New Work: Easley's Gryphon
Posted on 09 Feb 2014
Here's a quick painting I did for the ArtOrder's Jeff Easley challenge (which you can read about here.)
This piece almost didn't happen - I bookmarked the Jeff Easley challenge when it first came out, and then promptly forgot about it until three days before the deadline, at which point all seemed to be lost - I'm not a particularly fast worker when it comes to personal projects, and I didn't even have a plan in mind. Nonetheless, I absentmindedly clicked over to Jeff's portfolio to take one last shot at getting inspired before admitting defeat. One of his paintings - a girl with a spiderweb tiara in her rockin 80's hair, riding a golden gryphon - caught my eye instantly:
Without much time to spare, I skipped my usual tedious thumbnail stage and just started sketching on a sheet of gessoed paper. I knew that I wanted to show the character sitting with the wings of the gryphon enfolding her, and the narrative (an artist cutting a gryphon-quill pen!) developed on the fly. Once I had something I liked, I sealed the sketch with Workable Fixatif and applied a second layer of gesso (which knocks back the contrast, but leaves a faintly visible drawing to guide the painting). I first came across this trick on Kim Kincaid's blog, and I absolutely love it - it helps the energy of the sketch carry over to the finished piece and, if you want to preserve the original sketch, it works equally well over a digital print.
Since oil paint dries quickly for no man, I stuck to a monochromatic underpainting, which I then photographed and colored digitally. I'm surprisingly happy with how this piece turned out given the limited time I allowed myself - and it was refreshing to work on a project that was begun and finished in the same two-day span. Using an oil underpainting as the base for digital color turned out to be SO MUCH FASTER than my usual pencil methods. The effort saved by painting directly on top of the sloppy initial sketch (rather than painstakingly tracing and re-rendering it into a tight pencil drawing) makes me want to seriously reconsider my working process.
In other oil painting news, I just finished the larger piece I posted a snapshot of in my 2013 wrap-up; I'll be posting that one as soon as I can get a decent photo of it.
For now, check out a full view of this one in the gallery.
Month of Love - #nofilter valentine
Posted on 07 Feb 2014
Here's my first illustration for the Month of Love blog. This week's theme is "#nofilter valentine" - and what could be less filtered than shared life in the domestic sphere?
This was also an experiment with acrylic inks - which I'd picked up a set of recently, but hadn't yet had a chance to try out. I worked on top of the pencil/white charcoal sketch above, and added some final details over the ink with white charcoal and colored pencil.
Check out the full view over at the gallery. Head over to Month of Love to check out other illustrator's takes on the same theme - there are some really cool pieces getting posted.
New Work: ImagineFX
Posted on 04 Feb 2014
How psyched am I to have my art on the cover of this month's ImagineFX magazine? Unfortunately I'm still too tired from painting all those fish spirits to write anything witty and/or insightful about this piece - suffice to say that the IFX team was a joy to work with and provided me with one of the most fun illustration briefs ever.
We explored a number of different options, both ocean- and forest-themed, and eventually settled on an ocean setting, with a summoner of ghostly fishes for our protagonist. This was one of those projects where I was a little sad I didn't get to illustrate ALL the thumbnails - I think I'll definitely be revisiting some of these ideas for future paintings.
In addition to creating the cover image, IFX also commissioned me to document the process for an illustration workshop in the same issue. Check it out (Issue #106, March 2013) for a rough play-by-play of my process, along with a video of the digital painting unfolding.
A full view of this piece can, as always, be viewed over in my gallery.
Month of Love
Posted on 29 Jan 2014
I'm a huge fan of Month of Love and Month of Fear - two Valentine/Halloween-based collective blog efforts masterminded by artist Kristina Carroll. So imagine my delight when I got an email from Kristina inviting me to participate in this February's Month of Love challenges. (My delighted face is pretty much the same as my neutral and annoyed faces, but you should try to imagine it all the same.)
I'm thrilled to be onboard this time around - four weeks, four illustration challenges, and the cozy companionship of, like, a zillion [Editor's note: approximately forty] other artists who will be cranking out weekly illustrations on various romantic themes.
Swing by the Month of Love blog for a rundown of this year's participating artists - it really is an awesome lineup and I can't wait to see what everyone comes up with. Posting starts in earnest February 3rd; my own contributions will (hopefully) be appearing every Friday thereafter. So as not to ruin the surprise, here's a sufficiently small teaser of the piece I'm working on for the first challenge ("#nofilter valentine") - also a test run of my new acrylic inks.
**If you're wondering why all of my progress pictures seem to be photographed in a bomb shelter by the light of a single guttering candle, it's because that's a pretty good approximation of my workspace after dark, and in the Maine wintertime "dark" begins at about 3:30 PM (and in that darkness the White Walkers come, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders, etc etc... so I stay indoors where it's safe, and paint).
One day I will seek out adequate lighting.
A Fashionably Late Wrap-Up of 2013
Posted on 13 Jan 2014
An underpainting in progress, and something on the agenda for 2014: more oil painting!
Greetings and happy 2014 to everyone! Yes, it's traditional to publish one's yearly wrap-up on or around the new year. But given what a long and busy year it's been for me, is it any wonder that it took me two weeks to summarize it neatly?WHAT I DID IN 2013:
WHAT I NEED TO DO IN 2014:
- I stopped working for pennies. This wasn't an easy thing to do - not the least because earlier this year, my work really wasn't good enough to command industry rates. But after running myself ragged doing tons of low-paying jobs in 2012, I came to realize how precious my time and energy was. In 2013, I took a total pass on all those couple-hundred-dollar jobs that a new illustrator gets barraged with, and used my sudden influx of free time to actively work on improving my art - and the huge leap in quality my work has taken has absolutely justified the smaller number of jobs I've taken.
