Subject to Reinterpretation

fallen_angelHaving been an illustrator and concept artist for enough years now that I forget how many unless I stop to do the math, I’ve had the opportunity to see my illustrations and concept designs turned into a variety of different objects and expressions beyond the original image. Often this involves one or more additional artists in the process, such as the miniatures I have designed for Privateer Press. But I’ve also had my work turned into a few life-size statues with Wizards of the Coast and Privateer, video game models with WhiteMoon Dreams, more tattoos than I can count, costumes and prosthetics for a couple of my short films, and I even had one painting of a psychotic, roid-raging bunny turned into a puppet for a Magic: the Gathering television commercial (check it out if you haven’t seen it!) many years ago. Some of the coolest expressions of my work that I’ve seen are the cosplay reinterpretations of the characters I have created, and seeing these show up at the conventions I attend is always in immense treat. It’s also why I enjoy the film making and video game production so much. There’s something incredible about seeing a character that started as an image in your head go from some scratches on a piece of paper to a living, breathing being walking around in front of you.

Some time last year, I received an email from a model named Vanessa Alexandra who wished to do a live reinterpretation of a painting I had done for Magic: the Gathering called Fallen Angel (above). Naturally, I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes please,” but I could hardly have expected the amazing image that would show up a few months later. After six months of preparation and meticulous work in recreating the costume for the character, Vanessa produced a photo shoot and worked with another pair of talented people (photographer Rick Lujan and SFX artist William Price) to create the work of art you see below.

Model: Vanessa Alexandra Photo by Rick Lujan SFX by William Price Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Model: Vanessa Alexandra
Photo by Rick Lujan
SFX by William Price
Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Vanessa’s own character shines through and she has added her own vision to the work, which is part of the great experience of seeing another artist evolve one’s idea. But at the same time, this photo, very much alive in ways that the original image is not, captures all the mood and feeling and character of the painting.

It’s a rare treat to see such an amazing reinterpretation of one of my paintings, and I have to thank Vanessa and her collaborators for the honor and pleasure.

You can find out more about Vanessa through her Facebook page at:
www.facebook.com/therealvanessaalexandra

Vanessa was also kind enough to share a behind-the-scenes shot of her work in progress, showing just how glamorous the life of an artist can be!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

 

 

 

 

Stryker Three! Yer’ Out!

Out in front of the public, that is!

(Groan. I know.)

I’m going to try to be brief on the words and let the pictures do the talking, today. If this piece of concept art had taken any longer to complete, we would have seen the actual miniature on the table before I actually finished the drawing. The illustrating of Coleman Stryker’s third in-game incarnation was as epic as the story that has gotten him to this point in his fictional life. Okay, maybe not, but it turned out to be a long, laborious process for me, and ever time I sat down to work on it I wished I’d had the foresight to tell Privateer’s Creative Director, Ed Bourelle, that I wasn’t going to do it.

Once again, though, sharing the journey with those who have joined me in this blog turned out to be a rewarding experience. It was great to see all of the passionate feedback from so many people, and to find out just what this character, a pillar of the WARMACHINE universe, meant to you. Stryker is an icon and I learned that certain elements of his visual identity are in themselves, iconic. In many cases, the comments on my last update of the Stryker III concept confirmed my own reservations I was having about the direction of the design. In other cases, my eyes were opened to things I hadn’t yet considered.

If you compare the final product to that last entry, you’ll see remnants of the original drawing, but there is a significant amount of evolution that the design underwent. I think the end result is recognizably Stryker and contains the DNA of both his previous versions while still bringing some new offerings to the table.

All in all, hanging the original warcaster’s new clothes out there for public scrutiny ultimately yielded what I feel is a much better direction than where I started. I hope you’ll agree! (And if not, well, maybe you’ll want to try out the Convergence. ;-)

Epic Stryker III (figure) for blog Epic Stryker III (horse) for blog

 

 

Stryker 3 — Work in Progress

I promised a progress update on the Stryker 3 concept art this week. I haven’t gotten that far with the actual art; much of the time spent on this so far has been thought and conversation.

