Monday, March 30, 2009

Flip Side: Female Force comics

Let’s switch things up a bit and talk for a minute about men drawing women.

Specifically, men drawing women to go on the covers of comic books.

You’ve got that image in your mind’s eye already, don’t you? Big breasts, tiny waist, costume that leaves nothing to the viewer's imagination—and is utterly impractical for fighting crime (or participating in it, depending). Doesn’t usually matter the genre—fantasy, superheros, sci-fi, horror—the stereotype is alive and well in the world of comics.

So it’s a breath of fresh air when an artist comes along who draws women tastefully, beautifully, and in a way that shows them as intelligent, powerful, and interesting for more than their gravity defying breasts.

Meet Vinnie Tartamella. If that name seems familiar, you’ve possibly heard it on the news recently. His covers for Bluewater Productions's Female Force series is making serious waves in a rather unexpected kind of artistic ocean: politics. Each comic is a biographical look at a female political figure, and they don’t discriminate based on party affiliation, either. On the covers, Vinnie portrays these powerful women (Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Caroline Kennedy thus far), with strength and patriotism rather than trying to turn them into comic book sex symbols.

Despite having already been interviewed on MSNBC and featured on Regis and Kelly, Vinnie took some time to answer a few questions for Artemisia readers.

Can you tell us a little about the Female Force comics and how you came to do the covers for them?
Female Force is a series depicting strong and influential women in our society. The series is a great way to learn more about these women, their lives, and their accomplishments. Each issue is a one shot bio book. I've been doing work for Blue Water comics for a few years now, the publisher really likes both my comic book and portrait work, so he asked if I'd want to take part in this. I was excited to work on these and soon became the lead cover artist to the series.
What has been the most challenging aspect of this project for you?
The most challenging part has been making each person's traits and likeness 100% accurate. Each woman I depict has her own accomplishments, so its been a little tricky to nail down an image that would represent them really well and/or just to be very iconic looking and be able to sell lots of books.
Which is your favorite cover?
I'm most proud of the Hillary Clinton cover. I was asked to make her at the last minute, and I was able to finish her in about a day and half. For a piece that was done so fast, I'm really happy with how she came out. At the moment Princess Diana is my absolute favorite. (I made her recently for the next series.)
Personally, I think it’s really inspiring to see strong, intelligent women portrayed so well on a comic book cover. Have you heard any feedback from any of the women you’ve depicted?
I've been really happy hearing the feed back on this series. And just recently we had heard back from Bill Clinton's office. He has asked for a few copies of the Hillary issue and wishes us luck on this project! It’s a great honor to hear that! (And we had also sent the cover I made of Bill for the male series "Political Power")
I read that the Michelle Obama cover has been very successful. Have you gotten any figures back on how well it’s selling? What about the others?
It has been selling very well. It's now the highest selling comic book from an independent publisher! The last figures I saw were about a month and half ago. The sales on the preorders alone went from about 28,000 to 40,000 in a week. And on ebay I've seen the single issue going for as high as $350! And the issue doesn't even hit stores until late in April (about the 29th of April I believe). The first 2 issues sold out in about a heartbeat. Second printings are in the works for those as well.
The Female Force covers have gotten a lot of national media attention lately, too. How many interviews have you done so far?
Yeah sure has, I've personally done about 4 or 5 (Sun Sentinel, two for MSNBC, local CBS) with a few more to come. Next month I have one planned during a signing I'll be doing in NY at St. Marks for a Japanese morning show, the week Michelle's issue hits stores. The publisher has also been featured with the series on CNN.
If you got to pick, who would you want to put on a Female Force cover next? Will there be new editions?
The one I really wanted to make was on Princess Diana, which I've done for the new series. So, yes there will be more series after this one, and yes, the men will have a spot light as well. But I do personally love creating these all and its really great that young girls (and women) will have a chance to learn more about these strong woman that have had such a huge impact on the world.
If you’d like to see more of Vinnie’s work (and he’s good with the more traditional comic book females, and also does some awesome comic heroes) you can check out his work at

Female Force comics are available through your local comic book stores, and will soon be available on

Image Credits:

Above: "Female Force" © 2009 Bluewater Productions, art by Vinnie Tartamella
Below: "Michelle Obama" "Caroline Kennedy" and "Hillary Clinton" ©2009 Bluewater Productions, art by Vinnie Tartamella.

