Exit Within: the Gallegos Blog

The musings of a fantasy illustrator. Artwork, art-talk, and randomness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Paintings in Limbo

Yep, a bit slow around here lately. As I approach the tenth anniversary of Exit Within, I had intended that I would switch up my publishing schedule to bi-weekly. But it looks like life may have moved me into that place already.

As I continue to work on projects which I can't show yet, I am reminded of the many projects that have come and gone over the years that I've never been able to show. These would be paintings in limbo. Sometimes, projects get cancelled mid-stream. Sometimes they are indefinitely delayed. Other times, the product is published but the art is not included for a myriad of reasons (and sometimes, that art may reappear later). Often, publishers get First Publication rights, which means just that--if they haven't published it, I can't. Sometimes they get around to letting me show the work under stipulations that I not discuss what it was used for. Sometimes they go bankrupt and the contacts and rights go into a second legal limbo. I might be able to regain the ability to show the work, but by the time it's clear that it's time to try, I've moved on in my art and wouldn't much care to show it off anymore anyway.

Here, then, are a few of the pieces that come to mind which are stuck in one form or another of publishing limbo:
  • Since 1994 I think there have been... at least 12 pieces done for Magic: the Gathering that went into limbo. I asked and was allowed to show two of them over the years without really saying they were for Magic.
  • Of the above, 4.5 of them were alternate versions of cards that released. Early in my career I would sometimes do the approved sketch and then mid-stream come up with another idea and so just paint that too, then submit them both for publication, letting them choose. Card art was smaller and faster in those days. One I know was killed because the art sucked--it was published having been reassigned to another artist who, interestingly, got a different/better description than I got, apparently.
  • The .5 piece is the "Ascendant" half of "Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant," which was killed when mid-assignment, the Art Director liked the rune-in-the-sky interpretation of one illustrator doing another of those flip-cards, and asked the rest of the artists to swap out their Ascendant side to match that theme.
  • One of them is an alternate version of "Tempting Licid" which was actually more of the Art Director's fault than anything. I understood the AD to have approved the sketch, and painted it. As I neared completion I was told that it had not in fact been approved, and I ended up having to start again....Wizards has implemented much tighter and explicit controls around this since those days.
  • In 1995 I painted the cover to an old WotC-published magazine called, "The Duelist." There is an alternate unpublished cover to that. I turned in the original and the Art Director was fine with it but not loving it as much as I'd hoped, so I immediately painted another cover and they much preferred that and ran it instead. I preferred the second attempt better, too. Note that I always did this sort of thing on my own dime, in the interest of trying to satisfy my client, without being asked. If I'd been better as a younger illustrator, of course it would have been completely unnecessary.
  •  A couple of early pieces for Vampire: the Eternal Struggle card game were painted but the cards killed in production. This was my first professional gig. A couple of later pieces had alternate versions produced in the same manner as above...I was not particularly confident as a young illustrator.
  • At least one illustration commissioned for Netrunner was similarly killed in production.
  • Over the years a couple of Dungeons & Dragons spot illustrations were moved from one book to appear in another. A couple, as far as I know, were never published.
  • A couple of early World of Warcraft cards were cut. Let's just say it took a bit for a lot of artists to get the hang of Blizzard's very peculiar style. There was a lot of art cut out of that first set, across the board.
  • Some illustrations for an educational graded-reader.
  • One licensed Star Wars-related painting.
  • Multiple illustrations for 2 mobile games, one of which had production killed before release, the other of which may have been published but the foreign client is no longer responding to emails about it to confirm.
I'm sure I missed a couple. It would be tempting for me to do the math on how many months of work have never seen the light of day over the course of 20 years. Maybe half a year? In the early days, that art was being churned out very quickly, but it's gotten much slower (and better) over time, so recent losses are more painful on this front. It's also nice to know that whereas earlier in my career there were more limbo pieces due to quality issues--me deciding I needed to produce alternates because I was unsure of what I was doing, or a couple of cases of just making bad art, it mostly has become just a matter of art succumbing to the vagaries of publishing.

