Friday, December 18, 2009

red pencil drawings and new scanner

I've always liked the look of "old master" drawings of red chalk on toned paper highlighted with white. I've never been satisfied with any of the combinations of materials I've tried up to this point to achieve this look... the pencils broke too easily, the paper was too fragile or bumpy, etc.

One tiny trend I spotted at Illuxcon was an increasing use of this look for preliminaries; giving development drawings a more fine-art aesthetic and thus chance for further sales.
In a conversation with one artist, he told me the materails he used so I went out and bought them and they are the closest thing yet to being practical for my use: the pencils sharpen and erase easily, and the white is opaque enough for the needed contrast. I would still like to look around more, as I think the paper could be darker and the red pencil darker as well.

"old master" drawing materials suitable for detailed fantasy art development work:
  • Col-erase Tuscan red pencil
  • Generals white charcoal pencil
  • kneaded eraser

  • Stonehenge "fawn" toned paper

I just scanned these recent test drawings of my parents in with my new el-cheapo scanner:

After a bit of research I found this large-format 11x17" scanner can be had for as little as $150; the ususal price for this type of equipment is $600-$1000. It has some dubious reviews but I'm taking my chances.

Friday, December 11, 2009

New Dragon magazine illustration

A crystal golem and 2 "fell taints" (my designs).
They are the "aberrants" or crazy monsters that are gonna get ya if you dont watch out!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The virtual studio

One discussion/lecture that I missed at Illuxcon was on the topic of virtual studios. For some reason I misjudged what this was going to be about, and I'm very sorry I missed the information. From what I've gathered, a virtual studio is using digital tools to recreate the feel and communication of a physical, shared creative space where a number of artists are in close contact and able to bounce ideas off one another. Because illustration is often a lonely profession where one works from home, there is a real need to be in touch with other artists for feedback and critique. Forming a virtual studio with like-minded artists is also a great way to share information on professional issues and opportunities.

At Illuxcon I was lucky to meet a great group of young, brilliant and promising illustrators who are deeply plugged into the scene and the tools. In the past few days we have set up a virtual studio using a program called Google Wave. This is a collaboration/communication tool that is working brilliantly for us to share ideas and get instant feedback. The tool works like a cross between instant messaging and facebook, where you can have real-time conversations about images. All this is easily organized into topics and the discussion members can be conrolled by the topic starter. While I'e only used this for a few days, so far it is a wonderful way to get much needed feedback. I reccommend using Google Chrome as your browser if you intend to use Wave, as the program seems to work better with that application.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Self promotion: Donato style

An artist friend of mine was interested in hearing more about aspects of Donato Giancola's self promotional strategies as presented at Illuxcon.

The main point I gathered from his talk was the discipline and foresight to separate himself from the pack by being generous and consistent in his self-promotion. If Donato spreads his work out broadly, getting it into people's hands and homes, his work and name is constantly on people's minds. He is very generous about giving away prints and selling portfolios of his work at cost. All these efforts will likely serve to elevate his status and prices and pay dividends in the future.

Below Donato shows a massive, futuristic carrying case for his portfolio, handmade out of metal industrial parts.

The green folder is a portfolio of prints by Donato. Note the cool foil stamp. The white booklet is his yearly catalogue of recent works. He produces one a year for the purpose of making an expected and anticipated collectable. The black booklet is by Volkan Baga; a German artist who studied under him and adheres to Donato's methods.
Interior of Volkan's book and Donato's portfolio, showing his contact info printed on the back of each print.
Another small tool I use is a rubber studio stamp, designed around the common 19th century format. Anyone can fake a signature, so this stamp is a tool that authenticates work.

