Monday, September 28, 2009

Article Round Up!

Drive-by post! This week we've gathered up a few links to various articles and cool stuff we've seen recently. We'll probably do this again from time to time for stuff that we like that, for whatever reason, doesn't make it onto our Twitter (like when Louisa finds something awesome during the day only to realise she's managed to wipe her Twitterfox settings at work and can't remember the password to the account, for example).

Twisted Princesses: A Darker Take on Disney

We're used to seeing the Disney heroines as glittering, gracious, smiling beauties. Well, some of them may be smiling in this macabre art series, but in a way that is likely to give you nightmares.

Why Strong Female Characters Are Bad For Women

The title is misleading - take Strong Female Characters with a heavy dose of irony and then have a look at this interesting read on how mainstream movie writers still aren't quite grasping the concept of creating a compelling female role model.

Can Marvel-Disney Help Close the Comic Book Gender Gap?

A look at what the Disney buyout of Marvel might mean for marketing comics to women.

Fangirl Invasion, Part One: The Changing Face (and Sex) of Fandom
Fangirl Invasion, Part Two: Hollywood Takes Notice
Fangirl Invasion, Part Three: The War of the Sexes Hits Geekdom

Ok, the use of terms like Invasion! and War! tends to annoy me because it seems to imply that women are forcing themselves in and taking over where they don't belong. I am slightly tired of news articles declaring that Twilight is the new Moses, parting the seas of testosterone and bravely leading thousands of young girls to the Holy Land of Geekdom. Because gee, it's not like girls existed in fandom BEFORE Twilight, right? On the other hand, hey, at least they're finally making it to the party and I do have to (grudgingly) admit that Twilight is bringing more young girls to conventions, the fantasy genre, and helping them to realise that BOOKS ARE AWESOME.

Epic Worlds Without Women?
The Epic Fantasy and Female Characters, Part Two
Fantasy and Female Characters, Part Three

Another three part article series in which fantasy authors Kate Elliot and Ken Scholes discuss female characters in fantasy and how they handle them in their own work.

Two mentions of Disney is kinda of like a theme, right? So I'm going to round this post off with a Princess painting meme that's going round that I think is pretty adorable.

Princess Coloring Book by *Artsammich on deviantART

The challenge? Take a Disney princess colouring book page and colour it in the style of a Masters painting. Ryan Wood kicked off this idea here with his portrait of Belle in the style of an Ingres painting, and Sam Neilson took up the gauntlet with the beautiful painting of Jasmine above. I have a soft spot for the heroines of Disney - they were some of my earliest childhood idols and anytime before I hit my teens you could guarantee that my favourite film was whatever the latest Disney film was. (Well, except for Snow White. No taking candy from strangers, you vapid dummy!) So I was thrilled that a few more of the awesome artists on my watchlist picked up the idea and ran with it. Here are a few more for your viewing pleasure!

Aurora by Katie DeSousa

Cinderella by Lois van Baarle

Belle by Adelenta

If anyone has seen (or done!) any more of these, let me know in the comments? I'm kind of addicted - I may even have to do one myself.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Featured Artist: Liiga Smilshkalne

Artist Profile
Name: Liiga Smilshkalne
Job Title: Freelance Digital Painter
Client List: Northeast Games, LightCon Inc. Butterfly Fan the Inferno, and oodles of private commissioners.
Education: Bachelors Degree in Economics and Business. Currently studying for 2nd Bachelors in Politics. No art related education.
Years Experience: 7+ years
Favorite Medium: Digital
Specialties: Fantasy, somewhat realistic figure painting, whenever possible with a surreal or macabre twist.
Accepting Private Commissions? Schedule varies, please inquire.

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio:
Twitter: none
Online Art Communities: deviantArt, GFXArtist, Epilogue -- listed as "liiga" on all of them.

Artist Liiga Smilshkalne (pronouced "League-ah Smeelsh-kuhl-ne") is no stranger many of us who have been around the various online art communities over the last few years. Her captivating artwork tends to ensnare you like the delicately detailed webs she often paints. Her work has been featured in artbooks, such as Exotique, but recently she's seen a fair amount of exposure of a different sort.

Her painting, "Sunlight" (shown above) has become one of the more prominently displayed images advertising the online game Evony. The game has received criticism over it's blatant use of cleavage in it's advertising (among other things), which seems to be everywhere, thanks to Google ads. Liiga and I talked a bit about the Evony ads and what she thinks about them, below.

I think my first introduction to your work was the painting “Captured” over on Elfwood back in 2003. It seems like you’ve been around the digital art scene for as long as I’ve been, but it’s hard to dig up information on you. Tell us a little about how you got started as an artist? Where are you now, in the art industry?

I first got my hands on an easel, paper and paints at the tender and impressionable age of 3 and never quite let it go since then. I started painting digitally around 16, not long after getting a computer. Since it only came with MSPaint, I was originally extremely impressed by the amazing pixelation skills that the artists behind the digital paintings online must have had. After looking into the subject a little more, I came across communities such as Elfwood and Epilogue and the various digital drawing/painting programs out there. Well and it kind of went from there - not having a scanner readily available certainly facilitated my interest in digital painting as well, but mostly I was attracted to the interesting technical aspects and being able to learn a lot from others over the internet. Then I promptly set out to post on various art communities, and eventually commissions started happening. Right now I am gleefully working on mostly private commissions as well as the occasional game related project. Since I am still quite busy with studies at this time, it's the kind of art related employment that I am currently perfectly happy with.

Your work shows an unapologetic love for transparent things and incredibly tiny, delicate details. Who or what are your biggest inspirations, artistically?

I wouldn't be able to name a few specific artists that I've been inspired by, it is instead a long list of changing impressions by many people of different styles, depending on what I am focusing on at the time. At the moment ones that stand out for me the most are Brom with the way he handles colors and values, Ursula Vernon and her awesome texture work and daring imagination, Dali for being, well, Dali, and Lindra Bergkvist with the way she handles skintones.

Other than that, I am perpetually inspired by nature. I am lucky to live in a place with a giant meadow and small forests around, so there's plenty opportunities for observation. Having spent a good chunk of my childhood in the countryside that might be where the fascination with drawing tiny details stems from.
Well and translucent stuff is just awfully fun to draw like that, 'cause lighting is one of the things that I find technically captivating.

You do a lot of paintings that are for website designs—which is fairly unusual compared to how most website designs are typically put together. How is it different from just doing a regular painting or illustration? What kinds of things do you have to work around or keep in mind when working on website illustrations?

The sites I have done design so far have been related to fantasy games, so that makes the perfect excuse to do the whole design in a painterly style - which is helpful since I know more about painting than web design.

The main difference from a regular painting is, of course, that there will be content that is more important than the painted bits. Then there is also the whole technical side - how feasible it is to code, what will work with this or that browser, how large it should be, what happens when the content changes size etc.
Since I'm not much of a coder, I usually work closely with whoever is doing that part at the very beginning while brainstorming over what kind of design to have and how it would work, and the end when the images have to be sliced and otherwise prepared for the final presentation. And in between that lies the actual painting, which is more or less as painting usually goes.

A few months ago you licensed your painting “Sunlight” to the creators of the online game “Evony” for use in their ad campaign and game. The game’s advertising has received a lot of attention, and some criticism, for their overtly sexual messages. Perhaps complicating the situation, “Sunlight” is a self-portrait. Did they give you any idea, going in, that that was what they were shooting for? How do you feel about your image being viewed as a sexual marketing ploy?

The whole Evony thing turned into a bit of surprise, because I didn't expect that they would be quite so aggressive and suggestive with their campaign as a whole. Of course it isn't entirely lost on me that the painting itself has a certain amount of sensuality to it - it is mostly the context of the whole thing that was somewhat surprising, and amusing. 

