Art Talk

White Owl

One recurring theme (of a couple) that I revisit with my work for Every Day Original is that of illustrating music. Music has always been very important to me, since I was a kid in the early 80s, listening to AM stations on a small handheld transistor radio. This led straight into the high school retreat-to-your-bedroom scenario where I spent long hours listening to music after school and drawing or painting instead of doing homework or being social with my peers.

Through college, music was my best friend, keeping me going and inspired through very, very long nights working on my art school homework assignments, and the long drives back and forth to school each day.

After college, I even gave a turn to playing and recording with a band while trying to hold together my illustration career (that didn’t go so great).

While music probably factors less into my life as it did in earlier decades, certainly it is still my favorite form of art outside of painting. So, it’s a medium I enjoy marrying to my visual art from time to time. When choosing to create art born of music, I tend to prefer songs with moods and/or lyrics that are mysterious or dreamlike, that lend themselves to the sort of Imaginative Realism that I prefer in my personal work.

When I ran across the track “White Owl” by Josh Garrels in December, I was immediately struck by it. I came across it one night while working. I had playing in the background the Game Awards webcast, which was at least 50% trailers for upcoming video games. One trailer had the intro music of this song running behind it. Within seconds my ears pricked up and I rushed to grab my phone to identify it via the Shazam app. From there, straight to YouTube to hear the whole track, including the lyrics. I probably listened to it nonstop the rest of the evening, and it dug itself into my subconscious so that when it was time for my EDO calendar date, there was almost nothing else to do but to create art based on it.

White Owl 6x8” acrylic on illustration board Original sold

White Owl
6x8” acrylic on illustration board
Original sold

I began in acrylic paint, as I often do to quickly block in colors before moving to oils, which I tend to prefer for its smoothness and open drying time, allowing me to push the paint around freely. I worked in acrylic almost exclusively until 1998, when I switched to oil or oil over acrylic. From time to time, working on the underpainting, I ask myself how far I can take it—can I take it all the way to finish? Why not? But eventually frustration with the medium forces me to move over.

This time, however, as I had made significant progress on the piece and had some extra time, I stopped and wondered if I couldn’t try using that extra time to continue on, to tighten the piece up in acrylic and actually finish it. I could always switch if it wasn’t working. So I let myself go—something which happens a lot with these EDO experimentations. And in the end, I had my first (I think) finished acrylic painting of this millennium.

In-progress, tiny details

In-progress, tiny details

What was interesting is that in 1998 when I ditched acrylic, I had from high school, through art school, and into my first professional years developed a very particular method of working with the medium, which I relied on. Having now spent over 20 years primarily in oils, I found that I used the acrylic very differently. I probably couldn’t even have painted it using my old methods if I’d tried. In essence, a prior way in which I created art has been lost, even to me. It’s a strange feeling. I mean I guess I could technically try to do things the same way, but they’d feel very foreign now and I’d be very dissatisfied with it as a method of working. I wouldn’t even want to try.

Is that what happens to musicians, too? We all know artists whose early music had a certain quality that, many albums later, is no longer present. Sometimes that annoys me, in that I may not appreciate what they develop into, and I wonder—don’t they have that earlier spirit still in them? Could it be that in the creative life of trying new things, song after song, they lose touch with old methods, old sounds, to the point where years later they almost don’t know how they ended up where they did, either?

Last Art of 2018: Thistle

2018 was busy, of the sort where you wonder in prior years if things can get more busy, and then they do. But this was largely a good thing. I somehow managed to spend more time out of the studio, attending and selling at events, even going on vacation for my 20th wedding anniversary, and yet I upped my painting output. And looking back, I’m a little astounded that I managed it.

When you buy canvas on large rolls, one edge often is unfinished, this is a piece that came off that side of the roll.

When you buy canvas on large rolls, one edge often is unfinished, this is a piece that came off that side of the roll.

Uncharacteristically, I came back in at the end to work out more of the background gradation.

Uncharacteristically, I came back in at the end to work out more of the background gradation.

After a particularly hectic November and December, during which I ran late (with permission) on a client commission (something I rarely have to do), I had one last painting to do. I had hoped to take a solid week off at the end of the year, but it was not really to be.

Aforementioned wife hoped I could squeeze in a commission for her by way of Christmas present. Since I am horrible at gift-giving, this was in a sense a welcome request. So I ate into my vacation to do a still life of thistles, which she particularly wanted. But since she is my wife, who I love and all that, it was worth doing.

And so, due to aforementioned hectic autumn, my Christmas gift was a couple of days late. Wife was completely understanding, part of why she’s great. It also rounded out my year as the last thing finished on the easel.

I’m itching to get going on 2019, as it’ll be busy in the kind of way where I wondered in 2018 if things can get more busy, and then they are about to. I hope your year was good, and I also hope 2019 surpasses it. Life is good.

