Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

2010 was a year that started and ended with death.  My family and I have had to say goodbye to several close friends, and it has not been easy.  Those who we have lost were epic figures in our collective memories and the losses are felt deeply.  Just knowing that they are gone, makes the world a little less interesting.  Until, that is, I remember that while they are gone, the spirit of who they were remains.  A story here.  A joke there.  Advice long forgotten, now remembered.  Though silenced, the sound of their voices and laughter live on in my heart and mind, as will my memories of the little town in Pennsylvania where we all used to live.

It has been a strange year of constant transition.  Amy and I have spent more time apart this year than we ever have in the fourteen years we've been together, and so we have been settling in in this place or that, all year.  Our respective careers have opened doors that lead to more time in airports than either of us would care to think about.  But, the opportunities have been great and we have done our best to seize them.  The net result was that I spent a month cloistered away drawing for forty hours a week for almost a month, and Amy was doggedly pursued by New Balance, her new employer.

And so we found ourselves in Boston.  New location, new lives, new possibilities.  One of the odd things about this transition is how few friends we left behind in New York.  In the eighteen months prior to our own move, the vast majority of our friends left the city.  Some even ended up in Boston.  Though we did leave a few good friends behind, it was mostly the set that had changed, while cast had remained eerily the same.

Professionally, I've been banged up a few times this year.  I've had a few nightmarish jobs that should have lasted a month or two, but dragged on — one lasting almost nine.  I've gotten dropped by two conventions.  And my critics have been the most vocal they've ever been — one even going out of his way to email me about how much he disliked my work.  I have doubted myself, and I have felt like calling it quits at times, but my friends and compatriots have encouraged and supported me throughout.  And it is clear that it was a mistake for me to worry about those things or take them to heart, especially because I've done so much that I am excited about and can't wait to share with you all in the coming year.  Hopefully, you'll find it as exciting as I do.

And so, 2010 is wrapping itself up.  2011 waits in the wings and will sadly begin again with still more death.  2011 will mean even more time apart as Amy's new job requires still more travel, representing a fundamental shift in our lives and lifestyles.  We will attempt to sell our house in New York and possibly begin to search for a new one here.  It will be stressful and aggravating, no doubt.

Nevertheless, I look forward to 2011.  Sure, it's not going to get off to the greatest of starts.  Sure it'll mean a lot of headaches and heartaches.  And so it goes.  It will not be all bad.  I will paint lots of cool stuff.  I will get to do lots of cool things.  Go places I've never gone before.  See things I've never seen before.  There will be opportunity.  And there will be fun and laughter!  And my lady will be by my side all the while, which is all I could ever ask for.

To you all, I wish a safe, happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.  May it bring promise and joy.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

From the Flat Files 9

And so, here it is, the last of this series for now.  It is an image for Stephen King's Dark Tower book, The Drawing Of the Three.  It's oil on primed illustration board, measures 9.5"x14" and was painted in Spring of 1998.  It is one of my favorite pieces I did in college.  I'm not sure that it would be accurate to call it my best, but it certainly is my favorite.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have serious problems with the piece, but it was in many ways a breakthrough and had elements built into it that I still shoot for today.  A graphic, simple composition.  A mix of the real and surreal.  A touch of beauty.  A touch of horror.  And maybe a little intelligent problem solving (when available).

Redone (as one of my professors suggested I do at the time), it could be a pretty sweet piece.  I'd probably incorporate the water into the composition more completely (after researching which side of the door it should actually be on), maybe articulate some details in the beach itself.  I'd probably lose the blood, as I don't think it's necessary.  Maybe make the door a little bigger.  Still, it's a fun piece and was one of only a handful of pieces from college that indicated that I might just end up doing some sort of fantasy work.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

From the Flat Files 8

And now for something truly awful.  It's oil on primed illustration board and is approximately 18"x24" or so.  I believe it was done my senior year in college, though I'm uncertain of which semester.  Likely early second semester, making it '98.  I've said before that my portfolio out of college consisted mostly of book and editorial work.  This piece would be an example of the latter.

After I graduated, I began pounding the pavement in New York, trying to get in to see folks and interview.  There were cold calls, there was phone tag, there were drop-off days (designated days for dropping off your portfolio at publishing companies for the art directors to peruse).  It was a difficult slog.  One of the biggest problems I faced was that voicemail had really taken off at this point.  Long gone were the days of people actually answering their phones.  But, it was also before email became the norm.  Sure, we had email addresses, but getting a hold of an art director's email address was damn near impossible, and you could forget about sending attached images because the series of tubes that is the internet just couldn't take that kind of pressure.  So, you made your phone calls, you left messages, you waited, and hoped for the best.

One of the few art directors who still answered his phone was Steven Heller, then the art director of the New York Times Book Review.  He was notorious for giving green illustrators their first job, and so I gave him a shot.  As he answered his phone he was easy to contact, and was also pretty easy to see...provided you could be at the New York Times offices at the ungodly hour of 7 am.  For a kid just out of college, that was not the easiest thing in the world to do.  But I did it.

So, one morning during the summer of 1998, I found myself bleary-eyed amidst the fluorescent hum of the New York Times offices.  It was one of those places where you get out of the elevator to find yourself trapped in this room that only people with keys can get out of (unless you want to get back on the elevator).  Next to one of the doors was a phone, and I used it to call Steven's desk.  No answer.  So I waited a while and tried again.  Still no answer.  I was likely there for only ten minutes or so, but it still felt like an eternity.  I wanted to give up, and I decided that if I called one more time, and he didn't answer, I was going to chicken out and head home.  I called one last time, and he picked up.

He came to the door and let me in and led me directly into a conference room.  We never sat, which was bad for me as I was so nervous my legs were shaking.  Still, we exchanged quick pleasantries and got to business.  He flipped through the pages of my portfolio silently, looked at every piece, then went back to the beginning and began his critique.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting a critique.  I was there for work, and so I wasn't fully prepared for what he had to say.  I saw his lips moving, but could hardly hear his words over my heartbeat.  It was not at all what I expected.

Still, he wasn't harsh.  He wasn't mean.  He had some positive things to say.  And he used the piece above to make his main point.  "How good would this piece be, if you actually knew how to paint?" he asked.  "You've got a lot of good ideas in here, but they're completely undone by your inability to do them justice.  Learn to paint...then come back and see me."  He shook my hand, I thanked him, and I headed home.  It was clear that I had a lot of work to do.

It was only after the fact, that I'd heard that during an interview, Steven had encouraged a friend of mine to reconsider his future career as an illustrator.  I believe the line was, "I don't want to tell you to quit, but..." (or so I've heard it told).  I realized that not only had I gotten off easy, but got something valuable out of experience.  Sure, it was the same advice I'd been hearing for a year, but there was also encouragement in there.  If I put my nose to the grindstone, I might just find my work in the pages of the New York Times.

As fortune would have it, I never got to meet with Steven Heller again.  I wasn't making any income and blew through what little I had saved fairly quickly after college.  I was forced to get a temp job, which lead to a full-time job and I never again revisited editorial work with the ability to paint.  Eventually, as you know, I got into fantasy and sci-fi imagery and I never looked back.  Still, a part of me wonders what my editorial work might have become, and I wonder, too, if I would have made it that world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From the Flat Files 7

No title.  Painted in the last semester of my senior year.  Oil on primed illustration board, measuring 9.25"x14.5".

