Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I've been up to lately

Since my last post in May, life has been crazy busy, both in the studio and the office, cooking up all sorts of crazy schemes, plots, and pictures. Here's a look at what I've been up to...

-You're a Wizard, Harry!
I'm now an art director for keeps. Yay!
Translation: My managers at Wizards of the Coast saw fit to convert me from contractor to full time in August. I was certainly hoping that would happen, but I didn't want to get too comfortable in my seat until it was set in stone. I've now commissioned hundreds of pieces of art for Magic, and cut my teeth on all kinds of creative behind-the-scenes stuff I can't talk about. That's really the only downside- the shroud of mystery evokes a similar feeling to painting something I like that has to stay under wraps for a year, but protracted.

It's a fun, challenging, hard-ass job. I've learned a lot, and am still learning. Joking with a publishing AD I called it "atoning for all my sins as an illustrator." hah. It's a little true, though. If I could yell into the past, it would sound something like "Communicate! Don't rush that final! And for the love of god, name your files correctly!!"

From L to R: artist Sara Winters, art director Mark Winters, and me. On our way to PAX Prime, Seattle

As an extension of the art direction, I went to PAX Prime last month with my fellow AD Mark Winters to give portfolio reviews. I'll be flying to Pennsylvania for more portfolio reviews at IlluXCon in just a few short weeks: Sign ups begin at 6PM Eastern Time on October 3rd. Slots for reviews at IX have gone quickly in the past, so if you want to talk with me about your work, do not miss that signup date!

-Recent Work
I've been remiss in my responsibilities to you and have skipped over posting a bunch of my artwork that's come out recently (for which I apologize). Some of this may be review for those of you who follow me elsewhere, but some will not. Starting off, my latest cover for Tor Books was released today, for Emily Foster's novella, "The Drowning Eyes," art directed by Christine Foltzer:

A couple more Tor book covers I worked on with Irene Gallo from earlier this year- for all the full art in one place, take a peek at my portfolio archive on Imgur:

"A Daughter of No Nation" novel cover art, © Tor Books

"World's End" novel cover art, © Tor Books

Next up, some creepy Eldrazi and weirdly angelic Magic card artwork from the latest set, Battle for Zendikar (coming October 2nd!):

"Lithomancer's Focus"

"Incubator Drone"

"Transgress the Mind"

 "Emeria Shepherd"

And a few from the previous set, Magic: Origins:

"Archangel of Tithes"

"Reclusive Artificer"

 "Send to Sleep"

"Ampryn Tactician"

(All Magic: The Gathering artwork above ©2015 Wizards of the Coast)

-Some semblance of a social life?
If you find yourself in the Georgetown area of Seattle, I highly recommend going to Atelier Coffee Company for a cup- the guys are awesome and will take good care of you. The storefront has a curiosity shop/steampunk/artist studio vibe, and on Sunday afternoons it's filled with amazing costumed models and a range of artists, from beginners to skilled pros (many of them are my coworkers) for really cool figure drawing sessions. Whenever I attend, I like to post sketches on my Instagram.

Here's some stuff from the last few weeks:

-On the Horizon
Heads up, Infected by Art Vol. 3 preorders will ship in October- Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to win the juried contest for IBA3 and my art for Karen Memory is featured on the cover. I'm looking forward to getting a copy, not just for myself but to peruse its pages for artwork- some people may think art directors don't use annuals to search for artists, but pssst... we actually do. ;)

With the full-time job at Wizards, I'm not taking new freelance assignments right now, but I assure you that does NOT mean I'm going to stop making art. Hell no! How could you even think that, you monster?! I'm finishing up some stuff through the remainder of the year, including 13 pieces for a 2017 calendar, and preparing some personal works for next year. Details on all that later. I'm looking forward to having more creative exploration time once my current projects are wrapped up.

I hope I'll see some newcomers as well as familiar faces at IlluXCon! Signing off for now. Cheers, and happy painting.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Deer Skull with Dagger oil study

Deer Skull with Dagger | oil study from life

After traveling or attending a big event like Spectrum Live, I usually take a short break from client work to recuperate. Doing studies like this can be a good way to relax, as they don't require much planning, but I still get to move paint around and learn things. It's like an appetizer - an art snack - before a bigger meal.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Feature in Illustrators Quarterly issue #10

I recently received contributor copies of Illustrators Quarterly spring 2015 issue, which includes a 21-page feature about me & my art.

I'm still surprised I had enough art to fill that many pages (have I been at this for that long??). The chosen images range from 2009-2015, which was a little scary to think about publishing all together since I believe my work has changed drastically over that time, but editor Peter Richardson and his team did a good job presenting it as a cohesive whole.

Here's a peek at a couple of the interior spreads:

I was also interviewed by writer Jennifer Gori about my work, life as an artist, and some of my plans for the future. It's a great pleasure to be a part of such a lovely magazine.

