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I’m in a Tolkien exhibit!

How I created an award-winning piece on Tolkien’s lore (and how much I can brag about it).

So, as the title says, I’m in a Tolkien exhibit.

A few months ago, I partecipated into a Tolkien-themed contest managed by CdViA (Compagnia de’ Viaggiatori in Arme, a medieval reviving association) and WOW – Spazio Fumetto (a Milan based exhibition space). And guess what? My painting was chosen to be included in their permanent exhibition!

Here the painting, for bragging purposes.
I painted this.

The contest asked to represent friendship and antagonism in the Tolkien world. I instantly discarded all the Gimli/Legolas ideas that quickly came to mind and decided to dig a little deeper. As much as I love dwarfs (or dwarves, as Tolkien loved to write), this was not the time.
I ended wrapped up again in the Silmarillion, which I read a couple years ago (not the whole thing, I admit!); I remembered there were two Valar brothers who just kept fighting, Melkor and Manwë. Melkor is the big bad guy also known as Morgoth, the one who antagonized Eru Iluvatar and brought chaos into the world: also, Sauron’s boss. Manwë is his brother, “god” of sky and patron of Vanyar elves. Time for some character design!

Character design

The main difficulty was to show two people confronting. When it comes to represent duels, you usually have two choices: both people in profile, or the camera-over-shoulder shot. Another popular choice for love/hate relationships is the back-vs-back, which I usually dislike, so i tried a different approach: go frontal for both. The regret in Manwë’s expression would have given the idea of a reluctant confrontation.

Melkor was easy: in the lore there’s clearly written “a mountain that wades in the sea and has its head above the clouds and is clad in ice and crowned with smoke and fire”, so I went for big and evil: mountain for scale. Since the Jackson’s movies are now the “official” visual language of Tolkien’s work, I studied Sauron’s helm design to match my Melkor’s, so that the link between the two would be immediately clear. My Melkor was to be so clad in evil iconography it would scream “baaaad guuuy!” in capital letters.

Manwë, on the other side… there’s no clear description of him other than his blue clothing and eyes, and the fact he rules over winds and birds. I didn’t want the usual “old guy” Gandalf clone: Manwë loves elves, so I went for an elven look.
My first sketches went in a more alien direction: he is a Valar after all, he doesn’t need to look like a real being. But I noticed I was stranding too far from estabilished visuals of Tolkien work, and feared it wouldn’t have been recognizable. I stepped back to a “regular elf” look, but kept the dreadlocks: I liked them, and they’re easier to paint than long flowing hair.

Earlier sketch for Manwë
The process

Then, for the actual painting! I struggled a lot with proportion and kept changing format from a square, to a landscape format, til finally settling for a portrait one. Relative dimensions of the characters changed altogether: they were to be equal, but in the end I decided to make Manwë in human dimensions, so that a viewer could relate to him and shiver in the grandiosity of Morgoth. All fear the mighty Morgoth!
In my mind, this confrontation happens after Manwë freed Melkor from his imprisonement: he tried to save his brother bringing him back to Eluvatar’s side, but now sees there’s no redemption chance for him.

I shot photos of my favourite (and only) model to get a sense of light and shape: say hello to my partner and greatest fan San! He’s a little on the lithe side, so perfect for an elf, a little less perfect for a giant force of destruction. Oh well, I’ll make do.

The color scheme came almost naturally this time, something that seldom happens to me: I didn’t even do a value study! A little correction here and there, a watercolor texture in overlay, and the game is set. I’m in a Tolkien exhibit now!

Bonus pic: me at the exhibition with CdViA president!

Give and receive critique

Critique can be your salvation or your doom. If done well, it helps the critiquee a lot, improving her morale and willingness beside her technique and product; if badly done, it can crush one’s spirit.

Critique can be your salvation or your doom. If done well, it helps the critiquee a lot, improving her morale and willingness beside her technique and product; if badly done, it can crush one’s spirit. I’ve seen, received and given a lot of critique lately, so I’d like to share a few tips with you. All the examples I’m using are real, if not literal.

Giving critique

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment.”

