Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jack Davis (1924-2016)

Illustrator and comic book artist, Jack Davis, passed away this past Wednesday at the age of 91.

Jack was well known for his work work at EC Comics, and later for Mad Magazine. From the cover of Time Magazine to dozens of major Movie Posters, there's almost no medium that Jack didn't leave his impression on with his extraordinary penchant for humorous celebrity likenesses.

Here's a short interview with Jack Davis, alongside Harvey Kurtzman, conducted by Stan Lee.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Greg Ruth
 One of the most ubiquitous trenches in a working artist's career, whatever the medium, is the notion of "selling out"- especially when you're young. I bring up young artists because that is the time in your life when you are least susceptible to the lures of selling out, and also the most hard-lined about the concept that you will often mistake a genuine opportunity to avoid it. Selling Out is the siren song that sings you to shipwreck, and you'll run across it throughout your entire career no matter your circumstance. But it ain't all bad, and saying yes to it ain't always the worst thing you can do. And if you're REALLY smart/lucky, you may reap dividends from the exercise to feed you for years.

So. What IS Selling Out? 

A Pirate's Guide to First Grade
Well, that's the most important question and the hardest to answer properly. The reason for this is largely because despite what your peers at school might holler for, there really is no absolute public line to define what selling out is. It's a personal bar and unique to each artist, period. Not achieving some predisposed idea of what others think you should achieve, doesn't count. No one can export their private line of where selling out starts to you or anyone else. Put simply: No one gets to tell you that you sold out. You'll know. If they do, they're wrong by definition. But because they may be friends or colleagues, they may help you see it right, even if it doesn't matter where they think the line is. They can alert you to avoiding an error you might not have otherwise seen early enough. So it's always a good idea to make sure you take it seriously ask yourself if it's true and then decide for yourself if it is or isn't. Your the Captain of this particular ship and everyone else is Tenille. Never forget that.

For me, now at 45 years and more than 20 in the business of making art for a living, my line is the point
Where the Trains Go for
when I decide to do a project only because of the money- meaning there are no other benefits or joys to be found in the project- and I don't need the money as a necessity. Happily I have yet to be in a financial place where taking or not taking a job comes from not needing the money. I have a mortgage, two kids and bills to pay and that more or less negates a circumstance I can't justify to that primary obligation. In a way, it makes it easier for me- no less thrilling when I need to take a job to pay bills alone, which I have done and will do again I am certain. My kids, wife and home require I have to swallow a lot of my youthful idealism for their sake and I am more than happy to do that because you can never sell out when you honor your primary desires/obligations. So yes, it's a cheat. But it doesn't make taking on work I would have otherwise avoided any more palatable, it just makes me feel better because there was a good reason to eat that particular crow.

 So to give a proper answer: selling out is when you do a job entirely for the money even if it makes you feel ill to do it. And yes if you do this for a good cause, it is not selling out- it's taking a hit for the team and that is not the same thing. Simply put, if you felt like Company A was a terrible planet eating parasite that went against everything you believed in, but they offered you an ungodly amount of money to work for them anyway, and you took it... you just sold out. Making your work to sell, or selling your work to live on is not that.
Though I remember from the soft womb-like purchase of college to look down my nose at anyone who put a price tag on their art as selling out. Clearly I was a privileged idiot, and to be fair many of us were then and in those places still are. It's an easy place to throw stones like that because you aren't yet having to deal with the real world consequences of being a true grown-ass person. You need skin in the game if you're ever going to be so hubristic enough to declare someone else has sold out, and as we can all agree, most of the time no one is in such position to own the tidal wave of this particular criticism.

