Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wizard World Portland

This last weekend I ventured south to Portland in order to showcase at my very first convention.

For the month beforehand, off and on while finishing up some recent commissions, I prepared for the event with all the vigor of a hungry dwarf at happy hour. For the sake of transparency, I wanted to go over both the tedium and joys that went along with the process, then break down some of the things I learned at the show. It's been three days since I broke down my booth and while there's still so much information to digest I'll try to be as informative as possible.

The first thing to do was reserve the space. I opted for a corner booth in artist alley, as opposed to a single table, right off the bat as it was just a small extra cost for this show. With that in mind and the dimensions of the table in-hand I set about putting everything together.
I have the amazing opportunity of being an assistant to Todd Lockwood and despite the knowledge I receive on a daily basis working in the print shop I'm also granted use of his printers at cost. This great because I didn't have to order out my prints at a higher cost and could make changes to what I was bringing on a dime if need be. I knew I wanted to bring 8x10" prints, as I've seen others do, but what other sizes? Stepping into the local frame shop, I took note one day of the most cost-effective, durable, and elegant frames to make up my mind. After getting those sizes figured out and budgeted in, I went with printing a run of 12x16 and 16x20 prints.
Now, from looking over other people's setups, I knew basically what I wanted from my tables. I came up with having larger frames on the side facing more toward the main stage. These would be my "head-turners." The other table, facing toward the other artist's booths would have my 8x10's propped up on a wall I built from hollow cloth office-crates. I'd seen Pete Mohrbacher use a method similar to this at GenCon and wanted to give it a try. After getting all of my prints bagged, some framed, and some backed, I did a test setup in the studio.


For those of you interested in my materials:

  • My 8x10s were printed Epsom pro quality photo paper, backed with chip board from Uline, and bagged with sealable envelope bags from Clearbags. I printed titles on matte board and then cut them individually, taping them to the back of my prints. (I'll want to find longer paper next time, or maybe not. I liked the small labels I was left with as they take up less space and are less susceptible to damage)
  • My other sizes were printed out to size on an Epsom 7890 and bagged using a roll of plastic and bag cutter. I printed using roll paper, but may switch over to sheet paper to keep the size accurate.
  • Some displays were backed with foam core I had to cut to size and then mount using shrink-wrap. This is something that is expensive if you don't have it in-house. Next time I may even go with display envelopes or pre-sized bags just to try.
I did also purchase a banner for the convention. It didn't cost much and turned out to be a much higher quality than I initially expected. You can see it in the photos and buy your own from Printrunner. I'm happy to point business their way.

Packing for conventions, from what I know and have learned helping Todd, is one of the most important parts of attending. Thankfully, I was driving as opposed to flying so the only limit to what I brought is what I could carry on my back. I say that because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of driving up and parking to load my things onto the show floor when I could simply catch an Uber and walk right in.
I packed my largest (18x24") suitcase with tablecloth (wrinkle proof fabric. if anyone knows the technical name can you let me know?), 8x10's, smaller frames, money box, notebook, tape, and gold sharpies (my new best friend).
For my larger prints, I built a carrier out of foam core, compressed them, and cut a handle (I say that I did it, but most of this one was an experienced Lockwood's idea). The only problem was the larger frame. It wouldn't sit int he suitcase and I didn't want to leave it behind. Using the corners that came with it, and some angled packing tape, I secured it to the outside of my homemade carrier. 
So, when I walked into the convention I'd have a suitcase in one hand, my flat carrier in the other, and my banner case over one shoulder. It was simple, light, and easy.
A note: if I had shipped all this or took it with me on a plane, I'd have easily spent over $100. Not to mention my small bag of clothes.

When I'd hit the ground in Portland I checked into my place and went straight to the convention. To my surprise after setting up- I realized that the exhibitors were meant to be there that very night from 5-10pm. Whoops! I'd expected the show to start the next day. At this point I was running on 3 hours of sleep (watch those nerves) and not too much food. I took a stroll downtown and had a bite to eat, took a pre-game nap at my place, and headed back in to start the show.
As the time neared for the doors to open I found myself all the more nervous. It's that anxious kind of excitement that comes with every great endeavor, a mix of impending doom or failure and the exhilaration of conquest and action. I've never been to war, and I'm not a warrior, but I might have felt just a small taste of what standing on the front lines is like. You've prepped for this moment for years. With every brush stroke and anatomy lesson you've dreamt of one day being able to show your work like all your heroes before you. I can tell you that I see the real pros with all the more awe now that I know how easy it's not.
The doors opened and the sounds of marching feet echoed toward me. Meandering and foreign-sounding throngs of voices moved closer. It was my luck to be on the other end of the hall than the entrance, so I was greeted with a trickle that announced the coming flood. It didn't make it easier. An hour went by with few visitors and lots of those head-turns. A few hours later at the end of the night I'd made a few sales and a few friends. It was a great small-batch to start things off with for a newcomer. I went back to my room to sleep.

