Wylie Beckert


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New Work: Hunt for the Black Lotus Posted on 17 Nov 2013

Illustration by Wylie Beckert: a girl climbs through the card art window of a Magic: the Gathering card into a world populated by mythical creatures.
Here's the latest: my entry for the Inspiration Challenge over at Jon Schindehette's ArtOrder blog. I'd fully intended to finish this out as a traditional painting, but the deadline snuck up on me and so the final piece is, as usual, digital color over a pencil drawing.

I had a pretty simple concept in mind: a character climbing through the illustration window of a Magic: the Gathering card into a world inhabited by [copyright-free genericized reinterpretations of] MTG creatures and objects. Getting this all on paper they way I wanted it to look turned out to be harder than I thought it would be - I wasn't sure exactly what creatures I wanted to include, or how they would be arranged, so my thumbnail process (usually so reliable) resulted in a lot of uninspiring arrangements of nebulous blobs.

I eventually mocked up the scene in Sculpey and cardboard, which served to remind me that sculpture is really, really not my forte - but also gave me a specific spatial configuration to build the scene around. I was finally able to get an awkward sketch and a color rough; some pointers from Levon Jihanian helped me retool the composition into something I was more confident moving forward with.

Something about the composition continued to bother me a little; halfway through the final pencil drawing I decided that the relatively empty upper third of the image was to blame and, for lack of any more suitable inspiration, I added in the zombified tree to fill things out.

I'd been concerned about cluttering up what was, admittedly, already a pretty busy image - after all, someone might say to me "Sure, the octopus, the imp, the angel with TWO swords and the adorable owls are all well and good, but a tree? You've gone too far!" and tear up my illustration permit. But as soon as I added the tree the composition resolved itself into the nice balanced S-shape that I'd been struggling to create with the original elements.

pencil sketch for 'hunt for the black lotus


I'm much happier with the finished piece than I usually am when I wrap up a painting - the color and level of rendering are getting a lot closer to the internal vision I always have of what my work "should" look like. With this piece, I got a chance to absorb some of the art, information, and feedback from my visit to Illuxcon, and I think the end result is better for it.


Painting (Now With Real Paint!) Posted on 26 Oct 2013

oil over watercolor painting study
Digital artists have a hard time of it. We're used to accusations of "digital trickery," and have to answer questions like "isn't it amazing that a computer does this all for you?" To top it all off, traditional artists like to kick sand in our faces at the beach and "accidentally" spill turpentine down our laptops in art class.

I never really learned to paint properly. Most of my "paintings" in art school were Sharpie and paint-pen monstrosities on Masonite, and if I ever picked up a brush seriously while I was there, I certainly haven't done so since. Lately I've been wanting to get back into traditional media for a few reasons:

  • I saw a ton of awesome paintings at Illuxcon. Living in Maine (scenic armpit of the Northeast!), the only art I ever see is online, so the difference between the digital pieces and the traditional pieces that I admire is nonexistent. Seeing paintings in person that I'd only ever seen on a computer screen drove home the difference, though - maybe it's seeing things at their original dimensions, or being able to see the texture of the ground it was painted on and the other physical characteristics that distinguish it from a shiny digital painting.

  • I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of coloring a piece digitally. My favorite part of the process by far is the pencils; the digital coloring stage always feels like a somewhat arbitrary afterthought after all the interesting decision-making that goes into nailing down the drawing. Worse, I haven't been entirely happy with the end result of the process. I've been finding that the most successful digital pieces I've been doing are the ones that simulate a traditional look in some way - flat tones that feel like watercolor, or detailed areas with lots of brushstrokes. In a lot of ways, I think it would be easier to get these effects with actual paint.

  • I'm officially going to be attending the Illustration Master Class next summer! The faculty is packed with some awesome artists who work traditionally or semi-traditionally (I'm in the group focus with Rebecca Guay, Greg Manchess, Scott Fischer, Iain McCaig, and AD Irene Gallo) and with so many experts around to assist, I'd love to at least have the option of traditional media for my IMC project. Since I definitely don't want to try to learn to paint in a single week, far from home and studio, whilst simultaneously trying to come up with the BEST ILLUSTRATION OF MY LIFE, I need to get cracking on this as soon as possible.

This little painting of an octopus headdress is my first semi-successful attempt. It's oil with a watercolor underpainting on gessoed Bristol paper, 5x7". I'd originally started out painting over an original pencil sketch, but botched it badly and had to start over using a dark blurry printout from a cell phone picture I'd snapped early on. Happily, the gesso covered pretty well, hiding the crappy image quality while leaving just enough of the printed lines visible to work from.

The underpainting is watercolor - mostly applied in large solid sections, allowed to dry, and then lifted out of the highlights with a wet brush. Once I had the underpainting the way I wanted it, I gave it a few coats of acrylic spray to seal it.

oil over watercolor painting study

The finished watercolor underpainting.

I didn't have a specific color scheme in mind when I started out, but I took snapshots at regular intervals and did Photoshop mockups to help plan out my next move at each stage.

oil over watercolor painting study

The first pass with oil paint.

