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.

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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.



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:





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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How Do You Figure 1



Hey! Welcome to ‘How do you Figure’ a bimonthly feature exploring the use of figure drawing in Illustration. All images are copyrights are reserved to their respective holders and are presented here for editorial and educational purposes.

Series 1. I can see your model stand

In sci-fi and fantasy illustration the human figure is often the most important element in a piece, serving a number of different roles. Whether cementing a sense of scale in the minds of the audience, providing an empathetic entry point into the fantastical scene or carrying the entirety of the story on its shoulders. To accomplish this the illustrator must strive for the illusion of life, a term coined in the halls of the disney animation studio to describe the ultimate goal of any character animation. While character animation and figurative illustration are not exactly the same in practice, many of the same underlying principles can be applied. One of the most common weaknesses of fantasy illustrators is to mistake surface refinement for the illusion of life.

fig-1aCase in point, Boris Vallejo. Vallejo is an incredibly talented illustrator fig-1bwho has been working essentially non stop since he broke into the industry in the 1970’s, and rightfully so. He is truly a master of his medium, pushing paint into realms of the impossible in a way that challenges the imagination of the viewer. His images are most successful when the imaginary elements are primary (fig. 1a) or when the story telling is best served by a figure in repose (fig. 1b)


His work is weakest when he must convey story through the movement of a figure. As a point of comparison we’ll be looking at the work of Frank Frazetta, no stranger to the figure in repose (fig. 1c). The primary difference being that Frank got his start drawing Thunda comics (fig. 1d), a job that demands the figure be as dynamic as possible while still being easily reproduced in stark black and white.











For the first example we’ve got some muscles clashing with each other (Fig 2a). On the left is Frazetta’s piece and on the right is Vallejo. Both have strong silhouettes (fig 2b) that draw attention to the figure and emphasize the fight as the central focus. But lets look at the line of action (Fig 2c). In the Vallejo piece we have two nearly identical gestures offset only by size. The primary lines of action in the body and arms are nearly parallel with each other, this symmetry stiffens the composition and the figures within it. Imagine if the Giant figure had a contrasting line of action, similar to that of the frazetta piece (Fig 2d)


Further, there are anatomical clues to the model stand that disconnect the figures from the fantasy of the moment. In both pieces the muscle bound men are flexing, ostensible to swing a weapon at a no doubt deserving target. In Frazetta the muscles of the arms and torso are roughly equal in their engagement. The biceps engage but are elongated, the whole character feels like a spring pulled back about to be released. (fig 3a). Vallejo on the other hand is clearly a figure posing to show off his muscles. There is no twist in the spine and the weight is centered between the feet. This is good for maintaining balance when on a model stand for longer poses, but does not convey movement particularly well. The biceps are extremely flexed, in a way only seen in bodybuilders in competition. If one were to swing a warhammer one handed like this, the biceps wouldn’t even engage this way. Its a masterful handling of the figure, but it looks more like he’s trying to win Mr. Universe than that he’s trying to knock out Mr Giant over there.  (fig 3b)

Vallejo is one of the many spiritual successors to the style that Frazetta first established in his Conan illustrations in the 1960’s. As a result there are multitude of comparable pieces by Vallejo that clearly reference the Frazetta aesthetic, paint handling and subject matter. Take a look at these examples (frazetta on the left, Vallejo on the right) and try to see the model stand. Want to take it a step further? Try doing a paint over of the Vallejo half using the Frazetta gestures as guidance.




Fillip Frog’s game play update.

Just a quick update on Fillip Frogs Fly Feast! We’ve gotten the basic game play coming together nicely. The Mosquitos are now attacking you in a very natural way and we are homing in on the menu designs. Below is a basic demonstration of the game play in alpha testing.

As a fun bonus, here is a video of Spencer working on getting the bugs to stick to your tongue after you capture them. Looks like Fillip needs to swallow every now and then, but it’s looking great!