Saturday greeted me with the idea that I'd now have to stand behind my booth for 12 hours. 10am-10pm. I mean stand- I've heard so many times that you shouldn't sit down, and I wasn't planning on it. I'm not sure I would have, anyway. I couldn't imagine talking to someone about art sitting down!
I had a large breakfast, knowing I wouldn't be having any lunch or dinner for a while, and headed in. In comparison, Saturday was a tsunami to the waves of Friday night. People were everywhere and I made even more friends and even more sales. What took me aback the most is the idea that someone who's never met me wanted something that I'd made. I can feel myself welling up at the thought that this thing I've worked for years on made a connection with someone enough for them to spend their hard-earned money on. I came away with a few more sales and a lot more friends. 
At the end of the show, I wandered over to see how Allen Panakal had done that day. Allen is a fine artist and if you don't know his work I'm not sure what you're still doing here. After talking shop for a while, Allen pointed me the direction of doing away with my 8x10's. The idea behind it is that it kills profits- people will always buy them over a higher priced piece. I took the night to think about it.
See, I do care about profit when I've spent money to be at a show, but I came as a friend and a fan first. I wanted to get out there and really see what it was like, connect with people I couldn't otherwise. What really won the idea over for me was the art as a piece of work more than an item. I want people who buy something from me, direct from the artist, to feel like they've carried away a real piece of my work. An 8x10 vs a 12x16 print makes a huge difference to that end. I also want to do my paintings justice and very few of them were painted at an 8x10 size.

Sunday Best

That said, Sunday I took down the 8x10's. This ended in disaster for about 2 hours. I hadn't brought a way to display my larger work outside of their free-flowing bags. No one could even see my work outside of the frames because it was out flat on the table. I ended up having to put the 8x10 prints back up, while leaving the 12x16's out on the table surface. This worked surprisingly well, as people could be brought in by the standing displays and then get a closer look with the larger prints. It also better let them know by seeing that the larger sizes were available, ending in more people buying them. 
I came away Sunday with a lot to process, went out to dinner with some new found friends, had a very very long sleep with some very exhausted feet, and drove back the next day.
My first convention ended well. From a monetary standpoint I made just under my cost. From an experience standpoint I could never have learned anything without diving in. I can now tell you what my most desirable works are. I can tell you what people relate to most in my work. I can better prepare for next time. I have a new found inspiration to move forward, and a new love for crowded places full of fanciful costumes.

Jyn- professional cosplayer


So, what's going to happen next time? What did I learn? 
  • For one thing, I'm doing away with the 8x10's, and lowering the costs I had set for the larger sizes. It's very important to me that people can afford the prints I want to provide while also making it possible for me to attend the conventions and make back costs.
  • I don't want to be behind a table anymore. One thing I disliked was that when I was talking there was a physical barrier between artist and buyer and I can't resolve that to my satisfaction. I'm not sure what the next setup will be or how much it will cost me, but I want people to be able to walk up to my paintings and into my space like a gallery, and stand toe-to-toe if they want to talk to me. 
  • "Your art is unlike anything else." I heard this over and over again, and it's true. I learned to paint in oils and my first loves were the classics. I'm a huge fan of history and storytelling and I strive for my art to invoke those classical aspects of fine art. I don't think that I'm better than anyone else. Actually, I have a great respect for modern art and design qualities from my education, but what I'm striving for inspires a more fine art salon style of presentation. I'll make moves to retain that feeling in future setups.
  • For anyone who's thinking of exhibiting here's some things to consider: bring breath mints, bring hand sanitizer, bring comfortable shoes or insoles, consider your art style and build your booth around it, spend the money to mount your work or make it presentable, folders are nice and easy to flip through- as our boxes of prints- but have that head-turner, tell people that you're the artist- you'd be surprised how many times I was asked, have something prepared to say about each piece, bring some form of originals even if it's special editions of a digital print, take care of your customers and make friends with them- learn from them- I had my best moments laughing and conversing about my favorite things with other like minded people, keep track of things as they happen in a book- you won't remember, learn to recognize other artists (they stare the longest, usually) and talk to them- offer advice and help to students. 

THANK YOU to everyone who came out to see me, everyone that walked by for a chat, or bought a piece of my art. I hope you'll keep in touch and we can talk more! 
Thank you to Allen Panakal for the advice, to Sam and Pete from One Fantastic Week for their weekly wisdom, to Todd Lockwood for the help and use of his store, to Chance for coming to visit and drudging through the exhaustion so I wouldn't have to be alone, to Steve Oaks for coming to chat during the slow times, and to everyone else who made me feel at home. What a wonderful experience.

If I think of anything else, I'll add it. If you know something I don't or have thoughts, please let me know. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

GenCon 2016

Well, it's been a few days now since my first real convention experience. I say real because the only other convention I've been to was Spectrum Fantastic Art Live in 2015, and compared to that GenCon proved to be a shocking experience. I say shocking because of the sheer mass of people, publishers, booths, artists, creators, and fans that came to Indianapolis for the long weekend of gaming. Over 70,000 people attended the show, which is about 7x more people than the population of my hometown of Cleveland, MS. If nothing else, Gen Con is an awe inspiring event.

a rare Giant Pikachu worked security for the event, using Fly to keep an eye over con-goers
Going to Gen Con for me was a chance to experience new things like that. As an illustrator it's easy to spend some days never leaving the house, opting instead to focus on the work at hand. With the Internet, that's become a lot easier to accomplish and still stay in touch with the outside world, but nothing compares to the real thing. I wanted to get in touch with other artists like I did at Spectrum a year ago, and besides that I wanted to connect with the different companies and people that work to produce the kinds of games that I loved growing up and continue to love today. I knew it would be an exciting experience to meet and talk to others knowing that we all had the same passions for the genre bringing us together.