The conversations are probably the more interesting subjects at this point. The original brief more or less called for Epic Stryker on a horse, with potentially heavier armor. While we had a draft of the new rules in development, fortunately it hadn’t gone into play testing so there was some room to brainstorm with Jason Soles about what we might do differently with Cygnar’s poster child.

Warm up jams, playing with ideas. And the ugliest sketch of Stryker’s mug you’ve ever seen.

I derived a lot of inspiration from the landslide of comments to my original post about this concept. Something I was keen on was evolving Stryker’s armor and weapons somehow, and I thought it was time to get back to Stryker’s roots — before he was a warcaster. So after some back and forth with Jason, we decided on Quicksilver 3 — now enhanced with Stormglaive technology. I mean, come on, isn’t it about time that the leader of the Storm Division started slinging some lighting bolts around? To that end, I took a little out of Quicksilver’s haft since Stryker will be swinging this one-handed from the saddle, and I added the signature coils from the Stormglaive to give the Lord Commander his most formidable weapon yet.

Rough block in of shapes for Stryker’s armor, plus QUICKSILVER MKIII!

The rest is really rough so far, working out new shapes and details in his armor. You might notice some similarities to Nemo’s epic armor styling. This is intentional. I figure Nemo has the kinks worked out in this whole storm-chamber powered armor now, and some of the aspects he perfected in his own suit would help stabilize Stryker’s [misappropriated] prototype armor. I’m also adding some weight to it; this will be the bulkiest Stryker yet, with heavy torso armor and some extra plating on his arms and legs, taking advantage of the fact that his mobility is taken care of by the mount. Since Stryker will finally be up on the high horse everyone has always accused him of, he’s ditched the duster. His silhouette loses something for me without the long coat, but I’m hoping once he’s in the saddle, it won’t be missed.

No real work done yet on the horse. I’ve got some ideas on where I’m going, but I need to go back to Jason with some new thoughts and I promised not to bug him anymore this week while he’s jamming on the next IKRPG book. Stay tuned for a horse update in the next couple of weeks. This whole project is supposed to be done by the end of the month, but I think I’m going to be begging Ed Bourelle for a deadline extension. (Here’s your notice, Ed!)

(As always, please post links, but not the pics! Thanks!)

ADDENDUM

It’s seems not everyone is a fan…

Suck it, Norm! This one’s for you, brother. :-)

 

 

Hi-yo, Quicksilver!

The original Stryker image done for the first Battlebox releases of WARMACHINE.

A couple weeks ago I tweeted that I’d gotten roped into doing the concept art for the next incarnation of one of WARMACHINE’s most iconic characters, Commander Coleman Stryker. The truth is, I wasn’t roped into it so much as presented with the opportunity. It took about three seconds for me to process the idea and agree. Stryker is, after all, a character very close to my heart and represents the very beginnings of WARMACHINE.

In terms of development, the original Commander Coleman Stryker is the first warcaster ever created. He became the baseline by which all other warcasters were compared to and balanced against. In a sense, both mathematically, and conceptually, Stryker represents the closest thing to an ‘everyman’ that a warcaster can be. He’s not ‘the best at what he does’ like the two-gun-slinging Caine, nor is he imbued with the powerful arcane abilities that Haley possesses and develops over time. He’s good at what he does, don’t get me wrong, but he was created with the idea that he’s well rounded and adaptable to a multitude of situations, relying on no single strategy for success. And fictionally, this is represented in the character as well. He’s the consummate soldier and an admirable leader, the kind of guy you want to follow into battle. While victory is his goal, the preservation of life and humanity are his foremost concerns. He’s gallant, shining, brave and ready for anything. At least he was…

Something unique about the WARMACHINE and HORDES miniatures games is the way we’ve woven the sweeping story into the game itself, primarily reflected in the character models. The big story, the one we call the ‘meta story’ started about nine years ago in our first expansion book, Escalation. Through a brief anthology story and several vignettes and snippets of fiction, we exposed the characters of the warcasters. We got to know them better, get inside their heads a little, and we got to see the beginning of their ‘character arcs’.

Andrea Uderzo’s magnificent rendering of Stryker in Prime MkII.

