Illuxcon and Patreon

Hi folks! Well, it has been a very busy couple of months. First of all, I am very excited to announce that my Patreon has launched, now available at

Starting this new venture has been a big learning experience for me. I’ve been studying the work of other artists with Patreons and have come to realize that the most successful ones are built on healthy relationships between patrons and artists. Some Patreons are like miniature classrooms with reams of study material available to contributors that want to grow their own artistic skills. I absolutely love sharing my techniques and the lessons I’ve learned, so I’ve chosen a somewhat educational model to base my page on. I’ll also be posting updates on works in progress and my latest creative ideas, so whether you’re an artist looking to develop your skills or are an art lover that just wants to hear about what I’m up to in the studio, the Patreonpage is where it will be happening!

Pledges range from $1-$5 per month and patrons can adjust or cancel their pledge at any time. Please let me know if you have any questions and I’d be happy to answer them!

In other news, I attend the Illuxcon convention in Reading, PA last weekend. As always, the convention was an absolute blast! I met old friends, made new ones, got a massive boost of inspiration… and sold an original oil painting! It’s always such a thrill to hand off a piece to a collector. Whenever it happens, I’m always so grateful and pleased that my art has kindled a spark of wonder and fascination in someone else to the extent that they were willing to part with some hard earned cash in exchange for an original work of art. It really means a lot!

“Powder Street Market” is the painting that sold. Originally inspired by a D&D campaign, this painting had a special place in my heart, but now it has a new home with a private collector. A lot of passerby complimented this work at Illuxcon. It’s always hard to know what kind of images will connect with people, but I now think I have a better idea of what I’d like to pursue going forward!

Righting Wrongs

“Wrong Turn”, 43 inches by 24 inches, oils on canvas.

I recently reworked a painting from last year, “Wrong Turn”. Revising old pieces is never as satisfying as starting something new, but I often find that I learn more by the time I’ve finished. This piece was no exception!

Left: The original painting. Right: Original painting with new changes mocked up.

The biggest problem I dealt with in this piece was the two merchant characters who are having a bit of rough day. I showed this piece to some colleagues whose opinions I hold in high regard, and they all said that these characters’ poses were problematic. Too stiff, the proportions are strange and the gestures were not telling a story. I started by completely reworking their poses, and made a quick and dirty mockup in Photoshop of how it would look with those changes.

Maureen O’Hara and James Stewart in “The Rare Breed” (1966)

It can be tough to reimagine a failed painting when it holds a strong precedent in your mind. I needed to brainstorm how I could make those poses stronger, so I turned to some old books on classic Western cinematography. A good Western is all about strong composition and gestures that telegraph emotion. I knew I’d find some gold and pored through the pages looking for a distraught couple and when I came across this image, a light bulb went off in my head!

The shot from “Rare Breed” really got me started because I realized that I could channel the distress of the couple completely through the emotions of the female character. Her husband’s been shot, she’s surrounded by danger on all sides but she’s still desperately trying to protect him. The husband is in his own private world of pain, totally unresponsive and deaf to her cries for help. I quickly put a crossbow quarrel through the heart of my husband character and positioned the wife in a protector role. Now it’s got something going on!

Compare it again to my original painting. These characters are lifeless by comparison. Their poses are oddly symmetrical and their physical separation is not adding to the overall story. At the time, I justified it to myself with the concept that they were frozen by the danger in front of them and powerless to take action. Indeed, they look frozen… and totally devoid of emotion or narrative.

Painting out those old characters made for a dark evening. It’s never fun to erase hours and hours of work but it’s the initial band-aid that has to get ripped off before healing can begin. I then printed out my sketch at the same size as my painting, taped it on and used Saral transfer paper to transfer it to my painting.

Another thing that made this painting difficult with my first pass was the ridiculously tiny scale of the figures. Painting an expressive face the size of a quarter is just really hard. Also, the canvas grain begins to work against the brush at this scale, making tiny detailed strokes harder to achieve. It’s actually a large painting, but these two characters are the smallest in the entire composition so they were the hardest to pull off. When I finally felt satisfied with how the faces were coming along, I took the above photo and posted it to social media with a triumphant caption. Nothing like the encouragement of your peers to keep on going!