Donato's attitude is just to get the work into as many hands as possible. He practically gives his older drawings away, and maximizes the stages of his production, from sketches to prints for the purpose of spreading his name. His belief that original art is immortal and is the ultimate manefestation of artistic production drives this discipline.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

November Dungeons and Dragons illustrations

Here are a couple images I did for this month's Dungeon Magazine. I'm satisfied with how it went, but I'll likely stick with darker tones for the next ones. I enjoy using the vignette approach common to D&D illustrations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Illuxcon 2009 post-mortem

I’m back from Illuxcon 2009 in Altoona Pennsylvania. This is a very focused and intimate fantasy illustration convention geared towards the making, showing and selling of original fantasy art. This year there were a number of student attendees as well, and a schedule of roundtable discussions, demonstrations and lectures. I traveled to this convention to meet current clients, introduce myself to potential new ones, and to get inspired and informed about this small industry. The convention was the size of a wedding, and you’re constantly rubbing shoulders with top professionals and art directors in the field. I’ve come home with more accurate parameters, clearer expectations and corrected assumptions for this profession.

Convention poster by Matt Stewart. I love!

The convention floor showing artists' tables with paintings for sale

Even the buffet at the restaurant across the street was lined with fantasy art on the walls.

Michael Whelan and Chris Moeller demonstrate acrylic painting as they work and swap to make collaborative art.

Below I will detail in point form some thoughts as I wrote them down in my notebook. Hopefully this helps inform people interested in the same topics:

General observations:
All of the paintings are really tight! You can’t be too tight with some stuff…card art is not the format for fuzzy edges and old-master’s techniques. These need to be tight and bright. Lots of contrast and detail in art that gets shrunk to a couple inches for printing.

Much work that I thought was digital is actually acrylic painting. Acrylic is more common than oils for the card illustrations, due to speed, sharpness and cleanliness. These artists can paint in acrylics as well as or better than what a digital painting allows.

Most artists are fast. Many do a card art image (Fully painted 11x14” painting) in 3 days (after concept approval).

Lots of artists are using Donato’s methods. Everything from his self-promotional tools to the way he draws his roughs and prepares his surfaces are being copied (rightly so) by other artists.
Single character or limited scope paintings for gaming can take a day.

Original drawings sell for $30-$300 at conventions, depending on size and scope.

For Blizzard to give you card art work, they have to drop someone from their current crop of artists. This is highly competitive, so don’t screw up!

Donato Giancola displays a promotional portfolio folder of prints that he gives out and sells

On self promotion and furthering your career (roundtable discussion):

Don’t be afraid! Just jump in… don’t over think. Have a positive attitude and believe in yourself.

As a beginner, just start with whatever jobs you can get to get the ball rolling in your career. Take all jobs for experience, but also keep on target with your own goals and style development.

The competition now is much greater and the talent/quality much higher than in the 70’s (when Boris Vallejo broke in)

Be regular in your promotion. Always update your blog and site and constantly generate new prints, calendars and promotional materials so that you develop a regular following which expects new content.

Getting an agent may be useful in that they can get you into doors that would be difficult for you as a new artist/individual to open yourself

Make a new poster/postcard/self-published book per year or so. Expensive promotional items like books might cost you money up front, but a collector can take one away and may purchase an original later with the book as a reminder of the work.

Licensing one popular image can pay more than a whole book’s worth of illustrations in the long run. Keep image rights in contracts if possible. As you become more established in your field, work more to stand your ground in keeping your image rights. This is your future earning power.

Donato makes really high quality portfolios and catalogues for self-promotion, and is not necessarily looking to turn a profit on these items. In the long run these high-quality items won’t be thrown away like other samples, and the PR effect becomes more powerful.

Conventions are a key to “breaking in”. You have to be present in the location of the industry in some manner, whether you live where the companies are, or attend conventions and promote yourself in person.

Don’t be cheap in marketing yourself. Be wise. Be targeted.

Your best promotion is “busting you ass”. Do great work to impress your art director. Quality gets around.

Art director’s Roundtable discussion:

They want to see a new portfolio every year from someone looking to break in. You should always have new stuff.

You’re judged by your weakest image, because this is possibly what you may give them for quality.