According to the screenwriting guru Syd Field, there are four building blocks or aspects of character, which people like to lump together with the term ‘characterization’. These aspects are a point of view unique to the character, an attitude reflecting how he interacts with life and challenges, a need, want or desire that motivates the character through the story, and last but not least, change. No, not a pocket full of coins. We’re talking about character change. The thing that ultimately connects us to a character in a dramatic situation is our observation of how that character deals with a problem and ultimately changes (or doesn’t in some cases) in order to achieve a resolution to that problem. (Am I getting too heady here? Better get some caffeine…)

So, back to Escalation. We’ve got this character, a hero of his nation, a man revered as much for his courage and martial prowess as he is for his sense of justice and mercy. He’s a veteran of numerous battles and engagements  and has certainly experienced both victory and defeat, but his character is never daunted nor tarnished because his only desire — to protect the kingdom that he cherishes — is utterly selfless. And then he’s confronted by something he’s never had to deal with before. His past wartime experience was always by the book. The rules of engagement were clear and everyone abided by those rules. Then came Khador’s invasion of Llael and everything got turned on its head. As Cygnar mobilized to assist their allies to the north, the long simmering theocracy of the Protectorate of Menoth seized the opportunity to strike at Cygnar’s unprotected flank. The result was chaos that spilled over the confines of any battlefield and quickly devastated the lives of innocent civilians caught in the line of fire. Coleman Stryker was rudely awakened from the dream that war could be a noble method of resolving conflict and forced to face the cold reality that there is nothing noble about it. He watched helplessly as ruthless Khadoran soldiers murdered and looted a defenseless village while Protectorate militia massacred fleeing civilians simply to make a point about their difference in theological preference. This was a war without boundaries, an ugly war like Stryker had never experienced before. Witnessing this inhumanity without the power to stop it became the catalyst for Stryker’s change.

Stryker served a just an honorable king, a service he’d been proud of over the ten years since he’d aided Leto in usurping his brother’s throne and leading the nation into an era of prosperity. But Leto’s code prohibited any action considered inhumane, and this is the catch 22 that Stryker found himself mired in. The enemies of Cygnar were willing to do anything to crush them, but Cygnar had no way to defend against such ignoble actions while still upholding the nation’s values. Realizing he would only be leading men to their death as his beloved country crumbled around him, Stryker laid his sword down at the feet of his king and resigned his command unless he be given the freedom to seek total destruction against the forces that threaten Cygnar’s people.

And so ends Act I of Stryker’s character arc. Met with the catalyst for change, Stryker reluctantly embraces this new reality and makes a decision to change his personal code in order to seek a solution to the problem of his nation. Ultimately, Leto has no choice but to give Stryker his leash, and what happens next becomes the subject of much heated controversy between those following the saga of the Iron Kingdoms. Stryker, the once shining knight of Cygnar, becomes the monster he is trying to defeat.

In retrospect, as the creative director driving the plot of the meta-story, I realized we moved a little too fast from the Escalation chapter to the next expansion installment, Apotheosis. If I had the chance to do it all over again, Escalation would have been a bit more of a prologue and a chance to get to know the characters and set up the conflict, and there would have been another book inserted before Apotheosis in which we take these characters to the brink like we did with Stryker. I think the controversy that stirred around Stryker and what he became in Apotheosis was largely due to the fact that we moved from the starting image of this character so quickly into something completely opposite. It might have felt a little like a bait and switch in terms of his fictional presentation. On the other hand, it was a very dramatic shift, and the fact that it polarized people to the character means that it struck the right chords. Our take on the events in the Iron Kingdoms is that nothing is black and white, it’s all grey area and one’s opinion of a situation is entirely relative to his or her position and point of view. In other words, people SHOULD disagree.

Epic Stryker in full battle rage.

So with a his newly appointed station to Lord Commander giving him authority above the law of the land, Stryker decides that the best defense is a good offense, and he sets out to offend his enemies in every way he can. In doing so, he offends some friends as well, namely his mentor, Commander Adept Nemo, when he uses his newfound authority to confiscate a suit of prototype warcaster armor against the old man’s wishes.

