Tuesday, November 27, 2018

As an artist, it seems like the landscape is ever-changing from simply the tools, to the aesthetic. I intend to be an artist that never wants to stop learning, and as such, I find more and more interesting artists every day. Each artist has a unique insight and point of view, no matter the experience level. New views help open my mind and teach me there are many ways to utilize my skills and I hope that sharing our stories will help others in the same way. I believe there are many paths on an artistic journey, and each interview will help to show the stories of the artists that tread them.

Today we'll be interviewing Jose Alvarez.

Kaminski: My first question is typically the same: What got you into doing art in the first place and what KEEPS you doing art?

Alvarez: I started drawing when I was around six, growing up in Mexico. Astro Boy, Dragon Ball, and Saint Seiya were really popular down there in the mid 90's. I just fell in love with them, I started trying to draw the characters. I'd find pictures of them in magazines and try to trace them.

When I was in elementary, there was another kid, Luis, who was really good at drawing, and I wanted to draw just like him. So I just kept practicing and practicing. I never reached his level, but at least it gave me the push to get better.

Nowadays, I've been doing it for so long that it's just kind of a natural thing to me. I try to take breaks here and there, where I tell myself "no drawing tonight", but any time I'm idle, I reach for a pen or pencil and, by default, start drawing the planes of the face, or a shaded cube. I just love doing it.

Kaminski: This is sort of related to a question, but more a preliminary - do you find that your heritage has any influence on your work in any way? And in that vein - do you ever have the desire to draw or paint using traditional influences?

Alvarez: Culturally, I don't think so. Anime and Manga were my main inspirations, growing up, and they're not very Mexican. They were popular in Mexico, but that's about it. As far as drawing or painting using traditional influences, what do you mean? Like looking at Mexican artists, or using Mexican methods?

Kaminski: Like stylistically, using cultural icons, traditional techniques, etc.

Alvarez: Oh, yeah, I actually have. I designed an Alebrije for my daughter, and I did a very quick Day of the Dead sketch last year, I think. I don't use the motifs often, but when I was looking for a logo for my brand, I was looking at Aztec hieroglyphs. I ended up going with something else, but the thought was there.

Kaminski: Whenever you first start to approach your art for the day / project for the week / etc. what themes tend to show up first? What kind of art do you enjoy to work on the most?

Alvarez: Oh, man, that's a tough one. There's been scant few times where I pick a theme beforehand. Most of the time it's, "What should I work on tonight?". I'd say the themes that tend to show up the most are characters and figure drawing.

Kaminski: But like - fantasy? Furries? Dark cyberpunk? What is a genre you typically feel yourself drawn to? And if none - what about character archetypes: do you feel drawn towards the overbearing villainous type? Or perhaps the subversive quick-footed thief?

Alvarez: Fantasy, for sure. I try to portray every character archetype I can, because I feel like if I just did one type over and over it'd get boring, both for me and the audience. But I like the more 'fun' types. I'd sooner draw Spiderman than Batman, as an analogy.

Nothing wrong with gloom, for sure, I'd just rather draw the fun.

Kaminski: Nice! As you can see mine tend to favor the post-apocalyptic or dystopian mindset...

Alvarez: I noticed. I really liked your cyber samurai series. I could see that being a really neat world to explore. You should do something with that!

Kaminski: Since you have a penchant for the more lighthearted side of art, do you try to make it a point to target a specific type of audience? In that vein, what are some techniques you think you could talk about that you may have utilized to push towards said audience?

Alvarez: I don't really have a specific audience in mind. I like to do a bit of everything, from lighthearted sketches about children's cartoons, to more adult-oriented pieces (nothing too explicit, though). They all do mostly revolve around comics.

Lately, I've been using a technique I got from Matt Rhodes for doing quick shading. You have your base color, then your light layer on top, and your shadow layer on top of that, and you kinda use layer masks to expose the light underneath. It's real nice, and quick, and the kids love it.

(Above you'll find the video where he discusses that technique)

Kaminski: Switching gears: let's dive right into it, what's a project that you're collectively working on that you'd like to talk about / promote?

