“Kappa Night Raid”, 10 inches by 10 inches

I was invited to participate in a group exhibition at Sketchpad Gallery in San Francisco, titled “100.100.100”. The theme of the show was simple: 100 artists, each creating a single piece at 10″ by 10″, or 100 square inches.

It was a packed evening! 100 artists plus their friends is basically a party waiting to happen. I decided to continue exploring a fantasy world of my own creation with my piece, starring a race of turtle-humanoids inspired by a creature from Japanese mythology called the Kappa.

Tough, feisty and resourceful, the Kappa have evolved from their roots as peaceful sea turtles to become feared pirates, conniving merchants and wealthy smugglers on the high seas. Painting these guys was super fun and they clearly piqued people’s imaginations. I may just have to paint them again!

For more information about Sketchpad and the show, check them out here!


The Making of “Supernatural Disaster 5”

Supernatural Disaster 5 - for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

Supernatural Disaster 5 – for an ongoing project, copyright Centipede Press, 2015.

I was recently given permission to post some additional work from an ongoing project called “Supernatural Disaster.” I’ve been working on this project for some time now with the publisher Centipede Press. I can’t say much about it at the moment, but a first release should be coming soon. Big thanks to art director Jerad Walters for the project!

This piece called for some very evil trees, reminiscent of those found in The Wizard of Oz. Before making any sketches, I like to do my research. In particular, I studied this clip carefully:

What really seems to make these trees so eerie is their very human expressions, as well as the feeling that they are constantly watching. I think the idea that you can’t get away from a menacing presence that seems to watch your every move gets to a very primal sense of horror. It became clear that I needed to have a few evil trees in the scene, to show this sense of being surrounded and unable to escape.

24a 24b 24c

After studying the clip, I began brainstorming and coming up with ideas for the illustration. In addition to the trees, I needed to include a priest character fighting them off with a bible and a vial of holy water. At first, it was a challenge to figure out how exactly I should communicate visually that the water was a kind of weapon. I eventually figured out that holy water is typically carried in a bottle with a cross at the top, and it became clear that this would definitely say “holy water” more than anything else.

I always try to send at least three sketches to the art director with the hope that at least one of the three has a chance of being a decent idea.  After the second sketch was approved, I moved on the fun part – shooting reference!


For the evil tree, super sculpey turned out to be the perfect material to get the reference I needed. I loved working with this stuff and had a ton of fun carving the sculpey into the perfect expression of twisted malevolence.


After getting the tree just right, I hire the nearest model (myself) for the priest character and spend hours getting into character and hunting down all the proper priestly vestments, props and accessories. (Actually, any old book, liquor bottle and a dress shirt will do.) I overlay the reference on top of my sketch in photoshop and then it’s just a matter of matching up the different pieces to create a pleasing composition.


Then it’s time for the final sketch. I try to always take time for this step, even if the reference is really solid. I find that I always add or discard information, so a final sketch is key to figuring out how it’s actually going to be painted.


After all the preliminary steps, it’s just a matter of painting the final and sort of just feels like “filling in”. I had the most fun with getting the tree’s texture just right and used the palette knife to give it a rough, gnarled surface. There is a certain pleasure in scraping the paint onto the canvas that I just can’t get in any other media… I suppose this is why oil paint, despite it’s cumbersome set-up, expensive material cost, dangerous fumes and long drying time, is still my weapon of choice. I guess I have to learn to love it, because I definitely can’t let it go!

I hope you enjoyed my latest “making of” post! Thanks for looking 🙂

World Building

Interior Map for Angry Shadows Rising
A publisher I work with, Luthando Coeur (an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press) recently released a map I drew as an interior illustration for the book, “Angry Shadows Rising.” Authors and readers alike have expressed a fondness for maps and it seems to really give a new dimension to the world the writer is depicting. Questions like “how big is this world?” and “how much is explored?” are difficult to express meaningfully in prose. But with a map, it all becomes clear and believable.

