The best things in life are ‘Free!’

Ever Blue

My favorite new anime of last year was Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. As someone who is also fond of phone cases, I wanted a design that celebrates the good feelings and memories I got from Free!

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club official art

When it comes to merchandise, I usually prefer to use designs that don’t have images of the characters themselves on it. I enjoy a bit of subtlety. So for a Free! phone case, I wanted something with the main characters’ spirit animals. I couldn’t find anything like that, so I decided draw it myself.

Something I was able to identify with in the anime was Rei’s struggle to feel free. He was used to functioning based on theory and calculation, and he admired how Haruka could swim so freely. I feel something like that when I look at digital illustrations by other artists that I can tell were done quickly, which gives them a more expressive and dynamic quality.

I know I admire that sort of technique, but I felt that something was holding me back from executing it myself when working digitally. I would zoom into like, 400% even though I knew the illustration wasn’t meant to be viewed that way and overwork every little detail and clean up every pixel that went past the line art, stuff like that. I would spend so much time and energy, and then end up with something that looked flat and robotic.

“Why can’t I be free?”

It was something I asked myself too. So for this illustration which is my bit of fan art for a series called Free!, I figured it would be a good time to push myself to paint more freely.

Before I immerse myself in rendering, I like to block out where the elements go to make sure that the proportions and negative spaces are to my liking. It’s easier to adjust things at this phase rather than try to move them when they’ve already been painted in.

Here’s a closer look at a part of the illustration. I’m happy to say that I didn’t overthink the rendering and I really did allow myself to be more free and messy while working on this. I also finished in a relatively short time so I consider it a successful exercise although my improvement isn’t at a monumental scale, hahah. I will continue to work hard!

Here are the boys’ spirit animals all painted and happily swimming together!

Ever Blue phone case sample on iPhone5

And here’s how the artwork looks as a phone case! I go to Society6 to produce custom cases I design because I really enjoy the quality of their cases. Colors come out faithful to the original art, and they have a good feel and offer decent protection. If you are interested, wrote a review with lots of photos, which you may view here. I figured other Free! fans might appreciate the design too, so below is the store link if you want your own Ever Blue case!

Store link: Ever Blue phone case in white / blue
(Available for iPhone 5/5s/5c/4/4s/3G/3Gs, iPod Touch, and Samsung Galaxy S4)
If you scroll down you’ll also be given other options such as prints or shirts, if you’d prefer that!

I look forward to receving my phone case! Please share photos with me too if you get it as well!

Thanks for looking!

Sweet colors and afternoon sweets

Hello, again! Today I want to share some detail snapshots of a painting commission I’m currently working on.

I used watercolor, gold ink and colored pencils. Normally, I tend to use every color I have available on my compositions. I lovingly call my usual color scheme “rainbow vomit”. Haha! I’m fighting that instinct to keep to the sweet, summery palette that I had in mind for this painting.

The earlier stages of color buildup. For me, it’s always a bit of an adventure using watercolors. It’s the most temperamental out of all the mediums I like to use. I feel like it behaves differently every time I paint with it.

It is a welcome challenge, though. It constantly provides me with opportunities to learn. I always find myself a little intimidated at first due to the relatively unforgiving nature of watercolors (as opposed to say, painting on canvas with acrylic) but it’s always a great feeling as I gradually ease myself into the process.

These kimono pattern details are a lot of work, but I’m enjoying every bit of it.

Looking at my kimono references for the painting got me wanting some Japanese sweets. Luckily, I had chanced upon a box of dango. Is it okay to think an item of food is cute, and feel the urge to pet it?

Sometimes I can’t help eating with my eyes as well.

After taking these out of the container, I had to admire the colors and texture first before eating them.

I also enjoy preserving these moments with my camera.

I have kind of an embarrassing number of photos of my food, but I’ll end with this one. I liked this shot for the simple reason that the background happened to have the same color scheme as the dango.

A peaceful afternoon with wonderful weather, a nice view of the sky, and some sweets — sometimes these little things do so much to keep me going.

What simple things do you get inspiration from?

It’s all about the music

When I was a freshman, I was chosen along with two of my classmates to create paintings for the home of Uli Behringer — CEO and founder of BEHRINGER, the multi-national audio equipment company. He could have had any artist he wanted to decorate his home, but he chose a bunch of students like us. Why? He wanted to give young talent a chance. Perhaps it had something to do with his humble beginnings.

