Colossal Dreadmaw

Oct. 21st, 2017 12:00 pm
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Posted by Ejsing

By Jesper Ejsing

The latest set of Magic the gathering is out and it contains one of my favorite illustrations.
I was asked to do a huge T-Rex looking at a juicy pirate ship sailing on a jungle river. The Set is called Ixalan and is a world of colorful feathered dinosaurs vampires and pirates. 
I tried different versions of this illustration and ended up submitting 4 different compositions or thumb sketches if you´d like. They are very different.
1 is an establishing shot. The Dino and the ship have no interaction and everything seems to be taking place off to the right side. I was too carried away with doing a different take on a T-Rex so it ended up not looking like a T-Rex. 
2 I kind of like. It is a low angle perspective as if seen from the ship. I choose this angle to avoid having to portrait the whole ship and its crew looking up at the Dino because I needed him to be the main character. I really like it a lot because it has a feeling of being a snapshot taken right before the Dino snaps it jaws on the ship. A very impactful angle and a cool action piece. Only thing that bothered me a bit was that the ship only was a pair of sails on a mast and we did not see any water or river or anything and it was hard to se the size of the T-Rex because of the angle and not enough to measure him against. 
3 that’s why I tried a third version where the Dino was charging in from the side. I ended up disliking it. The ship seemed like a toy ship in a pond and the high angle made it look like a comic book panel rather than a cool illustration. Everything is too evenly placed around in the image making it boring. Aaaaand the Dino looks fat. 
4  The forth version was a different take. I always try to add some personality and character to the monsters I paint, and with this sketch I cleaned the table and started all over. My thoughts went to what went wrong in the last ones. I knew I wanted to center the important elements. I choose a low angle to avoid the feeling of a too well placed establishing shot. Also I needed a shot a bit more from away  to be able to have both the river, ship and T-Rex in the lense. What I really like about this composition is the overlapping ship in front of the T-Rex. I added tall sides of jungle cliff sides to frame the action. I like to use this effect to avoid the attention to drift around in the image. Also it makes it possible for me to create a strong triangle composition with the water surface as the bottom part or the triangle. One more thing that really appealed to me about this sketch was that the main figure was a light figure on a dark background. This is something I rarely chose for card illustration because it is harder to read in card size. I usually go for a strong dark silhouette to make sure you can see what is going on. 
I clearly asked for permission to paint the forth one and my art director agreed. So I went on to next stage and sketched the real drawing up on a watercolor board. When I started sketching I noticed the close interaction from the T-Rex and the ship and thought it would be even better if I added a lookout in the topmasts. It is always better to have a person in danger than an inanimate ship. Someone we as a spectator can read ourselves into. Also to enhance this I tried to make the Dino face more smiling and looking cruel at the same time. The way the head tilts comes from inspiration from birds like parrots. The eyes are placed to the side of the head so the need to turn the head sideways to look at a thing closely. That was the gesture I was going for. 

When I started greytoning the picture I slowly strayed away from the light Dino in a dark background. It turned out that I had a lot of different planes in the picture that needed to be clear from each other. I think of them as set pieces in a theater. The framing Cliffside are one plane, next is the ship. Behind the ship is a plane with the T-Rex and then the background. I needed the background to be light so I could use the 2 cliff sides as frames for the central focal point. So I made at least the edges of the T-Rex darker up against the background with a kind of projected light onto his face making him a lighter background fro the ship. 
I traded the original painting of the Dreadmaw for a
Black Lotus, a very old magic card from
Back in the days when I started playing Magic I had one in
1994 but sold it for 200$ so I could buy myself a
HVS Video Machine. 
The most difficult part of the painting was doing the face of the Dino. I knew I wanted his skin to be white with the coloring taken directly from an amazon Parrot. The different shifts of color in the maw and the drop shadow from his eyebrow down over his face was really hard to not make too dark. I try all the time to make my shadows lighter and lighter to make the image seems like it is a real lit environment. I struggle a lot with this coming from a comic book background where dark shadows and ink line is king. 
I used the strongest colors in the middle of the painting and in the focal area and used a mix of green bluish green and muddy brown everywhere else. Instead of doing a flat white or bluish water surface I went with an almost brown with only ripples and splashes in light. This is to avoid the water surface to be too prominent since I wanted the attention to be higher up with the face and the mast area. 

The One You Have With You

Oct. 20th, 2017 10:00 am
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Posted by D Palumbo

Actual pixel crop from a recent reference shoot using a highres DSLR, fast prime lens, and studio strobes

In talking with students and aspiring illustrators, I've been happy to see that shooting reference is becoming much more well understood as an important and widely used tool. That said, I'm still amazed at how many people will go to the trouble of finding and posing a model but still short change themselves with laziness and bad habits. Careless lighting may be the worst offender, but another common thread that gives me concerns is the phone camera.

Yes, I'm here again with yet another post about photography and illustration. What I want to look at specifically is: how big a deal is it really if you shoot reference with a phone rather than a conventional camera?

The Set-Up:

This is actually a subject that I'd been wanting to look at for quite awhile now, but it didn't make sense until I upgraded my phone to a current, top selling model. As a Samsung Galaxy user since 1
st generation, that means today's comparison will be done with my new Galaxy S8. For the traditional camera, by contrast, it didn't seem appropriate to use anything too recent or expensive. I gather a key reason that artists choose a phone camera in the first place is because something more professional is or seems out of the budget. By that standard, I decided to use the camera that I bought when I was just starting out, the 2006 released Canon Digital Rebel XTi with an old 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. B&H has the same kit listed right now at $170, which seems about the going rate on eBay.

Samsung Galaxy S8 specs:
cost: $750
resolution: 12 megapixels
max aperture: f1.7
sensor size: 5.76 x 4.29mm
angle of view (35mm full frame equivalent): about 27mm, plus digital zoom

Canon Digital Rebel XTi with kit lens specs:
cost: $150-$200
resolution: 10.1 megapixels
max aperture: f3.5-5.6
sensor size: 22.2 x 14.8mm
angle of view (35mm full frame equivalent): 29-88mm

To test the two head to head, I had a model pose in both full body and portrait scenarios. Again taking limited budgets into account, I set up using only conventional lightbulbs instead of flash units (two 100w bulbs). This lighting was far from ideal, so we're not going to see either of these devices performing at their best. The intention is more to see how they will perform in an improvised studio setting with cheap and easy lighting.

I also want to make a point to say this is not a sales pitch for either camera.  They were chosen simply as general representatives of a current phone and outdated DSLR respectively.

My Expectations:

I think it's possible that the Samsung will outperform the aging Canon in overall image quality (tonal range, color accuracy, etc.) as camera sensors have improved by leaps and bounds over the 11 years between these two devices' releases. But it is worth considering how much smaller the sensor is in a phone vs a DSLR, and I wondered if newer tech can win out in what would otherwise be a solid disadvantage of size. The
large f1.7 aperture will also allow the Samsung to do better in low light, allowing in between 4 and 16 times as much light as the Canon kit lens, which should mean lower, cleaner ISOs.

