Starting February 2014 this blog will be out of action.

But DO NOT DESPAIR. We've just moved, and you can still find the same riveting and informative posts that you have come to expect on our new blog:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Hobbit: A Map of the Mountain

The First piece I am going to work on for this project is the scene where Gandalf lays out the map of the Lonely Mountain before Bilbo and the dwarves. This has always been one of my favorite scenes because every good adventure needs a planning stage where the team gathers conspiratorially around maps and charts and blueprints and hatches the plan.  And taking a mountain fortress full of gold from a fire-breathing dragon and hordes of wolf-riding goblins deserves of a bit of careful planning and thoughtful discussion. 

"Where are you going?" said Thorin in a tone that semed to show that he guessed both halves of the hobbit's mind.
"How about a little light?" said Bilbo apologetically.
"We like the dark," said all the dwarves, " Dark for dark busines!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Hobbit

I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was in high school, a few years before Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema put together the films. Like many people, when I read J.R.R. Tolkien's series I had all kinds of visual ideas in my own mind of what the characters, monsters and places looked like. I remember having very clear notions of Shelob as a trap-door spider, that Isengard was more geometric and turned into a diamond at its top, that Sauron was seen as smoke and eyes and the illusion of oil-slick armor, that the orcs were meatier and more ape-like, with much longer arms, and knuckles that dragged the ground. The Balrog was only ever seen by the cracks in his flesh and his eyes and jaws. His skin would never really be seen for the smoke coming off it. The cracks in his skin would be like those in a lava flows seen at night, where some of it has cooled at the surface, but underneath it is still burning. And a  few hundred other odd, now-forgotten notions of Middle Earth. 
I had not seen, at this point, any of Alan Lee, Ted Nasmith's or John Howe's fantastic paintings, of which the film's art direction was to be largely based on. I had a lot of very crystalized ideas in my head about how everything looked.
And when the films were released I was jarred my first time seeing them. Things didn't look like they had in my head. At first it bothered me. They got it all wrong I thought. But as the Fellowship of the Ring began to make its way towards Rivendell I was surprised that I found that I really enjoyed it anyway. It was a different take than I had, but it was spectacular and I went back and watched them several times each in the theater.

Then something terrible happened. 

I found that I had lost my ideas. At first, they were only tainted by the films, but after a while I found that I had lost them altogether. And no matter how much I tried to see things differently, I still saw it the way Peter Jackson showed it. The Boromir I had imaged was gone and Sean Bean's character remained. The goblins were hunched and crooked green men without noses.
This has bothered me ever since, and now that The Hobbit films are on the schedule to be released next year I find that my ideas on The Hobbit are to be put in jeopardy as well.  
So, this time I have decided to put my own ideas down first, before Jackson and Del Toro and Weta and Howe and Lee can come together to blow my mind apart again with what is sure to be an awesome Hobbit film. This time, I hope to preserve my own notions of what Middle Earth might have looked like. 
So, with that in mind, I am going to take a few months and illustrate a few of the major scenes from The Hobbit. These pieces are not for any specific book or series, as I don't have the personal rights to make a book on the story. But I do intend on putting one of them in the empty space over my fireplace. And even if these images never make it to any type of publication, this story is wonderful and I think it will be great fun to work on it for a while.

Friday, October 24, 2008

ACM #2 Final Framed Piece

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ACM #2 Final Render

Monday, October 20, 2008

ACM #2 Digital Process

Friday, October 17, 2008

ACM #2 Watercolor

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

ACM #2 Reference Photos

I love using photos from hikes. Photography is great in that it can take you back to a point and help you remember not only the moment itself, but everything else about what was around you when you took the photo.

This is Cades Cove in the Smokey Mountains. It's a beautiful place, though it is somehow always overcast and drizzling when I go. It reminds me of the forests I hiked in as a boy in Western Pennsylvania. I have many fond memories there. I waged an ongoing war with river trolls, stalked ancient druids and was hunted by giant, black-eyed foxes.

Years later I found that same old forest using the terrain feature on Google Maps. It was strange seeing it from above, from this odd and unfamiliar angle. But I was delighted to find that I could still make out all the old haunts of my childhood. The same trails, the same clear ponds covered in algae, the same clearings in the forest. And though some of the remote edges of my old realm were somewhat overcome by a spreading plague of parking lots, it was, for the most part, all still there.

This one is from Giant Sequoia National Forest, in California. This forest sat on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was as if the giant trees had in ancient times, been planted all across North America, and at some point pulled up their roots and strode west, only to be stopped here forever by the Pacific.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

ACM #2 Digital Sketch

Friday, October 10, 2008

ACM #2

"O thou false knight and traitor unto knighthood, who did learn thee to distress ladies
and gentlewomen?"
When the knight saw Sir Launcelot thus rebuking
him he answered not, but drew his sword...

For both of these pieces I wanted to achieve a much more classic feel to the overall atmosphere. The difficulty for illustration, as it relates to stories, is its lack of narrative sequence--it requires compression. In my mind, I tend to see these stories in somewhat epic, idealized terms. This scene, if it were to be in a movie, would not need the dramatic lighting or golden atmosphere, because in a movie, the general effect is felt over the course of the whole experience, so that in the end, the combination of the story, the dialogue and the cinematics will convey epic-ness or romance in a way that no single image from the film may be able to convey. Likewise, in music, the passage of time allows for rise and fall of the music to build and build so that its overall story is not felt in any single note, but rather in the emotion that it conveys. An illustration on a story however, is an attempt to encapsulate the whole of the story into a single, frozen moment in time. There is no sequence of time, except as the artist is able to lead the viewer by means of composition or by including separated, sequential imagery.
For me, this is always an interesting problem. I rarely know everything about a piece at the beginning. In many ways the illustration plays out a story for me, and by the end, so many different scenes and opportunities are revealed, that I find it difficult to chose which to use and which to discard. As much as possible, I find myself wanting to layer several of them into the same image, so that each time you look at the image, new things are revealed. My favorite illustrations have always been this kind--with much to get lost in, even if it deals with only a single moment.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Roadtrip 2008: The Northern Rockies

Zach, trying his luck on the ice. "Zach, you fool! The ice is deadly!"
Later, after having watched from a safe distance, a Korean couple asked him if he were a famous geologist and had their pictures taken with him.

