The DnD supplement Draconomicon 2 was published this week. A great group of artists was collected together to work on these iconic beasties, and I had the pleasure of creating two chapters starts for the book, which covered two new Dragon types;
The Mercury Dragon
The Orium Dragon ( which also possesses the most interesting breath attack I have come across!)
It is not unusual for me to receive emails from students asking questions about what it is like to work as a freelance illustrator. I do my best to answer, though it can sometimes take a little while to compile a response. Here is the most recent set of questions, that came from Sally, and my answers. I hope they might be of some interest.
Q1) When you set out into the working world, what sort of work/placements did you undertake to get to where you are today and for who?
I am purely self taught. Which was quite disadvantageous in a lot of ways, and meant I had to learn as I went along - both the skill set for illustration and the business model.
Q2) In the beginning, how did you manage financially? Did you have any work on the side?
It was a struggle. I did whatever work I could get, and received as much government funding as I could. There are often incentives for people starting up new businesses, and other benefits available for those on a low income. I know a lot of artists who have held a full time job and worked on their art career on the side. This is probably the norm when starting out.
Q3) What goals did you set for yourself when you began?
Initially it was simply to make a living at doing what I wanted. As that hurdle was passed then I have set myself further goals; both in terms of companies I'd like to work for, and particular products or assignments.
Q4) How much closer have you come to achieving them since you began?
I have achieved most of them, but as I say I keep moving the goalposts.
Q5) Have your goals changed?
Whoops, already answered this :)
Q6) Was freelance Illustrating your first choice?
Yes, absolutely. I wanted to be my own boss as much as possible.
Q7) Did you have a Plan B or alternative career choice?
I always thought I could go into an office job if I had to. I do possess a degree ( BA Eng.Lit.) and felt that would probably help.
Q8) If you could go back in time and do anything differently, what would it be and why?
I guess there are lots of things I could have done more efficiently/differently, but I am happy with the way life has panned out, and enjoyed getting here too.
Q9) Have any of your career choices been swayed by personal situations?
If you mean my personal life, then not really, but clearly I am interacting with other people all the time, and relationships with colleagues can affect work.
Q10) Did you move far away from home to follow your ambitions?
Distance from home has been irrelevant to work, development of the internet has been completely transformative.
Q11) What is the estimate annual income for this sort of job?
I am not on a set wage, so that is not easy to answer. Commissions pay a set fee, so how fast you do the job, and how many hours you choose to work have an impact. I would currently describe myself as having a good income.
Q12)What sort of hours do you work? Do you keep your work separate from your personal time?
My hours are more regular than they were, due to sharing care for my two year old son with my wife, Anne Stokes, who is also a full time artist. There is no real time off. For instance checking emails before I go to bed is 'work'
Q13) Do you have vacation time?
Rarely. Trips away are usually to conventions and the like.
Q14) What is your journey to work like?
A short flight of stairs from bedroom to office, via the kitchen for breakfast. Working from home is a real boon.
I had the great pleasure of working on the cover for the reworking of the classic DnD adventure 'Tomb of Horrors'. The brief requested that I use some of the key elements from the adventure in the following way:
This cover has the look and feel of a movie poster and features a montage of images.
The most prominent image is that of AN EVIL-LOOKING HUMAN SKULL with rubies set into its eyes and gems for teeth. This is ACERERAK, the demilich. We might see the faint glimmer of a spirit trapped in each of the skull’s faceted gemstones. The skull fades or blends into the images of (1) an 8-foot-tall FOUR-ARMED GARGOYLE and (2) the iconic DEVIL FACE that appears in the Tomb of Horrors (see attached reference). The mouth of the devil face is a void of utter darkness. Inside the mouth of the devil face, falling away from us and screaming, is a MALE HUMAN PALADIN in PLATE ARMOR and carrying a LONGSWORD and SHIELD.
The first step was to create series of thumbnail sketches. These are intended to explore ideas of composition, and allows discussion with the art director of the direction we would both like to take.
