Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What A Downer

Another piece I did back in college.  I'm thinking it was either my sophomore or junior year, but I'm not sure.  So, that translates to sometime between 1995 and '97.  It's acrylic.  It's also loose.  Well, a lot looser than I paint nowadays.  I don't remember the assignment, so I'm afraid there's not much to go on.

I got nothing on this one.
One of the few things I can tell you about my college work overall, which is also true of this piece, is that it was large.  The vast majority of my professional work is somewhere between 9 inches by 12 inches and 16 inches by 20 inches.  My college work tended to be at least 18 x 24, often going as large as 2 x 3 feet.

So, what about this piece in particular?  Well, like a lot of my college work, it's got some real problems.  The value structure bothers me (it goes dark awful fast in shadows), and the dark creases between the fingers is distracting.  The lighting is inconsistent between the hand/head and the rest of the body.  There's no real flow, nor composition to speak of.  It's just a guy with a thumbs-down for a head.

Even so, there's something about the piece I like.  Perhaps it's the color.  Perhaps the mood.  Perhaps it's the confidence in the paint handling.  I honestly don't know.  One thing is for sure, though: it gives you a pretty good idea of what I was like in college!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Loxodon Sojourner

Here's a new piece I did for the most recent Magic set.  It's called "Loxodon Sojourner."  First, the sketch:

©Wizards of the Coast
As you can see, there's a bit of rudimentary digital painting done on the sketch.  I do this from time to time in order to add clarity for myself or the art director...or both.  This one has fairly little digital work done to it, they sometimes are a lot more fleshed out tonally.

©Wizards of the Coast
Despite what's indicated in the sketch, I knew fairly early on what I wanted the lighting to be.  I really liked the idea of his turning his back to the light somehow.  It also allowed for one of my favorite gags, being the light showing through fabric.

I remember this piece going surprisingly quickly.  A lot of the loxodon's face and chest were done in the first pass over the painting.  I cleaned it up with a second pass, but the raw ingredients were there after just one.  If I recall, the light breaking over the loxodon't back and how it hit the cloth there proved to be the most time consuming.  All in all, I'm happy with how it turned out.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Moving Up the Northeast Corridor

I arrived in New York in August of 1994 at the gates of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.  I lived in the same dormitory building for 4 years.  Leo J. Pantas Hall.  I met the woman who would become my wife there.  Amy Tomlins.  And it was there that I learned my trade.

After graduating in 1998, a couple friends and I moved into an illegal basement apartment in Woodside, Queens.  It wasn’t the best place to live, but everything in it was new, so it wasn’t the worst either.  I bided my time there while Amy continued her education at Pratt.  After two years of roommates coming and going, Amy moved into the place after she graduated.

Two and half years later, she decided we needed to move and so we did.  To Astoria, Queens.  It was a great neighborhood, a decent apartment and we were pretty happy there.  Eventually, after five years, it became obvious that we’d outgrown that single bedroom apartment and moved yet again to Jackson Heights, Queens, where we reside today.

I have lived in New York for over 16 years now.  It is a city I love.  It is a city I hate.  But it was in this city that I went from being a wide-eyed, immature student to a full-fledged, card-carrying adult.  It is where I met my wife.  It is where I met so many of my friends.  It is where my career began.  And so I have mixed feelings about leaving.

My wife has been offered a job that she simply cannot resist, and given the combination of the timing, the quality of the offer, and the portability of my own profession, we decided it was time to make the move.  And so we move to Boston.

While I am very excited for this, I am also a little sad.  New York has meant so much to my life (whether I like it or not), and it has helped make me what I am.  I have seen heartbreak here.  I have seen despair.  But I have also seen triumph and hope and joy.  New York is a magnificent city, and while I dislike so many aspects of day-to-day life here, I will always have a great deal of affection for it.

Now, Amy and I will travel further up the Northeast Corridor.  We will find a new place to call home.  We will find happiness there.  And for the first time in my life, the possibility of change has me bursting at the seams, excited to see what our future may bring!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Donuts At Knifepoint

A random, non-art related memory:

As stated before on this blog, I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Pratt has the distinction of being one of the few colleges in New York City with a closed campus (as well as having the second largest sports complex in New York City, Madison Square Garden being the largest). The campus is comprised of 3 Brooklyn city blocks fully enclosed by an iron fence with only 4 total points of entry during the day and 2 at night. It was a relatively safe haven in what was at times a sketchy neighborhood (this is '94, I believe so I can't comment on the neighborhood now.).