This was the image on the very first postcard I ever sent out for self-promotion.  Now I look at it and cringe.  On the other hand, I'm encouraged.  This was done twelve years ago, now — almost thirteen — and represents the top of my game at the time.  This was just about the best I could do.


It is a good thing we grow.

I wonder how I'll see my current work in another twelve years.

Monday, December 27, 2010

From the Flat Files 6

"Heart Of Darkness."  Joseph Conrad's book is something I've repeatedly visited over my high school and college years.  In high school, I did a triptych of 24"x36" oil paintings that garnered me an award or two.  If I manage to get back to my high school (where the paintings hang to this day), I will be sure to take a decent picture.  For now, you'll be stuck with this piece which I did during my senior year in college.  Sometime in fall of 1997.  It's in oil on primed illustration board and measures 9.5"x16".  It was done in a few nights.

About this time, I really started to fall in love with a secondary color palette.  To this day, I have a soft spot for orange, green, and violet.  A lot of my love for the color scheme was based on the success I felt I had with this piece and one other (which has since been damaged pretty severely).  I did several more, but found out the hard way that a secondary palette isn't always appropriate for every piece.

If I recall, this was the only piece that was even remotely usable for my portfolio after college that wasn't produced in my last semester or after graduation.  Even so, it wasn't always in my portfolio, which changed greatly depending on who I was showing my work to.  That being said, I didn't get any jobs with the body of work that I'd produced in school or shortly thereafter.  Part of it may have been poor self-promotion, but I really believe that it was mostly because the work wasn't ready.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

From the Flat Files 5

Santa.  Tired and weary.

"The Day After."  12"x16.5" oil on primed 4-ply Strathmore Bristol paper.  I painted it after college to supplement my portfolio and use as a Christmas card.  Though it did get added to my portfolio for certain clients, it never became my Christmas card.

No real story behind it, but it was the first non-pet portrait that I recall painting after graduating in 1998.  It's the day after Christmas (Boxing Day for some), so it seemed an obvious one to put up.

That's all I have the energy for today.  Like St. Nick, I am wiped.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

As a child, I always associated Santa with my father.  Pop, being a pretty big guy, seemed the right general size and shape for Santa.  The right amount of strength to lift those heft bags of presents.  But, the way I saw it, Santa had to have some of my Grandfather Briegel thrown in somewhere.  My Grandfather was older, first of all, as Santa was likely to be.  He was a character, and he tended to smell a lot like the beer we'd leave out for Santa on Christmas Eve, along with some cookies and a carrot for the reindeer.  Given that the beer was empty every Christmas morning, I knew I had Santa's scent pegged.  So there he was in my mind, a weird chimera of my Dad and Grandpop Briegel.

Aside from the gifts under our tree, there was little actual physical evidence of Santa save for a handful of scrawled letters thanking us for the beer and cookies that my older sisters insisted were written by my left-handed father using his right hand.  Because the FBI was too busy dealing with more important things, and our own handwriting tests were inconclusive, there was never any real proof of the jolly, old elf's existence.  Except one year.  A year that will live on in infamy.

That year, there was snow on the ground — a rarity for Christmases in Morrisville, Pennsylvania — and my father made a point of opening the front door so we could take in what was likely our first white Christmas.  The front door of our house looked out onto a small porch, and sitting there on that small porch were boot prints, sled prints, and a pile of feces.  Now, I must confess that I can't be sure about the boot prints being there, or the sled prints.  I find that my mind often fills in blanks, or augments stories from time to time.  It is entirely possible that the boot prints and sled prints weren't there, or were from a different Christmas, entirely.  But I do know for certain that there was poop on our front porch.

My father, upon seeing his besmirched porch began ranting and raving about Santa's reindeer relieving themselves on his property.  He cussed Santa and vowed revenge, promising to greet Santa next year with a shotgun!  His theatrics sold the ruse, and that Christmas is one that none of us will ever forget.

I admit to you, dear reader, that it was a fraud.  A fake.  What had actually happened was that one of the neighborhood cats had gone to the bathroom on the front porch, and not being junior woodsmen, my sisters and I could not tell the difference between cat and reindeer scat.  Knowing about the poo, my Dad used it to sell the magic of Christmas and the existence of Sana to his children.  So, it would seem to me that my association between my Dad and Santa Claus was more astute than I could have guessed at that young age.

But there is more to this story that I don't wish to burden everyone with, for it is sad.  If you want your happy Christmas story, stop reading now and enjoy your holiday.  Otherwise, read on.

You see, I associate the cats in our neighborhood with two of our neighbors.  Mrs. Liwacz and Mrs. Phillips.  At this point, I want to focus on Mrs. Phillips.  Mrs. Phillips lived across the street from us.  Her daughters and my sisters grew up together.  She was the keeper of the spare key to our house.  She was a good friend to my parents, and she was kind of a backup Mom.  In case of emergency, break glass and Mrs. Phillips would be there to tell you if the cut you got from breaking said glass required stitches.  She was good people.

Mrs. Phillips passed away a few days ago after battling cancer.  I've been trying to find a way to mention her without shoehorning her into some unrelated post.  Christmas with the cat crap on our front porch was my way in and I kind of think Mrs. Phillips would have appreciated that.  It may have been her cat, it may not have been.  Either way, the association is there.

It was also on this porch that Mrs. Phillips and my Mom would spend long summer evenings with wine glasses in hand, talking and laughing, a bottle of Carlo Rossi sitting between them.  I think of their laughter in the still, humid air and I smile.

Outside it is cold.  Once again, there is snow on the ground.  I am a long way from where her memorial service will be held, my heart aches and I wonder who will be my backup Mom, now?  Still, she is at peace.  She is at rest.

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Phillips.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

From the Flat Files 4

Here's pen and ink on bristol paper that measures 7"x12" or so.  Pretty straightforward.  No high concept.  Just Radio City Music Hall's Christmas display, and some of the worst typography I've ever done in my life.

There is a great debate as to when I actually did this piece.  If anyone who knew me back then can fill in the blanks, feel free to do so below, but I believe it may have been sometime during the first semester of my senior year, which would make it a vintage drawing from '97.  But it could have been from as early as the first semester of my junior year.

There's no real story behind it.  I just thought it was topical given that it's Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From the Flat Files 3

Day three in my attempts to embarrass myself.  How am I doing so far?

For the life of me I cannot think of the assignment.  It's a weird little piece, to be sure.  It was done either at the end of my junior year or the beginning of my senior year at Pratt, which would be 1997.  It measures 11"x14" and is on illustration board.

This piece was the at the beginning of the wave of work that I did when I finally had decided on oil paint as my chosen medium.  I'd done a bunch of work in high school in oils and enjoyed the medium quite a bit.  Then, I went off to college and during my freshman year continued to paint in oils.  However, in my sophomore year, I had a class called "Methods and Media," and my professors for the course were Rebecca Guay and George Pratt (in consecutive semesters).  In this class I was exposed to different techniques using various media.  We worked in acrylics, oils, collage, watercolor, and then mixed many of these media in various techniques.  For some reason, I latched onto the mixed media technique that I used to do the pieces in previous days' entries, and it's the technique I used on the vast majority of projects I did until a point in the second semester of my junior year.

