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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dance of the Dead

14 years ago, about now, the Ice Age expansion of Magic: the Gathering released. The game was still newish and going gangbusters, and it was my first appearance in the series. Seems in some ways like yesterday, in others like a lifetime ago, as I celebrate 15 years as an illustrator this month. Wow. Believe me, it is very strange to meet some 13-14 year olds who like my work, who weren't alive when I started out.

Of the art done for the set, without a doubt the most popular image was Dance of the Dead, a small 7x8" Acrylic painting. Even though the card has never been reprinted in any base sets, it remains a popular image among the old-skool or collector players. It has seen reprint in gold bordered limited edition championship decks, and was reprinted last fall as a digital card for the online version of Magic. Apart from that, nothing.

Then, as now, artists received 50 white-backed artist proof cards. Those disappeared a long time ago--some I used in portfolios, many I sold. However a year later, when Ice Age was printed internationally, a then-ambitious Wizards of the Coast decided that they should give us 50 of each card in each foreign language it was printed in. So I received a large box featuring 9 different cards x 50 each x I think 4 languages at the time (Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, French). Though I think it printed in German, I don't recall if I got any German cards. I say Wizards was ambitious because they never sent us foreign-language white backs again. And I'm perfectly fine with that! So I had a LOT of artist proofs, way more than I believed I could ever get rid of.

I dumped a lot of them--at least half, probably closer to 3/4. I continued using the remainder as I did the English versions. And now I am down to the last four. As I've been doing when I hit the last couple of any white back, I decided to do a drawing on the back and toss it up on eBay. Here, then, are the last 4 Ice Age whitebacks, 2 in French, 2 in Spanish. I've drawn the little reaper head COUNTLESS times on playmats and other places for fans over the years. Usually a fairly quick thing, but I swear there is nothing I have drawn so much. But I was particularly pleased with this rendition, drawn as one image across the backs of the 4 cards, puzzle-like, which fans often ask me to do on their own cards:

I rarely draw the hands when I sketch this guy for folks because hand bones aren't the most fun to draw, and frankly I've forgotten the names and exact positions of the wrist bones, which I once knew by heart and could draw from memory. But how useful is knowing the shape of the Pisiform bone, anyway, unless you're a medical illustrator? I've always liked the word Triquetrum, though. I've always wondered how the walking dead keep their bones connected without pins or ligaments. So for this guy, I had him lose his jawbone along the way.

I put this on eBay and it is now gone. You can get something similar for $40 + the price of 4 cards through the Artist Proof section of my website, except that the art will be a surprise.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Figure Drawing, pt. 13

L: 2 figures on one 11x14" sheet
Above: 3.5x7.5"

In an effort to maintain one post of naked people on the main blog page, highlights from another week of figure drawing are here. I do feel I've taken to the brush-pen fairly comfortably, and I'm happy about that. On this particular week (the week following the last entry, both of which were in March), we also had a male model who wore slacks for some of his poses. The drawings were ok, but the lady really resulted in better work. This is not always true, for instance the next installment (the drawings of which were done earlier this week) had a great male model that I focused on.

A Practical Guide to Faeries

I was a little surprised when a package arrived at my door from Wizards of the Coast. It had some product in it, the sort of package I get when something I've illustrated for has been published; I get a couple of copies. What surprised me was that I hadn't done any illustrations for this book!

Or so I thought. The book itself is not a game book at all--it's an illustrated "field guide" of the sort that has been popular recently, part of the Mirrorstone imprint, which publishes books for the 'tween/young adult market. It describes the land of faeries (I do hate the latin spelling of that) with lots of friendly illustrations and some fictional text. So I flipped through and saw my name on the credits page at the back. Interesting. Finally, I found that they had re-used a spot illustration I did back in '06 for the Magic Item Compendium book. They reprinted an illustration I did of musical instruments under a section called, appropriately enough, "Magical Musical Instruments." Exciting stuff, but the original book was simply a book of items, which featured other such illustrations of mine. The illustration was rendered digitally after a pencil sketch.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Winner is You