The Starbucks Conundrum

Barbara Stanwyck for Slate
Back when I was in school it was Pearl Paint- which is where we all ended up for a time as your crappy post-school job to eat food and pay rent with. But that place is gone with the old New York, and everyone knows Starbucks is that place for many of us now. Full disclosure. So what is the Starbucks Conundrum? I'm glad you asked because I just now made it up: it is the circumstance wherein a true artist is working at Starbucks, or a like minded job, and keeping their art "pure" by keeping it out of the market place. Which I admit entirely is wholly fair and noble if this is your thing, and not just a coping tool to justify not being able to live off your art. Many of us have day jobs and dance our art dance after or before, and that is entirely great as a way to live. Not everyone is equipped for the roller-coaster hellscape of living a freelance artist's life, nor should they be. I look with great envy on people with daytime jobs and steady incomes and a sense of stability and order in their lives, so I am not blowing smoke up your butts when I say this- I mean it. But many times, in my experience, this lifestyle is held up as more noble than making your income via your art and making sculpting your work to that need in order to keep it all going. The easy counter punch is to challenge the "pure" artist with their choosing to compromise their work by keeping it caged and away from the real hard world for fear of it being tainted. That art is a hothouse flower and if it can't be strong enough to survive in the world with all it's pressures, it's likely simply not very good. But the reality is, like I said before- it's only true if it's true for you. Both scenarios are entirely legit and noble. We all have to eat and live and pay for things, and whether we do it via our art or not is no one else's business but our own. Just make sure you own that choice and if while reflecting you find it is not the right choice, then that's fine too. It's only selling out if you don't do anything about it.

Compromise and Being Compromised: The DIfference

The Caretakers for
One of the great songs sung proudly by the young idealist artist is the one that poo-poos all compromise as evil and the trickery of the devil luring you to your doom. Your art is corrupted if compromise, your life is too. This is a clearly extremist position to take, though one taken by many many more than you or I would prefer. It may be a good self-justifying line of thinking if your in the Spanish Inquisition, The Taliban or Daesh, or Westboro Baptist Church, but it is no good being an extremist with your art. The reason for this relies upon this one simple truth: all art is at the moment of it's inception, a compromise. That idea, that notion or feeling you need to express through art, in it's pure form is not a painting, dance, movie or novel- those are the clothes it dons to express itself. They are the modes by which you bring down from the ether and make physical for others- because it ain't art unless someone else gets to see it. So given that, any post-partum extreme seeking of purity is laughable as building the barn-door long after the horse ran away and got married in Topeka. The simply truth is the more you interact publicly with your art, the more compromise you invite. You have a successful gallery show that sells well or out? You will be compromised to think along the lines of duplicating that event by revisiting that work that sold. Your Gallery will all but insist on it, and the money and praise in your pocket will insist even louder. Make your work alone in a studio like a hermit and die before anyone has seen it? You are compromised by whatever terrors or ideology that kept you from the conversation of art which is so important to make us better artists. Denying input is like turning away food for the art-soul. You are doing your babies no favors by hiding them from the world. Are they safe from harm? Of course not, but no reward will come without the risk required to lure it.

David Lynch and his Mother's Sister's Cousin
There are good and bad forms of compromise of course. The bad is best illustrated by a story Lou Stathis once told me about a friend who was struggling to make ends meet writing his stories that he loved to tell, and took on a job writing porn novels to pay the bills. They were silly and stupid and it turns out he was good at it and it paid amazingly well. So he did this and did it again and again, writing his own work less and his job work more. While he saw that crash coming and was aware of it as a concern, he missed the one that really felled him: After three years of writing erotic fiction in the way he had to, he compromised his own craft so much that he ruined his writer's voice for anything else. He killed his art through that compromise and found himself in a worse place than he would have been had he chased a job at say, Starbucks. A long shift at Starbucks might make you too tired to give your work the time and energy it's due, but it isn't so much similar to your art that it eats it like a cuckoo in someone else's nest. Unless your art is making coffee in which case I might encourage the erotic novel path. The good kind is what happened to me doing Conan- a book felt unprepared or trained for, which utilized characters and stories I had not previously given two poops about, and was sometimes a bit too unrepentantly sexist for my tastes. Doing Born on the Battlefield changed me and it changed my art. But not in a bad way. I learned through doing it, how to tell a comics story I would never have otherwise taken on myself. It forced me out of my comfort zone and made me scramble to survive and excel in a world wholly unfamiliar to me. Kurt taught me how to write a script and elucidate a narrative in comics in a way that I still use today. Without having done Conan, Ethan Hawke would not have found me to do a book together and there would be no INDEH. That's the kind of compromise we want, even if like me at the time, I wasn't sure that's the kind I would get. What I thought was I being lured into the porn-novel trap, but I ended up being trained by Obi Wan. You can't always see the Kenobis coming, but you'll never risk finding them by accident if you don't take the chance. Remember selling out requires permission, and even if you find yourself in a bad job, it can end, or you can leave it. Staying is a choice. Doing it again is a choice. It's your choice and no one else's so make the best you can at the time, and then fuggitaboutit. Regret is like Marcellus Wallace's pride: it only hurts, it never helps.

