The Beauty of Ruins

"Koknese Castle Ruins" by Juljis Feders, 1904.

“Koknese Castle Ruins” by Juljis Feders, 1904.

I returned to Latvia a second time this year and was entranced by the glorious castle ruins there yet again.This time, I had a chance to visit the Latvian National Museum of Art and was delightfully surprised to find that Latvian artists from the past had also painted the same exact ruins that I have become enamored with.

Wall piece from the Latvian National Museum of Art. Artist unknown.

Wall piece from the Latvian National Museum of Art. Artist unknown.

Here are the ruins of Koknese castle again in a much moodier, darker composition. Two very different takes on the same location!

"Timebound" by Colin Nitta, 2015.

“Timebound” by Colin Nitta, 2015.

My painting inspired by Koknese, “Timebound” is from a different vantage point, though certain elements can be recognized such as the central wall piece that juts up between the left and right wall ruins. It’s interesting to note that when the Latvian artists painted Koknese, they were working at a time when the landscape was totally different. At that time, Koknese was on a hill overlooking the surrounding landscape. My version of Koknese has water right up to the castle’s edge with no change in elevation (just ignore the big alien planet and the ship in mine, for now). Why the difference?

The answer is the occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union from 1940-1989. During that time, hydroelectric stations in this area were built to supply power to nearby cities and in the process, they dammed up rivers. This caused the water level to rise greatly, so that the Koknese we know today has water right up to its edge, whereas in 1904 when Juljis Feders painted it, the water was much further down below. Painting from his vantage point made a lot more sense at the time; Koknese looks truly fantastic up there on it’s hill. That kind of composition is catnip for artists.

These differences make a huge impact on the castle’s relation to the surrounding landscape. I can only imagine what Koknese must have been like in the year 1200 when it was not a ruin but a real fortress on a high hill overlooking the surrounding territory. It must have been truly awesome back then! There is a great deal of myth and wonder surrounding these old ruins. So much narrative power lies in a pile of old moss covered stones. A year ago, I thought I might be tired of castles and ruins by now, but I can see that I’ve only just begun to explore these enchanting places in my work.

"Cesis West Tower".

“Cesis West Tower”.

"Dobele Spire"

“Dobele Spire”

Color Charts


Color mixing: the bread and butter of painting. Carpenters cut wood. Welders work with metal. Painters mix paint.

I finished a complete color chart of my current palette a few weeks ago and have been meaning to write a post about the process. It was funny for a little while – people would ask me what I was working on in my studio, and I would answer, “Mixing paint. Making color charts.” It sounded silly – why wasn’t I working on some epic new portfolio piece featuring my usual cast of fantasy characters? Well, making these color charts has actually become one of the most useful tools in my studio, so much so that I now reference them almost every painting session. Here’s a breakdown of what makes them so integral to my practice.

All 12 charts, on my studio wall for easy reference.

All 12 charts on my studio wall for easy reference.

Having all the charts behind me as I paint is incredibly useful. When trying to get a particular hue, I often would spend a lot of time mixing different colors on my palette, basically guessing until I found something that sort of worked for what I wanted. While mixing paint this way is very meditative and calming, it’s not particularly fast. Now when I’m stumped to figure out what I need, I simply glance behind me – and most of the time I can find what I’m looking for. How does this work?


The mother color chart – every pure tube color, plus white.

I won’t take credit for this process – that would go to Richard Schmid, painter and author of Alla Prima. His technique regarding color was my inspiration for this entire project, so if you’re interested, the best way to do it yourself is to pick up a copy of his book.

The first step is to take all the colors in your current palette and mix them out to gradations of white, establishing a stepped scale of tints. Step 1 is the color straight from the tube – easy. Steps 2-5 are successive mixtures of Titanium White added to the color in a steadily lightening gradation, with Step 5 being the very lightest.

It immediately becomes obvious that as colors are lightened with white, they actually get much cooler in tone. The lightest tints are very cool. While I already knew this basic concept of mixing, having it so readily demonstrated is a great reminder of what white actually does. The cooling effect is subtle in the lower gradations, but it always happens.

