All art copyright (c) Mike Kloepfer
"The level of achievement that we have at anything is a reflection of how well we were able to focus on it."
-Steve Vai

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

New Sketches

Trying out my new Pilot Hi-Tec-C and Pentel Aquash pens.

Studies of Little John
Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens and
Pentel Aquash brush pen on
Strathmore watercolor paper, 6x9"
Luck of the Draw
Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens and
Pentel Aquash brush pen on
Strathmore watercolor paper, 6x9"

Kindred Spirits
Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens and
Pentel Aquash brush pen on
Strathmore watercolor paper, 6x9"
Robin Waits
Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens and
Pentel Aquash brush pen
on Canson drawing paper,

Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring/Summer Medieval/Fantasy Photo Shoot

Robin (Michael Sheridan) concentrates
The entire cast ... (I think!)
Early confrontation between
Robin (Michael Sheridan)
and Little John (Bryan Strong)
Bryan Strong really did
exude the Little John vibe.
Sketch of Robin
a chance to try out my new
sketch pens and brush pen.

Did we ever have FUN at the Spring/Summer Medieval/Fantasy Photo Shoot!!!
We had at least 15 attendees, most of whom were costumed characters. Fortunately, there were a couple other people there taking photographs - there was WAY more epic scenes than I could possibly photograph!
The surroundings, the costumes, the diffused light from an overcast day.... WOW! I am certain that many great drawings, and at least a few paintings, will come out of this.
I took over 500 photos. It will take some time to process all of them, but here are a couple highlights.
And one sketch.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Birthday presence. (Yes, that spelling is intentional.)

Yes, that spelling is intentional. For my birthday, I ordered some art stuff. It turned out to be a great investment, and a perfect birthday present to myself. It really brings me back around full circle to where I started 30 years ago, really re-connecting with my roots and being glad to be where I am, and where I have come to. It is good to have PRESENCE as well as presents!
Two days ago, I received my new Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens and Pentel Aquash pen from
The package arrives!
Pilot Hi-Tec-C Pens
and Pentel Aquash Brus Pen!
The Hi-Tec-C pens are popular in Japan, and difficult to find in the USA.

I was really excited to give them a try. I had seen Scott Robertson, John Park and others use them in combination for great sketching. The Hi-Tec pens have a tendency to 'melt' when water is applied. What this means is that with nothing more than a Hi-Tec pen and a water brush, I can get lines and wash, and there's no need to carry anything else. So it makes it super-convenient to take anywhere.

I ordered both Black and Brown, in 0.25, 0.3, and 0.5 widths.
I ran all the pens through my basic test as you can see, and then experimented with a couple quick sketches to see how they work.

So far, I am LOVING them! The Hi-Tec pens have the convenience of a ball-point pen, with the precision of a Rapidograph. Unlike the porous point precision pens, the point does not wear down. There is a bit of getting used to as far as the feel, but that is to be expected. It really took me back to the days when I was doing Technical Illustration. 
I like the feel, although the pens themselves are lighter weight (physically) than what I am used to.
The 0.25 is SUPER fine, and good for construction lines, reference points, and stuff that I don't want to show too prominently, and that is what it is best for. It is too fine to do any heavy work, and will gouge the lighter weight paper if used over and over on a line.
The 0.3 is better for linework. It is still a very fine line weight. This is GOOD for sketching. It doesn't build up too heavy as I experiment and search for the placement of lines, edges and objects. It gives me plenty of leeway to search and explore, and that is the frame of mind I am in when sketching.
The 0.5 is good for building up heavier lines, clarifying overlapping lines, and beefing up silhouette lines. It can build up darks and solid patches pretty well. 

Then the fun begins.
I love the Pentel Aquash pen! What a GREAT idea! It has a wonderful brush tip. The body is the water reservoir, which I filled with Artesian water (the plumbing in this old apartment building is less than ideal, and I don't entirely trust the tap water.) The cap seals pretty well - I haven't tried anything extreme, but so far, no leaks. You simply squeeze the body to prime the tip with water. It is very easy to work with and very versatile. You can vary the water in the brush tip by wiping excess on a rag or paper towel. I simply tested on the back of my hand, and then I had a tiny puddle that I could dip into to add more water.

But it turns out I don't need to. The Hi-Tec pens – especially the brown – really do melt in water. The technique, and the effect, is pretty much like working with watercolor pencils, only with more density. The good news is that the Hi-Tec can draw back over the 'wash' once it is dry. While the wash is still wet, it tends to bleed, which could be a useful effect in some instances.
The customary Pen Test -
with washes!
It will take a little trial and error to really get the hang of it, but I believe it will be worth the effort.