He proceeds to march across Cygnar, rounding up civilian sympathizers of the Protectorate (specifically, anyone that worships the Protectorate’s god, Menoth), then shipping them off to a prison island. It’s a dark turn for our once gleaming hero and obviously not something the Protectorate’s religious tyrants would ever expect from Cygnar. Then Stryker leads a brutal assault against Sul, a city filled with the downtrodden and oppressed citizens of the Protectorate. Stryker’s metamorphosis is underway. He has officially become the monster he wants to destroy. It’s a conscious choice, one born of noble intent and complete self-sacrifice but it’s a dark path and comes at the price of Stryker’s soul and very nearly his life.

His sights locked on a particularly vile priestess of the Protectorate, Feora, Stryker lets vengeance take hold of his actions. But Stryker’s hubris comes back to haunt him when the prototype armor goes on the fritz. Were it not for the quick intervention of Stryker’s least favorite ally, Caine, he would have been skewered on the ends of Feora’s fire-breathing blades. So consumed by his rage at this point, Stryker learns nothing from the close call and shirks the aid and counsel of his friends, determined to destroy the entire city.

An early version of the Stryker in-game model by WhiteMoon Dreams.

There are readers that empathized with Stryker, realizing he was doing what he thought he had to do in order to protect Cygnar from destruction. Others were disgusted with his actions, disappointed and let down that the noble hero could fall so far from grace. But that’s the point. In order for Stryker to achieve his own apotheosis, we would first have to destroy everything that he was. I hear players of the games criticize the fiction from time to time, claiming that the stories aren’t dramatic because the main characters don’t die. But I’ll argue that physical death isn’t nearly as meaningful as spiritual death, and right then, Stryker was on the express elevator to hell.

When we next meet up with Stryker, he’s cornered Feora in a temple full of Protectorate civilians seeking shelter from the battle and he’s about to get the vengeance he’s been seeking. But  Feora commands a warjack to unleash a barrage of rockets to cover her escape, bringing down the temple on top of the heads of the cowering Menite civilians. Suddenly, Stryker is hit with the realization that the civilians of the Protectorate are in just as much need of protection from their tyrant leaders as his own people are back in Cygnar. And herein lies the final fork in the road for Stryker’s soul. Pursuing Feora and leaving the civilians to die means completing his transformation into the monster. The blood of innocents on his hands can never be washed off. Victory would be his, but there would be no return to the man he once was. Instead, he places himself in harm’s way, buying time for the civilians to escape as the temple comes crashing down to bury him alive. The path of darkness has led him to new enlightenment just before he finds redemption in death.

Okay, not real death. Symbolic death. Death of a particular existence, illustrated in the action of being buried alive. We all know Stryker lived or I wouldn’t be getting the chance to concept a new model for him. But the change the character goes through over time, from courageous hero of the people to a monster, to being reborn, enlightened with the ideal that no existence is worth the compromise of values, humanity, or one’s soul is a defining theme of WARMACHINE and in my mind makes Stryker the very heart of WARMACHINE. He might not be your favorite character — there are so many to chose from, after all — and you might not even care for Cygnar as a faction, but as both a game piece, and as a fictional character that has endured and emerged victorious in the battle for his very soul, Stryker is the touch stone by which all other characters are measured in this setting.

And that’s why there was never a question about whether or not I’d do the concept art for his next incarnation.

If you made it though that long winded essay, you must really be interested in what exactly Stryker’s next incarnation actually is — that’s the real reason you’re reading this! I’m sure some of you have guessed it by now, anyway. The big change is that like the latest version of Vlad, Stryker will be mounted. Rules-wise, I’m not at liberty to speak much and honestly, I’m not sure exactly where he’s sitting in development. But the concept brief calls for his horse to be clad in heavy powered armor and there’s a suggestion that Stryker’s own armor might be heavier than his original epic version, by virtue of being mounted on the horse. Presumably, Stryker’s prototype armor has been tuned up by Nemo and he’s no longer a danger to himself, so there’s an opportunity there for some visual change. The brief also suggests that he retain his iconic blade, Quicksilver II (now you get the title of the blog!). I’m thinking this is the right call as I haven’t been able to come up with an idea for any other weapon that feels right in his hands.