First thing first: don’t abuse your power. You are in a position to do great harm, so be careful to the way you pose yourself. Don’t be harsh or dismiss the other person’s work as insignificant or ugly: he or she put effort in it. I personally believe that every work that required a personal effort is in itself a work of art, may it be a quick composition sketch or a bellpepper and zucchini dish.

Before and after critique.

Why don’t start with a compliment? Say a thing you appreciate about the piece! It could be a little detail, like an eye, or something more general like the composition or the shadowing. It’s far too easy to see what’s wrong in an image, that most people forget to see what’s good.

Next, go on with the bad news. Don’t just bash the work (anatomy sucks, horrible colors…), but offer something that could be built on: you could improve on the anatomy, your colors are too vivid and compete with each other. Never attack the person: I’ve been on the receiving end of sentences like “why should you post something so ugly here” and “you cannot draw”, and they really hurt.

Please avoid general suggestions as “work more on the anatomy”: the person knows that he needs to improve, but put his piece to critique because he doesn’t know where! Try to be more specific, like “the knee is bent in an odd way” or “the ribcage is too low”.

Do you think you can improve the work? Do (simulate) it! If you can, add visuals to your critique. Manipulate a low-res image so to change the colors or move the composition, to better explain what you mean with your suggestions. No need to repaint a whole mural, though!

If possible, give actual studying material! A kind person suggested me to read “Color and Light” by James Gourney to improve my palettes, and gawd how that was useful! Share your knowledge.

Start an actual discussion instead of leaving your critique there. Maybe the critiquee will want to answer and explain some of her choices, and you’ll see the reasoning behind them, as “wrong” they may be. You are not helping an image, you’re helping a person.

And finally, end with another compliment! Try and encourage the person to produce more. A simple “keep up the good work” is usually enough, but the more the merrier!

Receiving critique

So, you’ve put your work in the shark’s teeth: you won’t expect it to get out of there whole!

Critique is not your Granma chuckling “that’s wonderful, sweetie!”: it’s an harsh world you shouldn’t enter if you’re not prepared. When you put your work up for critique, you are openly asking others to find what’s wrong in it, so it can be improved: don’t expect the unconditioned admiration you receive from friends and family.

Don’t be afraid to ask for critique. If you feel strong enough to receive a few honesty punches, go for it. You will improve more quickly with the help of more people!

Before and after critique.

People are not obliged to give feedback to you. Sometimes you put up your work, actively asking for critique, and nothing comes up: it happens. Don’t go around begging for comments, and don’t whine about people ignoring you. You could post a couple more times (maybe your work got lost in a forum avalanche?), but don’t press it.

The first critiques will be hard to swallow. Remember that people are not criticizing you as a person, but they are suggesting ways your work could improve. You are free to listen or ignore them, but if a person took onto himself to help you, I would at least thank them.

That brings me to the next point: thank your critics! They took time and effort just to give you something completely free, it’s the least you can do.

Try to start a conversation! A critique shouldn’t always be dry and firm. Answer the critique trying to share your point of view about it. Avoid the common pitfall I talk about here! Don’t justify yourself (“it’s my first attempt!”), but explain why you took certain choices.

If you put your work to critique, it is because you want to improve it. Your work will work (pun intended) only when it’s charming to most people, not to you alone: if you prefer a detail how it is, and the majority of your critics suggest otherwise, it may be better to listen to them!

But it’s my style!

I often partecipate in a Facebook group where people can give comments and critics to other people’s art. Most of the artists are great, and it’s always a pleasure to give a little feedback to one’s piece (“try to move that tree on the right to balance composition” or little stuff like that) and see that the person took you seriously. Watching so many styles helps with my visual library, and giving feedback trains my critical eye.

Unfortunately, there’s always “that” person: usually they’re beginners, but it happens with trained people too. You tell them, “the neck is too long”, and the answer is, “but it’s my style!”

No, it’s not. Not yet, at least.

Most beginners just start drawing characters they like in ways they like. This is great! When you create something for yourself, there’s no going wrong. But since it’s made by yourself for yourself, is very hard to find other people who will like it. Moreover, if you always draw in the same style, it is almost impossible to improve. If you want to keep drawing for yourself and your friends, please do, and I wish you the best of happiness! But if you aim to become a commercial artist, this is not the way.