As I recall it, I was assigned a self-portrait by Dave Passalacqua and as a change of pace I chose to do it in oil.  When it was finished, my friend, Jeremy, took a look at the piece and asked, "why don't you do all you're work in oil?  I mean...your work in oil always looks...well it's better."  (Jeremy has always had a way of getting to the point).  I took a long look at the body of work I'd done in mixed media, then looked at the few oil painted projects I'd done, as well as the oil figure paintings I'd done in my painting classes and realized that he was right.

So, I switched to oils.  Permanently.  The really strange thing, though, is that my oil illustrations were really thinly painted to begin with.  A lot of the drawing still showed through.  This is something I had not done before.  I mean, look at it — this one is really unpolished, and this piece and other work I produced like it constantly garnered comments like, "this is a cool piece, it's just a shame you don't know how to paint." 

If I could have, I would have argued with them.  But they were right.  Still, I never gave up.  I'm still illustrating and I'm still using oils, and I think my work is better for it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

From the Flat Files 2

So, another piece from the flat files.  This one was done during my sophomore year at Pratt which spanned 1995-'96.  One of the big stories of the time was the government shutdown.  I won't bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that I did this piece for class with that story in mind.  It's 12"x16" and is mixed media (mostly acrylic and colored pencil).  I'm not saying it's brilliant, but I was pretty happy with it at the time.

After my sophomore year, this piece found itself in my parents' basement (along with all my other work), where it suffered from the damp air.  Consequently, it stuck to the back of another piece and was damaged beyond repair.  Physical repair, anyway.  Photoshop to the rescue!

While I'm at it, here's another one I did that's completely unlike what I do today:

The assignment was to do an advertising piece.  I chose Volkswagen.  This decision was made because I had the idea of incorporating a logo into a crop circle before I had decided on a product.  I needed a product with a graphic, circular logo, and Volkswagen came to mind.  This is obviously putting the cart before the horse and is not actually solving the problem.  In fact, it's kind of cheating.  But, I got away with it and decided to share the piece, anyway.  This one is also mixed media (mostly acrylic, ink and colored pencil) on illustration board, and is 14"x16".

The piece was painted during my junior year which spanned from 1996-'97 and was done for Dave Passalacqua, a legend at Pratt.  He and I didn't always get along very well, and he actually gave me a lot of antiquated advice that wasn't relevant to today's market, but I still have to say he taught me quite a bit and inspired many stories that my friends and I still tell to this day.  Sadly, he passed away in '04, but he's one of those guys that I'll never forget.  His voice, which I can still hear in my head, won't let me.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From the Flat Files

These are my flat files.  Flat files are excellent at crushing fingers.  In fact, I think that they excel at doing that that anything else.  A distant second to crushing fingers, flat files are also good at storing art.  While unpacking, I came across a bunch of stuff and decided I'd go ahead and share some of it each day until the end of the year.  So, here goes...

This first piece is a self-portrait I did in August of 1996.  It is mixed media on illustration board and measures 9.25" x 12".  It was done in about two hours (which I think is pretty obvious).  It also comes with a story and a very important lesson.

I was 19, and was just about to begin my junior year at Pratt Institute and had a few spare hours to do something amid my various responsibilities as a new Resident Adviser in Leo J. Pantas Hall.  The dorm's freshman occupants had not yet moved in, so it was serene.  The halls were empty and the only sounds were the birds singing on the branches of the tree just outside my fourth floor window.  I felt inspired, so I grabbed a spare piece of board and painted this.

As I said, it was a pretty quick piece.  At the time, I worked in a sort of mixed media technique that relied heavily on acrylic paint and this piece is no different.  It's done in a far less methodical way than I usually worked, but contained many of the same ingredients: a pen and ink drawing with water soluble dye washes followed by some acrylic paint.  It was quick and dirty, and there was liberal use of a hair dryer.  I finished it, signed it, and set it aside.

Once classes had started, I took it to a professor of mine, George Pratt.  I was pretty happy with how it had turned out and was pretty hopeful that he would be, too.  I arrived at George's class early to find him playing chess with Richard Clark, a friend of his.  George took a look at the painting and immediately critiqued it.  Though I don't recall all he had to say about the piece, I think I can now guess at a lot of the things he pointed out.  He was his usual, constructive but brutally honest self and was nothing, if not thorough.  I took his criticisms in, thought about them, and thanked him for taking the time to look at my "piece of crap" painting.

George immediately jumped on me.  Why, he asked, was I being so hard on my work?  Why would I refer to this painting as a "piece of crap?"

Because it is, I replied.

While I don't remember his words exactly before this point, I remember his next ones verbatim.  "Man," he said, "don't ever refer to your work like that.  Ever.  If you keep calling your work crap, then eventually you'll believe it's crap.  And once that happens then crap is all it'll ever be."

There are a variety of reasons why I have kept certain pieces over the years, while allowing others to be lost, destroyed, given away, or thrown out.  This piece I keep because of George's words.  Words that have gotten me through some tough times.  This piece is a constant reminder to never give up on myself, and to believe in what I do — two things without which I would be nowhere.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Art Of Rejection

If my Mother taught me anything, it is that life isn’t fair.  I know you probably just read that, rolled your eyes and began to consider hitting the “back” button.  The last thing you need is some preachy blog entry to remind you of this kind of thing.  I agree.  It’s just an opening line.  Stick with me here.

This year, I got squeezed out of two conventions that I’d been regularly showing at: New York Comic Con and, just recently, Illuxcon.  In both cases, it was explained to me that demand for the number of slots was just too great, and that there simply was no room for me.

That this bothers me should go without saying.  The fact is, while I understand that such decisions aren’t personal, they often feel like they are.  It is very difficult to be left on the sidelines while almost every one of your friends and peers get to show off their wares.  The feelings involved are not unlike being the last kid chosen for a team in gym class.  Put simply, it stings.

When faced with rejection, you tend to immediately seek to try to understand the reasons behind it.  Was it because I’m not good enough?  Is it a political decision?  Did I say or do something wrong?  Has my personal hygiene gotten in the way?  Questions like this run through your head and the pain tends to turn to anger pretty quickly.  Anger that gets directed either at yourself for being inadequate in some way, or directed at those who made the decisions that brought on the situation to begin with.

Whether or not those questions have any validity in the long term depends on the circumstances.  In the short term, however, such questions are moot.  The answers do not change the situation (my Mother’s lesson rears its head).  There will always be time down the road for analysis and analysis is always better done when you’ve got a clear head.  So, the first thing you have to do is come to terms with where you’re at.  Once you’ve done that, it’s all about figuring out what to do.

I’m not saying this is easy, mind you.  Sure I can neatly sum those steps up in just two sentences, but how to actually get your mind to that state of acceptance varies wildly from person to person.  Some folks might just shrug it off.  Others might have to find some way to vent the pain and anger through exercise or crying into their pillow.  Still others just need some time alone, or need a distraction to get their mind off of things for a while.  You see, I can’t really say how you get to the point where you can begin planning your next move rationally.  The important thing is to find a way to get there at all.

For me, being excluded from the conventions in question resulted in the following decision: do I suck it up and go to the convention or do I take my toys and go home?  In New York Comic Con’s case, it was a simple answer.  They had free badges for professionals, and the convention itself was a mere subway ride away.  I got to hang out and chat with my friends and have a laugh or two without a whole lot of time or money invested, and at the end of the day had a good time despite the rejection.