Interior map for “The Stone” by Bryen O’Riley

I’ve been drawing maps for made up worlds since I was a kid when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends from school. As a dungeon master, it’s very useful to be able to draw maps of all kinds for the purpose of world building: floor plans for castles, maps of countries, continents and kingdoms. The players are always asking for information on this made up world and it needs to come from somewhere. Nothing like a map for reinforcing realism!

Life Cycle of a Sketchbook

I am a big fan of the sketchbook as an idea factory. For me, it’s an indispensable resource of thumbnails, studies, scribbles and half baked plans. Some artists have beautiful sketchbooks that look like illuminated holy texts, with every page given hours of loving care and elaborate attention. My sketchbooks are just the opposite: messy and dogeared and by the time I’m finished with them they look like they’ve been through a war.

Ideas, good and bad, need a place to live. For me, that’s a sketchbook.

Exhibit A: A brand new shiny sketchbook on the left – a coverless, mangled, well loved sketchbook on the right. I like sketchbooks that have perforated pages, as they are much easier to remove and post up on my studio wall or next to my easel.

One of the many pages of thumbnails from the last sketchbook. Ideas tend to mingle along with poses and gestures and other gibberish.

I’ll often write descriptive notes alongside thumbs- this is especially useful when working on personal projects that are more ambiguous than commissioned work, and can use the specificity.

I also take my sketchbook for studying at museums when I’m lucky enough to go. This drawing is of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, “The Mighty Hand.”

I also use my sketchbook for gestures during life drawing sessions. The model for this session was dressed in a jester outfit and reminded me a lot of a character out of a Diego Velasquez court painting.




“Ambushed,” is the latest image in my Hybrid series. This painting is unique in that I fleshed it out in a grayscale digital study before committing the image to canvas,in a manner that is much tighter than my usual preliminary study.


Digital sketch.

Recently, I’ve found that establishing a very tight drawing actually helps the painting process feel looser- I’m able to paint with more confidence and energy when I’m not constantly searching for the correct line. Drawing digitally allows me to move compositional elements around with much more freedom than a physical drawing. One aspect that did undergo major change from the digital sketch was the female protagonist’s attire and expression. I realized that I was drawing far too much from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” look with the leather vest, hat and low cut blouse. Her character had no real story with this outfit- it looks much more like a sexy pirate girl you might run into on Halloween rather than anyone who might be found on a ship in the 18th century. I went back to the drawing board and did some more research on costumes of the period.


I picked this book up recently and it’s amazing!

This book is an incredible resource for costuming! It’s a goldmine of information and reference images for pretty much any outfit since the dawn of time (although it leans heavily towards Western cultures). I’ve found it to be 10 times more useful than the ubiquitous Google Image Search. Google, although powerful, favors search results that result in online sales… which is why when you google “female pirate” you get a hundred variations of sexy pirate girl. The problem is, sexy pirate girls never actually existed. Any woman masquerading as a pirate in those days probably would have tried her best to look like a man and blend in. That would have been the only way to survive in the brutal conditions that were the norm on ships of the period.

I wasn’t interested in depicting a gender ambiguous pirate, however. So, I came up with a more interesting plot line- what if the main protagonist was actually a rich Victorian city girl who was kidnapped by pirates? And just when she escapes her captors, the ship is overrun with zombies? Ah, now it’s getting interesting. Now we have a character worthy of emotional investment! I changed her expression as well from one of gritty confidence to fear and apprehension. The end result is a painting that I feel has a lot more punch. I’m glad I made the change!


Project Hybrid


Commander Charlie Bernhardt

Princess of Ganymede

Princess of Ganymede

My most recent batch of paintings finally has a name: “Hybrid.”

I’ve always been fascinated by unexpected combinations, usually in the form of film. One of my very earliest artistic influences, Star Wars is essentially a genre mashup. Science fiction meets mythology, plus the Old West and Japanese samurai flicks. Alien, another favorite, was arguably the first science fiction/horror film. The last film in my holy trinity, Blade Runner is film noir detective plus dystopian future.