It’s quite a few years back when we wrapped Stryker’s character arc in Legends, after he killed Hierarch Voyle and repelled the Protectorate invasion. He’s long overdue for a new model incarnation and this will be a return to the shining knight, but representative of the change he’s undergone. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure yet how I’ll approach it. There’s something missing in the idea that I haven’t discovered yet— the pose of Stryker atop the horse, some affectation of his armor? Would it make sense for a warcaster to carry a pennant into battle? Or is he dual wielding Quicksilver with his disruptor pistol like his original sculpt?

Concept art for Epic Stryker

I got a lot of great feedback on the Eiryss 3 concept and it was a fun process to sift through and harvest the suggestions, several of which found their way into the final concept. I’m interested in what you’d do with Stryker’s new image and look forward to sharing this creative journey with you again.

 

 

 

Eiryss 3: Work Complete

Still reeling from Comic Con 2012, I’m a little late getting this post up. But after some pointed discussion on the practicality of the new pistol-crossbow/gunblade (Awe! See what I did there?) and a little dialog on how to handle the two different hood and head options, I’m happy to present the final concept for the third incarnation of the Iron Kingdoms’ most beloved, feared and hated mage-hunter, Eiryss.

In the interest of time, I’ll go against my nature and let the drawings speak for themselves. This has been a fantastic experiment and there were more than a few ideas that found their way from the online discussions to the final concept. Naturally, it’s impossible to accommodate the first choice of every single person and some of the choices here will be polarizing, to say the least. But that’s how you know it’s a delicacy and not a cheeseburger, if you follow what I mean.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer suggestions. This one is done (as in, I’m not touching it again, so don’t even think about it!), but I’ve got another concept coming up that I’m really looking forward to, a new Cryxian warcaster (of sorts), and I’ll give you this one hint: HE is HUMAN.

Stop speculating and look at the pretty pictures. Hope you like it!

(As always, please feel free to post a link, but do not re-post the images, puh-lease! Thanks!)

Working Illustrator Pro Tip #1: Know Your Enemy

Okay, technically your employer or client shouldn’t be considered an enemy, but if you’ve ever been an illustrator combing San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con for freelance work, it can feel a little like going to battle. You spend months, even years training, honing your skills. You build up an arsenal of imagery designed to render your targeted art director speechless with shock and awe. Then you wade into the fray, adrenaline pumping, determined to beat out all comers for those few choice art contracts out there. And competition is fierce!

As someone who has worked on both sides of the trench, as both a freelance illustrator and the art director that hires them, I have a perspective shared by only the few other fellow illustrators who have also been in the position to give someone their first break or ensure that someone could pay their rent next week. I’ve lugged my portfolio around conventions, stood in line to meet art directors, sent off samples to publishers, and have scrapped for work in places no one would even look to find illustration work, much less want to. But I’ve also spent almost 18 years as the audience of those portfolios. I’ve worked with literally hundreds of artists, the best in the biz. And I’ve rejected more submissions for work than I’ve hired. The simple truth is that there are exponentially more artists looking for work than there are jobs to feed them and thanks to the internet and the incredible digital tools available to illustrators these days, marketplace globalization has increased competition to an all time high. You’re not just competing with the other hopefuls lugging their portfolios around the convention anymore, you’re up against everyone on the planet with a broadband connection and a copy of Photoshop. So you’re going to need every weapon in the armory if you’re going to come out on top of the heap — and I’m not just writing the longest introduction to a blog ever here, I’m going to give you a weapon born of almost two decades of successful professional combat. Eventually…

Your portfolio IS your weapon!*
*Took this photo 5 minutes before posting the blog, so don’t mess with me if you don’t want to lose a limb.