Tyler Jacobson was the guest of honor this year, and always a source of inspiration
With much of that in mind as I traveled, I wanted to approach Indianapolis as more of a fan than a professional. This proved easy enough at the art show where I could see both new and old faces and bodies of work. In one corner I could find and finally chat with Claudio Pozas and Kayla Woodside, who I attended SmArt School with in the spring. In another I could introduce myself to the likes of Larry Elmore, Sam Flegal, Mark Poole, or Wayne Reynolds. In yet another I could see Alex Stone, Tawny Fritz, Priscilla Kim, Tyler Jacobson, and Justin and Annie Gerard who I'd met a year ago at Spectrum. It was also fantastic to experience some gorgeous new work from other artists for the first time. I've said it before, but the fantasy art community is like a family. Whether following online or meeting up in person I've never found a group of people so warm and welcoming. It proved a real challenge to step away from the beautiful haven of the art show and venture out toward the rest of the convention.

a picture with Justin and Annie Gerard in a rare lapse of traffic to their booths

Alex Stone and I contemplate pros and cons
get it?
As I proceed to write, here, I at first set out to share my experience as a con-goer, but as I started I realized that there was simply too much information to write down in a concise and timely manner. When I started this blog, I wanted it to be a place to share my journey as an illustrator, so I feel instead that it would be better served to talk about the experience for and from an artist's perspective.

Like I may have mentioned, GenCon was huge, giant, mammoth! My first day there was like stepping into a strange new world not knowing how to speak the language. Of course there were familiar sites to see, like Paizo publishing with the art of Wayne Reynolds wall-papering head to toe of the convention and even some restaurants abroad, or Magic card booths everywhere the eye could see, but there was also a huge variety of names that I experienced for the first time. It was hard enough to catch my breath much less get my bearings!

the ever-astounding Larry Elmore- a true goliath in the fantasy industry
Being a fan wasn't as easy here as it was at the art show. Since I started an actual career in painting gaming has taken a back seat. I still have a semi-weekly game of Dungeons and Dragons with friends abroad, but outside of that my knowledge of the genre has become fairly limited. Companies are constantly popping up or changing/releasing titles on the board or table that makes it near impossible for a casual player to know even half of the brands that showed for Gen Con. One of the biggest challenges of going as an artist was the difficulty to talk shop with some of my gaming peers. If we were to speak about the histories of the Forgotten Realms, Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars I felt right at home, but anytime I approached a conversation of others discussing rules and statistics of a game, then they were definitely speaking another language to me. I came away thinking- knowing- that I needed to take my time and stay up to date with some of the names I really admired instead of just their artists. I still haven't actually read the 5th edition of D&D and you can bet that's first up on the list of books to open.

Claudio Pozas and I were finally able to meet up!
As an attending artist, one thing I knew I had to do was show my work to the right people. Prepping myself for success, I printed out a hard copy photo book of my portfolio to show, along with cards and postcard prints to give to any friend or publisher. Even if just having a casual conversation I felt I needed to leave my contact info and a reminder of my work. Having more than just cards to leave helped me a lot, and from having a physical portfolio book at Spectrum and now GenCon I can tell you that it pays itself forward as a pleasant relief among troves of digital iPads and phones. Remember that most companies are selling printed work, and having someone hold an object makes that encounter feel much more real in their mind. You never know how many people an art director will talk to that day, so do everything you can to make your brief time together memorable. I stored all this material in a satchel I kept organized at my side so I could hand out anything on the fly.

As a professional I wanted to only approach those companies that I felt was doing work I wanted to be a part of. When I see my career in the future I want it to be built on the things I can be proud to be apart of. This isn't to say that other companies and titles lack merit, just that they don't appeal to the expression I want to achieve in my own work. I also wanted to talk to companies that could push me to explore new avenues such as science fiction or horror, genres no less amazing than fantasy but foreign to my portfolio. I think that a path to artistic success can be built on stepping stones, but if you don't know where you want to go when crossing that river then your steps can be just as dangerous as the torrent below and you might find yourself where the grass isn't necessary greener.

A part of making these informed decisions, besides a few cases, was to browse the work they had on tables. I had the benefit of knowing some of the work already, but a majority of it I had to take a moment and flip through pages. I wanted to read some of the material of course but also to see what kind of art direction they were heading in. Then, I'd formally introduce myself to a director or employee and ask to show my portfolio. 70,000 people is a lot of customers and opportunity for someone at a booth, so I wanted to make my encounter as direct as possible about who I was and what I wanted to do, always handing my card and stepping away saying, "I'd love to show you what I can do for you. Have a great GenCon!"

you can barely make out Brent Woodside among the crowd of collectors at the art show
I wanted to learn a bit about having a booth at a convention as well. I talked to several artists about their own costs for the show, as I've never had one myself. There was a lot of information to take in like everything else at the convention and I'd be inclined to write about it once I actually do it (for more info on this you might consider joining the One Fantastic Week Facebook Page, where there's always open discussion about the business of freelance art). I can tell you that I'm excited and plan on reading every article on One Fantastic Week and ArtPACT before I do it. One big thing I'd be interested in is the numbers difference between walking around and showing a portfolio to get work vs owning a booth to sell and get work. I never made any money at the show, but I guarantee that I showed my work to more companies than an exhibitor. It's not hard to figure out that a lot of people just didn't have the time to leave their areas.