Copies are available online here, and via subscription:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2015

Before I talk at length about this year's Spectrum Fantastic Art Live (SFAL), let’s go back and play catch up to put some things into perspective. 2015 has already been a huge year for me, and I've been so busy living in it that I haven't had much time to talk about it.

A while ago I had publicly talked about moving from Virginia to the great pacific northwest, but I was intentionally vague about why. Most people assumed I was coming out here to work on concept art for Wizards of the Coast, which was actually true, I did come out for a concept push. But after the concept push ended I rolled into a new contract as a full-time art director for Magic: The Gathering. It was a big decision that was in the works since last summer. I wanted some time to settle into the job before making a formal announcement, to learn the ropes and make sure art direction was a good fit for me. So far so good; It's a challenging job but very rewarding so far. And it turned this trip into a more-or-less-covert scouting mission as well as the usual business and pleasure.

Ok, now back to the event:

The beginnings of a great event
This past weekend started with a plane ride from Seattle to Kansas City, MO, where I shared an Alaskan Airlines flight and shuttle with artists Tyler Jacobson, Brom, Laurie Lee Brom, and Iain McCaig. Getting to know these folks better has been really special. Every convention has its personal highlights, and one of the big ones this year was a short chat with Iain at Starbucks about what stories I want to tell with my future personal work, which is still something I'm figuring out, and got me thinking hard on the subject.

I also got to sneak in a quick sketch of this engrossed reader on the plane...

After arriving in the late afternoon, there was a lot of meeting and greeting (any time there's a gathering of the art family the hugs don't stop for a while). Friday evening capped off with an Art Director Icebreaker at the Marriott bar- an event where if you wore a lay around your neck it meant you were available for portfolio reviews. Fun! I participated in that for most of the evening, and had some great conversations with artists about their work, including doing a string of portfolio reviews on top of a grand piano... how cool is that?

More big news...
I finally got a decent chance to wander the show floor Saturday morning, though for the first time I think I looked at more art in peoples' portfolios than the wall displays. At noon I attended the Flesk panel about the logistics of Spectrum and what's to come in the future. The panel consisted of people who had been involved in Spectrum 22- creators of the award Christine & Colin Poole, jury members Justin & Annie Stegg Gerard, Iain and Brom who are members of the advisory board, and John Fleskes who took over the publication from the Fenners with Spectrum 21. Each took their turn talking about their part in bringing the annual to life.

Hearing about the judging process was especially helpful because I'm going to be a member of the Spectrum 23 jury next year. It's a huge honor to be chosen and a task I take very seriously. Justin mentioned the feeling of holding peoples' dreams in his hands, having been both accepted and rejected from the book in the past (same here, man!). John also spoke about his philosophy of bringing together judges from diverse backgrounds for a well-rounded representation of the industry. I already know that I'll have the pleasure of judging alongside Terryl Whitlatch, and I can't wait to hear who the remaining jury members will be...

The Spectrum 22 Awards Ceremony
Saturday evening. The Fenners and John Fleskes put on a hell of a ceremony- dancing and aerialist performances punctuated the award announcements, with industry giants presenting the awards for each of the 8 categories.


And my piece, "Momentum" won the gold award in the Unpublished category!!

That was the climax of my art career to date. Greg Manchess presented the award, and I'm glad he's strong, because the hug I gave him might have broken a weaker person.

I didn't give a scripted acceptance speech, so I don't remember exactly what I blurted out, but to recap: I dedicated this award to my grandfather, who bought me a copy of Spectrum 4 for my 14th birthday. I'd always wanted to be an artist, but that was the initial turning point that gave me a direction. Granddad wasn't an artist himself -he used to joke that he couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler- but he was a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy (especially dragons), and encouraged my interests in Dungeons & Dragons and all that "weird stuff." And the last thing I got to tell him was that I'd finally made it into the book- I'd just gotten my acceptance letter to Spectrum 15 a few days before he passed away. I've entered every year since, and I think he would be proud of me for keeping it up and getting this far.

Some might argue that awards aren't that important, but industry recognition means a ton to me. It's an indicator that I've been successful in my work so far, and I'm very grateful to have the support of my peers.

Congratulations to ALL - the full list of nominees and winners, including art, is up on the Flesk blog.

A special thank you to Arnie & Cathy Fenner for beginning and keeping this wonderful tradition, John Fleskes, Shena Wolf for her tireless work behind the scenes, and the panel of judges who saw something special in my work: Justin and Annie Stegg Gerard, Dice Tsutsumi, Greg Ruth, and Virginie Ropars.

Me & Dan Dos Santos after the ceremony- congrats to Dan, who won the gold award in the Book category!

