Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New productivity tools

Like many people, I'm somewhat addicted to surfing the internet.  I have a handful of sites, including Facebook that I peek at many times per day, usually interrupting my workflow and concentration.  Its just so darn tempting to have your friends a mouse-click away or to be able to catch up on sports or news.

With 2 young boys at home, its becoming increasingly more important to stay on task and use my time efficiently.  For this reason I recently installed a browser plug-in for Google Chrome that sets limits to my surfing habits and cuts me off once I've wasted my allotted time limit.  Called StayFocused, you can quickly install this into your browser and tell the program how long you should be allowed to view a set of sites.

As seen below you can set the time frame and days of the week when you want this utility to be active.  This way you can have it free before and after work.

Once your time limit has been reached, a simple screen pops up instead of the website you were looking at. You can click the icon on the top right to see a counter of your remaining time, and the program warns you at 5 minutes and at 60 seconds before you are shut off.

There are other options for more thorough blockage as seen below.  I've liked having this tool installed for the past week, and its come in handy a few times, keeping me on task and productive.
If you don't use Chrome, I'm sure there are other similar utilities out there for other browsers.  If you are on a Mac, you can try Antisocial as a utility that blocks social networking sites. 

Another tool that I recently employed is the Spyder 3 monitor calibration tool.  I haven't been confident in my monitor colors lately due to some card art that printed quite a bit lighter than intended.  I work with 2 monitors; my primary Cintiq, which I paint on, and a secondary Dell monitor for my reference.  My Cintiq is quite a bit warmer (more magenta) than the Dell, which is much more green and higher-contrast.  The annyoing thing is that I think the Dell is more accurate, but its not the computer I'm actually looking at while doing my work, and I don't trust its high contrast look.  I've tried a few times to adjust the Cintiq to look the same as the Dell, but its always somewhat different and it just feels wrong.  

As seen above the Spyder is a mouse-sized device that plugs into you USB port.  Below we see how you hang it from the top of your monitor (there is a counter-weight) during the calibration process.  The device measures the ambient light hitting your screen then goes through a process of measuring various colored squares displayed on your screen.  Once finished, it tells your computer to use a custom color profile and changes how your display looks.  I was quite happy to see that just running this tool made my Cintiq look much more like my Dell, which I thought was more accurate, based on my prints.  

We also recently released a new podcast on our experiences at the recent Illuxcon Symposium.  For anyone interested in attending, have a listen!

OK, time for some art!  In recognition of the holidays, here are some Christmas cards (I guess you have to just say "happy holidays" if you're corporate) I made when I was at BioWare.  Yeah, they're old, but shooting Santa in the face is always timeless.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New-ish WOW card

So I just realized this morning some Warcraft cards I made a few months ago had been released without me realizing it.  It's tough to keep up on when stuff hits the street.

One of the diffucilties in making Warcraft art is that the provided reference is in-game models, which are often times confusing to decipher from a screenshot.  Below I show trying to figure out what the texture is telling me the costume is supposed to be.  Usually the in-game assets are pretty good, and I have a great appreciation for the modelers and texturers at Blizzard making tiny game models make sense while being creative under technical constraints.

And below is the final card art... With a bit of experience you get good at assuming what the game artists intended, but it's sometimes difficult to know when to be literal and when to extrapolate.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Illuxcon 2011

Well, I'm finally home and mostly rested from this year's installment of Illuxcon.  Billed as a symposium of fantastic illustration, this event brings artists, collectors, students and fans together for an orgy of art awesomeness.  Since this was the third year in a row for me attending, I was prepared to get less from the experience and to just enjoy the art and socialization.  I'm happy to say there was actually no "dip" in the quality or amount of return I received from attending.  While the first couple years I was just breaking into this field, this year I benefited from an equal mix of inspiration, technical advice, new friendships and professional contacts.   I made sure to talk to the people whom I had questions for or wanted to connect with, and was active in searching out answers to a new set of career questions.

Below we see photos of the main hall; as you can see there are a few paintings being shown...