Although, in doing a bit of research on this, I did find out that at least one piece was finally shown so I can talk about it, so perhaps I'll do that next!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Thoughts About Teaching

I've talked a little regarding my relation to teaching. But now I am a few weeks in, working with the fun folk participating in Art Camp this summer. It's my first time being an instructor and spending dedicated time helping others. It's been enjoyable and eye-opening, and challenging as well. Remember, I've been out of a formal class setting for 20 years now. That was essentially pre-internet, certainly pre-digital art in any form in which you'd recognize it today. A lot of water has passed under this bridge; for example, just the fact that I'm doing this instruction online in a forum that didn't exist when I left college.

I thought I'd go over some general comments and thoughts that have arisen consistently among the students, some of whom are going or have gone to art school, some who are in or went to college for other majors and are circling back to a "first love." Some are self taught, and others are attempting to start their careers already. Others still don't necessarily intend to pursue illustration. But the similarities across these groups can be large.

  1. Pencils are new? One of the assignments called for folks to experiment with dry media, try new things and so on. I was a little shocked at how many folks had never touched charcoal in their lives. Further shocking was how many people considered doing pencil drawings, "experimental." I have to believe most of them doodled in pencils when young, but perhaps now that is only for a few short years after graduating from crayons and before buying an entry-level digital tablet say, in high school?? I don't know, this blows my mind, but more importantly, this bodes ill because...

  2. Removed from digital, you see what an artist can do. I have now watched folks, comfortable with digital tools, attempt to draw with traditional media, which they rarely do. This, IMO, is where you get to see what an artist can really do. It's easy to hide your crutches and cheats in digital, and let me say what I've said before: for the purposes of illustration, none of that matters. Only the final product matters. But, there is the art, and there is the artist. The illustration can be good, thanks in part to Adobe and Wacom, while the artist remains far less than the output suggests. And don't get me wrong, I use digital tools in the prep and pre-viz of almost every piece I do. It has its place, but that place is not instead of developing ability. I could forego it entirely, I'd just be slower.

  3. Impressionism has hampered generations of painters. When artists begin to approach oil painting, it is very common to see them painting very thick from the get-go. It's not like paint jumps onto the canvas of its own volition: to put thick paint down, one needs to load their brush up with lots of paint, place it, and leave it. Where do people get the idea that painting should be thick? I think it is during our formative years of being exposed to Impressionists and their descendants, most of whom used a lot of paint. When "Starry Night" is a cultural touchstone of Great Painting, I shouldn't be surprised to see painters defaulting to thick on their first attempts. If that movement had never occurred, then during our formative years we'd study the masters before them and their forgotten contemporaries: most of whom painted much, much thinner, or who used texture strategically. It would never then enter a painter's mind to put that much paint down, because it'd look wrong compared to their mental picture of how a painting was supposed to look, in that alternate history.

    "Starry Night" (detail) by Vincent Van Gogh. I know there's no real "supposed to look" about painting, but if you're starting out, really, don't start here. Move there later if you'd like.

    Because they can't handle thick paint, which slides around, won't shift color easily, and doesn't lend itself to accurate drawing (see above picture), students get stuck in quicksand, and the more they try to correct, the muddier it gets. The period of learning through this phase would be saved if it weren't for the above. Believe me, I suffered this same fate when I was in Art School too. Though my earliest paintings were thin, I was sort of shamed into painting "ballsier," which meant, somehow, with too much paint to be accurate. It created bad habits in me that took years to shed, and that after only taking two formal painting classes before abandoning the painting department and focusing on being a Drawing Major.

  4. "Master Copies" are good. Copying the work of your betters is a great practice. I self-taught myself this way a lot before, during and even after college. The coursework at Art Camp includes copying others, and I heartily approve. Frankly, I think even in Art School there should be a class on Master Copies. Below is a not-great photo in a not-great lit room (the blues are gone), but a year ago or so I came across a college copy I did, I think in '92 or '93. I wanted to learn more about Darrell K. Sweet's work, which I'd seen not long before when he was Guest of Honor at a local convention in the Bay Area. I've talked about him here before. His work looked like oils, but was acrylic, and I was largely painting in acrylic at that time. So I copied one of his pieces, from a book cover. In particular, I always liked his landscapes, so I ignored the figure/horse in the original painting and focused on the landscape, in acrylics.

