Legend of the Cryptids


Avarice, 12x16" oil over acrylic on watercolor paper

Avarice, 12x16" oil over acrylic on watercolor paper

Let it be known that my titles for paintings done for Legend of the Cryptids are my own, not what they appear in-game as. I don't tend to know what they appear as, and though they are given production titles, I know these often change. So, this was not painted to be a true meditation on the subject of avarice. But it kinds does the job.

As well, though an increasing number of my recent illustrations have featured some amount of digital in their published forms, I'm tending to show here on my site the paintings only because that's what I'm primarily about here. So if you happened to play the game and saw this illustration, there'd be some differences. I may have made that clear in prior posts, and it's certainly not something I'm going to want to go on about every time it happens. I figure more of you will see my work here than in-game, among those who are interested in my work. I mean, probably more people, overall, will see the in-game version than see my website, but they won't know who I am, and my name isn't credited. So they're essentially two different groups of people.



This piece was fairly straightforward, really, and so when I looked through my project folder for interesting things to show, there kind of weren't any. At some point I recall taking more in-progress photos, but I have no idea where they might have gone. They must've disappeared during a photo purge.

So instead I figured I'd give you a couple of detail shots, because I haven't done those in awhile, and most of you will not see the original painting to get up and personal with it. Which is a shame, because I wish you could. It is, after all, the Original. The best scan, the best reproduction, is already second or third generation. The scanner alters the character of the colors a little and negates surface texture, and color correction and saving the file for web further alters it. I suppose I could use the PNG format and negate that last part, but then the files would take too long to load. The best print is a fourth generation, with printer inks and color compatibility further tweaking things. I might try to compensate using digital tools, but there is really nothing like the real thing.



I quite enjoyed this piece. I like floating things in general, and this piece gave me plenty of floating things to paint. Working with Applibot has enabled me to paint a number of successful pieces, and so I'm quite grateful for the opportunity to be part of their projects. This will be the last piece for them for a bit. It has been an unfortunate but happy by-product of being busy that I've had other things calling my attention. Too many things! Well, it can never be too many, really, when you're a freelance illustrator. Make hay while the sun shines, or whatever.

Emperor of the Merfolk, Evolved

And now we get to see, more clearly, just how large this fellow was.

Emperor of the Merfolk Evolved, 18x24" oil over acrylic on panel $2500

Emperor of the Merfolk Evolved, 18x24" oil over acrylic on panel

He's big in more than one way: the painting is also up to my 18x24" size. The past few years, I've tried to reach out to this size more often, and have succeeded a little, while still having to maintain a number of pieces down at smaller sizes. Mostly this is an economic decision. I enjoy painting larger, and with exceptions it's usually going to result in better work. It also takes longer, and that's the main problem. Deadlines are deadlines and fees are fees. One can only do so much with limited amounts of both. With the other version of this character, 12x16" was just fine--it didn't need to be bigger. It might have even benefited from being a touch smaller, maybe 11x14" or so.

When scaling images, finding the ideal size often comes down to the head-test. Basically, how large will the head be? If it's too small, I should probably paint bigger. I've gotten good at painting small heads with detail, but below a certain size it works against you. An ideal minimum might be about 1.5" tall for a main character's head. Getting larger is better, but there's an upper limit as well. You generally don't want to paint larger-than-life, and even approaching life is often too big; somewhere in-between is ideal. Maybe 50% of reality is great, which is somewhere in the 4" tall range. Now, you can't just make every piece so large that the head is 4" tall, but if I can get from 1.5-4", that's where I like to be. The head on this guy is ~2" tall, not counting the fins. That's just fine.

I took a number of in-progress photos on this one, so perhaps there's something worth talking about by pulling up a few.

False Starts

Acrylic underpainting

Acrylic underpainting

Every once in awhile, you hit the ground running and realize you just got off on the wrong foot. In the Olympics, Triple Jump and Vault seem very prone to this. It seems like the initial steps of run-up have tremendous bearing on whether the eventual jump will be successful or land the athletes on their heads. I imagine a good athlete can feel the difference from the moment they start, and indeed I've seen a couple pull up almost immediately, shake it off, and start again. This happens in painting, too, and stopping short as soon as possible is key to succeeding when you realize you're just off from the start. It can be very tempting to barrel through, thinking you'll make it work, thinking you don't have the time...only to land on your jaw.

I started this one with an acrylic underpainting. With regards to the water, much of it remained through to the end. With the sky....not so much. I figured I'd soften and blend out the roughed-in sky when I switched to oils, but the whole thing was off on the wrong foot: the bands of cloud and color were too stark and/or not right.

I considered for a bit whether I could indeed pull it together, and decided it best to hit the sky again, after reconsidering what needed doing. So, I got to work with more coats to paint over and move on. The first was a layer of just the background gradation, which was flawed initially. I did this in acrylic again, then smoothed it out with oils. Like so:

I didn't take a picture with the clouds painted over it before I continued on. But I did get a photo of the next part, which was tracing down the drawing. I did it using red Saral-brand paper, but I wish I had sprung for a full set of colors, because then I would have done it in blue. It's a pain in the butt but I do prefer this process again, compared to the print-out-and-glue method I've used in the past. The whole time, of course, I was thinking that this whole process to this point could have been done in an hour or so digitally, even with the false start. I was up to a long day's work at this point, though broken into two days to let the gradation and then the layers dry.

In these photos, the hot spot at the top is from my worklight reflecting off the surface.

In these photos, the hot spot at the top is from my worklight reflecting off the surface.