I am so much happier with this painting now! As I reworked these characters, I noticed other things that needed fixing, such as details on the wagon, parts of the landscape, etc. Those got a redo as well, but the distressed couple was the lion’s share of the work. Ironically, I decided to leave the painting’s title, “Wrong Turn” the same. My own personal misstep is now a part of the piece but I went back and corrected it the best of my ability, and that has made all the difference.

New Year’s Resolution

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is quite simple – to do more life drawing! (my other resolution is to improve my painting skills, but that one is always the same).

Life drawing, like so many other beneficial practices, is easy to fall out of. As a working artist, I’m always busy finishing commissions, completing revisions, and sometimes just doing paperwork. It’s a lot to handle and it can be so easy to shrug off the need for constant practice and studying from life with “ah, I’m too busy/tired/unmotivated for that sort of thing.” After all, life drawing has no immediate benefits beyond the practice itself. No one pays me to do these drawings and there’s no one breathing down my neck if I don’t produce them.

The irony is that life drawing is one of the only things an artist can do to truly improve their skills measurably over long periods of time. No amount of working from flat, photographic reference can replace the experience of drawing from a living, breathing person that has dimension, volume, and most importantly, life. The two drawings above are from a session I attended yesterday, my first in 7.5 months. Gah! Way too long, I know. The last year has been crazy and I know that’s no excuse. And that’s why for 2018 I am renewing my vow to life drawing and the tireless pursuit of what is real!

In other related news to life drawing, I am happy to announce that I will be taking part in the Biennial Illustration Alumni/Faculty Exhibition at California College of the Arts, titled “Illustrating Resistance”. It’s a juried show, and my accepted submission is a portrait painted from a live model in 2016. I am so honored to be a part of what will surely be a stunning collection of top notch work from my colleagues and mentors!

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.


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.

The Making of “Wrong Turn”

Wrong Turn – 43″ by 24″

Every now and then, I decide to take a big leap forward with a new painting. “Wrong Turn,” is definitely one of the biggest leaps yet. As 43″ inches wide, this painting is one of the largest, most complex compositions I’ve attempted in recent years.

Basic value study.

Very early in conceptualizing this piece, I knew that I had to nail the values exactly if I wanted to convey the amount of complexity inherent in the scene. I forced myself to only think in two dimensions: shape and value. The plethora of details would come later – first I had to build a solid foundation.

Perspective study in Google Sketchup

Figuring out the perspective in Google Sketchup also started early in the process. I figured out that I wanted a dramatic, low angle, with the foreground villains literally towering over their victims. This “worms eye view” is tricky to pull off if you’re not sure how large each figure is in relation to the others. Sketchup is an invaluable tool when it comes to getting mathematical accuracy. Of course, the models themselves are really just reference points for scale – it’s absolutely useless for finer points like lighting and texture.

Finding my inner bandit.

I must have shot hundreds of reference photos for this piece. Figuring out how to mock up the crossbow was tricky. It turns out that taping a wooden clothes hanger to a BB gun was the ticket.

Again, Google Sketchup proved itself for details on the crossbows. My MacGyver’d version made from the BB gun and clothes hanger provided just enough light and shadow information, while the Sketchup model showed me how the arms of the crossbow curve in space when viewed from a low angle. I think this sort of solution is one that often evaded me when I was a younger illustrator. For this situation in the past, I used to assume that I just had to buy a crossbow off eBay, or there couldn’t be any crossbows in my work. If you can solve the puzzle of light and shadow with a crude physical model, then often a digital Sketchup model will provide the missing details, and you can basically paint any object in this way.

El supremo bandito – the first solid drawing.

I knew that the foremost bandit had to be dead on. I spent the most time drawing his figure before looking at anything else. Tinkering with details in this drawing stage is one of my favorite parts. I think I laughed out loud (alone in my studio, like a weirdo) when I came up with the idea of a crossbow bolt harness attached to his bootstrap.

Vice Bandit.

The fallen guard. Working digitally now.

