Making Good on Randomness

Up top there is the mention of this blog containing, "Randomness." But there hasn't been much in awhile. So here is a collection of random thoughts and news. In the past I might have made some of these (like new product details) their own posts. Going bi-weekly, that's not fair to do. I'll start there:

Printed things:


Great Northern Games just published its successfully Kickstarted game, "Noble Treachery," which features a number of my illustrations in the game, licensed for use. I often get people looking to commission work who maybe don't have a budget to commission portfolio-quality works from me, but would like some. Licensing is a great way to do that, and GNG was able to get some nice art for their game by going that route. Learn more about Licensing via this free pamphlet I wrote. The game is a 4-6 player, standalone game.

As it happens, I took Noble Treachery with me for my Thanksgiving family visit. I played it with my nephews and niece. The game has a bit of a steep learning curve. I sat for a bit and just read over the rules so I could internalize them before attempting to teach them to these younger players, the oldest of whom was 15, the youngest of whom was a bit under the 12+ age recommendation. 2 had played Magic in the past, 2 had no experience with those types of games. Those latter two took a bit longer to acclimate, and the youngest player struggled a bit to grasp hold of all the intricacies, while occasionally scoring a great play still.

The first game we played was a bit of a mess as we all learned together what the heck was going on. There are a number of upkeep-related items that need to be done each turn, and we ended up forgetting to do some of them, which affected the game. Nevertheless, everyone got familiar and enjoyed it. The next day, they were all asking to play again, and that night we did and played two much more fun rounds. I don't often get to enjoy the products I work on, but in this case I was able to. I gave my copy of the game to 2 of my nephews (brothers), who the next day then roped their parents into playing. Needless to say, it was a hit.

Grab a copy if you'd like!

Magic stuff: I missed a couple of reprints that came out over the past few months. "Soul Warden" appeared in the Modern Event Deck. "Hypnotic Specter" was reprinted for the Duel Decks: Jace vs. Vraska product.

My painting, "Alieis," was likewise licensed by Asimov's Science Fiction magazine for its Jan.2015 issue, which went on sale 11/25/2014. Back in High School and through Art School in the early 90s, I used to read Asimov's magazine regularly. That it often reprinted fantastic art by some of my favorite artists was no small reason why. I endeavored that eventually I'd see my art on the cover of Asimov's. Then life took its own turns and magazines began shrinking in importance, and I got involved in many other things and it kind of fell of my radar. But then it happened. The image was, unfortunately, quite, um...adjusted. Didn't see that coming. I might've made adjustments myself, if needed. Well, you know the real deal.

Art things:

I signed my signature to 7 paintings in the past month before Thanksgiving break, some of which were in progress for a long time and I just finished up, others very much new. It's an odd feeling to know there hasn't been a lot of new art here lately, since there's plenty sitting around my studio that you haven't seen yet. I look forward to sharing some or all of this work with you in 2015.

That said, I also snuck in this 3x3 white back artist proof sketch, my biggest yet. It was done by purchasing 9 of the same card, each with its sketch option. So, a little pricey but take a look.

You can order your own single-card or some other configuration drawing here.


Other things: I am now a first-time member of the Oil Painters of America, after being juried in on my first attempt. Apart from supporting a movement of traditional painting rooted in realism in general, it also opens up opportunities to show my work in new venues, and I look forward to learning from other artists in the association and bringing a dose of Imaginative Realism to it, perhaps.

Magic Missile

"Magic Missile!" How many times have I said or heard said those two words, as a pack of gnolls or bugbears descended upon a party of adventurers deep within some abandoned temple, ambushed in a dark forest, or in any other number of places. Perhaps it was as a way to take out a Gelatinous Cube without the risk of losing your hard-earned weapon. Magic Missile is one of the spells everyone who comes within orbit of a Dungeons & Dragons game learns about.