Since I was working with a fairly rendered underpainting, most of the oil painting involved glazes to alter and deepen the colors, and detail work in the face (it seems like I can never draw a reasonable looking face in one go). This first pass was done as a single layer of paint, thinned with walnut oil, which I was able to quick-dry in a 200° toaster oven to save me the wait for the final round of glazing. I have yet to ponder the archival implications of this process, since I don't think Girl With an Octopus Hat is going to be remembered as my magnum opus, but in retrospect I should probably at least look into whether or not walnut oil will spontaneously combust under this sort of treatment. I watched it very closely.

oil over watercolor painting study

Finished out with thin glazes to tweak the color.

On the whole, I think it was a worthwhile experiment. Maybe I did more painting in the past than I remember, or maybe there's some carryover from my digital work - but after the initial false start the process was surprisingly predictable and controllable. I can definitely see getting to the point where I can mimic (and improve upon) the look of my digital pieces with a little practice.

And, what good would the marvels of the internet do us without an animated gif to document the process:

 oil over watercolor painting process animation

Hours of painstaking labor cavalierly reduced to a few seconds.


New Work: Annick Press Posted on 16 Oct 2013

 illustration by Wylie Beckert - a book cover for Shifting Sands from Annick Press.
I'm not, in fact, dead (although I can see where the absolute silence of my blog - punctuated only by the ominous buzzing of flies and the screams of scavenger birds - might give a different impression). I've been working! On multiple projects at the same time! A number of the illustrations I've been working on will be under the cloak of secrecy that is NDA for a few months/years, but happily I can share at least one of them - a YA book cover (above) for Canadian publisher Annick Press.

 sketch by Wylie Beckert - a book cover for Shifting Sands from Annick Press.

My initial thumbnail concepts.

The book is called Shifting Sands - a trio of historical fictions set in the eras of Muhammed, Moses, and Christ. Annick Press had a pretty good idea of what they were looking for: they wanted a dramatic cover showing two children hiding from a Roman army on the move; a similar color scheme to my recent Full Blooded illustration; and it needed to be done yesterday (or thereabouts). The subject matter was a bit of a change from my usual (note that the old-timey pieces in my portfolio cleverly sidestep the issue of real-world historical accuracy of any kind via the inclusion of ghosts, wizards, and giant snails) but with a combo of reference materials and Annick's willingness to indulge some artistic liberties, we arrived at a sketch whose balance of aesthetics plausible deniability suited all parties involved.

 sketch by Wylie Beckert - a book cover for Shifting Sands from Annick Press.
To my absolute delight, this project forged ahead with virtually! no! revisions! (can you tell how exciting that is for me?) and, good news upon good news, Annick was pleased enough with the final cover that they decided to bring me on again for some additional illustrations for the same book - which is what I'm working on currently, which is why, although I'm not dead, things will continue to be pretty quiet around here.


Illustrious Interview Posted on 18 Sep 2013

No pictures today - I'm still adjusting to my everyday life after an awesome weekend at Illuxcon, which I'll dedicate a blog post to in the near future. Until then, an informal but heartfelt thank you to all the artists, art directors, and friends who went out of their way to make the convention such a great experience to me.

I've been inundated with new and exciting projects this week, so blog posts will be sporadic and/or completely nonexistent. Rest assured, I am holed up in my studio producing new art for the future edification of my loyal followers. To tide you over until I surface, here's an interview about my art courtesy of writer/editor Alex Hurst's "Illustrious" interview series. She had some great questions that 1) Made it clear that she knows more about my work than I do, and 2) Gave me the opportunity to try to think intelligently about the nature of my own work for a change.

Check it out here.


Illuxcon Posted on 11 Sep 2013

digital illustration by Wylie Beckert - dark and light priestesses wield a bird and a bat, respectively.
Here's the latest work - dark and light priestesses of the Order of the Inexplicable Headwrap, maintaining an uneasy balance. I'm slated for a couple of portfolio reviews this weekend, and this piece was created in hopes of filling the card-art-shaped hole in my portfolio.

Said portfolio reviews will be part of my trip to Illuxcon in Allentown, PA. I hadn't originally planned on attending, since my understanding is that the convention experience generally includes the three things I fear above all else (people, social interaction with people, and the light of day) but Marc and Lauren talked me into it and, admittedly, they always seem to know what they're talking about, so my bags are packed and I'm actually looking forward to it.

For anyone else who's attending, I'll be wandering the area Thursday through Sunday so feel free to flag me down and say hi. Better yet, if anyone waited until the last minute to make their reservations and ended up staying at the scenic Econo Lodge/Rodeway Inn (like me!) and wants to commiserate and/or share cab rides to the convention, shoot me an email.


<< Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Next >>


New Work: Hunt for the Black Lotus

17 Nov 2013
Painting (Now With Real Paint!)

26 Oct 2013
New Work: Annick Press

16 Oct 2013
Illustrious Interview

18 Sep 2013

11 Sep 2013
New Work: Sword and Sorcery

01 Sep 2013
Tutorial: Powdered Graphite

14 Aug 2013
SmArt School Project 2: Gaslight Dogs

06 Aug 2013
SmArt School Project 1: Full Blooded

30 Jul 2013
Art Director Challenge/Short Fiction

28 Jun 2013