Alvarez: My comic, definitely. Ever Skyward. Fantasy action/adventure with a dash of Eldritch horror.

Currently undergoing some revisions, but you can find the most current incarnation of it over here: http://grieverjoe.ithilear.com/comic/kanu-tamu/

Kaminski: What keeps it interesting to you? Do you have coping mechanisms when you get burned out on certain parts that you use to refresh yourself to get back on the horse, so to speak?

Alvarez: It's a mishmash of all the things I enjoy, so it stays interesting. Plus, it's a good way for me to exercise my writing and storyboarding muscles. 

As far as burnout? Videogames!


To expand on that, whenever I'm feeling down or burned out, I simply take a break. I just give myself a week to not draw anything. I still look at art, and find myself doodling absent-mindedly, but I force myself to not work on any projects.

After a week, I come back and hit it again. If I'm still not feeling like it, I take a day or two more.
Bloodborne and the Witcher are two of my favorite games, and they're also big influences for it, so whenever I get burned out, I play some games. Mostly Bloodborne.

Kaminski: Oh wow! It sounds like we have identical coping strategies!
And I find it particularly interesting, what with those being on the opposite end of the spectrum than the more light-hearted subject matter that you aim for.

I don't want to have something and have people go, "Oh, that's just a copy of 'x', with a different coat of paint."

Alvarez: Precisely.

There's a lot more things that influence me, and some of them don't really mesh with each other. I try to draw inspiration from all over the place, to keep things interesting. I don't want to have something and have people go, "Oh, that's just a copy of 'x', with a different coat of paint."

Kaminski: Oh nice! Most people have a hard time with that. Blending the genres and things.

What led you to the comics industry then? What do you find so appealing about them as a creator?

Alvarez: I've had the idea for Ever Skyward in one fashion or another since around 2003 (it was very, very different than it is today, though), and always thought it would be neat to see it take form at some point. I don't consider myself good at writing, and I don't know how to animate, but I do know how to draw! So I figured, the next best thing would be to make a comic.

Plus, comics are awesome. Spawn was my favorite, growing up.

Kaminski: Have you ever thought of scouting for a writer?

Alvarez: Not really. This story is mine, so to speak. I want to tell it my way. There are other people who can write way better than I can, but this story needs to be told by me. Even if it doesn't turn out to be good, it's told by me.

That matters to me. Same with the art. There are others, more talented artists than me, but their art won't do.

Kaminski: What're your takes on social media platforms than, such as Patreon, Kickstarter, etc.? Do you have any plans to pursue these as ways to push your project to the maximum? OR do you plan on making an attempt to push it into the realm of large-company publishing?
Either way, the main question is - what's your take on the different avenues of publishing these days?

Alvarez: I think I need a finished product before I can tackle publishing. I've thought about Patreon before, but realistically, my schedule for creating is so out of whack, I wouldn't feel right asking people to support me so they can get like four updates in two weeks, and then go a month with nothing else. In the future, I think I would look at print-on-demand, but I'm just not sure. Like I said, I'd have to have a finished product, first, then have a following. Once there, I'd ask to see what the reaction would be, and maybe do small-batch printing, and later, large scale. For that, I think Kickstarter would come in handy.

But who knows!

Kaminski: Before the last two questions, do you have any questions for me?

Alvarez: Do you have any personal projects? Like, a story, or an idea for a series? It looked like you were kinda going somewhere with the cyber samurai book.

Kaminski: So, for the longest time I've been working on a large scale, dystopian world. This is where there marionettes, the vigilant, etc. all live. Eventually it will all be condensed into a multipart epoch involving the many different factions and the way of life in the wake of the disruption of the world as it is. For more glimpses into this world, look all throughout my social media presence under the tag: #honordecoded

Every marionette, every character study, pretty much most of my independent work lives in that universe. I have yet to flesh put and/or truly decipher what I've actually begun to create with Ashley (whom is the writer for the content). In time though, it will all come to the forefront.

Alvarez: I thought it looked a little too cohesive to be random sketches.
I can relate. Most of my independent work is for Ever Skyward, too.
I think if you have a central vein running through all of your work, there is an attainable goal, if even on the very long stage.

