Painting in 7 Easy Steps

Bear with me: this is a constant gripe of mine. Still, whenever I see something like this going on and get annoyed, I remind myself how much more I’m learning by not giving in to the photocopy machine ethos, and I feel a bit better (not that it will last when my result slip comes back with a ‘C’)

I have no issue with photo reference. I think photography is an amazingly liberating and helpful tool for all kinds of artists. What I do dislike is copying the photo blindly without taking into consideration the intent of the piece.

A Recipe for Instant Art

You will need:

  • A camera, preferably digital
  • An overhead projector (optional)
  • Models (optional)
  • Lights (optional, strongly encouraged)
  • Pencil (2B) or thin vine charcoal
  • Paint (oil is best to ensure the final work has an artsy flair)
  • Support (canvas preferred)

Preparation Time: 1 day ~ 3 weeks


  1. Come up with a concept, and shoehorn it into a contemporary context – preferably one which you have easy access to (e.g. your messy kitchen).
  2. Draw three thumbnails and pick the one you like most.
  3. Scout for a location and conduct a photo shoot. If you considered lighting in step 2, arrange lights as necessary prior to shoot and do not experiment with lighting once shoot has commenced. If done correctly, you should leave with precisely one sharp, well-focused image.
  4. Make A4 print of image. If using a digital camera, be sure to print with an office color laser printer and ensure that a strange color shift is present before proceeding to next step.
  5. Proceed to paint image onto support. A paint-by-numbers approach is especially useful. Cropping is allowed but only use if absolutely necessary (e.g. you have ordered the wrong size of canvas). Take care to copy your photograph slavishly and always draw contours, not three-dimensional forms! Remember to follow the colors of the photograph as closely as you can. Doing otherwise diminishes the verisimilitude of your final piece.
  6. Allow painting to dry. In the meantime, you should write an artist’s statement about the painting. Include two or more of the following words/phrases for maximum impact: “mimetic”, “built environment”, “contemporary”, “disengagement”, “appropriation”, “question”, “social mores”.
  7. Exhibit and win awards at contemporary art shows.

The following steps can be performed between steps 4 and 5. They are optional, but they will shorten the preparation time drastically, especially if you are not a skilled draughtsman.

  1. Make print of image onto projector slide.
  2. Project image onto canvas.
  3. Using pencil or charcoal, carefully trace outline of photograph – including highlight and shadow areas – until you have something that resembles a contour map.
  4. Seal line drawing to avoid accidental smudging while painting.

Common Problems

Q. I started painting, but realized that I don’t have a good ‘feel’ for my subject. Should I do some studies to familiarize myself with it?

A. Resist the temptation. Extraneous studies will only slow you down. If producing the painting for school examinations, you may be required to produce studies; in this case, avail yourself of a lightbox. Remember the Golden Rule: copy contour, don’t think about form.

Q. I’ve started analyzing the scene I’m painting! I’ve come up with ideas for lighting and edge treatment to convey the forms and concepts more clearly (I think). Should I still follow the photograph?

A. Yes. You do not want to waste all the effort you have put in so far.


An Unused Preface to the Prep Boards

I love fantasy. High fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, crackpot theories – as long as it’s bizarre, I’ll read it. Watch it. Whatever. So in Sec 1, when coursework seemed like a big fun chance to do whatever you wanted, I decided that my coursework would be firmly rooted in fantasy. That sentence was not an unfunny joke.

I first had an inkling of what I wanted to do my coursework on during the December holidays last year. Being a LOTR fan, I had read the books, watched the movies, then borrowed more books on the art of the movies. Those were really amazing: to see all that concept art, all those designs and hard work just for one film. Okay, one epic blockbuster film, but one film nevertheless. Anyway, the point is that there were a lot of great character/creature designs done for the LOTR movies – especially since the world Tolkien created was so rich and there was so much source material to work from. Having also recently watched Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth – which had several really cool monsters in it – and also read a childrens’ book series I found at the library called The Spiderwick Chronicles, I was more or less set on doing creature or character design because…well, it’s cool.

At first I wanted to try designing things for South-east Asia, or even Singapore – like “A Guide to the Native Faeries of Singapore” or something like that. But then in 2009 I discovered the excellent urban fantasy webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court, which features all kinds of interesting creatures inside a very cool school. That was when I decided to focus on designing for the school. Since coursework would be my last big project in this school, I figured I might as well repay the school for all it’s done for me by infesting it with imaginary monsters. I wanted my coursework to be something juniors would look at when they were bored and hanging around the canteen. I wanted my coursework to be engaging, not just pictures that make you scratch your head and guess at the Meaning of Life when you view them. What’s more engaging than books? A lot of things, actually, but I like books, so there.

