The Making of “Two Hunters”

Two Hunters

“Two Hunters,” 24″ by 18″, oils on canvas.

“Two Hunters,” could have gone wrong in any number of ways. I think I steered it clear of most of the pitfalls because I spent A LOT of time planning this one. It started out with a fairly simple idea – that of Comanche warriors riding velociraptors in the desert – and quickly became quite complicated.

Raptor Maquette
Raptor Maquette

The first problem was reference. Where was I going to get reference imagery of velociraptors? As usual, I decided to build a small maquette out of super sculpey wrapped around a wire frame. This turned out to be invaluable- it allowed me to position the creature just so, and I also was able to control the lighting for a nice back lit sunset feeling. This little fella’ helped quite a bit!

Raptor Sketch
Comanche Sketch

I proceeded to make studies of all the figures and tested out the poses. Initially, the angle of the spears were my biggest design challenge. No matter how I positioned them, they ended up making funny tangents with the crossing tails of the raptors. In the end, I positioned each warrior holding his spear vertically- it made for a nice contrast to all the horizontals in the scene with the desert background, and also acts as a subtle framing element. In the sketch of the left warrior, his hand was in a different position at first, but I’m so glad I changed it. Its so critical to eliminate these problems in the drawing phase.

Landscape Reference
Landscape Reference

The last piece was the background. A teacher of mine from art school, Mark Eanes, used to say that he really preferred the term, “ground,” rather than “background.” Background, he argued, was too much of a inferior term, because that part of the picture is very important and often takes up more actual space than the figures. With this particular image, the background really carries the weight of the picture. I wanted it to emanate the calm, cool feeling of a desert evening. My reference was from a recent backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, and I ended up combining the above two photos for the setting. While the left photo is heavily darkened, it actually captured a really great sense of drama in the sky and the saturated colors. The right photo gave me much more detail for the rocks and dirt in the foreground. Each one had their merits.

Two Hunters

And… then I painted it! Alas, I have no progress photos to show of this one. I was completely in the zone by the time this baby got transferred to canvas and I was halfway through when I realized I hadn’t snapped any photos. That part remains a mystery – can’t reveal all my tricks, can I?

The Making of “The Stone”

“The Stone,” by Bryen O’Riley, published by Luthando Coeur.

I completed the cover for “The Stone,” last December, but have been so busy this year I haven’t had a chance to talk about the making of this piece! It’s one of my more elaborate images, as well as the first published wrap around cover in my career, so I think it deserves a blog post about it’s creation. Another “first” with this piece is the additional digital rendering I added, mainly in the lightning effects. That last step actually wasn’t originally planned- I usually set out with the intention to paint everything in physical media, and “The Stone,” was no exception. However, art is a fickle thing and plans frequently change!

I received a request from Luthando Coeur for an action packed scene on the cover of “The Stone,” specifically one that features a psychic battle between an evil wizard and a young woman in warrior/ranger garb. Since the cover wrapped around to the backside of the book, another male protagonist was requested to appear on the back, looking on the dramatic scene. Lastly, the psychic battle featured a lightning attack that lights up the entire landscape. This was a lot to handle!

My final sketch, at the right, featured all these elements, in addition to allowing room for text at the top of the front cover and some quiet space on the back. I knew from the outset that the lightning effect would be the trickiest aspect to pull off.

With approval of my final sketch, I proceeded to shoot reference images of the characters in the scene. I knew the wizard needed to be exposed in the harsh light of the lightning bolt, almost like being caught in the headlights of a car. Also, I wanted an explosive effect as though the lightning was exerting atmospheric pressure, so his trenchcoat needed to be rippling outward from the impact point. This is the kind of situation where I was really glad I didn’t use myself as a model for the male character- otherwise, who else was going to lift those coattails up?