I have read some of the online discussions about Evony's advertising campaign, and I do agree that the whole progression of the ad contents from the somewhat more timid fantasy figures to what appears at a first glance to be a lingerie ad was less than subtle. On the other hand, the whole concern of objectification of the female body and sexuality seems blown a little out of proportion. I mean, compare to a painting or a photo that depicts a person with the focus on some kind of external quality they possess - be it beauty, ugliness, green skin or three noses. Certain objectification will be inevitably present, because that is the whole point. Now one may argue that when the focus is on sexuality that it gets a little underhanded by appealing to the carnal desires, which I partially agree with - mostly because in this case it has absolutely nothing to do with the product being marketed anyways. However, the extent of concern that some people have expressed regarding the whole thing seems to imply that the ad and the image in it depict something far more explicit and sinister than they really do - although the suggestiveness has been heavily played up with the context of the ad compared to the original, I don't find it offensive in any way. Instead, I'm taking it as a compliment and getting a good chuckle out of the whole commotion - and of course, I don't mind the free advertising that came with it.

I noticed on your dA page that most of your recent commenters have been people who found the image after viewing it in the “Evony” ads. Have the ads increased your site traffic? Have there been any negative effects from the ad?

The ads don't directly state who the author of the image is, so the increase in traffic isn't that large, but enough people managed to find it that the increase was noticeable. There haven't been any particularly negative effects other than having to write more e-mails and notes than ever before, confirming that the image was licenced in a legitimate way. But it really just shows that people care, so I wouldn't call that negative either way. 

While browsing through the comments on it, I found it interesting that so many of us (and I’m including myself in this) saw the ad and immediately assumed it might be stolen, then contacted you about it. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing because it means that more people are aware of the problems of art theft and are willing to support the artist; or a bad thing because it means artists in general have become that cynical. What’s your view on it?

I believe it is a good thing. Image theft is hardly a recent phenomenon on the internet anyways - so a little bit of cynism in this regard and readiness to assume the worst and investigate is a million times better than collective apathy towards it.

What’s with the penguins?

This one gets asked every now and then. The penguins are a sort of romantic art exchange I do with someone special - other people give each other flowers, we give each other penguins. And we can share our penguins with the rest of the world, too, so hey - bonus!

Do you have any advice for other women out there who might be interested in getting into fantasy art commercially?

To not be afraid of drawing boobies? I do believe that it is more useful to think of oneself as an artist who happens to be a woman than a woman who happens to be an artist in this context, because one's artistic ability is the main variable here. Nevertheless, it is always beneficial to be able to identify which parts of one's perspective and approach to art are related specifically to gender, so that they can be used in a beneficial way. Oh and don't be shy to look at men for figure reference purposes - it shouldn't be just guys that get to look at girls like that.

Image Credits:
Above: "Sunlight" ©2007-2009
Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Left: "Rhea Dragonsblood" ©2008-2009 Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Middle: "Defiance" ©2009
Liiga Smilshkalne
Below Right: "Emerald Conundrum" ©2009 Liiga Smilshkalne

Monday, September 7, 2009

It's All About Who You Know

Firstly, quick newsflash - Massive Black are having a Labour Day sale on streaming classes, DVDs and downloads! It ends Tuesday September 8th at 11am Pacific Time, so if there's something you've had your eye on, better snap it up quickly. Go here for more details.


It's not just about being able to do the job - it's about knowing the right people in the right place at the right time.

Anybody else been told that? I know I have. Almost every time we had a professional from the CG field in to speak to us at university, we found out they got the job through a friend of a friend, a colleague of a colleague (and occasionally through alcohol, but moving on...). It was often stressed on us just how important networking and connections would be in building our careers and getting us from job to job. Great! So how should we go about that?

*crickets chirp*


At some point I think most of us are faced with the somewhat herculean prospect of going from an inexperienced nobody to somebody with a wealth of useful contacts and resources at their fingertips. At that point everyone is a stranger, you have no idea where the best places to start putting yourself out there even are, and you also happen to be in a profession known for shy and reclusive personalities. Which probably includes you. Excellent.

It can be doubly scary when the people you want to network with are the same people who blow you away with their talent and art wisdom on a regular basis and whose artwork and tutorials you have probably spent hours staring at, slack jawed in wonder. Kind of awkward, introducing yourself to someone about whom you know you have uttered the phrase, "I want to marry this person" and/or, "I want to steal their brain."

For the record, neither of these are a good opening line for an introduction. Just so you know.

As a much younger artist, my networking prowess consisted of typing "fantasy art" into Google and dropping in on sites like Epilogue and Elfwood by pure chance. My sense of isolation was increased by the fact that social media wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is now. The artists I really wanted to talk to seemed aloof and untouchable behind personal fortresses websites and apologetic notices that they received too many emails to be able to answer them all.

From that clumsy beginning I slowly built up my list of communities to frequent, the best places to display my portfolio, and friendships with other artists, and as slow a process as it was, all those people who told me that getting to know people was so crucial were absolutely right. Few artists evolve in a vaccuum. Surrounding yourself with creative, supportive, encouraging friends and mentors will help you grow as an artist and keep you sane in the process.

Things are much easier now. Online portfolios and interactive communities go hand in hand. Forums like CGTalk and along with Twitter, live painting websites and the mighty blogosphere make great artists much more accessible and approachable - you get to talk with them, hear their advice, watch them work, and best of all you get to do it without feeling like you're intruding on their privacy.

So without futher ado, I present to you a list of the blogs and Twitters of some truly talented and awesome women, who are incredibly friendly and helpful to boot. Enjoy!

Alice Duke

Anne Pogoda

Christine Griffin

Char Reed

Charlie Bowater

Constanza Ehrenhaus

Dani Jones

Diane Özdamar

Dona Vajgand

Ellen Million

Elvire De Cock (French only)

Irene Gallo

Jennifer L. Meyer

Jessica Douglas

Julie Dillon

Katie de Sousa

Lois van Baarle

Marta Dahlig

Mélanie Delon

Melissa Hitchcock

Meredith Dillman

Michele-lee Phelan

Nicole Cadet

Nicole Cardiff

Rebecca Morse (French & some English)

Sam Hogg

Selina Fenech

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Ursula Vernon

And a bonus - live painting channels! Check out their pages for broadcast schedules and show descriptions.

Jana Schirmer (Livestream)

Charlie Bowater (Livestream)

Dona Vajgand (Livestream)

Dani Jones (Ustream)

Melissa Findley (Ustream)

Char Reed (Ustream)

And in case you didn't already know, you can also find Melissa and me at the following locations.

Melissa Findley

Louisa Gallie

EDIT 08/09/09: Added a couple more names to the list! Do you have any suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

I’ve been thinking about some of our reader comments lately, both on the blog and on Twitter, and I thought I’d try to clarify our position on some of these things. It's hard to respond to some of these in less than 140 characters :)

Artemisia is about fantastic art, but that covers a wide range of topics. “Art” was something we left fairly broad, because we wanted the opportunity to talk about all kinds of art. Whether it’s the obvious sort like fantasy illustration, book covers, concept art; or things that involve art: like movies, video games, books, conventions, etc.

“Fantastic” is also something we left fairly broad. Both Louisa and I are genre artists. She specializes more in video games and conceptual art, where I lean more heavily toward illustration and graphic art—but we both share a love for sci-fi, fantasy, even sometimes horror, genre art. We work in what we loosely call “the Industry”, which if I had to define it would be something like: those who produce genre art for money.

“From a Female Perspective” is where things get a little sticky sometimes. Obviously both Louisa and I are female. We are not ALL females. Our views are not going to be shared by all women—but we do spend a great deal of time talking to other women who work in the industry, asking questions, gathering information, and trying to draw informed conclusions.