Kaminski: True. The key is to keep pushing.
What goals do you have set for the immediate for yourself? And what about long term?

Alvarez: For the immediate future, I'd say to try and keep working on my art every day. Long term would be to finish my comic. I do have some other ideas, but honestly, at the rate the comic is going, I'd be doing good to finish that one project!

Kaminski: And of course the last question... what's the best piece of advice you've ever received OR what's the best piece of advice you can give to fellow artists?

(Thumbnails for the final, above)

Alvarez: I think the best piece of advice I've gotten is to study. Study the basics, study lighting, study anatomy. Study from life, basically. It doesn't matter what you want to do. Anime, comics, cartoons... studying from life will be what kickstarts your talent. You have to learn and understand the rules before you can break them.

I was given that advice when I was around 16, and was deep into my anime and manga phase, and I dismissed it, because I wanted to draw manga, not realism! I feel that if I'd heed that advice then, I'd probably be a lot farther than I am now.

So that's what I'd say: study, kiddos!

Kaminski: Yeah, you and me both on the 'further along' bit.

In closing, it was a pleasure to catch up! Thanks for the interview my good sir!


Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Jose Alvarez.
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You can view this interview, and many more, HERE.

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

(This is a continuation of the previous post - A Bit of Advice About: Getting Critique)

As a follow-up post about getting critiqued, I thought it just as important to point out some techniques to employ when giving critiques. I find it helpful to use some of these thoughts up front so that the person getting the critique can get the most out of it.

(Artwork: Adam Paquette)

Establish Objectives

First and foremost, what is the person getting critiqued trying to learn? I find if you don't really lay down these ground rules from the get-go, the person getting critiqued may or may not get what they want to learn out of the critique. This is not to say that you can't give an all-over or all-inclusive critique about each aspect of a piece or body of work, just that you should establish some goals to your critique. Doing this will help you keep track of your timeline, especially if you have multiple critiques back-to-back or to really help one person get the most out of your advice.

Establishing Objectives can also help narrow your focus and keep you on task just as well. It's easy for a critique, especially midway through, to start to get very conversationalist, or even attack-and-parry. I've been privy to critiques where the entire body of work was needlessly prodded at to simply make the critiquee simply go away. This is the exact opposite effect you want to achieve by the end of it. Couple this with the fact that narrowing the focus up front can help the critique from going unnecessarily long as well. Sometimes a well thought out - but brief - critique is the best approach. Going into it with a clear goal in mind for the person and then sticking only to that criteria, especially if there are multiple critiquers present is extremely effective.

Overall, it's very important to be clear and up front about what kinds of things the person getting the critique wants to gain from you, and for you to approach it as though you have something to learn from them as well.

(Artwork: Mandy Jurgens)

Leave Opinions at the Door

It's very important to realize that the critique is not meant to reflect your personal tastes or flair for a specific art style or technique. The main thing to realize when walking into a critique is to remember that you're bringing your experience to the table, be it experience in certain medias or techniques, or your skill level, or perhaps even your differing viewpoint that might change someone's outlook on a piece. This is why I find it smart to get critiques at all skill levels, from the highest pros, to the lowest level newbie. The whole point of a critique is to look at the work for what it is and not look for the outward opinion that you may personally have towards the piece.

Make sure that you use whatever objective was established (see above) and use that as your baseline to talk about the piece in that light.

(Artwork: Lizzie John)

"Attack" the Work and NOT the Creator

One thing that's always hard for many critique groups that I've been a part of is for both the person giving and receiving the critique is to remember to leave the PERSON out of it. You're looking at the body of work so that you might be able to help that person see it from a different angle, or learn a new technique. Your goal is to not go out of the way to single that person out for their specific tastes.

For example, I've been in a critique where the person at the forefront obviously had disgust for the anime aesthetic and made it very known all throughout that they were going to pick on that person for the fact that they enjoyed it. You can imagine that the end result for that person's critique, and the entire experience in general, was not favorable. They ended up in more of a rage by the end, and both parties seemed to think of each other as lesser artists, and people.

