Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Mountains of Madness

This year at GenCon, Fantasy Flight Games announced a new expansion to their Lovecraft-based Eldritch Horror board game - "Mountains of Madness." As most of my work up to this point with FFG had been for cards and interior page illustrations, I was extremely excited and honored to receive this commission for the box cover art! And boy, did it pose quite a challenge!

©2014 FFG

The brief: I needed to show two to three (male and female) 1920s investigators flying high above the Antarctic mountains in a bi-plane besieged by terrifying "Elder Things". One investigator is leaning out of the plane firing away at the monsters as another has just fallen out of the plane and is hanging on for dear life!
After reading the project brief, I was immediately reminiscent of the plane chase scene from The Mummy (The 90s Brendan Fraser one. Because I'm a 90s kid.), and wanted to try and capture a similar sort of "adventure/horror movie" feel. Before I could even start sketching, though, I needed to do some research.

I spent hours looking through photos and specs of various airplanes from the 1920s and 30s, trying to find a suitable vehicle for my investigators to inhabit. This proved difficult because most planes back then were of the two-passenger maximum variety that you had to actually climb down into (i.e. no side doors to fall out of). Eventually, I discovered the Fairchild FC-2, a plane used by Richard Byrd to explore Antarctica. It was exactly the type of plane my scene needed, but now I had to figure out how to get decent reference photos of it. There are a handful that you can find on the internet, which proved helpful for getting some general sketches down to show to the client.

preliminary sketches
Preliminary sketches
For the final painting, however, I was going to need photo reference that was much more specific and controllable in terms of position and lighting. As it turns out, I was able to find a very affordable model kit of exactly the plane I needed on Amazon! I had never attempted building a model anything before, but figured, "How hard could it be to glue together the pieces of a plane? I mean, 10-year-olds do it all the time right?"

When I received the kit in the mail, excitement quickly gave way to absolute dread as I opened the box to find....



My stomach groaned at the realization of what would really be involved in this endeavor. I don't know what exactly I was expecting when I bought the kit, but it certainly wasn't this.

With no other choice but to move forward, I spent about 20 hours over the next couple of days cutting, gluing, and cursing until eventually, to my own amazement, I ended up with a finished plane. Was it good by model building standards? Hell no. If the wind were to blow on this thing it would probably disintegrate. But was it good enough to photograph? You bet!


The rest of the piece came together much more smoothly. I employed my good friends and awesome artists, Dave Armstrong and Rachel Dangerfield, to pose as my investigators, and sculpted a small, crude maquette to use for my Elder Things.

As I worked on the final painting, more challenges continued to present themselves - usually in the form of client requests/revisions. I quickly learned that it can be extremely difficult to work what you want, what your client wants, what looks good, and what makes sense all into one piece. Not to mention having to wrestle with the type design that will inevitably cover up 60% of your work - and that hasn't actually been designed yet. It can be a bit maddening, but once you see the piece printed and in place on the product, it all starts to come together and the tug-of-war between client and artist makes much more sense.

Lessons Learned
  • When working with very specific settings and details, it's best to gather as much usable reference material to experiment with (model planes, photos, etc.) before you start sketching ideas. This will help to keep you from composing something that may look really cool as a sketch, but will have to be altered a lot for the final piece in order to make sense and be accurate.

  • On bigger projects like product covers and box art, clients will always have changes to make. ALWAYS. Just deal with it. It's your job.

  • Never fly over Antarctica.



     

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where Isss It?!

I've got to say, I'm pretty excited for the new Hobbit teaser to come out today! I just saw this piece of mine was spoiled over on the Fantasy Flight Games website, so in the spirit of my hobbity mood, I figured I'd share it along with some of the preliminary and process work that went into it.

"Where Isss It?!"
This creepy creepy painting is a companion piece to my other Gollum painting (released earlier this year) for a new "Nightmare" deck expansion of FFG's Lord of the Rings card game. The goal: make Gollum look as terrifying as possible. He knows you (Bilbo) have stolen his ring and he is NOT pleased. I was actually really inspired by the terrifying androgynous old man thing at the end of the movie "Quarantine". Sure, he's fun to play riddle games with, but infect him with a zombie virus (or in this case, steal his precious) and he's likely to come at you with a hammer and lots of loose skin flapping in the wind.