D&D is now on its 5th edition. Back when I played, it was the Basic rules sets (boxed sets) for the group I ran, and AD&D with the group I was in at my high school (just pre-2nd edition). 2nd edition appeared just as I was getting out of the game. I picked up the Player's Handbook but my regular D&D playing days were essentially over. The game has come into competition with so many other avenues of entertainment, including its younger cousin Magic: the Gathering, that it's struggled in recent years. I know, all things being equal, I have preferred just diving into a video game to kill evil monsters, gain experience points and level up. Millions played World of Warcraft as a visual and virtual substitute for D&D (whether they intended to or not). The problem has mostly been committing time among multiple people to play. Most of my gaming is done late at night, at unpredictable hours typically, after a long day of work usually. But for those who can make the effort to get together to play, I still highly recommend it.

But the game chugs on, and seeks to establish itself anew. Having recently re-released the classic "Red Box," which is what I started out with, perhaps they were inspired by the visually understandable aspect of such a set to a beginner, because they just launched the "Starter Set" of the new edition--a box set featuring quick and basic rules, dice, character sheets, and an adventure to get going. A very low investment, and the rules of which they've even made a free download via PDF to help get the word out to the curious--certainly these are good starts. I wish the game well--I'd love to see it continue on for many years.

In the Starter Set appears my painting for, "Magic Missile." This may get printed in the Player's Handbook, too, which I thought it was for, but I'm happy to have it here as well. It's got a creative crop around the top of the fallen trunk and figure, but here's the full painting:

"Magic Missile," 16x20" Oils and acrylic on masonite Sold

"Magic Missile," 16x20" Oils and acrylic on masonite

I was really happy with the print quality of this book. This was not the case with 4E, where I always found my art printed without punch--colors dulled and just muddy, unfortunately.

Visualizing Magic Missile ended up being a very interesting exercise. I mean, if you've played D&D, how have you imagined this spell? The magic "darts" can be split up to target different creatures, and though the darts never get more powerful, eventually you can cast a slew of them at once. My early thumbnails and concepts included missiles that fired off in arcs and loops. I don't know if I ever really visualized them this way before, but having to sit and think about it, that was my impression. I also saw them as very bright and maybe warm colored, trailing to maybe a cooler color, but essentially hot white.

After a number of back-and-forths with R&D via my art director, it ends up that they had a pretty specific idea for the magic missile, and that was straight, and more dart-tipped. Check. I opted not to show what the elf wizard is firing at, to keep this more about the spell explicitly. In any case, there it is--may it color your depiction of this spell as you toss the 4-sided dice.


Thanks to Gypsy_Cowboy on Reddit, I was made aware of this discussion regarding earlier portrayals of Magic Missile.

All Kinds of Stuff, Plus Fun!

1.5 months since my last post. That marks the longest single break in almost 8 years. Yikes. Naturally it wouldn't have happened without good reason. I had a rather large trip suddenly appear on my radar during the summer, one which I hadn't really accounted for, and which had to be worked around. As it turned out, the itinerary grew along the way. And, well, life. So, let's catch up, shall we? It had been all business here for awhile prior to that, so let's just make this one a little more fun. Come along!


Let's just get this out of the way first. Work has to be done, and sometimes a trip falls right in the middle of a deadline (or two). That's never fun, and it requires long nights to be sure you can make it all fit together. But that's the boring part, so let's move on. Having turned in some projects that needed to get done, and taking work with me to do while away, it was off to Seattle!

  • Fun fact: sometimes, finding an internal motivation for a piece that is not terribly inspiring is all it takes to make an illustration fun--even if you never intend on discussing the internal motivation. Sometimes, knowing you won't discuss it publicly makes it all the more fun.

Seattle / Krab Jab

I hadn't been to Seattle in well over a decade. When the need for my trip back to CA showed up, it was just close enough to the Krab Jab Studio mixer that I extended my trip by leaving a little early, so I could make it. I was hosted by the gracious and talented Raven Mimura and the awesome Deirdre Kayne. I haven't been to GenCon in a few years now, and seeing them there was a regular part of my calendar year, so it had been some time. And catching up with folks was a main part of the trip to Seattle. The artists in attendance were many, and some I hadn't seen since maybe 1995 (Daniel Gelon, Pete Venters). With others I had a wonderful time catching up.