The presentation I was most looking forward to was a demonstration by Petar Meseldžija on oil painting with emotional content. I learned a few valuable tips that I'm itching to try out in my next oils.

Petar's table at Illuxcon... the painting in the top left was my favorite of the entire show.  The way he carves out form and balances the loose and tight is nothing short of masterful.

A few feet away Donato Giancola has his table.  How cool is that?!

I met a new friend and fellow Shadowcore member, Chris Rahn, who is tearing up the card art scene.  This photo shows me interviewing him for an upcoming Drawn Today podcast.  Stay tuned!

Finally, we have Chris Rahn, myself, Chris Burdett, Anna Cristenson and Tyler Jacobson showing our Shadowcore flyer.  I hadn't met a couple of these folks, but the rapport and friendship was instant.  Thus is the magic of Illuxcon.

The last day of Illuxcon saw a big and exciting presentation from Pat and Jeannie Wiltshire, the organizers of Illuxcon.  Starting in 2013, Illuxcon will be moving to the larger city of Allentown Pennsylvania, which is close to Philadelphia and only 1.5 hours to NYC.  In addition, Illuxcon will be now hosted by the Allentown Art Museum, an exciting change of venue which will allow for a wider public audience and acceptance.  Other initiatives aimed at supporting the show and genre are a new panel of judges that include both a museum curator and president, the editor of International Artist magazine and modern master Michael John Angel, founder of the Angel Academy in Florence (the system that I have personally received training in). 

 The convergence and acceptance of fantasy illustration into the wider fine art market in inevitable with today's new and younger art buyers being more savvy and otherwise weaned on the products, franchises and visuals we are crafting.  Illuxcon is at the forefront of this transition and I'm looking forward to attending and helping in future events.  

Now I gotta paint!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Panicked pre-Illuxcon preparations

Sorry for not blogging lately, but I'm up to my eyeballs in work.  Since I will be going to Illuxcon in less than a week, I'm finishing up 3 images and 3 logos a week early.  On top of this, I have to get my show materials together, do yardwork, get a haircut...etc.

The past 2 years I have gone to this convention I was just breaking into freelancing, so the convention was an intense few days of research into how other successful artists make this career work. This year, I have steady clients, a large network of illustrator friends and less stress to break ground.  It'll be more of a good time vacation (much needed!) and a chance to plan my next steps.

I just ordered some banners online (they were cheaper than doing locally), so I would have them for Illuxcon and future local events. They just arrived at my friend's house in the US looking awesome! Another year and I'll be ready for the big time. :)

Anyhow, the blogging silence will soon be broken by pictures, podcasts, interviews and thoughts on the Illuxcon experience.  Just wait. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

New Drawn Today podcast

Just recently released is our new Drawn Today podcast.  In this episode we hear audio of a panel of experts from the recent Dragon Con convention discussing the issues of copyright.  Todd Lockwood, Don Maitz, Larry Elmore and William Stout are featured in this highly informative panel.

Give it a listen here! and "friend" us on facebook here to get notified of future podcasts as they happen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I'm proud to announce that I'm a member of a new collective of fantastic gaming illustrators on the web.  The Shadowcore collective is the home of some very talented artists working in the RPG gaming art field.  Our new group site will showcase art, instruction and illustration blogging from 12 artists in one place!

I'll continue to post on my personal blog right here as well as on the group site, but for anyone interested in great content from other great artists, check out Shadowcore!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Warcraft Art: Throne of Tides

Just Released today is the new set for the World of Warcraft trading card game.  Here is one of my pieces, a Tauren (Warcraft cow race dude) Shaman casting a spell with a spark and some bits of rock.

It can be fairly difficult to deal with the armor designs provided when visualizing and posing a character.  A common aspect of 3-d video game models is that the parts will actually "sort through", or collide with each other when a limb is turned or the figure moves.  The game models and armor design often cannot accommodate a full range of motion. Its really important to thoroughly understand the under structure of the character so you can draw the armor on in the correct perspective.