On the other hand, I'm very strongly expecting that the optical zoom on the Canon (or more specifically, not being restricted to only wide angle) would make up for any outdated tech or slow optics when it comes down to practicality.

Though I would also give a DSLR an edge for processing flexibility thanks to shooting raw files, the Galaxy S8 is among a handful of more photographer friendly smartphones that features that option as well if you shoot in “pro” mode and enable raw+jpg.  For this comparison it really ought to be a draw. The Samsung also puts out images about 20% larger, though that's mostly accounted for in the wider 3:4 image ratio (vs 2:3) and, again, shouldn't really make much real world difference.


Canon (left) zoomed to a "normal" view and Samsung (right) with the default wide angle
This was the primary concern that I had about a phone camera, and the most often cited reason why people are dubious of artists using photo reference in the first place. All lenses “distort” to some degree, in the sense that no camera lens can see the world in the same way as the human eye and brain. All are imperfect in some way (which is fine because my actual astigmatic eyes are also decidedly imperfect). The important thing is understanding, anticipating, and making use of that distortion.

I've written in the past on how you can think of painting is terms of wide angle, normal, and telephoto scenes. If you plan to shoot your reference with an appropriate angle lens and place yourself an appropriate distance from your model, you will be letting the natural spacial distortion of the photo reference properly inform your painting. Distortion looks fine as long as it is consistent throughout the image. It's more or less the same as making sure that your light sources are consistent and you don't have conflicting lighting inside of an image.

Why does this make phone cameras at a disadvantage for shooting reference? Because they only have one angle of view* and it is decidedly in the wide angle category. This is great for shooting groups of people and/or shooting in small spaces, which is what they're mostly expected to be used for. The angle of view on a phone seems about what we see with a good bit of peripheral vision included. When it comes to shooting a single figure or portrait, however, you begin running into problems.

Spacial distortion in wide angle lenses becomes very obvious in portraits and close-ups.  Again, Canon left and Samsung right.
The closer that you stand to your model, the closer it will feel that the viewer is to the model. With a wide angle lens, you need to get pretty close to fill the frame, especially with a portrait. The result is spacial distortion that only looks natural if the scene supports that we as viewers are uncomfortably close. Otherwise, the distortion is as out of place as a top lit figure standing next to a side lit figure.

The DSLR, however, is designed to allow changable lenses. In the examples here, I'm using a "standard" zoom that moves from wide angle to short telephoto. A phone can "zoom" as well, but it is doing so digitally. This means it is enlarging a portion of the photo by cropping and upscaling, similar to enlarging a lowres image off the web.  The result is degraded image quality.  Since the DSLR zoom is created by physically moving lenses, the image quality does not degrade. This means I can stand further away from the model and still fill the frame.  In this way, I get the distance needed for natural looking shots without sacrificing detail or sharpness.

Canon (left) and Samsung (right), both taken at the same distance from the model.  Digitally zooming with the phone is essentially the same as shooting this full view and then cropping and enlarging later.
I imagined this to be the biggest issue and, in actually practice, I definitely feel the fixed wide angle of a phone is far and away the biggest concern. There are attachments designed to convert a phone lens into a longer focal length, but I'm not aware of any that don't just swap compression issues for poor optical quality.

Image quality:
This was what had me most curious and, at a first glance, I was ready to simply eviscerate the Galaxy S8 on image quality. When it comes to camera sensors (where the image is actually captured), bigger is usually better. So the question was, do the years of advancements make up for the miniature size when comparing a new (small sensor) phone to an old (big sensor) DSLR.

The sensor of the Canon is around 13x the surface area of the Samsung. That means, with similar output resolution, the Samsung is squeezing 13x as much information into it's tiny sensor on an inch-for-inch comparison. In addition, phones have not traditionally supported shooting in raw format, which is a compression free camera file which I strongly recommend using if you are not already. On comparing the Samsung jpegs vs the Canon raw, it was looking very bad for the Samsung.

HOWEVER. The Galaxy S8, along with a handful of other recent smartphones, does save raw photo files if you tell it to, and this was where I found the most surprising results. I've read that there are also 3rd party apps which enable saving raw files if your device does not give that option.

Fine tuning exposure in Lightroom allows me to extract more information from highlights and shadows, in addition to a number of other very useful tools

Jpeg files are more limited in post-processing than raw files because they discard information that the camera thinks you won't need. With processing software like Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom, that extra info can be used to fine tune color and achieve a broader, more even tonal range. This is normally the main reason that I recommend shooting raw, however the surprise was just how much compression and funky internal processing the Samsung was also adding to jpeg images, probably to get results that look really punchy at web resolution with bargain rate file sizes. Printed out, however, the contrast felt harsh and the detail rendered was, well, underwhelming. Some areas going gooey from compression and others looking over-sharpened through the phone's software. These files were generated in parallel to the the raw from the same single shot, the only difference was how the phone was saving them. When working with the raw Samsung files, image quality was, by comparison, remarkable.

Actual pixel comparisons
Meanwhile the Canon, hindered by the slow kit lens, did struggle to get enough light for a usable shutter speed, especially considering the now almost laughable top ISO of 1600 (and top of range ISO is usually best avoided if possible). With the lighting I had on hand, I had to make some compromises. The final settings for the Canon ended up being ISO 800, 1/50th of a second exposure, and f5.6 aperture. A faster lens would definitely have been a help. Still, even pushing the ISO for such an old model, results were certainly adequate. Head to head, the raw unzoomed Galaxy S8 takes it for me with cleaner microcontrast detail, though the Canon does have the potential for improvement through a lens upgrade if budget allowed.

As mentioned briefly above, zooming in with the Samsung in order to correct the distortion issues led to a heavily compromised image quality. In the default jpeg mode, I can only describe it as “VHS-esque.” Another surprise though, shooting in raw and then cropping and upsizing with Photoshop (the raw file records the full field of view even when zoomed in, so you have to manually crop and enlarge to get the zoom effect) actually did limit the damage noticeably. It should be noted though, I was only zoomed to about half the digital range here and the output I ended up with was reduced from 12 megapixels to just around 1.5 megapixels before scaling back up.

I want to state that again for emphasis, as it may be the most important point in this article to understand: In digitally zooming to correct the wide angle distortion, which I personally feel is critical, my 12 megapixel phone was only able to produce a 1.5 megapixel image at true resolution.

Actual pixel comparisons
My final verdict was a bit mixed, but not entirely in the way I'd been expecting. The Galaxy S8 is capable of impressive quality that rivals a larger but long-in-the-tooth camera like the XTi. Again, capable of. If you only use the default auto settings though, you're giving all that away. But the real issue for the smartphone continues to come down to the forced wide angle. This one issue alone decides it for me, particularly as the modular nature of a DSLR (or other changeable lens camera system) allows one to improve in pieces over time as budget allows. It is nice to see that zoomed in raw images from a smartphone are as good as they are, but it still falls quite short of the cheapest possible normal or portrait lens when shooting those angles, which accounts for about 90% of my own reference shoots. 