Thistle 10.25” x 6.25” oil on canvas Not for sale

Thistle
10.25” x 6.25” oil on canvas
Not for sale

Back to Magic, Vizier of Remedies

Spoiler alert: This post is mostly about my work on Magic: the Gathering in general, but I've peppered it with process shots of Vizier of Remedies, my latest illustration for it.

"Vizier of Remedies" 14x18" oil on panel Original sold

"Vizier of Remedies"
14x18" oil on panel
Original sold

Magic: the Gathering has been a part of my entire career, from my very first year as a freelancer, before I was old enough to drink alcohol. That relationship is one I didn't see coming, but has shaped everything I've done since. It has been a fairly casual relationship, and there have been years I didn't participate in the game. The longest stint was these past three years.

Digital study over pencil/pastel drawing. I submitted this to AD Dawn Murin for approval. Approved, with change requested to hair: she should have a styleguide-approved updo. Check!

Digital study over pencil/pastel drawing. I submitted this to AD Dawn Murin for approval. Approved, with change requested to hair: she should have a styleguide-approved updo. Check!

I have worked with I think every Art Director that has held the seat. Considering that each AD has their specific vision for the art of the game, I'm pretty proud of that. Certainly I worked with some ADs more than others. This is doubly amazing for me because I am not one to really make an effort to send ADs emails when I am not working with them. I send each AD an introduction letter eventually, but that's about it, so if I fall out of sight and out of mind, well then I don't really get asked. There could be a longer blog post on that topic, but it is enough to bring us to the present.

When I turned in my last illustration, Treasonous Ogre, three years prior, I went about my business as usual after. When a set or two passed me by, that was not unusual--I was engaged in my large painting Alieis by then. If you don't know the story, it is the painting that led indirectly to where I am now: my still life series started while working on it, and my Hearts for Hardware art would not have started without first painting squash and tomatoes; and by expanding in those directions and enjoying them, I then expanded again into incorporating more landscape art into my mix, which had just been an occasional side thing up to that point. With an extended hiatus from Magic, I had time in my calendar to engage these other projects, which have become mainstays of my work these days.

After transferring the drawing to my board, I applied a brown wash of color, then began with the final rendering, working mostly background-to-foreground

After transferring the drawing to my board, I applied a brown wash of color, then began with the final rendering, working mostly background-to-foreground

Art Directors changed during that time, with Cynthia Sheppard and Dawn Murin stepping in where Jeremy Jarvis was the commissioning AD last time I worked with them. And clearly I was out of sight, out of mind for both of them. So a year ago I figured I'd drop Cynthia that email saying that I was still interested in working on Magic if that was in line with her vision for the game.

There was one caveat this time, however: I suggested that as much as I was still interested in working on Magic, I was only interested in doing like one painting per wave of commissions, and that I understood that the headache in dealing with a totally separate artist for just one card when there are hundreds to assign might mean it was not worth it, and I was cool with that. Surprisingly, they were cool with that, too. So I've done a piece here or there for them in the past year, and "Vizier of Remedies" is the first to release.

There are two reasons for this limitation: first, it is very tempting to want to take as much work as can be offered because money. But an illustrator has to be aware of their limitations, since this can quickly backfire on them, where they accept more work than they can handle at the expected level of quality. My own work has occasionally suffered on this count over the years, and I realize this sometimes short-changed my client and sabotaged my own career.

Some folks liked the hands on this piece, so here is a close-up of that.

Some folks liked the hands on this piece, so here is a close-up of that.

You'll note the background is a bit glowy-er than the painting. I added a bit more extreme light digitally at the end to improve how the shapes read at card size.

You'll note the background is a bit glowy-er than the painting. I added a bit more extreme light digitally at the end to improve how the shapes read at card size.

The second reason was mentioned earlier: I do a lot more things now, and I really like those things. And now that I've added Magic back to the mix in this limited way, I have another thing I like now back in the mix. It has been the busiest period of my entire career, but creatively the most exciting few years. I don't want any one thing to dominate my work right now. I want to have like 6 cakes and eat them too.

So, for at least the next year you'll see new Magic art from me, and I'm quite happy with all of it. Beyond that? Well, that's ultimately out of my control, but I've always tried to enjoy the ride while it's lasted.

25 Years Ago, Fall 1991

For whatever reason, I am fond of memories and of tracking time. You'll have noticed that if you've been around this blog for awhile. I mark various anniversaries regularly.

25 years ago, it was autumn, 1991. That is significant for a few reasons, and if you have had an interest in my work, and/or are an artist, maybe you will enjoy this look back.

