The Making of “Sierra and Mercury”

Sierra and Mercury – 18″ by 24″

The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

-Michelangelo

My latest painting is a commission of a friend and his roleplaying character. This collaboration actually started about a year and a half ago when his father contacted me regarding a portrait for his son as a birthday present. As is often the case with private commissions, it was some time before I was actually able to meet with the client to determine what sort of portrait would work best.

At first, I planned on doing a simple head shot style portrait of one character, but we ran into a bit of a problem. The father assumed his son would actually look like his roleplaying character – but the character in this case was actually a woman, and totally different in appearance. It would have been a bit awkward to present the final portrait, saying “here’s your son’s portrait – it’s actually a totally different person…”

Hence, a dual portrait was going to be more appropriate – the son, Sierra would be primary and his roleplaying character, Mercury would be secondary. In a way, I had two clients instead of one, so I needed to fit the expectations of both.

Mercury Redwick character study

In a strange way, I ended up focusing a lot more of my attention initially on the female character. She had an entire backstory, with detailed equipment and armor, so I needed to get that right. Sierra’s character, on the other hand wasn’t as well defined, so I invented more of his characteristics.

I actually committed a serious flaw in drawing Sierra’s character in this stage, but didn’t notice it at the time. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to his forward left leg, and how it foreshortens into space.  I would soon learn the error of my ways…

This drawing error persisted all the way into the final painting stage until I showed this piece to a few people and received feedback about the issue. I took a hard look at my original reference and was horrified to see just how badly things had gone astray. The moral of the story is: get that drawing right before going to painting! A bad drawing never makes a good painting.

In the end, it all came down to that tricky, foreshortened left knee of the front character. I repainted the armor on that knee several times over, trying to get it right. Only after I reshot a reference image with homemade knee armor was I finally able to figure out what was going on there!

The above timelapse video shows it all. At 3:27, the course correction happens – it’s still a bit painful to watch! I shared this on facebook, and after receiving feedback that people were curious about what I fixed, I decided that this post could serve as a useful educational piece on how paintings go wrong, and how they get fixed.

End of an Era

“Vaudie III, 11 by 14 inches, oils on canvas”

Painting models from life is a precious thing. Over the years, I’ve learned just how rare it is to find a painting group that meets on a weekly basis. Several things must converge: a studio space large enough to hold several artists needs to be available (no easy thing in the Bay Area), professional models need to be willing to sit for long periods, a chief organizer needs to wrangle said models and artists together, and schedules need to be available that permit for said wrangling. It also helps if everyone gets along too!

I am leaving one such precious group with a move from the big city to a rural town. As such, “Vaudie III” has a tinge of melancholy. The painting group that I’ve been a part of for about a year and half will be sorely missed.

Vaudie I

Vaudie II

Over time, we painted the same models on several different occasions. As my skills improved, I also got better at recognizing the shapes in these people’s faces. It was truly an revelatory experience, and having the same fellow painters to share it with only built upon on our camaraderie.

While I’m blue at having to leave this club behind, I’m also extremely excited for a new development: a home studio!

It’s still under construction, so it’s a bit of a mess at the moment. I simply cannot wait until I get to move in completely and make it mine. It’s part of a remodeling project that I have been working on with the help of friends and family. The project has been all consuming, but I’m sure the final product will be well worth the time and energy we’ve been pouring into it.

I’ll miss you, painting group. This room will become the new home of my artistic adventure. So many developments are racing along that it’s hard to keep track of them all. I hope to document them here in greater detail in the coming months!

The Making of “Guardian”

Guardian - 24" by 18"

Guardian – 24″ by 18″

My latest painting, “Guardian” was a new exploration into character and environment. For me, the setting is akin to another character in an ongoing story, rather than a simple backdrop that plays second fiddle. I went through a lot of mockups to figure out how to best interweave these two elements and spent a whole day just sketching for this piece.

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Mocked up Photoshop reference collage.

With this piece, I actually started working with existing pieces of reference in Photoshop first and then made a sketch of them afterwards. For some artists, this is a no-no; they would advise starting ideas with rough sketches straight from the imagination first, then shooting reference to match those, whereas this process is the reverse. I don’t actually think there is anything wrong with starting with photo reference first. I “sketch” just as much in Photoshop, grabbing pieces from photos that I need and throwing out what I don’t need, and arranging the elements as I see fit. A lot of editorializing goes on and I try to avoid being a slave to the existing images.