Gender equality is something that the world has struggled with for centuries. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t believe it’s possible. Men and women are never going to see eye to eye, primarily because society won’t let us. And that’s a GOOD thing. If we thought alike all the time, if everything were perfectly balanced, I think the world would be much less interesting. Stagnant, even.

That said, we also think that there’s such a thing as too much imbalance. Right now our industry is so male dominated, it’s like sitting an elephant and a house cat on opposite ends of a balancing board. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror are produced and marketed mostly by and for men. There is a subtle but clear line of thinking that seems to say that women are only interested in fantasy if there are pretty fairies, elves and unicorns, only interested in games that involve dressing up fake people in cool clothes, only going to read fantasy if there is a heavy dose of romance in it, too. While those statements may be true of some women, some of the time, they are not true of all women, all of the time, and they certainly aren’t true for us.

We believe that it’s important to even that up a little, and the only way to do that is to get people to THINK about it. To think about why certain choices are made, and to hopefully help people realize that it might be time to start thinking a little outside the box.

For example: A few days ago ImagineFX, the magazine, started a poll so readers could vote for their favorite cover out of their first 48 issues, in preparation for the release of their 50th issue. Louisa and I have pointed it out before, and it became even more obvious once all those issues were laid out side by side on a single page. Of the 48 covers, three featured couples, two had monsters, one had a landscape, two featured masked male comic characters, and one had a single barbarian male (of the not exactly supermodel or body builder variety) staring out at the reader. The rest of those 39 issues? A single, usually scantily clad, sexualized female subject. Most of them were pin-ups; those that weren’t were of the pretty, soft, fairy tale sort of female.

We complained. ImagineFX didn’t bother to respond, but some of our readers did.

@charreed said: “I don't mind all the ladies on the cover of Imagine FX. I'm a lady and I like looking at fantastical woman :)
When it comes right down to it, neither do we, Char. I can appreciate female beauty, too. The problem that we see, however, is that the imbalance in the covers suggests that ImagineFX’s primary audience is male, and that any female readers are going to be interested in pretty fairy art. The assumption is that putting a male on the cover is somehow going to disinterest the male readers, or scare off the female readers.

@cetriya said: “I would think it more, its easier to design for females where you have to watch out not… make the males 'gay' looking”[sic]
Why do we assume that it’s okay for women to have to look at sexualized female characters with their tits and ass hanging out, posing tantalizingly… but it’s not okay for men to look at male characters posing somewhat more tastefully but just as objectified? Why do we assume that it’s HARD to draw a good-looking man without making him appear effeminate? I see guys draw tough, sexy male characters all the time. I see women do it, too.I never see those images on the cover of ImagineFX. Why not?
@charreed also said: “… unfortunately the audience is mostly dudes.... So convince more girls to buy the mag or get guys to like beef ;)”
Honestly? Of all the artists I know, the majority of the ones who subscribe to IFX on a regular basis are female. So we ARE buying the magazine. You might ask “why, when it’s so obviously marketed to men?” Because ImagineFX isn’t a gaming magazine, or one meant for guys to …er… enjoy in the privacy of their own bathrooms. ImagineFX, in theory, is for ARTISTS. It’s a trade magazine, with tips and tricks for artists—both male and female.

It might come as a surprise to many people to know that there are a LOT of women working in this field. One of our goals here at Artemisia is to find and promote those women—precisely because so few people are aware that we’re even here, and working. Even fewer seem aware of the fact that many of the women in this industry aren’t drawing pretty fairy girls in dresses. That particular market IS huge, and it’s been popularized by female artists like Linda Bergkvist, Melanie Delon, Marta Dahlig, and Benita Winkler; but there are more women who are doing awesome art that is comparable to what the guys in this field are doing.

The problem is that they are so overshadowed by the men who dominate the field that they’ve become almost a myth. Artists like Terese Nielson, Trish Mulvihill, Nicole Cardiff, Socar Myles, Anna Christenson, Jana Schirmer, Cris Griffin, Julie Dillon, Nei Ruffino, and Laurel Austin are some of our favorite artists here at Artemisia—and I’ve seen many people who assume that they are male simply because they don’t paint typical “girly” art. (Actually, small confession: until about three minutes ago I thought Julie Dillon—who goes by jdillon82 on deviantART—was male. So I’m an idiot, too.)

As women, working in this industry, it makes sense that we would be interested in magazines, art books, etc. that talk about the industry, give tips and tutorials, or are just inspiring because they show what so many of us are working on. It kind of sucks when you realize how little the creators of these magazines and books value your interest in them because you don’t happen to think with your penis.
Faerywitch said: “As for more males... Girls, when there are more girls you complain, now you have more guys and you complain!! ;) Now, seriously, again, I think it is catered to the people that spend the money.
She’s talking about Louisa’s post the other day about character design in video games, and how video games are marketed to men and ignore female players.

Yes, we do complain. And we will continue to.

It’s not really about the precise ratio of male characters versus female characters. It’s about imbalance. It’s about objectifying one, but not the other. It’s because we are here, we DO spend money on these things, and there are more of us than the industry seems to believe. We want the world to know that. We want them to stop stereotyping us, stop pigeonholing our gender, and start putting things out there that we enjoy because we are a part of this industry… whether men like it or not.

There’s a lot more to discuss here, more than I have time to go into right now. Expect some posts in the future on topics like video games and female gamers, conventions from a woman’s point of view, and what it’s like to be an objectified female AND an artist. Expect some interviews with some of the ladies I’ve mentioned here.

And expect us to hold what occasionally might seem like contradictory or conflicting opinions… we ARE women, after all. ;)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Heroes and Heroines: Assumptions in Character Design

So Jason Chan is doing a cool new series of downloadable video tutorials for Massive Black DVD. Volumes one through three are on various aspects of character concept design for games - exploring style, designing heroes and villains. I can't wait to have a chance to download the full videos (Jason's "sketches" usually look like art I'd be proud as punch to call finished pieces) but for now, we've been checking out the sneak peaks that MassiveDVD have put up on Youtube.

It's this snippet of the Heroes volume that I wanted to talk about today.

The excerpt focuses on the female character he works on in the tutorial, which is pretty cool in itself, but some of the things he talks about considering when designing a female character were...interesting. It kind of goes back to something I said in my opening post on Artemisia, about how otherwise smart and talented people can come out with some surprisingly biased comments. The video is about five minutes long, and well worth a watch because the highlight is really watching Jason sketch as he talks theory, but here are some of the quotes that struck me the most.

"The first character we did, he relates to the player because he is similar to the player in some ways. The second character relates to the player because he is what the player wishes he could be. The third character relates to the player because she is something that the player can admire."

"So, a lot of the time female characters are sexy and strong, and it's almost like trying to sell love to the player audience. You know, you want to care for this character, maybe find her attractive, but also you are playing the character so she should be strong. So it's kind of a mix between attraction and the hero badass type of character where you feel powerful."

"You can also mix the female character with the weaker character for a horror game, and instead of making her strong you can make her weak, to drive that fear. The problem with it is that there could be a disconnect for male players and male audiences, because they do not feel that they are this female character. In that instance you make it more of a voyeuristic experience where you're guiding this character or you're watching over her."

"For female audiences and female players this character represents the hero, superhero type of character we just did, you know, it's who the female audience may want to be like. You know, she's strong, she's beautiful, she can do anything."

So. A couple of things here. I actually like that Jason goes in deeper here and talks about more than just what the characters look like, because it gives me some idea of what goes into a character designer's mind and why it ends up that female characters are usually rarer, or underpowered, compared to the men. Let me run through a few of the issues I had with Jason's process for designing female characters.