In the end, you know how much image fidelity you want: either "more" or "no opinion."  If your work doesn't demand detail or you can do without the subtleties, and I'm aware that describes many artists whose work I really admire, you certainly can work with what's already in your pocket. For the work that I aim to do, however, I do better with better. 

I believe it was the marketing brains at Apple who popularized the wisdom that the best camera is the one you have with you. I certainly won't argue that. But if detail matters to you at all, I'm of the opinion that a purposefully chosen tool will still serve you best, even if it's been collecting eBay dust for the past decade

*It's worth noting that some recent iPhones have both wide angle and portrait length lenses that you can switch between. In theory, this should eliminate the wide angle distortion problem entirely.

Making Myths

Oct. 19th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Muddy Colors

Guest Blogger: Jeffrey Alan Love

The story of how I came to illustrate NORSE MYTHS: TALES OF ODIN, THOR, AND LOKI by Kevin Crossley-Holland actually starts with John Harris.

Growing up, if I saw a book that had a John Harris cover, I would buy it. I loved his artwork. In 2013, after I committed to making art that was personal and meaningful instead of just work that paid the bills, I attended Illuxcon. John was exhibiting, and after working up the nerve I went up to him and told him how much I loved his artwork and how I was trying to become an artist myself. He was incredibly kind and gracious, and we talked about our shared love of mystery, of leaving things indistinct, and how by painting the space around the object you describe the object itself. How you can just give enough information in a painting to allow the viewer to be drawn into it, to bring their own story to it, sparked by what you have suggested. From the outside looking in to the science-fiction & fantasy art industry, it seemed that rendering and realism was king, and to hear one of my heroes talking about composition and storytelling in this way gave me a lot of heart to continue pursuing a personal path for myself.

That night John stopped by my table, where I was exhibiting my new portfolio. We talked some more as he looked over my work, and then we said our goodbyes. I thought that would be that – a wonderful experience with an artist I idolized, a memory I could call upon to give me strength when I felt discouraged by the pitfalls of trying to make my way as an artist.

A few months later I got an email from Alison Eldred, John’s agent, saying that John had shared my work with her and asking if I would be interested in having her show my work around in the U.K. After jumping up and down for a bit I replied yes, please.

I think we knew that this job was a possibility on the horizon for a couple of years before I talked to Ben Norland at Walker Books. I realized that it was going to be something special when he told me he had worked on A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness with the illustrator Jim Kay. If you haven’t checked out that book, do so – Kay’s illustrations are phenomenal, deeply affecting and emotional, a perfect fit for the text. And most importantly, from my point of view, they were in black & white!

Ben sent me a draft of the text, and asked me to put together a wish list of images from it. Reading through the text I was struck by the power of Kevin’s writing, and found it nearly impossible to not just circle every paragraph. I could easily have made this a thousand-page book. “Those mountains over there… they’re made from Ymir’s bones. The sea was made from his skull, and his brains are the clouds.” Every sentence rang with visual possibility.

Those mountains over there… they’re made from Ymir’s bones. The sea was made from his skull, and his brains are the clouds. Every sentence rang with visual possibility.

Once Ben had the final draft he laid out the text, leaving areas blank, sometimes full-pages, sometimes columns, sometimes just a thin band across the top of the page, suggesting the placement of the art with the caveat that I could change anything I wanted or suggest something different. In the end I really enjoyed having the text already in place to work with, as it gave me something to work from, it implied a design that allowed my mind to play with the possibilities. Large blocks of text suggested looming figures in pure black in which the type could be reversed to white, narrow columns suggested deep wells or spears thrust into the earth, a strange-faced man juggling razor-sharp daggers.

Another favorite artist of my childhood, Victor Ambrus, had always impressed me with the way his compositions played across the two-page spread, and I tried to bring that to this book, a sense of fun and play with the design, using the full spread instead of confining myself to contained squares.

I work digitally for sketches in photoshop, as for me sketches are not about drawing ability but composition. I’m only interested in value, shape, and edges and whether or not the image is reading and telling the story I want it to tell. In general I use only black and white, and photoshop allows me to copy/paste the sketch over and over, so I can make Thor tiny in one version, and see what happens if I make him GIGANTIC in another without having to redraw him – I just lasso, copy and paste and I can see if it works within seconds. That efficiency with time was always important with previous jobs, but it was invaluable this time around – I was doing thousands of sketches for a 230-page book, with paintings on EVERY SINGLE PAGE. To make things even crazier, my wife and I had our first child in the middle of this project, and when we emerged from our shock I did the math and saw that I needed to finish three paintings a day to hit my personal deadline for the book. Ben and Walker were excellent about giving me as much time as I needed, but I’ve always prided myself on hitting deadlines, and didn’t want that to change now.

The wonderful thing about nailing down the composition in the sketch phase is that I get to just have fun making the final art.

I print out the digital sketch and lightbox it onto Stonehenge paper. I paint the silhouette with black paint or ink, depending upon how much surface texture I want at this stage, and then I coat various brayers, paint rollers, socks, petrified sticks I found on the beach, sponges, brushes, old shoes, my fingers, etc. with paint and start distressing the image. Just about anything can leave an interesting mark, and I try to have fun and leave myself open to happy accidents at this stage.

I intentionally relinquish control of the piece to the materials and let them do what they want. I used to cringe when something happened on a painting that I thought was a mistake or weird – now I love when that happens, when something surprises me in the process. The pieces begin to resemble a Rorschach ink blot, and I start to see things within them. Using white and black ink and paint and colored pencils I go back into them and try to bring out a little further the things I see within the silhouettes so that the viewer will see them too.

Then it’s just the simple matter of painting day after day, piece by piece, until it’s done and you look back and wish it really was a thousand-page book and that it didn’t have to end and you could keep painting it forever, because this truly was a dream job for me.

Thank you to Kevin Crossley-Holland for letting me run wild with his words, to Ben Norland for being such a joy to work with, Alison Eldred for her friendship more than anything, and John Harris for seeing something in my work that was hidden from me, and for sharing it. And thank you to Muddy Colors for sharing it as well.

Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love, is available from Candlewick Press and Walker Books.

The Plain White Piece of Paper

Oct. 18th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by HeatherT

Blue Ribbon - 18x24 Oil on Board

My mouth is dry and sweat has begun to bead on my forehead. It’s been two weeks since I finished my last painting. I don’t know why, but for some unknown reason, the sandstorm that has swept great empty dunes over the creative desert of my brain won’t stop blowing. My eyes cringe against the wounding sunshine. In truth, I know what lies buried beneath the sand. There is a great treasure trove of ideas, hints at masterpieces. But no matter how hard I try, all I can do is stare out at the wasteland of sand that turns a brighter and brighter white as the time passes. My fingers grip tight over a quivering pencil.