Swimming in Two Rivers

Alabaster cover for Dark Horse Comics
 I work on projects that are my own and I work on those for others. For my own I make personal choices and compromises to reach whatever goal I set out for myself for the project. When I'm working on another's book cover, well my goal is to achieve what they need for the purpose of selling the book. You can swim in both streams without corrupting the other, and the lessons learned from each can be essential to both. Through my own work I find and discover what I love to do and make. Working for others teaches me how to see my work through other's eyes, and teaches me how to advocate for it and be critical of myself. I will go even further to say both of these experiences are essential to being a growing successful artist. You may not need to do them in this exact way, but as long as the lessons can be learned, learn them. These compromises prevent you from selling out. The commodification of art is always tricky and it warps by its nature how we see work. Every path is different and each circumstance will change. it is a tricky greased snake you can and should learn to hold, because unless you can enjoy a healthy trust fund, you will have to learn how to do this right. Even if you don't have to, you will want to and I guarantee an artist whose traversed the professional world to find their true voice will always accomplish vastly superior work to those who never dared try to suffer that world. Working at Starbucks or selling your work can each be equally terrible choices if you aren't making them in the right manner, but neither are inherently evil. An artist should open themselves to any possible path or experience in order to remain an artist.

 So How do I avoid Selling Out?

Susan Sontag for Slate
Well it may be impossible to do so purely, and that's a good thing. Otherwise you're a veal calf, sweet and tender but never free to feel life and gain a few scars and toughen up through the challenges of experience. My advice is to put the goal of ideals far out enough in front that it is never lost to minor course corrections or wrong turns in the short run. It's like how they teach to keep the car steady in driver's school: put your eye on to the furthest horizon and you will steer directly to it. Keep your eye ten feet in front of the bumper and you will swerve around like a drunken sailor on the highway and probably crash someplace. Paying attention to each and every moment that teases you to sell yourself out is not how you avoid it. That makes every mosquito into a tiger- keep them small and bitey and slap em down when they bite, but keep enjoying the walk through the woods. Be aware enough of your own personal ethos as an artist and let that change and grow as your life will and should inevitably change and grow. Loyalty to self ends appropriately when you've another to work for. Be cool with that and let your nobility bar adjust accordingly. The goal of every artist should be to make some great work throughout the course of your life, not try to make every work great. That isn't to say you shouldn't always try your best- no need to be a hack- but if you are truly growing and changing and experimenting, you will screw it up as part of that learning process. Be cool with that. Eyes forward and let it roll past. The only true selling out is when you self-limit what you can achieve through art by making poor, compromising choices, and repeating them on purpose. Don't ever let anyone tell you where your bar is- it will be different and should. Your goals and ideals are your own and are noone else's to decide and formulate. Risking failure is the only way to assure success, whoever it looks whatever shape it takes. The rest takes care of itself as long as you keep your core whole and flexible and at least a hundred yards down the road ahead of you. Anyone who tells you differently wants you to bend to their ideals, and doing that is the worst kind of selling out.