One. That he automatically assumes that the player is male. He talks about female players later, and possibly in more depth in the full video, but it's clear that his primary target is a male audience and that a female character is not seen as somebody a male player can relate to, or want to be like, but an object to covet, to admire, or to protect. Jason mentions that male players may feel a disconnect when playing a female character, but does he reverse the role and consider that female players may not feel fully immersed when playing a male?

Two. That he considers physical beauty a key characteristic in designing a female character. Look at the words he uses, "sexy, beautiful, attractive". I wonder if he considers looks as much when designing the male characters? Is it just as important for them to be good looking as it is for the female?

Three. That the woman is his pick for being the weakest character, allowing players to act as rescuers or protectors. Was there any such consideration for the male character - even the one who looked like a regular guy? It's true that at a similar level of fitness and training, a man will still have a physical advantage over a woman. But put a young, everyday guy of average fitness next to a woman who works out at the gym daily, takes martial arts classes and/or has a military background and who do you think will fare better in a fight? And stand Jason's average guy in jeans next to his warrior woman - tough enough to wear heavy metal armour and carry a blade as long as her leg, but out of the two of them, she is the one who is a candidate for being a weak character?

Four. Ok, so when you're only designing three characters, there is going to be a gender imbalance (well, unless "Other" is on the menu which hey, it's fantasy right?). So having two male characters and one female isn't a big deal on its own. But I can't help feeling a little let down by the fact that you have a variety of male characters and then you have...The Female Character. Just the one, and she is supposed to be the avatar for all the women who might play that game. She can do anything, because she has to do everything!

I feel I should add that out of the eight or nine character concepts Jason has produced for this series so far, I've only seen two who are female - a hero and a villain. So when you take a bigger pool, you do get a greater imbalance of male vs female characters. Again, I feel it goes back to the assumption that most gamers are men, and so women don't need more than one or two characters to represent them, and those characters have to do all the representing. We don't get as much in the way of variety.

It's obvious that Jason puts a lot of thought into his work and considers every step of his design process carefully. I wonder how certain ideas that can feel so very flawed to one person can make perfect sense to another, so much so that he doesn't seem to think about them - it's just instinct to design a female character with this mindset and a male character with another. Maybe that's the problem with a lot of character designers out there (in game art and in illustration in general). Do some concepts and assumptions about our audiences just become so ingrained into our world view that we don't ever really stop and take a close look at whether they're still appropriate, or relevant?

What do you guys think?

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Lovely and Talented"

We’ve been a little quiet here, lately. It’s a problem that we’re working to fix. In the meantime, however, I wanted to write about something that bothered me recently. It’s a little thing. The kind of thing you probably don’t even think about, and yet once you do, you’ll catch yourself saying it and wonder why. Proof, I suppose, that sexism comes in many forms. The worst are the ones that we don’t even think about.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone who wanted to use my work. He promised to attribute it, and to include the phrase “by the lovely and talented Melissa Findley”. I’m aware that he meant it as a compliment, but for some reason it got me steamed. When I get angry about something, I usually try to figure out WHY it makes me angry. And once I put aside the fact that this person didn’t know me, has never seen me, had never even interacted with me, and that he meant “lovely” as a platitude (false flattery, with me, often gets you the opposite of what you want), I started to think about the phrase itself.

I’ve said it myself. I know I have. Usually about other artists I’m promoting. Also, I only say it about women.

I ran a Google search for the phrase “lovely and talented.” Turns out it’s been applied to just about every female actress, musician or artist at some point in time. It’s vary rarely been applied to a male.

“Lovely and talented.”

There are deeper implications to those words than there might seem to be on the surface. Lovely implies many things. That the person is physically beautiful is the obvious one. That they are polite, sweet, kind, nice to work with. “Lovely” can mean many things… but my question is: why do we feel the need to qualify a woman’s skills by implying something first about her looks or personality?

I suppose just saying “talented” falls flat. “The talented Louisa Gallie,” for instance, just doesn’t have the same ring. When there are a wealth of other words that could be applied along with “talented”, though, why is it so commonplace to compliment a woman on her looks and/or personality rather than her skill or intelligence or diligence?

How do we introduce men? We don’t say “the lovely and talented Jason Chan,” even if he is “lovely”. We might say “the amazing and talented” or “experienced and talented” or “young and talented” or “smart and talented” or “driven and talented” or “ dedicated and talented.” (Actually, we have said all those things. Or other people have. I ran a Google search for “and talented Jason Chan”. It’s an interesting experience. And I’m not picking on Jason. I have a lot of respect for the man.)

For women, though, “lovely and talented” seems to be the phrase of choice. Although in my searches I ran across more than a few “beautiful and talented”s as well. The “amazing and talented” type of compliment was more rarely used for women, even if those sorts of compliments were better deserved.

So, again, I have to ask: why do we do this? Is it just one of those phrases we use without thinking? I know I did. Not anymore.

If you’re a female artist, or have ever had that phrase applied to you in any way: speak up. How do you feel about it? Does it bother you? Does it just roll off your back? Or have you honestly never thought about it before?

I hadn’t thought about it. But now that I have, in regards to me, I would wish people would find another phrase. I have few illusions about myself. “Lovely” is not a word that fits me comfortably.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Women in Fantasy Art on Ninja Mountain

This week's episode of Ninja Mountain features a segment with Anne Stokes and Socar Myles talking about women working in fantasy art. They talk about how their gender has impacted their careers, some of the more egregious missteps people have made with them because they are female, and how being female has influenced their work.

So head on over to Ninja Mountain and have a listen (or download it on iTunes!)

Anne Stokes

Socar Myles

Monday, June 15, 2009

ComicCon 2009: Are you kidding me?

Women don't play video games.

Women don't like action movies.

Women don't know about computers.

Women can't paint fantasy art.

And to add a new one to that list, apparently women don't go to comic conventions. At least they don't go to San Diego's Comic Con, according to the video game site IGN and the LA Times.

This will be news to Leigh Brackett and Katherine Kurtz, who were attending the convention way back in the early seventies. I guess they were just figments of the imagination? I mean, if women don't read comics then they surely don't write science fiction and fantasy. And whoever heard of a chick working on Star Wars? Come on!

Apparently IGN didn't get the memo that women would be in attendance, or perhaps they did, because their promotional contest for the film District 9 originally went out of its way to exclude women.

This sweepstakes is open only to males who are both legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and Washington D.C. and who are at least between 18-24 years of age as of July 23, 2009.

Thank you to the articles at io9 and, firstly for bringing this to my attention and secondly for capturing the original rules of the contest. As of Sunday, IGN amended the contest rules to include a separate drawing for female contestents, but not before they tried to blame the whole fiasco on their marketing team.

The eligibility requirements for this contest were determined by Columbia TriStar Marketing, the marketing team behind the District 9 film, and were passed on as a directive to IGN as Sponsor of this particular Sweepstakes running on the site. While IGN supports gamers of all ages, genders, shapes and sizes, these guidelines were created to foster a buzz for the film among a very narrow target group that the film’s promoters felt would be extremely passionate about the film’s subject matter.

Boys, if you're so proud of having balls, you'd better be prepared to use 'em. Passing this off on the marketing team? Yes, they should be fired for even thinking that kind of sexism would fly, but you are the idiots who approved it for publication.

(The subject matter of said film, by the way, is a sci-fi approach to bigotry and the segregation of those who are different and (in this case literally) alien. Because men as a gender have a long history of being treated as second class citizens and women couldn't possibly identify with that stuff.)

At least IGN had the sense (or the screaming lawyers at least) to try and make things better. I've yet to see an apology for this stunning piece of journalism from the LA Times: The Girls Guide to Comic Con 2009! Yes, women apparently need a manual now to go to a convention. You see, while they aren't "just for nerdy guys anymore" (again, I refer you back to the early freaking seventies, catch up already!), there's a twist!