I spent all four years there in a fairly typical dorm (2 as a resident, 2 as an RA), and during my freshman year, I got held up in the middle of campus. It was a friend’s birthday and I had made the cross campus slog to the C-Store (which was a small convenience store located in the only off-campus dorm building) to buy a cake. Lacking the required appliances to make a real cake, I was forced to settle for an Entenmann’s chocolate sheet cake and some candles. For myself, I purchased some Entenmann’s chocolate covered donuts.

On my way back to my dorm, while crossing campus, I noticed a group of 6 local kids hanging out (somewhat unusual as it was around 10:00 at night). I really didn’t think much of it until I noticed that they started to move towards me. By the time I realized what was about to happen, it was too late. I was completely surrounded by the six kids (all of whom seemed younger than me, but much larger). My eyes immediately began searching for one of the campus security cars, another passerby — anything! From where I stood I could see two of the school's security booths, but no roving cars and I was too far away to get anyone’s attention. Furthermore, the closest buildings to me were locked for the night. I was trapped.

Oddly, while the incident unfolded, I wasn’t in the least bit worried for my personal safety. I was more worried about what I actually had in my pockets. Fortunately, the only things I had were my keys and my meal card — neither of which would be of any use to them. No, I figured I’d be fine and had little to lose…until I saw the knife. The kid directly facing me brandished it with a certain level of comfort that finally brought home the reality of my situation.

“Give me your money.”

I emptied my pockets, showed him the contents and apologized for having nothing more. A guy behind me patted my pockets to be sure.

“All right then, what's in that bag.” He took the bag and looked inside. “Give me this cake then.”

At this point my mind split in two. One half was thinking how nice it would be to be alive in my dorm room having lost only a cake and a certain level of dignity. The other half of my brain was blown away by the situation and a little angry that these guys were stooping to holding me up for baked goods. Unfortunately, that’s the half that spoke.

“I’m sorry, but you can’t have the cake, it’s for a friend’s birthday,” I said. The intelligent half of my brain lost it. What are you doing? Why are you saying this? You’re never going to get the blood out of these pants!

Not surprisingly, the kids looked pretty surprised and irritated that I would argue. After all, they had the knife and the superior numbers. I was just some idiot from Pennsylvania who trusted that the security that his college loans were paying for would actually be somewhat effective. As it was, I had just made the situation worse, and I realized that I had to do something to placate them on some level and so the reasonably intelligent side of my brain finally kicked in with a stutter and added after a brief pause, “But you can have these donuts!”

The kids all looked around at one another having some unspoken discussion about whether this was an acceptable offer, and finally concluding (to my utter relief) that it was. They pulled the box of donuts out of the bag, handed the bag back to me, then opened the donuts. I can still remember the chocolaty smell wafting from that box and mixing with the smell of dead leaves on that fall night. I remember, too, the buildings and trees and leaf-covered grounds bathed in the pinkish orange light of the streetlamps and feeling so alone in what was the only truly dark part of the entire campus. And finally, I remember having the box of donuts handed back to me, still containing two donuts inside, seeing the knife disappear under the kid’s shirt and being told, “Thanks, and tell your friend we said ‘Happy Birthday.’”

*This story was inspired by Chuck Wendig's blog over at Terrible Minds.  Check it out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Grand Architect

So, here's a new piece from the upcoming Magic: The Gathering set, Scars of Mirrodin.  It's title is "Grand Architect" and depicts a vedalken guy giving some sort of speech or another.  Speeches, as far as I'm concerned, are difficult to depict.  They tend to be dull and not very engaging.  But, I took a stab at it, and tried to make it interesting.

So here's our blue, four-armed vedalken guy,  giving his speech:

©Wizards of the Coast

Pretty straightforward stuff, if you ask me.  I tried an alternate version where the guy was seen from head on, which created a bilaterally symmetrical piece but was pretty bored with the results (I looked but couldn't find that version).  So, I went with the 3/4 view so as to get some of the crowd on the far side and deepen the space.  Bob Ross always told his audience that it's our world and we can do anything we want with it.  So, in my version of things, it's theater in the round or some such.

When I handed the sketch in the only criticisms were that the figure might not read so well when shrunken to card size.  I was asked to crop in a little for clarity's sake.  Not a problem.

So I do the painting and this is how it comes out:

©Wizards of the Coast

Again, pretty straightforward.  Oh yeah, I guess it's a good time to point out the Mirrodin is a world entirely made of metal.  So, that's why all the metal.  The roof of this hall I imagined to be sort of liquid and rippling.  I also thought they needed exit lights over all the doors.  You know, in case all that metal caught fire and they needed to get out quick.  Oh, and if you look closely, there are even dust particles catching the light (though I'm not sure how much dust there'd be in a world completely comprised of metal).