Different illustrators break into the fantasy/sci-fi art industry (including book covers and packaging, concept art, interior art, card art, etc.) in different ways. The internet has removed the necessity to physically get in front of an art director (when I say things like that, does it make me sound old?), but there’s still a great deal of value to meeting face to face. First, your sparkling personality can go a long way to making sure you’re remembered and you might even convince an AD to give you shot at something that your work alone would’t have. Relationship building, which is much easier to accomplish in person, is a key component to establishing repeat clients and consistent work. As well, you might receive a helpful critique in person  (if you keep your mind open to it) so even if you don’t land a gig this time around, you’ll have a place to begin the conversation the next time you see the art director, and eventually it may lead to paying work. But the most important reason to meet an art director in person is that you will be one-hundred-percent sure that the AD actually saw and looked at your portfolio, which mail-ins or links to your DeviantArt gallery are never going to confirm. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any closer to getting paid work, I have found in my own experience that it preserves some sanity. If you’re anything like me, indefinite waits and not knowing whether or not someone has even taken the time to check out your work is far worse than a door being slammed in your face. But this isn’t the tip, it’s just a benefit of going out and pressing the flesh. The tip is  about how to make the most of it.

I’ve seen as many different kinds of portfolios as I have met artists. No two are the same. Some are printed as leave-behinds, others are neatly ordered. I’ve seen handmade, cut paper pop-up books, and I’ve see portfolios that looked like someone dropped the Sunday Times (Newspaper reference— that definitely makes me look old!) in a puddle before they scooped it up and handed it to me. I’ve seen portfolios with three pieces in them and portfolios with three hundred. But more than anything, more often than not, I’ve seen the wrong portfolio. Wrong as in, the portfolio contained work that had no relevance to the type of work that I, as an art director representing a specific company and its product line, am hiring for.

Freelance artists, especially those starting out, often take a very desperate, shotgun approach to finding work. Armed with their portfolio, they get it in front of every art director they can whether they have any interest or knowledge of what that AD’s company produces or not. They’re just looking for a break and a paycheck. I’ve had illustrators walk up to me at conventions, artwork under their arm, and ask, “What do you guys do here?” It doesn’t matter what I tell them. The next question is always, “Wanna look at my portfolio?” Diplomacy always wins out, but I assure you that at this point, my inner voice is screaming the same thing that every other AD who’s ever been in that position is thinking: No fucking way.

So here’s the big tip, fellow mercenaries — pay attention because it’s a two parter:

KNOW WHO YOU ARE SUBMITTING YOUR WORK TO

and

TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO TO THE CLIENT

You get one chance to make a first impression. It’s true, just like you’ve heard all your life. So make sure you apply this to the ONE opportunity you will have to meet an art director for the FIRST time, and make the best goddamn impression you can.

Not everyone out there will agree with me, but my advice is, don’t hunt randomly. Pick your targets, research them, and then take very precise, calculated shots. Find out the name of the Art Director before you go meet him or her — it’s not hard to crack open a book or look online for the Art Director’s credit and trust me, this little tidbit will jump you to the front of the line when it comes to making a good first impression.

Then, look for companies that publish work like you want to do, and more importantly, that you are suited to do. I love comic books, but when I was art directing Magic: the Gathering, we weren’t looking for sequential artists. Still, I can’t tell you the number of portfolios that I looked at from artists who were exclusively comic book ‘pencilers’. Look, if you can’t tell a sequential story, you’re not going be drawing comics for Marvel, and if you can’t paint an entire picture ready for publication, you’re not going to be doing card art for Wizards of the Coast. If you want to paint book covers, you need to have book covers in your portfolio. If you want to do concept illustration, make sure you have a great selection of concept work. If you want to do comics — look, you get the idea. Above all, make sure the AD you’re submitting to is looking for the kind of work that you’re applying to do! It’s basic arithmetic but for some reason they don’t seem to be teaching this in schools.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t show a creative aptitude for fantasy work, you’re also not going to be doing any work for Magic. It’s not just the style or mode of work that is important, the subject matter is equally relevant. If someone shows me a bunch of gothic romance cover paintings of vampires in lingerie making out on castle balconies, it doesn’t matter how beautifully rendered they are, I don’t necessarily know if they’re going to be able to pull off an image set in the gritty, combat-heavy setting of WARMACHINE. You don’t have to show samples of the potential client’s actual intellectual property, but the closer you can get to the genre(s) the client represents, the quicker you’re going to convince the AD to give you work. Art Directors are famously busy, living and dying each day by the deadline. The downside of meeting them in person at a convention like San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con is that it’s hard to get and keep their attention; the environment is loud, lit too brightly or not well enough, they’re hung over and exhausted from the night before and they’re tired of looking at shitty portfolios. So you’ve got to be on point, man! Show them what they want to see, which means showing them something as close to what they put in their products as you possibly can muster. You want to work for a fantasy RPG company? Show them fantasy work. You want to do science-fiction book covers? Show them science-fiction! Can you show them other stuff, sure (I’ll retract this in a moment) but make sure you show them a decent cross section of relevant materials —3-5 pieces in a related genre should cover it.