And it's not all just about the influx of squealing "Twilight" girls, either.

Yay! Wow, that's a relief. Er, except...

But we've got a pretty good idea of what eager girls can expect (aside from one heck of a line for the "New Moon" session)...

Edward and Jacob appear shirtless in the upcoming "Twilight" sequel, so arrive to Hall H early – as in a week or two before...

For the poor girls who couldn't cram themselves into the "New Moon" panel...

Since the writer can't stop mentioning Twilight, apparently they're convinced that it really is all we're interested in and any extra stuff is just a bonus for us to check out from a distance while we wait in line to get Robert Pattinson to autograph our forehead.

Repeat after me. Not. All. Girls. Love. Fucking. Twilight.

Ok, perhaps that was a little harsh - the purposes of this little article/photo gallery actually is to reassure us girls that there is plenty of variety at Comic Con to entertain us. For example!

Women will be rushing the stage, offering to do star Jake Gyllenhaal's laundry on those washboard abs that he acquired for the film, since he spends much of it fighting, shirtless or both.

Yes, you read that right - offering to do his laundry. Yes, that's the first event on the list that we should be looking forward to. The film? Oh, it's the Prince of Persia something - forget about that. Focus on what's important, which is apparently being overcome with such a frenzy of lust for Jake that we will rush straight into the kitchen to wash his fucking clothes. Because THAT'S how good women show love!

There's more. Oh, how there is more.

Picture the wonderful sappiness of "The Notebook,"

Oh yes, bring on the bittersweet tears.

Plus, you know the wardrobe of Rebecca Romijn, Sara Rue and Lindsay Price is going to give those "Desperate" housefraus a run for their money.

"Battlestar Galactica" taught us that there are girls galore watching sci-fi...

"Caprica" adds an element of family drama and even soap opera addiction...

And some girls may steer clear of high-testosterone action films...

The words "female empowerment" make it into this little guide once (it was swiftly followed by that quip about the fabulous wardrobe) and while they manage to sprinkle in the odd reference to ass kicking female heroines, my ability to appreciate them was lost in the surge of bile and overwhelming rage I felt while reading this tripe. Normally I'd appreciate the nod to all the hot men in science fiction and fantasy but frankly the whole idea seems to be that the shirtless guys are the ONLY things we could possibly appreciate in "high-testosterone" action movies. This is what they think the attraction for women is? Tissues, relationship drama, and giggling over hot boys to entertain ourselves through the boring car chases and gun fights? This is how they think to get women to walk into comic, sci-fi and fantasy cons with their heads held high?

And they have the nerve to call Echo from Dollhouse "a bit of an airhead".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Featured Artist: Ursula Vernon

Artist Profile
Name: Ursula Vernon
Job Title: Author/Illustrator
Client List: Harcourt Brace, Penguin Dial
Education: BA in Anthropology
Years Experience: 12
Favorite Medium: digital
Specialties: small, cute, disturbing
Accepting Private Commissions? No

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio:
Twitter: ursulav
Online Art Communities: DeviantArt

The first time I saw a painting by Ursula Vernon I decided that she was one of the most brilliant artists I'd ever encountered. Through the last few years I've watched her grow even more as an artist and a professional, and go through hard times and good times, and through all of it her sense of humor and quirky personality has remained a constant source of inspiration for me, and a ray of sunshine.

From writing and illustrating comic books like the award winning "Digger" and children's books like (the also award winning) "Nurk", to the darker paintings of Gearworld and her collection of odd animal saints and winged phalloi, Ursula demonstrates a unique and incredible talent for finding humor in the oddest of places. I consider it truly my good fortune to have the chance to interview her and find out a little about this woman who isn't afraid to walk on the wild side.

My first introduction to your artwork was five or six years ago, over on Elfwood, where I saw a painting you’d done of a vulture delivering a zombie baby (rather than a stork). It was brilliant, and made me laugh, and the description of you waking up in the middle of the night to tell your husband about the idea reminded me very much of my own midnight insanities. Do you remember the first time you put your sense of humor into a drawing? How does it continue to inform your work?
I think the first time I recall putting my sense of humor--such as it is--in a painting was a piece about a thousand years ago, titled "Bride of the Warthog." It was a kind of classic cheeseball fantasy Boris Vallejo sort of thing, except the lovely maiden was clinging to the ankle of a large warthog. Fortunately for all, this painting has been lost to posterity, but I still recall the title fondly.

The vast majority of my art today involves my sense of humor--I always had a vague desire to be a serious, significant artist doing works of Deep Meaning. Unfortunately, what I'm really good at is hamsters and other small cutenesses. Given that's the hand I seem to be dealt, I have to treat it with a sense of's hard to do serious angst-ridden rodents for very long.
One of the things that has always stood out to me about your work is that your creatures and characters aren’t typically “girly.” Your heroes are shrews, and wombats, or little dragons and slugs. Is that a deliberate choice on your part? What draws you to atypical heroes and heroines?
Well, part of it is the aforementioned cuteness problem. (I find slugs cute.) But part of it is probably just that I hate doing what everybody else is doing--I always want my stuff to be weird and unique. There's enough big-eyed wasp-waisted heroines and studly tormented heroes out there, I don't need to add to the pile--or if we're going with animals, there's enough foxes and wolves and gryphons to wallpaper a battleship. But there's very few heroic shrews and wombats. And even when I do something relatively normal, like dragons, I try to--god help me, I'm about to use the phrase "subvert the paradigm," that's probably a bad sign--but at least make it odd and unexpected and fun.

Part of it is also, I'm embarrassed to admit, but way back in the day, random people on the internet would get mad at me for painting dragons that didn't look like their notion of dragons or unicorns that ate carrion and lived in dumps, and they would send me long screeds about it on e-mail. Ten years later, I still get a sneaking pleasure from the notion that somebody somewhere is annoyed by my work.

This undoubtedly marks me as a terribly juvenile individual, but I'm coming to terms with it.
You seem to dabble in a little bit of everything. You’re a humor columnist (EMG-zine), author and illustrator of several books for children and young adults, a comic book writer and artist, a card game artist, and you also do gallery shows and paintings of adorable phalluses. Do you have a favorite creative outlet? Is there a direction you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?
My favorite creative outlet tends to be the one I'm not doing right at this moment. Other than that, probably gardening. Gardening is very low-stress--the only audience I need to please are the bees and the butterflies and the goldfinches, and they're generally a pretty unjudgemental audience.

I'd really like to get more into sculpture. I haven't because I'm not really any good at it, and I don't really know where to begin. Occasionally I start in that direction, but I don't have any of the skillsets, or the equipment, and I'm easily distracted, but that's a place I'd like to get to eventually.
I read in your bio that your mother is an artist, too. What kind of work does she do? How do you feel that’s influenced you, as an artist?
She does very very realistic paintings, and she's brilliant. Part of it is just attention span--she spends a month on a painting, and I get antsy if I'm working on one for more than three days. But she's definitely influenced me--I occasionally find myself throwing in random elements from her paintings, like disembodied hands--and a series she did when I was young heavily influenced a whole series of paintings I've done, the Gearworld work.

Even more than individual elements, I think being surrounded by her art helped cement my view of What Art Looked Like.
Okay, I have to ask, what’s up with the adorable penises?
Lord. It just kinda happened! My boyfriend sent me a link to some *cough* erotic chess-sets, and some of them were these little winged penises, and that reminded me of my long ago archeology classes, and I went rummaging through the internet until I came up with the ancient Greek and Roman "winged phalloi" where they'd have little penises with feet and wings and tails and sometimes even little genitals of their own, and...well...I mentioned the cuteness problem, right? And the problem with images that simple and iconic is that you can do anything with them, they become a great blank canvas. It's sort of like My Little Ponies. Except...err...with penises. With feet.