Another thing were the portfolio reviews I asked for. A lot of them fill up fast so I've never had a former one before this. I had mine with Wizards of the Coast (Mark Winters and Cynthia Sheppard) and for a brief 15 minutes I was given the tools to future success as I go forward. I also took the time to ask other artists I admired their opinions of my work and what avenues I could head toward for future work. This is something I highly recommend. We're all a big family and even if they're very busy you might leave your card and ask to revisit the topic by connecting online.

Avalanche stopped in from the Midgar area.
I was way too excited, but Cloud told me I'd look cooler if I didn't smile.
GenCon for me consisted of about 7 hours of walking and shaking hands a day. I rarely got the opportunity to sit down, always finding some excuse to move to the next thing, so having a plan for the night's rest is a must. The convention is busy and often it's easier to connect with peers after the show for a chance to actually have a conversation. A lot of the actual networking I did could be found over drinks and food as we all took a deep breath after a long day. It should never be the intention for such an affair, but we're all there for a reason and that's to work and learn, which a body should never stop doing.

Tiny Yuna shares some sunshine around the food court
There was never a moment at GenCon where I wasn't exhausted. It's an exhausting experience, but it's also equal amounts of fun. There were gorgeous cosplays and amazing people from all over to talk to at every turn. Indianapolis was a beautiful city with beautiful and friendly people, made all the better for the attendees and exhibitors that visited for the weekend. I've given a lot of information here, but I'd like to top it off with saying the experience is one that will stick with me. Never have I had the experience to mix traveling, art, and gaming before in my life. For that alone I have to say thank you GenCon for that opportunity! And thank you to all of my friends there. You are and will remain a giant and very safe stepping stone in my own journey.


I also want to give a big and personal thank you to Alex Abel, who came with me on this journey and is a true friend, to Claudio who helped me navigate the steps to convention success and introducing me to some amazing people, to Alex Stone for always being an open and genuine person, and to Tyler Jacobson and Justin and Annie Gerard for making me feel so welcome.


Saturday, June 11, 2016

SmArt School

Firstly, I'd like to say that this post is as much a story of my own experience as a review of my time in SmArt school. When I was doing research on the program, I didn't find much information about it outside of the website itself, which is a little unnerving if you're about to spend money on something. Because of this I wanted to offer an unabridged account of my experience for any prospective students. Note that I was only able to attend two classes, one directly mentored by Todd Lockwood and the other which involved monitoring Donato Giancola's sessions.

I've wanted to attend SmArt School for a long time. I live in Mississippi and thus interactions with others in the fantasy art genre are rare, especially when you're just getting started, so the opportunity to meet and be taught by my heroes was a dream come true, if unimaginable. Every year I'd watch as students came away with extraordinary work, and attending SFAL last year found me meeting some of those students who had nothing but praise for the program. Like SFAL before it, SmArt school became to me one of those mystical places where things happened and people were changed from regular person to illustrator. I just never had the money. It's not something that was feasible. However, in January of this year the call rang out for enrollment to the spring semester, and Flaming Crab Games had just hired me for a large project. On a whim, I called and asked how they felt about giving me a forward on payment, and suddenly found myself with enough to finally make the move. I'll be eternally grateful to Alex Abel, director of FCG and friend, for that.

So I was in. The only thing left to do was start. I already knew what class I wanted to take- Todd Lockwood. To me, it just made sense. In the past few years I made the change to working digitally and Todd is a renowned digital painter. Besides that, he's someone I've admired for years, the painter that got me into drawing fantasy in the first place. Todd and I had bounced some e-mails back and forth from time to time, as well, and I'd learned a thing or two from the processes he'd share. Now, I learned to paint from Donato; not directly, but I absorbed his DVDs and online posts with the same ferocity I had when studying in the studio at school under my professors. I adapted much of what I learned from him over to my digital mindset. But if these were going to be online classes I was betting I'd get more out of Todd's actions and Donato's words.

Todd Lockwood and Donato Giancola

It took time to start. There was some orientation information and communication from Rebecca Guay, and some supplementary emails from Marc Scheff. Both, you could tell, worked pretty tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly. All a student has to do is download the plugin for GoToMeeting and sign into the class for things to happen, which you check beforehand. The file sharing is handled in a dropbox folder for your class. It's an excellent system that allows teachers to share files with students. Besides that, group emails help everyone keep in touch even if you're monitoring a class.

Before the class began in March, Todd contacted us with information about what to read and thumbnails to start working on. Along with that, we all got to introduce ourselves over email and share portfolios. It was a good way to gauge everyone and test the water before jumping in. It also made me a little nervous. We were all at different skill levels- and I wondered how much I would learn from someone else's critique- would we talk about something I already knew? Looking back; now, it was a silly worry, like being the new kid at the first day of school. But if you're not nervous after an investment in your career then maybe you're not in the right career anyway. Even after the first hour of talking in class together you could feel a sense of community. Everyone there was excited to learn just like I was and the familiar atmosphere helped the nerves to vanish. The next day, I got to monitor Donato's first class as well, and was glad to see and hear that same joy from Donato and his students.

Clicking this, you can see Rebecca Guay doing a demo during her class

At this point it would be hard to give a play-by-play of the classes so I won't attempt it. This is a mentorship more than an instructor/student program at it's heart- so each person handles their class differently, and I think one of the best parts of SmArt school is that the artists in charge are given that freedom. It's not just a drawing class or a painting class or a class on anatomy but all three rolled into one and one hundred more possibilities.