In my book, ‘versatility’ is not a good thing. I like to see a portfolio that represents the artist’s specific voice and style because I want to know exactly what I’m hiring in an artist. If an illustrator’s work is all over the place with loose watercolors, tight pencils, thick oil paintings and photo-realistic digital work, I don’t know what I’m going to get if I hire this guy. The biggest hurdle you have to overcome is the AD’s inherent skepticism that you will actually be able to deliver what they want in the timeframe they need it. So if you are a master of different styles, organize your work by type, style and medium and make sure you show, again, a substantial quantity of each so the AD who is hiring for a futuristic space combat game knows that the one super-slick vehicular design you did isn’t just a fluke. But for my money, I say streamline as much as possible. Only show the art director work that is relevant to the work you are applying to do. Nothing else is going to matter.

Also, be economical! If you’re lucky, you’re going to have 5-10 minutes to talk with an art director, but keep in mind the environment/busy/hangover/tired-of-crap thing. Those portfolios with 300 pieces in them? Yeah, they’re not as uncommon as you might think. A generous AD will look through every page, but many don’t have that kind of time. You don’t want them to get tired of looking through your work and never make it to the good stuff. My recipe for a good portfolio is 10-12 pieces. I don’t care if you’ve got a hundred masterpieces under your arm, I don’t want to look at an art book, I just want to be convinced you can do the job I need done so I can get back to my Gatorade because what I’m really thinking about right now is replenishing all of my lost electrolytes before the show is over so I can get through another night of after-hours convention socializing. Are you getting the picture? Be a tactical nuke. Get in, blow them away, and vanish as fast as possible. Don’t go too light — six pieces minimum. But twelve pieces, max. Make the hard decision to show only your best work. The AD won’t know what he or she is missing.

“But I’m going to be at Comic Con for four days!” you say. “I need to hit as many art directors up as possible!” you lament. “How can one portfolio do everything I want it to?” That’s the thing. It can’t. If you’re heading out for a marathon work-hunt, be prepared to either customize your portfolio between meetings, or carry multiple books as needed. Either way, take the right load out for each mission. Don’t be lazy about this and it will pay off.

And leave the naked boobies at home.

Again, there are those who won’t agree with me, but unless you’re meeting with an art director for HEAVY METAL or a company that produces content of an adult nature, then you don’t know what might or might not offend an art director. If I only had a dollar for every time I opened up a portfolio to the first page, only to see some naked barbarian chick posing over her fresh kill! While I’m a huge fan of masters like Frazetta and Bisley, YOU are not Frazetta or Bisley, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So I don’t care if your buck-naked bareback dragon-rider has won the gold award in Spectrum (which it hasn’t, because it’s a buck naked bareback dragon-rider), leave it out of your portfolio. Again, the art director isn’t going to miss it but it might color his or her opinion of you in a negative fashion right from the start. Self censor so they don’t have to. Maybe the art director for a children’s book company has a collection of wind-blown, short-skirted anime schoolgirl comics, but that’s not what that AD is going to be hiring for. Stay on target and remove anything from your portfolio that might turn off this stranger you’re trying to impress.

