The Making of “Thor”

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.
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.
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.
My final sketch after shooting reference.
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.
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.
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!

The Making of “Skadi”


The first seven portraits in "Tales of the Æsir."

The first seven portraits in “Tales of the Æsir.”

I’ve recently finished the latest painting in my Norse portrait series of a winter goddess named “Skadi.” She’s more obscure than the other characters in the Norse pantheon but actually has one of the most interesting backstories. I had a lot of fun painting her and enjoyed the challenge of portraying a complex character in a simple composition.


As usual I started off with a very loose idea of how I wanted to portray her in a series of very rough thumbnail sketches. Because I’m leaving the background white on these images, the silhouette has to be strong and interesting to lead the eye around the picture. Also, I quickly realized with this series that it could easily become a bunch of pictures of “people holding stuff.” As a result, it became important for me to try to inject additional narrative into the piece with the more subtle aspects of posture, expression and costume.


After I established the pose, I asked a friend to model for me to get the correct photo reference. Skadi is a huntress and I wanted her to be holding a pair of antique wooden skis, similar to the style a hunter in Norway might have used. Since I didn’t have any around I mocked up the shape of them with some fishing poles, and duck taped them together to make them wider and more similar to skis. An old fur coat from a thrift store was perfect for the costume and had just the right texture.


My initial sketch dealt with a lot of problem solving right off the bat. Looking at it now, I can see that I was struggling with the facial structure. My model had a lovely cleft chin, but this can very easily look too manly if depicted with a heavy hand. Although Skadi is a huntress, she is by no means a man. This problem came up again during the painting, but the second time around I found ways to soften and subdue those harsh lines. I think sketching is where I usually make all my mistakes, sort of like a trial run. I also ended up tilting the composition more when I transferred the sketch to the canvas, making it much more dynamic and alive.


This is around the middle of the beginning of the painting after I’ve laid down initial colors over the underpainting. This is where I’ve begun to sort out the issues with her face and add some additional elements that weren’t in the original drawing, such as her deer skull necklace. According to the legends, Skadi is a half-giantess and I wanted to allude to this aspect with the deer skull. If she is wearing that as a necklace- then she’s gotta be huge!


“Skadi,” 14 inches by 18 inches, oils on canvas.

And here’s the finish! I had the most fun with the textures on this one. I set out with the goal of making every texture in this piece feel alive and I think that at least partially succeeded. The gloves sewn from animal hide are my favorite part. In case you were wondering, the footprint on the ski is a nod to her origin story that involves the choosing of a suitor by his feet. I won’t tell the entire story here but you can read a decent summary at

Thanks for stopping by!

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 Recap

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 was amazing! I’m still recovering from the massive dose of inspiring art and talent. This year, I had my a whole booth all to myself and was pleased and excited to have a significant number of people show interest in my work, from fans of the fantasy genre to giants in the industry that I respect and admire. I decided to set up my pochade easel this time around and paint a simple portrait study to generate attention and keep myself busy for when foot traffic slowed down. It turned out to be a really good idea – a lot of people stopped by to see what was going on, and some folks even asked technical questions, such as “how do you keep the skin colors from getting muddy?” I was actually hard pressed to come up with an answer for that one – sometimes I forget how much practice is required before painting even tones without muddy mixtures on the canvas becomes natural. Naturally, the advice of my own teachers came to mind and that was what I usually responded with.

All in all, I am so glad that I invested in this convention – it was totally worth all the effort and preparation. Ginormous thanks to Cathie and Arnie Fenner for yet another incredible show. Until next year, Spectrum!

Colin Nitta at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live convention.

I painted in my booth during the convention, a first for me. It was suraprisingly fun, and a few people even asked me for tips!

Another view of the booth.

A small portrait study that I painted during the convention, titled “Violet Simone.”

Some Spectrum swag I picked up: (clockwise, starting from the top) a postcard by Kelly McMorris, a print by Jeff Miracola, a greeting card by Craig Elliot, a postcard by Rebbeca Yanovskaya, and a postcard by The Fantasy Illustration Library: Lands and Legends.