The above sketch shows how I needed to construct the figure first because it gets pretty confusing when the armor is added in the second sketch.  Even though the final line drawing gets quite complex with the details added, you just have to have some faith that once lit and rendered it will make sense and look 3-dimensional.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back at it and the genius of Tiepolo

Well, I am guilty without excuse for not updating this blog.  The last few months I've taken a bit of a rest from art; just doing what's required for my commissions, and not much more.  We all need a rest once in awhile; and I've been both taking it easy for the summer, but also using my energies for other important things on the domestic front.

 I'm now rusty, my confidence is down, and my routine is off, but with Illuxcon just over a month away, I've got to get back in gear. The best way to do this is to get excited and challenged by a new project that I'm motivated to do well.  I'm just starting to think about compositions for a new multi-figured battle scene for a client.  Tonight I scribbled out some ideas, and I'll use this to also get back into gear with blogging, since there is no issue with disclosing work in progress.  Stay tuned for my progress on this illustration!

This new project is perfect for me to work the rust out because my favorite thing to illustrate is complex fight scenes. A big influence on my thinking comes from the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. I love Tiepolo for his dynamic, non eye-level scenes of decorative intertwined figures. His preparatory drawings are an education in good design.

2 things Tiepolo instructs us on is how to use the body as shape, and how to organize values. The figure is treated dynamically and better shape-use is gained from not being locked to an eye-level perspective. On top of this structure, Tiepolo designs the light/dark patterns with a broad wash, liberally linking areas for tonal simplicity, but with enough logic that the design can be replicated using figure reference in the final painting. His drawings are particularly instructive for fantasy art, because the scenes we create demand this energy, and require these design strategies to coordinate complexity into simplicity...

 One broad wash and a few touches of deep shadow are enough to indicate the light and determine if the scene is balanced and simple enough to proceed to paint.

The above image has its values designed in strong, unbroken diagonals for maximum movement.

The scythe blade (below), although logically in the light is treated as a dark shape for balance in the empty upper left space.

Notice (below) how the tonal planning makes it to the final painting.  By a more liberal use of value grouping, Tiepolo creates scenes that are more dynamic and decorative than the randomness of observed phenomena.   Diagonals, S curves and linear tangents are more important than rendered detail, but we don't get the sense the images lack realism even though the parts are more designed and less observed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Interview with Fantasy Art Magazine (China)

In July, I was lucky to get interviewed for the second time for an issue of the prestigious Fantasy Art magazine from China. Its always embarrassing to be featured like this, as I feel I'm not worthy of such attention. I'm still just getting started in the fantasy art field, but I suppose all artists likely feel inadequate and this feeling drives us to fulfill the potential others see in our work.

For the sake of my non Chinese-speaking friends, I've posted the interview in English below:

  1. 2 years have passed, and our last interview with you was 4 years ago. I guess you didn't know you would leave the company where you had worked for 10 years when we had the last interview. So today, do you want to talk about your life when you worked for Bioware? How did you get in? Why did you leave?

I actually worked at BioWare for 12 years. After art school, where I obtained a bachelor of design in illustration and graphic design, I worked briefly for a book publisher until some friends introduced me to some guys in Calgary who were making a video game. They needed an artist, and my skills seemed like a good fit. At this time in the games industry, around 1995, artists were not trained specifically for games work as the industry was too small and too new. 3-d graphics were in their infancy, and I learned on the job. We were making Shattered Steel, a mech/robot game, and as the lone 2-d artist, I created the textures, backgrounds, concepts, storyboards and generally helped things look good. This game was being funded by 3 doctors in Edmonton, who were starting their own company, BioWare at the same time; working on a demo which would become Baldur's Gate. In order to finish Shattered Steel, a few of us moved to Edmonton to complete development, and we became part of BioWare as it was just starting up. Once Shattered Steel was finished, I stayed and worked on all the projects for the next 12 years, in some way or another.