Next year’s Illuxcon is a tougher decision — not because it’s a more bitter pill to swallow, but because of the financial state I’m in.  If nothing else, I want to go and support my brothers and sisters in the field.  After all, they have supported me in so many ways, and if my going could encourage them even a little it seems like a worthy way to spend my time.  On top of that, it’s a blast!  Being in a room full of illustrators is a nice reminder that you’re not alone in the grander, meta scheme of things.  It’s a reminder that everyone’s at least as crazy as you.  It’s a good feeling.

But, as luck would have it, the decision to go has to be made sooner rather than later, and I’m currently at a point where I need to be super aware of where my money is going and how much I have to play with.  Right now, it’s not much.

So, naturally (or unnaturally as the case may be), a new fear starts to kick in.  If I don’t go, will people perceive me as a petty jerk?  Will they talk smack about me behind my back?  For me and my part, I have to let that fear go.  Everyone has to make the right decisions for themselves.  If these decisions cause folks to think lesser of you, so be it.  You have to do what you have to do under the circumstances you are in at the time.  You can’t carry that weight.  If they feel that way, and it results in getting snubbed again then it would seem you dodged a bullet, no?

The decisions you make in the face of rejection are never easy ones, but what I’d like to stress is that it’s important to at least try and take the high road.  I could have spent the last day writing nasty emails to Illuxcon’s organizers and raising a big stink.  I didn’t.  Even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t do me any good and would damage any chances I might have in the future.  Instead I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, then painting to keep my mind off of it, and doing laundry (that last one is mostly because we just got a new washer and drier and things had piled up).  Then it was all about whether or not to go, and now it’s mostly about whether of not I even can.

Anyway, when rejected, it’s important to tread cautiously and not do anything rash.  Don’t lash out or become confrontational.  The reactions you get from such actions will not be the kind you want, I assure you.  At best you will be shut out further, at worst you will permanently damage your reputation.  The best thing you can do is find a way to keep your cool (at least publicly), and buy yourself some time to process things.

One last thing to consider is that the folks on the other end are people, too.  In regards to my own predicament, the organizers who had to make the decisions that resulted in my not making the cut didn’t do it lightly and had a difficult time even deciding that they needed to decide.  No one wants to leave people out.  Okay, maybe they want to leave them out over the personal hygiene thing — but apart from that, they don’t want to do it.  They have feelings, too.  They feel bad about it — maybe not as bad as you might feel as the rejected party, but that’s life.  And if my Mother taught anything, it’s that life isn’t fair.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My New Studio

The studio is dead.  Long live the studio.
So, my new studio.  Though it has a couple boxes cluttering it up, they will disappear soon.  Painted a tasteful, muted green, it sports two windows and two electrical outlets - making it twice as awesome as my old studio.  It also features more square footage and only one door that leads to the upstairs hallway (which is convenient as the studio is upstairs).

The room measures just over twelve feet by eleven feet, minus a small closet in the corner which juts out into the floor space.  The closet features an interior that is painted a rather loud shade of pink, and is decked out with the poorest excuse for a "storage system" I have ever seen.  The room's ceiling is rather low, with just seven feet, three inches of clearance.  But, as it's unlikely that I'll be working on anything larger than a few feet tall, this seems like a minor quibble.

The extra space allows me to keep my large easel set up at all times.  Currently sitting on this easel is a book cover I have been dealing with for the last eight months.  In fact, the final alterations to this cover will be my first painting done in my new environment.

Also allowed by the extra space is an additional table (which I use to keep things off the floor), and a bookshelf which is just off camera.  For the first time, all of my art books are in the place that I actually need them.  No more walking into another room to get a book for me.  No, no.

The view out my windows is of the back yard of our house, the garage, and the tool shed.  Beyond that are the backs of several other houses.  There are trees and grass, a parking lot for all the folks who live in the surrounding houses, and some picket fencing that has seen better days...or at least I hope it has.

At present, given that it's winter, my studio is filled only with the sound of my radio or TV, and the occasional hiss and clanking of the radiator.  If I really concentrate, I can hear the faint drone of traffic on the Mass. Pike, and the commuter rail line that passes nearby.

The curious thing about moving is that you get to see your belongings in a whole new context.  My new studio contains the exact same contents as my old studio, and they are even arranged similarly.  But, they look and feel very different.  Perhaps this is because there's more space overall.  Perhaps it is because there's far more light.  Perhaps the addition of a few extra pieces of furniture has thrown off the vibe entirely.  I don't really know.  Either way, the newness represents promise to me, and I'm pretty excited.

So, this is where the best work of my life will be produced over at least the next eighteen months.  No pressure or anything.  Perhaps a mantra.  No matter what, that will be my goal.  To do the best work of my life.  May I shock and surprise with the work that is yet to be.  May I fill people with wonder.  May I inspire and be inspired.  May this studio be as good to me as the last.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Old Studio

It served me well.

My old studio in Jackson Heights, Queens.  As I recall, it measured eight feet by ten feet.  The filing cabinet at the right of the picture was a mere six inches or so from the right wall which is just out of frame.  It wasn't a big space, but it was a huge improvement over my previous dwelling where I was forced to work in the living room, which meant that I could never close the door on my work.  By that standard, this space was a luxury.

The room itself was railroaded, by which I mean that there were two adjacent doorways in and out of the room.  One doorway lead to the hallway, the other directly into the kitchen.  This made the trip to the sink for brush cleaning rather convenient and it's a feature I'm not likely to find again anytime soon.

There was exactly one electrical outlet in the room.  Plugged into it were two power strips that gave me enough outlets to plug in my various lights, radio, TV, DVD player, and computer.  As the building was built in 1935, the electrical system was less than ideal and every time Amy had her hair dryer on the high setting, the breaker would trip and my studio would go dark.

My view was a small courtyard and the opposing side of the building which mirrored my own.  The building's super lived across from me, and he and his family often waved while I toiled away.

On summer days, with the window open, my studio was filled with the sounds of the building's children playing in the courtyard, the opera singer from my building practicing her arias, various birds chirping, and the hum of the building's many air conditioning units.  In winter, only the sounds of my TV or radio could be heard against the occasional hiss of the radiator.

The largest painting I did while there measured three feet wide by two feet tall.  The smallest was a five inch square.  This is where I did my first book covers.  It is where I did the best work of my life to this point.  Work that I cannot show yet, but am very proud of.

This space was very good to me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Frequently Asked Question 3: Signatures

Would you mind signing cards for me?  Or a variant thereof being: how much do you charge to sign cards?

The answer to the first question is no.  If I’m at an event or convention, I’ll happily sign your cards.  I don’t mind doing it at all.  However, what can be an issue is when folks give me stacks of cards several inches thick.  In these cases, depending on whether there’s a line to talk to me, I may be forced to decline or will ask that the cards be left with me to sign at my leisure.  I just don’t like forcing someone to wait to have one card signed because I’m busy signing 200 for someone else.

Other artists I know will refuse a tall stack of cards outright.  I don’t blame them — my hand cramped so severely at GenCon this year that I had to leave my table for an hour to get some ibuprofen and rest.  At this time, however, I choose to sign as many things as I can.  That’s why I’m at the event in question.

