Racism and Middle Earth: Part 1/6: People of Color in Middle Earth

If you haven’t already seen this post, I’d highly recommend you take a look - it outlines this series of racism posts and also includes my blanket disclaimer as to my own ethnicity/point of view.

Regarding feedback: I love it. But keep in mind that this is part 1 of 6, so there’s a pretty good chance I’m already planning on talking about whatever you’re thinking off. Send me a message anyway, be my guest, just keep that in mind. And, if your feedback is more of the “sharing my ideas on the subject” variety, it’s probably more valuable to the fandom as a reblog - put your words out there so everyone can benefit from them, not just me (I promise I’ll be reading all the reblogs on this post anyway, so I’ll still see it.)

(Also, please let me know if you notice any typos/factual errors. I’ll likely polish this up for a downloadable final version, so any mistakes you catch now would really help me out later.)

So, without further ado—many of my readers doubt know these already, having teased them out for themselves, but for anybody starting out, Things I Have Learned About Art, mostly composition and color.

- Don’t have a line going off the exact corner of the page. This activates the corner visually—it hauls the eye down and right off the page, and they may never come back. Doesn’t have to be a straight line, either. Likewise, if you’ve got a large shape going off the corner, handle it carefully—if it’s perfectly balanced in the corner, the center axis will sometimes act like a line, even if it’s not drawn in.

- If something is nearly touching something else, but not quite, it activates the space between them. If you have a tree branch that’s almost—but not quite—touching the line of the mountains, people are going to be staring at that little gap. Since there is probably nothing to see in that little gap, you probably don’t want that.

Corollary 1: The eye goes to stuff that’s crossing. If you have stuff crossing other stuff, the eye will get dragged to where they cross. This can be used to your advantage.

Corollary 2: X marks the spot. If you have stuff—tree branches, arms, mountains, whatever, form an exact right angle cross, the eye goes there and STOPS. For whatever reason, a right-angle X is like a brake. People will stare at it. Can be great if it’s on your main figure! Not so great if it’s a couple of blades of grass in the foreground. X’s, for whatever reason, will haul in the eye.

- Don’t block movement. I think it was John Seery-Lester who wrote this one, and I’ve found him to often be correct. If you have a figure moving, don’t put stuff in their way. ANY stuff. A wolf running across the painting is halted just as easily by a bright blade of grass from the foreground extending into his path as by a brick wall. Obviously you have to make some judgement calls on this one, but if you’re going for a sense of motion, don’t put in a visual obstacle course.

- People look at faces. In most paintings, all else being equal, the eye is drawn immediately to faces. This is good! You want people to look at your figure! Also, according to Michael Whelan anyway, again, all else being equal, a book cover with a large face does better on the newsstand. Couldn’t speak to that one myself.

Corollary: They look at boobs, too.

- The eye goes to contrast. The point where the darkest darks cross the lightest lights is seriously intense, and the eye will go there. This can be used to your advantage, but if you have three or four evenly spaced areas of high contrast, the eye will wander around, get confused, miss your main figure, and the viewer will get bored and get a headache. (This one’s hard to spot in practice, so don’t sweat too much. If you’ve got a piece that isn’t working, though, consider whether this may be the problem, and punch up the contrast on your main point of interest.)

- Figure out what color your light source is, and dump the complimentary color in the shadows. This depends on your color scheme, but seriously, a little purple in the shadows cast by the yellow sun of the the earth can really jazz up a piece.

Corollary: Gray looks purple if you stick it next to yellow, etc. This isn’t either good or bad, just something to be aware of.

- The eye follows lines. If you have a strong line running most of the length of the painting, have it go somewhere interesting. If it winds up nowhere in particular—if you’ve got a dais or platform with a strong line at the top, say, and there’s nothing interesting to either side—then break it up—a leg, a fold of cloth, a torch, whatever—so that the eye can get off that hard line. It’s like a monorail. You gotta give ‘em a station to get off, or they’ll just go back and forth and eventually jump, and god knows where they’ll wind up.