  • Fun fact: Cafe Kopi serves, in their large stack variety, one of few pancake plates I have not been able to finish. I left humiliated, but simultaneously full and happy.

Seattle / PAX

I scored a one-day pass to PAX Prime while at the mixer, much to my delight. As I had no intention of being in Seattle back when tickets went on sale, I had no way to get one to this convention which so quickly sells out. I was very curious to check it out. I've attended many a convention, although usually it is as an exhibitor. I rarely get to enjoy a show. So my day at PAX, while brief (really a half day), was a lot of fun, even if I had half an eye out towards scoping out potential new clients and talking to a few (can I ever *not* work?). Of all the shows I've attended, if I had the chance to attend one show just to have a good time on my own, it'd probably be PAX. It's like an E3-lite mixed with a GenCon lite mixed with a dash of a local gaming enthusiast's club.

Borrow a NES, 2600, SNES, Colecovision, Genesis, etc.? Yes! Also, Metal Gear.

Borrow a NES, 2600, SNES, Colecovision, Genesis, etc.? Yes! Also, Metal Gear.

If you want to play RPGs, CCGs, tabletop or board games, or videogames from almost any era, it's all there for you--really, you can borrow most of what you need to get your game on. And that was just with a quick walk-through. I don't know that I will ever get the chance to just attend it and have fun, being on the other side of the country, but man it was a fun half-day. And yes, I know there is a PAX East in Boston. I guess I'd have to see if it's as big and interesting as the mothership.

  • Fun fact: There's not much in the way of artist presence at PAX as of yet, but I did see a couple of illustrators here or there signing at clients' booths. It was in just that capacity that I saw Anson Maddocks briefly. I haven't seen that guy in maybe 15+ years. Elusive.


A quick weekend with my folks in central California and then it was off to Southern California on Labor Day. I've been great friends with Ben Thompson for over ten years now. I've gotten to know a ton of illustrators over the years, but it's just a few who I consider to be dear friends. For many of the others, often it's just lack of quality time to develop the friendships and keep them going.

Living at a distance means we only see each other every so often, and as he is no longer freelancing much, having moved up and out to a staff job at Blizzard Entertainment (talk about top of the food chain), I see him less often than I even used to. So we decided to change that while chatting back at Spectrum Live in May. I told him that the next opportunity I had to come out to CA, I would tack on some time and paint with him in his studio. Being on staff means he doesn't get the chance to paint on his own nearly as much as he'd like. So that's what we did. I showed up, and for almost 3 days we holed up in his studio, shared Spotify picks with each other, drank pots of coffee, painted almost non-stop, and enjoyed to the point of abuse the hospitality his lovely wife Helen showed. It was wonderful.

Helen snuck up on us and snapped this photo late at night. I'm so glad she did--it's one of those classic ones I'm sure I'll repost somewhere down the road as a moment from, "The Good Ol' Days."

L-R: Tom Baxa, Ben Thompson, Some Guy, Daren Bader

L-R: Tom Baxa, Ben Thompson, Some Guy, Daren Bader

We also, on the first evening there, enjoyed a great evening with Daren Bader and Tom Baxa (with their respective better halves), who came out for dinner. One of the best things about working in this industry is getting to know some of the genuinely wonderful people in it. I've known Daren and Tom most of my career. What an honor. Daren's spent years working at Rockstar Games. I am therefore sandwiched in this photo by guys who work at twin titans in the video game field.

  • Fun fact: The benefit of being good friends of a Blizzard employee is that you get to tour Blizzard! Well, the parts the heavily armed guards with their attack dogs allowed us entry to. I don't know if they have K-9 units guarding those areas, honestly. I was too scared to find out. But I hears things. Also, Blizzard happens to house an impressive and growing collection of original paintings by some seriously impressive artists. On a long enough time scale they'll have a fantasy art museum of considerable note.

San Jose

I grew up and spent most of my life in San Jose, as many of you know. And I had stuff to do there, which was the main point of my trip.