I discovered that the paper makes a HUGE difference, especially with the water brush pen.
I fill most of my custom sketchbook with cheap copy paper. It removes any intimidation or hesitancy. I am free to try anything, and if it doesn't work, no big deal - it's only cheap copy paper.
However, when applying water, even a light wash, the cheap paper tends to buckle. A little bit is okay, but if I plan on using the washes more frequently, I'll be loading the sketchbook with heavier paper.
I tried a few different types - bond paper, drawing paper, and watercolor paper. They all have their distinctive qualities, and each could be useful. But the thing to remember is: more water requires heavier paper!

The combination of the Hi-Tec-C and Aquash pens is SUPER convenient and ideal for taking wherever I go – along with my handy sketchbook. The ability to get good linework and lay in a wash – very quickly – is a delight. Being able to put in fine detail where I want it is also a joy.
Here are the results of the initial experiments:
Testing the Brown Hi-Tec-C pen
in combination with
the Aquash Brush pen
Sketching with the Black Hi-Tec-C
(Yes, that is what you think it is.)

More sketches.
I will be posting more as I continue to explore these new pens.

The new book arrives!!! :D

Yesterday, I received my new copy of How to Draw by Scott Robertson.
I know, many of you may be asking yourselves “Why on earth does Mikey need a book on how to draw?” (Some of you may be thinking that it's about time... lol) But the answer is simple if you understand my history and experience. I cannot describe how exciting it is to combine technical illustration, a field in which I have spent over 20 years, and fantasy/science fiction/concept art. It is like discovering chocolate pizza – all the best things put together! And the idea of drawing tech from imagination – it is simply too good to pass up.
I have been delighted and inspired by Scott Robertson's videos on YouTube and eager to delve into the concepts and techniques on a more in-depth scale.
The great thing is that the concepts, tools, and techniques are very familiar to me. The excitement comes in applying those concepts, tools, and techniques in a different – and totally creative – way.
It is cool when new ideas take you back full-circle to where you started, and begins a new cycle of creativity.

I have no idea what will come out of this, but stay tuned... it is bound to be exciting!!! :)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

THE GRIDS - for my fellow artists

I was discussing an exercise with fellow artist Michael Rosenbaum at *LoL* Caricature Co.
This morning I woke up out of a sound sleep with the urge to post the exercise, and the printable documents, on my blog for all of my fellow artists to experiment with and enjoy.
I first got the idea when watching the video podcast series Little Creatures from Bobby Chiu. (I love Bobby's creature designs, and I thoroughly enjoy his pod casts, watching him draw and listening to him talk about his ideas, process, etc.)
Bobby Chiu - Little Creatures Part 1 of 3
Click HERE to see the first video
(I highly recommend it!)
Little Creatures Part 2 of 3
Click HERE to watch the video
Little Creatures Part 3 of 3
Click HERE to watch the video
(The bonus of watching the videos is
Bobby's inspirational talk about not giving up!)
In the video, Bobby talks while he fills a page with tiny 1x1" thumbnail sketches. I loved the idea, so I adapted it to my traditional drawing media.

The process of thumbnail sketches is nothing new; however, his is the first time I have found a way to approach it that works for me.

The great thing about this exercise is that it is FAST. I can knock out a whole page of thumbnails in a very short time. And by doing so, I can try out as many variations on a theme as I can think of - and I was surprised how many I could think of!!! It really gets my creative wheels turning. And since the images are so small, there's no room for excessive fiddling around. Just get the idea down.
It's all about the broad, general shapes, overall proportions, the design, and the balance - not about the details.
[When the overall design is solid, the details you choose to include have more impact. It allows you to be much more selective about which elements you really want to include in a piece, and the entire piece becomes more compelling.]

My initial goal is to fill an entire page with a single idea or concept - that's 48 thumbnail sketches! It's much more constructive to pick the best from 48 tiny sketches than it is to just 'steamroll' through the first idea that pops into my head. Sometimes, the first idea is the best, sometimes it isn't. This way, I have options - lots of them! Sometimes, the idea that should not work at all winds up being the one that I like the best.
Filling a page with a single idea is not always easy. Sometimes, one idea leads to another, and that leads to another... When that happens, I just follow the flow. That is when it gets really fun! In an hour, I can come up with several brand-new ideas or concepts, and dozens of variations of each one. This leads to some cool "ah-ha!" moments. It's fun to see where ideas lead.

Now, when I have an idea or concept that I like, I can run it through this process and work through all the variations, permutations, good ideas, bad ideas, boring ideas, brilliant ideas... until I come up with enough thumbnails to pick and choose the one(s) that will be the best to continue developing.

