Thursday, September 29, 2011

PreRelease leftovers

Here are some leftover artist proof sketches from the Innistrad prerelease. Many thanks goes to the Mana Core for hosting the event and the players for stopping by my table. They were giving away my promo card for entering the event, and I was a little surprised how few people wanted a free signature on their card! So ultimately, I had some time to sketch.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

...And the rest of Innistrad

Here are my final three cards in the Innistrad set. I don't have too many things to say about these particular pieces and I don't have the full-size art yet. But while I wait for the originals to come back from Wizards, I'll share some thoughts.
Unruly Mob was my final Zorn palette (cadmium red, yellow ochre, black, white) Magic card. You can't really see him too well, but the guy with the axe is one of my favorite human characters that I have painted for Magic. I don't even know why. I just think he's cool.

In Innistrad, for every standard piece commissioned to me, there were one or two pieces where the character was breaking into or out of something. Breaking out of a window, breaking into a cottage, or in the case of Claustrophobia, out of a coffin.

I painted this one upside-down for most of the process. I was trying to figure out why it didn't look right and finally realized that I had painted his cuffs falling toward the lid of the coffin. I repainted that area to fix gravity.

For Unburial Rites, the "breaking out" theme continues with a corpse trying to break out of a crypt. There was a time last year when I wished my characters could just stay where they were.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mythic Rare

The world of Magic: The Gathering can be a random place. Artists generally have no clue whether their art will be used on a very powerful card or a relatively weak one. Army of the Damned is the first mythic rare card I have illustrated, meaning it's the most rare and generally the most powerful kind of card. A total surprise to me.

The assignment was to illustrate the inside wall of a cottage barricaded against a horde of zombies. The importance of the card clearly had to do with the many, many zombies, but the hardest part for me was to make a cottage wall compelling. Architecture, even a rundown cottage, is difficult for me to paint. Add in tons of arms and hands and the assignment becomes a big undertaking.

I don't have a larger image of the painting because I mailed it in before I could photograph it. Honestly though, I enjoy the art more on the card than I did in person.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mayor/Alpha sketches

Below are the sketches I submitted for Mayor of Avabruck and Howlpack Alpha. You can see that in the sketches for the mayor, I was going for a more peaceful, relaxed, intimate scene. The assignment required that I include the mayor studying a map in front of a big window (or with the window somewhere in the room behind him). The trick would be to get the lighting right. I had a general idea, but I ended up taking very, very complete photo reference.
The success of the piece hinged on the detail and subtlety of the lighting, something that in hindsight I could have done better. At the time, I was also still trying out the Zorn palette (cadmium red, yellow ochre, black and white), which didn't make the job any easier. However, I did have fun designing the mayor. To this day I still dig his outfit, regardless of what others think. I think its Gothic-derivative, but not colonial. Plus, he has a cool collar to ward off vampires (even though he should have been worried about werewolves, apparently).

I did a ton of thumbnails for Howlpack Alpha, but only came up with one idea that seemed to work for me. The werewolf needed to be jumping through the window, glass shattering around him and if possible, to include a full moon. This is the only way I figured out how to do that:
The sketches were approved, but the art director told me to keep the anatomy of the werewolf in line with the other werewolves of the Innistrad world. I reworked the sketch and submitted this:
This was approved but the art director requested that I make his fur mottled. This is very, very hard to do with paints. Mottled fur is meant to hide a creature's form in the wild; just like camouflage. The painter's motive, however, is to create form. So not only do you have to figure out where the light and shadow are falling, but you also have to change that pattern if you are painting a spot of dark fur. It's hard to see on the final but I was happy with what I achieved.

Now, the broken window. The trick with glass is that it's transparent from certain angles and translucent or opaque from others. Since the light is coming from below, any edge of glass that points in that direction would produce a highlight. But if the face of the glass is pointed at the viewer, you can see through it. What if the face of glass points toward the light? How does the moon affect the glass? For each shard of glass, I had to answer those questions.

Again, the lighting effects could have been more subtle and the whole piece could have been moodier. However, I'm really happy with the broken glass. It took a lot of planning and was an absolute pain in the rear, but if I ever have to do broken glass again ( please God, no), I will be referring back to Howlpack Alpha.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Innistrad Prerelease

It's that time of the year again: the new expansion set of Magic: The Gathering is coming out. Called Innistrad, it's the game's take on Gothic horror. The Mana Core will be hosting a Prerelease event in Providence, RI, and I will be there signing cards.