Ultimately I can tell you from both experience and witnessing this in others: it is FAR better a thing to have done good work you are proud of and never really see the art side of your job-career blossom than to have sold out your work to make a business out of it. Some folks are craftspeople and do this as a job and that's fine entirely- I'm speaking for those who put their art-hearts into their work. That's a tender commodity that you need to make sure to defend and honor.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

San Diego Comic-Con recap

by Donato

The 2016 San Diego Comic-Con wrapped up this past weekend with another year of strong attendance and participation from a host of talented professionals - Dylan Cole, Stephan Martiniere, Sergio Aragones (Mad Magazine), Iain McCaig, Mike Mignola, Todd Lockwood, Dave Seeley, Allen Williams, Phil Hale, Dave Dorman, Paul Tobin (Weta), Kirk Thatcher (Muppets Director), concept/costume designer Simon Thorpe, Craig Elliot, Brian Ewing, Dave Palumbo, Travis Lewis, Jason Felix, Greg Spalenka, Mike Hayes, Eric Wilkerson, Eric Bouffard (Dreamworks), Brian Cole (Disney), Heather Theurer, Mark Winters and Cynthia Sheppard of WoTC, and that just scratches the surface of whom I stood face to face with and knew personally. There were Game producers, Animation producers, Publishing Editors, Gallery owners, Auction houses, Comics Editors, and hundreds of artists and pros I never saw and didn't know would be there!

Even with all the changes that have occurred over the years, San Diego is still the number one place to meet professionals from the diverse industries related to comics and science fiction and fantasy, talk shop,  discuss business, seal a deal, and get your work seen.
But it is not the only place, as I know very intimately just how difficult and expensive it can be to attend this event.  My advise to those who were not there, take a look at upcoming conventions and consider making the time to attend and further your career in the arts.

You need not exhibit to take advantage of what happens at a convention.  Dinners with professionals, booth discussions, portfolio reviews, business and creative lectures, live demonstrations, and marketing awareness can all be had for the price of admission.  Shack up with a friend or two (or four as I did for my first two Comic-Cons!) and reap the benefits of an amazing gathering of the community.

Some up coming major conventions:

GenCon in Indianapolis
WorldCon in Kansas City
DragonCon in Atlanta
IlluxCon in Reading, PA
World Fantasy in Columbus, OH

Sergio Aragones and Donato
Killer Cosplayers!

Chewie, but no Han :(   Damn you Kylo Ren!!!!!!!

Michael Kaluta original art

Drawing during some morning down time at the booth
Vicki Williams, Travis Lewis, Allen Williams, and Iain McCaig

And it all goes away in a few quick hours Sunday Night!

Break down...

The Walking Dead Wrapped for a road trip.

Amazing ship references to be had in San Diego Harbor, a little walk from the convention center!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Enchanted Brush

If you need proof that not every cool art event takes place on the east or west coast, you'll definitely want to visit Ohio's Mazza Museum Lea Gallery on the campus of the University of Findlay for the "Enchanted Brush" exhibition. Curated by the multi-talented Dan Chudzinski, the show features works—many of which are for sale—by 14 artists exploring jungle-themed stories and runs until August 5. You can read a little more about it here and see a handful of the pieces below.

Above: Some background about the show.

Above: "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" sculpted by Rich Klink.

Above: "Tarzan of the Apes" by Jeremy Wilson.

Above: "Tempest" by A.M. Sartor.

Above: "Only Fear Shall Follow Thee" by Michael Manomivibul.

Above: "The Huorns" by Ed Binkley.

Above: "Kong" by Allen Douglas.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Autumn Fae

-By Dan dos Santos

I was in Seattle last week, teaching my recent TLC Workshop on the illustrative use of Light and Color. Much of our class time was spent doing small exercises to help with our basic understanding of light, and how it can create form and mood. The last day was spent trying to apply some of that knowledge to an actual piece of art.

We looked through a slide show showing a lot of different artist create use of color to make an illustration more interesting. Artists like David Grove and Kazuhiko Sano came up time and time again. So for my demo I decided to showcase a method very similar to those two artists.