I’m also happy to sign cards sent to me through the mail.  I ask only 2 things.  First, I ask that a self-addressed, stamped envelope be included.  Second, I ask that you email me before sending the cards.  Catch that?  I said “before.”  Why?  Simple: I travel a lot.  While traveling, cards don’t get signed and people are left waiting.  I don’t want folks to have to wait, so if contacted beforehand, I can tell folks to hold off due to travel.  The other problem with travel is that my mail piles up.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if I had a door with a mail slot, or a big old mailbox.  But, as things are now, I live in an apartment building and I have a mailbox that makes a shoebox seem like a spacious mansion complete with indoor pool and 10-car garage.  One weekend’s worth of mail could fill the box and my mailman isn’t bashful about cramming stuff in there.  The last thing I need is to have someone’s cards get bent in half because my mailman decided to ram home my mailbox’s contents with a rolled up copy of the latest Vogue.  (My wife’s subscription — I swear).

I think the above are minor requests, personally.  Especially because — to answer the question’s variant — I don’t charge to sign things.  Signatures are free.  Pretty straightforward, I think.  Now, there are others who have a tip jar at their table.  This is something else I understand.  Pens cost money and with few exceptions, we sign with our own pens.  It’s nice to have the money to replace said pens when they run dry, so we can keep signing.  Personally, I don’t have a tip jar.  If people feel compelled to give me money for signing their cards or books or playmats, I’m happy to take it.  It’s always nice to receive a tip.  I just don’t feel the need to have the jar there.

Truth be told, I get a real kick out of giving autographs.  It’s never gotten old to me.  I remember being a kid, waiting in line to have comic artists sign my comic books, never dreaming that I would one day be the guy behind a table doing the same thing.  Fans are a big part of what I do, and taking the time to sign one or two things is the least I can do for all the love I’ve gotten from them.  So, my pen is ever at the ready.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Move

We temporarily interrupt the semi-regularity of this blog to bring you silence. 

I am currently awaiting the arrival of our movers who will be picking up the pieces of our lives, putting them in boxes and cramming them in a truck.  I will have no internet for a week and even if I did, I'd likely be too preoccupied with the reassembly of our lives in our new environs to write much.  Hopefully something entertaining will come out of the move that I can share with you all.  If not, I have an epic tale of a cover painting gone wrong in the months ahead.  It'll be worth it, I assure you.

Random good news for the move:

Today is beautiful and dry.  Amy and I have made the movers' work a little easier by never having completely unpacked from the last move.  Most of my artwork is packed in the suitcases that I drag with me to conventions and can easily withstand the abuse provided by airlines.

Random bad news for the move:

The weather forecast for Wednesday (our moving in day) is rainy.  The vast majority of the pain and suffering lies ahead of us.  I'm tired and the coffee isn't helping.

There it all is in a nutshell.  I'll be back as soon as is practicable and I hope you all a nice week.

Monday, November 22, 2010

An Open Letter To the Sketchbook Circles

When I was in high school, a buddy of mine used to sit at the lab tables (which were in the back of the classroom) instead of the desks in my Advanced Biology Class.  Our teacher, Dr. Freeman, would hold the class at bay waiting for him to seat himself at a desk rather than a lab table, all the while inviting him to “join us.”  It took a bit of coaxing, but he’d eventually come around and sit with the rest of the class. 

Now, to the sketchbook circles at conventions I offer the same invitation: Join us.

While sketchbook circles are something that may have existed at conventions long before I came into the picture, I personally have only recently run into them, myself.  Basically, a sketchbook circle tends to consist of a bunch of young artists and illustrators who, rather than socialize and hang out with the older, more seasoned professionals, choose instead to stick their heads in their sketchbooks, often sitting in a circle with seemingly little socialization even with their neighbors.  At least, that’s how it seems.

While I am usually of the opinion that an artist should draw, then draw some more, and when they’re finally tired of drawing should continue to do the same, there is a time and place for everything.  The way I see it, the seasoned professionals at these conventions are a valuable resource, and not engaging them, listening to their stories, and generally getting to know them is a waste.

Join us.

It has been my experience that the fantasy and science fiction genre of illustration is full of the most open and generous artists I’ve ever met.  They’ve been willing to teach me all manner of things, critique my work and give me advice.  Some have even become friends.  This didn’t happen because I sat on a hotel lobby floor hunched over my sketchbook.  This happened because I put myself out there, asked questions, solicited their thoughts, and had a laugh or two with them. Put simply, we got to know each other.

While I appreciate that drawing is vital to the betterment of your artistic abilities, you just paid good money to attend a convention and sit at on a hotel lobby floor and draw —something you could have done at home for free.  You know what you can’t do at home?  You can’t talk to the likes of Donato Giancola, Todd Lockwood, Michael Whelan, Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, or any other artists of their ilk that may be at your disposal at said event.

Join us.

Seriously.  There are folks out there who would love to get to know you, but aren’t going to engage you while you’ve got your back turned with your nose in your sketchbook.  Opportunities to talk with a lot of these folks are fleeting.  To not drink deeply from this well is a shame — not just because of what you’ll miss, but because of what some of the illustrators standing around and chatting might miss, as well: you.

I will grant you that what I ask can be very intimidating.  It took a long time for me to get the guts to even say word one to some of the folks I mention above.  In fact, there are certain illustrators that I STILL have difficulty talking to after many years of knowing them.  I still stutter, hem and haw.  After all, what does one say to their heroes?  But I’m asking for the difficult — not the impossible.

Understand, also, that I’m not suggesting that you completely abandon your drawing circle nor your friends and acquaintances therein.  Bring them along, in fact!  Have a laugh, try to press the flesh, share a drink, and listen to a tale or two.  Tell a tale or two yourselves, even!  Engage these folks — even if you’re nothing more than a wallflower at first, as I once was.  You may hear a horror story that you can learn from, or a funny story that has you howling…or you may be bored to tears.  But, you won’t know if you don’t give it a try.

Again, it was quite difficult for me at first, but the effort I put into getting over my fears and talking to folks with more experience under their belt has resulted in benefits beyond what I could have imagined.  So, next convention put your sketchbooks down for a night.  Talk to a couple people.  Get to know someone.  Sit back, have a laugh, and

Join us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Frequently Asked Question 2: Alterations

Do you do alterations? Or, will you alter the picture for me?

First, let me explain what this means to the uninitiated so we’re clear on what this entails. I do a lot of work for Magic: The Gathering, a collectable card game. Given the collectable nature of the game, it is often desirable to some people to have an artist physically alter the card’s image in some way, in order to have a unique version of the card. A very small original piece of art, say. Here is an example of what I mean:

I mocked this up digitally.  It does not exist.
I hated doing it, but it's for clarity's sake.

So, to answer the question: no.

There are a couple reasons for this, but first and foremost is that I don’t like doing them. To my eyes, the end result always looks pretty bad.

For the most part, I’m asked to do alterations at conventions and other appearances. At these appearances, the tools at my disposal are very limited and usually include a variety of Sharpie pens, paint pens, ballpoint pens, and pencils. The ballpoint pens and pencils are right out due to the fact that they damage the surface of the cards. I avoid using paint pens at all costs due to the drying time. So, the primary tool for the job is the trusty Sharpie in all its various sizes and colors.

Even the finest point Sharpie is too unwieldy for the job, due to the fact that the printed illustration on every Magic card is a mere 2 1/16 inches wide by 1 1/2 inches tall. It’s basically like drawing with something the size of a broom handle on a standard letter-size sheet. No matter what you do, the alteration feels horsy and ham-fisted.