Use YOUR name and not a moniker or nickname, like “Darken 666” when talking online, promoting yourself, etc. Your name is your calling card. Be mature.

Many referrals for new artists come through existing artists.

Art directors commonly want many loose thumbnail sketches, 3 roughs and one tight comprehensive drawing in the development process of your illustration. Some prefer more or less involvement, but are all open to communication and suggestion. Color roughs sometimes necessary.
And now that I've got a clearer snapshot into the industry it's back to work... with no excuses!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Close to done

Got around to working on this image some more. I threw some text on it to emulate a quick desktop layout so it can be viewed in context. I'm pressed for time, so I'll have to leave it for now... busy with more D&D work and preparing for the convention this week. Stay tuned, as I may have alot of post-convention writing. I've got a big list of questions prepared for interviewing other artists working in the field as well as art directors who commission the work. It should be interesting to delve into this field deeply, and I'm sure I'll gain a great deal of insight from the casual interaction with industry people and top artists.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Undead dragon drawing

I finally got around to doing a detailed drawing for the undead dragon. I know it looks confusing, but hopefully tone and color will make it come to life. That'll be the weekend's work if all goes according to plan.
As to the "lost" Dungeons and Dragons job from my last post... well, the next day after beating myself up for turning a big job down, I got the call for another illustration for them. "It turned out ok", as they say! Now instead of cramming to do 3 complex illustrations in a couple weeks, I can do one and not be in a rush.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Irony and the rookie freelancer

So I'm busy with some freelance work and polishing off my portfolio to be ready in a couple weeks when I go to the fantasy art convention:

I'm really looking forward to this convention, as it will hopefully be the springboard to making me feel like and actually be a full-time freelance fantasy artist. I'm sure to get energized meeting the other artists and getting inspired by the works of the best in the field.

One of the major aspects of these conventions is that new artists get to sit down and have portfolio reviews with the industry's top art directors, who are constantly looking for new talent to bring to their products. Suffice to say, this is often the 15 minutes in a new artist's year that he can make or break career momentum. You have to stand out, with both quality and professionalism, from the other 100+ artist who get their 15 minutes.

Now a funny thing happened today... as I'm sitting here roughing out an image for the portfolio I get an e-mail from the particular art director who I am most keen to meet and impress. I'm offered two images of the exact type of work that I'm putting all this effort towards! Now for the funny part (not)... At a quick glance, the assignment looks somewhat intensive, and the timeframe is pretty short to fit in to my schedule, considering I'll be travelling for a week to this conference right away. With an eye to ensuring quality and being careful that I manage the early stages of my relationship with this particular person, I request to take on one of the two images offered. I send the e-mail off in response, feeling great that I'm getting the exact work that I'm gearing for. A few minutes pass, and I get the Art director's response: he'd rather not split the job up and he'll get another artist to do it. Now I feel really stupid. I inadvertantly pass up my perfect job; being too careful and not mindful of the director's needs. The irony is that I'm working on my portfolio to get the work which I pass up because I'm busy working on my portfolio to get the work... Man, what a lesson.

So today I learned likely one of the key points in being a freelance artist (although I'm sure to learn more) DON'T SAY NO. The art director rightly needs an easy, passionate and reliable artist, and its your responsibility as an artist to make priority calls in developing your career. Until you've been around for awhile and are in high demand, do yourself a favour and take all the work... working harder and becoming successful through making smart descisions. I'm going to kick myself for awhile on this.