After I’ve shot reference, I typically make pencil studies of all the characters in the picture. Usually, I’m adding some new element or another- turning broomsticks into spears, adding additional details to costumes, or making my models just a little more “heroic.” I almost always do this if I’ve got the luxury of time. I find that I solve many problems by drawing from the reference first and it’s like a warmup round before I paint them. After that, I scan in my studies and photoshop them into place over my final sketch, making sure that it matches what I’ve promised the client as much as possible. If there are subtle changes (and there pretty much always are) my rule of thumb is this: if the change makes the picture better and it stays true to the spirit of the piece, then I go ahead and change it. Thus far, it’s worked for me.

And after that, I projected the final sketch and dove right into the paint. I don’t typically show too many progress images of paintings, but this one demonstrates a particular aspect of the artistic process that I thought was worth sharing. Somewhere in the beginning stages, I laid in paint for the lightning bolt- and it just wouldn’t look right. Something about it was awfully garish, almost like a cardboard cutout of a lightning bolt had been laid over the scene. No matter how much I tried to fix it, it wouldn’t cooperate.

I finally concluded that painting the lightning in the old school way was just not going to work. I could pile on all the white paint I wanted to, but the glowing luminosity of the lightning bolt would remain out of reach. This is one of the tricky things about working in real media- it takes some sleight of hand to achieve real “glowing” effects. An example of this conundrum is when a white piece of paper is photographed. We think it looks white- as in pure white, with no color at all – but a camera will see all sorts of light gray, light browns, and other hues that show up in any digital image made from photographing a “white” piece of paper.

In the end, it was more effective to paint an “aura” where the lightning would be digitally added. The left image above is the physical, final painting and the right image is the same painting with the lightning added digitally. I call that area of yellowish color in the left image the “aura,” because it’s supposed to be the atmospheric light effects generated by the lightning bolt which I added later via Photoshop.

And then, I painted the rest, solved all the other problems and voila – book cover finished! Of course, it wasn’t that easy, but once I solved the lightning issue most of the other elements fell into place. The painting is now one of those creations that has an asterisk on it in my studio, as in “*digitally finished.” To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. I enjoy my work the most when I feel that the original is true to the finish, albeit the usual steps of digital color correction and glare removal. But sometimes, the job just has to be done. I knew that the cover would look best and more importantly, would be finished on time if I executed the lightning digitally. My publisher doesn’t really care if my physical painting is the same as my print file- they DO care if it is a quality piece and fits their needs. As I continue to evolve my methods, I’m sure that I’ll probably figure a way to solve the glowing lightning problem in real media. For now though, I’m willing to use every tool in my arsenal to get around roadblocks, including digital techniques.

If you’re at all a fan of fantasy fiction, do check out “The Stone.” It’s available for sale in print and e-book format, available through the Zharmae Publishing Press online bookstore, as well as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Thanks for looking!

The Making of “Exile of the Prince”

Wraparound book cover for 'Exile of the Prince,' by Jesse Sterling Harrison, with F.W. Fife Books, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

Wraparound book cover for ‘Exile of the Prince,’ by Jesse Sterling Harrison, with F.W. Fife Books, an imprint of The Zharmae Publishing Press.

I was recently notified by an editor that I work with that a book cover that I illustrated earlier this year has been released, titled “Exile of the Prince,” by Jesse Sterling Harrison. Painting this cover was a very positive experience for me- somehow, the various elements in the image just came together easier with this assignment. As many illustrators know, a lot of this work involves a cobbling together of various reference imagery into a cohesive painting. It’s a lot harder than it sounds!

As always, the process starts with sketches that are selected by the client. From the excerpt I received, it became clear that this novel was set in a post apocalyptic world- but without the overly dark overtones many readers expect of that genre. Two characters, Lucky and Lauren, needed to be portrayed in a somewhat ambiguous fashion that would entice the reader. As this cover was a wraparound illustration, it was key that the main action be placed on the right half of the image- that area is essentially the cover. After some back and forth, we eventually settled on an image of one of the main characters in the book, Lauren looking wistfully out at her environment, while the other main character Lucky is in the background in a more mysterious role.