    Art School study, after Darrell K. Sweet. 16x20" acrylics on canvas

  5. Portraits are not the best place to experiment. Portraiture carries challenges of its own. Even a good painter and draftsman regularly engaged in representational art, but who doesn't practice portraiture regularly, will have to work harder when they try it. I know that's the case with me. Good portrait painters are in the habit of recreating likenesses day in, day out. Those muscles are strong.

    Apart from that, even drawing faces well, in general, is a challenge requiring anatomical study, teaching and a ton of mileage and correction. So on assignments where students are to try new media (wet or dry), I am saddened to see that so many run back to trying this stuff out on portraits, when they haven't yet reached competency in portraiture. What happens is the student will then get caught up and challenged by the formal aspects of portraiture, and focus less as a result on noticing how the new medium works. My advice: when trying something new, do something fairly visually simple like a still life of simple objects. Something you know you can draw and observe clearly. That way, you free up your anxiety to be spent on taming your new medium.

    Again, some of these comments are general advice for students, primarily. If you can practice it early, you'll save yourself a lot of time and frustration when attending a painting class or something online like Art Camp.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Treasonous Ogre

"Treasonous Ogre" 12x16" Oil, acrylic and ink on heavy watercolor paper
(detail / purchase info)

When I received the assignment to illustrate what became "Treasonous Ogre," which of course had a different name entirely at the time, the description sounded exactly like another piece I illustrated many trips around the sun ago, in early 1997 also for Magic, called "Scalding Tongs." I realize that means it was painted before some of you knew how to read. This caused me to reflect a bit on my time working with Magic, which as of this release has spanned the entirety of my illustration career. Not that I worked on the game every year, but more years than not, I have worked on this now-legendary franchise, one which has gone from strength to strength and become probably stronger than ever in recent years in terms of success. Because the work commissions about a year before publication, that means I can tell you that I won't be in any Magic sets for the next year, at least. As they use less and less traditional art, I imagine at some point the break between sets will become indefinite. If so, that's fine--that particular ride has lasted way longer than I ever dreamed. But of course, I'll probably keep working on it as I find opportunity, because it still is a fun project to be involved with.

Essentially you had this ogre character who was to have some sort of branding iron or other implement which is glowing white-hot from having been in flames for a long time. The character was to be an Ogre of the type made for the Conspiracy-set style guide, but I was to make him a Shaman of sorts. This left me a lot of creative leeway outside of the style guide, which was nice.

Sketch, 6x8" pencil and white pastel on paper
(detail / purchase info)

As I immediately pegged the piece as a sort of aesthetic sequel to the Tempest-set card I did so long ago, I decided to design some things accordingly: the glowing branding iron is in the upper right corner again, and it is again the primary light source in the piece. Beyond that, it was just a matter of designing the character. Sometimes name changes cause the art to lose connection. I'm not sure what's so Treasonous about this guy--had that been the assigned name I would've illustrated him much differently!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lady Leanna Lynx

You don't work as an oil painter very long before someone asks you to paint their pet. I've gotten used to politely declining, simply because these pieces often end up rather...uninspired. While I suppose for enough fee I'd paint a lot of things--I am an illustrator by trade, after all--it's a little unfair to a pet owner who loves their pet dearly, to paint it quarter-heartedly. There's also the fact that most folk think that sort of painting can be had for like $100.

So when I was approached with yet another request to paint a dog, it was because there was the hint of something far more interesting that I continued the conversation. Here, there was the interest in having a dog painted in an old master style, probably in costume. As we chatted about it, we both agreed that this would only really work with a few things in mind: first, the painting would have to be done completely in earnest, nothing in the piece was to read as wink-wink / nod-nod. Secondly, it would be done in accordance with various period portraits of people. What sealed the deal was the fact that I would have access to the dog to shoot my own reference, and that my fee was acceptable. We were off to the races. So to speak.

To start things off, I did have the owner email me a few photos. I took a low-res camera shot and enlarged it. Then, using references from a number of renaissance-era paintings, sketched out a rough costume digitally. Many portraits of the era also included usually-clumsy hand-lettering, stating the name of the person and the year it was painted (with one of a few abbreviations of, "Anno Domini").

(L:) Digital study

It is an odd feature of many old portraits that they are painted with forboding dark clouds as a backdrop. Likely they are just a dark value contrast so that a fair-skinned European sitter stood out, while not just being a flat background. It always seemed a bit incongruous to have some lovely Gainsborough lady, hair meticulously coiffed, out in what would surely be the start of a windy downpour.