Anyway, they approved it, slapped it into a card frame, and it'll be available soon.  This is what it looks like:

©Wizards of the Coast
Pretty simple.  So we're done, right?  Well, not exactly.  See, they asked me to crop in and I wasn't in love with the tighter version of things.  I liked a little more breathing room.  So, I painted the entire sketch and cropped in digitally.  I also employed some photoshop wizardry to bring the heads in the foreground up higher in the frame.  This is the full piece as painted:

©Wizards of the Coast
The weird thing is that I'm not really sure I like the full version anymore.  The cropped version makes the piece more about the speaker.  He feels a little lost in the full version.  While there are cool tidbits in the full version that didn't make the other (like the reflections of the crowd in his podium), it ends up feeling colder, and less intimate.  Don't get me wrong, I have problems with the cropped version, as well.  But I think it's possible that the right way to go would have been somewhere between the two.

I guess I'll take that into account the next time I have to paint a speech.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Terrible Mind

So, admittedly there's been less stuff on the site of late.  I admit that I've been a little delinquent, but there's been an awful lot of work to do and a lot of juggling going on behind the scenes that may or may not lead to big news in the near future.

I've also had the misfortune of having one of the articles I was working on diligently completely rendered obsolete upon reading some stuff that my second cousin, Chuck Wendig, cooked up on giving and receiving criticism.  If you want, you're free to go dig for these articles on his blog.  Given that these blog entries are more specifically about literary criticism, they don't quite hit the nail on the head of what I was going to get at, but the articles are useful nonetheless.  I'm counting, however, on your laziness so that when I finally get a chance to revise and reconstitute my articles, I won't lose anyone with any apparent redundancies.

In the meantime, I recommend you check out these two entries that Chuck has put together regarding life as a freelancer.  Though he's once again coming at it from the point of view of a freelance writer, the issues he discusses are universal and cut to the bone.  If you're pondering the freelancer's life, these articles make a good start to any pro/con list you might put together.

First article is: Want To Be A Freelancer? Just Punch Yourself In the Face Instead 

Second article is: Why You Should Freelance (Despite All That Face-Punching Business)


Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's White and Blue But Gray All Over?

As far as I know, illustration doesn’t fit very well into either the blue-collar or white-collar job models.  In fact, I’m sure there’s some snazzy name that someone came up with for creative jobs that I’m unaware of.  I’ll bet they call them “tie-dye-collar jobs” or “collarless-jobs”.  Both sound like something someone would come up with and pride themselves on.

Anyway, having grown up in a predominantly blue-collar town, I have always identified more with blue-collar workers.  Most notably, my Father grew up on a farm then became a high-voltage electrician at a steel mill where he worked for 35 years.  My Father was very typical of my neighbors who were mostly steel workers, plumbers, builders, auto-repairmen and the like.  Sure, my town had its share of folks who wore ties and sat in cubicles, but it sure seemed like the vast majority of those around me had one variety or another of dirt under their fingernails.

There were double and triple shifts.  There were unions and strikes.  There was always talk of “the working man.”  These are things I grew up around and understand, and among many other things I have my work ethic to thank for it.

When I was in 8th grade, my parents had me try out for a scholarship at a private school a half hour away from my house.  Somehow, despite steep competition, I managed to earn my way into The Pennington School, and it was there that I would spend my next four years.  Pennington was where I was truly exposed to the white-collar world.  My friends’ parents were all doctors or lawyers or businessmen.  At first it was a weird and very different world from the one I was used to, but I was never treated as an outsider and made some very good friends there.  Despite all this, I never completely felt like I fit in.

Oddly, illustration has much in common with the white-collar world.  I am, for all intents and purposes, a businessman.  My business has one employee who has his own office/studio.  This employee sits at a desk/easel in an office/studio and oversees the manufacturing of custom goods for the business’ various clients.  Very white-collar.

On the flipside, I am the employee.  I do not wear a suit and tie.  I wear a t-shirt when it’s hot and a sweatshirt when it’s cold.  I am responsible for actually manufacturing the custom goods my company sells, which means I literally get my hands dirty.  I am in the trenches (by myself), working with potentially volatile chemicals until all hours of the night, doing double and triple shifts to get the job done.  In many respects, very blue-collar.

So which am I?  White collar?  Blue collar?  Light blue?  Rhinestone?  The actual classification that suits this blend of blue and white-collar apparently is gray-collar, which is sadly very drab.  Gray collar?  Really?  I guess it's accurately rides the fence, but still!  So gray-collar it is (though my upbringing causes me to lean toward a cooler, darker shade of gray).

I have been in my field for almost 10 years now, and to this day I don’t have air conditioning.  On 95 degree days with high humidity, hunched over a painting under the hot lights, the smell of oil in the air, muscles aching, sweat dripping, focus drifting, it is hard not to feel like a blue-collar worker on a factory floor, looking forward to a cold one at the end of the day.