Corollary 1: The eye will follow lines TO stuff, too. Have your hard line lead to somebody’s face, and wham, you know the viewer’s gonna see that face. Have the line of a mountain lead to your mountain lion, or whatever.

Corollary 2: Hard lines that divide your painting in half (or a third, or whatever) are tricky. See, they split the painting HARD, and there’s a good chance the viewer will not actually register half the painting. It isolates each half of the painting. Great if you’re doing a light-and-dark shot of the same area or something—the visual similiarities will tie them together. Not so great if you just wanted to put a table there. The hard line acts as a wall. You gotta give ‘em some kind of break to get through the wall. A mountain or a tree breaking up the horizon line might be all you need.

- Bright colors come forward, dark colors recede. But you can fake ‘em out with contrast and saturation.

- Certain color combos have associations that trump your painting every time. Okay, this is totally subjective, but bear in mind that if you use dark green and saturated red together, it’s Christmas, and red, white, and navy blue are more trouble than they’re worth. You may be able to make ‘em work, people certainly do, but you’re working against an entire culture’s programming on this one.

Corollary 1: Red, blue, and yellow in equal amounts gets really cluttered. Again, it can be made to work—my icon, for example, is from a painting where I used all three—but all those primaries can be awfully busy if you’re not careful. The platypus painting was seriously minimalist and stylized, which I think is why it worked, assuming it did and I’m not delusional.

Corollary 2: Fear the rainbow. Don’t ask me why, but if you have a complete rainbow spectrum, it just takes over the image. Not neccessarily bad, but approach with caution.

Corollary 3: Warning colors draw the eye. Since we evolved to associate bright colored animals with danger, like bees and poison frogs and whatnot, the specific combinations of black and red and especially black and yellow haul the eye in like no other. Black and yellow is much more powerful than black and white.

- Symmetry is powerful, or powerfully boring. Strict, formal symmetry can make for a very imposing, dramatic painting, or it can send you to sleep. There’s a trick to it. If I ever figure out what it is, you’ll be the first to know.

Corollary: Odd numbers are good. I am told this works in landscaping, too—two of anything cancel each other out. One is an interesting specimen, three is a good dynamic grouping. It works with higher numbers too. Odd numbers add drama, even numbers balance one another. Once you get to the point where you can’t count the things, don’t worry about it.

- Any collection of three dark roundish bits is a face. Learn to live with it. If you have a face take over a painting, however, you can usually fix it by taking out one of the “eyes.”

- Same value, different hue, vibrates like hell. Okay, this is hard to explain, but if you have two colors that are the same brightness, even if it’s a red and a green or something, and you stick them together, the fact that they’re the same light/dark value gives them this freaky visual wiggle, as they both fight for dominance. You can use this to your advantage, but more likely, it’ll give your viewer a migraine. Decide which color you want to win and punch it up a few notches.

- Anything can be any color, as long as you get the shape right. Especially true of skin tones, as long as it’s internally consistent, people will assume that it’s due to weird lighting, or they won’t even notice. Jerry Rudquist, my painting teacher, art rest his soul, told me this, and I have been proving him right for the rest of my life.

Corollary: Bright yellow is brighter than white. Heh, go figure. White is usually the brightest part of a painting, but occasionally you find a painting where yellow trumps it. I don’t know what causes that to happen, but it’s interesting.

Hi, I was just checking out the FAQ and I was wondering if the kickstarter would include financial compensation for the artists? In my experience usually the proceeds of a crowdfunded project cover payment as well as printing costs & fees and such, but since you only mentioned the artists receiving copies of the book I figured I'd ask about it. Thanks in advance!




Good question!

Artists will receive compensation exclusively through printed copies of the book; they may then sell those copies for a profit. 

It makes much more sense to compensate the artists with as many copies of the book as possible, rather than straight up money;  books have a resale value, whereas money does not. A larger print order also brings down the overall cost of having all the books printed to begin with. 

I’ve been involved in projects where monetary compensation is used instead, and that always seems much less effective. 