25 years ago I was three months into my first semester of art school. I remember, having left high school--which I was not particularly fond of--the sense of freedom and excitement I felt to finally be pursuing art single-mindedly, or nearly so. This was before the internet became a consumer thing. After considering a few art colleges like Cornish, Pratt, Art Center, Academy of Art in San Francisco, and the California College of Arts and Crafts (now just CCA) in Oakland, I applied only to the Bay Area ones. The primary reason was that art school--then as now--was almost as expensive as Ivy League schools, just in tuition. My parents both worked in factories of different kinds and managed to pull together a modest middle-class living, somehow, for their three sons. But I did not qualify for nearly enough financial aid to make leaving home possible. I could not move to the north or east bay to be close to school unless I funded it entirely on loans. So I stayed home and commuted from south San Jose to North Oakland 3-4 days a week for long class days. That was a challenge, but was a great decision as I left without crushing debt later.

18 x 24" charcoal on paper 16 year-old me in my Core Drawing class. We were being introduced to different forms of drawing and encouraged to use different techniques constantly. This one included smudging charcoal and lifting out with a kneaded eraser. I even dated it, 10/4/91.

18 x 24" charcoal on paper
16 year-old me in my Core Drawing class. We were being introduced to different forms of drawing and encouraged to use different techniques constantly. This one included smudging charcoal and lifting out with a kneaded eraser. I even dated it, 10/4/91.

My first semester, I entered as I said full of exuberance, only to encounter Core Year. Core Year is the year you are tightly constrained to mostly mandated courses, meant to give you a cross-discipline foundation before you declare a major and specialize. Some of it was necessary: basic composition and materials, foundation drawing, foundation painting. Some of it was a waste, for me, like foundation 3d (sculpture, not digital). Some of it was useful: some humanities, art history.

Much of it was frustrating, however. The 3d class wasn't even an attempt to teach sculpture. It was exposure to materials and mostly abstract assignments and installations. For my purposes, a complete waste of time.

My intro painting class I started with much hope, but it ended up being largely a waste of money. It was by-and-large uninstructed. We would do still life paintings or figure paintings, or paint our own projects, and there was really nothing in the way of color theory, paint handling or materials instruction beyond learning how to stretch a canvas. The instructor never painted with us to teach through demonstration. Through now I was exclusively self-taught, but I hoped to be taught now. Sadly, that didn't really start until my second year, so I made the best of my first year with the self-teaching. I was not confident enough in myself to question this method of "teaching" or to insist on being taught actual, you know, things. Critiques were mostly useless, since no one else knew much either, yet.

I trashed a lot of my student work when I got married and moved out of my folks' house in 1998. You generate a ton of bad work in art school--you're supposed to. So what I kept I guess I considered decent or notable for some reason.

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" 16 x 20" oil on canvas, 1991

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" 16 x 20" oil on canvas, 1991

In my painting intro class, we had a plaster cast I later came to learn was kinda famous. This painting was done I think in two sessions, or in one session but I repainted a bit more after it dried. You can tell because the profile around the cheek through underjaw was re-painted a bit, and ghosting remains. I painted it as it lay on a table, as the painting is shown. Later, I stood it upright and noticed the drawing errors, and corrected them. I also signed it in the vertical aspect, but I prefer it horizontal again.

It's fascinating to look at my 16 or 17 year old self's efforts here. It's not bad, considering age. I'm half tempted to get a hold of this cast somehow again, to give it another go. Of note as well is that it is now 25 years old, painted on basic-level canvas panel from any ol' art store, with at least half a palette of budget student-grade paints, and is holding up very well, materially. I'm not surprised--I have a couple other panels that are 2-3 years even older and are holding up fine.

Why did I paint it so large? It's about 2x life size. I can't tell you, really. I think I had this idea that bigger was better for whatever reason. Or we were encouraged to paint or draw larger. I mean Real Art is usually big, right?

18 x 18" ink on paper, 1991 This exercise involved a brush and pot of ink, and drawing using a free-form gesture line that was supposed to travel or criss-cross the figure. I think we were asked to not lift the brush unless it got dry. Kinda weird. Maybe 20 minutes?

18 x 18" ink on paper, 1991
This exercise involved a brush and pot of ink, and drawing using a free-form gesture line that was supposed to travel or criss-cross the figure. I think we were asked to not lift the brush unless it got dry. Kinda weird. Maybe 20 minutes?

Art school was a wonderful time--finally free to dedicate my time to art, but without all the financial burden of needing to support myself. Living at home helped with that part. I did have a part-time job throughout, working with Thomas Kinkade's nascent publishing company, as detailed earlier. So even at my day job I was involved at least tangentially with the business of art.

I was young, having graduated High School earlier than usual, and I was focused but naive. Because I didn't live on campus, I didn't socialize or make friends at school really, but as I was already dating my now-wife, who was also back in San Jose, that occupied my human interaction time. Even still, there began to be periods where I would have to tell her I wouldn't see her for a short stretch at a time so I could focus on various projects. Things got busier my second year, but already I was busier than I had ever been.

And it was wonderful.