Images posted with permission from the artist.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Male Form: Stock Resources and Inspiration

When women paint women, we tend to find it easier than painting men. We absorb visual reference from all around us, and so when we starting to paint or draw men, we can find ourselves unconsciously falling back on the features and forms we know best - the ones we see in the mirror every day. This is why sometimes our guys can start to turn out unintentionally androgynous or feminine, and we have to forcibly correct ourselves.

Another reason it can be tougher to paint men is the lack of good reference material. The female form is definitely more popular with photographers and artists, and women just seem more willing to strip down and dress up in the name of good stock photography. You might have a boyfriend or a spouse at home, but they may not like being photographed and if they are, do they even have the right look or body type for your subject? (Incidently, if you do happen to have a gorgeous, sexy and ripped male partner who is completely happy to strip off and pose all day long; firstly, I hate you, and secondly, any chance you could share the photos?) However, there are resources for the male form out there if you know where to look, and I'm going to share some of my favourites here.

Most of these are on DeviantArt, except for a few at the end, and are therefore free to view (though not neccesarily to use)

DeviantArt Stock Photographers

DeviantArt figure stock artists are seriously generous individuals who make life a lot easier for many artists, by setting up a home made photography studio and providing the dA community with a wealth of human reference - nude, costumed, modernly clothed, with props, with varied lighting, poses and locations! The boys can be hard to find, but you'll find a few of the best here. I'll note whether you can expect nudity or not. I will also link to their terms of use where applicable. These guys are artists doing a community service, which does not mean their stock is free for all and any purposes. Some may prohibit commercial, or outside of dA use, while others just want to see the final picture when you're done. Please respect their rules.

Deviant: Justmeina
Stock Type: Full nudes. Classic. Great for fine art studies and general reference.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: JadeMacalla
Stock Type: Action man! Guns, combat and extreme activity poses
Terms of Use: - See footer

Deviant: MJRanum-Stock
Stock Type: Male and Female. MJRanum photographs mostly females (costumed AND nude) with a fetish theme, but he has some great male models too, who are all clothed for now. You can go directly to his male stock here, although I highly recommend the rest of his gallery. Fantastic costumes and professional quality.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: Watchstock
Stock Type: Full body nudes, but the face is always concealed. So, good for figure drawing and muscle studies.
Terms of Use: Unavailable, but he states here that no permission is needed for using his stock, and his main goal is education. I would recommend you contact him and check before doing anything commercial with his stock.

Deviant: Tigg-Stock
Stock Type: Male and Female. Male stock is here. Modern, clothed, urban style, with some nice face close ups.
Terms of Use: See "Stock Rules" on their main page. You may need to scroll down.

Deviant: Lindowyn-Stock
Stock Type: Male and Female. Male stock is here. Fantasy style costumes, with a few modern and quirky ones thrown in for good measure. Both outdoor and studio shots.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: Katanaz-Stock
Stock Type: Male and Female. Male stock is here. Modern fashion and mostly fully clothed, though there are a few yummy shirtless guys. Professional quality!
Terms of Use:

Deviant: Snak-Stock
Stock Type: Bond. James Bond. Fully clothed, modern/urban fashion, plus action poses with swords and guns.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: B-e-c-k-y-Stock
Stock Type: Male and Female. Very cool sports, music and dance action shots, mixed in with beautiful full body and face portraits. Male stock is not separated, but it's a small gallery and I highly recommend looking at it all.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: Jesper-Stock
Stock Type: Varied outfits and styles - modern/costume/gothic. Some underwear shots but no full nudes.
Terms of Use:

Deviant: Felixdeon
Stock Type: Full nudes, and some group/action shots.
Terms of Use:

Figure Photography

Sometimes stock isn't enough, or sometimes you aren't looking for a stock photo. Sometimes you just want some inspiration, or you're struggling with complicated lighting (which most stock doesn't come with), or you want to see more of a variety in muscle definition or bone structure. This is where checking out the artistic photographer galleries comes in handy. I've found galleries chock full of sensual, gorgeous nude or semi nude men which are SO instructive for learning about the way strong light falls across a ripped body, or how those particular muscles bunch that way, or getting inspiration for poses, or studying skin in high res, perfect detail, or a hundred other little things. Including lifting my mood. What they AREN'T for, of course, is outright copying, as they are fully finished pieces of art by themselves and the photographers or models are posting them as portfolio pieces. So...

DO: Look, Admire, Get inspired
DON'T: Copy, Trace, Manipulate.

Of course, I'm sure I don't really need to tell this to the majority of you.

Name: Phil Wood
Nudes: Yes, artistic.

Name: Sita Mae Edwards
Nudes: Yes, artistic/fashion, male and female. The gallery has mostly female models, but she has amazing male models too and they aren't hard to find.

Name: Fabien Bosdedore
Nudes: Yes, artistic/emotive, and a variety of ethnicities too.

Name: Andre Pizaro
Nudes: No, but fashion/glamour type photography, so some underwear shots.

Name: Raymond Corbett
Nudes: Yes, classic/artistic/fetish (pretty mild, though)

Name: Tony Gibble
Nudes: Yes, artistic/glamour

Name: Michael Kilgore
Nudes: Yes, artistic/glamour

Other Resources

Character Designs: An Artist's Resource

Character Designs is a free site for - you guessed it - character designers. My favourite part is the free photosets (under Archives>Photosets) which are high resolution and professionally shot. Most have an interesting twist be it dynamic lighting or a gorgeous costume, and there are a ton of poses to choose from in each different set. Most of the sets feature female models, but look down the list and you'll see a few with male models too.


Tons of royalty free, high res stock photos especially for fantasy and science fiction artists, featuring male and female models posing as knights, samurai, barbarians, space troopers and more! Most you have to pay to download, but it can be as little as a few dollars per photo and they have few really nice free samples for download too.

Human Anatomy For Artists

From the same people behind 3Dsk, this is a subscribers only site (although they do have a handful of free samples), and they have a huge database of models in all shapes, sizes and sexes, used by professional games companies and 3D modellers/concept artists. Check out the site to get an idea of what they have to offer, subscription options, and pricing.

Image Credits:
Above: "Body Paint Study" ©2008-2009 Melissa Findley
Based on "Body Paint 3" (Stock) ©2006-2009 Becky Van Ommen

Image used here with the artist's permission

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Featured Artist: Christine Griffin

Artist Profile
Name: Christine "Cris" Griffin
Job Title: Illustrator/Portraitist
Freelance? Yes
Client List: Fantasy Flight Games, Alderac Entertainment, Ellen Million Graphics Portrait Adoptions, WhiteWolf, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Loose-Id Publications, Liquid Silver Press
Education: BFA Marshall University, MFA(painting) George Washington University.
Years Experience: 10+
Favorite Medium: Currently digital (but that could change at any moment)
Specialties: Portraits in the dark fantasy style, be it historically flavored or contemporary
Accepting Private Commissions? Yes

Contact Info
Website or Web Portfolio: and
Twitter: quickreaver
Online Art Communities: Epilogue and DeviantArt (as listed above)
Prints: Available through

For the last few years I've been a fan, and then a friend, of Cristine Griffin. One of the hardest working women out there in the industry, Cris juggles (well!) the pressures of being a full time mother and a freelance artist. Her bold male and strong female characters, mixed with a dark fantasy style, are uniquely her own--and her client list just keeps growing. I asked Cris a few quick questions about her work, and her thoughts on being a female artist in the fantasy industry.