In the early days, my tasks were mainly texturing models, concepting and art direction. As time passed, I did more 3-d art for the movie sequences. My graphic design, 2-d and 3-d art skills were valuable as a combination, so I was also making most of the ads, magazine covers and promotional materials. I could model characters and scenes and digitally paint on them to create imagery without the need for a team effort. Once BioWare grew to a stage where people were more specialized and focused on one job, I became the marketing artist, and concentrated solely on this, allowing me to develop my illustration skills. At this time we were making many fantasy games (Baldurs Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights), so I was digital painting more and using 3-d tools less.

Late in my career at BioWare, the company had grown very large, and been bought by Electronic Arts. EA had their own marketing department and processes and it was normal for them to subcontract out the art to specialized and expensive agencies. In addition, more sophisticated technology and higher fidelity 3-d models allowed the in-game content to be suitable for the promotional art, with less 2-d painting and retouching required. The last couple years at BioWare saw me using the game engine to create visuals and being more of a 3-d technician again. This was not something I desired, so after a long career working at one company, I took my leave and turned my attention back to illustration and painting, which are my passions.

  1. As a professional artist working in the video game industry, you have lot of experience in this field, it would be easy to get a good job in this field . Why you choose to be a freelance artist? Is that you desire?

Living in Edmonton, Canada I have no choice but to freelance unless I decide to move to another city. There are no other significant game companies based here. Since I worked for one company for 12 years, I prefer now to have a career of my choosing, where I don't have company changes, politics and inefficiencies holding me back. There are advantages to both career paths but at this time I am trying something new. I would also say as a freelancer, your career is a bit more “pure” than working in a company, as far as being totally focused on the art. In a big company, there are many people around you: managers, executives, technicians, etc that are not artists, and working in an environment where art is just a component of the whole, sometimes it is hard to be focused and have the time to give to demanding work. On top of this, there are meetings, bureaucracy, and aspects not under your control which can water down the experience of creating artwork. Many people I worked with at BioWare had no idea how I did my work and this can lead to perception and communication problems. At BioWare, I did many different things. Each project was different. Being a freelance artist now allows me to focus on the areas that I like the most. I actually feel like I am just starting out as an illustrator because for a long time I was unable to focus on a singular skill.

  1. We know at BioWare, you did many marketing paintings, concept artwork, and much other art work, but there's only a little on your website. Why do you not show them more? Is there some reason that you can't display them?

A lot of work that goes into game development gets thrown away. During development, characters change and get canceled and its often only the final year of a development where technology and creative content is locked down and comes together. For the marketing art and promotional materials, these constant changes make it impossible to do much work during the development period, and therefore most of the promotional art is done at the end, once the marketing executives and stakeholders have decided on a plan and angle on how to sell the game to the public. For Example, during Dragon Age, which took at least 6 years to make, there was development of races, characters and creatures that were not used. At the end of its development, there was indecision on how to market and promote the game; whether it should be sold as an “old-stlye, Baldur's Gate type experience” for the hardcore fan, or whether it should be sold to a younger, console-familiar audience. Once these questions are answered, often taking months of back-and-forth between the developer and publisher, it is too late to spend significant time crafting illustrations, especially in-house. I would also say that many marketing executives cannot see subtle qualitative differences or don't care about the art.

I chose not to show more work because an artist should only show a selection of their best work on their site. Unfinished work, sketches and old art may be interesting to some people, but it also can clutter up your site and confuse new clients.

  1. We know it's hard when you want to get a new start in the career, especially when you go into a different field. Could you tell me in the beginning, what kind difficulties you must to face? How do you overcome them?

The difficulty in moving to the freelance field is mostly in establishing a new set of clients and also meeting other friends and artists in the field who are doing the same work. At BioWare, I was very insular, and I didn't know anyone outside of the company, and I didn't need to. I did not know anything about the freelance field and I didn't put any effort into marketing myself or having an online presence. The best way to overcome this was to meet people in person and make new friends. I went to a few conventions (Illuxcon, the Illustration Master Class) and now have many friends in the freelance illustration field. Through meeting these people, I have kept in close contact and talk daily with them on Facebook, Skype, through e-mail and on private online forums. We support each other through critique and sharing of information. The freelance fantasy illustration community is very small and therefore very friendly. Everyone is trying hard, so we have a kinship based on mutual respect and understanding.