A good way that the entire situation could have been alleviated would have been to ask a question what their viewpoint is on the anime aesthetic beforehand. Maybe try their best to get into that person's head space first and then discover what they could do better to match that aesthetic. Or if you don't know anything about it, politely tell them up front that you have no knowledge of that style and see if there's something that you can help with outside of that realm. Maybe they like a certain style, but lack proper anatomy structure, or color theory, or composition techniques, etc. There are almost infinite things you can touch on, from the grand to the minute.

Of course, this can be a very difficult thing to do. Sure, there could be an artist out there of great skill that also has thoroughly studied their art history and/or has the technical knowledge to backup their viewpoints to the maximum, but again, that's outside the realm of the person giving the critique. They should try to distance their personal opinion from their critique.

(Artwork: Yue Wang)

Use the "Flip/Flop" Technique

Another technique that I've seen used effectively, I'll simply refer to as the flip/flop technique.

What this means is, for every negative quality you see in a piece, try and find something to positive to reinforce. This will help to lessen the blow of something extremely devastating like, "The anatomy simply isn't correct." You could follow that up with anything really - simply a ", but the way you paint eyes (clothes, grass, hair, etc.) is really impeccable."

This seems to not only lessen the blow of something very devastating, possibly even requiring a complete overhaul, but helps them to realize some things that they've done right! The point of this technique is to ultimately give them things that they can study after-the-fact to really blossom even further!

(Artist: Andrey Surnov)

Remember: Growth is Key

This can be true for both sides - people have this tendency to forgot, or hell even become elitist, that both sides can grow from a critique. Just because you're being asked for / are providing critiques as a service, doesn't mean that you are some higher power or anything. As a friend of mine says, "everyone poops", and this includes everyone, from the top tier all the way to the bottom rung. We're all people with specific emotions at the end of the day. This is mainly to say that if you, even as the person giving the critique, go into it with an open mind, you might learn just as much from the person you're critiquing!

Here's an example: one of my years during college, we were all gathered together, doing group critiques on certain projects. Some of the people were instantly trying to jump all over one person in particular for something minor, like that person's anatomy. Sure, it needed help, but that wasn't actually what the point of the piece was. The artist being questioned was actually after very specific composition techniques. They weren't focused on learning how the anatomy was in the piece, particularly they were trying to learn how to lead the eye. SO when you take that into consideration over the other issues, you can begin to critique that piece of work on a completely different merit than what they had originally intended.

That's the point of the story, once that other small group took the thought of anatomy and things out of their head, they actually learned some very valuable lessons about how to lead the eye, how to make effective composition and ultimately, how to stay focused on the issues that were being asked of by the individual that asked for the critique.


REMEMBER: This list is not all inclusive. There are a plethora of other options and suggestions to give to people who are both critiquing AND getting critiqued.

If you have any other techniques not mentioned here for either of getting or receiving a critique, I'd love to hear them below!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I always find it interesting to look back and think about where I've come from versus where I am now. I think it's important to self-reflect. You see, a lot of people probably don't know it, but I use the International Self-Portrait Day (ISPD) as a way of seeing what sort of progress I've made over the years. I can say that I haven't exactly followed it perfectly, but it's something that is useful to gauge. I think overall, self-portraits can be a great way to reflect in that way. After all, who better to know you... than well, YOU?

I've done quite a few self portraits over the years, at all different points in my skill, and knowledge. I think it's important to note that there's consistent growth.

JULY 2012

I'm pretty sure that there are older ones all throughout the years, but for some reason this one just so happened to be the earliest on that I could find in my archives. This might be my first real attempts playing with digital painting. I didn't know much more than the hard round brush at the time, but I don't think it really mattered. It was all about finding the forms. Searching the canvas, as it shows in my stroke economy. I was just making an attempt to make sure that I got things in their right place more than anything else.


This most likely starts my exploration phase with brushes. Texture wasn't exactly something that I knew about yet, I just knew that digital painting is/was something that I wanted to conquer! 
And so I continued on...

MARCH 2013

What's really interesting is that this one might've been my first attempt at real speed paint. I just threw strokes and textures all over the place! It's a blast once you start to get the hang of how the brushes themselves react on the canvas.