This is what future faces me. The plain white gritting piece of paper.

Every ounce of effort must be applied just to put the graphite tip to that pristine white sheet. Why, I ask myself, is it so difficult? Then, in a quick, reckless stroke, a single line is applied, spoiling the clean space. A guttural emotion of triumph overwhelms me and with all hesitation abandoned, the pencil takes hold of my senses and releases what has been waiting, caged within.

Blue Ribbon Sketch

Okay, so that’s a little lyrical, but it gets the point across. We’ve all been faced with the struggle of starting something new—and yet all it really takes is simply putting the pencil to the paper and letting it do it’s job. Forget about making the perfect sketch. It will work itself out. It might take one time, it might take twenty. Here are some of the sketches I started out with before they became completed into paintings; some exceptionally simple, some worked out multiple ways, and some fairly fleshed out from the beginning. All of them began the same way—as a ridiculously frustrating plain white piece of paper.

Chuck sketch

Chuck - 12x12 Oil on Board

Game of Chase sketches

Game of Chase - 48x24 Oil on Canvas

The Insatiable Mr. Toad sketch

The Insatiable Mr. Toad - 18x24 Oil on Board

Etherium sketches

Etherium sketch

Etherium - 18x36 Oil on Board

Alice sketch

Alice sketches - notice how I ran out of paper
space? I just grabbed another piece of paper
and kept on going...

Alice background sketch

We're All Mad Here - 24x48 Oil on Board

Crimson Ribbon rough sketch with associated reference file markers

Crimson Ribbon composition sketch compiled in Photoshop
after drawing each element separately.

Crimson Ribbon - 18x36 Oil on Board

I Am sketch

I Am - 36x60 Oil and Gold Leaf on Board

Where it all begins...

Oct. 17th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by Julian Totino Tedesco

Working on the sketches is definitely one of my favorites steps in the creation of a cover. It's also, I believe, the most important. As I love seeing other artists doodles and sketches, I thought of sharing some of mine, in the hope that others would enjoy it too. Plus, it's a nice excuse to show some of those sketches that weren't picked up and couldn't see the light.

To me, it all starts with my beloved sketchbook. Whether a commercial assignment or a personal illustration, it always begins with a doodle.

I have taken the habit to sketch quite small, for two main reasons:

First, I need to let the ideas flow and not get stuck by technical aspects, and second, because if the composition works on a thumbnail, it will definitely work bigger.

Cover ideas for "Witchfinder: City of the Dead". Dark Horse Comics.
At this point, I don't judge or repress any idea. Anything goes. Sometimes an overused idea can take a very interesting spin by changing just a tiny detail, but I'm only able to see it once I'm in front of all of my doodles. Sometimes the better idea is a mix of two or three others that didn't work on their own. It works as a sort of dialogue: Once I put the ideas on paper, those ideas sparks new ones.

Cover thumbnails  for "Witchfinder: City of the Dead". Dark Horse Comics.

Cover thumbnails  for "Witchfinder: City of the Dead". Dark Horse Comics.

From all the ideas I sketch, I select only two or three and proceed to developing them in Photoshop, before sending them to the editor.

Cover Sketches for "Witchfinder:City of the Dead". Dark Horse Comics.

At this stage I work the sketch on a cover template with the exact size of the final cover and, if possible, with the title on a separate layer, so I can know exactly which space is going to take up and how much is going to cover the image and where.

Look what happens when you don't pay attention to the cover dress:

These are a few sketches I did for the cover of "Comic Artist" Magazine. I really liked them, and the editor too, but still, they were rejected. Why?
Cover Sketches for "Comic Artist" Magazine #3.
Here's why: Being used to doing comic book covers, my main concern was to leave space enough at the top of the image. I knew there were going to be some texts on the sides, but nothing too big, I thought. I was dead wrong. The editor sent me the trade dress and it was way more information that I was hoping, so we had to go with a new sketch, according to it.

Every item in the cover ( Title, credits, bar code, etc) is a compositional element that will generate a weight in the image's balance, so one have to have that in mind when working on a sketch.

As fun as it is to sit down and throw ideas on paper, things don't always go so smoothly, and sometimes it's hard to find an idea that's appealing to us, or to get hooked with our theme or character. When that's the case, I try to balance things my way.

I remember being very dry of ideas with this Luke Cage cover. All I knew about the story was that it took place in New Orleans...
Cover Sketches for "Luke Cage" #3. used the excuse to drawing something that I always enjoy, which is people playing music. It's not every day that you can put that on a superheroe cover, but it worked out this time. The editor chose the sketch and I got to draw what I wanted, while still making sense with the story.

Cover sketch and final version.
Also, if I see the slightest chance for humor on a cover, I'm going to take it.
Cover for "Web Warriors" #6
Cover for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" #11
If you can't come up with a new idea, try to come up with an interesting way to portray an old idea. Try to have fun with the "How" instead of the "What".

"Spider-Men". Doodle, Photoshop sketch and final cover.
To me, this cover wasn't about the idea of the Spider-Men, jumping mid-air, but about playing with a graphic element and a limited color scheme.

Ideally, you'll want to come up with something that's sensible with what the cover needs, but also, enjoyable for you and representative of who you are and the things you like. To me, the best place to find that out, it's my sketchbook.

As always, feel free to share your creative methods and tips in the comment sections, or to ask anything you want about mine.

Thanks for reading!

Spectrum 25 Opens for Entries!

Oct. 16th, 2017 05:30 am
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Posted by Arnie Fenner

The 25th anniversary Spectrum competition opens for entries today. I've written quite a bit about Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art in the past and new visitors to MC can hit the links to learn the backstory. Why does Spectrum continue to matter after 25 years; why does it still matter with all of the other venues for artists via the internet and social media and conventions and self-publishing?

Well, before I introduce the Spectrum 25 jurors, let me answer the question by repeating some of the things I've said in the past.

Spectrum, quite simply, was first.

It was the first annual for the Fantastic Arts; the first to purposefully focus on both the subject matter and creators who were largely being ignored by mainstream arts organizations. It was the first to showcase dimensional works and comics art. Spectrum was the first to provide credit to artists for their works at a time when they toiled often in anononimity; the first to give a voice to our field, the first to provide a rallying point, and the first to encourage a sense of community. Spectrum opened doors of opportunity just as it opened eyes and wallets of employers and collectors; other art annuals, gallery shows, art-focused conventions, and genre-intense workshops have followed the paths that Spectrum blazed.

