Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gold Dragon

Edit 2/11/11: Worked on it some more. Thanks to Drew Baker for his excellent critique!
Here is my latest painting, a Gold Dragon. It was done for a friend who's a big Dragonlance fan as a Christmas gift.

I thought I'd show a bit of my process, so I saved copies of the painting at various stages of completion. Here goes...

My original drawing. I try to put as much detail as possible without making the drawing overwhelming. I plan a bit of how the lighting is going to work out, but I don't overdo it. My goal is usually to have only 10-30% of the pencil drawing visible by the time the painting is done.

I paint entirely in Photoshop. The drawing is made into a multiply layer and reduced to about 20% opacity. I start off with a gradient for the background. I know I want to depict an early morning sunrise, during the so-called 'Golden Hour'. The dragon is chiseled out using the pen tool. I'm of two minds about the pen tool. It's really great for precision, but it can also make your painting much more artificial (ie digital) looking.

During the early part of the painting (the hardest part for me), I concentrate on light and shadow. I originally conceived the dragon as having a chrome-like neck, chest and belly, hence the pink color you see reflecting off the chest.
Obviously, I've spent a lot more time on the dragon and less on the background, but I really do make an effort to work on the entire image at once. Some people paint like this; some render entire parts of the painting to completion before moving on to the next part. Which is 'better' is anyone's guess.

I decided the chrome areas are just too distracting and will not serve to make the overall image any better and so I get rid of it. At this point, I realize I HATE the background right behind the dragon's head. I flatten those layers and apply a Gaussian blur and get ready to try again.

After a good 5 hour slog, I've brought the background to a point that I can tolerate. I notice at this point that the dragon doesn't look golden. It's more like green. Now the green in the shadow is a result of only faint blue sky acting as a fill light on gold scales, so I can't change that...

One of the best tricks I've learned is to apply a rich helping of the local color (in this case, an orange gold) to the light side, just before the terminus (start of the shadow). I also notice at this point that the focus of the image, the head is not really standing out like I should.

I added some shininess to the head, some cheesy God rays, and paint in the Golden Eagles (get it?). At this stage, I feel like it's pretty finished, but the contrast is lacking. I applied an adjustment layer, using Levels to bump up the contrast. Levels are really nice; I consider it a manual version of the Brightness/Contrast adjustment. It gives so much more control to the user. At this point, I consider the painting finished.

If you're reading this, I thank you for hanging with me for this long. I really hope this post helps other artists out in some way. I tried to point out my struggles, because I know we learn best from struggle, not triumph. I would never claim to have anything on Todd Lockwood or Donato Giancola, but still, I think this adventure was worth sharing. Let me know what you think.

Well, Merry Christmas everyone. May you have a blessed New Year, filled with new struggles, growth and triumphs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sam Nielson's Advanced Lighting

Sorry I've been slow to update. My class with Sam Nielson is about to come to a close, so I will be posting a bit more regularly very soon. In the meantime, here's one of my assignments, painting hair. The original monster design is Sam's. The rendering was left to us. The feathers in the mouth were my idea. :-)

If you're really serious about getting better and learning everything you didn't learn in art school, but should've, I'd highly recommend this class. Just realize it's a humbling experience, but one that will leave you all the greater of an artist for it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When Pigs Fly....

An artistic take on the famous adynaton, 'when pigs fly'. Thanks for the idea, Christina. I don't think this was quite what you had in mind though.....

In other news, I was lucky enough to discover Claire Wendling. If you want an artist who can draw, and I mean REALLY draw, she's someone you should look up. Stuart Ng offers a nice selection of her books. Check it out!

Edit: Added another, cuter flying pig. It's airborne porcine madness!

Monday, November 22, 2010

New Dragon Line Art

A new piece I'm working on. It's going to be a gift, so I'm pulling out all the stops. Wish me luck! Thanks!

Monday, November 15, 2010


Hi...uuhhh...remember me? Sorry about the monthlong delay on updates. In my defense, I'm taking an online class right now with Schoolism taught by the incomparable (and tough grader...) Sam Nielsen. It's an amazing class, but it takes up almost all my time. Here are some sketches I've been able to sneak in....

Don't mind the elephant that's bleeding through on the left side....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Panda Birthday

A birthday card I did for a friend. I hope this image explains, loud and clear, why I DON'T do cute and cartoony!

Happy Birthday Jocelyn!

Friday, October 8, 2010

IF: Beneath

'Food that brings its own toothpick!'

