Reassuring Smile: Applied Learning


Anyone who has spent any time studying art quickly learns one inevitable truth about the profession. You never, ever, stop practicing, learning and improving. From the tiny baby pasting their first piece of colored macaroni onto construction paper, to the master painter who has been practicing daily his whole life.

So you keep working, and keep working and hope that you are improving. You finish a piece and look at it… and you hate it. A few days later you come back to it and decide it’s the best piece you’ve ever done. 6 months later, it’s still not bad, but now you can see all the flaws you didn’t spend enough time working on. And so the process goes. But as your observing, studying and learning from others it’s helpful to take a step back, pick a few techniques and work on applying them to your next piece.


For this piece, “Reassuring Smile” I decided to apply some methods from one of my favorite artists, James Gurney. As well as some new techniques I’ve been learning from Aaron Blaise’s tutorials.


Specifically I’m applying James Gurney’s method of creating a simple model for reference, and lighting it to fit the scene your working on. I’m also using a palette I developed digitally based on his oil painting pallet techniques laid out in his book “Color and Light.” Which I highly suggest to painters just starting out.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.26.35 AM

As it turned out, my process is already very similar to Aaron Blaise’s. But I wanted to try out using some of his photographic texturing techniques and applying just a little bit of depth of field to give the piece a more photographic feel.

IMG_2241 ReasuringSmile_001-x01

I build out my model, and I cross light it with a candle from the bottom left and a blue light from the top right to give it the feel of fire in the room and moon light coming through a window.  I work on the sketch and model at the same time, trying to get my model to have the major parts defined but not worrying to much about the little details.


After I lay in my flats and build out the basic color and lighting I’m ready to start detailing and blending. I tend to get all my color laid in from my pallet and then pick the color from the image to paint in the final strokes.


I get everything cleaned up and it’s time to apply Aaron’s photographic texturing technique


With all the textures laid in and quite a few clean ups and shifts to improve the image. now it’s time for some final shadows and highlights.


Finally I use a bit of a grunge texture to create a vignette to the over all feeling of the image as well as using the smudge tool with a soft round brush to blur my back edges to add the depth of field.


I was hoping to have an idea of how long total I spent on this but unfortunately I was working on it while moving from Boston to Norther Virginia, so I’ll give you a timeline on the next one I do.


And finally a larger version of the finished Image.



An Isometric Point of View

6d89bcd782b67e3646835d5fb4bc23As I’ve been thinking about future game possibilities for our company, I’ve become enamored with the isometric point of view. This is when basically you design the point of view of your game from a top down angle where the grid for your ground plane forms parallel lines.

You see this point of view in the smallest independent games all the way up through major platform releases like the Diablo series from Blizzard.

As I’m working on the concepts for games, I’m also performing a series of exercises to get my self thinking from this point of view.

Everything from doing throw away thumb nail and silhouette sketches to trying to design how architecture can be rendered so it feels dynamic but doesn’t block your point of view.
Here is a look at one of the exercises I’m working on. Staring with a concept sketch.

After developing the character in a hero pose, if I was developing this character fully there would be a break down of different angles and behaviors, clothing, equipment and variations. But in this exercise I’m predominately concerned with developing an idle pose that works on an isometric grid. Because I’ve made it a flying character that pose can be fairly dynamic with the wings flapping to keep them in the air.


I’ve also started trying to figure out the detail I can put into the character with out slowing down my animation process or letting the character get so busy that it’s hard to read from far away. In this case, the sketches I’ve started I are too detailed for the end goal. While I like the design, given our workflow, it takes too much time to draw, and the features need to be simplified.


As I’m working of this point of view and the challenges and opportunities it presents, I start thinking about some of the art I’ve already done. I wonder for instance how difficult it would be to take a concept like this and translate it into a playable isometric scene.


Over all it’s an extremely interesting way to be thinking about game design and I know I’m just scratching the surface of possibilities.

Speed Painting Update

Of late I’ve found myself to be very busy and have very little time. With that in mind I’ve been working on improving my speed painting. I’m approaching this process in three steps. Step one is doing single character speed painting with a focus on keeping each step of the process as tight as possible.

This is a speed painting I did a couple weeks ago that took me about two hours from concept to completion. I like the idea but I didn’t get a chance to refine it as much as I wanted to.


Given the same time period, here is a speed painting finished last night.