Anyhow, I started roughing this in today... an old Dragon Age drawing that needed finishing for my convention portfolio. Hey... maybe with a great portfolio, I'll get calls from top art directors... WAITAMINUTE!...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Busy week and workshop

Its been a very busy week for me!
I just completed a couple images for Dungeons and Dragons on Friday, and then spent all weekend teaching a small oil painting workshop at the Paint Spot in Edmonton. While I won't be able to show the illustrations off until they are published, here are some shots from the weekend workshop.
It was a great success and everyone learned an immense amount of painting knowledge in 2 days. I found being in a small room with 4 other people over many hours proved to be a very intimate and effective way to transmit an incredible amount of information. In the end, all the students produced successful works, and were eager to continue their painting studies at home. Most of the students immediately bought the table top easels they used, and they all felt very satisfied with making a large leap forward with their artistic studies.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Skull drawing and process

I went for a walk in a snowstorm the other day, and drunk a bunch of beer that night. The combination weakened me and now I'm pretty sick.
Since I'm just up to easy stuff today, I sketched the head for my undead dragon out...

Concept art with markers
Chartpak cool grey markers #1-5, warm grey #1
Pad of marker paper, pad of manilla paper
2-3 black ink pens of various thickness
detail brush and bottle of Daler Rowney FW Acrylic Artists Ink: white
Col-Erase Light blue Prismacolor pencil
Kneaded eraser

I use either white marker paper (prevents bleed-through) or plain yellow colored manilla paper. The marker paper is cleaner and more precise, but the manilla gives you a nice mid-tone start.

Using the white marker paper, start your drawing with blue pencil; I use Col-Erase Light blue from Prismacolor. This soft, light pencil allows you to erase easily and draw loosely without getting messy or overly dark. You may not really know what you are drawing as you begin, since you are experimenting with new shapes and letting the form evolve. Being loose and making many changes is easier with the blue pencil and your design never feels overworked because it remains light and malleable. Think of drawing the underneath structural forms before you add details and costuming. “draw through” and construct the forms so that everything is solid and the 3-d construction is understood.

Using the manilla paper, I draw directly and immediately with a warm grey#1 marker, which is basically the same yellow as the paper, only darker. This marker will optically “fade away” and you won’t notice this part of the drawing after darker, cooler tones are established, and since the color is similar to the paper.
The blue pencil and warm #1 marker beginnings achieve the same goal: of a forgiving starting point that never gets messy and is unnoticeable in the end, allowing you to both think and draw from the ground up.

After establishing your drawing with one of the methods above, use the #4 cool grey marker and flatly block in the “shadow shape” and cast shadows. After this step, the drawing should look quite graphic and full of light and contrast.

Using a thin black pen, re-draw the concept and add line details. Using a thicker one, establish the very dark black areas, undersides and heavier line weights. Concentrate on cleaning up the design and enhance the lines using a line weight which indicates the light direction. (thin lines on top, thicker underneath, thin in the distance, thicker coming forward, etc…)

Next, use the #2 or #3, or better yet a maker that is drying out and fades with the stroke to round the forms in the light areas, thus adding the mid tones that gradate from the dark to light side of a form.

Lastly, add any final highlights or make corrections with the white paint and brush. Avoid putting white into the flat shadow areas if possible, and use the paint sparingly for crisp details.

Friday, October 9, 2009

elemental dragon

I havent done anything on the dragon mentioned previously, but here's a dragon made a couple months ago for the Art Order earthquake dragon challenge.
It could have been more earthquake-y, but I just made it up as I did it and didn't really think about it much...anyhow the judges liked it.
After a few of these challenges, I've now "gotten the call" and am doing official paid work for Dungeon and Dragons, which I'm happy about. Hopefully I'll have stuff to show at the end of the month...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Undead Dragon thumbnails

Recently began exploration for an undead Dragon concept for a project I'm working on. Below are sone thumbnails to experiment with different body types and some marker sketches to play with some skull variations. Stay tuned as it develops!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The art of the thumbnail

In addition to shilouette exploration, making "thumbnail" drawings is one of the best methods when you're starting to design something new, and need to quickly explore the breadth of a subject.
Limiting yourself to just a couple inches high, your drawings are able to note the big features of a design, allowing you to immediately discern the drawing's future graphic potential. This is especially true in the realm of computer gaming where a character may only be a few inches high on the screen or made of limited, simple polygon graphics.
I use a 2b pencil so that I have something soft and dark to also explore the tonal patterns of the shapes.
Here's an example of some recent thumbnail drawings...