Another problem with the Sharpie is that it doesn’t play well with the picture. The ink just sits there on top of the surface, not even remotely integrating itself into the image. No matter what I do, at best it ends up looking makeshift, and at worst it looks like an afterthought. (For more about my complex on this matter, I invite you to read a previous entry, “The Circle On the Oaktag”).

At this point you might remind me that I have, in fact, done alterations in the past. This is true. It took doing them to realize that I don’t like to do them. Plus, I stumbled upon an alteration that had been done by someone on a card that I had signed. The fact that my signature and an alteration were done on the same card insinuated strongly that I had done said alteration. I hadn’t. It was enough to make me want to stop and so I did.

In all reality, I have no sense of whether or not alterations add value, subtract value, or have no impact. It is likely that it’s not even about value, so much as having something special and unique. While I appreciate that, I can’t bring myself to continue to create these little drawings that cause me to cringe.

In truth, I regret every alteration I’ve ever done, but am a little relieved to know that there are probably less than a hundred out there. But of those hundred or so, only one has written upon it, “Last Alteration Ever” and is thus the only alteration I kind of like.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Moving Pictures

Behold!  A Magic viral ad that features a couple of my pieces that have been animated. The ad is for the Mirran faction currently featured in the Magic expansion set Scars of Mirrodin.

See:  The Grand Architect waving his arms about!

See:  A piece I can't say anything more about!

See:  Other people's work!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Grand Prix and Me

Villa it says in the picture.
©Steven Belledin
This past weekend, I got the opportunity to go to Germany as an artist guest for Magic’s Grand Prix tournament in Bochum.  One of the weird coincidences about this opportunity was that my wife and I had to cancel a trip to Germany last year and were planning on rescheduling for this year.  So, when the offer was made we jumped at the chance and tacked on two weeks of travel to my appearance.  In short, it was awesome.

Berg Eltz...well part of it, anyway.
©Steven Belledin
I will forgo any discussion of the vacation.  No one likes sitting through anyone else’s vacations stories.  Unless of course, those stories are about how terrible the vacation was.  As the vacation was everything I’d hoped and more, I will sum it up thusly: we ate a lot, drank a lot, drove a lot and enjoyed ourselves immensely.  Germany’s a great country, and the place that my family once called home.  I look forward to going back again soon.

Neuschwanstein Castle
©Amy Belledin
So, about that Grand Prix…

For the uninitiated, Magic: The Gathering has a very strong organized play community.  These organized events are held all over the world and consist of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people playing Magic for cash and or valuable prizes.  That this organized play is still running strong after 17 years of the game’s existence is phenomenal to me.  To be asked to appear at one of these events as a guest was even more phenomenal.

©Amy Belledin
The event took place in Bochum — a mid-sized town just 45 minutes northeast of Cologne.  A fun fact about Bochum is that the musical play “Starlight Express” has been running there consistently since 1988.  By now, I would expect that every German citizen must have seen it at least once.  Just next to where “Starlight Express” plays 6 times a week was the home of this particular Magic Grand Prix, the RuhrCongress.

What the organizers expected was around 1,000 Magic enthusiasts vying for a variety of prizes.  What the organizers got was over 1,800.  To the layperson, that may not seem like a whole lot of players, but trust me when I tell you that it is.  Especially when many of those fans have stacks of cards an inch thick for you to sign!

The Playing Masses
©Amy Belledin

This is the first time I’ve ever been to an event where security was necessary.  Not because folks were tearing my shirt off or anything.  Rather, they were there to shut the lines down so that we could get a lunch break in, or go to bed at night.  It was pretty surreal for me. 

As a fan of many things, I understand the desire to get signatures and meet the people responsible for the things I love.  I just don’t understand it when it applies to me.  I’m just some guy who bumbled into being an artist on Magic.  It never occurred to me that there would be fans attached to that.  It never occurred to me that someone might want me to make an appearance.  I’m just some guy.  A guy who happens to paint the weird and wonderful from time to time.

Ah yes, the magical ropes...
©Amy Belledin
Nevertheless, there I was in Bochum.  With a line.  A line that wound its way back and forth between ropes.  And there was security.  I just kept rubbing my eyes and looking about in wonderment.  It was amazing.  Why?  The fans!  Some of them fans of my work.  Some not.  But, forget whether they like my work or not — they’re fans of Magic!  They’re fans of the game!  A game that I still giggle about getting to work on!  After all, it’s a dream job, and the Grand Prix a dream!

I met many great folks while there — folks from all over the world.  Germany, Luxemburg, Brazil, Spain, The Netherlands, France, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, the U.S.  All there to play the game.  There to have fun.  Even the ones who’d lost were enjoying themselves.  It was a great crowd.  Seriously.

Signing away the hours...
©Amy Belledin

I chatted them up, got interviewed twice, drew a whole bunch and signed until my hands hurt.  All the while, I sat there in awe, blown away by the path my life and career had taken.  It was a blast!  I mean, really.  Most folks would dread having to work the last two days of their vacation.  I loved every minute of it and would do it all over again!

For the opportunity I have to thank Dieter Schoeters and his crew.  How they pull off and coordinate these events is something that lies beyond my realm of understanding.  You guys treated me better than I deserve and I thank you all.  To the people of Germany, I thank you for accepting my meager attempts at speaking to you in German, and I also appreciate your willingness to stoop to English when I failed miserably to get the message.  I do not know if I’ll ever get a chance to appear at another tournament in some other foreign land, but I sure am happy I even got this one!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Link To An Interview

Here's an interview I did for Wizards of the Coast while in Bochum (link).  It was a bit difficult to talk and sign at the same time, but I somehow managed.  Plus, Tim Willoughby (the interviewer), did a pretty good job paraphrasing when necessary in order to turn a random conversation into something a bit more clear.

I do have quite a bit to say about Bochum, but I figured this would be a good primer.  More later on what I'm told was the 5th largest Magic Grand Prix ever.

Friday, October 29, 2010

More Random Thoughts On My Germany Trip...

I've gotten a lot of odd looks here. Sometimes because people expect German to come out of my mouth, and sometimes when serviceable German actually does.

Random bruises accrued by Amy so far include a bruise on her finger from lifting beer steins at beer halls and a bruise on her arm where it makes contact with the bucket seat of our VW Golf when shifting gears.

The cathedral in Cologne might be my favorite cathedral in all the world. The exterior of it, anyway.

I realize now that putting the work part of this trip at the end was a mistake. But, if we hadn't, we would have had to cancel the trip entirely due to the obligations surrounding our upcoming move.

Seeing friends in foreign lands is a bit mind bending. Seeing foreign friends in foreign lands is less so.

Walking around a tiny village my Grandfather grew up in was a pretty cool.

It is impossible to walk three feet in the Rhine or Mosel valleys without tripping over a castle or the remains of one.

So far, the weather was only bad in Munich and Nuremberg. Everywhere else it has been lovely. I guess we just weren't welcome in those parts of Germany.

The Simpsons is still funny in German. Here they call it Die Simpsons, which makes me wonder about the Sideshow Bob tattoo that read "Die Bart, Die", which Sideshow Bob explained meant "The Bart, The". I'm guessing that that joke never really worked.

Spongbob Squarepants is also dubbed in German. The voices are all spot on. It is also aired at 11:30 pm.