A painting before SmArt School.
Todd handled his class on a case-by-case basis. Each week we'd do work on a project and come back into it for a critique- patiently waiting our turn as Todd spoke individually to an artist while painting over their piece. This worked wonderfully, as there were often problems or thoughts that Todd would address in a particular painting or area that everyone would learn from. If you wanted to know the "secrets" to painting water or foliage, tips on advanced perspective, how to make a figure pop more against a particular scene, all you had to do was watch and listen. It was these little gems of information that ended up making it all worth it to me. At the same time, you got to see the workflow and progress of others as they moved along, and I know we were all feeding off each other at times like we were eagerly eating up the information Todd presented us. It reminded me of the stories I've read of the old art ateliers where students might paint feverishly for a week in the same room as a master just to hear the drop of some bit of information they could grab onto. In the same vein, Todd was a fountain of information- not lecturing so much as inquiring and informing. Often times we were greeted with a process of a piece he had done that matched our situation, and once I even got to see him draw a dragon (something I'd wanted since I was 12)! Along with the time in class, you could email Todd through the school email for midweek feedback which was just as informative as the time spent in class. Todd, I fully believe, was just as invested in our work as we were and constantly showed it.

My first painting from SmArt School
Forest King. 12" x 18" Digital
Donato's class was different, as I'm certain every class is. I've met Donato a few times in my life, and he's not the kind of painter or instructor that becomes bogged down by the technical aspects of art. In Donato's way, he teaches you to see what you want to say. Donato teaches you to think. Each class might be greeted with a lecture that would take the entire time- or half of it would be lecture and the other critique. Sometimes there were only critiques. In each instance I found myself constantly enthralled by Donato's lessons and, again, hanging on every word for some morsel of information to attach to my own rapidly growing repertoire of food-for-thought. Even when he spoke about the technical aspects of being a painter, Donato was talking about the why or the what of it, rather than just the how. His lecture on painting skin is worth the tuition cost alone. His lectures on business and how to handle yourself professionally are worth more than the treasures under the Lonely Mountain. He handled his critiques with much the same effort, hoping to understand the meanings and thoughts behind the idea in order to better propel the piece forward with his words. I doubt that anyone came out of his class without a feeling of enlightenment about painting. Even though I was only monitoring the class, I tried to be involved in the chat if I could and even reached out to Donato over email for some feedback on my own work- which he took the time to give me.

In each of SmArt School's classes, there is an art director visit. Todd invited Jon Schindehette to ours. The conversation Jon and I had was a good one, where he offered up his professional advice on where I might want to take my career. Like everything else from the semester I took notes with nearly every word. It's an opportunity that might not be a possibility without SmArt School having fashioned it. I'm grateful for Jon's words and time.

I did, however, offer you an honest review. This is something, I feel, that cannot be done without offering some more critical thoughts on the SmArt School program.

  • Firstly, the information is a little limited. SmArt School does a good job of advertising itself on it's website, but I wish there were more information out there (like this). The real reason I finally made the commitment was because I met an artist at Spectrum that showed me work before and after SmArt School that blew me away. She told me it was the best investment she ever made. Without that interaction I never would have taken the leap. Hearing from students and seeing work on the site from students would really help. Also, you're not told much about individual classes. It's fine for the site and me to say that everyone works differently, but spending that money on tuition without knowing what you're getting or how an artist teaches is scary. For anyone having difficulty with the decision, Marc Scheff says he welcomes e-mails at in order to help prospective students choose the right class for them. 
  • Because it's widespread, there's always connection issues that can happen. I think our class was spread across all American time zones and 2 different countries- so you can imagine that there was some lag sometimes. If you're going to take the leap into paying for the program, I advise you do it with a heavy hitting ethernet connection for a rope. Thankfully, Marc Scheff is there with every class to help solve problems if they do arise, and something can always be set up at another time if it's a necessity (but that's not a promise, like any class).

  • They say you can't record the class in any way. I found myself constantly wanting to record my classes in some way (and I could have) because there's such a huge amount of information to take in with every session and you can't keep it all. They do this for completely legitimate reasons, but I'd recommend keeping a pen handy for those gems I talked about.
  • The commitment and language used when signing up is a bit intimidating. I think it should be because it's an investment, but I don't think it prepares you for the actual atmosphere of the classes and the people you're interacting with- which is friendly and familiar. I wish there were more payment options, opening the doors to more growing artists, or even a cheaper option to monitor. They do offer a plan through PayPal but not everyone may be accepted into that credit option. In my opinion, a scholarship of sorts would be outstanding, one that maybe covered the cost to monitor a class but a student could also put toward a full tuition.  Then again, I'm not looking at the books for the program. I was informed that near all the payment goes to the artists, which should make anyone feel better about what they're paying for, exactly.

  • Do your research and be prepared. There's a point when you start your art career where the whole world is open and there's something new to learn every day- and like with any skill the more you learn about it the harder it is to discover and add to your skills. You never peak, that's not what I'm saying. It becomes more of a struggle to grow and find answers, answers to questions you don't even know you have yet. SmArt School offers you the opportunity to ask those questions to the people that came before you, but you've got to work. You've got to find the right questions and there's no way to do that without digging into the program and painting your ass off. You get what you put in.