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Art Order challenge:Hurakan, god of storms

The next fantasy art challenge is a multi-part assignment based on creating a demonic god of "fire, lightning and storms", and then eventually making an illustration based on the design.
The first stage is to concept some shilouettes as a way of exploring unique shapes without the time-expense of worrying about details. This is a great way to free up the earliest and most important stage in the design for experimentation and the search for novelty.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Art Order monsters

Had some fun recently making some monsters for the blog:
In addition to being a great blog for information on fantasy art, there are illustration challenges where people interested in tackling a weekly topic illustrate art in the Dungeons and Dragons universe for fun and to impress potential clients.

This weeks challenge is a re-design of a classic creature called the "Owlbear". We had to design the dad, mom and baby variants of the creature. Below is my submission...

Some preliminary marker sketches, showing the first direction I went and expanded upon...

And a challenge from a few weeks ago for a creature called the "flaming Coward"...

Friday, August 28, 2009

marker monster

I've been doing some marker roughs of monsters this week and having alot of fun. I haven't done this in almost 10 years, but I'm finding its a great medium that suits my personal aptitudes towards drawing in tone. I love the chisel shape of the markers and the ability to work fast and loose. I'm working on manilla paper to get the toned ground alowing for highlights. The guy at the art store recommended a product called FW Acrylic artist's ink, which works great for the whites... much better than guache or graphic white.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

photographing artwork and polarizing filters.

I got around to taking proper photos of some paintings yesterday...
The setup I use has 4 lights-left, right above and below the artwork to evenly light the painting, eliminating shadows being cast from the bumps on the canvas. More importantly, we use polarizing filters on the lights and the camera lens to eliminate varnish-shine glare. The following photos were taken at the same time with the same lighting, but the difference is in the angle of the polarizing lens on the camera, illustrating the profound difference this small step makes.

Here's the finished sunflowers with the pot handle and the upper fabric completed.
and proper photos of recent daily paintings...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New materials

Just got home from a vacation and got my big-ass roll of Oil-primed Belgian linen in the mail. This is the stuff many pros seem to use for smooth, detailed and archival oil painting. Seems real nice and evenly-smooth, so no more bumpies in people's faces or in still lives destroying the illusion. I feel like a better painter already.

Also, Just got a package of oil-primed linen mounted on birch panels. Unbeliveably nice stuff. They have the Claessens 13 on panels as well as another that is actually smoother. Can't wait!

Tomorrow finish this sunflowers piece, (which is more of a learning/experience thing) and then some fun stuff coming up that you'll have to wait for in the realm of fantasy illustration.

Friday, August 14, 2009

almost done...

Spent the past few hours populating holes and empty spaces with leaves. I only had one fresh leaf, so I had to use the same one for 4 spots in the picture. I have really gained an appreciation for the old masters floral still lives I saw in the Louvre. Each piece must have been painted and replaced with a fresh element because after about an hour, a detached leaf is pretty limp.

These other elements have filled the frame up nicely, so I may not crop this after all.
The last thing I will do is to redo the white fabric at the top. I got lazy at the start and didn't bother ironing it, so there are bad creases in the fabric. I will make some nice droopy folds in the upper right to bring this puppy home. Also I'll need a pass on the pot to finish the handles and fix the symmetry.
Elaped time to this point: about 20 hours. Painting from photos is so much easier!

Below is my window-setup. A better way to paint this would be to have a bigger space for the ability to stand back and evaluate focal relationships...seeing it as a whole from a distance. Unfortunately I'm crammed in this tiny space within a dormer, and have to sit and paint static-ly. The result is a more rendered look, where each part is uniformly in focus. This likely explains why northern renaissance art was so tight while the southern (Italian) style was broader. The northern folks were huddled in their tiny flemish homes with modest windows, while the Italians had open doors, larger windows and stronger light.