In this sketching process, I always start out with pencil and paper, and slowly migrate into the computer with digital tools. Pencil is where I do all my tough thinking. When I’m feeling more confident with the direction things are going, I pull the sketches into the computer and start drawing supporting elements in that medium, moving layers around and adjusting the composition. I’m not sure why I do it this way – maybe the physical tug of the graphite on paper is a soothing presence in those dicey early stages when I’m not feeling as sure of my direction. For this reason, I almost never draw my thumbnails digitally. I’ve tried it before, but it just makes me anxious, and I tend to abuse the all too available eraser tool when working on digital thumbs.

Final drawing with values added.

At last, after all the preliminaries I make a final drawing and really nail those values. Over and over again, I revisited this until I was sure I had something that really worked. It served as my roadmap for all decisions going forward.

Digital color studies.

I knew that I wanted one color to support all the others in the image that would result in a stark, high contrast painting. Magneta ended up grabbing the most of my attention, and once I had that decision made, I consulted my handy color chart for the rest of the supporting cast.

I already wrote a post on color charts a while back. These things are so awesome. Every painter should make them. Nuf’ said.

I try to make a habit of shooting a photo of my painting after every significant painting session. It helps me see the choices I make as I go through a piece, as well as spotlighting the blatant mistakes that get corrected later. One of these that you can see in the GIF above is the change in the merchant woman.

Realizing where I went wrong – the purple is a digital redrawing over a photo of my in progress painting.

I remember painting and repainting her face, thinking that I just needed to get the expression right. I remember wanting to throw my brushes at the wall when I realized it wasn’t just her expression… it was everything. The torso was totally off kilter from the rest of the body, making her look stiff and doll like. The fingers were weirdly fused together, and the clothing looked fake. I wiped off the wasted paint from my canvas, and set to redrawing her completely. It was painful, but worth it. The new figure was so much stronger I could hardly believe I had ever accepted the first rendition.

A first pass on the crystals.

Another thing that threw me for a loop were the scattered crystals on the ground. Near the final stages of the painting, I showed the work to a friend who commented that the crystals didn’t look believable enough. She was right. Although I had looked at plenty of reference images of crystals, they seemed flat and non-dimensional.

Ah… that’s the sparkle we want!

A trip to a craft store solved this conundrum. I realized I needed actual shiny blue crystals in the dirt, reflecting the midday sun. I found a package of cheap plastic and glass beads, crushed them with a hammer and tossed them on the ground.  The real trick turned out to be getting them wet before I took a photo. They gleamed much brighter with beads of moisture bouncing the light in a glittering pattern.

So shiny…

These little details are actually what make illustration so much more fun. There’s a real thrill of discovery to figuring out that cheap plastic beads can be made to look like precious gemstones with the right methods.

The hardest thing about this piece was not rushing myself. It took me so much longer than usual that I started to get antsy when I looked at it after week five of the same canvas being on my easel. The last stage of asking friends for critique was the hardest – I didn’t want to even think about it anymore, but the feedback I got was so important it could not be ignored. Now that “Wrong Turn” has finally left my gaze, I can think about framing it for the Illuxcon Convention in Reading PA in October. I can’t wait to show people this baby in person!

Illustration Master Class

Bindi – 16″ by 20″

Amherst College, MA

“You have to finish. There is no other option.”

These words were spoken to me by the renowned painter and illustrator Donato Giancola at the beginning of the Illustration Master Class. This year’s IMC was my very first as an attendee and I was curious as to how many students actually finished their painting in one week’s time. I already knew that the IMC was basically a crazy illustration blitz in which students of all skill levels learn an incredible amount of technical and conceptual skills with world class faculty in one week. What I was unsure of was how many students actually manage to finish a painting from start to finish in that time. I’d seen other people post their unfinished paintings from IMC to Facebook, talking about how much they’d learned and how they hoped to finish their work with the help of their newfound knowledge from the class.

So, on Day One, I approached Donato Giancola and asked him if it was realistic to expect to finish my painting by the end of the week.

“You have to finish. There is no other option.”

Well, there you have it. My question was answered, and as I settled in for the week of intensely devoted study that is the Illustration Master Class I knew that I had to finish my painting.

Initial searching.

I had come prepared with some ideas for my piece, inspired by the novella “Binti,”written by Nnedi Okorafor, published by Tor Books. I really liked the story’s protagonist, but was struggling with how to portray the dizzying array of visual information provided by the story. I churned out thumbnail after thumbnail, none of which seemed to fit.