Illustration by Kazuhiko Sano

The painting started with a simple line drawing based on a photo I took. This particular process actually works a lot better if you trace or transfer your drawing (which both aforementioned artists did regularly). This allows you to draw the shapes of the shadows without actually filling in their value. This is important since the process is all about creating luminosity through the use of transparent layers and unique color choices. I did not have a projector with me, so I just used a graphite rubbing to transfer my drawing to the board.

Once the drawing was finished, I coated the image with a clear coat of Matte Medium. I mixed some Modeling Paste into the Matte Medium and applied it with a stiff bristle brush to create more substantial textures. These textures are hard to see at this phase, but will become more prominent as glazes of color begin to settle into the cracks.

I started the painting with a simple wash of oil paint and turpentine. I applied it quite thickly and with very little fuss. This is where the all the real color selection happens. As the paint starts to stiffen, you can wipe it away with a brush, a rag, or more turpentine. This allows you to work reductively and actually use the white of the board to create the impression of highlights. Wiping out also has the added benefit of making the paint dry very fast when compared to working opaquely.

The first layer is pretty much all transparent. Because this process relies so heavily on the drawing beneath, progress happens very quickly. In fact, the majority of what you see here was achieved in just 2 hours work.

I liked what I had started in class, so I brought the painting back home with me to finish it up. I  worked into the face with a little opaque color to create a more modeled and refined effect.  Now you can start to see how those preliminary textures really show through and create the illusion of very thick paint, despite it actually being extremely thin.

This painting is still very much in progress (I need to do quite a bit of work to the flowers,), but I am enjoying the process of picking away at in my spare time. Most of my commercial work is much more planned out and refined. So having a small experimental piece that allows me try out some unfamiliar methods is a really fun reprieve. I will be sure to post more pics once the image is complete.

I will have this completed painting, along with several others, on exhibit at this coming Dragon*Con in Atlanta, GA.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 2017: Goin' to Kansas City

-By Arnie Fenner

Did you miss having a Spring show this year? We sure did!

Cathy, I, or John Fleskes have explained elsewhere, but there seems to be some ongoing confusion about the what, when, and why of Spectrum Fantastic Art Live's (SFAL for short) dates and location so I thought I'd talk about it a bit here on Muddy Colors today to help clear things up.

When the local comicon sniped our traditional May dates—theirs had always been in March—and made an already compacted and crowded convention season in Kansas City even more crushing, we felt compelled to plan a move to San Francisco (the neighborhood of Flesk Publications) in association with the Academy of Art University…but early on it never felt quite right.

The location that was offered to us by the school was far from ideal: it was in an industrial part of the city far away from hotels and restaurants and access would have been via the university's extensive shuttle bus service from downtown. Parking was virtually nonexistent for attendees, the October dates that the school insisted we use for the show unfortunately conflicted with other events, and the expense to stay, drink, and eat for everyone would have been seriously higher. Alternatives to the school’s venues, both in SF and San Jose posed serious challenges as well (ask us about the deal The Woz struck with San Jose  to squeeze out perceived competition to his convention sometime).

Anything is possible if the desire is there, but everything comes with a price tag and the subsequent tough decision to back away from plans to hold the show in San Francisco in association with the AAU was not made lightly. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has always been about benefiting the entire art community—the creators, the patrons, and the fans—and everything with the show has to make sense, including the dates, the costs, and the venue. We had heard from a great many exhibitors and attendees who enjoyed the convenient, casual and friendly atmosphere of Kansas City and were actually disappointed by the move out of the midwest, which pleasantly surprised us.

We've always known that doing a convention isn't just about our bottom line, but about everyone else's, too, and we pay attention to what's happening in the marketplace. Some might remember that we had originally planned to start the Spectrum Live convention way back in 2008 but delayed it as the recession hit with a vengeance and held on. Customers aren't lining up to buy anything, much less art, when they've either lost their jobs or are worried about losing them. As the economy improved, as consumer confidence returned, we felt the time was right to try to increase the appreciation for our field. The attendance to SFAL has grown each year since we began in 2012, despite our having to address various obstacles that would always spring up unexpectedly, so we know that we have not yet fully achieved the potential of growing the audience for the fantastic art community. Spectrum, after all, has always been about opening doors, not closing them—and we’ve always believed the health of our field depends on reaching new people, not just in preaching to the choir.