  1. A freelancer will control their time freely, but also they need more time to do some things in addition to creating the art. Could you tell me how you distribute your time in a normal day?

Time management is the most difficult thing in being a freelance artist. There is a lot of inconsistency in your schedule, and it takes great discipline to be successful. I am guilty of not working too hard sometimes and using my freedom to spend time doing things around the house or be with my family. On the other hand, when I have illustrations due on a deadline, I will usually work until bedtime and not have much life balance. I need to be better in averaging my time and sticking to consistent hours.

My studio is in a separate building from my house, so this is a big advantage, allowing me to have a quiet, undisturbed space to concentrate. Where I live in Canada also has an effect on my schedule. Since the summers are nice but the winters are very cold and snowy, I am a little less disciplined during nice weather to stay indoors in front of the computer. When its very cold out, I have no choice but to remain inside, so I balance it out by working more in the evening and making sure I get out in the sunshine when I can.

  1. First, congratulations on having a son. I think he must give you many memories. And now he will "murder" you many times. Do you want to talk about him? Will you paint something for him? Do you want him to become an artist just like you?

I think there is a bit of a translation problem with this question... I'm not sure what you mean by “murder” (!)

My wife is actually pregnant right now with our second son! Soon we will have 2 boys and a lot of fun and excitement in our lives. I have thought about this a lot recently, and I honestly think I would not recommend my kids to be artists. I would tell them to have a more secure career doing something that is necessary and pays better. One can always do art as a hobby, and being an artist is a risk. Having said this, I will probably teach them the skills and support them if they find it interesting for the sake of having the appreciation of art and developing work ethic and patience.

  1. Please talk about your family, I think you will have a lot of stories of them, especially when you at a low ebb of creating. And then a new start.

I am finding that family takes time, but it is also good to have much in your life other than art. I like to spend time with my son, and give my wife time for herself. Since we have another son on the way, I think I will have to be very disciplined to work regular hours so I have time to play with them and live a balanced lifestyle. My wife is very good at caring for our son, and I generally have the time to work as much as necessary. Since I work from home, it is easy to see the family and work many hours at the same time.

  1. How do you feel about the freelance artist life? Is it the same as what you thought before? Will you continue to work in this field, or do you still want to have a full-time job?

This is a very interesting question. I have been pondering this for awhile recently. It seems the fantasy art field is largely an unrealistic profession for most people: the pay is low, the standards are high and it can be very inconsistent. It takes effort and intelligence to balance many things to be successful: creating, promoting, organizing, learning, resting. There is no handbook, and one must ask many questions and figure this lifestyle out for themselves. To succeed as a freelance artist, you might also have to do some teaching or have other sources of income. To be successful you will have to be smart and frugal with money.

To do anything of significance you have to stick with it and be consistent for a period of time. For the next few years at least, I will just do what I am doing now. I am still getting established as a freelance artist. In the future, I am open to all possibilities.

  1. Could you tell me what clients you have? Do you like to work for them?

My main client currently is Blizzard, and I make a lot of World of Warcraft card art for them. I like working for them very much, and its a natural fit for my experience in the games industry. My style is quite clean and colorful, and this works well for Blizzard. I have also worked frequently for Paizo (Pathfinder RPG) and started work on Magic the Gathering more recently. Since I live in Canada, it takes me a bit longer to meet clients since I have to travel far to go to conventions, so I attend those less frequently. Clients are often met at conventions.

  1. Could you tell us, which tools you use when you create art?

My normal process is to draw either on paper or in Photoshop, and then use Painter 9 to paint the image in the computer. I have started using 3-d software again more of late, and my samples shown in this magazine illustrates some of this process.

  1. I saw you got some card art, book illustrations and some character art. Most artist who do card art for Magic Cards say the WOW Card style is strange. The bigger weapons and armor are so different with what they did before, and Blizzard asks that the characters be the same as the online game. All is different. But as we know, in the video game industry, those are usual expectations. So how do you feel when you make the card art for Blizzard? And is it any different than the work that you had done at BioWare, except the size?