I actually visualized this piece having smoke plumes in the background at first. I thought an extra element of drama and narrative was needed – perhaps a disaster on the edge of the tranquil forest that our guardian satyr is the first to witness. As I painted the piece, I realized it wasn’t necessary. Still have that itch to paint some far off smoke plumes though – I think I tackle that in another painting.

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Satyr study.

I then made a final drawing of the assembled reference collage. Getting the satyr hooves to look convincing was by far the toughest part. My reference image was great for the hair on the thighs (a handy thing, those hair pants), but I still needed to figure out how to get the hooves to look like they were capable of bearing weight. A lot of goat images via Google helped out, and the horns of the Nubian Ibex provided inspiration as well.

Sequential progress, from left to right.

Sequential progress, from left to right.

Keith Parkinson Changling War

“Changeling War” by Keith Parkinson.

I don’t have a lot of progress images with this piece, but a few of them here illustrate my thought process. I wasn’t sure at first how to resolve the tree – you can see that at first, I left a lot more detail in the branches in the first progress image on the upper left. They were too distracting though, and I realized the tree needed to lead the viewer’s eye to the satyr and provide a sort of “border”. Sometimes, a painting from another artist can help – in this case, I consulted a cover painting by the late illustrator Keith Parkinson, “Changeling War.”

Keith has done a great job in directing the viewer’s eye. The tree needed to lay back for cover text to go on top, and this works to lead the overall composition to the young warrior interacting with the man inside the tree. I took a note of that – and, admittedly, the purple flowers too. Purple is just a great compliment to green! Looking back, I can see how one might even think I started my painting with “Changeling War” in mind. I swear, I didn’t. I just happened to find it in an art book and realized Keith was facing many of the same problems I was having.

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I think “Guardian” maybe be one of my favorite character portraits so far. I love taking old archetypes and recasting them in new and interesting ways. Creatures from Greek mythology are so iconic that they can be reused in almost any way. Medusa, you’re next! (maybe)

New Portraits from Life

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“Evan”, 11 inches by 14 inches

I’ve been continuing my practice of painting portraits from the model at a weekly session with some friends in Oakland. Every 4 hour session is a new chance to try something new and I am finally beginning to see some improvement since last fall when I started attending. There is something about the air of a group of painters in a room, trying valiantly to capture the visual phenomena that lies before them. Its a great feeling of camaraderie, one that I look forward to every week. Enjoy!

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“Annabelle”, 16 inches by 12 inches

 

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“Kawena”, 11 inches by 14 inches

"Anjuli," 16 by 12 inches

“Anjuli,” 16 by 12 inches

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“Mia II”, 11 inches by 14 inches.

Roleplaying Portraits


I’m excited to announce that today I am releasing an all new painting commissions service, called Roleplaying Portraits! I am now offering my services as a painter of imaginative portraiture.
The service offers unique, hand painted portraits of roleplaying characters and is for gamers of all stripes, including digital and tabletop gaming.
One might ask, “Why did you want to start a new website for this Colin?” Well, it all came down to communication. I’ve always been available for commissioned works, but few people realize this. Portraiture has been a life long love, and I realized that if I truly want to pursue collaboration with others, then I need to take the first step. What better way to do that than through offering a website that explains the process from start to finish, complete with an online ordering system?
Watch the video below for more information, and check out Roleplaying Portraits!

2015 Review

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All the paintings I made in 2015!

Sometimes, there are so many exciting developments between one blog post and the next that I have a hard time writing them all down. With 2016 comes an exciting start to many new ventures, but it’s worthwhile to review what 2015 had to offer. Here’s a breakdown!

  • I traveled to Eastern and Central Europe for the first time in June-August, and gathered an incredible amount of inspiration from the wealth of cultures there. I visited many museums, and also painted on location.
  • I exhibited work at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 4 in Kansas City, MO in May, as well as Illuxcon 8 in Allentown, PA in October. Work was well received and I got great critical feedback from peers, and also sold a painting to a private collector.
  • I also showed work at two pop-up shows, one at the Latvian Song Festival in San Jose and another at the Latvian Center in Los Angeles. The second show saw a successful sale with a collector as well.
  • In September, I began attending a weekly figure painting session with fellow Bay Area figurative painters – a wonderful opportunity to learn through observation.
  • In December I traveled to the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, camping out and painting beautiful desert landscapes.
  • And just to cap it all off, a piece that I recently submitted to the art annual “Infected By Art” was accepted into the next volume!
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Painting on location at Cesis Castle, Latvia with fellow artist Amuna Laima.