Coincidentally, I illustrated the promo card that will be given out at the event. It's a double-sided card in which the Mayor of Avabruck (below) turns into Howlpack Alpha (bottom). This is breaking the mold in the world of Magic, so it will be interesting to see how players deal with the new cards.

There are many things I did right with these illustrations. But, as always, there are things that I definitely could have improved upon. Maybe I'll cover those things in a future art-related post.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Homer usually lives with my fiancee, but because her apartment is on the first floor and might flood during Hurricane Irene, he's staying with me for the remainder of the weekend. Needless to say, I'm not getting a whole lot of painting done. I'm trying to make sure he can't get into anything he shouldn't. Plus, he's miserable, so I'm trying not to ignore him completely.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tools of the trade: Mirrors

Almost all artists occasionally back up from their work to look at the piece from a distance. You can more easily see the painting as a whole, making judgments on value, composition and the overall success of the piece. I use this technique frequently.

But anyone who has seen me work knows I also use mirrors. Instead of backing up from the piece all the time, I use a hand mirror to view the work at double-arm distance. In addition, the mirror also flips the piece, making any mistakes instantly visible. You can see if the composition is falling off one corner, if a piece of architecture is asymmetrical, or if the impact of the color needs fixing.

Usually, I have been looking at the painting for a long time, so to see its flipped version makes my mistakes immediately clear. Since I work alone, it's the only way I have found to get fresh eyes on the piece without consulting other artists.

For example, here's my 2008 painting, Red.

Everything looks normal. But view it flipped:

Pretty different, but everything looks correct, including her face and anatomy. After a few moments, this flipped image starts to feel normal. If that happens, I know that I'm on the right track.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Almost that time ...

Spectrum 18 is just a few months from publication, so over at their website they are offering a preview of some of the pages.

You'll notice one of my pieces is in good company. It's nestled comfortably below Bob Eggleton and to the right of Petar Meseldzija; surrounded by legends.

And its almost time to start thinking about Spectrum 19 entries already!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Keeping the ball rolling ...

To keep the momentum building on my blog, I thought I'd share some old news that I neglected to mention weeks ago. My friend John Tomac, illustrator, designer and former high school and college teammate, had an illustration printed in the July issue of Runner's World magazine. RW Art Director Kory Kennedy (formerly of Rolling Stone) works with some pretty big names in the industry, so getting into Runner's World is a huge deal.

But not only did John get an illustration in the magazine, it was a full-page piece (a page ahead of Lance Armstrong's article ... fitting), narrating his own story of running and survival. Please click on the image to read the entire thing:

There is also a short video online featuring John's process.

And if you are inspired to do so, please donate to his cause.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Return to Blogging: Of Limited Loyalty

This is obviously my first blog post in quite a long time. Over the past couple of months, I felt uninspired about the state of my own work. It did not affect the quality of the work I was creating (recent work has been pretty good, actually), but I certainly did not feel like blogging. It's very hard to fake enthusiasm, so I decided to spare the Internet community my thoughts until I had something meaningful to say. So here it is: my return to blogging.

Back in February, I was assigned the sequel to At the Queen's Command, by Michael Stackpole. The aesthetic of the sequel was similar to the first; I needed to imitate the style of 18th century painting but depict an 18th century in which dragons, zombies, and a mysterious race of underground-dwellers shared the earth with humans. And while At the Queen's Command asked for a specific painting to mimic, Of Limited Loyalty was a little more open-ended.

The short story is that I went with these two John Trumbull paintings:

The top painting would serve as the model for the composition and the bottom would provide color inspiration. I took that basic outline and began planning where the major characters in the book would go. The dragon (or wurm, technically) in At the Queen's Command had been transformed into a larger monster with wings and Gila Monster coloring. Also important were the grey-skinned, magical humanoids that were to be shown in conflict with the humans. I tied these creatures together, and replaced the figures in the Trumbull painting with the book's characters. The sketch I submitted was approved on the first round and I was ready to go to final.

I prepped the 20x30 canvas and used a projector to transfer the sketch to the final size. Here, I'm tracing the projected sketch onto the final surface.

But I had much more drawing to do. The traced outline was only a compositional guide. I still needed to refine the drawing much more. Below, you can see the final drawing taking form over the loose outline. The biggest problem was the character in the fur cap. He went through many revisions until he didn't look like he was shooting the main figure in the back.

The following animation shows my progress after each work day. Fifteen stages over fifteen days … just in time for the deadline.