On the road from Banff to Jasper.

Ben Kammer, loaded for bear at Dawson's Pass. We saw several signs of bear while we were in Glacier National Park. The bears there have eaten people. We were told horror stories by the rangers as we checked in. They made us watch videos proving that the bears were sentient and evil.
"Bears in Glacier National Park have been clocked at 30 miles per hour. You will not outrun them."
We were not maimed by bears or rock badgers so on the whole, we did rather well. However, I am ashamed to say that we began to go crazy after several days without any cheeseburgers. I began to read a lot of William Blake and lose my mind.

Our last night in Banff National we spent in a bear-proof campsite, protected by high-voltage electrified fences, Mounties with machine guns and railways with freight trains that came every 40 minutes. A bear attempting to attack us would be shot, electrocuted, lit on fire and then run over by a freight train. I spilled my ramen and left the bear bin unlocked just to dare the furry huns to try getting through.
So much for our plans for a daring adventure through threatening territory. We might as well have planned to camp in the McDonald's play place.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ACM #1 Framed

Monday, October 06, 2008

JustinGerard.com is Online

In a bout of uncontrollable awesome-ness Ben Kammer has rebuilt the JustinGerard.com website and forged it into a fearsome spectacle of flash programming.
Better known for living in a state of mutual hostility with his cat and for crafting music that makes the heavens weep, Ben Kammer also does web development for Portland Studios. He is nine feet tall and drives a car made of parts from ships that fought at the Battle of the Nile.

It will take five thousand bears driving five thousand tanks and an act of Congress to stop Ben Kammer from being awesome.

ACM #1 Final Render

"I will that thou wit and know that I am Launcelot du Lake, and very knight of the Table Round. And now I defy thee, and do thy best."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Roadtrip 2008: Half-Dome, Yosemite National

The view from the edge of the world. 

This is the descent from Half-Dome. After we came back down, we spent the night in what looked like the most pleasant forest in California, at the base of the mountain. In another ill-advised act of man versus nature foolishness I thought I would sleep under the stars without a tent. Just me and a sleeping bag. What I hadn't counted on is that the Beijing olympics for bears being held in that forest that week. There were perhaps 25 campsites in the forest, each in its own cozy little pad of forest. As soon as the stars came out, the bears took off their warm-ups, put on their headbands and ran laps through the forest. Every few minutes we would here a nearby campsite cry "Bear! Bear! Hey Hey, There's a bear!! He's right there!!" And headlamps would flash on and pots would bang, people would trip over one another and curse in the night.

The bears would then run from campsite to campsite to repeat the scene again and again. They spread chaos and terror the whole night long. I kept imagining a bear stumbling over me by accident, getting caught up in my bag and then shredding everything in a 20 foot radius in a blind panic. 
I didn't fall asleep once. 

One of the huns did in fact come lumbering into our campsite at around 3am. I heard it approach (after the screams from the site next to ours died away) I lept up and shown my light in the direction of the footfalls, expecting that this was it, I was about to die. The bear would freak out, seeing stars and eagles and bacon, and in a frenzy, pummel me and my pointless sleeping bag into the earth.
Instead, the halogen light catching him off guard, he looked shocked and horrified, as though he had been caught doing something particularly wicked and embarrassing and he immediately shuffled away sideways, averting his eyes.
I could hear his trail of destruction as he made his way through the rest of the campsites away from ours.  

In spite of sleepless nights, climbing Half-Dome was one of the most rewarding hikes I have ever been on.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Roadtrip 2008: Yosemite

Friday, October 03, 2008

ACM #1 Watercolor

Digital Painting offers both versatility and efficiency. The digital tablet allows projects to be finished in a fraction of the time of traditional media. There is no drying. There is no mixing. There is essentially no media preparation, and client corrections are easy to handle. It is one of the best ways to stay competitive in the market. However, the imagery can tend to look plastic, worried, and disposable.
Traditional materials feel more organic. They feel more human. They are, like humans, finite, inefficient and have a tendency to go crazy on you. There is a warmness to them that humans can connect with easier than something digital and synthetic that lives in a world I's and O's.

But more than the organic, authentic 'feel' of traditional painting, there is also the difference in the processes. With traditional painting the shortcomings of the media force the artist to compensate with a more careful, craftsman-like approach.
For instance, in digital painting, you do not have to wait for anything to dry. You simply plow ahead at whatever speed you can move the cursor. Whereas in watercolor, you must wait for layers to dry. You must plan for layers to recede in intensity and depth once they are dry. This demands more contemplation in the piece. You are essentially forced by the medium to contemplate your future brushstrokes, while you wait for the current application to dry.
I have been torn between digital and traditional media for many years. There are effects that I can achieve digitally in moments that I could only otherwise achieve traditionally by spending months on (and having to mix my own colors with egg yolks and toxic chemicals). Yet I love the look of old weathered oil paintings more than anything in the 2d art world.

That being said, I have embarked on a new method. My plan is to paint these pieces in watercolor. I take them as far as I can towards a finished piece in the amount of time I have. Then I transfer them to the computer, and polish them using CS3 and Corel Painter (after which I print them on canvas and then varnish them). I hope this allows me to use the strengths of both traditional and digital media.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

ACM #1 Digital Sketch