With that said, I want to talk about what I found to be the heart of SmArt school- you.
SmArt school is a commitment. $2500 is a lot of money, but once you're ready to make that kind of investment in your career and yourself it's like saying, "I can do this. Let me show you." And that's what happens. You push and you push hard once you step over that line, because you're in it and you can't turn back so there's only one way to go. I've never spent this much money on myself, and I've never given this much of myself to something as I have my painting these last few months. I've loved every second of it.

I've talked a lot about money, but here at the end I'd like to point out that the time spent in these classes is priceless. You're paying for 13 classes (15 with the new setup) and that's 39-45 hours or more with a professional. If you're thinking in terms of investment in yourself and your career as an artist then that's a no-brainer.

I highly recommend the SmArt School program to any artist that wants to take their career, and themselves, to the next level. Make an investment in you.

My second painting from SmArt School and most ambitious piece to date
Reclamation/Ruination 24" x 16" Digital
A larger-than-life THANK YOU to Rebecca, Marc, Todd, Donato, and Alex for making this experience possible for me- and to my classmates for their own kind words and suggestions throughout, getting to see such talent come together every week was a real treat and a huge inspiration!

Feel free to post about your own experiences, or contact me to add your own before/after pictures from the semester!

Note: The SmArt School staff is always extremely informative with their responses, from inquiries to handling student information. Don't be afraid to contact them for any information, and thanks to Marc and Rebecca again for fact checking this article.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Working Traditionally, Digitally.

Digital painting is the new frontier when it comes to creating art. Like the dawn of any new medium it presents artists with near endless possibilities- each new discovery more exciting than the next. For artists working as illustrators it is especially important to have at a minimum a general understanding of how to manipulate a digital image- nearly a necessity.

I was taught to paint traditionally. In school they gave us acrylics to use as we learned to understand form and color, creating multitudes of different studies with each new day. I remember the first time I used oil paints. It was an utter catastrophe as I had no one to teach me what I was doing with them, once spending an hour over a sink because I didn't know you cleaned your palette with anything but soap and water. Yearning for knowledge found me looking at old Rockwell books, studying unfinished masters and portraits, watching videos on youtube- and then I stumbled across Donato. Donato's method of mixing a palette and laying down his colors on the panel were amazing to me. If I could only do the things that he did it would take away the drying, the guessing, the struggle.

Donato putting in his 200,000+ hour

Obviously, it didn't. When you're learning and there's a struggle you always look for an easier way, a way to become better. That's just human nature. As an artist there are so many different avenues you think will make you better: that brush, that oil, that brand, that method, that palette. It's true that the best of these can help workflow, but the skill is only developed from the blood sweat and tears you put into it. The act of painting is a lesson in justice- giving you in return what you've sacrificed. Without this knowledge in toe, I bought everything Donato used that instant.

Me in my college studio, 10 hours in
For hours a day I would look over his work, devour how he might handle a given image, stare enthralled at videos of him painting. I went to visit him in his studio once and talked to him about color. I would constantly paint- understanding what he was trying to tell me but unable to accomplish it like I wanted to. I didn't even get close to meeting my own standards of painting like a man with triple my experience.

One day, though, it did start to click. I didn't have to paint like Donato. I didn't want to paint like Donato. Not exactly. Because I'd always fall short of being someone else. What I could do was listen to him, I mean really listen to him And what he told me started to mesh with everything else I'd picked up on my own or read or saw in other painters. Suddenly, it wasn't just him teaching me- it was everything and everyone I saw in the world of painting.

I started painting digitally, investing money and time into what I saw as this revolution. It didn't come easy for me. I knew I had to orient myself in the world that I grew up in, the digital one, but the skills I'd learned on panel and canvas didn't as easily flow when painting on a screen. The ideas and theories were still there, but it was a completely different medium to me. I had to learn to paint again, but I ended up bringing Donato's palette ideas with me.

I'm writing this because I want to share with you how I transferred the way I worked in oil paint over to Photoshop. I struggled for years finding a way to set up a palette for myself digitally and I know there's people out there struggling to make their own digital images run smoother and work easier. So, to explain it all, I decided to paint a portrait of a model I had in my files.

The first thing I do is give myself a solid ground to work with- a drawing. Nothing too fancy, just landmarks. It's just like starting anything else.

I usually try and keep my image up on the left side of my screen. This is basically what my work area always looks like. Now, before I go any further I wanted to talk about my brushes. I've collected them over the years and they're not the best, but they're mine and you might want to share them with me. 

Click to download my brushes

These are the only 3 brushes that I used for this painting, and most paintings. I have some that give more texture if I ever just need some more chaos to pull from, but you're looking at 99% of what I do.

After the drawing, I set my palette up. I base what I do for arranging this off of Donato's ideas on a mud puddle of color. You can see more on that explained better than I ever could HERE.
And pretty much anywhere else Donato talks. I recommend it highly if you get a chance.

What I do digitally to interpret that is the important part. I have an PSD file saved on my computer with samples of colors. I matched these as closely as possible as the colors I had in my own box of oils. 

Which colors they are, aren't important. Color, like time and space, are relative. Use what you'd like. 
What is important is the next part. I begin color picking from these and using the mixer brush I begin to arrange my own puddle. The beauty of working digital is that you can do this right over an image if you need to. The relationships are still there. Here's a video of me doing the mixing. You can see my settings at the top. 