So as a wrap-up to the long entries posted a couple months back, the Student Exhibition I helped jury opened last Friday at the Society of Illustrators. It was actually a week of student work for me. A couple of days earlier, I attended the School of Visual Arts Senior Illustration show, which was interesting. SVA is by any measure one of the top art schools in the country, and their senior show definitely showed the goods. The percentage of seniors for whom I had optimistic outlooks was surprisingly high, as befits a school with SVA's reputation. And I am definitely a glass-basically-empty guy. Especially when it comes to the incredibly harsh realities of the business of illustration. It turns out that 2 of the 3 pieces I had really championed for the Society competition were from SVA students. I didn't know that at the time, since we didn't know the schools when judging. The third was, I believe, a Ringling student. Ringling is also considered one of the finest art schools in the land. Hmm.

It should be noted that in the end, SVA and Ringling also seemed to have a very high participation rate in the competition. About 6 schools/universities seemed to be heavily represented. CCA, my own school was not well represented, for instance. Or at least, it's possible that they were but only one piece (IIRC) made it in. So, perhaps it's more accurate to say that about 6 schools got lots of works in. These, then, would be among the best schools.

It got more packed still

So, back to the Society. I expected a busy opening, but oh man it was as packed as any of the major professional shows--that so many NY-area students got in perhaps helped with attendance. It was good to see the work hanging on the walls, and must've been a thrill for the students. Seen hung and nicely spaced and in-context as an exhibiton, all of the work had a different flavor, a different...dignity, I suppose. No longer were these slides or specimens to scrutinize, now they were just works of art to enjoy.

So, a piece of advice for these burgeoning artists: if you are entering (and winning awards in) big competitions--please please please get even a quickie blog website up. Something where you can be found. Because people might want to find you--people who might want to give you more money, or work. I tried to make a point to find out who a few artists were, particularly of those pieces I was particularly fond of, and if they were in attendance. I wanted to congratulate them in person and encourage them a little, let them know that it wasn't some faceless jury they impressed, but an actual person, and an illustrator at that. I think that sort of thing is important--at least, I know I always have really appreciated someone going out of their way to compliment a piece of my work in person, particularly if they have a little story behind their appreciation of a piece I've done. It was difficult with it being so packed, and on two floors. I did track down Cannaday Chapman because he was wise and hung out in the vicinity of his work for a little while. I also said some nice words to some other artists who were also wise and were found near their art, even if they didn't have pieces I pushed strongly for, because with a ~2% acceptance rate, anyone on that wall deserved congratulations. I also spoke briefly with one of the two grand prize winners, Becca Green, and her fellow Kendall College of Art and Design student Liisa Rush (I think that's actually how it's spelled). But see, despite Kendall apparently having a very solid drawing and painting department (they both are realists and painters), they apparently haven't told their students to put up basic websites. So, no links, although Becca was interviewed on her piece elsewhere.

So there you go. A new batch of artists who are out to drink my milkshake, as it were. Still, I honestly wish them well.

And for putting up with another wall of text, your reward:

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Anne Bonny--painting, sketch, print

Just added, a painting of the pirate Anne Bonny for use as a book cover to a novel of historical fiction regarding her. When the book's release happens, fairly soon, I'll get you details about it. For now you can view the original artwork and its sketch.

An 11x14" print is also available.

Friday, May 08, 2009, ver.7 or so

Well, the new website has successfully launched.

The last version of the site is a few years old. During its lifetime it saw tweaks and improvements. But it was old and really needed to be refreshed rather than try to shoehorn functionality into its structure. So I've been gathering up ideas and finally put them into action. I hope you like it.