(Above: Grand Master Scott Gustafson has painted the Spectrum 25 Call For Entries poster.
Photo by Greg Preston)

Spectrum is without question the most diverse, the most inclusive, and the most far-reaching art annual produced today: it has the highest circulation of any source book/best-of-the-year being published, bar none. It is not only seen, but it is used; the testimonials from artists whose careers have been helped by appearances in Spectrum are legion. More eyes means more opportunities to connect with employers and patrons.

All artists (and art directors) are welcome to participate, regardless of where they live, regardless of whether they're amateurs, students, or professionals. It's not a clique or a private club. Age, gender, race, religion, politics, nationality, ethnicity, or methodology don't matter: Spectrum simply does not discriminate against any artist. Period.

Nothing is prescreened: everything entered is voted on by the judges. There is an entry fee to participate (which routinely makes some people fuss), but the fees are used to offset the expenses of bringing the jury together (to view the art in person and cast their votes) and—something to consider—anything left after expenses goes to offset the costs of various events and exhibitions that help raise the profile of the Fantastic Arts and benefit our community as a whole. Spectrum has always given back.

No other competition for fantastic art—none, nada, zip, zilch—brings their jury together in one place, at one time, to cast votes. And their personal interaction reinforces the import of their decisions; regardless of the results, each Spectrum jury is uniquely thoughtful and deliberate in doing their job. Fellow Muddies Dan dos Santos, Donato Giancola, Greg Ruth, Justin Gerard, Greg Ruth, Cory Godbey, Greg Manchess, John Jude Palencar, and Dave Palumbo have served on previous juries and can attest to how seriously they took their responsibilities.

Not everyone who enters Spectrum gets in; admittedly that pisses some people off, but it's not a popularity contest. Artists can't go online and entreat their friends and family to cast ballots; they can't campaign for inclusion or awards like we see every year for the Oscars®. The entry fee only guarantees that the art will be reviewed by a blue-ribbon jury and nothing more—and the jury is on its own to review and contemplate and vote. Spectrum is about craft and skill and vision. It doesn't matter who someone is or how successful they might (or might not) be: the only thing that matters is the quality of the work. And because it is difficult to get a majority of the judges' votes, making it into the annual—being selected as one of "the year's best"—has significance. If an artist appears in the book year after year, it's an acknowledgement of the quality of the work itself, not the name attached to it.

Spectrum is a vibrant symbol of excellence for our field. Art directors, publishers, collectors, and fans around the world notice. It only succeeds because the community that supports it. As Gary Gianni once said, it's a benchmark for our field. And, as a result...yeah, after 25 years it most definitely still matters. Which is rather nice, don't you think?

So...without further blather from me, let's welcome the jurors for Spectrum 25!

Chuck Pyle

Chuck Pyle is the legendary illustrator/artist and instructor who currently serves as the Director of the School of Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He was presented with the prestigious Distinguished Educator in the Arts Award by the Society of Illustrators in 2015.

Karla Ortiz

Photo by Greg Preston

Karla Ortiz is an award-winning illustrator, educator, gallery painter, and concept artist. She has worked for Industrial Light & Magic, Marvel Film Studios, and Universal Studios. Some of her most recent film design work is on display in Dr. Strange.

Tran Nguyen

Photo by Greg Preston

Tran Nguyen is a multiple Spectrum Award-winning artist. Effortlessly alternating between commercial assignments and fine art her clients include everyone from Smithsonian Magazine to MacDonald's to Buzzfeed to Playboy.

Tyler Jacobson

Already a giant in the game market (WotC, D&D, Paizo) Tyler Jacobson has now become a titan among editorial artists with assignments from Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, The New Yorker, and many others.

Terry Dodson

Photo by Greg Preston

Terry Dodson is not only one of the hottest creators in mainstream comics (Wonder Woman, Star Wars, Harley Quinn, et al), but he has also freelanced for Hasbro, ESPN, and Hanna-Barbara.

You can find out how to participate in Spectrum 25 by visiting the official website. And allow me to direct everyone to Dan dos Santos' post on MC several years ago: it's great advise. And remember to mark the deadline on your calendars: January 25th, 2018. Thanks to everyone who participates and good luck one and all!

Artist of the Month: Inky Colors

Oct. 14th, 2017 06:00 am
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Posted by William O'Connor

W. O'Connor 1991

When I was starting out as an art student I was taking an illustration course in Manhattan at Parsons School of Design. The class was taught by Stuart Leeds, a well established cartoonist for The New Yorker. One day while skimming through my sketchbook, Mr. Leeds commented that he really liked my studies and gave me the assignment of getting some art supplies and making a proper pen and ink drawing from one of my sketchbook doodles. Now, I didn’t want to do pen and ink, this was 1991 and I wanted to be Keith Parkinson, but I was a dutiful student and went to the Pearl Paint  (RIP) and bought a bottle of Higgins ink, a crow quill pen and some ledger paper and took them home. I ended up producing three pen and ink drawings. I enjoyed the process, but quickly returned to my painting and left the drawings in a box. A few months later when I was building my first portfolio, it was a little thin, so I padded the back with the three pen and ink drawings, and mailed them out. About a month later I received a letter (yes, a letter). From the art director at White Wolf, who said he loved the pen and ink drawings and commissioned me to do 27 more just like it for Ars Magica. That was my first job.

October marks the return of Inktober™ in which artists are encouraged to produce and share an ink drawing every day of the month. I’ve decided to partake this year, and I have been enjoying seeing all the amazing work coming out of the project and having a lot of fun doing them myself, even if I am woefully rusty. I thought this would be a perfect chance to do a quick survey of the history of ink illustration and art.

•Western Ink Tradition
Ink and art go back a long way. It could be argued that drawing with ink goes back to the Egyptians or Romans, but the beginning of Pen and Ink as we would recognize it is medieval. The combination of paper and ink with quill becomes common in the monastic scriptoriums of the middle ages.

Utrecht Pslater 9th C.
The Renaissance sees a flowering of ink drawing as modern artists begin to produce sketchbooks and studies for engravings. The increasingly inexpensive medium of ink, paper and quill makes ink sketching very popular among artists for the next several hundred years, giving artists the versatility to draw and paint with the same material, even use it like watercolor, perfect for quick plain aire or figure studies.

A. Durer

•Asian Ink Tradition
Nowhere in the world has ink held a more exalted place in art than in Asia. China and Japan have a millennia old history of both writing and painting with ink, producing some of the most beautiful and elegant ink works in the world. Much of this Sumi-e tradition was unknown by Western artists until Japan and China were opened up to trade in the 19th century, and ink scroll paintings and calligraphy were exported to the west where they influenced a generation of artists including the Impressionists and Expressionists.

T. Lautrec
V. Van Gogh
E. Schiele
•Golden Age Ink Tradition:
Pen and Ink drawing remained a sketching medium for the first few centuries until the invention of photography and industrial printing in the late 19th century. The ability to quickly and inexpensively reproduce art was perfect for the new daily newspapers, comics, pulp novels, catalogs, magazines and children’s books that were churning off the factory printing presses by the millions at the turn of the 20th century.  This was the first age of providing daily content and the lavishly illustrated magazines and books were big business. What had been a sketch tool a generation before was now the workhorse of the Golden Age of Illustration. Artwork done by freelance illustrators and staff artists in the publishing houses in NYC and London could be created and reproduced almost immediately creating a high demand for illustrators, forming The Society of Illustrators in 1901.