While studying sound engineering and classical piano at the Robert Schumann conservatory in Düsseldorf, Behringer found the university had limited equipment for student use, so he started to build his own products. His fellow students requested equipment from him too, and soon he was receiving more orders than he could handle himself, leading to the creation of Behringer Inc.” (Source)

I invite you to read The BEHRINGER Story. It’s a very inspiring and heartwarming account of how he found his calling (by accepting that his first choice may not have been the right one), followed his passion, and came to be the founder of one of the world’s largest and most successful audio equipment companies.

My classmates and I had an excellent time working for him. And when our paintings were done, his home with our artwork was featured in the newspaper. It was a very rewarding moment for us.

Last year (years after our previous meeting), Mr. Behringer was having another home done and he searched for me again to ask me to make more art for him. It was a wonderful surprise to hear from him again, and a meeting was arranged for us to meet when he flew back to the Philippines. We pitched some ideas back and forth to figure out what visual style he’d like for the new series of artworks. He was delighted when I asked him what elements he would like to see in the paintings. His eyes lit up and he wanted instruments because “It’s all about the music”. Since there were to be three pieces, he chose a piano, a saxophone, and a guitar.

Thumbnail sketches

The canvas size required for the paintings was 1.2 x 1 meters. That is a relatively large scale, and it would be difficult to do a lot of trial and error straight on the canvas. It could damage the fabric as well.

So I started out by making rough thumbnail sketches on a small sketchpad. These are very small drawings that help me figure out the composition for the artwork. I also use them to block in light and dark values to get an idea of how to get a good overall balance for the final work.

Sketches on canvas

When I’m satisfied with my general compositions, I take my time to recreate them on the large canvas. I like to be very detailed with my line work because I tend to feel more confident when it’s time to bring in the paint.

One day's work on the guitar piece

I decided it would be best to use acrylic and oil paints for this triptych. Here’s the first night’s progress with acrylic paints. It’s not very pretty right now, but that’s what’s great about this type of paint — it doesn’t have to be neat because you can just keep layering as you figure things out. (And that layering can make the final work look better.)

Close-up on layering and textures

This photo shows the different opacities and textures that can be achieved with acrylic. Its qualities depend on a number of factors, including brand, pigment, and the amount of water used. It’s always fun buying a new tube of paint and experimenting to see what can be achieved by it.

Progress on two pieces

More establishing washes on the guitar piece, and the beginnings of the saxophone piece.

Early stages of the saxophone painting

I started with establishing washes and texture on the saxophone piece, then started rendering the sax with very diluted black acrylic which I treated like watercolor. It makes the final rendering a lot easier.

Underpainting and Initial washes on piano painting

Vertical wash texture on the piano painting, again achieved by diluting the paint in a lot of water. This will serve as the base for the textures I had in mind for the composition.

Piano painting progress

This shows the very early stages of the wash guide I painted for the piano. Looks a bit like random smudges, doesn’t it? Sometimes at this stage of the work I have to fight the feeling of being discouraged that my work isn’t looking good. I just have to keep at it until it looks the way I want it to.

Saxophone rendering progress

Here is the transition of my saxophone rendering, from the initial wash guide to the final render with oil paints.

Nearly finished

And here’s how the finished saxophone looks on the composition.

More texture work on the saxophone piece

Ever since the first commission, Mr. Behringer expressed how much he appreciates texture so I made sure to incorporate lots of it into the new paintings.

Guitar piece nearing completion

Textures were almost done. Just missing the final rendering on the guitar details and torn paper effect (which was achieved with gesso and paint)

My workplace

Here’s a look at my workplace during the final stages of the artwork. Ah, the bittersweet feeling of commission work nearing completion. It’s always a little painful parting with my work. (Hahah, the TV is on with Hey, Arnold! playing on Nick. I always have a show playing while I work.)

The final paintings

Here’s a look at the final works. (Higher resolution will be available when I’ve finished fixing up my gallery.) The colors and textures I chose for each of them represent how I feel the sound of the respective instruments would translate visually.

They were successfully installed on concrete panels made especially to hold them in Mr. Behringer’s home. I hope you enjoyed this post as I enjoyed working on this project. :) A lot of love and sleepless hours went into the creation of these paintings. I’m very happy with what I came up with, so it was all very much worth it.

These pieces are among the selections currently up at the store as prints or gadget skins.

Some of you guys have been asking how you may subscribe to this blog, so here are a couple of options for now:

I’ll be adding more later! Please feel free to leave a comment if there’s a method you’d like to suggest!

As always — thank you for reading! I’m looking forward to sharing more!