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On Pinups and the S Curve

You’ve seen it before. Actually, if you’ve done pinups, you more than likely already done it many times.

The S Curve was first used in the West by the Ancient Greeks. Here’s The Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch. The statue depicts the Goddess of Beauty – Aphrodite herself.

Imagine what that statue must have looked like back in the day. No pieces broken off. Fully painted. (Yes, those statues were painted).

The Greeks were the masters of beauty. So much that even today thousands of years later, we’re still taking notes. Heck, right now, you’re reading this article that I wrote in 2019 on something that was literally made several thousand years ago. We share their standards of beauty even to this day!

Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch
Venus de Milo depicts the classic S curve

If you don’t know what the S curve is, just imagine your model’s body making an S. You can clearly see the S in the statue.

The S curve is pleasing to the eyes and could never be overused when it comes to pinup art. If you’re working with a newer model, make sure she knows how to contort her body into a lovely S shape. If she doesn’t, then it’s your job to teach her.

Experienced models will know this, especially ones who have modeled for pinup art. Experienced models know that this is the most beautiful curve on the planet. They’ll readily be able to get into poses that emphasize this curve.

Roxy and the S Curve

Roxy is my brunette model. She’s great to work with. She has a pretty face and a most lovely, shapely body. When she curves into an S, we have absolute perfection.

Here’s a classic example. Note how much the curve resembles Venus de Milo. Roxy did this without even any instruction. She just did it.

Opium Tales Roxy and the S Curve
Roxy knows how to model the S Curve

Note that you can do this sitting down (look for Bettie Page for instance) or standing up. I’m a huge fan of Gil Elvgren’s work. A lot of his models were really good at both sitting S curves and standing S curves. Or he was good at instruction. I’m assuming it’s a bit of both.

Let me know if you have any questions. If you want to study this further, look up Bettie Page images and also Gil Elvgren images. Specifically look for those curves in the pictures. You should be able to see them right away.

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Where to start with art

Opium Tales paints a Mucha Girl

I’m going to let you in on something deeply personal.

I’m an extrovert. I’ve never had a problem performing music live. That’s my strength. I loved working a crowd back when I was in bands.

But art? I really struggled since it’s a more personal thing. It’s an alone thing and I don’t have a crowd to work.

So I started off quite shy about my art. Which, you’d think it would be the other way around. No, for me, there’s safety in the crowd. There’s no safety in being alone.

But I did know where to start with art. Because I did exactly what I did as a musician. Keep reading.

Start simple and get good at basics

Basics is where it all begins. That counts for anything. You want to learn a foreign language? First, learn to count to ten. Then add words.

For art, you learn to draw. Draw everything. If you have friends who will pose for you, draw them. If not, enroll in a figure drawing class.

But before we even get to drawing people, you draw lines and circles. You draw lines and circles over and over again since everything in the world is a line or a circle. Or some combination of both. Once you get good at lines and circles, everything else becomes easier.

Lines and circles are like scales to a musician. You see musicians warm up with scales before they perform somewhere.

Well, get really good at your lines and circles.

Copying your favorites will help when you start with art

For my style, I’ve studied primarily Gil Elvgren, because he’s my favorite of the pinup artists.

That’s the thing though. If you want to learn to play a musical instrument in a pop band, you learn covers. The same applies for art. You copy your favorites.

I’m currently copying Mucha for practice. Huge fan. I absolutely love Art Nouveau since I think it was one of the last good styles of high art.

So just like learning cover songs for musicians, draw then paint your favorite painters. You’ll find that you’ll learn really fast this way.

Now, I could do a carbon copy of this Mucha painting, but rather, I’m going to do a Mucha in my own style. So here one is. A fun exercise.

It’s totally up to you how much you want to copy your idols or how much you’ll mimic your idols in your own style. Just like your favorite bands when they do cover songs. Do they try to do a carbon copy of their favorites? Or do they play their favorites in their own styles?

Mucha’s just an example. For all I know, your favorite artist could be Matisse or Michelangelo. Which means paint them instead.

By copying your favorites, you’ll be able to pick up some of their techniques and also practice to their style. Which leads to…

Develop your own style

This takes time. Everyone’s a lot less original than they think they are. I developed my musical style by learning covers of everyone from Judas Priest, Prince, ABBA, Journey to Slayer. Yes, I can play a wide variety of music. But then again, I like a wide variety of music.

When I started getting more heavily into orchestration and Classical composition, I studied scores of Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Mendelssohn, and Ravel.

The same concepts apply to painting. Paint a wide variety of painters that you like and you’ll end up developing your own style. We’re all a hodgepodge anyways of various flavors you’ve met throughout your life.