H. Pyle
A. Rackham
E.A. Abbey
A. Beardsley
F. Booth
G. Grant

W. Crane and W. Morris
R. Kent 1930
M. Flagg
After WWII we see the apex of Ink art with comics and children’s books becoming popular with the Baby Boom generation combined with better reproduction techniques in premium magazines. As color photography becomes more common in periodicals and Modernism is the trending fashion,  ink illustration adopts a more stylized aesthetic for cartoons, editorials, fantasy and comics illustration during the the Silver Age and through the 1990s.

A. Hirschfeld
E. Gorey
M. Sendak The Hobbit 1967
V. Finlay
Beatles Revolver 1966 Voormann
B. Wrightson Frankenstein 1983
Cy Twombly
D. Trampier D&D  1977
•Post Modern Ink and the Future
Beginning in the 1990s most content became increasingly produced in full digital color using new software like Photoshop combined with inexpensive 4 color printing options and the rise of the internet, making b&w illustration less in demand for a mass market. Today, working in ink is mostly an artistic choice for artists who want their work to possess a graphic quality that  has a long artistic heritage. Over the past decade ink has had a resurgence in popularity, along with other traditional mediums,  perhaps as a response against digital art combined with a rising interest in traditional crafts.
Ink is a completely honest art form. Unlike other mediums there is no over-painting, erasing and absolutely no undo or revert option. What you see is every mark the artist made warts and all. As an artist it builds confidence because it forces you to commit to an efficiency of line and a limit of mark making. There is no hiding your drafting skills when every mark you make is indelibly inscribed. In an age of apps, filters and effects, that is a very appealing quality.
It is inspiring to see ink being appreciated by artists and fans. Hopefully through continued interest in this ancient medium ink has as rich a future as it does a past.

J. Sacco "The Great War" 2013

The House in the Night B. Krommes 2008 Caldecott Medal 2009

Spiderwick Chronicles. DiTerlizzi 2003

Y. Amano

T. Lockwood  Summer Dragon 2017

 This was only a brief selection of work and a broad overview, without even touching on comic book art,  I hope you will go and explore more artists and styles and share your favorite artists with the Muddy Colors community in the comments section!

For more excellent suggestions and inspiring ink work see Ron Lemen's fantastic Muddy Colors blog: Inktober and SomeVarious Styles in the Ink Medium


follow my Inktober work at Instragram @woconnorstudios

W. O'Connor "Inktober no.15" 2017

A great book on the History of Golden Age pen and ink illustration by Dover:
Treasury of American Pen & Ink Illustration

To follow other Pen and Ink artists:

If Picasso Painted a Snowman

Oct. 13th, 2017 02:00 am
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Posted by Howard Lyon

My friends Amy and Greg Newbold have recently collaborated on a book called If Picasso Painted a Snowman. I think this is the first children's book that I have ever reviewed on Muddy Colors (I hope it isn't the last, there are so many great picture books out there). I happened to stop by Greg's house on the same day received pre-release copies of his book (I was there to pick up some black walnuts, he has a GIANT giving tree that I believe, without exaggerating, will let me produce about 30 gallons of ink).

This a wonderful book! Many of the readers of MC have kids or are aunts and uncles. This book is for you and yours (I'm including an Amazon link here and at the end of the interview). It is a great introduction to a large variety of artists and their work, but also opens up the imagination to all the possibilities of different artists paint, but also how different thinkers might approach the same challenge.

I asked Greg and Amy if I might interview them for MC. Here goes!

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It all started several years ago when my wife Amy visited Paris with her sisters on a girl’s trip. During a visit to the Picasso Museum she asked the question “What would it look like if Picasso painted a snowman?” She envisioned a book that would teach kids about significant artists and art movements in a fun and engaging way. Honestly, it was to be the book that we could never find for our kids in all the years of taking them to museums. For several years she polished the manuscript, we showed it around and reworked it. Nobody caught the vision of what we wanted to do until Tris Coburn at Tilbury House Publishers in Maine bought our pitch.

What was the most challenging part of creating illustrations in the styles of such a variety of artists?

Since I was young, I have always enjoyed the challenge of learning new styles or techniques. Like most budding artists, I started by trying to copy other artists’ work. In high school I did Prismacolor replicas of album covers and copied drawings from guys like Frank Frazetta and the Hildebrandt brothers. I sold some of them for ten or twenty bucks. Once in college I had the legitimate option of creating an old master copy painting instead of writing a paper. My professor told me my Van Gogh was the best copy she had ever seen because I tried so hard to get the materials and surface texture correct.

Because I like to experiment with new materials and processes, I also find it very instructive to paint these master copies. Studying and trying to recreate the works of great artists allows you to deconstruct and learn from the masters and it’s something I have done on and off over the years. This book gave me the opportunity to learn about the materials and processes of seventeen different artists. Some of those chosen for the book were quite familiar, as I had studied the likes of Grant Wood and Van Gogh. Others Like Jacob Lawrence and Sonia Delaunay were previously unknown to me.

Grant Woods Snowman - The stern coal mouths are perfect
I dug into their processes online and tried to find books that described the way they worked and what materials they used. My goal was to mimic each artist’s materials and process as much as was practical. Of course there are new materials available today and the time crunch I was under forced me to make some adjustments. For instance, the Roy Lichtenstein piece was created digitally as I had neither the time or inclination to figure out where to screen print it and there was no way I was going to get the Ben-Day dots right painting it by hand. Also, scale was sacrificed on a number of pieces.

Roy Lichtenstein Snowman - I love this one!

The J.M.W Turner painting I made is a miniature compared to most of his other pieces as is the Georgia O’Keeffe, who also typically worked much larger than I could justify. Sometimes materials had to change. For instance I painted the Grant Wood in acrylic rather than oil. It was a speed issue and I rationalized that Wood painted his oils using layers of crosshatch anyway, so the result was very similar.

Georgia O'Keefe's snowman is beautiful.
Is there one that you enjoyed the most or least?

Honestly, this entire project was a dream to work on. It was just so fun to try new things. I learned how to make a direct drawing monoprint for the Paul Klee piece, played with gold leafing for the Gustav Klimt painting but the most fun was probably the Jackson Pollock painting. I went all in to figure out what he was all about. I had previously read Tom and Jack: The Intertwined Lives of Thomas Hart Benton and Jackson Pollock by William Taylor Adams and I was totally intrigued by Pollock.