Went shopping yesterday and saw various outfits suitable for cave people made of possible skinned Wookiees. Then Amy set her eyes on a nice green winter coat and stated that she like it, but would look like a leprechaun while wearing it. Me: Yeah, but you're MY leprechaun. I caught you and your gold is mine! Thankfully she found that funny.

The beer and wine and food remain good, if a bit heavy at times. As heavy as German cuisine can be, it is no wonder that pizza is so popular.

This is Amy's first trip to Europe without getting a cold.

Today I am off to Bochum and will spend my weekend drawing and chewing the fat with fans while playing Robin to Chris Moeller's Batman. I guess that makes Amy... Batgirl? Catwoman? That female Robin? She claims she's Commissioner Gordon. Whatever.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Random Thoughts On My Trip To Germany So Far...

I dislike being lured to a random place in the middle of nowhere only to be charged to use the only bathroom available.

I would like to fire all of America's driving instructors and replace them with German citizens.

There is a shockingly low number of red lights here... Probably due to the fact that German citizens know how to drive.

The food is excellent, though a little heavy at times.

The people are lovely and have put up with my butchering their language very graciously.

Castles are neat.

Two liters of beer is a lot for one sitting.

I really love pedestrian-only zones. I wish we had them in the states.

I do apologize for driving down the pedestrian-only zone in Heidelberg, though it turned out to be perfectly legal on this one occasion.

Actually, I didn't drive down it, Amy did. I can't drive cars with a standard transmission. I was still at fault, however (I was navigating).

I was not prepared for snow. But then again, neither was Germany.

The screen grab feature on the iPad has made printing maps out unnecessary.

Finally, the Astin Martin DB 9 is easily the most beautiful car I've ever seen driving down the road. While not German, I did see it on the autobahn, so it still counts!

The Magic event is next weekend. I will write about it after I get home. Plus, I'll probably gab on about the trip some more.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

For My Lady

Ten years ago today, we got a bunch of people together in a room with an aisle down the middle of it, where Amy (wearing a doily on steroids) and I (wearing a rather dapper suit) exchanged a bunch of vows and officially got hitched.  There apparently was a party that followed this vow exchange ceremony — which we’ll call a “wedding” for brevity’s sake — but I have very few recollections of this party.  Not because I was inebriated or some such (in fact, I was quite sober), it was more that my brain was still processing the events that had just transpired.  Events which were easily the most life-changing things I’d been ever been through to that point next to being born (which is about as life changing as you get).

I’ve heard that the desert table at our little post-wedding party — which I understand is called a “reception” — was to die for.  I never saw it.  In fact, I never actually ate any wedding cake due to the fact that I was too busy talking to everyone and thanking them for showing up and sitting through what I believe to be among the most boring things people ever have to sit through (being weddings).  All the while, my brain just repeated “this is actually happening, this is actually happening, this is actually happening.”

You might get the impression that I had butterflies or cold feet.  Not the case.  I was excited as all get out.  I just never believed on some level that I’d ever be happy.  Like, permanently happy.  This is not to say that being married automatically makes me happy, but rather that being married to Amy does.  Sure, there have been rough patches.  There have been times when she should have run away screaming never to be heard from again.  After all, as many might guess I am not an easy person to live with.

To be sure, long before we got married Amy was warned by my family and certain “friends” of ours not to get involved with the likes of me (rest assured I know who you are).  But, boldly she ignored them all and stepped right into the heaping piles of the mess that is me and started digging.

I will get to the point.  I am a very lucky man.  I have been with Amy for fourteen years, we’ve been married for ten, and they have easily been the best years of my life.  She has raised the bar for who I am, and helped me to reach it.  She has been my biggest supporter, my greatest love, my best friend.  I cannot begin to thank her for all she’s done for me, nor can I repay her.  There’s just too much.

That she still is excited to see me when she walks in the door everyday is something I marvel at.  That she’s never done anything more than joked with me for my repeated breaking of the “good” wine glasses leaves me amazed.  That I can say anything to her, no matter how awful, and she continues to love me despite it, humbles me.  That we’ve never run out of things to talk about; that we can sit comfortably in silence; that she still laughs at my horrible jokes; makes me grateful beyond these mere words.

Truly I am a lucky man, and I wish that everyone were just as lucky.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Productive Meeting

I often get asked where I get my ideas from.  While a potentially interesting topic, this entry is not about that.  In fact, this entry is about when I get my ideas... or rather two specific ideas.

At present, I live in a cooperative apartment building.  During this year's annual meeting in January, I found my mind drifting (as it so often does during such meetings).  Earlier that day I had been assigned a couple of pieces for Magic: The Gathering and I started to ponder how to solve the problems each presented.  Equipped solely with the paperwork documenting the financial status of the co-op and a black, ballpoint pen, my wondering mind began to take focus and I started to explore some options for the work I'd been assigned.

The doodles and drawings that resulted laid the groundwork for "Grand Architect" (which I've discussed before) and "Putrefax" — two pieces from the most recent Magic set.  Here are the very first stabs at these two pieces:

I believe this page was a comparison between the budgets of 2009 and 2010.

In the margins of this first page, I started to explore the Putrefax design.  The Putrefax didn't previously exist, so I had to design him from scratch.  It's pretty clear that while I had a vague idea of what I wanted, the creature was pretty half-baked and needed more exploration.  For some reason, I decided to think about him some more and moved on to the "Grand Architect."

Notice that the Architect's composition is different from the finished painting.  While the pose of the main figure and the design of his podium remained pretty much the same, they are drawn from a frontal perspective that I later abandoned in favor of a 3/4 view instead.

As the title suggests, an outline of the meeting's agenda.  Also some drawings and random snarky comments.
This page furthers the evolution of the Putrefax.  Another few attempts were taken here, and I somehow hit upon a design that I actually liked at the bottom.  In fact, I went on to copy that drawing and expand upon it for the final sketch shown here:

©Wizards of the Coast
Which resulted in this painting:

©Wizards of the Coast
Which resulted in this card:

©Wizards of the Coast
As seen in the window of this starter deck:

©Wizards of the Coast
So, why did this idea come at the time it did?  Well, to be sure I was preoccupied with the assignment at the time of the meeting.  It also didn't hurt that the president of the co-op board was up in front of everyone talking.  That got my brain on the path of depicting the Grand Architect's speech. However, the idea of depicting a speech seemed small in comparison to coming up with a design for the Putrefax, and so I tried to tackle the Putrefax first.  As so often happens when assigned multiple pieces, I bounce back and forth from one to another until they are all done.  One thing will inspire the next and these inspirations are not always linear for me.

As I recall it, when I drew those first pen sketches, I was getting irritated because we were nearing two full hours of discussion at the annual meeting and had gotten to the point in the agenda when people get to start registering their complaints (a sure sign that there was another hour to go).  I guess it's fair to say that my feelings regarding some of the complaints inspired aspects of the design.  It entertained me to think about the Putrefax rising up out of the growing negativity in the room and chasing select individuals away, thus allowing the rest of us a chance to get back to our respective apartments and enjoy the small sliver of the evening that still remained.  Instead I got to listen to many Grand Architects officiously drone on and on, all the while toiling to make both a reality.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Fear Of Good Paper

When I was a kid, I coveted “good paper.”  I loved having some nice Strathmore Bristol paper at my disposal to do quality drawings on.  Most of the time I worked on drawing paper that came in pads that was a step above newsprint, saving the Bristol for “special” projects.  “Good paper” for “good drawings.”