Presented thumbails.

I landed on the above four ideas and shared them with Donato Giancola and John Jude Palencar, the instructors who would review our work on the first day of class. Both Donato and John agreed the first idea on the top left was the strongest, but they encouraged me to make it more visually interesting – while the pose was strong, there wasn’t enough happening with the left side of the canvas.

Reaching clarity.

The character of Binti goes through a fairly ridiculous set of transformations over the course of the story, and I really wanted to portray that with my illustration. She encounters an alien race called the Meduse that appear as airborne jellyfish, and is herself incorporated into their species, her hair changing into tentacles. I wanted to show this aspect of metamorphosis, as well as the story’s dynamic of space travel and the journey to discover one’s true self.

Final drawing

After continued consultation with Donato and John, I shot some reference of a fellow student and drew up my final sketch, which I felt to be strong. A spray of nebula space fabric would be emitting from Bindi’s hand as she faces the desert, the tentacle hair writhing atop her head which would mimic the abstract rhythm of the star fields in the nebula spray.

Underpainting and initial color lay in.

I eagerly started painting and felt optimistic about my progress. During the class, I was surrounded by a host of other students painting away on their pieces as well as instructors giving demonstrations and critiques late into the night. I noticed that while others were farther along on their paintings than I, some hadn’t started painting yet and were still in sketch phase. I had confidence… but that was soon going to change!

Something is amiss…

I began diving into color and painting the space fabric as the week progressed. Slowly but surely, inklings of doubt began to set in. Something about the space fabric emanating from the point of light near Binti’s hand was off. What was this space stuff anyway? I wasn’t sure, and that was a major issue.

Further sinking into the mire…

I kept noodling along until I noticed instructor Scott Fischer walk into the classroom. I knew instinctively that he would have something valuable to tell me. I approached him and asked for his thoughts on the piece. He strode up to my canvas, put his hands on his hips authoritatively and asked, “What is it?,” pointing to the ungodly tangle of color and shape taking up the left portion of the canvas.

“It’s, uh, you know, space stuff.”

“No, but really, what is it? I can’t tell what it is. Doesn’t the story have a jellyfish, or something? Is it a jellyfish?”

“Uh… Yeah. Yeah, it’s a jellyfish. Sure.”

His answer received, Scott looked to my palette and saw a brush laying there. I knew what was going to happen: he was about to paint over my picture. My pretty picture. I forced myself to hold back the urge to use my body as a shield for the canvas I had slaved over all week and let Scott do his work.

Bindi, post operation by Scott.

“You should just make it clear and show what it is. Show that they have a relationship, like this,” said Scott. Suddenly, those quick slashing black lines that he laid over the top of my painting clarified in seconds what hours of my self consumed muddling could not. I thanked him profusely and he went on his way to lay waste to the agonized work of another student.

Taking the tough steps: painting out my mistakes.

Many painters agree that the hardest thing to do is paint over a section of a piece that isn’t working. There is an inherent compulsion to over assign value to anything we’ve spent significant amounts of time on, a common logical fallacy known as the Sunk Cost problem. Once Scott had put those harsh black strokes over my problem area, I was suddenly free to destroy it and start over. Mind you, this was around 1pm on Saturday, the second to last day of the class. I had less than 24 hours to fix the painting and finish.

You can just smell the paint in this room.

My studio: Room 101 – Illustration in Traditional Media. The frenzied activity shown above was constant and sustained every day from 8am when the studios opened to 2am when they “closed” (not really, many students worked later than this quite regularly). The atmosphere was so intense that when I took occasional breaks to use the bathroom it felt like stepping out of a gym where everyone is working out so hard you can smell the sweat and hear the painful strain of muscles growing stronger. Art muscles, that is.

By 7am on the final day, I put down my brushes and felt a wave of weakness overcome me. I had painted for approximately 18 hours in the final stretch. For several nights in a row, I had averaged less than 4 hours of sleep… and I am a big fan of sleeping.

“You have to finish. There is no other option.”