The Artist's Muse
I also wanted to take a minute to admire the breathtaking new award design that John Fleskes commissioned, created by sculptors Kristine and Colin Poole. Each award was cast in bronze and embellished with silver or gold. Their concept was to create a muse for the artist, since one didn't previously exist. Artists historically were thought to be craftspeople who simply imitated nature, but we celebrate a tradition of realizing the unreal, and now we have a muse of our own.

(Update: read more about the awards on the Flesk blog)

Spectrum 22 Awards, created by Kristine and Colin Poole

The Women of Wonder
On Sunday I didn't have as much time to say goodbye as I wanted since I had to leave in the early afternoon to fly home, but I did get to pick up a copy of Women of Wonder, the book created by Cathy Fenner to celebrate past and present women in the imaginative arts. The printing and art selections are gorgeous. I'm proud to be included in this book, and I hope it serves as a positive example for all artists, men and women alike.

Women of Wonder | Edited by Cathy Fenner, Introduction by Lauren Panepinto

The book is now available on if you want to pick up a copy (and you should)!

Life after SFAL
My first order of business (besides sleeping in late) after SFAL was to go through my stacks of business cards and codify my notes from portfolio reviews. I was pleased so many people wanted to share their work with me, considering how new my AD position is. There were a handful of up-and-comers in attendance I'll be keeping a close eye on, for sure.

Now that I've typed up this huge post, I'm going to get back to work, because that's what we've gotta do. The show left me feeling so inspired, and kicking around all kinds of ideas. Winning awards is wonderful, but it doesn't mean I can put up my feet and rest on my laurels- in fact, I need to work even harder!

Til next time, happy painting.

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Momentum" | New personal work

What gives you your sense of wonder, when your momentum is stolen by your surroundings?

Momentum | digital painting, December 3, 2014
Prints available here

Wednesday was my 31st birthday, and I also finished and released this new personal painting.

The development of the piece was a bit fuzzy and half-baked (like most of my personal paintings), and started with an emotion and a vague composition and color scheme. A feeling of hope as a jewel set into a wall of stagnation. This is a page from someone else's story, as interpreted through my eyes, but one that I closely relate to, having experienced similar feelings. Like my environment was slowly killing me, and if I didn't have my creativity I would die, or at least go mad.

Subject vs. environment has been a running theme in my work for years, and something I haven't gotten as much of an opportunity to explore in my commercial work. In older personal pieces like East End of the Water Chamber (2009), Escapism (2009), and Beautiful Grim (2010), there's a character featured in some kind of hostile or dilapidated setting, either remaining strong despite it, or succumbing to it, depending on what I was going through at the time.

Early sketch.

My original idea was a figure placed among large stone monuments of some kind, frozen in time. I didn't know they were going to be horses, but horses were the first thing I tried, and it worked, mostly. I started with several more horses, going in different directions, because I thought that would make a good representation of arrested movement, but instead I got a composition that spiraled directly into a giant horse butt. Not exactly what I was going for. So I kept the top three horses which were galloping in the same direction, and surrounded them with rocks and rubble, and that felt much more like the arrested movement I was going for. The metaphoric steeds were headed swiftly in a direction and halted. Perfect.

A quick note for the groups of students I've talked to recently: When I said don't be afraid to edit something that's not working, that's exactly what I meant!

"Momentum" figure detail.

The finish on this piece is one of the tightest I've done recently, and to date. You can still see the digital brushstrokes when you get up close, but there are more of them per sq inch. I used some textures over the whole image to add sharp grit to the rocks and debris. The figure was painted in a separate file first at 2x resolution. High detail has been coming up a ton recently while discussing art with other people, so the thought of doing something where more forms are realized and fewer things are suggested by fat brush strokes felt natural. I was transported back to my teenage years when I enjoyed doing detailed drawings of ruins in which you could see every leaf and crack in the stone... and apparently busted stones in the foreground, I swear that wasn't even intentional.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this image. It's been very well received so far, and I think it's a nice send-off to a big year. For the first time ever, I'm proud to show off my work this year and say "this is who I am as an artist," and this new piece has got me more excited for next year.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Magic ProTour Qualifier and visit to Havre de Grace

As an artist for Magic, I get a lot of really interesting opportunities for travel and exploration, and I've been taking advantage of a lot of them since I've been on my own this year. I'm also guilty of failing to document most of my trips- I'm the type who doesn't like to be on my phone or behind a camera the whole time I'm having an in-real-life experience so I forget to update social media, then when I return I'm often swamped with work or email and writing about my travels gets put on the back burner, and then forgotten forever.

Last Saturday's journey was up to a ProTour qualifier (aka "PTQ" -a small-ish event where folks play competitive Magic, and the winner(s) get to move on to compete in an upcoming ProTour). That was the official reason for leaving home, but there were so many unique aspects of this trip that I feel compelled to sit down and spend a minute time typing them out before getting back to business.