I'm not well.
How do you feel being a female artist working in this industry has either helped and/or hindered you? Do you ever get strange looks because you’re a woman drawing anthropomorphized wombat comics and blue penises in the mist?
Being on the internet for the vast majority of my career has, I think, really blunted a lot of the sexism, or perhaps I'm just oblivious to it. But since 99% of my clients know me as a portfolio and a screen name, it just doesn't come up as much as it probably would if I was going into offices and so forth. It's probably out there, but it's not something that impacts me personally.

I do catch occasional flak on the penises, but I suspect I'd catch a LOT more if I was male and painting them. You get random trolls, but I think most viewers see them for what they are--absurd and silly and kind of weirdly non-sexual in a way.

One of the things I'm proudest of about "Digger"--the wombat comic in question--is the fact that it's mostly about female characters--and that doesn't MATTER. People don't spend a lot of time going "Digger's a tough female character!" they just go "Digger is tough!" (Half the time people don't know she's female until somebody mentions it.) Probably a lot of it is that most of them aren't human, and that we fool with gender roles a bit with the hyenas, but still, I feel like the next stage after "Girls can do anything boys can do!" is to have the girls just DO whatever it is, and nobody feeling a need to comment on the fact that they're girls. And for the most part we seem to have gotten really lucky with Digger in that regard--her problems aren't that she's a female wombat in a male wombat's world, it's that she's got to deal with dead gods and crazy priests and vampire squash.

This isn't intended as a slam on comics that are about being a female whatever in a male whatever's world, because I think there's a lot you can say about that and say it well. It's just not what I particularly had to say with Digger.
Any advice for other girls out there who have oddball senses of humor and an urge to paint?
I hope they do! It's not exactly a lucrative field, but it's the best job in the world. I have more fun doing this than I can imagine having doing anything else at all.

Image Credits:
Above: "Battle Hamster Raid" ©2004-2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Left: "Phalloi in Flight" ©2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Middle: "Owl Saint" ©2006-2009 Ursula Vernon
Below Right: "Cthulu's Day Out" ©2008-2009 Ursula Vernon

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Twitter! Email! Links!

Artemisia has its own Twitter account now. We'll be updating it periodically with links to stuff of interest, cool new artists and websites we find, basically all the stuff we don't have time to post articles about. You can follow along at

That's not to say we won't have articles, of course. We've got two or three in the works at the moment. Two interviews and a post about art that will be coming soon. If you've got ideas or suggestions for things you'd like to see us talk about, people you'd like to see us interview, or whatever, drop a comment here, or send us an email at We'd love to hear what you've got to say. Put the word "Suggestion" in the Subject line so we don't lose track of them.

I also just finished a whole slew of banner ad designs for Artemisia. If you're interested in showing your support for our site by linking to us, and have room on your page for a banner ad, send me an email at the above address and let me know what size you need, and I'll get that to you. I'll make a spot on the sidebar to link back to supporters.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ninjas, Tutorials, and Masculinity

Hey all. Sorry for the gap between posts lately. Melissa's had the builders in and a bunch of projects to finish up, and I've had a tough couple of weeks at work. So this post is a bit of a pick-and-mix (instead of sugar candy, we substitute eye candy) - just a few things I've been taking notes on that don't quite justify a full post in themselves.

Back in March we pimped out the Ninja Mountain right as they added the first female voice to their podcast, Anne Stokes. Since then Anne has been back and Socar Myles has also been on a bunch of times. As a matter of fact, she's on this week (I'm listening as I type) and let me tell you, if you thought the podcasts were funny before, you will be splitting your sides when Socar joins in. Back when I first stumbled across Epilogue she was The Artist whose advice and articles I read over and over, and I still hear her thoughts on colour theory in my head when I paint. It's even better listening to her in person - she's very smart, very deadpan, and very very funny. Go and listen! The podcast is excellent no matter who is on, but if you're especially interested in hearing Anne and Socar, start around episode eight.

It looks like the post on stock resources and reference for the male form was pretty popular, so for those of you that haven't seen it yet, this might be of interest to you.

Melissa does an hour long live painting session every Wednesday on Ustream and this week she spent some time sketching and discussing the differences between male and female faces. Ustream records her video sessions so you can view it later as often as you like - the male/female face portion starts around 23 mins. She also has a short tutorial on just painting young male faces here on DeviantArt. Have fun!

I recently posted a finished piece of artwork (featuring a guy - this is important) on one of the bigger art forums for feedback. One small comment caught my attention.

"It's more provocative than masculine ;)."

The painting was absolutely provocative and I'm not debating that - it was intended to be. Like we say whenever we get onto this subject - there aren't enough sexy male portraits out there. It was that "more provocative than masculine" remark that took me aback. Since when are the two mutually exclusive? Is it an either or situation? Men can be sensual, in your face sexy OR masculine, but not both?

Thinking on it, apparently so! Do you see many paintings of men sprawled elegantly over silk bedsheets with a come-hither expression on their face? Do you see them standing in the middle of a battlefield pouting, attired and posing in a way that says, "Oh! Hello, miss! I seem to have had a terrible accident and lost all my clothes except for these very fine leather boxer shorts and my sword. Is there any way you could assist me with this? I'd be so very grateful."

No, not usually, but I now know what I'm doing for my next painting.

No, you don't get many male pinups. Men in art are DOING stuff. Manly stuff. Oh sure, you get character portraits, but they generally tend to be fully clothed, or at least mostly clothed, and radiating attitude that's rarely about seduction. On the rare occasion you do see a picture of a man that's purely seductive, he often tends to be...soft. Pretty. Delicate. I'm all for pretty guys but sometimes it's as if the artist has deliberately gone as "feminine" as they can get away with because nobody could possibly deal with the sight of a man as a sex object...unless he looks like a woman.

Women can multi-task while being objectified, you see. According to fantasy art, a woman can topple an army, decapitate a demon, fly a spaceship, rule an empire AND sprawl elegantly over silk bedsheets with a come hither expression on their face or stand in the middle of a battlefield after a terrible clothing-related accident at the same time. It's all in a day's work.

Would you look at a seductive female character and think, "Well, she's more provocative than feminine?" I doubt it. Certainly we all have different notions of what the word "feminine" means to us, but I don't think that's the sort of femininity we're talking about here. I think what we're talking about is sexuality. Breasts and buttocks are sexual in a woman. In men, bare chests and butts are also sexual, but it's apparently taboo to portray them as such - if a guy is showing skin, it's usually in a Rawr, HE-MAN, my muscles-let-me-show-you-them sort of way. To quote someone who was commenting on the portrayal of male and female characters in comic book, "Men are strong. Women are sexy."

Yes, women can be sexy, and they can be Doing Stuff (but only if they look sexy while doing it). Men can either be Doing Stuff or they can be sexy (but only if they look like women while doing it).

Look, female artists deal with having our own gender sexed up to the extreme and thrust in our faces every time we log onto a fantasy website. I'm pretty sure any Real Men in the audience can put on their big boy leather shorts and deal with it too.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Featured Artist: Sam Hogg

Artist Profile
Sam "Zephyri" Hogg
Job Title: Concept Artist
Freelance? Yes, but only as a sideline to my main job
Client/Employer List:
Jagex, Bizarre Creations, number of independent authors
Nothing after the age of 18! Interestingly, Art was my lowest graded exam at 18.
Years Experience:
Professional years of art experience, about 3, though I have 8 years as a graphic designer under my belt too.
Favourite Medium:
Watercolour and pencils and Photoshop.
Adaptability... the ability to work in a variation of styles, subjects and mediums, but subject wise, dark romantic images featuring couples.
Accepting Private Commissions?
Not currently, no.

