Turning Point

"The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose." -Arnold Bennett
"Turning Point" 24x36" oil over acrylic on panel Original art available

"Turning Point"
24x36" oil over acrylic on panel
Original art available

August of 2017 I was invited by the Wilshires, whom you may know from their spearheading IX Arts, to participate in a group show at Haven Gallery on Long Island, on the subject of Time. That's it. There was very little guidance beyond that. I was excited to be a part of the show, especially because time is a concept I spend a lot of time thinking about in various ways, and always have.

Over the next month or so I cast about for ideas, things I might want to express relating to the theme. I did have in mind that clocks and memento mori were probably not going to figure into whatever I did. I assumed other artists would have interesting things to say with those visuals, and so I decided to find my solution elsewhere. But it was proving a little difficult.

Time changed that.



October 9, 2017 I awoke and shambled to the kitchen to begin preparing coffee, as usual. My wife had spent the night in Santa Rosa with her mother. As I approached the kitchen I heard my phone ringing in the drawer where I kept it. I answered my wife's call and still half-asleep tried to process the rambling, disjointed and somewhat panicked and frustrated nature of what she was telling me. Fires. That they evacuated at 2AM. That she'd been trying to call me all night but couldn't head north to get me because the freeway was closed due to fires (her mother doesn't live anywhere near the freeway). That there were over a dozen different fires. Various buildings reported destroyed (in geographically distant parts of the region). I was trying to process the rapid-fire information she was relaying to me and finally managed to lift my sleepy gaze out the kitchen window for the first time.

My studio, as I left it after ransacking most of my art to leave with.

My studio, as I left it after ransacking most of my art to leave with.

When I did, the hillside outside our window had giant plumes of smoke billowing off of it. And this was a good half hour from where she had been overnight.

The Santa Rosa fires--the most destructive in CA history and the most expensive in US history--occupied my life that week as I evacuated my own home, and as I discovered through that morning and the days that followed that multiple friends had lost their homes as I slept.

Upon returning home, thankful that I had one, I began to hear their stories, including my model's here, who lost the home she was living in and a pet rabbit along with all her possessions as she fled. Over the next few weeks I began to understand that in very significant ways this fire was a definitive Turning Point in these friends' lives, and would be one for me as well, even if for different reasons, having escaped loss myself.

Thumbnail sketch, 4x2.5" pencil and acrylic

Thumbnail sketch, 4x2.5" pencil and acrylic

Ruminating on all that, I began to put together my image. 

I began to think a lot about Turning Points in general after that. About how people decide (or don't decide) to look beyond the wreckage of the past--literal or metaphorical--towards something else, something better. Away from the fallout of bad decisions, injustices, hurts or betrayals, tragedies.

The unbelievable nature of what was damaged or lost is often something we spend a lot of time oriented towards, looking at it, trying to understand and mourning continually. Sometimes Turning Points are forced upon us that sever us from a past that should have been left behind long ago. All of these topics factored into creating my painting. Can we turn away from sorrow and toward something brighter? Can the future be beautiful when all we can see is destruction?

Emphatically, I think the answer is yes.




A few months back, I produced this study for Every Day original:

"Soar" study 11x14" pencil and acrylic on paper Sold

"Soar" study
11x14" pencil and acrylic on paper

I've been working with GiveMeMana to produce some Custom Magic Tokens, and this was a study for one such. I decided I'd paint it up, and paint it big and bring it with me to IlluXCon in October.

Over the course of summer as I was busy with any number of things, I kept thinking about it. I'd worked up early on a very simple environmental concept for it, but until I sat down to paint, it doubts kept flooding my mind. It's not that I didn't like the concept I was prepared to paint, it's that outside forces were standing against me.

You see, modern fantasy art of this kind has evolved tremendously over the past 20-30 years, and continues to change at a rapid pace. I've been illustrating through it all and have recognized and adopted some aspects, while being a bit resistant to all the changes.