Our personalities reflect that as well. We steal a little here and a little there. Think about the sayings you’ve adopted over the years. Think about who you stole them from. Plus, you’ve probably made up a few yourself. That’s what I’m getting at.

The same applies to art. You take a little from here, a little from there, then sprinkle in a little of your own soul.

Practice every chance you get

Now the absolute most important thing of all – practice, practice, practice. First thing I do when I get out of bed – I grab my mechanical pencil and an eraser and just start drawing.

Develop a morning routine. This is especially important for when you want to start with art. By developing a morning routine, if you have a day job, you’ll already accomplish something towards your passion before you get to work. Your day will be that much better.

Imagine doing this for twenty years. Just imagine how awesome you will be at it!

Art is a long term process, my friend. It’s not at all overnight. There’s no such thing as an overnight success in anything. The saying goes that an overnight success means they busted ass for seven years preparing for that moment. Yes, seven years. And that’s because they for one busted ass, and for another, had a very strong support network.

So practice every chance you get. I don’t paint on vacation. Rather, I bring a drawing notebook. And I draw first thing in the morning and whenever we get downtime. Even on vacation. I love drawing.

And remember – to start with art

to start with art
Apply this to anything you want to accomplish

To start with art, you just have to get started. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Buy pencils and erasers and get to work. You’ll find the more time you spend doing your art, the faster you will improve.

I strongly think the word talent is a bunch of bullshit. All talent means is you have to put in 5% less work than the average Joe or Jane. Super talented folks have to put in 10% less work. You still have to put in the work.

And by the way, I’m no longer shy about my art since I’ve been getting better. I know I’ve developed my own style. Either you like it or you don’t. I don’t mind if someone doesn’t like it because we all have different tastes. For me though, I know it’s good. And my wife and both of my models think it’s good. And that’s all that matters.

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Mechanical pencils vs regular pencils for artists

I finally broke down and bought a mechanical pencil. No, I’ve never even used one. I’ve always just used regular pencils.

And you know what? There’s no way in hell I’m going back to regular pencils.

I got regular pencils all over the place. Hundreds of them. Yes, literally.

But, for when I do anything serious, I’m using mechanical pencils from here on out.

Mechanical pencils vs regular pencils

Mechanical pencils have some key advantages over regular pencils. First, convenience. You never have to sharpen a mechanical pencil.

Second, comfort. Regular pencils are made for bulk. They’re not uncomfortable since we’ve grown up using them.

However, once you’ve used a mechanical pencil, you’ll see exactly what I mean. A decent mechanical pencil is simply more comfortable than a regular pencil.

Third, even if you have a good pencil sharpener, you get to pick the tip size of the mechanical pencil. I intentionally pick 0.5. Personal preference.

The thing is, I’ll always have a 0.5 tip. With a regular pencil, it’s harder than hell to continually get the right size tip. Once again, that’s even if you have a pretty good pencil sharpener.

Plus, have you ever broken the tip off a regular pencil? Of course you have! You’ve done it way too many times. You’ll never have to worry about doing that ever again with a mechanical pencil.

mechanical pencils vs regular pencils
I finally bought a mechanical pencil

Why else it matters

Whether you do oils, acrylics, or watercolors, you’re going to be drawing a lot.

Heck, I’m always drawing. In fact, drawing is the most important part of pinup art anyways. And that’s what I do – fantasy pinup art. If I don’t get the drawing perfect, then it doesn’t matter what I do with the paint. It simply won’t look good.

That’s the thing. Why make it even harder on myself? I want to make things as simple as possible.

And with a mechanical pencil, that’s one less thing to worry about. I got the perfect tool for drawing that gets me the perfect lines. It’s the perfect precursor to inking my watercolors.

So yes, highly recommend. You won’t regret it!

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Artists need repetition to be successful

Artists need repetition if they’re going to produce good art.

I don’t mean painting the same thing over and over. I also don’t mean painting in circles.

Think of it this way. When you meet a musician, she warms up by practicing her scales over and over again. Her playing becomes more fluid the more she practices.

It’s the same concept with artists. You’ll need to draw constantly, sometimes the same subject dozens of times before they look like they should.

If an artist isn’t willing to do that, she probably won’t ever amount to anything.

I didn’t put anything for sale until…

I didn’t put anything up for sale until I painted 100 paintings. By then, I got pretty good with each brush stroke. I nailed my techniques.

Of course, I’ll always be learning. Learning takes a lifetime. But, I’m already good at my own style of art.

From there, I’ll start expanding my style.

I recently started dabbling in monochromatic painting for instance. But being aware how much artists need repetition, I still practice my bread and butter on a daily basis. My bread and butter is painting Allie and Roxy.