You can see I'm trying to look at the image and determine color relationships. I can't stress enough that these don't have to be exact. That's the beauty of painting from mud if you've never done it. Your harmonies are built in, the ultimate limited palette premixed with so many options and all you have to do once you've got it is think about direction of color, changes as you move across the image. 

After that, I put that palette on another layer and lock it, unlocking and moving as need be. I've tried keeping another window open just with my palette, but for some reason Adobe doesn't like that idea and it's ended up crashing more times than I can count- so layers it is! 

Then, I just start laying in color. I try and start with a mid tone, and move around my palette in whichever direction the painting tells me. By keeping in mind these warmer/cooler/darker/lighter relativity of each different piece it will turn out. 
Usually, after the initial lay-in, I'll blend what i've got so it's a little less messy- especially with skin, especially with a woman. If I wanted the persons skin to be harder like a Conan or Hulk then I might not do as much blending. Here's a video of me tackling the blending:

Note: The blending brush is about 99% of my painting The trick is to lay in the right colors first and then needle away at what you've got down. It takes practice, but can give the best results. I've learned that when you're using digital brushes to blend it's better to use a smaller brush as it really emulates a texture. Larger blended strokes just look digital. 

From there, I go through to each individual piece and tackle them on their own. I love finding all the little details in something, like how the blue really impacts in the deeper shadows or the subtle yellow light from stage left. I especially enjoyed the challenge of painting the nose on this one. Noses usually take a lot of colors as they're basically orbs picking up any light source you throw at them. 

I like to keep whatever area I'm working in surrounded by whatever color it might interact with. That sounds like an oxymoron when you hear it, as in, "If every area was surrounded with the colors it will be surrounded with the painting would be done all ready." but it makes sense when you're diving in to it. That's why I start with mid tones and then hit the darks after I've got those established. Something might look green when it's next to a red, and you can't tell that from the start. The trick is to just start somewhere. 
With this palette set up, as long as you have something there to push and pull from you can't go wrong.

So i made a gif. of the entire painting process for you

And here's the final image.

Again, my image doesn't look exactly like the picture. I made visual choices as I went along with the picture beside me. This was a pretty fast portrait to demonstrate this to you, but I tried to get into the grit of things. If you have any questions feel free to ask!

Other things:
I'll post more on each individual aspect of painting as I go along, things I wish people would have told me when I started using photoshop. A couple are

  • Flow- it's your friend. play with it. I've done entire paintings building up with a light flow. It works especially well on a dark to light approach as you can build up
  • Layers- commit. I did most of my work here on 1 layer. I do think in layers if I'm hesitant about something, or adding something like the hair, but I merge it pretty quick when I'm decided.
  • brushwork- it matters digitally too. Experiment making your own brushes and working with direction while you're making marks. Our minds still see in direction when there's a line available. More on that later
  • Buy and watch Donato's Joan of Arc video. It's more worth it than you'll ever know

Monday, February 8, 2016

Looking Back...

     I want to start this post off with saying that learning to draw, to paint, to see, has never come easy for me. It's not a talent. In fact, I would say that throughout my artistic life there's always someone just a few chairs over that I felt outshone by: A girl in middle school that could draw perfect portraits when I could hardly draw an eye, a cousin whose lines and ideas came effortlessly, a friend in college who saw colors that didn't exist to me. Looking back, I see myself struggling constantly to be like them.
   I've always been competitive, and I'm glad for it. That sense of competition got me where I am today, though I hate to admit it. I saw someone draw a portrait and I'd try 1,000 times to do the same. If someone was better at color or composition, I'd stare at their paintings for hours on end- comparing them to my own and the old masters I admired. There never was a day that it clicked. Even today I think I struggle daily at the smallest things that I should know how to do effortlessly, and even today I find the most unbelievable things in the crudest drawings. How could someone do that?!

     I wonder if a 17-19 year-old me would say the same about who I am today? I wonder if I'd take the time to teach him or if I'd even like his work. I wonder if I'd see myself in the things he scribbled in his sketchbooks. Well, thankfully, I don't have to wonder. Hidden in a closet at my parents house I stumbled across that person. There he was! Just sitting inside of sketchbook after sketchbook trying just as hard as he ever was!

    I thought it would be nice to share some of our drawings with you....

     Well, here are just a few things I found. My third painting of all time, a giant drawing of a hand (30in tv in the background), an unfinished armored girl, a portrait of a friend, and some guy doing some thing? Who knows! I spent so much time looking back at these the other night. In each I remembered where I was when I drew them and all the thoughts and feelings I had at the time. It's for that reason I keep things like this for the future- like some sort of living memory. One look and there I am again in that moment. It's a pretty good movie idea if the butterfly effect hadn't all ready done it. 


     Here I can easily see myself trying to design some unbelievable armor around this tough and elegant character. I can still see her in my head with her sword and lance. 2009 saw me diving into interesting characters, trying to get into their heads, just as I do now. Nothing, to me, is better than capturing that person, bringing them from that initial thought to the surface and meeting them. I'm not sure why her blacksmith decided to draw so much attention to her cleavage, though...