My other pet peeve? School work. It’s easy to spot and it makes you look inexperienced. An art director with a limited budget and tight deadlines doesn’t want to take a flyer on a kid fresh out of school, so don’t set yourself up to look like one. Get rid of the life drawing charcoals, the old-master oil painting reproductions, and anything that looks like a Coca Cola advertising illustration. These scream ‘newbie’, which even if you are, you don’t want to let on. Art Directors want to hire illustrators with field experience. They want people who are used to working on a deadline without an instructor helping them along the way. The discipline to be a reliable freelance artist is so hard to come by that you don’t want to give the AD any sense that you might not possess every ounce of it necessary to deliver on time. You don’t have to possess a portfolio full of paid work, but you need a portfolio that looks like it’s full of work you got paid for. Even ‘fan work’ (eg. your painting of Batman that you obviously did for fun) is going to resonate better than something that looks like it was produced as an assignment in a classroom. Give the AD the confidence he or she needs that you don’t need to be coached every step of the way, and leave your school work at home.

Summary: Know who you’re submitting to and customize an economical portfolio with work relevant to the client’s needs. Less is more.

And knowing is half the battle! We’ve all heard Duke say it a thousand times. But the other half of the battle in getting hired for an illustration job is employing the right weapon for the fight, effectively. So put down the shotgun and pick up your sniper rifle. From here on out, it’s nothing but head shots.

 

Eiryss 3 — Work in Progress

With the deadline for the concept of the new incarnation of Eiryss rapidly approaching, I’ve been trying to carve out the time to make some decent progress. San Diego Comic Con is looming right in the middle of this timeline for me as well, which means that I’ll lose most of next week to work on it. What this really means is that my delivery date has moved up from July 16th to next Wednesday, or I’m going to be late! Time to get cracking.

The image below shows my progress so far on coming up with a new look for Eiryss’ trappings. This is drawn entirely in pixels on a Wacom Cintiq tablet in Photoshop, which gives me a lot of flexibility to work back and forth in layers as I refine the drawing and the rendering at the same time. I end up wandering a bit during the process, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore the concept in a more time-economical way than generating multiple drawings. It’s easy to get caught up in the anatomy and pose and lose focus on what’s really important here, which is what the character is wearing. In retrospect, though, I chose a poor angle on the figure because I was trying to be a little too dramatic with the drawing. The low camera perspective prevents a good square look at her chest (no snickering, please), which means I’ll need to do a second front detail shot to make sure the sculptor and artist have all the information they need to interpret the design accurately.

Being her third costume design I wanted to present some sort of evolution from her previous looks, but as this is also the first time she won’t be operating as a solo, I wanted to make sure that some of that evolution was drastic and really sets her apart from the first two solo versions.

At this point, I’m sticking with a very similar silhouette, as the fashionistas would describe it. We’ve got the familiar cloak, the armored boots, sleeves and corset over a fine set of light-weight but protective mail coverings that more or less mimic the shape and rhythm of her previous designs. The big change here is the styling of her armor. Early on, Eiryss established a particular beat in Iosan armor design that included flexible segmented rings and panels of leather armor held in place by button-like fasteners. This design beat shows up on her two previous incarnations as well as many of the Retribution of Scyrah model designs that would come years after her first appearance. You can see this beat on Adeptis Rahn under his heavy armored plates, or in various places on the battle mages, mage hunters or storm fall archers. But, new Eiryss isn’t a standard trooper. I’ve always seen her as a bit of a trend setter, and while she’s very much part of the Retribution army now, I want to keep a sense of her individual identity. Where I’ve ended up is a much more organic approach to that segmented armor, treating it now like larger panels that have been created by many pieces joined together as opposed to overlapping. The button-like fasteners still hold everything closed, but I think there’s something much more fluid and beautiful and the lines of the armor. It’s almost got a touch of the art nouveau.

The original Eiryss is fairly utilitarian in her look. With the Angel of Retribution incarnation, she gained a little more style with the decorative wing/feather motif on her cloak. In this new version, I want to push that styling toward a more embellished and personalized look. Though there is much to decide and do with the concept design, things are starting to settle in place.

A lot to get done in a short period of time, so I’m getting back to work on this right away! More to come soon…

(Please feel free to share the link, but please don’t repost the image. Thanks!)

 

Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.