The child palette. A specific color is mixed with every other color.

The child color chart for Cadmium Yellow Medium. A specific color is mixed with every other color in the palette.

The next step is to go through the palette and mix what I call the “children” charts. The above chart is for Cadmium Yellow Medium. For each column, Cadmium Yellow Medium is mixed with every other color in the palette with Cadmium Yellow Medium “predominating” in hue. Predominating means that the mixture is not overwhelmed by the other color – so the first mixture of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Radiant Lemon has more Cadmium Yellow Medium than Radiant Lemon, allowing its basic qualities to be the main hue in the mixture.

Next, that mixture is again gradated out with Titanium White, from steps 1-5 the same as was done for the mother chart. By repeating this tinting process, it becomes evident where the color mixtures have the greatest amount of individuality, right around steps 2-3 in hue. By the time it gets to step 5, the hue is so light that differences in mixtures are very subtle.

It was actually quite time consuming to get those stepped gradations just right. But once it’s all finished, the amount of information regarding color is astonishing. The chart above basically unlocks all the possible combinations of Cadmium Yellow Medium in two color mixtures plus white. This is incredibly useful information!


The child color chart for Radiant Lemon.

I won’t discuss every child color chart in depth. Even I know that would get dull. But just look at the difference between the Cadmium Yellow Medium and Radiant Lemon child color charts. Both colors are yellow in hue. Cadmium Yellow packs an intense, warm punchy hue. In contrast, Radiant Lemon is so light and cool that its practically almost white when it is squeezed from the tube. It’s much more pastel in hue. There’s a reason why Cadmium Yellow Medium costs twice as much at the art store – just look how much more literal color there is in those mixtures!

Was this project worth it? Definitely. Each chart took me around 2.5 hours, so with all the panel prepping, taping and mixing, the project probably took around 32 hours. Now though, I have a complete guide for every color I use. Eventually, the time I’ve spent will be regained when I’ve eliminated the guesswork while trying to mix a particular color on my palette. If you’re curious, the rest of my charts are below. I highly suggest mixing your own. The investment is worth it!









How to Build a Painting Rack

I recently constructed  a painting rack for my studio where my work can dry above the ground. Since I work on canvas mounted to gator board panels, I needed an easy way to store them without stacking them directly on top of each other where paintings could smudge or scratch each other. It was actually pretty easy and only took an afternoon. Here’s how I did it:


I started with some reclaimed wood and measured it to be 12″ in width. Most of my work is around the 11″ by 14″ range to 18″ by 24″ range, so 12″ on the bottom was going to be the minimum I would need to be able to stack work onto the shelf and allow some overhang without it falling off. Next, I measured six intervals, and then used a hand saw to cut grooves into the wood.


It was a crude job, but good enough. I just need the grooves to be deep and wide enough to fit some 1/8″ plexiglass dividers.


Next, I scored plexiglass into 12″ right triangles and set them into the grooves. All that’s needed to keep them in place is a line of wood glue where each divider is placed. I like plexiglass because its durable and the transparent effect is nice too when I’m looking at paintings in a row.

The two sides of the rack, installed.

The two sides of the rack, installed.

I repeated this process again for a second rack. As you can see here, this wall in my studio has a dividing bit of molding, so in order to effectively use the space the rack goes on both sides of the molding. I have a very small studio, so I try to use every available bit of room.


The rack in action!

The rack can actually hold quite a few paintings at once. Looking back, there is one design change I might make. The plexiglass dividers could use a bit more total area. As they are right triangles, there is actually not much that the paintings lean and the can tip to one side easily when bumped or jostled. I think I may use larger dividers in the future that do not come to a perfect right triangle but instead are larger trapezoidal shapes. This would give more structure to the dividers and the paintings wouldn’t be knocked around quite so easily. Even so, it’s a good solution – my work is off the dirty floor and I can see it all in one glance. A big improvement from stacks of panels on top of each other, leaning against the wall!