My entry for Illustration Friday. It's not quite a finished as I'd like, but deadlines are deadlines. Check back in a few days, I will have a finished version. Thanks!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Daemons and Dragons

Here's a new painting of U'zhul the Skulltaker, from Games Workshop. I'm not too crazy with how GW depicted him, so I've made a few changes. His Cloak of Skulls is now a cape of chains-because nothing says bad ass as having tons of chains hanging from your back. I do really like his story however. Villains are so much fun and this evil, arrogant but honorable trophy hunter was a compelling creature. The painting itself was partly inspired by the movie poster for The Shawshank Redemption.

And yes, I know it's 'demon', but seeing how this is a British IP, I figured I should defer to their spelling of 'daemon'.

And here's a revisit of the Forest Dragon painting I did a while back.

Thanks to TL for the critique. I'm very grateful that you shared your time and knowledge with me.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Night Dragon

A painting I did for the Sketchaholic interview for my friend, who I've never met, Master Concept Artist and All Around Nice Guy, Charles Santoso. Check out his work. Congrats Charles!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I just got back from Thailand yesterday. It's a wonderful place, filled with hardworking people, good food, ridiculous heat and humidity and a long, proud culture and history. Most importantly for me, my extended family still lives there.

I got to see my grandmother for the first time in 20 years. She's barely able to walk now, but her spirit, happiness and Christian faith are still bright and undiminished. We had some time at the end of our visit to do a portrait session. Here's the drawing.

And here's grandma.

It's something else to draw a portrait of someone who is so important to you and a bedrock of your family. I can't really describe that feeling. After years of drawing and painting from professional models, it's something worth experiencing. Give it a try yourself, next time you're with family, or when you've got a moment with your spouse, parent, child, etc.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Skarbrand vs. Kairos

Here's the finish of the Warhammer Daemonic throwdown painting I had started a few weeks ago. I've been experimenting with new brushes and approaches to painting, so this has been a challenge.

Well, I'm off to a much needed two week vacation in Thailand. Going to see the extended family for this first time in 20 years. Should be exciting! I'll be going there with pastels and conte crayons in hand. I hope to be able to update this blog while I'm there, but if not, see you in late September!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

ESA Giant Panda

'Cause down the grrroove, the panda's alright....

Sorry. That was lame. I'm sure Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen wouldn't appreciate that one either.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Portraits Part 3: Molly

Molly, 30"x40"

It's been a long time since I posted a traditional oil portrait. This was done over four sessions for three hours per session. It's pretty big (at least for me), at 30"x40". I chose the large size because I wanted to paint her hands. If you're interested, I use Old Holland paints. Bloody expensive as they come, but hey, you only live once.
I must say that while I enjoy these painting sessions and I grow a lot as an artist through them, I HATE the yellow colored lighting from fluorescent bulbs. Argh!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

ArtOrder Gotta Have a Hook Final

Well, here it is. It's been a good challenge. To be honest, this piece was a struggle and in the end, it's still not everything I had hoped it would be. I will say with conviction that I did the best I could with this piece.

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Friends

A new idea I just got in my head. I really should go hit an aquarium. Hopefully, I'll finish it for you shortly.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ArtOrder Gotta Have a Hook Thumbs

Okay, so I'm way behind on posting this. I'm taking part in Jon's latest ArtOrder challenge. Here's my submission.

I was lucky enough to get a critique from Jon.
Here it is for your convenience.
I picked up your entry because of #1. This is the most inventive way of including the horror in the image without actually showing the horror. While I like the concept (a lot), it has a lot of pitfalls right now. I'm getting a great shot of the dwarf, but the horror almost feels like an afterthought. I've got to look for it to find it. I'd be curious to see what would be the result if you tightened up even more so that I saw just his face over the shield, maybe a hint of the hammer, and the shield taking up the majority of the image. I'd like to see the hook horror really big and scary in the reflection. I want to get the sense that the dwarf is about to be consumed in a single bite. Thumbnail it a bit and see if it has any merit. If it works, it can be a most powerful visual.

I experimented with Jon's suggestions. Suffice it to say, I've settled on this.

I'll have the final pencil for you next week...till then, take care, stay cool.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Redeemer of the Lost

For all you Warhammer nerds out there (like me!), here's Astorath, High Chaplain of the Blood Angels and Redeemer of the Lost (I told you this was nerdy).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Forest Dragon

My latest dragon painting. Funny to think it's been a while since I did one. I've been working on this for a bit more than a month (hence the long delay between posts).

The dragon is based loosely on the Forest Dragon from the Warhammmer Fantasy universe. I was a teenager when this piece was first released and I fell in love with it. I've been wanting to do something with it for a long time now, and I finally figured it out. And yes, the big tree is based on Avatar's Hometree.

I thought I'd show you my process. This admittedly ugly painting was the seed of the final piece. This is where I established what I wanted the painting to convey: an immense dragon hanging from a giant tree in a forest lit by moonlight. I also knew I wanted a color scheme dominated by blues and blue greens.

