Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sixth set of Pathfinder oils... and other stuff.

Recently released is the 5th book in the Pathfinder game's current "Shattered Star" adventure path, so its time to show some more of my oil paintings from that 6-book job.  I'll update another time with some of the digital work I did as well.

As I near the one year mark from having started to use oils in my illustration process I feel like I'm honing in on the technique to use that works for fantasy gaming illustration.
Up to this point I have been working under extreme deadlines, doing about 3 paintings a month, plus a few digital illustrations at the same time.  The longest I've spent on a painting is about 5 days, and that feeling of being rushed has not allowed me to take the process slowly to get to a 100% result I'm happy with.  There's no sitting back in my smoking jacket rubbing my chin and looking at the paintings upside down; just render, render, render!

The process for my oils the entire year was to get through the drawing stage as quickly as possible in order to accommodate doing so much work at once. (also time to mount and prepare surfaces, etc) Below you can see the process of drawing directly in the computer, which I had to employ as a tool to deal with the deadlines. Using this method I was able to produce quite alot of paintings this year, however I never actually drew with pencil and paper the entire year and thus I don't have any drawings to sell... but a necessary omission to get through it all!
Below is an early thumbnail or stage in the drawing.  This is close to what I would get approved, as I have a trusting relationship with my art director, and he can evaluate the image at this point without the characters being costumed.   I have learned for speed to get an early part of the process approved rather than indicating the costumes and details, and then having to redo all that work once the structure is finalized.  

Spending about a day on each drawing gets me to this point where I can then print off the digital drawing to mount on board and paint on...

 The final oil painting...

Another painting in this set of a Dragon fighting a "Shoggoth" on the side of a mountain...

Also, I've shown this on Facebook, but here is another recently released Warcraft card for their "Feast of Wintervale" holiday set.  This is a "mechanical Greench" busting outta his box.  RAWR!™ 

 Lastly, I recently produced a new podcast of our Illuxcon panel on "Strengthening the Artist's Role in the Industry".  You've probably heard this already if you're remotely connected to the fantasy illustration community on Facebook, but in case this is news, give it a listen!

Future updates and past podcast episodes can be found on facebook as well...

Finally, everyone interested in improving the lot of freelance illustrators should get involved and follow this page on Facebook, relating to the ideas put forth in the Podcast and panel above...


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Illuxcon 2012

Illuxcon 2012 wrapped up a couple days ago and I'm home now and getting myself caught up and into routine.  This was my fourth Illuxcon (out of the 5 years it's been running) and in those 4 years I've gone from clueless, nervous and friend-less to a showcase exhibitor, panel presenter and a familiar face.  My first time at this convention 4 years ago I didn't have a single contact or client in this business and today I feel very comfortable and knowledgeable at (and because of) Illuxcon.  This year felt routine, comfortable and validating.  Other years I would leave with the impression that there was still a big "gap" between what I was doing and where I wanted to be, but now I have the feeling the gap is very small, if not closed altogether.

At each Illuxcon I am getting together with old friends, better acquainting myself with online ones in person, and meeting more of the names and newcomers to this field.  Dinner at Red Lobster, below was such an occasion, as the table was surrounded by folks in all these categories.  

Bam! The main show opens Thursday night for a couple hours.  You can see most of it in this time, but it takes the rest of the weekend to thoroughly take in everyone's work, talk shop and fully digest it all.

photo by Kiri Ƙstergaard Leonard

Friday night was the showcase.  Having started as a collector/reselling and student show, this aspect of Illuxcon has morphed into basically the main show overflow.  This was my first year bringing significant original painted art.  I packed my best 9 oils from the year (which luckily fit perfectly on my table) and showed what I can do.  The response was spectacularly well received  as everyone mavelled over my smooth, vibrant finish.  (One experienced, 60 year old, main-show artist thought they were airbrush!)  I made a point to specifically ask the artists whom I most respected and whose own work was most relevant to give me critique, and the answers were basically that its already at 100% quality level.  I have a few minor things to keep in mind, but the advice this time was just basically "more".

The showcase could easily stand as a respectable art show by itself!  Illuxcon has some great plans to underscore this for next year and I'm happy they have realized the need to expand opportunities for us, allowing us to showcase our expanding skills.