You still have a lot to learn, we all do. But don’t protect your creation with sword and shield, yelling “it’s my style!” everytime you receive a critic. I fell into that pit many times myself: your piece has a strong meaning to you, but getting attached to it isn’t leading you anywhere.

“The guy’s thighs are a little too long and slim…”
“Stop oppressing my style!”
Courtesy of myself, ten years ago.
What is your style?

I once met a guy who wanted to write a fantasy novel: he had all the characters, the settings, the story, and never stopped talking about them! But when I asked what his favourite book was, the answer left me baffled. “I don’t read! I only write!”
Uhm, really? How can you write something if you don’t know anything about writing? I understand you must not taint your style with other people’s vision, but you cannot create something new without knowledge of what has been done before. He couldn’t notice that his story was old and trite, because he didn’t know the environment in which he wanted to work.

If you want to be really good, you need to start from the basics: anatomy, shadowing, color theory, perspective… there is a lot to learn, much more than you would guess! Each of us, regardless of style, need to start from there. No exceptions.

Breaking the rules is a great way to stand out. But you can afford to break a rule only if you know beforehand how the rule work!

The concept to art isn’t to paint things wrong on purpose so they stand out. It’s to study, painstalkingly, how things are and how other people depicted them, and then use your knowledge to sum up the shape and make it your own. Once you have all the tools and knowledge, you can move towards your real style. It may be manga, realistic, abstract, made of clean lines or big patches of primary colors, but you’ll know it’s your style, and you earned it.

 

Value vs. Color

What is a value study? Long story short, it’s the black and white version of what you’re painting. You can see early on the contrast between your foreground and background, and decide lighting and main shadows.

Lately, most of my digital works (and a few of my traditional ones) passed through the stage of value study. It’s a “thing” I discovered only recently, thanks to my great teachers, and I’m pretty sure it is the key to my recent big improvement.

The hardest part for me when I work with colors is to separate well between lights and shadows. I won’t just use white for lighting and black for shading my hue, so I often find it difficult to make those colors seem just a different lit version of the same base color. Using value study saved my life!

Value

Value is defined as “the lightness or darkness of tones or colors”: the more a color is light (i.e., the more it gets near white), the highest its value. Just by moving your greys between black and white, you can create complex shapes.

What is a value study? Long story short, it’s the black and white version of what you’re painting. You can see early on the contrast between your foreground and background, and decide lighting and main shadows.

Value study for a piece I’m actually working on: markers (left) and digital (right).

As you can see in the image above, I have no idea of the colors I’m gonna use, but I set a few guidelines: for example, the pillars are going to be darker than the walls, and the background crowd will be darker than my main character. It may seem little, but when you’re working on a big piece, it’s better to decide one thing at a time.

Most illustrators I know, me included, prefer to create their pieces entirely in greyscale and then colorizing them. The immediate benefit from this is that you have to keep in mind only one thing at a time, and can always play with colors later. Even working digitally, this freedom to play around is difficult to achieve if you don’t plan for it early on.  Besides, if the image doesn’t work when in greyscale, no amount of vibrant colors will ever fix it: that’s why I’d recommend to switch to greyscale your work once in a while, even if you are working directly with colors: together with mirroring the image, this is the best practice to notice mistakes early on.

Color

Once the value study, or greyscale, works well,  have fun with colors! Whatever hue you’re putting in there is going to work, thanks to the value underneath. You only have to worry about them working well together.

A portrait by Françoise Nielly (left) and its greyscale version (right).

A purple and green face? How can it be? It well can, if the values are right! In the example above, the colors are all “wrong”, but you still easily recognize a face: the hue doesn’t matter when you got your value. See the purple upper lip and the yellow-greenish lower lip? Those colors are at the opposite of the spectrum, but still in the greyscale you can’t see a difference, because their values are (almost) the same.

A downside in coloring a value study is that, especially in digital, darker blacks and lighter whites are not going to be affected by your “color” layer: and that would be wrong because, as we all know, there are not pure blacks and whites in nature. Always remember to apply another layer and colorize the extremes too! A good rule of thumb is to saturate the shadows and desaturate the lights, but go with whatever works for you. For traditional painting, keep your medium diluted enough so it stays semitransparent.