I actually enjoy the Blizzard style very much. The costumes and weapons, while being “over the top” and a bit abstract are also good to work with in other ways. The Blizzard style is often well color coordinated, where the armors have good contrast and interesting, unique schemes. Its easier to work on a franchise that you don't have to make everything up, and the content they provide gives each piece interest and uniqueness that you would not think of adding if you have to make it up by yourself. I'm used to working with tight constraints and I have no issue with the Warcraft content. It would be a bit more difficult if I were oil painting or using other non-digital methods. It can be difficult at times because I do not play Warcraft, so sometimes I need help understanding aspects of the game or getting information on locations, characters and items. I have a few friends who are quite knowledgeable about Warcraft, and they sometimes get me screen-shots and answer questions about the game world.

  1. We know you make art through the traditional way before. But now, I saw you use digital tools to help you create the art. Could you tell us what you think about digital tools? Is that just a tool or can they make a different future for art?

Digital tools have already changed art. Most illustrators, even those who paint traditionally use the computer in some form for planning. There are good and bad sides to this. For illustration, it is allowing artists to do more complicated things faster. The computer tool can give you many “free” solutions to drawing and painting. The bad side is that there is less individuality to the work and artists themselves are becoming less craft-oriented. With deadlines and the demands to be faster, I have started to use 3-d software more. I have a lot of experience with this from working on BioWare's movie sequences in the past, and it helps a lot, especially for complicated objects in perspective. Sometimes I make 3-d models of a weapon or even a whole scene, which can give me correct perspective. The problem is that the more I use these tools, the less I rely on drawing and artistic problem solving to get me by, and my images can be too literal or lack the power of simplicity and artistic decision making. I try to make sure all the questions are answered in the drawing as much as possible, and I generally do not like to paint directly in the computer without a drawing and color study. This is the mistake many younger digital artists make: they paint directly on the computer without a solid drawing to guide the process.

  1. How long do you need to make a new image? Is it shorter than before?

The work I do now is generally much faster than before. The freelance deadlines make is so that you need to get the work done on a certain date, and you have to keep in mind being efficient so that if a client calls you for a new job that you have time to do more work. The card art I make is generally smaller in size and scope, and this makes them faster to produce as well. If I eventually get into book covers, then the larger size and complexity may allow me to spend more time like I used to, but for now I am doing smaller assignments.

  1. Did you want to create something or some world that belongs to you? Just like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth or the Toril in the D&D?

I don't currently have a passion to do this. I prefer making single paintings. I'm more of a painter than someone who draws a lot, so this suits me better.

  1. What do you think of fantasy compared to science fiction? I mean, when you are painting those subjects, is just a different images, maybe need different skill to make it well. But we know, they are so different in the feel, one is in the old time, mystery, and one is in the future, surprising. And I saw you did fantasy more than science fiction. Does that mean you like fantasy more?

Yes, I prefer fantasy. Fantasy tends to be more organic and suited to a traditional process and tastes. Although I paint digitally, I take inspiration from oil painting, and fantasy subjects are generally more like traditional painting compared to sci-fi, which has more vehicles, ships, etc.

  1. Except art, what hobby you have? Do you think your hobby will affect your art?

I don't really have another hobby. I enjoy watching mixed martial arts on TV, and I like being outside. I like to travel, go to museums and if possible I like to hike in the mountains and go camping like Canadians do. When you have children, a house, and a demanding career, sometimes other hobbies have to be dropped and you find interest and balance in routine, family things. A few times I have painted outdoor landscapes. This is a good education on how light and color works in reality, and its good to observe nature outdoors in balance with work indoors and on the computer. I paint portraits from life somewhat regularly too, for the experience and to create some “physical”, traditional art.

  1. Why you like painting? I mean except you love it, and feel good when you create some new images, and make new friends. You also have many chances to do something else. Why don't you?

Good question. I think I enjoy mostly the making of unique things and having my work result in something that is either tangible or viewable. I get satisfaction from building a legacy or collection of work that I can look back on. The individual credit and notoriety you can have as an artist is nice as well. Being an artist with 15 years of professional experience, I'm in the unique position of being a local expert in my field. Once you reach this point, you have a lot you can produce and teach others, so it makes sense to continue and maximize this potential.