As with all my paintings, I start with very very small thumbnail sketches to help me figure out the overall composition in miniature form. I decided to develop the top left and bottom middle from this page into rough sketches to show to the client.



They preferred the composition and feel of the top left sketch, with Gollum climbing out of his boat, getting ready to throttle his unwitting riddle buddy.

Since this painting would be just one of a total of three Gollum pieces (all being worked on at the same time), I decided that I needed a good "hero maquette" of his head so that he would look like the same character in any pose and under any lighting conditions. I've been experimenting a lot with Pixilogic's Sculptris program lately and decided this would be a good opportunity to put some 3D sculpting to use. I digitally sculpted this Gollum head in Sculptris and then lit and rendered the model in Blender. The advantage of doing a digital model for me is that I can play around with all kinds of lighting schemes and colors that I wouldn't be able to with a clay model in real life. And things can be edited on the fly much faster than with a physical model.



After gathering all my photo reference material, I set out to do the final painting! Here's a sort of step by step below.

 
In order to keep my shadow passages rich and transparent feeling, I initially paint everything in a deep brown tone, after which I'll paint cooler blue in with a layer set to "color" mode in Photoshop, or "colorize" mode in Corel Painter. After all the heavy lifting value planning and temperature relationships have been established, the rest of the process is basically just using opaque color to paint details and model the forms.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Color Charts

Last weekend, I purchased a set of Holbein Acryla Gouache paints in the hopes that I would start doing some color plein air sketches again (I have a watercolor sketchbook that doesn't get nearly enough love). I immediately cracked them open and began painting the first thing I saw out my window that evening. And what I ended up with was........well it was complete garbage. I realized afterward that I hadn't spent enough time actually reacquainting myself with the medium and its properties.

Now a lot of people think of artists as these flighty, feelings-driven people who just have some mystical perception and creativity that other people don't. And while some of that certainly is true, I am the type of artist that needs boundaries and rules. I like to think outside the box, but I have to know all the dimensions of the box before I do it.

I decided I needed to understand the "box" that was my new set of paints before I started painting with them again. So, based on a study model proposed by Richard Schmid's fantastic book, "Alla Prima - Everything I Know About Painting ", and with the spirit of self torture in my heart, I created these color swatch charts.





Basically, the way it works is that you make a complete chart for each tube of paint in your palette, excluding white (in this case I had twelve). Each chart represents one tube color mixed with all of the other tube colors across the horizontal, and then 5 separate tints (mixtures with white) of each going down the vertical.

The goal in doing this is essentially to try and map the entire range (or "gamut") of colors possible with the tubes of paint you're using. Better yet, when you're painting out in the field, it can help you not only figure out what color you need to mix for a particular object, but also the exact tube colors required to mix it!

When working with a limited palette of just a few colors, you can do this same exercise to determine the limitations and color possibilities of that particular palette. It's a very similar (if not basically the same) method shared by James Gurney on his blog, here.   

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Historic Moment

It's a little known historical fact that "George W." (the original) and ol' "B. Franks", as they were called back in the day, took a selfie before signing the Declaration of Independence. Though the photo was never found, based on this artist's sketch it's plainly evident why Washington never smiled for a portrait again.

I hope all the Yanks out there have a happy Independence Day Weekend!

"Let's share this on George III's wall!"




  

Monday, April 28, 2014

SPECIAL EDITION: "The Proposal"

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook may (or may not) have heard that I recently became engaged to my wonderful and talented girlfriend of 5 years, Krysti Kalkman! While this exciting news may not at first seem to be the type of material meant for an art blog, painting played a huge role in the proposal, so I figured this would actually be a perfect place to share how it all went down.

So, sadly, it's been a long time since I've actually painted my girlfriend. In fact, aside from using her for more general reference in my client work, the last time I'd painted (or attempted to paint) her actual likeness was 4 years ago in our senior year of college (shown below).