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio:
Online Art Communities:
Deviantart, Conceptart, Pixelbrush and CGTalk, all under the name Zephyri
Available through my deviantart gallery.

I've been a fan of Sam's work since before she signed on with Jagex and joined me in the world of the games industry. She first caught my eye over a Pixelbrush with some seriously sexy WIP pieces, and since then I've been in love with her versatility and unpredictability. From miniatures to coloured pencils to digital painting, everything in her gallery is a little different, but still has that touch of something which is uniquely "her". I grabbed hold of her for a brief interview about her work and her life as a concept artist.

Often artists will show a bias towards one gender or another, but you seem to paint men as often as you paint women, and quite a lot of your art features couples. Do you consciously try to keep up a variety, or is it just something you do naturally?
I think it's just something I do naturally - both men and women have traits that I find fascinating. Couples are often a good way of dealing with the contrasts of both at once, and I love the interplay between human beings. A lot of fantastical art focuses simply on the aesthetic, or on the emotions of a key character, and I find that strange, given the subtle emotional things you can work into two people interacting - it's kind of like using a complementary colour scheme, one augments the other
You can go from Luis Royo (disturbingly sexy) to Art Nouveau (soft and romantic), but almost all of your art has some degree of sensuality, even the darker, more tragic or sad pieces. Is it a favourite theme?
Most definitely. Sensuality, contrasts and balance are the big themes in my work and myself as a person. Emotion is what my life is governed by, be it good or bad, and art is the main outlet I have for dealing with it. It's one of the reasons my subject matter is so diverse - it's reflecting the myriad of emotional states I go through. I get most joy out of a piece when I can sit back and look at it and still feel the base emotions that sparked the piece in the first place. And being a realism artist means that sometimes emotional content can be diluted by the need to make sure everything looks right, be it anatomy, or composition, or finding the right reference. Having said that though, getting the same emotional responses from people who view my art is one of the reasons I keep doing it. I'm a romantic at heart, but I'm also very much a pessimist, and grounded in real life, which is why many of my images seem to hold a melancholy undertone to them. A moment of happiness can be made so much more intense by knowing that tragedy might follow, or has gone before, and trying to capture that little piece of story telling in an image of the emotions between two people is something I take great joy in.
I believe you write as well as draw and paint. Is storytelling a big part of your artwork too?
Writing is something I'm less confident about, in terms of sharing with the masses, but it's something that seems to come more easily to me than art, weirdly. It used to be very much something that inspired my art, and vice versa, but with working for others a lot more lately, it's showing up less in my art. However, having said that, when I work on personal pieces, I find images weave stories about them, or stories might spring from random things I see or hear during the day that in turn spark imagery in my head. Sometimes I find the two are almost blended to one... that telling a story with an image is just as important as painting pictures in someone's head with words.
The games industry in the UK isn't the biggest to begin with, and so the number of women who work in it is even smaller. Has being a woman ever been a help or a hindrance to your career?
This is very true... I'm one of only two women in a 60 strong graphics team at my company, and our overall female to male percentage is 15/85%. However, having come from a design background, where it's less of a contrast, but still a mostly male-run industry, it was never a big shock, or something unexpected. Being a woman can be both a help and a hindrance. For one thing, we're something of a curiosity, and that can be turned to your advantage, as it can make you stand out in a crowd of guys. I have also noticed I can get away with a little more than my male counterparts do when things go wrong... not that I don't get held accountable - I'm usually the first to hold up my hands, but the backlash can sometimes not be as blunt. In terms of how I'm treated with the work I do, I don't think it's ever been an issue that I'm a woman. It's more to do with how you conduct yourself, and being professional and approachable is more important that your gender. The only downside I've found, oddly, is on the whole social bonding thing. One thing I'd never considered going into a wholly male environment was that I might not be seen in the same social light as the guys in the office. Sometimes I get the feeling they don't invite me to play games, or hang out because I'm a girl and I don't do guy things, or because their other halves would have an issue with it. Both of which wouldn't be an issue if I were a guy.
I've found that as a woman, I'll approach concepts/design differently to how my male coworkers would have. Do you find the same thing? Do you think having a female influence makes a difference to the direction the artwork takes?
This is a tough one! On the one hand I'd say there's not that much difference, but I notice it most when it comes to creating both male and female characters. I think we're both hormonally bound to approach these things differently.. my male counterpart's women always have a very sexy bent to them whenever he gets the chance, and are about the way she looks, whereas when I'm concepting for women, it's more about the kind of personality they might have which will dictate how they look. I definitely err on the side of confident, strong women in my art, rather than the brainless sexy type. Same with men, I'm bound to design guys I find visually appealing when given the choice, whereas guys will generally revert to the stereotypical brawn strength. I guess it's a case of both sexes projecting what they want to be or are attracted to.

Doing the concepts for Bizarre has really pushed me to think about how I concept for guys though, as they work I'm doing for them has involved a variety of male characters, from your typical gung ho confident type, to something much more refined, to the nervous everyday-looking guys. Interestingly in this particular modern genre, I feel there's much less of a divide between a male and female concepter, than there might be in the more exaggerated types of fantasy characters.
Finally, as someone who has worked both sides of the fence, how much of a change was it to go from a freelance illustrator/designer to an inhouse artist?
This one's a no brainer for me. I'm rubbish at planning my own time when I'm working solely freelance, and I have no business sense, so freelancing was hard, even though I really enjoyed having my own time, picking my own projects and being able to arrange my own schedule. It was a little bit of a shock to have to suddenly get up so early in a morning, but I'm super lucky in as much as I work for a company that's strictly 9-6, and we rarely if ever do overtime. I love the structure of having to work in an office, I love the social aspect of it, there is seriously nothing better than having other artistic people around you giving you feedback. And I get way more done in an office than I would have done at home. It's tough sometimes on the days where you just know you're not going to get anything done or anything you do do is going to be crap, but that's vastly outweighed by the sense of team accomplishment when things go right.
Image Credits:
Above: "Colours of the Wind" ©2006-2009 Sam Hogg
Below: "Underneath It All" ©2008-2009 Sam Hogg
Bottom: "The Prince's Dance" ©2006-2009 Sam Hogg
All images used here with the artist's permission

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Art Rant: Headless Torsos

Okay, I admit it. I read paranormal romance.

There. I've said it.

Yes, I know I'm an intelligent, modern woman who believes in feminism, equal rights, etc. but part of me really, really loves a love story with a happy ending. If that love story involves full moon nights, faerie tale creatures, demons with souls, or a little bit of magic, all the better. Yes, sometimes it's cliche, and sometimes it's smutty, and sometimes the premise sounds good but I still end up throwing the book against the wall in disgust. Even my ability to suspend my disbelief has its limits.

But what I really hate about paranormal romance is the cover art.

Seriously. Here we have an ENTIRE GENRE that is being marketed toward women. Many, many of the publishers in this genre have been around for many, many years. Some of them are small presses and epubs, to be sure, but c'mon Harlequin, you're not new at this. But, oh, the awful cover art! Most of the time it looks like someone just got their first pirated copy of Photoshop and are mucking about with the filter section and blend modes. You can almost hear their inner fifteen year old girl thinking oh! I can make him blue! Blue is dark and spooky and fantasy looking! Maybe he has a magic tattoo! And he turns into a werewolf, so lemme just cut and paste a werewolf back here! And a full moon! And a CASTLE! Maybe there is a little BLOOD!!!