Hypothetically, which is better, $10 in one’s pocket, or a sell-able book that may have cost $10 to print, but can be sold for at least twice that amount? Potential monetary compensation is pitiful in comparison with the amount of profit the artists get through the resale of books. In this way, artists end up making at least twice the amount of profit off of the project as they would if they were just given money. 

Compensation through books is better for both the artists and the printing.

Sorry if this is long-winded, but I want to be very clear about why the compensation is the way it is. The artbook wants to compensate contributing artists as much as possible, and giving them books for resale is the best way to ensure that happens. 

I’m not sure of your thinking, since compensation is for the art and not the book itself - you don’t pay artists the cost of printing their materials, you pay them a going rate for the art they’ve made. An illustration at roughly industry standard would be $60 an hour, so that’s far more money than a $10 book (the Monster Anthology, for instance, paid each of its artists a going rate per page, and that was included in the initial Kickstarter goal). That’s hardly an amount of money that you could sell a handful of books for. It’s also very difficult for most up and coming artists to sell books at hardcover prices, so there’s decent chance they wouldn’t be making much money back at all, or at least not enough to constitute the hours they’d put in to what they created for it. So yes, it’s absolutely better to actually pay your artists. 

You’re essentially asking for art for free, which is fine if this is a passion project for those involved, but it’s also important to be up front about that. 

But thank you for your response, all the same! 

Thank you for your feedback. I definitely see your points. I apologize for what must’ve come across as a naive way of handling things. Your feedback has been immensely useful. Though I’ve been involved in other projects before, this is my first time heading up my own project. Thank you for helping me better the book for everyone involved.

I’ll straight-up admit that I don’t have THAT much experience in group art projects, but of the two I’ve participated in (Ghost Book and Light Grey Art Gallery’s GIRLS: Fact + Fiction), one paid in book copies (Ghost Book; 5 copies to each artist), and the other didn’t pay AT ALL — I had to buy my own copy of the dang thing out of pocket if I wanted one for posterity.  At a slight discount, sure, but still.  Not even free books to participating artists.  I was pretty surprised.

It’s generally my understanding that projects of this nature really aren’t expected to make a profit beyond simply covering their own costs (which often don’t even include the organizer paying themselves for the hundreds-to-thousands of hours it takes to do these things), and if they do, it usually translates to being able to print more copies than expected (because there is more kickstarter/crowdfunder-of-choice support, translating to more copies ‘ordered’), rather than anyone getting monetarily paid.

(Also, frankly, I’m not sure if monetary payment is something that can easily/feasibly be done tax-wise, or how that compares with payment in the form of books, on a bookkeeping/taxes level.)

Maybe monetary payment for the artists could be a stretch goal for the Vampire Book though?  I know the organizer personally, and he is a completely honorable and honest person, and truly wants to do right by the project and by everyone involved.  Hoarding the profits (if there even ARE any, once all is said and done) is the absolute last thing he would want to do.

[EDIT: just saw the update saying artists can now choose to be compensated monetarily if they wish.  So it looks like all is well!  Though I’m still curious about how that’ll work on a tax level, since I’m aiming to do a book project myself in the future.]

Vampire Artbook Open Call



The Vampire Artbook is now accepting submissions!
This vampire book focuses on the concept and aesthetics of vampirism, and is looking for artists and vampires of all kinds. Both illustrations and comics are accepted. 

The submission deadline is September 8th.

Click here for full submission guidelines.
Can’t find in the information you’re looking for on the guidelines or FAQ page? Feel free to send us an ask!

A reminder that the open call is still open for this!

Are you going to be at Matsuricon in Columbus?

Alas, no, I won’t be.  I’ll miss being there!

Basically, the friends in Columbus who I used to stay with in town when I did Matsuricon no longer sell in the alley there, and it seems super rude/awkward to ask to impose on them just so I can come to town to do business. ^^;;  I’ll be back for Ohayocon though (provided I make it into the alley!), and am looking to come to Colossalcon next year.