The end result of this behavior is that the Bristol collected dust.  The Bristol paper was so nice that I didn’t feel anything I was doing was worth its toothy goodness.  I simply didn’t want to waste it — it was more expensive than my usual drawing fodder and every failed attempt at a quality drawing resulted in something that didn’t so much resemble a wad of crumpled paper as a wad of crumpled cash, and I hated feeling wasteful.

Over time, my reluctance to risk wastefulness evolved into a fear of “good paper.”  Boiled down, it was mostly performance anxiety with a little cheapness thrown in, and I refused to even attempt a finished piece on the Bristol or any other paper of similar ilk.  I managed to get a lot of good, quality drawings done (for my age), but it was never on the “good paper.”  No fear led to the freedom to take risks, which resulted in better work.  I tried to transfer my successes to better paper for posterity’s sake, but the result was always lifeless and disappointing, and before long I abandoned my attempts, leaving them half-finished and forgotten.  Of course this just caused further waste and thus deepened my fears.

This continued throughout high school and even into college, which found me dragging the Bristol paper I’d had since the 4th grade, along with the various other necessary supplies and sundries.  It was in college that I was finally forced to face my fears.  Yes, college, where I had to start drawing at a frequency with which I’d never before been unaccustomed.  College, with 6-hour drawing classes so intense that the only sounds one could hear were the scribbling of charcoal pencils on paper and the constant ticking of the model’s timer.  Ah college, where we drew like the wind, when the wind pushes a pencil across a page just so, as it often doesn’t.  So we drew.  And there was no fear, for we drew on newsprint… a LOT of newsprint. 

I don’t know if the reasons for drawing on newsprint are the same as my own reasoning for not using good paper, but newsprint is cheap and thus eliminates any monetary pressure.  Also, given the poor quality of newsprint, there’s no pressure to do a “good” drawing.  Newsprint allowed me to sidestep my issues, but there were occasions when newsprint was the wrong tool for the job.

Beyond the in-class drawings there were also assignments — homework, if you will.  These assignments were where I finally began to take on my fear of “good paper.”  You see, I simply had no choice; it was part of the assignment.  I had to draw shoes on good paper; plants on good paper; figures, and flowers and self-portraits: all on good paper.  At first this was very difficult, but over time I began to understand that these weren’t priceless works of art, but rather important exercises — whether they were good or bad didn’t matter.   The quality of the paper only mattered because it was essential to the subtleties we were trying to perfect.

Plus, as the years went by, I began to paint more and more.  Though drawing was integral to my process, the need for perfection waned.  I paint in oils, after all, and oils are opaque, so the drawing will end up being covered up, anyway.

So that was that, right?  No more fear.  I’ve gotten past the performance anxiety and am completely cured, right?  Alas, no.  I still fear waste.  I bemoan the fact that substantially more paint is thrown out then ever makes it onto a painting’s surface.  I cringe at the thought of the paper and printer ink wasted when trying to color-correct my prints.  I lose sleep over the purchase of a new painting medium that I like to work with because I still have half a jar of the stuff that I hate working with.

The closest I think I’ll ever get to getting over the fear of waste is coming to terms with the fact that there will be waste, like it or not.  Nothing runs at 100% efficiency and the best I can do is avoid waste when I can.  Accept it and move on.  While I have arrived at this conclusion mentally, I have not completely let go.  Perhaps someday, but not now.

So what’s the moral here?  Why did I write about this?  Well, it’s certainly a window into my own neurosis, but I am certain that it is a neurosis shared by others.  Somewhere there’s someone who holds back from drawing on “good” paper, is afraid to use the “good” pen, or paint with the “good” brush; someone who feels unready for or unworthy of “professional quality” supplies.  Will better supplies make you a better artist?  Perhaps not, but holding back might just keep you from reaching your fullest potential.  So, let fly, my friends and good luck.

Monday, October 4, 2010


While I've generally attempted to keep news on my site's news page and my blog stuff right here on the blog, I feel it necessary to try and cover my bases with this announcement:

I will no longer be accepting cards in the mail for signatures.  Temporarily.  This is due to my imminent move to the Boston area.  I  have no real idea of how the move is going to play out (it's complicated) and I want to avoid anyone's property from getting lost in the mix.  Please check my website for news on this matter as it happens.  Thanks.

I will be updating the blog soon with more blog stuff and apologize for this non-blog related bit of business.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Evolution of the Aether-Lich

During the Shards of Alara block of Magic: The Gathering, I was assigned a piece called "Scornful Aether-lich."  Essentially, it's a painting of a guy who has replaced the entirety of his body with metallic filigree.  I figured I'd show you how the piece came together.  Well, not the actual painting, but rather the legwork that was done before the painting was even started.

Like most of my work, this piece started out with thumbnail drawings followed by a finished sketch.  In this piece's case, the thumbnails are unfortunately lost, but they resulted in two different sketches.  I'm going to deal with the sketch that actually got finished and handed in.  Anyway, thumbnails, then sketch, followed by: Photoshop.

Given that virtually every illustration I've ever done professionally had to have sketches delivered digitally, I've always had this extra step of scanning and cleaning up my sketches in Photoshop.  For me, given how messy my drawings can be, it's a necessary thing to get rid of eraser rubble, pencil smears, and random, searching line work.  But, I rarely stop there.  For me, Photoshop provides another opportunity to edit and alter a sketch.  Sometimes these explorations vastly improve the end result, other times they just reinforce the decisions I'd made in the first place.  In this case, I ended up changing the composition a bit.

Here is the scanned sketch with some rudimentary digital value thrown on top of it.  As you can tell by the edges of the paper, the drawing has been rotated significantly, and the whole composition was moved left.

©Wizards of the Coast
Given that the sketch looks a little less than professional at this point — what with the pencil smudges and paper edge visible — I decided to go into it with some digital paint and clean it up further for my Art Director, but also to establish the value structure for my own use during the painting.  On this piece I got a little carried away.  The result was this:

©Wizards of the Coast
This is how the sketch got handed in.  It was approved, and I was off to the races...or was I?

Not yet.

I am constantly tinkering with my process.  For me, the joy of painting is more in the process itself, not as much in the end result.  So, I will change the type of paper I'm using, or I'll try a new color on my palette.

Up until this point, I had been transferring my sketches onto the painting surfaces by printing out a copy of the sketch, rubbing graphite all over the back of it, and tracing over the sketch — a simple graphite transfer.  While that technique worked well, it was more time consuming than I liked it to be, so I decided to give painting on top of a printed sketch try.  Given that I had done this value painting already, I decided that I would go ahead and paint on top of it instead of just the line drawing.  So, I turned it into a duo-tone image in Photoshop, picked a nice pink for one color and a nice deep blue for the other then ran with it.  This is what it looked like:

©Wizards of the Coast
I printed it out and  pasted it down to some Strathmore illustration board (which was what I painted on at the time), using acrylic matte medium then painted on top of it.  The finished piece looks like this:

©Wizards of the Coast
Like I said, I'm constantly tinkering with my process, and while I do continue to paint on top of printed sketches, I do not use the value study versions.  Fact is, painting on the value study didn't save any time and used more printer ink, so in the end it just cost me money.  I haven't stopped actually making the value studies, however, I just find that drawing on top of line drawings to be a bit more liberating.  They may not always be this involved, but they do tend to get the job done.