Note the car-washing sponge wedged behind the canvas to tilt it forward, reducing glare.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

rendering stuff

After re-establishing the pot and left flowers, I replace the right flower with a new one, because it was closed and dying. I add a fresh leaf to the top and also do another quick pass on the lower fabric before I think about adding an overlaping element in that area. At this point the flowers look pretty beat up, and I'm trying to paint details to wrap this up. Proportions are pretty bad, but it's all about making a finished picture at this point. The important thing is for everything to look purposeful and unified. A confident elipse on a too-wide pot is preferable to a wonky elipse on a correct proportioned pot. The painting outlasts the reference.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I am finding the flowers are moving for sure. The far right one is even closed now that it's facing away from the light. I'll ignore that one until I finish the other two, and then try and give it some light to make it open. (sheesh!)
Anyhow, at this point I'll just work fast and not too preciously to get some details in before these things die on me. I also re-establish the purple fabric layer to make that area opaque and closer to final value/color. I am resigned that this wont be a "perfect" academic object study, as there are too many environmental variables, so I'm just having fun. I remind myself of Van Gogh and the power of design.
Tomorrow I go to the farmer's market and visit the flower lady for some fresh sunflowers in case I need them to finish up. I will at least want some lively leaves to insert around the arrangement to fill it out.

Today in the mail I got 2 types of pre-stretched linens from different manufacturers to test getting some better supports. (My last painting was done on a $3.00 canvas, so it might disintegrate in 20 years.) I had better figure this out soon, as my cheap supports are getting in the way of the surface quality of the image.

Monday, August 10, 2009

sunflowers part 2

Continuing on with this today, I am seeing that the flowers are moving and perhaps even wilting a bit. I will need to focus on them and leave the static objects in the next few sessions so that I can capture them before they change significantly. This underscores my point from yesterday to not be too firm with the first couple of sessions for this type of subject, and save your accuracy for tones and values in a broader sense, with room for refinement of shape.

Another point about the composition: I have more or less centered the subject, with much space above and below. This is purposeful and not bad composition, as I am giving myself space to add more leaves later and then crop the image down for the optimal composition at the end. Its easy to unstretch the canvas (linen in this case) and re-stretch onto new stretcher bars to correct placement and framing.

For this session, I am focusing on further refining of the drawing and proportions and establishing a ballpark tone for the major areas. I am ignoring the pot handles until I am more sure of the pot's shape and symmetry.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Painting steps demo

I started this painting today, and I thought I would blog the process...

One of my students was interested in how I can get realism without tracing or using mechanical cheats especially for the drawing.

The following steps show how the subject is plotted down somewhat loosely, but with enough accuracy to use as a starting point. I made sure to make a couple big measurement checks initially in the fist step before moving forward and freely sketching in the details. I anticipate the flowers may move or open up a bit more so I'm not going to waste time with more precision than this. Also, I intend to add more large leaves, but will do that later on so that they don't wilt; being cut and placed for shape in the arrangement, and not in water. I'll likely have more leaves on the table around the base of the bowl, but again it's better to do that later and also to get the elipse right underneath. By being this accurate, but no moreso in the drawing I can "push and pull" as I refine the painting by leaving me with enough lattitide for changes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

October still life workshop in Edmonton

Apparently people generally are busy in the summer so we moved the still life workshop to October. It'll be chilly in Edmonton, so you'll be happy to spend a weekend painting.
Check the link for details:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New daily paintings and a longer one

After completing house renos and having a baby the past few months, I'm back in the saddle!

Here are a couple daily paintings from the weekend. Excuse the poor photo quality that shows the canvas grain... I was unable to get these photographed properly in the short term, as they are much smoother.

I may add some cheeky text to this.

The last supper.

my kitchen table setup...

And one that took longer than a day.