     I remember this one. I had just stumbled upon some Final Fantasy concept art and was crazy about it. I loved the sense of effortless movement and unrealistic proportions and costumes. I could take my time needling out all the small details of the costume and I thought I was something drawing just the smallest part for hours on end! That style at the time seemed everything I'd ever wanted. It still leaves an effect on me today, as you can see. There's very few paintings in action that I don't try and put that thrust to the character or scene, and I still fall in love with the little things.

     Finally, I think these are the most telling, if not my favorites. It was always easy for me to just sketch up a character and say they were mine- but it was never quite right. I struggled with the real: proportion, mass, light, shadow. It wasn't until that last year of college that I really started to get it. After number 10,0000000000000, hands and faces became not challenges to me, but my favorite things. There's so much in a characters face. I feel like you should be able to tell the entire story from their expression and I try and capture that. Hands, on their own, could be an entirely different portrait of that same person. They show just as much emotion. 

    To me, I can say that I've gotten better now. I can see it in leaps and bounds. I love it and I'm proud of it every day- like beating some fell beast. At the time, though, it didn't feel easy and it never will- but you should never forget the struggle that brought you to where you are. It's easier said than done, but if you can just think back to those times it can help you to reach forward just as much into the future even at the hardest times. You might say, "well, here I am, but there I was."

     Thanks for being a part of my own here, and sharing a part of my own there.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Constant Practice

     I think, as an artist, you never stop learning. When you travel and see different culture, adventure, meet a new person, notice a new color on a brick, even experience new technology you store it away, consciously or no, to the file cabinets of your memory. But more than that, there is no better way to train your artistic hand than to use it. Art is skill, not a talent, and much like any other skill it can wax and wain with time. Like taking 6 months off from the gym, 200lbs isn't as easy to lift as it once was- and the same is true for painting/drawing.
    Yes, with every new big painting you learn and grow your skill, but daily I think one should do quick studies of a thing. It is in those moments of seeing a problem before you, setting forth to solve it, and learning from it that both your hand, muscles and mind grow. Action begets action begets experience begets wisdom, I say! 
     Personally, I adore figure drawing. I held a pencil long before I held a brush. At times this has come back to bite me, as a painting and a drawing are not the same thing, but done together and thought of as one and you begin to change the way you think. Different aspects of what you want to get on the page become important and not so much the problem itself but the way you go about solving it evolves into something new. 
     After months of absence from figure drawing I've recently taken it up again digitally. The Croquis Cafe channel on youtube offers a weekly challenge on different models and timed drawing sessions. I've fallen in love with it and thankfully I'm working my way back in the videos so I've got plenty to choose from! 
     I'd like to share some of my favorite pages of sketches over the past few months from these sessions, none taking longer than 5 minutes. I hope you enjoy  and remember that it's the journey and not the finish!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Chasing the Dragon

Hunted   8" x 12"   Digital     2015

     In case you didn't get it the first time, Dragons are one of my favorite things: to paint, draw, design, read about, figure out, and see.
     If I'm being honest, I have no idea why. Maybe it's the challenge of making what doesn't exist seem real or maybe it's that in games, books, movies, you always see them at the end like this big hurtle the hero has the face, the ultimate fight. They're these mythical embodiment of awesome power- the immovable object and the unstoppable force (unless you have a black arrow).
    But that's all imagination, metaphor, storyline. We're here to talk about painting.

     Back during the summer I had some free time and did a sketch that I really enjoyed that kind of encompassed this hero figure avoiding a dragon. For about a month on and off I've been trying to tackle that piece in between commissions- and let me tell you that leaving and coming back to a painting after sometimes weeks on end is not as healthy as you might think for the creative process.
I turned it over in my head a lot, from this idea that dragon riding my be a sport in this world, to someone escaping from capture, to a group of dragon riders out like hunting foxes, to a war fought in the sky. All of it sounded exciting to me, but didn't capture the initial feeling of the sketch I'd done.

I really did like the rest, and I'm working on another one right now!
    In my mind's eye I had this hero- and that was the important part. It was this portrait and the story of this man at that place and time. Who was he? What was he moving away from/ toward? It wasn't so much about the dragons as what they represented to the character- his past and his future.
     It was still exciting, if a little cookie cutter for an image. I really liked the idea of the whites robes separating and leading into his form and the atmosphere in the air. I think subtlety speaks volumes often and that was my idea with the initial scheme.
      I kept working on it, hoping everything would come together, nothing feeling as right as I wanted it to. I still liked the little parts of the painting, but I didn't like the narrative. It wasn't saying anything and it didn't look good.

      It wasn't working for me. I ended up taking it back down to thumbnail size, because after working on a piece (even digitally) it can start to feel precious with every stroke, like you might mess it up. I did sketch after sketch on top of it in color, and then started playing with the values more, thinking about the background and the relationship between the opposing characters. I'd always known I wanted the guy to look like a wizard with his flowing robes and neat hair and I thought the white was a nice touch to his good nature. But maybe he wasn't so good. Maybe he was more drastic than subtle (he is riding a dragon after all). I took a leap and ended up giving him some actual character with his fine red cloak, ran it past some good friends who liked it, and came down to the final you see up top.

     In the end, it came down to the story of a man being hunted down. He's chased and they're on his heels, but he's moving forward despite what he's done or what he's running from. His hands are steady, one open to face what may come, and his eyes look toward the future, as we all must. 
    I hope you'll enjoy seeing my process in the GIF below as much as I enjoyed painting it!

You can always see more of my new work at:
or follow me on Facebook