I kept wanting to do character design even until two months before coursework was due, because I like drawing people, but in the end I abandoned it because coursework was ultimately still an assignment. And in assignments, you do what gets you marks. Not what you want to do. Though you can certainly try.

Alan Lee

Oh there’s one drawing of mine if you scroll down a bit.


Alan Lee was born in 1947 in Middlesex, England. He studied at the Ealing School of Art.

He moved to Dartmoor in 1975. He is best known for his work as a fantasy illustrator – most notably, he seems to have become entrenched in everyone’s memories as “the Tolkien art guy” more than any other Tolkien artist. I mean, when I talk to people online about the Hildebrant brothers or even Ted Nasmith and they give me blank stares (or the text equivalent of it), but mention Alan Lee and they will go “oh, the LOTR guy, right?”. This is because he has illustrated for The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Children of Húrin. Together with John Howe, he was also a lead concept artist for Peter Jackson’s film adapatation of LOTR, and the two of them have been contacted by Guillermo del Toro to design for The Hobbit (shooting won’t start till 2010, if it starts at all – funding for the movie is still a bit murky right now /wrings hands ).

Another one of his more famous works is Faeries, together with Brain Froud. Alan Lee has also illustrated Rosemary Sutcliff’s novelizations/adaptations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and done concept art for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, which firmly roots him in the fantasy/mythology category. He won Best Artist at the World Fantasy Awards of 1998.
I managed to see some footage of Alan Lee sketching in the LOTR DVD edition’s Appendices (12 hours of bonus footage, interviews, behind-the-scenes at Weta [yes!] photo galleries, concept art etc. It’s fantastic.) Now I will let you know how I was inspired by him: I tried sharpening one of my really short 3B pencils to that length. And then I tried copying some of his drawings from The LOTR Sketchbook. Here is the result.

So anyway, on to his work. I own the illustrated paperback edition of LOTR (in three parts, as it usually comes packaged nowadays) and so I have had a chance to peer at his work in slightly more detail than most will be able to, viewing the images online. I’ve picked some of my favorite illustrations and put them here:

From observing his artwork I think that most people would agree on using “lyrical” to describe his drawings and paintings. His outlines – when visible at all – are delicate and wispy, and the shading is extremely subtle, nuanced and sensitive. His figures look distinctly Grecian, which is very obvious in the paintings of Luthien (pale woman on darkish background) and Galadriel (tall woman, hobbits looking into a fountain). The pencil is gorgeous as well – from what I remember of the artbook and the brief DVD footage, he shades not with hatching but with loose scribbly lines. He seems to favor very fine, squiggly lines actually – if you look at how he draws hair for some of the Elves in his pencil work it will be quite obvious. That method of shading conveys the quality of hair (and form overall, I guess) very well, though it probably only works for his type of style.

Next Up: Matt Stawicki and Lucio Parillo!

An Inconvenient Truth or Al Gore Is a Very Good Speaker

This essay has helped a number of students from all around the world with their schoolwork, which is pretty cool. If you are going to use this for school projects/other stuff please:

  1. Include a citation in your bibliography. My last name is Yang; my first name is Jessica. You can use this automatic citation generator if you need help.
  2. Leave a comment on this post or email me and tell me what you’re citing my essay for.

Now on to the essay proper. Your comments and critique are always welcomed. Thanks for reading!

An Inconvenient Truth or Al Gore Is a Very Good Speaker

We’re all going to suffer a horrible, drawn-out death at the hands of global warming if we don’t take action to stop it right now. Also, remember that Mr Gore is a passionate, sensitive, righteous do-gooder, campaigning for the noble saving the environment relentlessly in the face of opposition. At least, that is what Al Gore tells you in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. And what convincing claims he makes, employing all sorts of highly effective persuasion techniques in the film.

One of the main reasons for Al Gore’s persuasiveness in the film is that he knows how to appeal emotionally to his audience. An Inconvenient Truth is littered with references to events that are guaranteed to stir up empathy in his mainly-American audience. Gore talks about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it caused, a wound no doubt still fresh in the minds of the US public. He then goes on to assert that global warming will cause chaos on a far greater scale than Katrina ever could. I can imagine the thought processes of a typical American watching the film: “Katrina was so terrible, and now Mr Gore’s saying global warming will be much worse – I’ve got to do something about this global warming business to prevent an apocalypse!” By linking his talk to events that Americans can easily relate to, Gore gives his audience a frame of reference with which to compare his statistics to. At the same time, this also reinforces the sense that global warming is not a far-off reality, but is something that is happening right now, right here, on American soil. Although much of his focus is on the US, the film’s international audience is not neglected either. Gore includes places such as Greenland and Beijing in his talk, such as during a simulation of the effect of rising sea levels on lower-lying countries and cities.