Above: The Gallery Gerard set up at SFAL4 in 2015. Boy oh boy I wanted Annie Stegg's
painting (third from the left), but was too far back in the line of collectors competing for it.

As with past shows, sales of originals and prints at SFAL in May 2015 were great for some, good for others, and not so hot for a few—that's pretty much the way it always is for every convention, big or small.

Last Autumn sales were reportedly very disappointing for exhibitors of Fantasy-themed art at several conventions. Many felt that the poor sales might have been due to a recent Heritage auction which included another portion of Jane and Howard Frank's immense art collection. Personally, I don't believe that one really had anything to do with the other.

Speaking bluntly (as is my wont), original art is a luxury item and sales are often tied to the cycle of confidence and stability. The current political climate and tone of the Presidential campaigns (the Brexit hasn't helped) have had a significantly negative impact on art purchases as people worry about the economy and the future in general. Shoot, even the 1% have cut back on their buying. With a convention there is always the temptation to "keep going full steam" and ignore the lookout's warning that there's ice ahead, but rather than bull through and make SFAL happen someplace sometime in 2016 regardless, we opted to take a breather, let the dust settle, and optimistically hope things get back to normal after November.

All though it might seem like we’ve taken a year off we’ve actually been talking and planning nonstop on how to better make Spectrum Fantastic Art Live serve the community. The Spectrum 23 awards ceremony May 7 at the Society of Illustrators in New York was a modest way to stay connected and was most definitely fun, but…there’s no place like home.

Spectrum Fantastic Art Live will take place April 21-23, 2017 in Kansas City, MO.

We will be utilizing the Municipal Exhibition Hall—301 W. 13th St—a grand and unique space that is part of the Kansas City Convention Center. There will be two primary entrances to the exhibit floor on 13th Street and 14th Street; all exhibitors will be in the same room with the Artist Alley tables encircling the booths on an open Mezzanine; the 13th St. entrance opens directly into Artist Alley while the 14th St. entrance opens directly onto the main floor. As in years past the venue is within 1 block of the hotels, the theater, restaurants, and bars. There has been a lot of construction going on downtown and the amenities continue to increase (including the addition of free streetcars). Wendy Prather and the crew at Liberty Exhibition Services will once again set the floor and provide support for exhibitors throughout the show. Free WiFi is available in the hall; Greenwave will again provide additional electrical and high-speed internet options for those who need it (at a fee) and Harvest will provide AV options.

The Spectrum 24 awards ceremony will take place Saturday April 22 at the historic Folly Theater. If you've attended past ceremonies, you'll know it's a special night at a special venue and you'll like what we have in store for 2017. Lazarus Potter will once again be the stage manager.

While providing a positive atmosphere for creatives to learn, socialize, and network, our primary goal is to get as many art customers for exhibitors through the door as possible and with that in mind we’re exploring all options to attract them. Despite increased attendance, Spectrum Fantastic Art Live still maintains an intimate and friendly atmosphere; we know there’s room for growth without sacrificing everything that makes SFAL inclusive and special.

Above: Kansas City has added streetcars that run downtown from the River Market to Crown Center
every 10 minutes from 6am to 2am on weekends. And...they're free.

As we have for previous shows we will, of course, advertise via print, television, radio, and social media, but we’re also being creative with our guests, programming, demos, workshops, and even the price to attend and shop (figuring that the more money thats's in an attendee’s pocket, the more they’ll have to spend on a print, book, or original). There will be much more news—including attendee ticket prices, hotel information and special rates, and special activities during the show—forthcoming and I encourage everyone to check the SFAL website  and the SFAL Facebook page often for updates.

Yes, artists can share booths or tables. Yes, we will need volunteers. Yes, we’re always interested in listening to your ideas, concerns, and suggestions (just contact us via the website). And yes, the floor details are still being finalized, but there will be approximately 100 prime 10’x10’ booths available and approximately 60 Artist Alley tables: half the booths and tables are already sold. If demand exceeds space we will create a wait list.