I have met people who can find the right color almost as an instinct: unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Value study is not the answer to every difficulty in painting, but is a damn good help!

My experience as an amateur illustrator

Hello! I’m coming back after six months of absence, but not inactivity: my full time job got more demanding than ever, I finally completed my three years illustration course, went abroad for a week, broke down and bought another car, fixed a few issues and created others… not necessarily in this order.

I would like to say that all of these things still leave me time for my hobby, illustration, but I don’t feel this way: I feel they are distracting me from what I’d like to be my real job. That would be illustration.

I’m not a great artist, and no need to remind me 🙂 but I love to make art, and I love the feeling when I look at something I made and I actually like it. I love when I get lost in what I’m doing, and wake up from a trance and say “I’ve been sitting on the floor drawing for HOW LONG?”. I love when finally, after a dozen or an hundred hands of gouache, I finally reach that exact flesh tone I was aiming to. I love it when the flesh tone is not the one I was aiming to but is unexpectedly nice, too. I love when my hand trembles and makes an horrible ink mark, and love when I draw around it to make it an unplanned bush and find out it actually looks good.

Labyrinth
10 pm: let’s sketch a little before going to bed!
4 am: this.

Unfortunately, all those things are happening less and less often. I think you can all relate: real life is swallowing your time, and you have to take care of urgent but uninteresting little things: gotta pay the bills, wash the dishes, do laundry, get groceries, and of course work to have money so you can do all those meaningless things. The bliss of a good illustration is forgotten when you have to sweep the floor for the umpteenth time because you freaking dropped the pan with your dinner in it, and THEN make dinner again. Real life sucks, kids.

And then there’s the feeling of not being good enough. You watch other artists pump out four hundred studies and fifty-three completed paintings and you feel ashamed of your ballpoint pen sketch drawn on the back of a receipt while queuing at the market. Your imagination dries out, and it’s more and more difficult to find the mental energy to live for a few minutes in your artist-y world.

This was made on a good day, on the back of an envelope instead of a receipt.

You all have at least one, don’t you? The world where all the stories happen, and where you go when you need inspiration. Mine is full of warriors and castles and magic, not unlike the most stereotypical fantasy island. I’m starting to build another one, with spaceships and intergalactic travellers, but it’s still in a toddler phase. Machinery is not my forté.

A piece of the new world, done with a cracked version of Photoshop Portable on the office PC during a few night shifts.
Why aren’t you good enough?

It’s easy to fall into the “everyone’s better than me!!!11” cry pit, and I am sometimes guilty of it. I mean, give a look online! Artists’ groups on Facebook and art blogs like Muddy Colors offer you a glimpse in the life of professionals and great amateurs as well. You dared open your Pinterest or Instagram feed? Too bad for you. Don’t even get me started on DeviantArt. But you know what? For every Painter McPaintyFace there is an hundred of poor kids that struggle to get that perspective barely pleasant. They don’t even dare to post their stuff because it’s not worthy of the great Internet. You see great artists only because they’re the ones brave enough to put themselves under the spotlight.

Do you love what you do? Let the world know, dammit! If you put effort in your art and catch every chance you have to improve, you’re good to go. It may be a ten-minutes sketch, but it’s better than a zero-minutes sketch. And yes, I need to tell myself this stuff everyday.

With all my receipt sketches and stolen admin passwords to install Photoshop at the office, I am improving. Every new piece I make nudges me closer to the artist I’d like to be. I laugh when I cannot put together a portfolio, because every new piece is better than the ones before. Ok, not every of them, but some are. Even with the little time I have, I can feel myself improving more and more, and this is beautiful. I’m not giving up and being swallowed by the real life, but I’m holding onto my fantasy world. And may I be cursed by one of my sorcerers if I ever let it go.

 

Creating a story

A few years ago, I was drawing a fantasy comic. I already had the story (it was my first roleplaying campaign), so I simply followed that with minor tweaks to make it more appealing. Great job, wasn’t it?

Wrong!