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.


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.


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.


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


“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!


“Annabelle”, 16 inches by 12 inches



“Kawena”, 11 inches by 14 inches

"Anjuli," 16 by 12 inches

“Anjuli,” 16 by 12 inches


“Mia II”, 11 inches by 14 inches.

The Making of “Dana & Goliath”

Dana & Goliath - 24" by 18"

Dana & Goliath – 24″ by 18″


Initial thumbnail sketches.

I promised a “making of” post for “Dana & Goliath” a little while ago – so here it is!

When I have a germ of a narrative idea for an illustration in my head, I always start out with very loose thumbs to establish a super basic composition. My sketchbook typically gets covered in scrawls that look very much like the above. I really wanted a strong gesture in the halfling swashbuckler as she defeats the ogre tyrant, and I finally landed on a sort of leaping, triumphant gesture that hit what I was looking for.

Digital grayscale value study.

Digital grayscale value study.

As this piece was turning into a pretty complex scene, I decided to fully flesh out a grayscale value study to really nail the parts where I wanted the most visual emphasis and establish elements that needed to fall back as supporting elements. I didn’t use to do this sort of preparatory work, but I’ve realized that it is a huge time saver on a piece like this. Working digitally lets me really tweak the contrast as much as necessary, and one of my favorite tricks is zooming way, way out on the piece to see if it still reads properly. The is a great test to see if a composition is working – if you can’t differentiate the major shapes at the size of a postage stamp, chances are it still won’t work when it’s enlarged to a double page spread.


Still works!

Next step - shooting photo reference.

Next step – shooting photo reference.

All told, I used about 15 different photos that I composited together for the entire image. Some are just images I pull from online sources for a quick reference on how a rapier sword handle looks, or to how an aged wood barrel appears. I don’t copy these verbatim, but rather just look at them for quick notes on texture and form. Other references are much more literal, like the figures and also the castle interior itself.

Its a little hard to tell here but this is a model constructed from gator board and drawing paper to get the proper perspective for the castle interior. I wanted the look of a medieval wine cellar, and this called for rough masonry walls and paved stone floors. Getting all those bricks in perspective was a tricky prospect, especially when they were so obscured by all the various objects in the room. The best solution turned out to be a physical model because I could control the lighting very easily. Some artists prefer 3D software like Maya for this, but I like getting crafty – it’s super fun and feels like I am really building an actual space.

Final sketch before painting.

Final sketch before painting.

After compositing all the reference together in Photoshop, I made a final drawing to really get details established. I didn’t bother with values because I had already established those in my earlier value study, and was mainly focusing on accurate proportions and proper perspective.

When I finally transferred this drawing to the board, I had almost already painted it in my mind because I had done so much preparatory work. That may sound bold but its how I actually feel sometimes when a piece requires this much reference shooting and model building. I worked on “Dana & Goliath” on and off over a period of three weeks in between other projects, and solid 20% of that was just the prep work.

From sketch to final.

From sketch to final.

I hope you enjoyed this “Making Of” post as much as I enjoyed painting “Dana & Goliath”!

Dana & Goliath


My latest painting is complete, “Dana & Goliath”.

I had a really fun time painting this one! I wanted to get a very gritty feeling of a classic fight scene from 90’s roleplaying fantasy games. A new post is coming soon that details some of the fun little things I did to get the details right, like building perspective models. Stay tuned!


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


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!

Painting on location at Cesis Castle, Latvia with fellow artist Amuna Laima.


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.


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


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 🙂

Infected By Art – Available for Voting!

"Lytra the Omniscient - Human Wizard, Level 7"

“Lytra the Omniscient – Human Wizard, Level 7”

The art annual Infected By Art has released online voting for this years submissions. I have my very own page of art submissions and you can vote on what you like best!

Many thanks for your support 🙂 Below are the other four submissions that I sent in this year. Wish me luck…

"The Piper"

“The Piper”





"Supernatural Disaster 1"

“Supernatural Disaster 1”