I've been excited about this for years. Back in 2011, I was approached by Europa Corp and Luc Besson to work on concepts for a very early version of his new film, Valerian. It was an absolute dream to be able to touch the beginnings of this movie. I don't know that I'll see much of what I did in the final version of this film but to have been able to be involved with a project like this was incredible. The teaser looks amazing and I am very excited for the team who brought it all to life! Huge congratulations to all involved! 🍾
As some of you might know, I was invited to contribute to an art book organized and published by Jon Schindehette of Art Order. The book features 78 artists in the main show, and 54 artists in the Salon section of the book, expressing aspects about their work without any boundaries or direction. The book was successfully Kickstarted in early June and has just wrapped up it's preorders.
Me and the other artists included in the book has been collaborating via Slack to show each other progress on our spreads. It's been incredibly inspiring seeing all of this come together. The spreads included in this book will be epic and I am extremely proud to be among this lineup!
In brainstorming about what I wanted to focus on for my spread, I turned back to the project that's been on my mind for over five years. The Red Valley is still a place I visit often. When I started work on the project back in 2011, I was in a completely different place with my work. The way I handled design was different, the way I use materials was different and since then, I've grown in my own artistic voice and skill.
This project is not one I take lightly. I love the desert. It's always been a home to me and will continue to be a place that I am inspired by. The Red Valley is more than a bestiary, it's a place. So it's taken me a while to build up the skill and courage to approach it again.
From my newsletter in 2014:
"The sural has been following me around for some time now. This creature was the first to emerge from the The Red Valley back in 2011 but it has been a constant work in progress. In my plans for Spring: Book One, the sural is our first encounter and leads us through the cold yet, sunbathed sand dunes that make up a large portion of the northern regions of the Ansari Desert. I've been doing lots of sketching of this creature; off and on across many sketchbooks. I tend to come back to the lanky build, wide feet and large, blunt head."
Here we are, two years later, and I am still refining this creature. No, I don't sketch the sural every day but I do think about it almost every day; mulling over designs and ideas in the back of my mind. This creature is important to me and to the story of The Red Valley. It's our first encounter and will set the tone of how the other inhabitants survive in such a place. The Journal was the perfect place to explore more and to see if I couldn't get closer to what I've been envisioning in my head for so long.
The silhouette of the sural has gotten lankier. The head is more slender and the neck more swayed. I want this creature to feel odd, with strange proportions and a simple yet, memorable silhouette. This is one of the final drawings that was later painted in gouache for the book. You can see the full spread below.
This was an absolute joy to work on. I am thrilled with where the sural is headed now. I think I am just about there. If you're curious about more on The Red Valley, sit tight. I've got more updates planned through this newsletter in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for updates on The Journal via Art Order on Facebook.
It's been a busy summer so far and it's looking like it will be an eventful fall as well! There will be lots to share in the coming months. For now, I've put up a mini workshop I put together. This lesson will show how I build up an anatomical study from wire frame gesture to final drawing. I’ll show how I break the skeleton down into planar shapes to better draw it as a 3D object, attach the musculature to the bone, use animal reference for creature design and I how use these principles to better understand the anatomy of a creature. I cover basic photoshop techniques and how I use them to edit and manipulate my work. Inside you’ll find notes and observations on drawing techniques as well as design principles.
Inside the ZIP file you’ll receive a 25 page PDF workshop with written notes, diagrams, images and menu screenshots. You’ll also receive a 300dpi PSD file of lion anatomy diagrams; both the side views and the ¾ view. The PSD file contains all of my original gestures and work that builds up to the final line drawing.
You can find the workshop here: https://gumroad.com/l/QAcmT
About three weeks ago I was approached by Irene Gallo of Tor books to design a creature for a series of called The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. The creature featured in this short fiction is a cockatrice. We treated this like a concept job and I had the honor of designing the beast from the ground up.
Here are a few of the cleaner sketches from my sketchbook that started to head in the direction I wanted. There are times when I do a lot of mental sketching. When I first read this piece, I let it sit with me for a few days. I mulled over designs in my head and jotted down some really indecipherable scribbles here and there. It's rare that I work like this but sometimes it just fits. I knew right away that I wanted to pull from parrots in the overall shape of the head. (You'll see why when you read the story.) I also referenced the sage grouse, pterosaurs and roosters for this assignment. I wanted my cockatrice to feel unique but also point back to the classic description of the mythological creature: essentially a two-legged dragon or serpent-like creature with a rooster's head.
