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! 🍾
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.
It's been a whirlwind of a summer. As fall rolls around, things are leveling out a bit. As you might know, I have been teaching an online creature design course with LCAD, Game Art department. It's been a lovely experience. My first class with LCAD this last Spring was a great group. A lot of the students improved quite a bit with drawing animals and working on their concepts. It was very encouraging and rewarding to see such a great group of concepts at the end of the course. I wanted to showcase a few that I received in my inbox below. I've listed each student's name and website below in case you'd like to check out more of their work. Please click on the images below to view larger.
More updates again soon.
Long time, no updates! Things have been busy and this year is already going by way too fast. I have a new piece to share! I am included in an amazing lineup of artists for an Alice in Wonderland show that will open in beautiful downtown Oakland, April 10th. I thought I'd take the chance to paint the fabled Jabberwocky!
This piece is 8x10 and was created with pencil and gouache. I thought I'd share a bit of my process for this piece as well. Of course every creature starts out with sketches. I doodled out a few messy jabberwocks in my sketchbook:
From here I needed to push the design of the head more. I took it as a teaching opportunity and discussed it with my students. I showed them which animals I was looking at when I came up with the initial design (top middle sketch) and then took other animals and their features to add to the final design.
Now that I had my Jabberwocky designed, I could move on to the sketch for the final piece. I tend to sketch digitally, even when I'm working traditionally. This is a good way to figure out composition and color.
After sketching in photoshop, I'll print the image and trace/draw the image on a light-box. Here's what the final pencil looked like (after I had tinted the line a bit).
I'm trying something new with this piece. Instead of painting directly over my pencil, I decided to print a giclee pencil on a piece of hot press watercolor paper. This would give me two originals: a pencil and a painting. This would also insure that the pencil wouldn't bleed into the gouache. I am unable to use spray fixative (I have a severe reaction to it) and so this process would help.
The show will be up in April and if you're in the area, I suggest you come out for the opening! I'm included with an awesome list of talent, it'll be a fabulous show! I've got one other piece in the works for the show as well. More on that soon.
Hope to see you there!