Above: The Special Guest line-up for 2017. Brom, Laurie Lee Brom, James Gurney, Iain McCaig, Wendy & Richard Pini, and Terryl Whitlatch are sponsored by SFAL. Flesk Publications is sponsoring Special Guests Frank Cho, J.A.W. Cooper, Terry Dodson, and Gary Gianni. We've got some special activities up our sleeves planned with our guests.

If you're interested in exhibiting, what to do first? Easy: submit a query for a booth or table via the form on the website (it’s pretty straight forward). Applicants will be quickly vetted, not to exclude but to ensure that each exhibitor is an artist or is art-centric (art dealers, art publishers, art reps, or educators). Once vetted an agreement will be provided and payment taken.

And then the countdown begins. SFAL can't exist without you: this is your show and it can only succeed with your active support. If you want an event that is focused on the artists, one that is cost effective and inviting to all without prejudice or pretension, please plan to exhibit—and then promote your appearance to your patrons and fans. We hope to see everyone in Kansas City in 2017!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Spectrum 24 Poster

By Justin Gerard

I recently had the opportunity to work with John Fleskes on the Spectrum 24 Call for Entries poster. It was a great project to work on and today I'm going to share a bit about the development of it with you.   

Development Comp

The scene is inspired by Tolkien's depiction of the fall of Gondolin in The Silmarillion.  

In the above comp I have drawn from several other development drawings that I created while immersed in the story. I don't always have such detailed comp work for my images, but I had the benefit here of a few years of drawings that I had created before I was ready to attempt the scene.  
In truth, there have been a lot of false starts and failures along the way. Perhaps I just wasn't ready to paint it until now. Perhaps I was lacking some small technical ability that has eluded me until now. 

OR perhaps I was cursed. Which is why I have placed all of my miserable little failed thumbnails in a locked box, wrapped that box in chains and even now plan to sink that box to the very bottom of the sea, so it's wretched existence and my humiliating defeats are known only to the muddy denizens of that vast watery grave. 
Or maybe I will throw it in a giant volcano of doom, and make it my scapegoat for all my artistic failures and we will have a good harvest this year. 
Anyway, all that to say, that painful failure is a wonderful teacher and i had all the near-hits to draw on for this one. And I had a really good feeling about the thumbnail pictured at the upper right of the comp. 

Toned Study 
of Elf knights having a bad time.

Tight Drawing 
on Strathmore 500 bristol


The painting itself was drawn on paper (using Caran D'ache Pablo pencils) and then watercolored. It was scanned at high resolution and brought into Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is great because I am practically blind and it allows me to zoom in 1000%.  It also offers some wonderful tools for painting and working with lighting which feel not so different from their traditional counterparts.  The digital aspect of the painting begins with working in shadows, then highlights, then colors, then details.

Shadow Layers

After adding the shadow layers to achieve the level of darkness I want, I add highlights using a light grey tone on a screen layers. Working this way feels the most like adding the whites in the dutch flemish manner of underpainting. (Which is the only painting method that makes any sense to my brain) 

Highlight layers

Working in the initial highlights is one of my favorite moments of the whole painting process. Using screen layers allows me to not only lighten focal areas, but also add sharp details to them at the same time. Comparing the above image to the previous one you can see the figures crystalize and leap out from the shadows. I love this moment.  

This effect of using a screen layer to recapture lost highlights and also sharpen details is one that I will use several times throughout the painting whenever areas get too muddy.

Detail Layers

Color and details are added next using a variety of layer types: normal, multiply, color dodge and color using both normal and mixer brush types of my own sinister design. And while the colors and little highlights are important, the main statement of digital phase is made in the shadow and highlighting phases and I consider this the most important part of the digital painting phase.  

Final Painting

The Final Spectrum Poster will be going out in the fall. For more information on the contest and Spectrum in general visit them at

We will also be selling prints later this year at Details on that and Sketchbook 2016 soon!