Spencer Silver Mansion: Living Room | digital painting study from life (while sitting in front of a fireplace)

PTQ's don't normally have artists, since they're hosted by independent game stores, but John Klisavage who owns Washington Street Books wanted to make the experience for his players different. I happened to luck out and take another artist's place because he had a schedule conflict, and it was drive-able for me. The PTQ itself went great- I got to sign a lot of cards, do lots of sketches and alters, and chat with folks. A good day's work, and I think people had fun.

Now, the trip's first interesting side feature was that I got to stay in a beautiful historic Bed & Breakfast built in 1896, called the Spencer Silver Mansion. I also had extra down-time since it was only a one-day event, so I got to do some sight-seeing and sketching that I'm normally too rushed or tired to do during events.

Concord Point Lighthouse | Graphite in moleskine sketchbook

One of the best places I visited during the whole trip was John's store itself. Washington Street Books is a collector's paradise. You think that you can find anything in a big city, but this is the kind of out-of-the-way place where you find amazing things you can't even find on eBay. He has everything from rare old books to movie props from The Last Samurai. I ended up doing a fair bit of Xmas shopping at the store, and picked up a couple things for myself...some Magic cards, comics, and an all-Japanese box set of collectible figures from Final Fantasy 9, including Princess Garnet, who is my video game alter ego (still totally geeking out about it!!!). John was kind enough to let me browse through a bunch of his collectibles and even sent me off with some of his Lone Wolf Cub comics. You just don't have nice personal experiences like this working from home all the time.

One of the many many display shelves at Washington Street Books- I spent a good deal of time with the Star Wars collectibles, duh.

For those who like my step-by-step posts, I'll leave you with a two-night digital painting study I did of my cozy bedroom:

Thanks again to John K. (and family) for the experience and for hosting the event, Carol for taking great care of me at the B&B, and all the players and fans who came and said hi. :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Karen Memory" | Book Cover Reveal!

"Karen Memory" | Digital painting, 2014
Cover for novel by Elizabeth Bear
Art director: Irene Gallo

It's with immense pleasure that I get to show you my latest illustration: the cover artwork for Elizabeth Bear's novel Karen Memory, published by Tor Books. This was actually my second time working with the inimitable and talented Irene Gallo. I don't know if she knew how badly I've wanted professional excuses to paint Steampunk-oriented stuff, but let's just say this was one of those dream jobs you spend years hoping for.

See the official post via

Prints available in my INPRNT store:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Magic Card Art: Canyon Lurkers

Card Name: Canyon Lurkers
© 2014 Wizards of the Coast

Gatherer Link:

Medium: Digital
Original Art Available? No
Prints Available? Yes
Artist Proofs Available? Yes
Foil Artist Proofs Available? Yes

Magic Card Art: Sultai Soothsayer

Card Name: Sultai Soothsayer
© 2014 Wizards of the Coast

Gatherer Link:

Medium: Digital
Original Art Available? No
Prints Available? Yes
Artist Proofs Available? Yes
Foil Artist Proofs Available? Yes

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Magic Card Art: Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Card Name: Sorin, Solemn Visitor
© 2014 Wizards of the Coast

Gatherer Link:

Medium: Digital
Original Art Available? No
Prints Available? Yes
Artist Proofs Available? Yes
Foil Artist Proofs Available? Yes

Artist notes: My first Planeswalker! Eeeee!!! I could not have been happier for it to be Sorin, either. You know, me and vampires and all. ;)

^^Some of the early sketches. The mood was "mysterious," as Tarkir is definitely not Sorin's home turf, and he was supposed to look and feel a bit out of place. Because of that I decided early on to make the terrain warm, in yellows and oranges. Some folks have even commented that Sorin's gray skin looks blue because of the color contrast between him and the landscape.

If I had to pick a favorite technical part of the painting, I'd choose the scrolly armor. Metal filigree is up there with fabric as one of my favorite things to paint. Thankfully, Wizards provides us with detailed reference, so I was able to look closely at the original designs before attempting to render them. But maybe the coolest thing of all is that dragon bones in the landscape weren't actually part of the assignment, and I was unaware of the lore reasons for Sorin being on Tarkir (his search for Ugin). I had just read that Tarkir was "littered with dragon bones" and thought they'd make an awesome visual backdrop for our vampire protagonist. As a humorous extension of this happy accident, the painting has earned the nickname "Is That Ugin?" among my close friends. And there was also one evening where we were just looking at random objects around my apartment and asking each other if they were Ugin... [at my lamp] "Hey guys, is that Ugin?" Repeat ad nauseum. Heh.

*UPDATE: Want to see a larger version of the image? Wizards featured it in their Wallpapers section!