From these initial pencil scribbles, I moved into photoshop to design the creature at a side view. I tend to design a lot of creatures this way. It offers a whole look at the anatomy and the proportions of a creature, without worrying about complicated poses or perspective. I also wanted to explore the wing design more. I knew I wanted an elongated wrist like that of a pterosaur but I wanted to keep the cockatrice's wings feathered. I felt this would compliment the scaly body and keep it between bird and dragon. To match the cockatrice's environment (no spoilers), I ended up shrinking the overall wing size to indicate a species that is on it's way to being flightless. I also gave it large, strong legs for lots of running and kicking. The large curved beak is well equipped for eating fruits, nuts and large seeds found in its environment. This creature isn't large, smaller than an emu I would imagine, but I wanted it to feel ornery and like something you wouldn't want to really mess with.
After I locked in the initial design of the creature, I needed to find a pose that I liked. I began to scribble out gestures of the cockatrice in poses that I'd imagined it'd exhibit in the wild. I looked to the cassowary and emu for inspiration and ideas. Peacocks also played a big role in the posing of the flapping cockatrice.
Once I found the pose I liked, I decided to embrace scientific approach by offering multiple studies of the creature for the final illustration. This way we can see the cockatrice behaving in ways that help sell it as a creature that could have existed. It also pulls a bit from Todd Lockwood's incredible work on this series.
From there, I followed my usual process and light-traced the sketches onto heavy watercolor paper where I completed the drawings and the final painting. The color piece measures 10x14 inches and the two drawings are each 9x12 inches. The three images were composted together in photoshop.
This piece will debut on Tor.com's with the story from Lady Trent, written by Marie Brennan. It was an absolute pleasure to work on this creature. Big thanks to Irene Gallo for the chance to add to Marie Brennan's wonderful world of dragons and of course to Marie Brennan for taking us there. Check out more from her series here and be sure to read the full story on Tor.com's Fiction Page.
My last reveal from the Miyazaki show are radish spirits. I have always loved Spirited Away. It's sort of a "comfort food" movie for me. One of my favorite characters is the Radish Spirit. He/she is so peculiar and odd. The character has always stood out to me. So, I knew I wanted to illustrate the iconic design straight from the film.
That said, I also wanted to put my own spin on the name "Radish Spirit". I assume that the traditional Radish spirit from Spirited Away is modeled after a daikon radish so I picked two more species to model my own spirits from: The French Breakfast Radish and the Spanish Black Radish.
All of my work starts as messy scribbles. I like to sketch out roughs in my sketchbook and then move to photoshop where I'll work out the details, proportions and color.
Here I can sketch rather quickly, trying out colors, shapes and sizes. For these spirits, I wanted them each to occupy a shape: a triangle, a square and a circle. A lot of design in animation is based on overall shapes that describe a character's personality or attributes. Mostly it was an exercise in variation.
From there, I used my usual method of bringing a digital sketch to finish. I print the image out, lightbox trace it and bring the drawing to finish from there. After that, I will apply color via gouache painting.
For this piece, I wanted the coloration to feel light and airy, similar to what you see in Studio Ghibli's art books. This piece was a fun way to use my creature design muscles for something so established. The original paintings are actually all separate from each other. This lineup was created for a limited edition of prints available at the gallery. These spirits will be on display at Sketchpad gallery for the remainder of the month. To inquire about seeing the show, contact Sketchpad on Facebook.
Nago was beautiful and strong.
This month I had the absolute pleasure to exhibit alongside nine other artists at a Miyazaki Tribute show! It was hosted by Chris Koehler and Joe Ching at Sketchpad Gallery in San Francisco.
Of course, how do you choose a Miyazaki world to depict? I have a few favorites but when there are giant boars to paint, I'm going to head there first. I decided I'd illustrate Nago from Princess Mononoke in his peaceful form, before he lost himself. I produced two original pieces in the creation of this illustration; a pencil and a painting.
The pencils I use tend to be on the softer side and don't do well with lots of painting over top, especially on a painting this detailed. So instead, once the pencil is finished, I scan it in and reprint it as a giclee print on hot press watercolor paper. This way, I can preserve my pencil work underneath the gouache.
I tend to layer quite a bit with gouache, staining and building up values slowly. Overall, this piece took about 3-4 days to complete. I am still breaking into the world of gouache but I am quite happy with how this turned out.
The final image measures 9x12 and is gouache on hot press watercolor paper. This piece will be on display at Sketchpad gallery for the remainder of the month. To inquire about seeing the show, contact Sketchpad on Facebook.
Special thanks to Chris Koehler and Joe Ching at Sketchpad Gallery, Luke Harrington and Craig Drake for organizing the show and the other artists who contributed such beautiful and inspired work. It was an absolute pleasure to work with all of you.
Huge thanks to the fans and patrons who came out in terrible weather to see our work! You all rock and are the reason stuff like this happens.
Read a feature on The Verge about the opening and to see other works from the other amazing artists in the show! Stay tuned for more updates and for a first look into designing the radish spirits for the show!