Those changes presented me with all kinds of challenges to this composition: it was too simple, too quiet, too naturalistic. I told myself I should create a very dramatic sky with lots of dark and light and color variation, there should be an ominous or very creative background--jagged cliffs! Huge crumbled statues it's flying between! Tops of towers or battlements, with people on them taking cover or shooting! Raining lava!

There should be multiple wyverns! They should be breathing fire or magic or whatever! The beast should have brightly colored patterns on its wings or scales. All these things, commonplace and almost no-brainer these days, kept crowding my mind.

But I remembered the morning I stood looking out on this very environmental scene, still a bit misty and quiet, and imagined that wyvern flying through it: quiet, it's huge wings the only sound breaking the silence of morning. As if I'd heard it and looked to see this beast pass by, rare and unexpected. Like when you see a wild animal while hiking.

Despite a world of doubts, I committed to painting this scene as I envisioned it. It wasn't for clients, who at any time could request the kinds of scenes I mentioned earlier, all of which would also create great illustrations, and certainly more dramatic ones. This was for itself, to stand in front of and enjoy. I suppose in that sense I was painting this to be a painting first and foremost.

Going with your gut does not always give you the correct answer, but I enjoyed painting this piece as it is.

"Soar" 24x36" oil over acrylic Original available

24x36" oil over acrylic
Original available

Inspiring Cleric

My second piece for the Ixalan release of Magic: the Gathering is this rather simple image, yet there were a couple of ways for me to make it less-than-simple.

"Inspiring Cleric" 18x24" oil over acrylic on panel Original sold

"Inspiring Cleric"
18x24" oil over acrylic on panel
Original sold

For starters, as mentioned in my breakdown for Ixalan Merfolk, I usually do the heavy decision-making on which image to present to the Magic Art Director myself, giving them just a single option to thumbs-up or down. For other types of clients, multiple sketches might be required or preferable but with Magic, the overwhelming majority of the time, one is sufficient. If anything I might get a little bit of, "Make sure you focus on this bit," or, "Adjust the [thing] a bit like so, but go ahead." It's pretty rare that I'm sent back to the drawing board entirely. But sometimes, there might be cause to submit more than one image for the Art Director to choose.

The first reason is because I simply can't decide which one to choose, so rather than make that awful choice, I'll leave it up to the Art Director. The other is that while I may prefer one very slightly over another, the other has an aspect that the first doesn't which might be more important as a card or composition.

In this case, it was more the latter. The assignment was fairly simple: show one of the Conquistador-inspired Vampires presenting a sword wrapped with some fabric containing some of the pre-designed and gothic-inspired text used by their culture. The environment in this case was to be the interior of one of their galleons, though that wouldn't necessarily be obvious in a small format. However, it gave me enough to go on, and the darker interiors would play nicely with the pale fabric and skin.

"Inspiring Cleric' preliminary study 8x10" pencil and acrylic on paper Original sold

"Inspiring Cleric' preliminary study
8x10" pencil and acrylic on paper
Original sold

Both studies, as submitted to Art Director Dawn Murin. Digital over pencil/acrylic

Both studies, as submitted to Art Director Dawn Murin.
Digital over pencil/acrylic

Compositions like this tend to be a bit more limited in that with the pose being specified, there are reduced opportunities for what to do or show. I liked this sort of at-angle version best from my thumbnails, and worked up the study of it. However I thought the presentation-of-the-weapon aspect was not necessarily as obvious as the version that had the character presenting the viewer with the sword; additionally, by making the figure more straight-on, it was more clear that she was holding a sword. Straight forward and side portrayals tend to emphasize shapes and objects much more than at-angle views.

So, I worked up a second study and submitted them both. I wasn't going to be surprised either way, but they went with the first study, and I was off to the races.