After receiving approval on the final sketch, I hired one of my favorite models to pose for Lauren. From the outset, I decided to go with natural, afternoon light for all the reference imagery. I knew that it would look the most convincing this way and give the novel an air of realism. I ended up posing for Lucky, the other protagonist in the background. Lastly, the environment was inspired by some landscape shots I took of forests in my hometown of Penryn, CA. I often collect “general” imagery like this- I even had some shots of a railroad, which was also called for by the excerpt I received.

The approved final sketch. The gray line in the middle denotes the wraparound- this is actually very useful as it’s easy to forget that this image will essentially be folded in half.

I often end up being the pinch hitter for male characters. He’s fairly small in the overall composition, so likeness was not a huge priority.

Progress, from start to finish!

From there, I proceeded to make a final sketch from the reference materials and then lay in paint on my canvas. Shooting all the reference in natural light during the same time of day seemed to make a big difference. I wasn’t wrestling as much with attempting to make disparate elements meld together. I can honestly say that this is one of the covers I’m most satisfied with thus far in my career!

For more information about “Exile of the Prince,” check out the publisher, F.W. Fife Books. The book will be available in print and e-book format this coming June!

The final cover, sans type.

The Making of “Voellah”


This is a recent commission I finished for a private individual. I’m really happy with the piece and the process, so I thought I’d share more than usual on what happened to make this image a reality. I’ve categorized this post as “The Making Of…” in a new post series that goes in depth into the process behind my commissioned work. This was also my first job using the online commissions platform DreamUp. It’s a great service set up by the people that run DeviantArt. It connects real artists and real clients via a guaranteed payment process along with prewritten contracts, and no fees outside of the client-artist relationship are required. I really want to start pushing this website as another way to work with private individuals, whom I have no qualms working with as long as they are professional and willing to pay! Anyway, on to the illustration:



The initial brief called for a character illustration of an angelic being in a mountainous landscape. This being, named “Voellah,” was described as a celestial ancestor to our modern version of what we call “angels.” She was to be in a sort of of space jumpsuit, no robes, and shown holding a sword that emits a laser beam, inspiring the vision of angels that wield swords of flame. Her wings to were to be constructed out of palladium, or a metal akin to silver and platinum. Also, her spaceship that allows her to travel to other worlds was to be depicted in the background.
I made four sketches for the client, both in landscape and portrait format as the client mentioned being OK with either. These days, I always color my sketches to provide a clear image of what a potential painting could look like- after all, oil paintings are VERY color oriented, unlike other mediums like ink or pencil. He chose the first sketch pictured above, no changes requested.





After receiving approval, I proceeded to build and shoot photo reference. I really do build a lot of my reference- both the spaceship and the angel wings weren’t aspects that I could easily incorporate into a photo shoot with a model. The spaceship is mostly constructed from foam core, wooden dowels and PVC pipe, while the palladium angel wing (I built only one and mirrored it for the other side in Photoshop) is cobbled together out of old fishing lures, toys, metal wire and a thin flexible foam paper covered in a matte foil paper (not aluminum foil, but this stuff I bought at Michael’s) for the feathers. This helped immensely, as by building a real metal wing I was better able to understand how feathers actually layer and fan out from the anatomical armature, in addition to seeing how they appear In perspective during flight. The model I hired was also extremely helpful- she even had a real sword on hand that I could pose her with. Still need to buy a real sword one of these days!

After shooting reference, I made a refined sketch of the client’s selection. This isn’t something I always do, but on occasion the level of detail in a project warrants the extra work. It also typically speeds up the painting process by solving most of the tricky value and color problems before I commit the image to a physical canvas. The client was happy with it and approved me to go to final.

And then I painted it! Having anticipated most of the potential issues beforehand, the painting was relatively straightforward. I added a few subtle effects to the image in photoshop afterwards, such as the glow around the sword and the propulsion beams below the spacecraft. After delivering the final image, I received word that the client was happy with it and the job was done!

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!