Here is GRID 1:
Grid 1, aka The 1x1" GRID - Black
[Click HERE to open
a printable .pdf file]
Grid 1, aka The 1x1" Grid - Gray
[Click HERE to open
a printable .pdf file]

Click on the links shown to open a downloadable, printable .pdf version.
There are two basic grids, and each come in two versions.
  1. The one I use is the black version, I just slip it under a sheet of cheap copy paper and I can see my grid well enough to do the exercise.*
  2. I also produced the gray version, which you can print, and draw directly on top of.  The grid is 25% black, so it is visible yet faint. It's the same effect as the black version showing through the page underneath.
* One of the reasons that I use cheap copy paper is that it is less intimidating. I have nothing to lose if an idea doesn't work, because I'm not wasting expensive materials... it's just cheap copy paper. This frees my mind to try things, be adventurous, sometimes ridiculous even... and expect the unexpected! All of the ideas feed into the larger cauldron of creativity.

So here's the exercise:
  • Have several sheets of paper and a black grid handy, or several printed sheets of the gray grid. 
  • Take a simple idea or object, say in this instance a basic face shape.
  • Create as many variations as you can until the entire page is filled.
  • Don't spend too much time on any single idea - no more than a couple minutes, then on to the next one! (The idea is to build creative momentum.)
  • There are no limits! If you have an idea, try it - no matter how far-out or exotic. 
  • If you fill the page and have more ideas, grab another page and keep going!
Want to try moving, stretching, or altering the shapes? Go ahead! If, for instance, I have a face and want to try to move the nose up, I'll work through all of the possibilities - up, down, left, right, corner to corner, any variation I can think of. I get to see which ones actually work the best, without having to commit a lot of time and energy to any of them. Sometimes, I combine ideas from several thumbnails.

You can use this exercise for any design/illustration/drawing concept.

Here is an example from my own sketches. I saw a picture of an animal skull that looked like an alien head... so I grabbed a sheet of paper and a grid and popped out a whole page on the theme of a fantasy creature skull:
Skulls - 1" thumbnails
The cool thing for me is to look back and see the progression. It starts with a couple of literal sketches, then I start 'clicking.' I start taking the same five basic elements - 'brain pan', eye sockets, nasal cavity, teeth, and jaw - and combining them in as many ways as I can think of at that time. By the time I got halfway down the page, the thumbnails became more adventurous. The bottom half of the page contains thumbnails that are stronger and contain better design elements than the first few literal drawings.
There are at least two ways to vary any element in a thumbnail, usually more.Try all the variations you can imagine: up, down, left, right, diagonal, big, small, curved, flat, straight, crooked, etc. 
Don't worry about the fiddly stuff. Simplify, get to the heart of the idea, play around, have some fun, and get creative! You may be surprised at the cool things you come up with - I constantly am!

This exercise is particularly useful for caricature artists. Combining exaggeration with minimization, amplification with understatement, is the heart of caricature. There are endless ways to push and pull features on the face. Playing around with features in a 1x1" grid can be a great way to get your creative wheels turning.

I got the idea for this variation when I watched the video Environmental Design I with James Paick.
Environmental Design I with James Paick
Click HERE to watch the video.
More from Environmental Design I
with James Paick
More from Environmental Design I
with James Paick

Here is GRID 2:
Grid 2 - Color
[Click HERE to open
a printable .pdf file]
Grid 2 - Gray
[Click HERE to open
a printable .pdf file]

It's the same as with the 1x1" grids, but this version is better suited for working through compositional variations for a drawing or painting. Move elements around, vary the placement, size and shapes, etc.

A sample page of thumbnail sketches
using Grid 2.
A partial page of thumbnails using Grid 2.

Once I worked with both Grids and got comfortable with them, I started to combine Grid 2 with smaller Grid 1-like divisions. This allows me to explore all kinds of layout variations - horizontal, vertical, varying diagonals, etc. You can even see where I filled a tiny horizontal space with a tiny panorama. I might never have tried it otherwise, but there was the space, so I gave it a go.
Here, I've combined Grid 2 and Grid 1,
breaking up the larger grid into smaller ones
to work out variations.
Using Grid 1 and Grid 2 together - 
a fast way to get a lot of ideas down.

Here's another variation of the exercise that I got from a video by Nicolas Weis (Dreamworks.) He had an interesting process that he used when working on the concept art for The Croods.
He tried as many variations as he could using three elements: A tree, a rock, and a building.
I took the idea and tried it with a tree, a rock, and a human or animal figure.
Grid 1 - three elements:
-Figure (human or animal)
It's interesting what you can come up with when you think you've run out of ideas.

Then I saw a picture of a man standing on top of a gigantic tree stump. So I tried the idea with a stump instead of a tree. I varied the grid to accommodate horizontal and vertical compositions, etc.
Three elements:
-Figure (human or animal)
I encourage you to try these exercises for yourself, and see what great ideas they lead to!!!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

StarFest Sketchbook pages

I thought I'd post some of my sketchbook pages from StarFest 2014.
It was a fun day, there was way too much to see... great costumes, great characters, some funny, some serious.... some inappropriate, but still entertaining.
I only did a little sketching... I had to stop gawking long enough to sketch.
StarFest sketches 1
Pen, 8.5 x 11"

StarFest sketches 2
Pen, 8.5 x 11"