It has been much too long ! My apologies for a severe lack of posts here. This marks the first time in which I have a rather unique problem: I am doing a lot of work that I can’t share publicly! Don’t mistake this for a complaint, however: I love having illustration work and collaborating with clients. Publishing deadlines just happen to be rather long, so all the work I’m doing is locked up for now behind closed doors until some of these projects get released to the real world.

Recently though, I was finally able to finish a personal piece in between the commissioned work, titled “Chartreuse.” This was a really fun portrait based on some old photo reference I took ages ago. One day, digging through some old sketches, I came across this little beauty:

I liked it a lot and realized it was much better than the painting that followed it originally. So,  I repainted it in a different format and “Chartreuse” was born.

While challenging to pull off, I am finding it more and more important to continue my personal work amidst the client work. It seems to flex my mind in a different direction. Also, I will be exhibiting at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 3 again from May 9-11 in Kansas City, MO and I really want to be able to showcase some new paintings there. I can’t wait! The last two SFAL’s were mind blowing and I expect the third to be more so.

Thanks for stopping by! Hopefully I can update more!! (fingers crossed)


Painting and Modeling at Arte Verissima





Painting from life at Arte Verissima Studio in Oakland, CA.

Painting from life at Arte Verissima Studio in Oakland, CA.





An art practice is an interesting thing. It has a life force of its own and changes and matures with the growth of the artist. I have been participating in the monthly Figure in Costume painting events at Arte Verissima Studio for almost a year now. The studio has become somewhat of a second home, a place to network and share ideas with other artists and learn from the unique experience of portraying the live figure.

There is something really special about these sessions. The models are generally top notch and always wear an authentic costume that is high quality (no Halloween junk!) and period specific. Themed music accompanies the session, along with coffee, bagels and good vibes. Experiences like these are what make art worth it for me and they just can’t be found elsewhere.

I myself have also helped out at Figure in Costume and pitched in my time on the other side of the easel as the model. If you ever want to learn how to become more empathic, try being an artist and an art model simultaneously! I am modeling at the next session on February 16 and the theme is “Viking”. If you live in the Bay Area, love to paint the figure and would like a unique experience, I highly recommend it.

A Civil War costume that I modeled in, authentic down to the last buckle!

A Civil War costume that I modeled in, authentic down to the last buckle!

The next theme: “Viking.” I am so excited!

The next theme: “Viking.” I am so excited!

Neil and Elaine Hamilton

It’s my belief that one of the best ways to elicit emotional response is through portraiture. Political cartoons and classical portraiture have this trait in common- they both say momentous things about their subject that can have more impact than a straight photograph. This feeling can be positive or negative, but if done well it is powerful in either direction.

Over the years, I’ve wanted to honor and thank my grandparents and I felt the best way to do this was through portraiture. I recently gave this double portrait to my grandparents on my mother’s side this Christmas, titled “Neil and Elaine Hamilton.”
It was challenging and rewarding to create this painting for them. I hope to make more images like this of the people in my life who have helped and mentored me in my artistic career.

Taking Stock

2013 is almost out the door and I thought it would be fun to show a visual retrospective of my creative output over the past 12 months. A friend and former teacher of mine, Chris Koehler inspired me to take this year end tally- he does a very similar wrap up, although I confess that I do not keep as careful track as him in counting everything I make. Some paintings I have never photographed, and some are still under NDA contracts- but this is the bulk.

All the paintings that I made in the studio working from photo reference.

Every painting made in the studio working from photo reference.

The studio images have a lot more chiaroscuro and deep darks. I also tend towards warmer colors when I’m compositing images out of photo reference and my own imagination.

Not every picture is a smashing success. It’s really quite sobering to look through these and think about what I want to do better. There is still so much to learn. But, I can be proud of the fact that I painted from life as much as I did. Gotta keep that up! Working in plein air techniques or from a live model seems to be a shot in the arm for reinforcing realism.

