"Find a reference!"
I can still hear my high school art teacher calling out that phrase. In the art room, you'd hear Mrs. Lutick's voice echoing the words "find a reference" off the walls. As you struggled to draw or paint a tree or mountain, without even looking up you just knew that those words were directed at you. From across the room she'd spotted the slow motion train wreck unfolding on your easel or drawing pad. You were half-assing it, or maybe just had the notion that drawing from the imagination was the only path of a true artist! But it looked like crap. Despite having lived your whole life around trees, rivers, mountains, buildings, cars, telephone poles, and people... you actually have to come to the realization that you have absolutely no idea what those things really look like!
As I work on the first issue of "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." the full realization of the extent of my incompetence and the gaps in my skills and knowledge is an ever evolving process! So with that in mind, recently I set out to "find a reference."
The target of this weekend's search was backgrounds! To date they have been severely lacking in the pages of "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." which is a problem! With this story it's so important to create a fully realized world to support the characters and plot. The need for some research was also a good excuse to drag my introverted self out of the house and enjoy some sunshine and company for a little while!
I grabbed some lunch with friends and spent a couple hours wandering town snapping quick pictures of buildings, storefronts, cars, trees, skies, and more. I wasn't going for photographic brilliance... just a reminder of all the little details that make a world real, make it "lived in." By the time I was a little sun scorched and tired I had over 100 new photos in my camera roll to help me out.
I had certain scenes and elements in mind to capture. For instance, a batch of photos from the top of a parking garage will serve me well, although my out of shape legs instantly regretted the foolhardy decision to take the stairs up!
Other images caught my eye as I walked. "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." occurs in the aftermath of a massive enchanted solar flare that cripples modern civilization and awakens magic across the earth. In 1859 a massive solar storm known as the Carrington Event actually ignited telegraph wires with its surge of energy. As I gazed on this clusterfuck of modern civilization, it wasn't hard to imagine it catching on fire... even without the impetus of a massive solar flare!
When I arrived home from my little outing, I set to work integrating my newfound knowledge and references into the comic book. Admittedly, there was a rather long nap first. Lotsa sun, lotsa walking, and a little bit of beer had me feeling quite tired!
But as a first example I dusted off this old page in progress...
...where I'd just simply implied some buildings and structures in the background, and was tempted to leave them that way... just adding a bit of atmospheric color and texture for a sort of "soft focus" effect. But that was just my high school half-assery winning out for a moment.
Looking at my growing little visual reference library, I instead built a much more passable street scene and began incorporating some of my sky photography textures into the coloring phase as well.
I've still got some additions and refinement to tackle here, but I'm glad I'm taking the extra time to polish it up. It's really those last little details that elevate any work or project to the next level. It's also nice to get out into the world a bit and I already have a few more outings in mind that will combine fun and work, planning for "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..."!
Thanks for the nudge Mrs. Lutick!
-Bryan "the Imp" Imhoff
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