There are so many cliches in the ParaRomance cover art slop bucket that it ought to be hard for me to pull out my least favorite. It's not though, and unsurprisingly it's one of the most common cliches in the romance genre period:

The Headless Torso

I envision the auditions for these covers as a pectacular version of A Chorus Line. The art director flipping through model photos and muttering about needing a torso that really tells a story. One with pathos. One with some real expression. Maybe this guy gets cut because his shoulders aren't empathetic enough, or this one because his nipples aren't manly enough. Screw the face. Who cares if the guy's face is hot? Women want man-tits to look at! After all, it's not like we have some of our own.

Sex sells, right? And these covers are all about peddling the sex. They might as well ditch the title and artwork and just print "smutty sex scenes within" and be done with it. It's not like any of us actually read these for the plot, after all, and sometimes skim over the too long, kind of boring sex scenes (two whole chapters for a sex scene, by the way, is WAY TOO MUCH. Also, the next author who calls it a "clitty" I will punch in the crotch. So, knock it off).

These covers do nothing to tell me anything about the story. I should probably thank someone for that, because at least they don't have yet another cut and pasted image of the same freaking wolf floating around nebulously in the background. God forbid you be able to somehow get across that they're a shapeshifter without having floating wolf heads in the background... oh wait. Sometimes they do that too.

And a bonus! Floating lion heads and TWO headless torsos! And some claw marks! Thank goodness it's an ebook cover and no one will have to be seen in public, carrying that badge of shame.

Isn't it bad enough that pararomance already suffers from the social stigma of being thought of as women's soft core porn? Does it have to be branded that way, too? I'm not normally a fan of graphic design cover art, but at least it has some dignity. Or, you know, give it a painted cover more reminiscent of modern sci-fi or fantasy books. Something other than headless torsos, please!

Of course, it's entirely probable that the only reason these guys keep getting everything above their lips cut off is to disguise the fact that there are only three men in the entire world who look like that. Or maybe they're too embarrassed about being on these covers to show their faces. Yeah, that's possible too.

Still, none of these covers strikes me as even the least bit appealing. In fact, of all the books shown here, I only own one of them (and no I'm not telling which one), and that only because I'd read a review that intrigued me enough to ignore the cover. As a woman, if there's going to be a fantasy man on the cover for me to drool over, I want to see his face. I want to see at least a hint of intelligence lurking behind his (hopefully not photoshopped so they're neon green) eyes. I do not want to be left staring at his nipples and wondering if he waxes. (Because if he turns into something with four legs and a tail once a month, he's probably normally a lot hairier than these covers would have us believe.)

Sadly, though, even some of my favorite authors have been falling prey to the headless torso plague, lately. I won't post their covers here because I feel badly for them. It's almost as if some zombie had been noshing on their covers. You don't want to put that in public. It's depressing.

Surely, something has to give. Perhaps the models will rise in revolt! "Can't you love us for our feet?!" They will cry, "Or our noses?! We have noses! Bob over there has some really hot ankles, too! We can't take our shirts off in public without being recognized and pelted with new copies of Acheron! Have you seen the size of that thing? It hurts!" Or maybe the art directors for these publishing houses will finally get a clue.

Something. Please. If you don't do it for me, do it for the nipples.

Please, think of the nipples. They're so cold...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cover Art Reviews: Bone Crossed and Knife

Melissa's pick: Bone Crossed

Artist: Dan Dos Santos
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace / Penguin

If I hadn't already been following the Mercy Thompson series, and hadn't already been a fan of both Patricia Brigg's books and Dan Dos Santos's artwork, this cover would have sold me on both. I saw the cover art on Dan's site months before the book was due out and could hardly wait to get my hands on it. Even better? Instead of going straight to paperback like the previous three books, Bone Crossed was released in glorious, full-size hardcover, making this gorgeous cover a showcase piece for my bookcase (if only I had ROOM on it. :D).

What makes me love it? While the book has some romantic undertones, the cover doesn't cater directly to the traditional paranormal romance crowd. No faceless torsos or photoshopped werewolves, or glowing eyes. Instead we get the hint of the supernatural in a spectacular tattoo that sleeves her entire arm (and can I just say YAY for showing a woman with a REAL tattoo and not a girly butterfly on her back?). Although her outfit is clearly designed with the "sex sells" concept in mind, too, it's not blatant. She looks like she could actually work in her clothes, and has. Mercy, the character in the book, is a mechanic, and a damned good one (again, not your typical profession for a heroine), and the cover shows how strong she is and how willing she is to get dirty to get the job done. Having read the series, too, I can also say that when I saw the cover for this, I knew what the rain symbolically meant--which does somewhat heighten the impact of the image. That aside, however, it's a beautifully composed scene, and the lighting and palette really set the tone for the book.

What would I change about it? Maybe a teeeeeensy bit less cleavage. Other than that, not a thing at all.

Louisa's response to the Bone Crossed cover:

I first saw this cover when I went to stay with Melissa and her family a few weeks ago - it was on the top of a very large pile of books that she set down in front of me and gave me firm instructions to read. With the Mercy Thompson series, I needed no convincing. I'd already brought the second book on the plane with me. I fell in love with this cover right away and picked it up several times just to look at it. It's more than just a pretty girl standing in the rain. It tells you who Mercy is as a person - what she does, where she works, a little about her ancestry (note the earring) and the tattoos clue you in further, especially the one on her stomach. Yes, it's the details that do it for me. I love it when books use full illustrations like this for covers instead of simplistic, generic photomanipulations and this is one of the ones that always comes to mind when I think of good cover art.

Louisa's pick: Knife

Artist: Brian Froud
Author: R. J. Anderson
Publisher: Orchard

I'll hold my hands up and say I haven't read this book yet. It's on a list (an Amazon Wishlist, to be precise) of books I've been recommended but haven't gotten around to buying yet (I have to pace myself. If I bought every book I was entranced by immediately, I wouldn't have the money for internet). However, it came very highly recommended by Sarah Rees Brennan, a very wise and funny author I generally obey without question, and it had a Brian Froud cover. Brian Froud? Brian Froud fairy? SOLD.

I think Brian's art, as a general rule, is either gorgeous or adorable or both, and this is both even in its simplicity - just the heroine, Knife, standing in the centre of the page. What I like is that she is not your typical wide eyed, guileless and gentle fairy in a flower petal dress. She has a scowly, stubborn little face, wide planted feet and fists firmly planted on hips and the kind of attitude that tells you to keep well out of range of her tiny fists.

Excerpt from Sarah B's review:
KNIFE: Come no closer human, or I will stab you with my magnificent blade.
PAUL: ... Did you nick that letter opener from Dad's desk?
If there were a fairy version of Lyra Belacqua, this is how I would picture her. She draws you in as a character and looks kickass despite obviously only being a couple of inches tall (and can I just say how impressed I am that Brian Froud could convey her size so clearly without anything else on the cover to compare her to) and she makes me want to read her story. The colours and the glow are beautiful and create a darker, mystical mood and a sense of adventure - at least that's how I see it.

Melissa's response to Knife:

Crap! Not Froud's cover, because this one rocks. I mean it's crap that the awesome Froud cover is UK only and our US cover (and title) makes this look like a completely different book. Over here in the US, the book with the awesome title "Knife" is changed to "Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter" and the wicked looking cover has been replaced with precisely what Louisa was glad Froud's cover wasn't: a "typical wide eyed, guileless and gentle fairy in a flower petal dress." The US cover artist is Melanie Delon, whose work I admire on a technical level but... seriously? WHY did they whitewash this character so badly on the US cover and make it look like a book for *very* young girls? I guess because the target market in the US is only girls ages 9-12, when it looks like it would probably appeal to a wider age group. The Froud cover is spunky and fun, and would likely appeal to teenage girls and adults who read YA fic. The Delon cover is pretty... but definitely more suited to pre-adolescent girls who think that faeries are pretty and sweet. From what I can tell of the book, the faeries in this book are anything BUT pretty and sweet.