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My booth at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 4!

My booth at Illuxcon 8!

My booth at Illuxcon 8!

My pop-up show at the Los Angeles Latvian Center.

The pop-up show at the Los Angeles Latvian Center.

"Mickey and Stripes", figure study painted from observation.

“Mickey and Stripes”, figure study painted from observation.

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Painting on location in the Golden Canyon Trail, Death Valley, CA.

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Painting on location in the Mojave Desert.

Witness - 24" by 18"

“Witness” – a painting that I submitted to Infected By Art in late December… and was later accepted in early January!

As I am writing this post, I am a slightly surprised by how much there was to cover from 2015. A lot can certainly transpire in a year! There are so many things that I am looking forward to in 2016 that it’s hard to wrap my head around it. Stay tuned for more posts and exciting new happenings coming soon 🙂

The Making of “Summertime”

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“Summertime” on display at the 97th Independence Day Celebration this past weekend at the Latvian Hall in Los Angeles.

I recently finished a painting inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, titled “Summertime”. Many people responded positively to this piece at an popup show in LA this past weekend, so I thought it would be a great piece for a “Making Of” post.

With “Summertime”, I actually started by shooting a model in various poses before settling on any one particular idea. I knew from the outset that I wanted to paint a portrait that was inspired by traditional Latvian folkwear, but wasn’t sure on what potential pose would work the best for the concept. Dzoanna, the model and I had never worked together so I didn’t have a good idea of her character. I decided to let the photo session lead to a pose naturally instead of coming with a preconfigured idea of how I wanted her to look.

Luckily for me, Dzoanna did a great job and gave me a number of wonderful poses to work from. I went with the fourth photo but any of the previous three could have worked as well.

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I then used a grid process to draw the photo reference from my computer onto a 12″ by 16″ piece of sketch paper. Gridding is a common transfer method and I like it for a few reasons – it helps to keep the drawing proportions accurate and also forces me to pay attention to every individual gridded section of the piece. It’s very simple – by using a grid that’s overlaid on top of the photo, I simply match up the grid sections that in equal number and proportion on a piece of sketch paper, and then copy them by hand.

I find that I don’t ignore the random folds and drapery as much in favor of juicier areas like the face and hands when I use a grid method. It’s a little more laborious than other methods but I like the observation that it forces.

Underpainting stage.

Underpainting stage.

First layer of colors.

First layer of colors.

Second layer - focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Second layer – focusing on primary elements like the face, hands, and also the background around the figure.

Adding refinements - pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

Adding refinements – pattern on sleeve, pattern on skirt hem, flowers. Another pass on the face and corrections to the hands.

I believe this took around 4-5 sessions to complete. After I have the painting transferred, the process is a number of passes that go from an underpainting to successive layers of mostly opaque paints. I don’t use a lot of turpentine at all, and linseed oil is mostly reserved for the later refinements. I try to let the paint really handle the job and have been trying to avoid thinning it overmuch or using a lot of washes. This avoids both over-refining and lets me finish the painting in a relatively short period.

Summertime - 16" by 20"

Summertime – 16″ by 20″

Finally, the piece comes together as a finish and it’s ready to display. I had a fun time with the beautiful patterns on the sleeves and decided to break out of my normally quite somber range of colors with a burst of summer flowers that complement the bold palette of the skirt and sleeves. Weirdly enough, I am happiest with how the black skirt turned out. Black clothes are always a challenge, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever managed to paint them convincingly. Bring it on, black! I hope you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for more like these in the future 🙂

Character Portraits, Real and Imagined

"Mia", 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas.

“Mia”, 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas.