JULY 2013

I would consider this to be a considerable milestone. This is the beginning of my true understanding of how both form and texture combine. It could still be cleaned up some to this day, but there's some real breakthrough that happened here. When I look back it from today, it's so strange to think back to what 2013 offered versus what I can execute now.

I remember in those days thinking about how long this took, how I could easily work faster in traditional versus digital. I would constantly question what the point of working digitally was and why I wouldn't just jump off that bandwagon and just push pencils and inks - not realizing that these two could be done in tandem. I was pretty naive in those days compared to now.


Before the attempts at ISPD, I was doing school assignments that started to push those boundaries of what digital painting could actually do for me. For the longest time I actually pushed against this whole 'cloud-brush-form-build-up', but now it's like my default starting a canvas piece. I just randomly throw clouds on the canvas as a way to get something, anything, on the canvas. A blank canvas is WAY more intimidating than one that has something to build upon. In a way, I look at texture applied to a canvas in the same way that I look at say... gravel or sod. They are there to be build upon. Therefore, it's up to you to push and pull as needed to tend to the garden.

APRIL 2015

This was part of a final illustration assignment for school. My teacher, Michele Noiset, gathered all of us together to find a way to channel ourselves into a single portrait. I'm a very serious person when it comes to my art, and I can almost guarantee that I have this exact look on my face while I work. It's in such stark contrast to my usual, goof-ball self. I guess we all have our serious moments, huh?

Fun fact: That logo was one that I used for the LONGEST time. Look on my InstaGram and you'll see reflections of this logo to this day. I have an affinity for both cyberpunk and 80's aesthetic, so what better way than to channel it into an aged-looking icon. Ahh the retro vibe... how I love thee.


I could've sworn this was a lot earlier than this, but this project was insane. Somehow I got roped into doing a thirty-day challenge in which we were to draw a self portrait for every day of the month. These were so stupid fast at the time. I made sure that every one of them was before I would start working for the day, so approx. thirty to forty-five minutes each.

I can tell you, it's stupid intense, but grew my brush economy ten-fold in a very short amount of time. I think that without this exercise, I would still be a bit slower at working digitally.


My first go at ISPD. I took a picture specifically for this on Halloween just a day before. My father-in-law had this badass DSLR camera, and we had all sorts of interesting lighting situtions to toy with so I decided... it was time!


As you can see, I quickly dove onto ISPD's challenge. I've been doing it every year thus far since 2015. I can't tell you honestly if it began that early, but I would (and still do) use it as my skill gauge for the year.


I really loved the painterly aesthetic that I was developing around this time - there's something about this era that I actually continually channel to this day. This is about as close as I try to get with my current paint technique as I can. I can honestly say that this was about the time that I started watching Oil Painting demos on YouTube and began to channel that vibe.

A lot of people have asked me over the years why I don't simply oil paint, since I always rant about it. Well, there are lots of reasons, time and money being the main ones, but I feel the need to channel all of the traditional techniques into my digital work - I even made that brush pack long ago that I still use to this day, with some assistance from Deharme's brush pack. These two packs combined have made for the best painterly feeling that I keep on pushing everyday.


This one was definitely all about speed over anything else. I think that I had just remembered at the last minute, post-Inktober, that ISPD was a thing, so I jumped quickly, grabbed my phone, took a picture, and awwwaaayyy we go. I'm not 100% sold on the painting here as it feels very plasticy and overly digital compared to my usual work. It's not to say that I didn't find something interesting about the way I worked on this piece or even the idea behind it; I can simply say that it was a very different feeling going into this one.


And then we come to this years. This year was actually the first year that I'd had access to a tablet that you could actually draw on - so I'm still trying to get used to the feeling of that. That's not anything that I can use as an excuse though, as it's important to continually keep pushing every day. I just know that I drew this one stupidly fast, and kept things very loose.

Lastly... the fact that I had to hold my table at an angle... actually skewed the image upward as I worked, so at the last minute I held it upright and just stretched the image toward the top to regain the right anatomy. Inside track notes there haha!

All of this is really to go on about the fact that I think it's important to not only self-reflect, but to also take a step back every once in awhile and really gauge where you've come and where you're going.
Just always... KEEP ON PUSHING!

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