We have constant modeling sessions. I’ve occasionally used other models besides them, but they’re some of my besties and it’s way better to use someone you’re comfortable with, especially if you’re pouring your heart into your work. They know exactly what I’m aiming for, and the posing comes natural.

What does “artists need repetition” mean for you?

What’s your bread and butter? What are your musical scales that you warm up to? I already told you that mine are figure drawing, based off of live models. I draw the first thing every morning right after I make coffee. What about you?

artists need repetition example
I’ll explain my mistakes in this one below

In the above painting, I made two major errors. This one is not for sale, despite the drawing being really good.

I overestimated two things in this painting – how the black would cover and also how her yellow hair would cover. You can plainly see that I did a bad job with her hair. There’s way too much white in there.

Also, this was before I started using gouache. Now, I use black gouache when I want black. I found that my style calls for both watercolor and gouache at the same time. I usually use them approximately 60/40 respectively.

But getting back to the subject, this painting was before my 100th painting. It’s an “undergraduate” mistake. Nailed the drawing. Nailed the expression. I really liked the hand and the wood wand. But that weak black and the spotty yellow killed an otherwise pretty good painting.

So don’t get frustrated

So my friends, don’t get frustrated. Just keep painting. You’re only just beginning until you’ve had 100 paintings.

I know that sounds like a lot. If you’re just starting, you’ll get there. And you’ll be very glad you did. People who’ve been doing this for awhile are laughing to themselves, probably thinking “100 paintings? That’s nothing!”

You’ll see what I mean that once you reach that point, you stop making undergraduate mistakes.

Repetition, my friends. Keep painting!

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On Monochromatic painting and how it will help your technique

Monochromatic painting is a technique where you only paint with one color. It began with the avant-garde movement as a new way to express your artwork.

Now to be clear, I’m not an avant-garde artist. Regardless, it’s a technique I’ve incorporated because it forces you to get good with the colors you’re using.

I’ve talked about cutting down to seven and even six colors before.

This, is extreme. You’ll only be using one color.

Now if you think that’s an exercise in futility, don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand through the whole process. That’s why I did the drawing for you. All you have to do is print it out and copy it accordingly.

Note that this monochromatic painting exercise isn’t limited to watercolors. That just happens to be the painting medium I use. You could use this with acrylics or oils as well. However for this exercise, we’ll use watercolors. I’m an artist who uses exclusively watercolors and gouache.

Monochromatic painting print out

This is a PDF file so you can simply print this out. You can either copy it to watercolor paper, or stick your watercolor paper into the printer and print it directly onto the watercolor paper.


Note that I don’t own a copier. However, I’ve seen others do this so I know it’s possible.

For oils or acrylics, copy it as best as you can. We’re focusing here on technique, not necessarily making a carbon copy of what I drew. You’re going to put your own spin on it anyways.

Choose a color

Now for the fun part. You get one, and only one color to work with.

I’m choosing red because why not? I’ll paint the sky red, the shadows a little less red, and where the moonlight hits even less red.

We do this by watering down the red. It’s still the same tube of red. If you’re using oils or acrylics, simply add a little white to the color you chose and even more white for the real light parts. It will be similar to the “watering down” technique in watercolors.

If I were actually selling this painting, I’d use Moonglow. It’s a Daniel Smith color that’s one of my absolute favorite colors to work with. But, I don’t want to use Moonglow for this exercise since I use it a lot in my professional works.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to use red. You could use blue, gray, purple, green, or whatever. This exercise isn’t about the color. It’s about how to use it.

Your monochromatic painting palette

You get one and only one color. In watercolors, you simply change the color by adding more or less water.

You can do this in a variety of ways. I’m sure you can do it by watering down the red in various palette reservoirs.

I simply do it by instinct. I’ve painted enough to really love using my water jars and adding more or less water to my brushes, and also painting with water. I water down the red straight from the watercolor paper.

But do this in the method you’re most comfortable with. After all, there is no absolute right or wrong way to paint. What works for you is the right way to paint.

For oils or acrylics, you’re on your own. I haven’t used them, but if you’re reading this, you’re smart, so I’m sure you can figure out how to pull this off.

The Moon

Note your light source – the moon. It’s nighttime. You have a castle, a sky, and a moon.

One of the beauties of watercolor – you get white by empty space. You’ll learn to love this technique the more you use watercolors. You have to plan in advance where you don’t want to paint.

You can do the same on your white canvas if you’re oil or acrylic. Simply don’t paint there.

For this exercise, we’re not painting the white parts of the moon. The crevices, we’ll paint lightly. For the deeper parts of the crevices, we’ll paint a little bit darker. Let’s give the moon some depth.

The sky

For the sky, we’ll simply use a simple red wash, with some added water. It will be thick and rich red so it will be darker than the castle.