1994: Master copy of Keith Parkinson, when I was in High School

1994: Master copy of Keith Parkinson, when I was in High School

However, while there I went into storage. We hadn't intended on being away from CA as long as we've been, and we had our photo collection in storage, as well as most of the art I did as a kid, through to college. I was feeling less secure about it as time went on, being that it was all in a pod, which had been relocated multiple times to different warehouses. We've also been away from CA longer than we anticipated when we left. So I dug through it, pulled out most of what was in there, and then went about the job of sorting it and repacking it for storage elsewhere. I'll have to go about cataloging it someday (because I am a sort of obsessive cataloger with regards to certain things). But I did bring home some items of note which I'll share over time here.

I really wish I had had access to these things over the past 7 years since leaving, because I would have loved sharing with you various drawings done when I was young, by artists who have passed away these past few years. Because for almost every notable fantasy artist who has died recently, there is at least one corresponding work by them that I learned from through copying. As in this Keith Parkinson copy to the right, done when I was probably 14.

I normally reduce drawings to black and white for download's sake, but I left this one scanned in color so you could see some of that yellowing starting to creep along the paper. Time makes dust of everything. Also, I really, really liked Ebony 14420 pencils in high school.

  • Fun fact: I went to see Gotye in concert while in the Bay Area. If I had any doubts before, then while hanging out before the show in the lobby with people even 10 years older than me (and their tween-aged kids with them), I was confirmed in knowing that I have long ago traded in my indie card. I shed a tear for my youth, but the concert was nevertheless hugely entertaining. I saw Bloc Party a month earlier. Does that count for something?

The Rest

The rest of the trip had me running errands and shuttling back and forth between San Jose and central CA. I spent a few days working (digitally) while at my parents' house. I ate copious amounts of In-n-Out, Round Table, and helped myself to real honest-to-goodness donuts not made by Dunkin'. And the rest is too boring to expose you to. Then I flew home and hit the ground running.

Well, that's where I've been and what I've been up to. And now it's back at it, so let's get back to some art next week.

Sam Fisher Stops to Admire Ilya Repin

As I've mentioned a few times around here, videogames are a favorite pastime. In some videogames, you may be in environments where there are paintings on the walls. In these situations, they are typically shrunken textures that barely get across the art itself, and most often they are quickie illustrations put together probably by some staff artist. As an illustrator, you can imagine I always pause to check these out.

Occasionally, you may notice a piece of art that actually exists being used in a game. Perhaps the digital artist liked the painting, perhaps it fit the theme, and so they stuck it in. For those who know where the paintings actually reside, seeing them for instance hanging in a mansion in Raccoon City or something always elicits a chuckle.

Recently, however, while playing Ubisoft's Splinter Cell (I know, how many years late?), towards the end you're at the presidential palace in the once-Russian state, now country, of Georgia. There I was, back to a wall, when with complete delight I noticed the "painting" hanging there:

Someone at Ubi has very good taste, or at least Google-skillz

Someone at Ubi has very good taste, or at least Google-skillz

There on the wall was a very cool painting I recognized as being by Russian painter Ilya Repin, entitled "Volga Barge Haulers." I first encountered the painting in the book on Orientalism I mentioned some time ago, but since most of his works still hang in Russia I haven't seen any in person.

Two things were impressive about this: first, the artist is actually Russian, though somewhat obscure, and second, the painting is still hanging in Russia in St. Petersburg (though not in Georgia's presidential palace), so its location was not altogether incongruous. The game credits one Yves Allaire as the texture artist, and if he was responsible, I shall say he has impeccable taste. Lastly, the actual image (larger scan here) for you to enjoy, and to note how the proportions were squished to fit the frame. As well, what was used as texture seems to be the image from the same source perhaps as was used in the Orientalists book, which has the same decidedly golden cast to it, as opposed to the scan I'm presenting which obviously is much truer:

"Volga Barge Haulers" by Ilya Repin

"Volga Barge Haulers" by Ilya Repin