This is the refined pencil sketch. Here I determined a lot of fine detail, such as the vines on the giant tree and the smaller dragons on the lower left to give a sense of scale. Note I also extended the left side of the piece to show a bit more.

And this is the maquette I built. The foliage was created with moss. The wings were torn off a cheap Halloween decoration (oh the advantages of working for Amscan....). Note the lighting here is completely off. I did not use this photo for painting. I just gently backlit the maquette and painted from life. Obviously, I could only do this painting at night. How appropriate.

Well, hopefully this has been an enlightening post. Let me know if you thought so. I would appreciate it. I you think I'm a complete idiot, well, let me know that too. Just be nice and tell me why. Thanks!

Monday, May 17, 2010


I was fortunate enough to be able to head out to South Street Seaport this past weekend to visit the Bodies Exhibition, sketchbook in hand. I've been thinking about picking up an écorché, but given how expensive they are, I figured visiting Bodies would help me decide if I really needed/wanted one. So here are the sketches!

This hand was my favorite. I wanted to see how cartilage affected the back of the hand.

I was not as happy with this foot study. You can tell I struggled with the toes. Also, I was drawing with a lead hand.

Finally, a back study, because my understanding of the back muscles is woefully lacking.

A skull I drew at home to familiarize myself with conté pencils.

PS: Some of you would probably find the practice of drawing, or even being around, cadavers a disturbing process. Nothing I can say would assuage your feelings. I can say this: it is a place of learning, where a few select people have donated their bodies to the advancement of science, knowledge and ultimately, wisdom. These people deserve our highest respect and esteem.

Tragically, some of these exhibits came from unclaimed bodies. It's a sad state of affairs that people in this world really do die alone, unclaimed and forgotten. I pray that these lonely souls will find comfort in knowing that their earthly vessels now touch the lives and minds of the millions around the world who come to see them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

ESA Preview 1

So here's a preview of the 'secret project' that I've been talking about. What does 'ESA' stand for? Well, you'll have to stay tuned to find out (Yes, there's the European Space Agency, but not in this case).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Portraits Part 2: Maya

Here's another painting of Maya. We loved her hair so much while doing the last painting, but we wanted her to wear it down the second time. Maya was more than happy to grant our request. Hopefully, this painting captures at least a small part of her beauty.

Maya with Hair Down, 16"x20"

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ArtOrder Mutation Nation

Phew!! I wasn't sure if I'd get this done! This is the proper submission to ArtOrder. I was inspired by an old Discovery Channel show called Air Jaws. I thought 'how much fun would a flying Great White Shark be?!!' So here he is in all his glory.

He's snacking on a griffin style pigeon/rat hybrid (a rat with wings...get it?!!!)

Now vacation is officially started. Boston, here I come!!

Monday, April 5, 2010


This WAS an entry for the Mutation Nation Challenge over at ArtOrder. There's a bit of lion, lionfish, hatchetfish, viperfish, anglerfish and fangtooth fish. I found out later I could only use two animals to create the little critter, thus disqualifying my new creation. Grrr........

While working on this piece, I stumbled on a fantastic blog for those of you who love animals and creating monsters, like I do. It's the Ugly Overload blog, which gives ugly animals 'their day in the sun'. It's very informative and a lot of fun to read. Yes, kids, science IS fun! The link is at the right side of this blog page. Also, I broke out my DVD of the Blue Planet series from Discovery. I finally justified the $80 or so I spent on it. Hahahaha!!!

Did I mention there's a bit of fish in this creature?

Friday, March 19, 2010

ArtOrder Beholder

Behold the Beholder! This is probably THE iconic D&D character. I remember seeing this guy for the first time back in the 90s, during my teens, in a Jim Lee X Men Comic. It's a creature I never forgot, even though I have never played a game of D&D (sorry Jon....). I think that really speaks to the power of the design of this creature.

Painting to come!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Portraits Part 1: Maya


Sorry about the long wait between posts. I'm currently working on a really exciting project involving one of my first loves: biology. I'll be giving sneak peeks in the weeks to come, but for now, it's staying on the DL.

In the meantime, here's an oil portrait I did about 3 months ago. I only now just got it photographed.

Maya, 16"x20"

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Best of ArtOrder 2009

Hmmmm...been a while huh? Good to see you again; I hope this post finds everyone having a good 2010 so far.

Here's some stuff I sent to ArtOrder to try to get into the Best of ArtOrder. It's all artwork I did throughout 2009, retouched and (hopefully) improved. Some of the pieces just received quick touch ups; some have been radically reworked. Hope you like it!

Owlbear: Some background improvements, especially with lighting.

Cockatrice: Background redone and the whole piece finally colored!

Dinogloth: Background got some much needed attention.

Krampus: Finished!
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