It was incoherent, inconsequential, with a lot of ideas but not integrated one with the other. Plus, the art was hideous, but that’s not the point. Or it is, but I’ll get to that later. I stopped drawing it midway, when I realized I was far too deep in chaos to be respectful of my (two) readers and deliver them a good story. So I put the project aside.

I won’t lie, I always loved that story and wanted to make something out of it. It kept running in my mind background, and when I occasionally found myself bored, I kept delving into it. Breaking, recontructing, modifying, creating and erasing. I am still working on it, slowly but constantly. These are the things I learnt and am still learning.

The World

You can’t move your characters in an undefined world. This realization came pretty later, since I thought I knew my world, but in fact it was only idealized. Does it follow physical laws? How does magic works? Are there dragons, elves, dwarfs? Where do they come from? In what are they different from humans? How does society work? Are mages an elitist caste? How does government work? An answer to these and other questions… sometimes in the distant future. I don’t have all the answers because I don’t have all the questions yet. And that’s fine.

map of a fantasy world
Back then I thought a fancy map was enough. How was I wrong.
The Characters

My characters went under massive redesign, too. Some were too powerful, some were useless to the plot, some needed a different purpose. The issue with characters is that you get attached to them, and it’s awfully difficult to let them go. Unfortunately, I had to understand that characters are almost never necessary to a story: you can change any of them in nearly any possible way, and it usually wouldn’t affect the storyline at all.

My first approach was a good guys VS. bad guys thing: then I thought, but there are not good guys and bad guys in the real world! So I tried to blur the line in a Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) kind of storytelling: different POVs, no moral judgement, everyone has her own motives. It was a mess.

Then again, I realized that tropes work well because people are familiar with them, and this isn’t a bad thing: good guys VS. bad guys is it, then. I can just follow the hero and have a more streamlined story (think about Harry Potter: you almost never see Voldemort’s POV, but it doesn’t hinder a good story).

group
You go, good guys.
The Story

The story itself was a mess from the start, but I hadn’t realized yet. I firmly knew the beginning and the end, and thought that the middle part would unwrap itself in itinere. Well, I’ve been wrong a lot of times. The middle part is where the story actually happens, and I couldn’t afford to ignore it. I started a lot of subplots without knowing how they would develop and ended making a mess. Now I know I have to have everything crystal clear before grabbing a pencil. Bad comic artist, bad.

Doom
Will this scene ever appear in the story? Never mind, it’s cool anyway.
The Artwork

Oh boy the artwork. I’m not saying I completely missed the target here, because I practised a lot and learnt even more, so I’m kinda glad I drew 100+ pages. But gawd, they sucked.

Two simple words I have to get tattooed on my forehead: Preparatory Drawings. I’m capitalizing them because they’re so freaking important. I should have drawn and redrawn every. single. little. thing. til I could dream about them. I should have been able to see my characters’ faces as they were my coworkers’. I should have known the environments as I had visited them. I should have rendered movement as… as I were an actual artist, which I’m not. Again, bad artist.

Warning, this is not a sketch. Actual artwork.

I’m not ready yet to undertake this ordeal again. I’d really like to make an actual graphic novel out of this story, but this is a future project. There’s still so much to do. I don’t know when it will see the light, but it definitely will.

Wish me luck!

Lesser known mythological creatures

Fantasy illustration is full of creatures: dragons, griffins, unicorns… everyone recognizes them. What about the lesser known ones?

Most creatures come from mythology: you surely know about Greek ones (Titans, pegasi) and probably a few Norse ones (Midgarsorm, Fenrir). Most of the fantasy creations deal with European creatures, but there’s a veritable cornucopia of different myths all around the world! Here I list some of the most curious I have found during my research.

kitab_al-bulhan_-_devils_talking

 

Djinni (Islamic)

A djinni is a free-willed creature, along with humans and angels, created from fire. It’s not a single creature, but there’s a whole society of them, very similar to the human one. Little (or too much) is said about their physical appearance: they are sometimes depicted as dragons, vultures, dogs or with human shape. They possess more or less magical powers (again, depending on the depiction).

Tired of dwarfs and elves? The djinn is the creature for you!

 

Aralez (Armenian)

Aralezs are dog-like spirits, sometimes depicted as winged dogs, that can bring back a person to life by licking his wounds. I couldn’t find a lot of info about them, but of all the winged animals, I never came across a winged dog.

