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.