I painted a loose color study before working, so I knew the hue and values I wanted over the entire painting. As a result, I could work on small areas of the canvas and be fairly certain the whole thing would tie together. I could paint a small amount of background color around each character and then work on the figure, so that I could get the edge quality I needed right away; I wouldn't have to go in later and try to blend all the edges to various degrees.

So anyhow, here's the smallish version of the whole illustration (click for a bigger view).

And some details:

And the final cover from Night Shade Books:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Spectrum 18 entries

These are the two pieces that got into Spectrum 18. At the Queen's Command got into the Book category and The Victor in the Uncommissioned category. I submitted five pieces and I figured these were the ones that had the best chance to get through the judging.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Switching gears

A couple new jobs came in, so I decided to put off the photo reference session mentioned below to another day. As is so often the case, I now need to switch gears and go back to sketching. As I have things to post, I will post them.

I the meantime, check out my dad's new office; the only collection of my work on permanent display ...

Friday, April 15, 2011

The process continues ...

Today, I continue preparing the canvas. Usually, I use Yes brand canvas, which is halfway between canvas and paper. It provides a fine grain texture that is easily adjusted for your specific use. I'll usually go over the surface a few times with gesso. I'll usually leave brushstrokes going in a horizontal direction or get more creative, letting the brushstrokes follow the action.

Once there are enough layers of gesso, I'll sand the dried surface gently to smooth out the sharp bumps and brushstrokes. After sweeping away the gesso dust, I will usually prop the canvas against the wall and coat the entire thing with a layer of water, starting at the bottom and moving up.

Pictured above is my color study. We have a defeated knight, surrendering to a dark queen and her minions. Or, perhaps he is willingly joining forces with her. The story doesn't matter to me as long as there is a story. Being ambiguous is good; it allows viewers to interpret their own adventure.

As for the palette, I have a small variation on a combination I discussed earlier: Ultramarine Blue, Transparent Red Oxide, Yellow Ochre, and Winsor Red.

Tomorrow, I will try to shoot photo reference.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easter Island

I might get a chance to do a personal project in the coming weeks ... or possibly, get started on one. I'm hoping to make it big (30x40) and supplement it with some fairly involved photo reference. So while I collect props and costumes (and models), I got a jump on things and sculpted some trolls. The mini monoliths are now watching over my drawing table.

The rest of the project is still in the thumbnail stage ...

Friday, April 8, 2011

I (sort of) won an award (I think)

I just found out that the cover for Hawk of May won a PubWest 2011 Silver Award in the Jacket/Cover Design - Small Format category. When I first heard the news, I'll admit, I had to look up what it meant.

PubWest is Publishers Association of the West, a trade organization. This is the 27th year of their Design Awards. Jacket/Cover Design - Small Format category means "Books of any genre/category with strong shelf appeal and use of design, photography, artwork, and/or typography to enhance the subject matter."

Designer Pete Garceau deservers much of the accolades, but as the illustrator, I'm taking pride in it, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spectrum 18

I got into Spectrum 18! This time last year was my first entry into the annual publication, and I'm proud to repeat. I don't have any clue whether I got multiple pieces in, but to make the list at all is still a thrill.

The list of accepted artists is here.

Or here, taken from the Muddy Colors blog:

Monday, March 28, 2011


I heard about artist Mark Hogancamp on This American Life, and found his work fascinating. However, I struggled with how to describe it in my own words, so I will quote from the website:

"After being beaten into a brain-damaging coma by five men outside a bar, Mark builds a 1/6th scale World War II-era town in his backyard. Mark populates the town he dubs "Marwencol" with dolls representing his friends and family and creates life-like photographs detailing the town's many relationships and dramas. Playing in the town and photographing the action helps Mark to recover his hand-eye coordination and deal with the psychic wounds of the attack."

Hogancamp is certainly an unlikely artist. His work was therapy until it was discovered by outside sources who saw it's emotional and visual power. The documentary "Marwencol," coming out on April 12th, follows the artist's story.

What I find so engaging about Mark's work is the storytelling. I struggle with trying to come up with ways to tell a story in a single two dimensional plane, but Mark seems to be a natural. His world is real and surreal at the same moment, evoking the feelings young children have when playing with toys. We recognize the doll-ness of the scene, but can't help but get carried away with the emotional punch of his compositions (Thank you Art Appreciation 101).

But seriously, check it out for yourself.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gathering Inspiration

Movies are a great source of inspiration. The good ones, at least.

The really well-made movies have a great sense of color and composition. Period pieces offer terrific historical information as well. I try to capture all that information. Using the VLC player, I can pause DVDs at any time and take a snapshot of the screen. These snapshots are quickly becoming an important part of my reference file.