 

Axehandle HoundAxehandle Hound (Northern US)

Speaking about dogs, what about the Axehandle Hound? It’s a sort of dachshund-like dog, with an axe-shaped head and a long body resembling an handle. It goes around eating the handles of axes which have been left unattended. This is gonna be fun to draw.

 

Kitsune (Japanese)

Kitsune is the word for “fox” in Japanese, but it is believed that all foxes can transform into humans. Kitsunes are fairy-like creatures and possess magical powers. Zenko kitsunes are the celestial and good ones, while Yako kitsunes are malevolent and mischievous. They seem to grow more tails, up to nine, when aging.

 

KelpieKelpie (Scottish)

A kelpie is a shape-shifting water spirit, appearing as an horse or in human form. When in human shape, it usually retains its hooves, thus being quite easy to identify. According to Scottish folklore, the kelpie is a black stallion that lives in body of waters, preying on humans when they get close by. In Christian times it has been associated with the traditional depiction of Satan.

Undine (European Renaissance)

Another water creature. Undine is a sort of umbrella term for all those female water dwellers (nereids, mermaids, naiads…) who sing with beautiful voices and need humans to be complete. The first definition of Undine, or Ondine, comes from Paracelsus, who thus named the water elemental. They appear as beautiful women, but lack an immortal soul and have to marry a man to get one. In the 1939  French play by Giradoux, the man who betrays the Undine is bound to perform every bodily function by will: if he forgets to breathe, he dies.

 

Catoblepas (Ethiopian)

The catoblepas is a sort of buffalo with a boar head. His head is so heavy it always points downward. It’s covered in scales and its breath can turn people to stone.

 

Chonchon (Chilean)

When a powerful Kalku sorcerer uses a secret magical ointment, his head detatches from the body and becomes a Chonchon. This is a legendary creature that flies in the moonless nights bringing bad luck. It consists in a feathered human head with sharp talons and big winglike ears.

 

Manananggal (Filipina)

The woman-like creature that goes by that unpronounceable name is a sort of vampire who preys on pregnant women, sucking the unborn fetus with a proboscis tongue. She can separate her torso from the lower body and sprout bat-like wings. Oddily enough, she seems to possess the same weaknesses as the traditional vampire (garlic, salt, daggers, daylight…).

Leshy (Slavic)

A Leshy is a forest guardian spirit. They are shapeshifter, and can thus assume any form, but they are originally masculine and similar to a giant. Sometimes they go around and lead travellers astray, but they are not evil in themselves.

First Commission

In September, a friend of mine approached me with a request. “I want a portrait of my grandparents to give them on Christmas!” He said. “Can you do that?”

A portrait? With actual paint on actual canvas? Of real people? “Of course!” I exclaimed, while the inner me was cringing, “What if it won’t be good enough? What if they won’t be alike? What if you cannot finish it in time?”. But the agreement was done, I had my first commission.

I decided to paint with acrylics on a 30x40cm canvas. Why acrylics? I had two choices, acrylics or gouache (I didn’t know how to use oils yet), and while I personally prefer gouache, I also think it’s a quite “fragile” medium: a drop of water is enough to loosen almost dry paint, and I am known for never waiting enough for color to dry (see also: watercolor soggy mess). On the opposite, acrylics dry quite fast, and once fixed you can paint over them easily. Painting over ugly stuff is my favourite hobby, so I went for it.

I used a grid to copy the reference photo on the canvas (memo: grids are bad. Real artists don’t use them. Bad artist, bad.) and gave a first wash of lime green for the background, then started to sketch the plants. I have been taught to start from the darkest tone and go on to mediums and highlights: well, it works.

background sketch
Grids are EVIL.

I didn’t feel like facing the faces yet (see what I did here? Facing, faces… eheh), so I went onto the clothing. A full color here, a quick shadow there, and I had a nice base to work on.

Quick mass definition for clothing.
Quick mass definition for clothing.

I cannot avoid them forever, can I? So, faces! It was an ordeal to get a likeness from a low-res old photo, so I asked for more recent pics to have an idea of the general shape. Granpa had a mole on his forehead until new references arrived: I then understood that it was only a dirt spot on the photo. Mole surgically removed before anyone could see it.