1.)The site is now entirely centered. I know, finally. It's still for 1024x768 resolution, however, as it is still the baseline. For reference, my laptop is 1900x1440 resolution so I feel your pain. Still, the site looks alright--even if the images are a little small for that format.
2.)The old site had a flipped Left/Right orientation, with text being right-justified. I'm not sure why I felt strongly about that anymore--like I said, it's been years. This has been reverted to standard.
3.)I added a section for sketches, but you know that already.
4.)Functionality. As introduced in Matt Cavotta's site and recently used in Jim Nelson's, my site will now tell you, for any image, what formats that image can be found in, and link you to them. So if you're viewing a painting, and a print exists, you'll know, without having to back out and drill down another category to see if that print exists.
5.)Click reduction. As with the above, I've tried to reduce clicks to bits of info. Why before did you have to click "back" then choose "large prints" after viewing "small prints?" Because I couldn't code the two together before. Now all prints are on one page, as they should be.
6.)Cross-browser compatibility. The site has been fully tested on Explorer 6+, Firefox, Safari (PC/Mac), Chrome, and Opera. The site functions as intended on all of these. "Enlarge" views do not work on the iPhone since it does not support Flash. If you know of a good non-flash zooming script/widget, let me know.
7.)Just better design. But that's obvious.
8.)Thanks to suggestions by Jon Schindehette, I made a few tweaks including adding contact info right there, at the bottom of every page. If you have a question or want to offer me big bucks for a project, you don't have to hunt for a way to contact me (it was always at top, and still is, via a form--but that's sort of intended for Daydream Graphcis-related stuff).
9.)At Irene Gallo's suggestion I changed my portfolio page. She communicated that Art Directors want even fewer clicks than most people. They don't want to click back, click next thumbnail, etc., to view your portfolio. She likes blog sites where you can scroll all the way down and just see everything in one go. I don't like blog sites as portfolios, but her basic idea makes sense. So my portfolio page is a hybrid--everything is there one one page to scroll through, and there are thumbnail links that you can use to quickly get to each image. If an Art Director wants to drill down further, they'll have to browse like the rest of you. The homepage marquee image now takes you to its portfolio entry if you click it.
10.)Because this site is equally for fans and collectors as it is for Art Directors, I've decided to hide the purchase info of original art when you're just browsing the gallery. I never liked throwing up prices and Cart options to Art Directors as they browsed my gallery. For those that are interested in purchasing art or are curious, a bolded link reveals the price, when available.
11.)Everyday capitalization reappears. I know.
12.)Front page news update improvements, mentioned a few days ago here.

That's it, enjoy! For techie types, you can keep reading; regular folks can skip this next part:

1.)Like I said, non-Flash zooming tech welcome. Zoomify, however, is *incredibly* easy to implement. Perhaps I should query the browser platform, and if it returns an iPhone id, then the site wouldn't advertise the existence of an enlargement they can't see? That's the simplest option.
2.)When Cavotta proposed the cross-linking idea, it was quite obvious. Running your own site, if you did it the old way--with individual html pages for each item, you would just hand-build links back and forth between items. And it would take forever, and require constant updating. It was my first attempt at really attempting to write new functionality, and I managed to do it, mainly utilizing strings passed from page to page so the database pulled the correct information. It was a daunting request--not then knowing much vbScript or understanding databases really at all, how could I get my code to know if other products existed for a given item and deliver those links to you, correctly for each item, while knowing what you're looking at currently so as not to deliver that link, and so on? Simple, in retrospect. Still, it makes for ugly URLs that you aren't inclined to share, and still requires maintaining the updating of those from time to time. Jim Nelson liked the code and so we reused it on his, cleaning it up again. But Jim wanted me to show thumbnails while an image detail was being displayed. Ack. More finagling, but it worked at the expense of an even longer URL for each image.

So when it came time to try it again on my site, I restarted and worked more on the database level first, which I hadn't played with before. I don't run a local test-server because I could never set that up properly and get everything to work, so my database changes are done live, and as a result, are always very conservative tweaks--data updates, not structure changes. My concern was that URL links would break or generate bad information as the status changed for that image, as the links aged. I succeeded in making one page do all the work, back to the absolute minimum URL possible, for instance--if I link an image say, here on the blog, and its status changes, the link will still work in the future (unless I delete an item entirely, which still happens). I'm not showing thumbnails on details pages becauses there's no real estate for it, but now I think I could do so without bloating the URL. Remember, I'm a painter, not a programmer.