Gore asks questions such as “if we allow that, how would it affect us?” and makes statements like “that has consequences for us too”, especially near the end of the documentary. His usage of “us” and “we” instead of “I” has a subtle but powerful effect – it turns the audience from passive onlookers into individuals who feel a sense of duty towards mitigating global warming. This choice of words also helps to persuade the audience that Al Gore is a man who is “in this together” with ordinary people, instead of a politician standing on a pedestal, isolated from the masses.

It is often easier to win someone over when you flatter them a little. Gore makes clever use of this fact. When showing statistics or info-graphics, he often tells his audience something along the lines of “this has only been seen by a select community of scientists before – but now you can too!”. Doing so creates a sense of exclusivity for the audience member, and someone watching the film might feel flattered that they have been ‘chosen’ by the ex-Vice President of America to share in on this little secret. This in turn makes the viewer more receptive to Gore’s suggestions.

Hands up, those of you who remember the “elevation machine” scene, where Gore had to climb onto a contraption in order to reach the peak of a graph. This was used to emphasize just how much mankind’s carbon dioxide production had increased. The scene was unique and stayed in your mind, an example of the second way in which An Inconvenient Truth is persuasive.

Film technique and the choice of content is a crucial factor which greatly enhances the persuasiveness of the documentary. There are frequent flashbacks to Gore’s life as a child, fond mentions of his college professor, and videos of his family and events that affected him. For example, he mentions that he decided to fight for action against global warming because of the death of his six-year-old son. This helps people understand his motivations, and helps them better relate to his cause. He also often shows the audience videos of nature at its best – pristine, unspoilt – then follows up with an image of smoke pouring out of a factory, the jarring contrast shocking us into believing what he says. We see real-life newsreels of Gore championing environmental causes during the US elections. In one scene (not the last of its kind) we see Gore sitting in the dark, typing away furiously at his MacBook, viewing some photos of a shrinking glacier, suggesting that he is completely dedicated to this cause, even working in the dark for the sake of the environment.

Of course, none of these sequences would be quite as persuasive without Gore’s melancholic narration playing over the visuals. He speaks of what we are doing to the planet with a sad, low voice, punctuated with many sighs, and sometimes exaggerates this to the point of his voice breaking mid-sentence.

These all contribute to the image of himself Gore wishes to project through this film, which then causes the audience to respect what he says even more, and subsequently believe him due to the strength of his personality.

The format with which Gore presents his information mainly follows that of a standard lecture – slides in Keynote, complete with statistics and info-graphics. This has two effects. The first is that Gore’s credibility is enhanced due to the many numbers he throws at the audience. Instead of being a man talking about the threat of global warming because he feels that this summer is hotter than usual, he becomes a man talking about the threat of global warming with hard, concrete evidence to support his stand. The second is that he gains more authority. The lecture format harks back to one’s school days. The audience feels as though Gore is their teacher, a figure who is (usually) correct and should be listened to.

One might argue that Gore is not particularly persuasive because he seems like he’s trying too hard to convince. Surely the fact that I have been able to write a thousand-word long essay on his persuasive techniques must account for how easily one can see through them? But it must be noted that I was told beforehand to watch the film with a critical eye with special regard to the techniques used. Al Gore’s target audience, the average moviegoer, usually does not walk into the cinema or pop the disc into the CD player with this in mind. Most people simply do not notice and are won over by his performance anyway.

We’re all going to suffer a horrible, drawn-out death at the hands of global warming if we don’t take action to stop it right now. I believe that after watching An Inconvenient Truth, most people would be convinced of this, for Al Gore did an excellent job of creating a persuasive film. But now that you’ve read this essay, the next time you watch him posturing and admitting you into “secret circles”, take it with a pinch of salt.

10 May 2009

Children Imagining a Video Game

Some stuff I rushed at 10:30pm sometime back. Half the class didn’t hand it up anyway.

Children Imagining a Video Game

It would be good if there were an engaging plot,
But I want a clearly defined enemy, because complex stories with tales of betrayal
are too difficult for me to understand.

A likeable hero
or heroine, if you must.
(after all, our parents say we must respect both boys and girls)

Interesting gameplay;
Preferably with plenty of guns and enemies,
And amazing weapons, like nuclear bombers,
and what’s that word – grenades.

Explosions, gunshots;
Realistic graphics, so that we can imagine that we are soldiers
stealthily snaking through the long grasses
outside the enemy’s military base.

Lots of easy levels, so I can show off to my friends,
when we all come to my house to play together.
And some challenging levels,
for times when I am bored.