This most recent collection of work is tied together by a blending of genres and the weaving of stylistic devices. I’m well aware that genre is really just a vehicle for story, but it’s funny how much we pay attention to it. In a recent radio interview, William Friedkin, director of “Exorcist,” claimed that he never intended the film to be in the horror genre, yet now it is recognized as an all time classic in that category. I want to turn assumptions on their heads with this work. And most of all, I want to tell some great stories with pictures! More coming soon!

A study for an upcoming mashup...

A study for an upcoming mashup…


Duel, Part Two - Billy the Juggernaut

Duel, Part Two – Billy the Juggernaut

Duel, Part One - Astrogirl

Duel, Part One – Astrogirl

I have completed the latter piece in an illustration duet, “Duel, Part Two – Billy the Juggernaut.” I absolutely love the Western genre and the classic “showdown” scene, so this piece was a blast for me.

The Making of “A Perfect Alibi”


I am pleased to be able to show some illustrations I painted for the rock band Radio Mystery, whom have just released their debut album “A Perfect Alibi.” The band already had a concept going for the art before I came onboard, as they wanted a contemporary riff on Renee Magritte’s famous bowler hat gentleman. Self described as, “new music with an old soul,” this mash up of classic surrealism with space age fantasy ended being a perfect fit for Radio Mystery’s identity. I’m very happy that I was able to contribute to their vision and am quite satisfied with the end result.

The complete painting, with extra space atmosphere for the inside spread.

The complete painting, with extra space atmosphere for the inside spread.

The bowler hat illustration, painted for the CD image.

The bowler hat illustration, painted for the CD image.

Atmospheric space nebulas are harder to paint than one might expect! As painting the bowler hat gentleman was so simple, I spent the most time trying to get just the right cloudiness and transparency for the space dust. I really wanted a sense of wonder and mystery to permeate the image and getting the atmosphere right was totally essential.

I played “A Perfect Alibi” constantly while painting this- it’s some really good stuff! Here’s where it can be found online:


Listen online: Spotify / SoundCloud / Rdio
Download (you name the price): BandCamp
Buy MP3s: iTunes / Amazon MP3
Buy physical CDs: CDBaby

Give em’ a listen! Thanks for stopping by!

Hel and High Water

hel portrait

Study for “HEL”

san bruno mountains painting

“TOWER,” painted on location in the San Bruno Mountains.

san andreas lake painting

“SAN ANDREAS LAKE,” painted on location.

san andreas lake painting

I am keeping busy as ever and have started a new “mini-series” in the studio. The drawing above is a study of the Norse goddess named Hel- according to the writings of Snorri Sturluson, she is represented as both a gatekeeper to the underworld and the location itself. She is going to part of larger series of portraits about this particular pantheon that I have plans to incorporate into a grander scheme. More on that coming soon!

I’m also keeping up the plein air thing, so far. I am really enjoying the duality of these two modes of working- it keeps my hand moving in different ways and keeps my painting fresh and inspired. The plein air work forces me to work quickly, while light conditions are still consistent. This energy lingers with me when I work from photographs in the studio. My painting partner, Amuna Laima took the above photo when we had just set up to paint San Andreas Lake. We laid the easels on the ground, to keep a low profile and avoid attracting unwanted attention. Sneaky!

Composing Digitally

I recently have gotten into the practice of composing my more complicated images digitally before going to paint. I took a page from the book of Jesper Ejsing, an artist I admire who uses this practice to his advantage. The first image is a combination of some drawings I fleshed out with a paper and pencil traditionally, threw into Photoshop, and then arranged with background I sketched in digitally.

I’ve found that this allows me quite a bit more freedom with my composition than trying to sketch the entire drawing on a single piece of paper. There is no hesitation with moving or resizing the disparate elements, no hesitation caused by having to use an eraser to make changes. When I sketched my ideas completely traditionally, I tended to erase and move things so much that the tooth of paper completely died and the eraser dust formed a fine layer on my work surface. Now it’s a clean file on my computer.

I used to really abhor any use of digital methods whatsoever. Of course, this is all preliminary detail- I still have a finished oil painting at the end, the methods I use to get there are just different. My new philosophy is: if it works better, use it!