3.)One bit of code is still bugging me, but it's a limited case so I'm living without it: The new Daydream Graphics header has drop-down boxes. When an image is enlarged and the Zoomify view appears, while you are in that state if you try to drop-down those boxes they drop behind the enlarged image. You have to close the Zoomify view to see the drop-downs again. Both that drop-down script and the Zoomify exist in layers with position: absolute and z-indexes with proper priorities. But it ain't working. If you're savvy with these sorts of things, you can view the source of the detail.asp page and maybe let me know what stupid thing I'm not doing?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Eladrin Concept Art

In the summer of '07, I was commissioned by Wizards of the Coast to do a little supplemental concept art for their then-in-production 4th Edition reboot of Dungeons and Dragons. William O'Connor was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting on that project, but I was asked to do some concepts for the new Eladrin race, basically described as Elves with tweaks. I did 5 character class examples.

The thing with concept art is that most of it gets buried--it's used for consistency between artists, but doesn't often get published for public consumption. But Art Director Jon Schindehette just posted a style guide article regarding the Eladrin on his furiously-updated blog, "ArtOrder." My Eladrin Wizard and Rogue are the bottom two pencil drawings in the post. And since I'm adding sketches for my new site, I've added the Eladrin Wizard!

My and William's concepts have different takes on the Eladrin, and other artists have generally produced Eladrin that are hybrids of the two. Because the physical differences were few in contrast to regular elves, I chose to focus on the clothing aspects for differentiation. The main visual cues I used were large star (more like starfish) patterns, never centrally embroidered, but always partially "off frame," always falling outside the fabric border. As if the fabric was trimmed from a much larger sheet that did have the full star design on it. As well, the decorative aspects of their clothing and ornamentation were a part of the original descriptions. So another cue I added was that all hems and vertical fabric trims are *never* cut straight, but always in curves. You can see both of these cues in both drawings, and I repeated them across the other concepts, and on armor. Oh yeah, I had Eladrin weapons never symmetrical, their handles for instance always bend or flow.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

World of Warcraft TCG: Blood Gladiators

This expansion of the trading card game features one illustration of mine, entitled "Vengeful Gladiator's Piercing Touch." Though based on a pencil drawing, the final illustration was entirely digital. As usual, cards are packed randomly so good luck finding one; alternately, you could always search out a single-card sale somewhere.

More information about the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game is available here.

The original sketch for the artwork, which had substantial modifications in scale before moving to final, can be found here.

Site Updates, and Sketches!

I've occasionally posted preliminary sketches on the site, but have never made them available on my website. Well, with the imminent launch of my redesigned site, sketches will finally be made available! They are an inexpensive way to get into original artwork collecting; I own a few sketches myself by other artists. And whereas I sometimes trade originals with other artists, even I can afford to occasionally buy sketches! And so I have. Some folks just like sketches and focus on them--they are interesting in their own right, often different from final illustrations, and don't take up huge amounts of wall space. Lastly, the past few years my sketches have tended to be more detailed than maybe necessary (Art Directors are generally ok with less information and detail), so I'm happy to show them. Those of you who picked up my sketchbook already know this. However, I've only ever sold them at events, which means all you dear site visitors who never get out to events, never get a chance. Now, you get the opportunity to beat event-goers to the punch!

As well, you'll notice a few updates this week, smaller news-oriented things. On my prior (still current as of now) site, I've always had a "latest updates" section. It was the best place to see if something had changed on my site, and I've been good at making monthly changes to that section before undergoing this redesign. There you can see lists of new artwork added or site changes, product releases, and appearances. Well, the new site more tightly integrates this blog, and it made no sense to manually update that page anymore when I could have it pull articles from my blog for the same purpose, and flesh out each entry as well. Technology, you know? So, as with the last GenCon update, these smaller news-oriented posts will now appear on my blog.

I promise they won't (most weeks) comprise my weekly "content" post. They'll be in addition to those. More content, not less. Maybe not this week--I've got a site to launch, and a few such news articles to post, to populate the new homepage.

So, if you have subscribed to Exit Within (which I would encourage you to do, links at left), that feed will now tell you about updates that happen throughout my website. Or, if you simply stop by my new homepage when it launches shortly, you'll see the latest updates, broken by the same categories.

GenCon 2009

My only summer convention this year is GenCon 2009, in Indianapolis, August 13-16. Find me in the art show once again! Sorry to my friends in San Diego, it was close, but just didn't happen this year. I'll try again next year. For more details on the paucity of events this year, I wrote about them earlier.

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