  1. If one day, you got a chance to make a painting that you always wanted to made. What would it be?

My dream would be to make some large oil paintings that maybe would hang in a public place. I sometimes view my illustration career as a stepping stone to this goal. Illustration can be rewarding, but the end products can sometimes be disappointing. A printed piece of card art is only 2” wide, and often the colors are printed incorrectly. An original painting can be more impressive and make a bigger statement in some ways. People generally respect traditional painting more, so it would be nice to make some work that is more widely appreciated.

  1. At the end, do you have some advice for young artists?

Draw and paint from life and imagination. Be honest with yourself. Surround yourself with knowledgeable and accomplished friends and acquaintances. Be consistent and keep at it through difficult times.

  1. Could you talk about your plans for the future? Will you publish your art book? Or you will return to video game industry?

I think eventually I will make a book. These days, with digital and self-publishing its not that big of a deal as it used to be. In order for this to happen, I need to be worthy of the content of a book. I need to produce more, learn more and think more. To me, a book is a big deal: it would take a significant amount of time to create, but it also may help a lot of people and be a good legacy project. I would need to build up to this project more.

Other than that, I do not know what the future holds. I've been thinking a lot recently about what path to pursue. For the time being, I need to just do better art in the field I currently am in, while trying to overlap the process with other types of work that I enjoy (oil painting), making progress in both directions simultaneously.

Thanks for your answers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

New Warcraft Art: Twilight of the Dragons

Just released the past weekend for the San Diego Comic Con is the new set for the World of Warcraft trading card game. I was fortunate to be able to do a couple cards for this project early in the year, which I can now show...

"Mr Goldmine's Wild Ride" shows a Worgen and Goblin racing down the tracks in a minecart.

Also, last night we recorded a new Drawn Today podcast (to be posted soon on the site and through our facebook page) on the topic of using 3-d reference. We discussed the merits, drawbacks and differences of using real-world and digital 3-D models as reference for illustration. As described in the podcast, I often use 3-D software for magical effects, which I will illustrate with my second card:

"Power Word: Barrier" depicts a female gnome shielding her companions from a fiery blast with a magic bubble.
This card needed to show a transparent effect surrounding a group of characters. I decided to create the effect in 3-D software to give me correct perspective and the ability to visualize distant buildings if needed.

The first step in creating the illustration is to generate many thumbnail sketches to explore different layouts and communicative possibilities. Its important not to get caught up in drawing the scene, but the let the task of generating ideas and variety unfold quickly and without being precious of the aesthetic results.

Once I have a pile of these scribbles, I select the best one to pursue. For this image, I was unsure what idea was the strongest, so I refined 3 of the thumbs to send to the art director to let him decide.

We settled on the idea showing a blast coming at the characters. This seemed the best route and was graphically simple and readable at a small size. The next step was to draw the characters out in detail. Since they have such fantastical proportions and are covered in armor, I only used photo reference for the hands.

I begin the illustration by painting the scene in local, realistic color. The plan is to use the layered transparent bubble to blend properly into the scene to give me the final effect.

The next step is to create the bubble in a 3-D program. I set a virtual camera up in 3-D space to match the perspective of my drawing.

I make the bubble have a transparency that increases towards the center, and "wrap" the curved lines and sparkles around the bubble as a texture.

Below is the final composite of the bubble effect over the scene with the blast painted in on top. At the end of the day, the use of 3-D in this illustration was fairly minimal and maybe unnecessary. That being said, the computer bubble effect with the correct transparency fall-off does its job by affecting the scene in realistic ways that painting freehand could not give. (Notice the Worgens raised hand and how the bubble shifts the color in that area.) I was unsure at the start if I wanted buildings in the background, so creating the effect as a 3-D scene gave me the proper perspective to the arcs and transparency fall-off as well as the ability to visualize buildings if needed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Italian mastercopy

In 2005, my wife and I spent 3 weeks in Italy, staying mostly in the beautiful Tuscan town of Cortona. My wife was doing an archaeological dig, and I was intent on studying old-master oil painting techniques. At this time I was getting heavily into Classical realist painting and pursued knowledge from the source.