If you want clouds, you can make them by grabbing a paper towel and dabbing the still wet paint to create clouds. I didn’t do this, but if you want to try it, go for it!

I’ll strategically add water here and there to make the sky more “interesting.” You can do a consistent wash or do it like I do. Either way is totally up to you.

The castle

I’m a dark fantasy artist, usually using femme fatales as my subjects. That’s why my castle is so twisted and weird. This castle cannot exist in real life. It will obviously fall down.

But, it’s fantasy. With fantasy, you don’t have to follow the laws of physics. Since wizards and witches break them all the time, as an artist, you get to break the laws of physics as well.

For painting, you want to get the castle to look three dimensional. You do that with shading. The parts that are shaded from the moon obviously should be darker. The parts lit by the moon get a lighter shade of the color you chose.

The mountain

Same concept with the mountain. It should be darker than the castle, and the parts that are shaded from the moon should be really dark.

I want to get that road looking a little lighter than the rest of the mountain. I want it to pop forward a little bit. Let’s make this as three dimensional as we possibly can.

An example of a monochromatic painting
A monochromatic painting, using only red

Your results

After you’ve finished this exercise, you should be totally comfortable with monochromatic painting. You might have to do the exercise twice or even three times.

I actually incorporate dualchromatic (two colors) painting into a lot of my pieces. I’ll use Moonglow and Black as my two colors. But I’ll use other colors for the subjects.

By doing this, it makes the subjects really pop out. You have some cool colors for your dualchromatic work, and warmer colors for the subjects.

Plus dualchromaticism is great for dreams. I love to explore dreams a lot, especially when there’s a succubus or two involved.

That’s just an example of how you can use monochromatic painting in real life. Well, sort of. I cheat and use two colors. I’m sure you catch the drift though.

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What is a warm color vs cool color?

These articles on what is a warm color vs what is a cool color are always the shittiest art articles because every time you ask someone to explain it to you, they’re still confused on the topic. So my goal is for you to be able to answer a child. If a child comes up to you and says “what’s the difference between a warm color and a cool color?,” you should be able to answer.

So here goes. A warm color can burn you. You use the cool color to cool you off. How’s that for simplicity?

Artists. Always making things more complicated than they have to be.

I’m the opposite. If you can’t explain it to a child, then you need to go back and relearn it.

Now, here’s where it gets a little bit more complicated. There’s also a part II of this definition. For the warm color vs cool color, it’s not only burn you or cool you off. A warm color will pop forward in a painting whereas a cool color will appear farther back.

So in addition to perspective, you’re theoretically supposed to take color theory into account.

Should you?

Keep in mind the magic word – theory. If you go up to 10 different artists who studied color theory, you’re going to get ten different cutoff points between warm colors and cool colors. So instead, let’s keep it simple.

warm color vs cool color
Warm colors can burn you. Cool colors cool you off

Traditional cutoff

I don’t like to argue. If someone says that I’m slightly wrong, then I’ll let them believe what they want to believe. I paint for things to look good and not to argue points that buyers could care less about. After all, I’m not trying to look good with other artists. I’m trying to look good with the people who actually buy art.

There’s so much snobbery in art that sometimes, I think a lot of artists need to get a life.

Let’s just keep this simple. If it burns you, it’s warm. If it cools you off, it’s cool. Part I of this theory trumps part II. By far.

Reds, yellows, and oranges are warm. Blues and grays are cool. Greens are generally pretty cool but some greens will start heading into the warm direction, but on the cool side. Same with purples.

Arousal vs relaxation

Now let’s add a part III. Let’s get into psychology. Cool colors are supposed to relax you. Warm colors are supposed to fire you up.

Psychological studies have been done that claim cooler colors are better if you want to relax, and warmer colors are better if you want to get shit done. How accurate are those studies? Well, do you really want my 2c? I think the person’s work ethic has more to do than the color of the room they’re doing the work in.

Take everything with a grain of salt. You should know color theory. Then break it. I don’t like rules anyways.

The truth of it all is that you should use colors that fit the painting. Knowing all of this may or may not help your artwork. Before I studied color theory, I had a painting that I showed to a beautiful woman and she absolutely loved it. Then an unsolicited art critic came by and said I need to study color theory. Take a guess whose opinion I valued more.

If you’re already making a living selling your artwork and you don’t know shit about color theory, then you can dismiss this whole article as artistic masturbation. If you aren’t yet, it’s probably helpful.

To be honest, I’m just sharing it with you because I learned it. I thought “what the hell” and did my homework. Now I’m sharing it with you. And as the immortal Bruce Lee says, “Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own.”

That especially applies to art. Your eyes are significantly more important than theory. But knowing an extra trick or two can’t hurt.