On Saturday, Jim Pavelec, Todd Lockwood, Aaron Miller, Randy Gallegos and I presented our panel on "Strengthening the Artist's Role in the Industry"  We spelled out the realities of working conditions for young artists and offered advice on how to survive in this tough industry, with anecdotes from our own careers.  In addition we discussed a proposal for fixing these issues that is simple, fair and likely involves the companies who are our partners in this business.  The panel was delivered flawlessly and received enthusiastically.  I recorded the audio of our presentation, which will be available along with details of our possible industry-changing mechanism soon.  Stay tuned.

photo by Jon Schindehette

Immediately after our panel, in the same theater, Petar Meseldzija gave his painting demo.  Petar has a unique style in our field, combining comic-drawing experience and alla-prima action painting for a unique and impressive result.  His final works attain the highest standard in our field.

Here is a random shot of Justin Sweet throwing down without abandon...

Saturday night is the Illuxcon jam, where artists with way too much talent than is fair get on stage to play music.  Also, the award for best work is handed out; this year's winner being Omar Rayyan.  The award "statue" is the f*ucked up head... but you knew that.

 A random shot of Petar photographing Omar for reference for some future project featuring grotesque giants.  Why not??

3 bums...

Illuxcon wrapped up Sunday afternoon with everyone having that last conversation, trading art and boxing up their wares.   Next year the show will be in Allentown and be bigger and fancier.  We have outgrown Altoona, Pennsylvania, and some of its charms may (or may not) be missed, but Pat and Jeannie Wilshire have succeeded in growing the field of painted fantasy illustration, and we all look forward to "better things".

Sunday night at The Outback Steakhouse (again), finds a group of gaming illustrators who haven't left yet due to morning flights.  We said goodbye to our new Croatian friends, Milivoj and Filip, who had their last 3 helpings of cheese fries and American hospitality until next year.

One last shot at the airport:  Todd Lockwood snaps photos of notes from Petar's demo and marvels over the disposable palette which was saved in saran wrap by another artist.  The mutual admiration, learning and camaraderie finally ends.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

New Pathfinder oils and Illuxcon prep.

I just recently finished a big 6 month job for the Pathfinder Roleplaying game; completing 24 illustrations for the current 6-book adventure path "Shattered Star".  I have managed to paint about half of them in oil paints, and its been a challenge to do multiple paintings at a time plus other client work in a one month period!  In past posts, I have shown a few of the oil paintings, and the third book is now out so I can show more.

Here we have an alchemical golem attacking the Pathfinder Alchemist on the edge of a balcony.

Next, Karzoug hands the shard of gluttony over to the Dark Rider:

Drawing mounted on masonite and outlined in acrylic...

Acrylic underpainting...

Establishing the background...

 Working on the characters...

 Final painting...

And a last quick one the Hounds of Tindalos attack the female Barbarian:

In a future post I will show some of the digital paintings I produced for this set of books.  It was a real challenge to illustrate so many multi-figure scenes in paint and on the computer with tight deadlines.  

Over the past year I have done about 1/3 of my work in oils which added up to 17 paintings... now I just have to decide what to bring to Illuxcon next week... volume or quality??  
I've bought some large bubble envelopes from the post office, and the plan is to slip the paintings into padded envelopes and onto the plane, thus avoiding the inevitable lost luggage that always happens in my 3 connection flight to Altoona from Canada.  

Lastly, I recently recorded a new podcast that I'm quite proud of.  Give it a listen!

Monday, October 15, 2012

New card art.

Here are some recent Magic and Warcraft cards...
 I actually did the magic ones about a year ago.  They are redoing the guild signets for the latest card set and I was asked to visualize these crests.  Still feeling like I hadn't established myself with this client solidly, I wanted to make sure the art showcased more than just a simple logo, so I worked some scene elements and figures into them.  The trick was to add stuff but at a small size still have the card read as obviously a logo.  

Another interesting thing was that the original card art for these signets was done by the late, great Tim Hildebrandt, one of my original art heroes, and whose painting of a Snow Giant, bought 10 years ago adorns my studio wall.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Third set of Pathfinder oil paintings

I just got home from a nice and much needed summer vacation on Vancouver Island.  It was great to be in a low key setting and have time to unplug.  While I was gone last week, Gencon was also in full swing. (For those that don't know its the biggest gaming convention and mecca for the stuff I do.)  At Gencon, Paizo released the first book in their new Pathfinder adventure path series, "Shattered Star" for which I have been commissioned to do all the half-page illustrations for the set of 6 books.  Its a big chunk of work that has kept me busy.

I was contacted in April to start this project and completed my third set of oil paintings for book one of this series.  All the commentary in this post was written in April as I worked on these illustrations so I could record my further experiences in doing oil paintings in a diary-like manner... fresh as I had thoughts... 