There are a ton of gorgeous guys in your gallery. What made you decide to focus so often on painting male characters?
The chainmail bikini. I marveled at the number of hot babes in fantasy, and was a bit befuddled by the lack of attractive men that tickled my particular fancy. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against strong, sexy women depicted in fantasy/scifi/goth art, but as we all know, it can easily degrade into sexually gratuitous and vapid imagery. There was…and still is…a conspicuously lopsided ratio of hot male-to-female figures in the genre. The male characters are typically fully clothed and tough as nails, whereas the females are barely dressed and frequently passive. Sure, the Tarzan/Conan muscle-bound hero has become iconic, but I prefer a man with the gleam of feral intelligence in his eyes. The thinker, not the brute. I quickly realized if I wanted to see that, I’d have to do it myself.
How do you feel being female helps or hinders you in the fantasy art industry?
A great many of my ‘fans’ didn’t realize, for the longest time, I WAS female! So I have to say being female hinders me only in that I’m also a wife and mother. My job as a freelancer is secondary to my husband’s profession, which brings home the bulk of the bacon. I’m the one that must cook, clean, play Florence Nightingale, etc. Now I’m not complaining, per se…I CHOSE this path…but this is the way it is in a great many occupations. I can’t attend the big conventions or out-of-state workshops, nor spend money upgrading my programs or equipment, because the family would crumble and with three kids, finances are always stretched thin. My career is simply not a priority for anyone but me. Such is life!

But I’ll tell you, to my observation, women really do get the same opportunities, and make the same pay grade (at least as far as freelancers are concerned) as men in the industry. Good work is good work, period, and most Art Directors understand that. The quandary arises within juried art situations, such as annual art books and exhibitions. The subject matter becomes woefully skewed, in large part because the jurists are mainly male. They select what they enjoy seeing and frankly, a heterosexual man isn’t quite so appreciative of a male depicted for titillation, as he is a female. And let’s face it…a lot of fantasy is geared toward titillation. That’s why, in part, it’s called ‘fantasy’.
If you could change one stereotype associated with women and the industry, which would it be, and why?
I thought long and hard on this, and honestly, I couldn’t come up with a stereotype that wasn’t backed up by anecdotal evidence. By the same token, it wasn’t easy to come up with stereotypes either! Some of the best ADs out there are women, and I really think the reason we don’t see more incredibly successful female illustrators in the field is the fact women must split themselves into umpteen different people on a daily basis, instead of having the luxury to focus exclusively on one ‘job’. Art takes FAR more time and effort than anyone realizes, from research to execution to all the many adjustments we must make to accommodate the clients’ wishes. It’s crazy.

So here’s what I CAN say: it seems to me that women tend to be less receptive to criticism about their art than men. We take critique of our work far more personally. This is especially telling in the niche affectionately known as ‘The Fairy Artist’, which is predominantly female. This sub-group indulges in art more frequently as a hobby, so they’re typically coming at it from a non-academic background. For them, the very act of creation is the joy, not necessarily accurate perspective or color theory or ‘The Golden Ratio”. They encourage self-expression and positive reinforcement, so being told “Your anatomy is way off; take life drawing courses.” is usually met with irritation and hurt feelings. I suppose if you’re female, and paint any sort of fae, you’ll get lumped in with this group, and that may be a less-than-ideal stereotype to wrangle.
Image Credits:
Above: "The Woad Blue Sky" ©2006-2009 Christine Griffin
Below Left: "Devil Inside" ©2008-2009 Christine Griffin, first published in "Kobold Quarterly" magazine, #6
Below Right: "A Patient Wolf" ©2007-2009 Christine Griffin
All images used here with the artist's permission

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Opening Statements Part II: Louisa

For fantasy art freelancers or anyone even slightly interested in the practice (or for anyone who wants to listen to a group of very funny artists with assorted interesting accents chat about their jobs), you want to subscribe to the Ninja Mountain podcasts. They've done seven so far and they've announced on Twitter that the eighth ( to be released later this week) - will feature the first female voice on the show - Anne Stokes! She's a UK based gothic and fantasy freelance artist, whose dragon artwork is a constant source of envy for me.