I was able to get a much more finished looking piece by making some slight edits to my process. The first step was to spend more time concentrating on the silhouette. Even though I’m still sketching the character out in a construction style I’m blurring my eyes and looking at the over all shape. I’ve been doing quick silhouette studies through out the week to practice looking for shape of the positive and negative space.


And secondly, I’m forcing my self to use a larger brush then I want to! I let myself make larger shapes and concentrate on getting the tone relationships in and then moving to a smaller brush as I get into the detail areas.

The next step in this series of studies is to apply the silhouette study style I’ve been working on to designing an entire composition and not just a character. And the final step is to bring togeather the first two steps to increase the efficiency of speed painting full scenes at higher quality and in turn allowing me to increase the speed and quality of the paintings I spend more time on.

Cintiq Companion Hybrid, Part One

Recently I moved from using an Intuitions to a Cintiq companion hybrid. There was a brief transitional period where I had to get used to having my hand back between me and the surface I’m working on, but thanks to working on the I-pad I was already pretty used to that. Over all it’s absolutely fantastic to work with, and my process is quite a bit faster, drawing especially feels more natural. So far my favorite thing about it though is the ability to take it with me when I travel and continue to work on projects. Here are a few of my personal sketches I’ve worked on in Android tablet mode using the app Art Flow.





Art flow works pretty well as a mobile work platform, the resolution isn’t quite high enough for my digital paintings to feel refined enough, but it forces me to work on keeping my brush strokes purposeful and I can then take it through the final refinement stage in Photoshop, but we’ll look at that in part two.



Under painting:

artflow_201502011014Artflow painting:


There is always going to be a part of me who wants the biggest cintiq out there, but with the added mobility of the Hybrid I think this is the best possible cintiq I could have for my work flow and day to day tasks.

Painting in progress:





Working Outside Your Style


As your moving towards working as a professional artist you are often told how important it is to develop your own style. It’s very important for getting noticed and having your work stand out from the artists around you. Developing your style is very important and should not be overlooked by any aspiring artist, but there are many career paths in the art world where it is just as important to be able to work with in the style of the project you’ve been hired to develop.

This could be as simple as the armor in the world your working on having exaggerated shoulders and specific decorations, or as complicated as the finishing has to match the body of work as exactly as possible following very specific guidelines and models. Whether the style is that of matching a known artist like Norman Rockwell, working with-in a game style, like Magic the Gathering, or working in the style of an animation like the Simpsons, you need to approach the project in a similar way.

First and foremost, spend time studying the franchise and how it’s developed over time. when other people have worked in that style what are the key elements included that makes it stand out. The broad strokes are important, matching colors, brush strokes, and/or line weight, but it all comes down to the details. The angle of a jaw line, the direction of a hair part or the thickness of a lip can be the difference between nailing a character or having an audience know somethings wrong, even if they can’t place what it is.

I find a good exercise is to take the base style you need to work in and your personal style and mash them together in order to let yourself find ways to use your own methods to express the style you need to.  Below are some studies I did for working on projects for American Dad! I worked with similar colors, character design and shading, but my own base features for eyes, noses, mouths and ears as well as exaggerated the line weights and I was a little more expressive with body shapes.


Doc Girl Hare Convict


Ru’Bacom Tutorial Part One

Ru”Bacom, Pedlar of Dragons.

Today’s blog post is looking at the first step of my digital painting process. My first step is subdivided into three sub drawings as shown below. A construction sketch. This is laid down in Blue, Green and Red to build up the forms and get the basic shapes in place. I than put down a rough sketch in black establishing contours and basic shadows. In the third pass I lay in the basic highlights and usually add an under painting color wash just to start myself thinking about the palette I want to develop. The color I use is normally complimentary to the main feeling I want to express in the final image.


003Ru'BacomRuffHighlightsThe last image in this post is to demonstrate how I set up my workspace as I begin to draw. I collect several reference images that I keep near by when working, Often including images from a book or on my Ipad set up as well depending on what I’m working on and how many details there are.

In the next post we’ll look at the tight sketch process. Fixing some angles and details and planning the painting process.

The next two process posts will include time laps and/or tutorial videos to demonstrate the process in more detail.



Pen Sketches

For the last couple weeks my computer was in the shop being repaired. During that time I began working on some traditional paintings and was very frustrated. I discovered my skills with traditional media to be quite out of practice. To combat this I started practice sketching with pen drawings to work my way up to completing the paintings. Here are a selection of simple pen sketches I completed in a session yesterday.


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