...........My god. Those are hideous. Oh! I mean uh...not you Krysti! But I am pleased to see that I've come a little ways in my painting (and portrait) abilities!

So, wanting to rectify these previous atrocities against my girlfriend, I decided I'd like to do just a nice, loving portrait of her with the eldest of our flock of budgies, Johnny. Yeah. We're pretty much destined to be weird, old, bird people.

At this point, I was also seriously entertaining ideas of marriage and trying to come up with some grand scheme for how to pop the big question. Hearing all kinds of elaborate and romantic proposal stories through the years certainly puts on a good deal of pressure to the make the moment memorable. But, I realized that the more I tried to force the "magical romance" angle, the more likely I was to end up botching the whole thing because, let's face it, that's just not really me. And then it dawned on me; I may not be some magical knight in shining armor, but dammit, I'm a painter!

From that realization, and the desire to create a portrait of Krysti, the idea came to me to do what I like to think of as an "inverse portrait." Krysti already knew that I wanted to paint her portrait (and posed for some photos), but what she didn't know was that I would put a special little detail into it - specifically, painted onto the ring finger of her left hand. Whereas traditional portraiture strives to create an image that is true to real life, with this painting I would (hopefully) make real life become true to the image.

Once the painting was finished, I framed it in an old antique frame from my grandmother's house, and presented it to Krysti on April 19th, 2014. It didn't take her very long to notice the suspicious jewelry painted onto her portrait and that's when I took out the real ring, got down on one knee, and said, as romantically as I could muster, "Should we do this already?"

........

She said "yes!"

"The Proposal" 12"x16" Oil on Canvas


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ad Work

Here's something I don't share very often! These are storyboards and concepts for a TV spot pitch that I worked on with a local Columbus ad firm, Salvato + Coe Group last year. The client was a local financial institution, and the concept is all about providing the right financial package or "kit" for making the customer's dreams come true. Unfortunately, the client passed on this concept (which is why all the logos in the images have been genericized), but I'm still really happy with how the project turned out. Sometimes it's nice to get away from the fantasy/sci-fi stuff for a project or two!

The coffee shop of your dreams


That outdoor kitchen you've always wanted

For the off-roading daredevil
Storyboard for 30 second TV spot

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Precioussss

Gollum has always been an absolute favorite character of mine, so when I was assigned this card from Fantasy Flight Games for their Lord of the Rings card game, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to paint up the portrait of him that I had always imagined from reading the hobbit. This was definitely one of my favorite pieces to come from 2013! I'm also pleased to say that open edition giclée prints are available via my INPRNT store! INPRNT produces absolutely BEAUTIFUL gallery-quality prints (all of my previous prints were created by them, so I can vouch for the quality), so check them out!

"My Precioussss"


Image ©2013 Saul Zaentz Co.  TM Saul Zaentz Co. Under license to Fantasy Flight Games

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Limited Edition Elly Prints Sold Out!


Humongous thanks to everyone who purchased a limited edition Elly print! The response I've received on this series has really just been more than I could have hoped for, so thank you again. I'm currently working to make prints of some of my newer professional work (Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings!) available, so keep your eyes peeled! :) 

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Queen of Dragons

I just saw the new trailer for season 4 of HBO's "Game of Thrones" series (which looks awesome), and thought it would be a good time to share some recently spoiled Westeros art of my own! More for Fantasy Flight Games' "A Game of Thrones" card game, these feature everyone's favorite Queen of Dragons!

"Fire Made Flesh"
"First Flight"

Images in this post are © 2013 Fantasy Flight Games. All Rights Reserved. Shown with permission.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Age of Shiva

Just saw this up on Amazon, so I figured it must be okay for me to share it now. This is the cover for the latest upcoming novel in James Lovegrove's bestselling Pantheon series, "Age of Shiva." It's my second foray into this series after the "Age of Godpunk" novel and it was great fun to work on and research. Due out from Solaris Books in April of 2014!



art + type
Image ©2013 Jake Murray. All Rights Reserved.