These words and the encouragement from the other instructors were my fuel. Without that fuel, I never would have been able to accomplish Bindi in the time frame allotted. I was a wreck on the last night in which the faculty and the students hit the bar together and traded sketchbooks into the predawn hours. My eyes would hardly stay open and conversing intelligibly became a challenge. But, I can say that I finished, and that makes all the difference.

A huge thank you to Rebecca Guay, the IMC staff, and the faculty for building an awesome week of learning that is like no other. I’m still trying to process everything I learned and experienced and will be thinking of this week for a long time to come. If you’re curious about the IMC, the best way to learn about it is to just go. For years, I was on the fence about whether it was worth the investment and whenever I asked alumni from the IMC about their experience, they told me I just needed to go. Now I’m saying it, too!

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!


“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!


Infected by Art Volume 5

Forbideen Knowledge, 28″ by 21″

I’m pleased to announce that my painting “Forbidden Knowledge” was accepted for inclusion in the annual art competition Infected by Art, Volume 5! What is most interesting about this is that Forbidden Knowledge is actually a paint over of a canvas I originally conceived four years ago, titled “Sage.” For a look in the way back machine, you can even see the original post I wrote when I originally completed the piece here.

The first time around, I received a positive reception from people who liked “Sage”. The composition was strong and the storytelling aspect was clear. But, two things in the painting were seriously lacking in overall execution. They happen to be the most challenging elements of a figurative painting: heads and hands.

I chose a pose for this character that had writhing hands, spiderlike and villainous. One of the reasons hands are so hard is that they have a multitude of planes that wrap around the digits and the flesh of the palm, resulting in an incredibly complicated (and beautiful) piece of anatomy. Looking back at my original painting, I can see I clearly struggled with the overlapping nature of this hand pose. It doesn’t feel like there are any bones in those fingers.

The left hand was even trickier. As I repainted it I was able to appreciate just how nuanced a foreshortened hand really is. The first painting looks like a painted drawing: lots of unfinished linework and an overall lack of volume.

Finally, the face got a serious makeover. Unlike the hands, the way in which I handled the features is basically correct on the original version. The main problem lay in the brushwork and values. Too much contrast resulted in a flat looking portrait and the shadows lack depth. Also, faces just require a tighter control of individual strokes. We pay way more attention to faces than almost anything else in a picture so they demand a higher degree of finish.

I touched many other aspects of the original painting as well: the wineglass and the candles especially. Going back to an old piece is actually very rare for me as I have a tendency to be obsessed with my latest idea. In this case, it was extremely enlightening. It showed just how much we artists have our blinders on. Trying to see your own weaknesses is like attempting to peer around the edge of the cascade created by two mirrors reflecting each other. Only time and the valuable opinions of other eyes can reveal the glaring faults that we are too close to see!

Illuxcon 9

My booth at Illuxcon 8!

My booth at Illuxcon 8!

In one week, I will be touching down in Pennsylvania for Illuxcon 9. I couldn’t be more excited! Last year was so much fun. I am very much looking forward to reuniting with the fantasy illustration tribe in the convention’s new location at Goggleworks Center for the Arts in Reading, PA.

Preparation for Illuxcon 9 has been intense. I am bringing more artwork this time and have carefully measured out my booth dimensions to make sure everything just barely fits. Here are some new works that will be on display and available for sale:

Forbideen Knowledge, 28" by 21"

Forbideen Knowledge, 28″ by 21″

Gorp Scream-Bringer, 20" by 16"

Gorp Scream-Bringer, 20″ by 16″

The Necromancer's Return - 18" by 24"

The Necromancer’s Return – 18″ by 24″

Dana & Goliath - 24" by 18"

Dana & Goliath – 24″ by 18″

Twisted Fellowship - 20" by 16"

Twisted Fellowship – 20″ by 16″

I will also be exhibiting a brand new series of miniature paintings, featuring castles inspired by recent travels in Europe. Below are three completed pieces of the series thus far. I like to think of this series as a postcard memento to a long forgotten age 🙂

Camelot, 6" by 4"

Camelot – 6″ by 4″

Fortitude - 6" by 4"

Fortitude – 6″ by 4″

Wanderer - 6" by 4"

Wanderer – 6″ by 4″