I'm not a freelancer like Anne or Melissa. I've been working in the games industry for about a year and a half now, after four years on a Computer Arts course in Scotland. When I chose my degree, I confess that I was totally ignorant of what the games industry was like. I was fifteen years old, addicted to digital painting but with no idea what I could actually use it for as a career...and then while tending my other addiction (that would be Final Fantasy), a lightbulb came on. "Hey!" I realised. "Somebody has to do the art for these games!" On an unrelated note, too much time with computers and Final Fantasy games absolutely does not kill brain cells.

I hunted down courses, accepted an offer from my first choice, and turned up on the first day of class, eager as can be, and cast an eye around at my fellow students.

Every single female who has ever been in a computer related course knows where this is going.

There were roughly sixty students in the first year. Including myself, five were female. And one of them dropped out later that week. It did get better as the years went by.

By fourth year, we were up to five again.

(There may have been a sixth, but she was one of those elusive creatures for whom turning up to class was not only optional, it was apparently not recommended at all.)

In my final honours year, I did my dissertation and final project on female characters in games. I'm fairly certain I don't need to tell you what the results of that study was, but during the pitch and critique sessions we went through that year, I got some interesting feedback on my chosen topic and research. Two arguments were raised that reappear again and again in this arena.

1) "But you are working in the fantasy genre. You have to expect that the representation of women in games is going to be a fantasy."

Apparently they missed the part of my pitch where I pointed out that over 40% of gamers are women. Big breasted, scantily clad women are certainly ONE fantasy, but they aren't the fantasy of most women - hell, they aren't even the fantasy of every man. Why shouldn't we have our fantasies catered to as well? Perhaps it's assumed that the male group want that particular fantasy, and the female group want to be that particular fantasy. I'm sure some women do, but a lot of us just want to kick ass and take names and LOOK like we can as well. Most of us want a female option, period (there are a whole lot of games that don't have one). And dammit, don't tell me we don't still want OUR share of eye candy too!

2) "Be careful - a lot of people will read your title and think 'rabid feminist'."

Let's not get me going on the idea that women should watch out for being thought of as feminists, as if it's such an ugly thing. I can assure you that while there may be some academic institutions that let you write papers containing the kind of language that could be described as rabid, my uni wasn't one of them. My title, subject, and the thirty pages of introductions they make you write before you get to the actual paper were about as inflammatory as a dry, stale cracker. But when you study and work in a male dominated environment, suggesting that just a hint of bias may have crept in and and maybe it's time to address that, you get a knee jerk reaction like this. Even when both you and the knee-jerkee are intelligent, reasonable adults (which both the men who posed the above two questions were - they were professionals who really knew their stuff. And yet...)

The funny thing is, this kind of defensive reaction is entirely unnecessary. Are Melissa and I plotting to purge all bikini clad characters from the art world and replace them all with half naked Johnny Depp lookalikes? No.

Our mad scientists are still working on that last part.

We are going to carve out this little corner for ourselves, and others who share our tastes and opinions. Melissa mentioned some of our plans and I'm all aboard for reviews, features and interviews, and we have a lot of great ideas for the future too. What you may see more of from my side is a slant towards concept art and video games, which is my area of interest just as Melissa's is cover art illustration and freelancing.

And now if you'll excuse me, we have some half-naked men to paint!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Opening Statements: Melissa

Judith and Maidservant with the head of HolofernesI first heard of Artemisia Gentileschi in college. I wasn’t planning on being an artist back then, I was going into theater. Artemisia came up during a script study course. A local author had penned a play based on her early life and our school would be producing it. I eventually was drafted to do some sketches for props and a full size replica of one of her paintings as it might have looked in progress. The play was… less than stellar (if I’m going to try to avoid saying that I thought it sucked). Artemisia’s life, however, was intriguing.