As a young artist I scoffed at Pollock thinking that it was just a bunch of random drips on canvas, but as I dug deeper, I began to understand what his “action paintings” were all about. Also, watching the ten-minute documentary filmed in 1951 by Hans Namuth was helpful. In the film, Pollock is seen painting outside and his voice narrates the process. I purchased a large-ish piece of raw linen and several quarts of Pollock-esque colored latex paint for the painting, forgoing the oil enamel Pollock preferred in the name of practicality. I used sticks and hard brushes to drip and fling the paint while walking all around the perimeter just as Pollock did in the film (minus the cigarette and discordant music). It was a little windy and I even had some grass and sticks get embedded in the painting. It was so much fun, there are plans for a Pollock party to let some of our friends create their own “Jackson Pollock”.

What is your hope/goal for this book?

As I mentioned at the outset, this is the type of book we wished we could have found for our kids at one of the many museums we dragged them to. We tried to put across the idea that the possibilities are endless when creating art and that you should not be intimidated or limited by what some people perceive as “rules”. There is no right or wrong way to create art, simply techniques that either allow or prevent you from achieving the vision you have for your art.

We have tried hard to make it more than just an overview of different art styles. With it’s simple text, it also reads as a nice bedtime story, hopefully appealing to fans of snowman books, gift books, or art books in general. There are enough inside jokes to appeal to adults as well. At the end of the book we have also included expanded bios and art making tips. We hope that parents, teachers and children embrace this book as permission to explore art with freedom and joy.

After reading the book, I want to draw a Caravaggio/Bouguereau/Waterhouse/Watterson/Frazetta snowman!

Are there artists whose work you didn't imitate but you would have liked to?

There are too many to count. Luckily we are in negotiations with our publisher to create a follow up book, so hopefully I’ll get to play with another batch of styles with that project.

How did you decide what artists to include?

With so many artists to choose from, it became a question of which ones would be recognized, which ones would add variety and touch on major movements and also which ones whose styles I felt confident enough to try to mimic. We also tried to choose artists that we were fairly sure never painted a snowman. Some artists did not make the cut for one or more of those reasons. We also tried to include a variety of artists including women and ethnically diverse painters. Knowing the overwhelming majority of dead white European artists that crowd the annals of art history, we knew it was impossible to give any sort of equality of diversity to the group, so we did our best and focused on the overall variety in the book.

Gustav Klimt Snowman. Beyond the theme of the book and Klimt's style, this is a touching painting!
What other books or projects would you like the audience to know about that you have been part of?

This year was crazy in that I have never had two new picture books released in the same year, let alone create all the art in that same year. I did all the art for If Picasso Painted a Snowman from January to March and then all the art for The Little Match Girl (coming from Shadow Mountain October 17, 2017) from April to mid July. In the past, I would have shied away from both of those time frames, but I’m at a point now where I have enough confidence to just say yes and figure out the logistics later.

In my twenty plus years as a full time artist, I have worked for most of the large New York publishers and have been fortunate to have my work accepted into all the major juried illustration shows over the years including, Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, Spectrum, AIGA and Society of Illustrators, Los Angeles. I’ve also done quite a bit of advertising work for clients like Fedex, American Express, Smuckers, Heinz and the like.


You can see more of Greg's at and You can also find him on Instagram and Facebook

This will make a great Christmas book for your kids or kids you know and support and the wonderful efforts and skill of both Amy and Greg! It is on sale on Amazon here :) I made a little flip through video of the book so you could preview nearly all of it, in case you still had doubts about getting a copy.

To wrap up I am including some more of Greg's work. Definitely go follow him on Instagram too!

Thanks for giving the post a read and thank you Greg and Amy for your time and for sharing!

- Howard Lyon

What is a "Real" Artist?

Oct. 12th, 2017 02:00 am
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Posted by Lauren Panepinto

By Lauren Panepinto
I have a friend that likes to play a game called "What's a sandwich?" He's a bartender, so he is in the business of lobbing a thought out across the bar, aiming it at the customers, and five minutes later there will be a big debate amongst the entire bar...

"What's a sandwich?" starts when he asks someone to define a sandwich.

Invariably, someone opens with a close variation on "something between two slices of bread".

Then he asks, is a wrap a sandwich?

What about a taco?

Would a slice of bread between two other slices of bread be a sandwich?

What about bread and butter, is that a sandwich?

What about an open-face sandwich?

What about a lettuce wrap? 

What about that scary KFC abomination that's just chicken tenders with a burger in between? 

Everyone gets thirstier, drinks more, fuels the conversation more......but I digress.

I feel like this is very similar to what happens when someone asks What is an artist?

Someone who paints or draws.

What about sculpture?

Ok, 3D too. 

What about fashion? Or cooking? Or writing?

Ok, ok, an artist is someone who makes a thing.

What about a musician, a dancer? They're not making a physical thing. 

Of course! Them too!

What about a pregnant woman? Are they an artist? They're making something.

This is a bottomless inquiry, trust me.

Then there's my fave bomb to toss into a conversation in a room full of artists:

What is the difference between an artist, a maker, a craftsmen, a creator?

That will keep a crowd going for a while.

But the most contentious discussion of all, especially at an art convention, or a gallery opening, or some official art-world thing is this one:


What's makes a "real" artist? 

That's what people ask when they want to distinguish between professionals and amateurs, or hobbyists.

Is an artist only a real artist if they make money off their work? 

How much money does it have to be? 

Does it have to be enough to live off of? 

Does your art need to pay all your bills? 

What if you are working part time and making art part time? 

What if you have a non-art job and work on your art in your free time?

Do you become a "real" artist at a certain skill level?

Do you become a "real" artist if you've made X amount of art?

How long do you have to be making art before you are a real artist?

How much do you have to starve? How much ramen do you need to eat?

Do you have to be crazy to be a real artist? Do you have to suffer?

How old do you have to be before you are a real artist? 

Do you have to have been making art your whole life to be a real artist?

Do people have to like your work to make you a real artist? How many fans do you need?

I think you'll find very quickly that it's really hard to define an artist, just like it's really hard to define a sandwich. You just...know it when you see one. And there's absolutely no such thing as a "real" artist. All artists are real. It doesn't matter if you've been making art for 5 years or 5 minutes. Your skill level doesn't matter. The amount of money you have or have not made off of your work doesn't matter. Having a day job, a full time job, a part time job doesn't matter. A college degree or any number of completed art classes doesn't matter. Build a life around yourself that lets you create the way you need and want to create. If that's as a professional career artist, great. If that's as a hobbyist, fabulous. Some people's art needs to be put under more pressure. Some people's art needs to be unburdened by financial weight.

This may all seem like a no-brainer to you (and if so, count yourself lucky) because all the time in portfolio reviews and certainly every day on DearAD, I see artists yearning for legitimacy. Will quitting their job and going freelance full time make them a real artist? Will getting that first commission make them a real artist? If that one wasn't big enough, will they feel like a real artist when they get a commission from their dream client? Will they be a real artist when they get into Spectrum? Will they be a real artist if they go back to school at 40? Are they a real artist if they never went to school?

