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    I'll come back to this later, but just a short answer now-
    By reading your replies, I suddenly realized that my problem is not lack of patience (though I *can* be impatient at times), nor is it a lack of training.
    I do elaborate drawings when I do drawings, I love to do them.
    Problem: Because I love to draw, I hate to paint over any drawings that are more than a scribble. No painting can convey the subtlety of a drawing and I always feel like I have messed up. That's why I used to shy away from that and have tended towards water mediums. It got a bit better since I have a camera and scanner and can save the drawing and actually follow the whole process.
    DSillustration shows in his tutorial how to project the drawing and trace it with a brush, and use that, which sounds like a very good idea.

    More thoughts on Alla Prima versus elaborate preparation?

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  13. #10
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    It got a bit better since I have a camera and scanner and can save the drawing and actually follow the whole process.
    DSillustration shows in his tutorial how to project the drawing and trace it with a brush, and use that, which sounds like a very good idea.
    Another option (what I do) is to trace the drawing in reverse and then rub it down onto your board so that it comes out like a carbon transfer. I then go over the whole thing with a washy layer of acrylics to seal it down and give me a rough underpainting

    Another option (what some call the Donato method, though used by many many illustrators) is to scan and print you image onto archival paper and then mount it to a surface with matte medium, giving you a duplicate drawing to work on top of. Many artists also take advantage of the digital step in this process to do some photoshop painting and/or adjustments in their drawing before printing it out.

    And then of course there are guys like James Jean who take their drawings into Photoshop and just finish it all digital.

    "Every little step considered one at a time is not terribly daunting" - Ethan Coen

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  15. #11
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    Ah cool, thanks for the tip!

    Here are links to James Jean's Method.
    http://www.processrecess.com/index.php?uid=DDCCD6
    http://www.processrecess.com/index.php?uid=B1C4A4
    http://www.processrecess.com/index.php?uid=EB6FD9

    PS: I love your Walter drawings btw- I had a turtle when I was a kid :-D

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