For this set I made my compositions to fit the frames I had already lying around.  I've been constantly looking for cheap frames and have a fair number stockpiled, so knowing what I had dictated the sizes I painted.  After this set I've now decided this is a bad idea.  For the sake of saving a small amount of money, I painted in formats too different from the final requested size and had to add space digitally before sending.  I need to respect the work more and get them decent frames that do the work justice and not determine my composition.

I'm not entirely happy with the paper-mounting technique I have been using.  It has both advantages and drawbacks.  I end up going over the line drawing with acrylic paint to strengthen it in the underpainting stage, so on relatively simple illustrations, its not going to save me time using the paper mounting technique versus transferring the drawing.   I've also not been able to get a perfectly smooth surface, and I always see priming lines when the painting is glossy and varnished.  I want to try using linen next time.  Below are the mounted drawings ready to paint...

You can see below I have 2 color studies taped above my painting in the (acrylic) underpainting stage.  When I print off the studies, they are always different than what I see on the monitor, so I end up printing a few with different settings and writing notes on them to tell me what areas have the correct colors.  I'll put an "L" for an area I think should be lighter, a check mark for stuff that is correct, etc.  There is no point doing a digital color study and then painting from an incorrect printout.

Again, I was making notes of my thoughts as I painted these in April... here they are....

  • Once I get an assignment that deserves it, try a larger sized painting.
  • Want to try a simple piece and use a more painterly, chunky style.  The sanded-smooth masonite and tiny brushes are great for detail, but maybe not a more gritty, action veneer.
  • Finding oil is too thin and liquid to paint fast with detail, so I always need 2 layers to get full detail.  Think I want to try painting larger, looser and with a monochrome palette as a way of trying to get a more active painting style.
  • Have decided oils (and me?) are maybe too slow for bulk gaming illos done on tight deadlines.  You need 2 layers for full brightness and sharp detail.  Need to think of ways to compose images that make the process faster: more monochrome areas, more alla prima look, etc.
  • Need to spend longer on the drawing to get more chaos/action into the poses.  Need to remember what good gaming illustration has going for it: more of an action feel through the drawing and paint application both!
  • Design much simpler contrasts.
  • Basically, dealing with oil paints is making me think in terms of image efficiency to do oils so fast with the properties of a gaming illo: need to design better.
  • This set didn't go as smoothly as the previous one.  I am atributing this to low physical well-being after the winter season and little activity.  Made a mental note to have a period focusing on fitness and see how it translates into my art-making abilities
  • Want to try the following:  a very referenced and realistic/detailed painting like the MTG (Magic the Gathering) style or quality finish. (would need to be a single figure and simple/designed)  Want to ALSO try the opposite: a very drawn/extreme action/fantasy scene with lots of chaos and cartoony qualities (would need to be very monochrome and loose in areas)  Want to try painting quite big and free (Frazzetta)
  • Going forward, I need to devise methods that are conducive to speed: more monochrome areas, paint larger and looser, etc.  I see why no one really does bulk oil paintings for RPG work.  Way too slow of a medium due to inherent transparency, etc.   Should be interesting to see where this goes.  Starting on #4 tomorrow and I only have 2 days, so I'm going to redo my color study to be more monochromatic for speed.
  • Basically, doing complex, multi-figure paintings in bulk on deadline is insane.  I need to take longer and achieve a finish or compose real simply... limited palette, extreme focus... think about the approach Brom takes with a highly rendered but fairly flat scene.
  • Have learned that oil painted illustration needs to do the things that are its strength and not have the same standards or attempt the same problems that I would tackle in a digital illustration on a deadline.  I have a new perspective now, not just looking at various imagery-painted and digital as imagery but looking at painted illustration as a solution to using this medium for a job on deadline.  I now see better why certain methods like Frazzetta and Brom work well in paint.

Below are the 4 "finished" oils that are photographed, quickly edited in the computer and sent to the client.

I did this one (below) in 2 days because That's all the time I had.  I've figured out that to do fast oils for this stuff, its beneficial to use a limited palette and work somewhat looser, plus have a thorough underpainting in acrylic so you can use just one layer of paint in  oil and have a full value range.

You can see I added a bunch of space to the left of the scene below to fit the requested format.  Again, not a great idea to make your paintings fit into cheap frames.  Still have to add a bunch of debris around the stairs and a second pass of detail overall.  

Already sold the one below for more than the commission fee, thus proving that this is a viable alternative to digital... of course I have to sell ALL of them to make that true!