It's definitely not a stand anyone in any position could take. The first freelance job I took this year wasn't until May. The second freelance job I took? OCTOBER. It made for a pretty dismal year financially, but for those of you who might be concerned for my wellbeing (at least one, since I know my Mom reads my blog), I didn't starve. Living costs in Maine are outrageously low, and the art contests I won and prints I sold - combined with the ruggedly ascetic lifestyle I like to lead - kept me going. And, on a brighter note, the work started coming in steadily toward the end of the year - in the last few months, I've been lucky enough to take on a number of commissions back-to-back that fit really well with my art and my career goals.
I did break my own rule twice, by taking on a pair of lower-paying commissions for a company I really wanted to work with - and while I'm thrilled that I got to work with two of the industry's nicest art directors, the hours I poured into those projects reminded me just how much each piece I make costs me emotionally, physically, and in time diverted from my personal work - a lesson I'll be keeping in mind in 2014.
- I started taking illustration seriously. It's hard to look at your own work objectively - and it took until late 2012/early 2013 for me to really accept that my art wasn't such hot shit after all, buckle down, and start actually improving it. I started following the crits and paintovers of the late, great Awesome Horse Studios; I started sketching more and trying out new media; I stopped accepting my art for what it was and began thinking of it in terms of what I wanted it to be.
I think the turning point for me was clicking the "Purchase" button for a SmArt School course with Marc Scheff and Lauren Panepinto - at around $1000 this was the largest individual purchase I'd made towards my art, and I remember that making that payment felt like putting a down payment on a career. It was my way of saying to myself "Quit screwing around. If this is what you're going to do with your life, you need to go all in." Lucky for me, the course had more than just symbolic value - it served as a crash course for working with bigger clients in the industry, and encouraged me to start thinking seriously about what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go with my art.
- I learned to draw faces! In recent years it's become more and more apparent that I have some sort of mild face blindness going on (acquaintances are recognizable only by their distinctive facial hair and/or modes of dress) - which I think must have something to do with why drawing faces has always been such a struggle. It can take me hours to get a face the way I want it - I've erased holes in my paper trying to produce a face that looks even vaguely human more times than I care to recall.
I spent 2013 drilling relentlessly, drawing from photos and planar models and skulls, and doing those subdivided-egg-on-a-stick constructions that are the staple of every entry-level art class. Nothing seemed to be taking... until a month or so ago, when I must have crossed some sort of invisible labor threshold, because all of a sudden my faces look like faces on the first (or, worst case, third) try.
- I went to Illuxcon. I'd long been resistant to the idea of going to illustration conventions - every time I heard a professional cite conventions as one of the absolute musts of the business, I cringed and hoped fervently that this advice didn't apply to my own career. But a few weeks before Illuxcon 6, at Marc and Lauren's urging, I found myself making travel plans for Allentown.
It wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be. Living in the middle of nowhere as I do can be extremely isolating; getting to cross paths with other illustrators who I'd halfway-met online, strike up new connections, and find new artists to keep an eye on for inspiration was an unexpectedly awesome experience that gave me some much-needed creative fuel for my own work. I was lucky enough to get portfolio reviews from Fantasy Flight's Zoe Robinson and then-WOTC's Jon Schindehette - both of them had a lot of positive and encouraging things to say, as well as helpful crits on aspects of my work that I'd sensed were lacking, but couldn't quite pinpoint the problems with myself. Floodgates opened and trepidations somewhat allayed, I've booked showcase tables for 2014 at both Illuxcon 7 (Allentown PA, September) and Spectrum Live (Kansas City MO, May).
- I (almost) got to work for Wizards of the Coast. While it didn't end up panning out into a commission, I was on the initial list of artists for a project - this was huge for me, as Wizards is one of the major players in the industry that just about every aspiring F/SF illustrator wants to work for. That my work has gotten to a level where it can be seriously considered by major clients was a huge milestone for me - and of course, there's always the hope that I'll be able to pull in another commission with them in 2014.
- Start marketing my improved work. I hate being exposed to advertising of any kind: tv commercials, spam, logos on t-shirts - all the stuff that exists to annoy people into thinking they need more stuff than they already have - so it's hard to feel like I'm becoming a part of that obnoxious static in the form of one more unsolicited email in an art director's inbox.
But, even I have to admit that advertising can serve a higher purpose - alerting someone to the existence of something that they genuinely need. I'm hoping that as my art continues to improve, it will become something that an AD will be excited to get an email or a postcard about - and I'll feel like less of an unwelcome nuisance when I market my work.
- More drawing. I've been seeing exponential results from every bit of practice I managed to squeeze into 2013. Now that my most vexatious hobgoblin (drawing faces!) is mostly under control, I need to start expanding my visual vocabulary even further. The great thing about learning to draw something properly is that once you do it, that knowledge will be with you permanently, and will have an effect on the quality of your work forever after.
I want to take some time in 2014 to figure out what specific subject matter I want to appear in my work, and hone my talents accordingly. Also on the list: oil painting. I'm currently in the middle of my first full oil painting since UCSB class of '08 (home of the Fightin' Underachievers!) and am really loving how much faster and easier it's going (seriously!) than my digital work.
- Turn over my portfolio. A few months ago, I finally had enough new and better work to drop the last of my outdated 2012 pieces from my portfolio. I'd love to keep this yearly turnover rate going - my work is constantly improving, and constantly updating the body of work I show online is a natural extension of this.
So, that about wraps up my wrap-up for the year. May 2014 be equally productive, more profitable - and end with a timelier blog summary than 2013 did - for all of you.