The famous Japanese painter Hokusai was famous for saying at the end of his career that he still had much to learn. Luckily, I’ve got a little more time and I’m truly looking forward to the never ending path that is the art process. Here we go 2014! May you be as inspiring and challenging as 2013- hopefully, more so!


Commander Charlie Bernhardt of the 101st Airborne

Commander Charlie Bernhardt of the 101st Airborne

I recently completed my latest painting, “Commander Charlie Bernhardt of the 101st Airborne.” I’m particularly happy with this one- one of my original goals with this piece was to capture a sense of character and place with more gestural, energetic brushstrokes and I feel I accomplished that. I admit, this particular character borders on steampunk but I was actually going for more of a retro space western feel.

If the fellow in the picture looks familiar… then your intuitions are correct, because I used myself as a model. Every now and then I paint an “altered” self portrait, and this is the latest of those. If I had to point to inspiration for these, I’d say that they come from the “no budget,” home movies that my older brothers and their friends would throw together on a holiday weekend… invariably, I was a zombie of some sort, but occasionally would get the hero part. Acting out those roles, however juvenile, was a thrilling experience that never really left me. Shooting reference for illustration brings it all back and makes for the “altered” portrait. Below are a few others I’ve done before. Enjoy!

Self Portrait with Coffee

Self Portrait with Coffee

Tyr and an Oak Tree

Portrait of the war god Tyr, painted by Colin Nitta


Bickford Oak

Bickford Oak


I have recently completed another painting in my Norse portrait series, titled “Tyr.” This passage from Snorri Sturluson’s “Prose Edda” describes him eloquently:

Yet remains that one of the Æsir who is called Týr: he is most daring, and best in stoutness of heart, and he has much authority over victory in battle; it is good for men of valor to invoke him. It is a proverb, that he is Týr-valiant, who surpasses other men and does not waver. He is wise, so that it is also said, that he that is wisest is Týr-prudent. This is one token of his daring: when the Æsir enticed Fenris-Wolf to take upon him the fetter Gleipnir, the wolf did not believe them, that they would loose him, until they laid Týr’s hand into his mouth as a pledge. But when the Æsir would not loose him, then he bit off the hand at the place now called ‘the wolf’s joint;’ and Týr is one-handed, and is not called a reconciler of men.

With each portrait in this series I am attempting to tell a story in a single frame, and it is Tyr’s bitterness and anger at losing a hand to Fenrir that I attempted to capture in this picture. There is something so essentially Norse about Tyr’s story- other interpretations of the same tale describe the other gods laughing at his foolishness and misfortune while he clutches a bloody stump where his hand used to be. For Snorri’s audience, this was the stuff of comedy!

Also, last week I had the chance to visit my home town of Penryn, CA and do a little plein air painting with Amuna Laima. I painted an oak tree around mid morning on a grassy hillock called Bickford Ranch where I’ve painted oak trees before. The last time I was there (a slightly different tree, but in the same area) was mid December, on a drizzly winter day. Now that I’ve been doing plein air studies for some time now, I get the chance to compare pictures of the same locations at different times of the year. Hopefully, I’ll do another study at Bickford in the fall and will be able to further compare the color changes of the seasons there.




I recently painted this character at another figure painting session at Arte Verissima. The model, Nick was accomplished and had a good personality for the theme, which was “Film Noir.” I’ve got a serious craving for this genre, with its dramatic aesthetic and dark moods. So many great films are from this period- “Double Indemnity,” “Detour,” and “Chinatown” are a few of my personal favorites. I hope to paint this fellow again in the future- I don’t feel like I quite captured his eyes up to my satisfaction.
I also ended up with a couple of neat gesture studies as well during the initial warm up poses. Nick had experience in theatre, which made for some really great expressions. I am a big fan of models that inject drama into their work! This transformed an otherwise average session of practice from observation into an intriguing narrative full of mystery and suspense.