Artemisia Gentileschi was not the first female painter to make a name for herself, although she is arguably the most famous of her era. Her life was tumultuous and fascinating: tutored early in life by her father, denied entrance into the all-male art academies of the time, raped by her mentor Agostino Tassi, put on trial and tortured to prove her innocence, Artemisia later traveled all over Europe and was the first female artist to be accepted into the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. Her paintings are often held up as examples of early feminism due to their strong female protagonists and often violent imagery or subtext. She was an intelligent, confident woman living and working in an era when women, and women artists especially, were considered inferior.

It seems appropriate to name this blog in honor of her. Female artists are no longer as rare as they were in her day, and no longer stymied by the constraints of propriety—but we’re still struggling in a male dominated field that caters mainly to male tastes.

Pick up a fantasy art yearbook—Spectrum or Exotique—or walk into your local bookstore or comicbook store and you’ll see what I mean. While women, traditionally, make up the majority of readers (at least here in the US), you’ll find an astounding amount of art that is produced by men, judged by men, and geared toward male tastes. There’s a reason why fantasy art is often stereotyped as pictures of big-breasted babes in chain mail bikinis, clutching the arm of an over-muscled hero with bigger bulges on his elbows than in his leather loincloth. In sci-fi art they’ll switch the chain mail for spandex or latex spacesuits and the hero for a hulking robot, but the thematic imagery is basically the same. Don’t even get me started on comic book art.

Paranormal romance has at least gone far enough to put the big breasted chick popping out of her costume somewhat aside in favor of headless, muscular oiled up male torsos—but is that really all that much of an improvement?

Last year I submitted artwork to Ballistic publishing’s Exotique 4. Of the four paintings I submitted, only one was of a female character. That was the one that was accepted. I didn’t question it much at the time, and was disappointed somewhat that my paintings of male characters, which I felt were stronger, weren’t quite up to par. Much was explained, however, when my copy of the book arrived in the mail. At a glance I’d guess that nearly 90% of the book featured female characters. There were half-naked girls with robots or dragons, big breasted girls in skimpy costumes toting giant guns or swords, pretty anime girls with katanas or looking angsty and vulnerable at the viewer. Scattered throughout, as rare as four-leaved clovers, were the men. Some were the typical hulking barbarians, some were of the androgynous sort that made you wonder if the judges were aware that the character was male, and some were monstrous and alien in appearance. There were a few male characters who were just normal enough to be non-threatening to a male point of view, but they were very, very few and far between.

Talking to several other female artists, the consensus seemed to be the same. Our paintings of female characters made it in, our male characters did not. These were not arm-chair artists who’d submitted on a whim, either—most of them were professionals in the field whose male character art is easily on par with their female characters. It’s hard to ignore that kind of pattern. Perhaps the parade of tits and ass in Exotique isn’t the result of a male chauvinistic (or at least an unquestioningly male) approach to the genre and we’re all merely paranoid.

I doubt it, though.

Since then I’ve felt it almost a personal mission to try to paint more characters that I feel appeal to a female fantasy audience, and to try to promote female artists, who I also feel are underrepresented. Check out’s cover art roster, or Massive Black’s instructor list and you’ll see the reverse of the problem with artwork. Female artists are few and far between, often relegated to “fairy artists” whose work is good enough to market to the Hot Topic crowd but not good enough to grace fantasy book covers.

Yet there are dozens of women working in this field, many of them doing incredible work and getting very little time in the spotlight. There are women working in comic book art, as illustrators for gaming companies, as concept artists for films, as cover artists and more. Unless you’re one of us, it’d be difficult to name ten.

What can you expect to see here on Artemisia from me? Hopefully features and interviews with female artists working today, reviews of artwork by both men and women that I feel particularly appeal to women—especially in cover art illustration (which is my main topic of interest). Maybe even some book or film reviews. Louisa, who has generously agreed to be my partner in crime for this project, holds similar views; although, we may not always agree on some particulars. Our views are our own, but we hope that there are enough people out there who might be interested in hearing them.

We might not be able to change the art world—but we can at least paint it from our perspective.