The snapshot above is from Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Not only is the composition interesting, but the hue and lighting are great. For a future piece, I may be inspired by this image and use it to spot test color and value.

And if you use the mosaic filter on Photoshop to simplify the color, you have the basis for a pretty decent palette. Bonus!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New High-Res Scans

Check out the new photos of my work from Boston Photo Imaging (click through for an even better look):

I highly recommend Boston Photo Imaging for all the Boston-area artists out there.

An update on my palette

Reading James Gurney's Color and Light has given me a lot to think about in terms of my palette. Most of my choices in the past have been gut reactions to the given assignment. To a certain extent, that's still the way I approach it. Still, I'm trying to use a more academic approach.

One example is that I have started to use color wheels. For the past few assignments, if I try a new palette, I record it. The upper left is the "Zorn Palette"- black, cadmium red medium and yellow ochre. I became fascinated with this combination and using it, I painted "The Victor," or "the painting with the girl pirate," whichever you prefer.

Obviously, that had limitations, especially in the blue spectrum. For a recent Magic card I needed more intense colors. The upper right wheel was what I settled on. Ultramarine Blue was the main color, and that was complemented by Ultramarine Pink and Naples Yellow, two colors that would not dull the blue or pull the painting out of the blue family. In addition, I believe I used ivory black to darken the ultramarine blue and Indian yellow to provide a transparent substitute for the Naples Yellow. (I used both yellows in very, very small amounts; in fact, I may have discarded Naples altogether).

The most recent color wheel represents my most recent pieces. The bottom left has great potential:

Ultramarine Blue Deep
Transparent Red Oxide
Yellow Ochre
with the addition or subtraction of
Naples Yellow
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Red
Venetian Red
Ivory Black

By using UBD, TRO and YO as the base wheel, I can achieve a dark color similar to black by mixing UBD and TRO and a warm light by mixing TRO and YO. The addition of the high and low chroma reds and yellows can round out the piece where needed, but I don't think I would ever use all of them on the same piece.

This is still a work in process, but I think I am on the right track. I think my next Magic card involves some green, so I will have to experiment with new color wheels. Maybe I'll add Viridian to the mix? Or perhaps I'll try different Blue-Yellow mixes?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I just finished a fifteen day stretch of some of the most intensive painting I have ever done. Six main figures, plus various creatures and around 20 minor figures, all for the sequel to At the Queen's Command. Beyond that, I shouldn't comment, although the title and the synopsis have been online for a while. Now, I am traveling back to Connecticut to get the piece scanned for submission. I hope it reproduces well, because I like it better than the illustration for the first book:

So while that doesn't excuse the absence, it does explain it. But don't worry, I took photos of the process which I will post here when the image is officially published.

In the meantime, I noticed this photo online. Before I saw this, I did not know that the Oval Office had a Norman Rockwell hanging in it. Apparently, right above the Frederic Remington sculpture, The Bronco Buster, hangs Rockwell's Working on the Statue of Liberty.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Illustrators are talented people

On Sunday night, illustrator Shaun Tan won an Oscar for best animated short film. If you're an illustrator, you have probably already heard the news, but for those who haven't ... The film is an animated version of his picture book, The Lost Thing. Watching it feels like you are entering Tan's sketchbook. The aesthetic, the mood and the pacing all have the Shaun Tan treatment.

I am trying to comprehend how I would animate my own work, and I can't come up with a good way to do that. Taking two-dimensional images and turning them into three-dimensional, moving ideas is quite a feat. Maybe it means that my work is not meant to be animated, or maybe it means that Tan is just way, way more talented than I am.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More art! More sales!

Dungeons and Dragons released Fortune Cards recently. I suppose they are cards that somehow determine your fortune within an adventure. I'm not really sure. All I know is that last August I did 5 small, quick illustrations for the product. The original illustrations are on 8x10 canvas.

More than anything, I enjoy painting character portraits. The human body is a lot of fun to paint, and faces are even more fun. You can infuse so much personality into a piece just by adjusting the small details.

What also makes character portraits interesting is opportunity to inject the painting with the personality of the model. In the portrait of the Norse hunter girl above, I used my girlfriend Shelly as the model for the face. Shelly is certainly not Scandinavian. She doesn't have pale skin, or blond hair, or blue eyes. So she finds this painting really funny.

On a related note, I'm selling a booster box set of Fortune cards on eBay. This is only a 7-day auction , so get bidding!