All this energy worrying, all this wasted time. Let me tell you something now — I talk to the most well-known pro artists in the world, and I talk to the noobiest newbies — and nothing external, no job, no award, no gallery show, suddenly makes you feel like a real artist.

Who decides you're a real artist?

You do.

So stop trying to prove it to anyone. Stop chasing legitimacy. It doesn't come from a piece of paper and it doesn't come from anyone else. You just have to convince yourself.

Here, let me help.

Do you create, decorate, imagine, beautify, craft, produce, design, form, paint, draw, sculpt, sew, cook, carve, sculpt, or shape?



Now stop wasting time and energy convincing anyone else, and use that energy to go make art.

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Posted by Dan dos Santos

Once again, it's time for our (almost) monthly installment 'This Month in Covers', where I explore some new covers that I personally find eye-catching and are currently on the shelf. It's really easy to get your fill of art just from perusing Facebook and Instagram. But if you're an aspiring illustrator, I implore to get your butt to an actual brick and mortar bookstore and take a look at what is actually on the shelf and currently defining market trends. Part of what makes producing good cover art so difficult is that it has to stand out amongst an ocean of other really good covers. It's an important aspect of the industry, and one that you can only get an appreciation from when you actually go into a book store of comic shop.

There are a few pieces in this month's segment that I only discovered this month, despite their earlier release date, but they were simply too good to pass up a mention. Enjoy!

Street Angel Gang

Art by Jim Rugg


Art by Tommy Arnold

The Black Tides of Heaven

Art by Yuko Shimizu

Infinity Wars

Neverwhere : Illustrated Edition

Le Petit Loup Rouge

The Name of the Wind : 10th Anniversary Edition

Art by Sam Weber

Ruin of Angels

Art by Goni Montes

The Tiger's Daughter

Art by Jaime Jones

Under the Pendulum Sun

New Work for Illuxcon 2017

Oct. 10th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Justin

Illuxcon is an annual art convention dedicated to fantasy art with a heavy focus on traditional art. Much of my commercial work is often digital, and doesn't offer me the chance to work traditionally. So I always look forward to Illuxcon, where I can finally get the brushes and paint out and really sink into some real painting. This year I have abandoned my usual watercolors and gone in for some classical oil work.

Today I'd like to share some of the work that I will be bringing to the show as well as the process by which I am painting them. 

In the steps shown above, I am working as follows:


For the drawing I am using acrylic ink on Panel.  I find acrylic ink to be great for starting a painting as it can be applied quickly, it dries immediately, and it isn't as messy to paint over as pencil is. 


Switching now to traditional oils, I lay in tones with Umbers and Siennas, mixed with titanium white to establish my shapes. 
Now technically, the imprimatura is just meant to be a flat fill, but I tend to sneak a little grisaille in with my imprimatura to keep things moving along. I was raised on video games and nuclear energy, not windmills and tiddly-winks. Things have to get moving fast here or I am going to lose it. 


I don't need to explain myself here. They are delicious. 


Using umbers I now push up the shadows and highlights to really nail down my lighting. After this I set the painting aside for several days until it is fully touch-dry.


Dead color pass to begin to fill in colors and work up chroma. This is perhaps the scariest stage of the painting. More often then not, I am really happy with the underpainting and would just as soon not disturb it. But the image cries out to be seen in color, so on we must go. 



After laying in a thin glaze with medium and color, I work final shadows, highlights and details in. 

While this method is not new, it does have a long a decorated history of just working. The stages listed above were used by classical baroque and dutch-flemish artists for centuries because it was more or less foolproof way at arriving at a powerful image. (Just don't screw up your drawing!) 
That means that even a shiftless lay-about like my cat could paint something decent if they stuck to the manual. Not that he ever will. Sure, because he is a cat; but also, I think if he were human he would still be too lazy. You can just tell with some creatures. 

For medium I am using walnut alkyd medium, which is a great medium if you are wanting to go non-toxic in your studio. One of the best manufacturers for this is M. Graham and that is who you should go with if you are interested in trying this out.

My walnut alkyd medium is made for me by actual bees. Well, they are wasps at least. Or maybe ground hornets. Anyway, I'm using their winter food storage as a medium and I am not sorry. If they wanted me to be sorry then they shouldn't have been winged, stinging insects and they shouldn't have built their nest outside my window.

For the 3 dragons, (there is a third and secret dragon still on the easel) I work on Ampersand gessoed panel. Or as we call it in the field, "the Cadillac of Masonites."  

"Mean Tweets"

While the dragons were painted on panel, "Mean Tweets" was painted on the divine Belgian Linen. 

Fun fact about Belgian Linen: It is pound for pound worth more than gold, and is in fact, what the paintings in Valhalla are painted on. It may well be the finest painting substrate in the known galaxy. 
It's just that good. 

I hope you've enjoyed this little tour. All of the drawings and paintings here will be available at Illuxcon, October 18-22 in Reading, PA. I hope to see you there!

Into the Silent Sea : Studio Edition

Oct. 9th, 2017 02:00 am
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Posted by Muddy Colors

Earlier this year, Dark Horse comics released 'Into the Silent Sea', a highly anticipated graphic novel set in the Hellboy universe, written by creator Mike Mignola,and illustrated by artist Gary Gianni. Gary in easily one of the finest Inkers in the industry is well known for illustrating the syndicated comic strip, 'Prince Valiant', for more than 8 years.

“Gary is a genius. And not just a regular kind of genius, but a very specific type of genius—the kind you think of when you want someone to draw and co-write a ghost and monster story that takes place on a ship and you want it to look like it was done in 1902. Come to think of it he’s the only guy you think of when you want something like that. He’s THAT kind of genius.”

—Mike Mignola

The art in 'Into the Silent Sea' is truly remarkable. Undoubtedly due to the immense planning, care and effort that Gary put into the project. This is evident in his preliminary work for the book, which perhaps even more beautiful than the final art. So much so, that Fleskes Publications has launched and funded a Kickstarter to publish a special 'Studio Edition' of 'Into the Silent Sea', which will showcase of all the preliminary work for the graphic novel.

The Studio Edition of Hellboy Into the Silent Sea will be 144 pages of pencil and color preliminaries. The hardcover book will be oversized at 10 inches wide x 13 inches tall, and printed on a thick woodfree paper stock in order to mimic the art boards that Gianni uses for his original art.

The Kickstarter is in it's final days, and I'm excited to see this project come to fruition. However, I'm unusually excited about the prospect of one of the stretch goals, which is a special 96 page book with over 100 drawings by Gary, illustrating H.P. Lovecraft's'The Call of Chuthulu'. They are currently only a few hundred dollars away from that goal!

There are only 3 DAYS LEFT to pre-order this book. You can view the Kickstarter, and pre-order your own copy right here:


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