I was much happier with the new sky and the rest of the painting proceeded as normal. I didn't have to fight my bad decisions later in the game. Near the end, I painted in the boat, and though I don't always paint over completely-painted areas, it mattered in this case. So I snapped a photo just as I began doing that, which was painted freehand:

One of the reasons I have generally preferred painting directly over elements at times is that the continuity of the form that runs behind is often disrupted if you paint the part on the left, then the boat, then the part on the right, for instance. Or with the sky having so much filigree, if I'd tried to save time by not painting the full background, many of the cloud wisps running behind the curling tentacles would have looked broken or less-solid than they do. It's not always required, but in this case was definitely worth it.

So, a bit of a struggle to tame the beast at the front, but I was able to do so, and was rewarded with a painting I liked. It's a bit of a gamble to scale up--there have been a couple here and there that I did large and just didn't come together with the punch that warranted the extra time and size. But usually it's worked out well.

Emperor of the Merfolk

Remember I said something not long ago about painting blue guys and water? Well, this adds to what I meant.

Emperor of the Merfolk, sketch Sold

Emperor of the Merfolk, sketch

When I got this assignment, shortly on the heels of that prior one, I chuckled a little. I suppose they were happy with my prior illustration, so I received another sea humanoid to paint. At least with this set of illustrations there would be a chance to do one scene underwater, which is this, the regular version. When you're deep underwater, you don't really see water anymore. Since it fills up the environment, you just see color and haze. So that meant I didn't have to do a wave treatment this time, which was nice. I would have to for the advanced version, which I'll talk about before too long.

So, because I had an opportunity for some variety here, I decided to close in the camera for this one. One thing I wanted to emphasize in the progression was just how large this creature actually was. As you'll be able to tell comparing the sketch to the final, I was asked to pull out the camera a tad more, to get more of the creature in.

In illustration, at least in this genre, there is the compositional tool known as, "Scale birds." Essentially, when you want to show the relative size of something, put something in the piece that helps to give a sense of relative scale. Often, that consists of birds flying by. You can use other cues of universal scale: trees, buildings. Whatever makes Godzilla look big, y'know?

When you close up on something, it's a little hard to tell how large it is without other objects of scale. Underwater, there aren't many options. I could use small schools of fish, but if this guy is really large, those fish would look like specks. So, I decided to include some scale-whales. 'Cause whales are big. They aren't included on this version of the sketch. Instead, I drew them separately and overlaid them digitally for submission, so I could play with their size and placement.

Emperor of the Merfolk, 12x16" Oil on watercolor paper

Emperor of the Merfolk, 12x16" Oil on watercolor paper

On a technical note, below 16x20", I typically paint on paper. Masonite is thick and heavy, and if you do enough paintings, storage becomes an issue, as does portability for shows and things. I used to do smaller paintings on masonite, for years. Those same years of carrying around a crazy-heavy backpack of small paintings while traveling broke me of the habit. Once, while at an airport, I carelessly grabbed my heavy backpack off the floor and pulled a back muscle. I recovered fine after a week or two, but yeah, that's part of why.

My standard size below 16x20" has been 12x16", as this painting is. When I go that route I typically use Arches Watercolor paper, hot press. It's pretty sturdy and has a nice surface quality. Of course for oils you have to prepare the surface. I've used various things, but sometimes I still just go the acrylic gesso route as on this one. On the back, a coat of PVA size is applied, in case the backside comes in contact with wet paint along the way. Sometimes I use PVA on the front and just go to town, too. But if you're going to underpaint in acrylics--as I often do, but not on this piece, I don't think--acrylics don't sit well on PVA size.

Sea Servant

When I painted "Semhyr" I was pretty happy with the image: the blue water guy stood out and was an effective visual. What I didn't realize was that over the next couple of years I'd kind of end up painting scenes with other blue water guys.

Sea Servant, 16x20" Oil on panel Sold

Sea Servant, 16x20" Oil on panel

When asked to paint something with similar elements to past pieces, you do have to mix it up a little. In this case, I had the benefit of this sea hunter character being outfitted more than Semhyr's brazen exhibitionism. As well, water is a substance which lends itself to many treatments. In this case, I sought to exploit the sudsy whitewater left in the wake of waves near a shore, which roll endlessly between the shore and the next wave.

Light coming through a wave is something that both happens, and is very visually beautiful, but is often associated--at least in my mind--with thrift store landscapes. So, putting it in my own piece was something I was unsure of at first. I suppose that's unfair--thrift store paintings also feature trees, and the sun. I don't think twice when I paint those.

In the end, it wasn't so much of a concern, since the figure covered up a lot of it. However, as mentioned this past year, with some of these clients I am asked to provide the illustration in layers. In this case, I actually painted the entire background first, scanned the image, then continued on.

Sea Servant in-progress, background fully painted.

Sea Servant in-progress, background fully painted.

Another thing about water is it lends itself to a lot of brushwork. As someone who tends to paint detailed images, it can sometimes seem that I don't engage in brushwork very much. That's not actually true in my case, though it may sometimes seems so. Even my smoothest passages begin quite brushy and intuitive, and then the area is tamed to a good extent. Yet even in the more detailed areas, I think it does leave an imprint in blended areas such that they don't look plastic. With some areas, like the sea foam, there is more opportunity to leave the brushwork more. Even so I usually don't leave completely raw brushwork. This is simply because I don't usually think the raw brushwork best describes the forms with the qualities I want. I'm just saying I tamed some areas less. Occasionally, you do get a nice swipe or stroke that perfectly captures the essence of a form. When you do, naturally you keep it. The difference among painters is often at the line where they think forms can be best captured by raw strokes. And that's a very subjective line.

This artwork, from Legend of the Cryptids, doesn't actually appear in-game in quite this form. My work for the game requires some digital Kung fu before it is ready for in-game use. But this was how it was painted, and is the version I'm making available here.