I have recently begun attending a figure painting session with fellow bay area artists. It’s been a great weekly routine in which about four to six painters and a model crowd together for warmth in a cozy garage studio in the Oakland Hills and together struggle to depict the human form for four hours. Beer and bad art puns are shared amongst all. I’ve been to a lot of different drawing and painting groups over the years, and I have to say this one is my favorite so far. Sometimes I pull off a great portrait, and sometimes I just learn from mistakes (usually the latter).
"Mickey," 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas

“Mickey,” 12 inches by 16 inches, oils on canvas


Sometimes in my initial lay in I go for something more than a simple portrait. The above painting of the model Mickey was one of these. I struggled with her posture and proportions pretty much the whole time, but at the end I was reasonably sure I captured her silhouette somewhat accurately. It’s not a knock-out painting by any means, but I learned a lot, which is what it’s all about.
In progress character portrait

In progress character portrait


This practice is in turn translating into what I am doing at the studio. I’ve recently started up a series of small character portraits that are inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that I’m running. I’m not sure what this series will turn in to, but I’m having a lot of fun translating what I’m learning into narrative works. Stay tuned for more coming soon!

Learning from the Figure

"Lury", 14 inches wide by 17 inches tall, oils on canvas

“Lury”, 14 inches wide by 17 inches tall, oils on canvas


I have been learning a lot from traditional figure drawing and painting recently. More and more, it has become to clear to me that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible with drawing and painting from life.
I recently finished taking a class with the acclaimed portrait painter Bob Gerbracht. If you can visualize the ultimate guru of classical portrait painting, that’s Bob in a nutshell. I learned a tremendous amount during his class. We studied the same portrait pose over 4 consecutive weeks, for a total of 12 hours. I haven’t done that sort of intense observaton for years and it really made me think differently about how I depict “reality”. It occurred to me that no matter how much time you have to paint something, there is always more to do. After the first session, I was convinced that I was going to finish it in the next session and have oodles of extra time. But Bob kept reminding me where I was falling short and where the picture wasn’t exactly right (down to the millimeter). Correcting my mistakes took the vast majority of the time and by the fourth session, I was racing to get it all down. Another thing that I learned from this experience: painting from life is fundamentally different from painting from a photograph. There is always limitations to a photograph’s fidelity, but our eyes can see an infinite amount of detail. This is why I have to continue painting and drawing from life while I simultaneously work from photos in my studio so I don’t forget that lesson!
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Along with Bob’s class, I also started to attend a weekly drop in figure drawing session in Berkeley with some fellow illustrators. It’s a simple uninstructed session, starting with gestures and moving into 10 to 20 minute poses. While these quick drawings are almost the polar opposite of the experience of Bob’s class, they share many observational truths in common. Here are a few more of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by!
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The Making of “Thor”

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I recently finished the eighth deity portrait in my Norse series, “Thor, God of Thunder.” I put off Thor for a while because he is far and away the most popular of all the Norse gods, and the combined forces of Marvel and Hollywood have painted a picture of him that the public has come to recognize as authentic. This version is stoic and handsome. In the original epic poem of the detailing the Norse gods, The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturleson, Thor is depicted as more of a bumbling oaf. He is a god for the common people. It was this version that I most wanted to emulate.
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I ended up studying a lot of professional wrestlers to give him the right sort of swagger. This is the Thor that is boisterous, loudmouthed and full of the bravado that a lot of the contemporary versions of the character seem to miss. I pull most of this general reference off of Google just for the basic feeling of the pose.
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I next develop thumbnails for the silhouette of the figure. These are still super basic, just rough ideas of where I want the picture to go. Because I often discover new possibilities when I shoot the photo reference for the pose, I don’t want to limit myself by making the thumb or rough sketch too detailed.
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My final sketch after shooting reference.
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Here’s the very beginning of the painting, just after I’ve transferrred the sketch to canvas and traced the linework with burnt sienna. It’s still pretty rough at this stage- I hadn’t decided to add his flowing cape yet, but it quickly became clear that it would be essential. Looking back, I can see that I lost some of the energy that was in the final sketch and some things got a bit wonky, like the angle of Thor’s neck and his back. I always aim to identify and fix issues like these when I start painting. It’s a gradual process in which I’m constantly correcting errors and stepping back to make sure everything remains in proportion.
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This is much further along in the painting, about 80% finished. I’ve shifted and corrected the angle of his neck and head, added more girth to the shoulders and made the cape much more prominent, tucking the warhammer behind it in a more natural way.
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And the finish 🙂 I ended up reshooting photo reference for the right hand that is above the belt, which was looking rather unnatural and wooden before. The end result has a lot of the original attitude that I was going for. This portrait ended up being much more of a caricature than the others in the series, although I think I like it for that reason. I hope you enjoyed this latest “Making of” post, thanks for stopping by!