I ran this quick sketch over, just to see if we were really thinking along the same lines. We definitely were. Next up, came the sitting, as the patron here was local.

Leanna Lynx (yes, two names) is a Basenji: a nice, hypo-allergenic, quiet and clean breed, with a tail curled a lot like Shiba Inu. Additionally, she had a short career as a show dog in her younger years. We spent some time posing her for photographs. Though she's out of practice on the show floor, she was still pretty compliant and stood up on her forelegs, ears pointed up and showing off the breed's characteristic forehead wrinkles.

(R:) Pencil study, 6x8"

Back home, I went about refining the costume and drawing it over the pose already present. A lady in her formal portrait, back in the day, would be decked out in her best and most expensive clothes and jewelry.

To add to the feel of this historical recreation, I decided to paint on birch panel. Painting on wood was fairly common back in that era, before the popularizing of canvas or linen as subtrates. It gives old master paintings a distinctive surface quality, which I hoped to capture to some extent. The panel came cradled and primed. I transferred my drawing to it and began by knocking in the base colors in acrylic. From there, my usual methods carried me forward in oil. The owner, who commissioned the painting as an anniversary gift, w as made incredibly happy upon seeing the finished painting, and also related the overjoyed reactions of the recipient upon its opening.

It was really very enjoyable to work on--utterly ridiculous, totally serious. It allowed me to indulge my love of art history and costume, as well. The patron got a nice original painting that will keep Leanna Lynx around for many, many years past her time on earth. That's a win plus another win. It was also, of course, one of the reasons those old portraits were painted. With no way to ever know what people in the past looked like, the portrait (painted or sculpted) was the only way your visage could survive into the future.

(L:) Lady Leanna Lynx, 12x16" Oils and acrylic on birch panel

Though commissioning an original painting to own is often thought of with regards to my bread-and-butter of imaginative realism (for good reason), this piece certainly shows that the realm of things an artist might paint for you are broader than you think. If you'd like to read a little about the process of doing so, you can do that here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Alieis" Included in the ARC Salon 2013

Last year, I was pleased to have "Eschaton" accepted in the 2012 Salon sponsored by the Art Renewal Center. I also gave a bit of a preamble regarding the sometimes-controversial ARC last year when I discussed this, so I don't have to mention it here.

Being accepted two out of two years for this show is an honor for me, particularly as I labor at traditional media and in the realm of realism. Having "Alieis" be among the finalists, given it's personal worth in my career, is also very gratifying.

The full list of artworks accepted into the salon, in various categories, can be found here. It's well worth a look.

And as last year, the work is being collected and published into a nice full-color book/catalog which can be preordered now. If you like the art, pick one up--unlike illustration, most of this work can't be picked up normally in book form.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


I'm kind of in a holding pattern with showing some new things, so let's art in some other manner!

"Tomatillo" 5x7" Oils on canvas

Last year, I posted a still life that was done just as a break from working on Alieis. While Alieis itself was sort of a watershed piece for me, it turns out it was an important piece for two reasons. Firstly, because of itself and what it means for me going forward, simply as a work that was important to my career and aesthetic. But oddly, also because one day while working on it, I decided to take a detour and paint that squash.

I actually couldn't tell you, offhand, when I had painted any still life prior to that. It had happened, but...not in this millennium? I've done some landscapes, and pictures of my cat, but just setting an inanimate object before me and painting it...yeah, for whatever reason that doesn't seem to have happened.

Since painting that squash, however, I have actually taken numerous opportunities to paint other still life pieces and it has turned into something else I've added to my painting mix. I just haven't put them up here because I'm not sure folks would find it terribly interesting, and I wouldn't want an influx of fruits and veg portraying me as changing directions, professionally. I don't think twice a year runs that risk.

The tomatillo is a strange little fruit, which I think my wife picks up sometimes just because they are neat-looking. She does the same with the smaller but related gooseberries. So after playing with one, I decided to paint it. I decided for this one to start on a thicker base of cremnitz white which obliterated a lot of the canvas texture and added its own. It was a lot of fun, and done alla prima, all in one sitting.