Cortona, Italy is a lovely place. The movie "life is Beautiful" was shot here, as the town retains all its past charm and is a great setting to experience authentic Tuscany. In fact they were shooting a WW2 movie when I was there, complete with Nazi side-car motorcycles whipping through the town square. Buildings, residences and storefronts have little new signage and cars are forbidden in the center of the town, all in keeping with the timeless charm that visitors yearn for.

Cortona is a center for Etruscan archaeology, and in the town is a museum with many local finds. There are also a smattering of paintings, one of which I chose for an extended study.

An Annunciation by Pietro Da Cortona was my muse. The choice was more dictated by logistics of where I could realistically stand, not blocking an isle, and far enough away to take the painting in. This wasn't the Louvre, so my choice for what to copy was limited. You can see below my canvas set up and away from the massive picture. Here I am plotting in the proportions and composition.

Below is a close up of the first stage. I have run a vertical plumb line down the center of the canvas and made marks dividing the vertical proportion in thirds. As I drafted the scene, it was amazing how much of the composition fit into these divisions. A careful examination shows the hand of god, the angel's left wing and the bed post all lining up exactly with the center of the canvas. There were less obvious but still handy elements falling on the thirds markers.

The broad angular shapes above get subdivided and drawn into more recognizable forms. Things are taking shape. I am using sharpened vine charcoal and drawing directly on the canvas.

Below we can see the charcoal drawing strengthened with an umber paint layer. Lights and darks are separated and simply stated. The drawing becomes more exact and with these darker values, the image starts to emerge.

Starting the color painting, I am really getting into the mind of the creator here. Without trying to sound mystical, the act of copying can nevertheless impart upon the student the thinking and even philosophy of the master being studied. By seeing the real scale of the object, studying the paint application and using the same pigment choices, I may understand aspects of the production intimately. In this case, I get the feeling this commission is a real "nuts and bolts" affair. All the detail is loaded at the bottom of the canvas so when hung high in a massive church building, the important stuff is clear and beautiful and the rest is effort saved. Big contrasts of broad shapes are composed to read well in a dimly lit setting, and targeted use of expensive blue pigment kept to the focal point. The use of warm yellows and warm neutrals allow black to be used as an inexpensive substitute for a cool pigment in the upper portions. (gods robe and sky outside the window) The paint is broadly scrubbed in; this is a huge painting done for money, and the artist expertly and efficiently fulfills his obligation to the client.

It was likely a bit unrealistic to expect to do a copy of a 14 foot tall painting on my trip. I did what I could, and established the main color notes accurately. I took photos before I left and attempted to finish the painting at home using the computer monitor to display my photos and written notes for reference. Unfortunately, I didn't have a good camera or tripod, and my photos are presently of an inferior quality to finish the painting. I still intend to contact the museum to see if they can send me a better reference photo so that I may finish.

Below is where this painting currently stands; probably 70% done.

The lower portion of the painting was more clear in my photos, so the lower figures are a bit more resolved from the reference I took home with me.

Things I learned:
  • Supplies can readily be obtained in vacation settings, so don't go through pains in bringing too much equipment and supplies. I spent a long time before we left preparing painting panels and I lugged all my supplies around Italy, not needing most of it. I found better quality supplies right in Cortona and threw all my panels away to save weight for souvenirs.
  • Detailed studies such as I undertook take so much time (indoors!) that you waste the opportunity to do more sketching and enjoying the location. Do it once for the experience, but be warned: the museum may be deadly quiet or full of school children
  • Get a good photo before you leave! Also, make color notes. Are there differences between your copy and the real thing? How are the photo colors different?
Another good resource for copies is the poster shop in museums. You can often obtain quality posters sufficient to make copies from, and compare the poster to the actual painting at the museum, noting color differences. I did this for the Raphael copy seen on my website.