Lots of detail still to be added to the last one as well... I basically have to take everything to 75%, finish them digitally and then go back later to bring them to completion...  I always make sure to write down on the back of my color study the paint colors I used so I can set my palette up weeks or months later and do the finishing details.

Anyhow... having a blast moving into oils.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Warmaster Blackhorn

Just released today is the new set for the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game.  Behold...Warmaster Blackhorn riding on his big dragon, for a card I illustrated a few months ago.

The Art director on this card was swell enough to give me an important image for this set; mentioning that he didn't see any big dragons in my portfolio and thought I might like one.  I really appreciate such great art direction and care for my career, and this tough industry of fantasy illustration functions best when the clients and artists work symbiotically for mutual long term health.

This particular card presented issues of how to deal with both the large scale difference of characters and the complexity of the rider's armor being readable at a tiny card-size.  To keep the Warmaster the correct proportion to his dragon, I needed to crop the image close enough that we could see some detail on him but also far enough that the dragon was fully described.  It would have been odd to create finished art cropped like the card, so I also chose to zoom out and render the scene more fully for prints and portfolio.

Instead of simplifying the rider I went with fully detailing him as he was the protagonist and I also believed the details would hold up in the printing and be needed for larger uses. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

New magic card... Maalfeld Twins

"Maalfeld Twins"...from the new set "Avacyn Restored" just released.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Second set of painted illustrations

In my last blog post I described the big step I recently took to doing my work in oil paints.  That experience was breaking the ice and jumping in head-first to doing a new mode of work. While I already knew how to technically paint, I was learning the practical aspects of using those skills for jobs on deadline.

My next set of illustrations was 5 more paintings for the new Pathfinder RPG book, "Giants Revisited". Completed in ten days (after finishing the drawings),  I did these ones in the middle of January during a week of -30 cold while I was sick.  Wearing a hat and snow pants in my studio with the portable heater it was still only 12c inside, but other than that everything went smoothly.

Below are my final drawings mounted down on masonite ready to paint.  For speed I just do the drawings on the computer, as I've found the process of oil painting takes about twice as long as digital painting...

Here is the acrylic underpainting and my board surrounded by various references...

Below is the final painting for this one.  I learned that I need to be better at quickly coming up with costuming ideas (the blue giant's costume is quite plain), but damn there are alot of things to do when doing numerous oils on deadline... there's really no time to pause and explore ideas.

Below are the 2 spot illustrations I did for this set.  I learned its not really worth it to do these in oils and I should allocate this time to improving the larger scenes.  I had cleaned these and the dwarf one (below) up on the computer and handed in layered files with transparent backgrounds.

The main thing I did differently in my second set of oils was to use figure reference.  This set of paintings went really easy, and the reference was likely part of the reason.  That being said, its obvious why few others are doing RPG work in oils, especially 5 at a time on deadline.  Its really hard to compete with digital illustration when the process takes twice as long and the digital artist is putting the time into finishing and detail while the painter is sanding masonite and cleaning his palette.

 At this point after my second set of oil illos, I've learned that the time it takes me to finish a painting is pretty consistent: from 2-5 days depending on complexity.  I've tried and learned lots of other lessons since doing these, but that'll have to wait till the next installment when I compare digital painting and mini golf: :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

first 3 paintings in oils... and lessons learned

Last fall, I got the call to do 3 half-page illustrations for the Pathfinder RPG.  Just as I was easing into the days before Illuxcon and trying to finish some ongoing projects, I had to do these images quickly.  When a client calls from a good company I hate to turn them down.  Inspired by Illuxcon, I also wanted to make some oil paintings so I decided to jump head-first into the unknown waters of painting for an illustration job.  I have been putting this off for years, but it finally felt like the right time to try it; the assignment being interiors and not more high profile, like a cover.  Paizo (the publisher of Pathfinder) is also known for being "artist friendly", and I felt more relaxed about experimenting with something new.

From past experience I learned that its better to say yes to a job and then compose the images to be less work by good compositional planning, such as showing the scene close up, or having alot of sky to minimize the work.  Having said that, I forgot these lessons and proceeded to sketch some fully fleshed out scenes with many figures.  I was in a hurry to just get started painting because of the unknown issues I was going to face, and I just did one thumbnail for each picture and went with my first thought.  In hindsight, being slower and more thoughtful at this early stage would have helped. I should have explored and chosen compositions that were far simpler and less literal!  The book was for a Pathfinder adventure called "Distant Worlds" where the characters are exploring different places in the universe...

Example of one thumbnail idea...