Mole still visible.
Mole still visible.

Halfway done. Now it’s just retouching, adding details, fixing shadows and contrasts, what and whatnot. The hardest part. It’s a commission, I kept repeating myself, it HAS to be good!

Finished commission, no postproduction.
Finished work, no postproduction.

You can see the final work with ambient light correction in my Portraits gallery.

The guy was happy with the result, or at least that’s what he said (if you’re reading this, please be happy!).

(Com)mission accomplished!

Screenplay Workshop

I succeeded in getting a free weekend from work (an undertaking in itself) to attend a workshop about screenplaying a comic book story. It was held by Marco Madoglio, a noteworthy Italian writer.

All the photos below are taken and published with permission.

Rather than explain everything that happened during those eight hours, I’m posting a quick review.

The Workshop
Marco Madoglio explaining Argentinian comics.
Marco Madoglio explaining Argentinian comics.

First of all we learned about differences in comic books from various countries. As most creations of art, comic books also reflect the culture and the time in which they were born: Italian comics, for example, were born right after the World War: they were seen as a way to escape the grim reality of the time, so we have Tex (a Far West themed comic), Diabolik (a Lupin-like thief), Dylan Dog (a mystery/horror investigation comic) and many more. In the same way, every country has its own keyword for comic books.

The Story

Therefore, Madoglio went on explaining how actual screenplaying works: starting with a concept and developing it into a story (and how many possible kind of stories!) . You can follow or not the traditional 3-acts scheme.

My notes on synopsis.
My notes on synopsis.

Most of the time went into analyzing the traditional story scheme, since you can reduce into it almost every story:

  • starting situation
  • balance rupture
  • the hero leaves his/her comfort zone
  • journey, experience
  • battle
  • conclusion

Of course, this is rather an oversemplification, but things work because they’re easy. Try and subvert the traditional scheme!

A sheet about traditional storytelling.
A sheet about traditional storytelling.

Hence we went on quickly overviewing the different kind of character: hero/antihero, damsel in distress, the Bad Guy and his minions… again, most of them can be classified with very simple labels, as different as they may seem.

Then we talked about “shooting”: how to call every framing shot (long shot, medium shot, close up…) to have a common technical language. In the end, we went over different dialogue writing tips.

Notes on shooting story and dialogue.
Notes on shooting and dialogue.
The test!

Finally, we had a couple of hours to write our own screenplay: a 2-4 pages story complete with dialogues and storyboard. Of course, two hours are far from enough! We just decided on a short story and started sketching it. Storytelling is a hard job! You have to think about shots, how to transit from one to another, how to visualize the whole story so it is readable and easy to understand even without dialogue. Maybe I will post my work in progress someday!

My first exhibition

Photo by Tiziano Lapegna (flickr.com/paperinix)
Photo by Tiziano Lapegna
(flickr.com/paperinix)
Yup, that’s me.

So, the place where I work organized a party for its 31st birthday, and they had this idea about showing some of the employees’ works of art. They asked me a couple weeks beforehand, and since I had nothing better to do that day, I just answered, why not? And so my ordeal began.

Yeah, well, not so much an ordeal as to find something suitable to show people (no naked dark elf chicks) and fixing what could be fixed. Here’s where my Artemis update comes from. I even finished a totally new piece just in time (the cyberpunk-mecha-something-priest, now available in my Concept gallery!)

I was showing off with another half dozen colleagues, most of them photographers and only another traditional artist, a pencil portraitist. The place was astounding and the staging was great. Everything, the party and exhibition, was set in an old factory; the furniture and decoration were all made of reclaimed wood. All very modern and edgy.

place
Photo by me, that’s why it sucks.

The actual exhibition, meh, went as expected. A lot of people strolling by, watching a photo here and a portrait there, chatting among themselves but not actually interested. Only one person asked questions about my work and actually listened the answers; the others just smiled politely at my explanations without registering a word. And this is fine, because that’s how things go in an amateur exhibition.

Did I mention that I got to show my work in my first exhibition? Well, I partecipated in my first exhibition, and it was GREAT!