Some of the thumbnails I explored further digitally. This allowed me easily maintain certain ,and either move them around or mix them with other features. I also added greyscale values to them which helps with some clarity, whilst also generating fresh ideas this way as it enabled an easier way of showing the demi-lich skull in the background.
You can see which one was decided to work up into the cover itself, and that can be seen, wit hfull trade dress here:
We all had fun at Halloween, indeed you can see how much we enjoyed it by the adoption of the demonic red eyes, and hope you did too.
The annual pumpkin carving is something I always enjoy. A different way to flex one's creative muscles, and I was pretty pleased with this effort.
Last week I also had the pleasure of appearing on the Ninja Mountain Podcast. Jon's amusing summary must surely tempt you to listen ;)
This week on Ninja Mountain: Robo Jeremy returns to introduce Patrick,
Socar, Jon, and Ralph, who discuss: Stuff! Stuff like: A single top tip for aspiring illustrators, good and bad qualities in art direction, defending your home against shotgun assassins, sketching, and Twitter.
You'll marvel as Socar takes the moderator's golden laurel wreath and takes charge. Gasp in amazement as Patrick swings from rope to rope, roll your eyes as Jon says "you know" a lot, and feel that funny feeling in your tummy like going over a hump backed bridge in the back of the car when you were a kid as Ralph breaks ranks and offers actual content.
The Podcast is here: http://ninjamountain.blogspot.com/
This is my latest novel cover for Games Workshop, and the second in the ongoing series about Thanquol (the Skaven Grey Seer).
I do like working with a low viewpoint and tilted horizon plane, and this is no exception, but I also really concentrated on dropping the background back to let Thanquol's silhouette read nice and clearly.
I also threw in a few extra details, which happily the editor, Darius Hinks, picked up on in his blog post:
I have created cover illustrations for three different sets of DnD miniature's, one of which included a new Dragon design - the Iron Dragon.
Iron Dragon sketch #1
After brainstorming ideas through the creation of quick thumbnails the next step is to create a more fully realised sketch. The approach I adopted was designed to clearly show some of his distinguishing characteristics; his head and tail.
Iron Dragon sketch #2
I had deliberately adopted a slightly different approach by showing him partly from behind. I liked the idea of conveying the sense of creeping up and surprising the beastie, but it was felt that more direct engagement was probably needed to really grab the viewer.
Iron Dragon sketch #3
As you can see I first twisted the head (sketch #2), then more of the body (sketch #3), but by now the pose had become awkward and the orginal concept was trying too hard to be forced into a different direction.
Iron Dragon sketch #4
Instead I started from scratch. It was important that the image worked, and a cover is certainly not the sort of piece to settle for weak compromise on. However you can see in #4 that I have yet to fully realise the background as I wanted to make sure this was closer to the mark before polishing the image up too much.
Iron Dragon sketch #5
A minor tweak of a foreleg, full realisation of the background and we are good to go. It is unusual to have so many sketch revisions (if any at all) before going into the final painting, but when dealing with an important image I am happy to put all the effort in that is required for a strong piece.
Iron Dragon cover painting.
I think the final image worked well on the box cover, and the original painting has also found a good home in the hands of an art collector. Job done.
Around the same time that I got to work on Martial Power 2 I also had the great pleasure of working on the cover for The Slaying Stone.
It was interesting to portray a mechanised 'dog' and to try to give it some personality. It was also necessary for the pack leader of the Iron Defenders (for that is what they are) to stand out, which is why he got all the gilt trim.
I was also tackling a night time scene, which naturally inclines towards a blue/purple palette. To add interest I threw in the last remnants of a sunset, which helps delineate the horizon and lets the silhouette of the tower stand out more clearly. I also decided on a secondary foreground light source. I felt this indicated something impinging into the scene from 'out of shot' - the target of the 'dogs' attack - and allowed me to intoduce warmer colours in the foreground, which helps the lead figure pop.