I spent about 1.5 days drawing time on each and drew them directly in Photoshop without figure reference.  Getting done the drawings fast allows me the time to hear back from the Art Director for approval and then proceed to the painting process, allowing for surface preparation and drying times. I really had no idea how long the paintings were going to take, so out of fear I just worked to get to the painting stage as fast as possible, not taking reference photos.

I did thorough color studies on the computer, which both gave a solid roadmap to paint from as well as serves as a backup and start for a digital painting in case things go badly in oils or you run out of time.  This is what happened on the third painting, as I only had one day to get it done, so I did the painting afterwards, and submitted a quicker digital version for the job.

One trick I had learned the previous Illuxcon was to take illustration jobs not based on the pay, but on the potential for the subject to make a nice original. (selling the original then becoming the main financial reward) For the third half-pager (ship one), I thought the scene had potential to be more "universal" if the Pathfinder character was replaced.  The pathfinder character, being a middle-eastern costumed adventurer just didn't go with the rest of the space theme and would make an odd painting.  I drew a spaceman holding a balloon in place of the requested character to turn the original into something better for that format.  My intention was to make a painting like the one above, and then digitally alter it to have the requested character before sending to the client.

Lessons learned from first illustrations in oils:
  • Compose paintings that have the right amount of elements and complexity that you'll have time to bring to a finish quality.  Since I'm making an original that has a long lifespan, it needs to have the refinement to stand on its own as a wall-picture worthy of someone's money.  Generally, I need less elements and complexity with a higher polish.  Smarter composing, overall.
  • I realized that if the goal is to make wall-paintings, you need to keep in mind what people will want to buy for purely decorative reasons.  They buyer may not know the characters and franchise of the original assignment, so a composition that reads more universally is probably going to appeal to more people.  While these things are not largely under your control, be mindful of liberties you can take with the art order.  Also, is your color scheme going to go with someone's couch?
  • I need to better adhere to my color studies.  I tended to be undisciplined in sticking with the colors arrived at on the computer study.
  • Bring each area to a finish while painting, as you'll probably not have time to go back and refine.  I learned its better to be disciplined and refine each area while the paint is wet and mixed on your palette.  Some areas (like the large cave walls in the first one) never got the detail they needed.
  • Upon seeing the finals in print, I expected more of a "translation" of the image... meaning I thought it would look different shrunk down.  Basically, you can see all the detail and you'd better paint tight if you are expecting it to look polished in the end, especially next to smooth digital art in the same book.
  • As an original, the viewer is going to look closely at the details over a long period of time; you can't get away with the image getting tighter (through reproducing smaller in print), so there's no fudging hands, faces and important details that you may otherwise be able to get away with on the computer.
  • Take reference photos!  This is the difference between cartoony illustration and a more realistic "sophisticated" look, that probably is even more important for the painting as an object.
  • Take proper photos at the end... know how to color-adjust and hand off a high-fidelity product to the client.  I made some mistakes and had to send the client sub-par photos this first time.  There's alot of steps to get ironed out, and that's why it took me so long to make this leap!
  • Identifying subjects and assignments that can make sellable originals is key to deciding on when to put this effort into a project that could otherwise be done a little faster on the computer.  Do you really need to oil paint that spot illo of a potion flask??
  • Oil paints, being inherently transparent are able to be their most crisp and detailed if multiple sessions/layers are used for an area.  While its best to attempt finishing each area as you go, crisp details will usually require another pass.  Budget your time accordingly.
  • It took me about 1.5-2X the time to do a painting in oils than on the computer.  I would say the majority of that time was just preparation of the surfaces, palette and cleaning up.  The actual painting process was not significantly slower.  Factoring in the cost of supplies, I can accurately say oils is twice the time/money cost than computer illustration for my personal style and speed.  If I can sell my originals for the same price as the original commission, then I end up even.   Obviously this math will vary by artist, size, subject, etc.
  • I'm not sure if my oils have the ability to equal my digital work at this point in terms of sheer fidelity and finish.  I'll have to do some more paintings and take longer on them to better assess if I can fully change my process over to paint for higher profile jobs.
In summary, the lessons I learned from my first fantasy oils:  Two words comes to mind: "Intelligent Crafting".  "intelligent" because you need to pick your subjects and compositions with an eye to the speed of painting on a deadline and sale-ability of the original.  "Crafting", because I found once I was working on a physical painting and not a computer file, I was beholden to the object and its' refinement to stand up to viewing 30 years from now, representing my skill as an artist, and judged as art outside of its illustrative function in print.  This demand by the original "art object" brought the results to be viewed with a higher standard... a good thing if you have the time to give it.