Choosing a size for a painting is a struggle on its own. If you take a figure, say, and enlarge it many times by intervals, you start to get a sense that some of the sizes are good for painting at, and others are bad. And as the figure grows, it's strange, you'll find it's good at a number of growing sizes, then it may hit a streak of enlargements that would be less-than-ideal, and then it suddenly gets to good enlargements again. I think a lot of traditional painters would agree with this, though for any given composition we might differ on where those lines are for each of us. But in this case, I chose an 18x24" panel, for only the second time.

I mentioned back in the run down for Vizier of Remedies that my newest entries in Magic illustration were being done a bit differently. Only taking an occasional commission now, I am more intent on just enjoying them as paintings; this means that I can choose larger sizes more often, which I might've chosen before but which were painted smaller than I really wanted sometimes just because I had more commissions to get done.

Ixalan Merfolk

In Magic: the Gathering, token cards are interesting--they are cheap and the opposite of a power card. But unlike a run-of-the-mill common card that may just never see play, since these are proxies for things that happen fairly commonly in-game, they end up seeing a decent amount of use when that token is usable in the current tournament cycle.

So, Merfolk. Along with their Lorwyn set counterparts, these merfolk designs feature heads with fins. The assignment called for a particular kind of merfolk standing astride a river, weapon at the ready, in a sort of guardian pose. Simple enough, and since the card design features larger-than-usual art to be printed, it also allowed me a little more room to add in more detail that might be unwise in an illustration reproduced at a still smaller size.

Using a card border ghosted in Photoshop and printed on sketch paper repeatedly, I did my thumbnails at actual reproduction size. Here are a few:

Pencil and white acrylic on toned paper

Pencil and white acrylic on toned paper

You can see a few that I starred in the upper right. These were among the ones I had to agonize over before picking one for final. The one directly under the one chosen was a very strong contender as well, and a year later I'm not sure why it wasn't chosen. I quite liked the lower-right one too, but the kneeling pose was too reminiscent of an older piece of mine, Sway of the Stars and so I think that was why I decided against it.

From there, a study was done using a combination of acrylic, ink and pencil. I've been utilizing this combo of materials quite a lot with some of my work for Every Day Original, and it's started leaking back into my other work.

8x10" pencil, acrylic and ink on toned paper Sold

8x10" pencil, acrylic and ink on toned paper

From there, a bit of digital additions provided my submission to the art director Dawn Murin, which was accepted outright:


That rounded border is unusual and not a shape I was actually going to paint on, so it was important that I design with it in mind the entire time, of course that also means that the rectangle features extra art not seen on the card! Approval in hand, I enlarged my drawing to 16x20", transferred it to my panel and got to work, starting with a quick acrylic block-in:

Acrylic block-in, AKA "The Ugly Phase"

Acrylic block-in, AKA "The Ugly Phase"

Background in progress in oils

Background in progress in oils

When working on the figure, I've generally adopted the philosophy of nail the face before moving on, so after pushing it around for a bit and feeling satisfied, I was off to the finish.

When working on the figure, I've generally adopted the philosophy of nail the face before moving on, so after pushing it around for a bit and feeling satisfied, I was off to the finish.

This painting didn't present many problems at all, and was a joy to paint, frankly. That's rarely the case, so it's memorable. Most pieces, I can talk about road blocks that were hit and needed to be worked through or solved. The resultant piece therefore came out like this:

"Ixalan Merfolk" 16x20" oil over acrylic on panel Sold

"Ixalan Merfolk" 16x20" oil over acrylic on panel

The merfolk design includes these fins that come off various parts of the anatomy, including one that kind of projects outward from the elbow. On the left you can see it clearly. In the sketch, I kinda had it tucked behind the arm, in the direction it would've gone, but I decided that at card size that would confuse the shape of the arm, so made the assumption that it was running behind the upper arm, but out of view, to keep things clear. After some discussion with the Art Director I went in digitally and added it as another silhouette shape (you can see the final on my Illustration portfolio page), I also did a couple other small digital tweaks by request, but above is how the painting was completed.