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!