For details of the supplement and to see the cover iwth full trade dress on please visit:-
One of the mild frustrations of working on commissions is the inability to show a finished painting until the publisher has released the image as part of their own promotions. Sometimes this can mean quite a time lag especially with cover artwork which is often commisisoned a long time in advance of publication.
Therefore I was very happy to see that Wizards have an image of my cover showing in their product listing alongside the entry for the Martial Power 2 DnD supplement, as it is not due for publication until 2010, but it means I can now share it with you.
Martial Power 2 cover artwork
Full details of the product, including the cover as it will appear in print, can be found here: http://www.wizards.com/DnD/Product.aspx?x=dnd/products/dndacc/251230000
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Wizards of the Coast have collaborated with Jones Soda to produce a limited edition range of DnD themed drinks and that my Warforged Titan image was chosen for the Eldritch Blast label - that's the green drink on the right.
Unfortunately I don't think Jones Soda is imported to the UK, so I will probably never get my hands on one, but sweet it is nonetheless :)
I am usually commissioned some time before the actual publication date and it is always hard to wait until then to show a new painting. Well just recently a lot of my pieces have appeared on various publisher's web sites and I am keen to share them with you over the next few days.
The idea was for the strong rim light to visually tie in the foreground figures with the Ice Queen. Whilst I had fun with the loose swirls and snow effects on the latter which helped give movement and dynamics to the image.
I mentioned in my Fire Giant post that I had already tackled Fire Giants before, but they were miniature designs rather than full paintings. I have done quite a lot of Giant miniature designs for WotC, but they are the sort of work that rarely sees the light of day, except on occasions like now.
Fire Giant Raider
Miniature designs present a unique set of challenges. Both front and rear views are normally required. This is to give the sculptor as much information as possible, and other incidental sketches might also need to be included.
Frost Giant Fury
Creating these 'turnaround' views demands the ability to visualise the figure in three dimensions and to mentally rotate it on it's axis. I usually sketched the front loosely then scanned it, flipped it, then printed it out on tracing paper. This new template gave me a general framework to work on for the back view, but did include notable distortions that one neded to be aware of. Most prominently in the plane that the figure was stood on.
Fire Giant Forgepriest
Alongside this challenge I also needed to create an interesting pose that conformed to the strictures of the casting process. The policy that WotC adopted was that the rarer the figure the more complicated the casting could be, but nonetheless challenging constraints still remained, and I learnt a lot about working towards designs as opposed to illustration. Two overlapping but distinct disciplines.
Fire Giant Titan
Oh, and it has been really nice to receive the complimentaruy copies of these. Seeing my sketches transformed into figurines has been great, and they proudly sit on a shelf next to my monitor :)
I often get asked about the commission process that leads to the creation of a new painting. Wizards of the Coast has just published a new Dungeons & Dragons gaming supplement; Dungeon Master's Guide 2, in which I was asked to create an illustration of some Fire Giants, and that gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.
I had great fun painting this piece. I always relish working on multiple figures interacting and when you combine that with the dynamism of a fight scene I am revved up. The commission email will include administrative information and reference images, but when that was stripped away I was left with something like this:
This chapter start illo shows two to four PARAGON-LEVEL ADVENTURERS fighting TWO FIRE GIANTS, a male and a female. Lying around are the FLAMING OR SMOLDERING CORPSES of dead HELL HOUNDS that the adventurers have already killed (exact number left to the illustrator). The illustrator can freely choose between the adventurers described below, showing all of them or removing ones that don’t fit into the composition. The scene unfolds in a fantastic DUNGEON HALL OR CHAMBER of some kind. The scale and furnishings should be sized appropriately for fire giants. Behind the giants should be A PILE OF TREASURE SPILLING OUT OF CHESTS that the giants have stolen, as well as BARRELS, CASKS, bundled-up TAPESTRIES, and other things plundered from merchant caravans. The point of this illo is to show the heroes fighting their way to the treasure! ADVENTURERS MALE HUMAN CLERIC in CHAINMAIL with a MACE and the holy symbol of MORADIN. He has NATIVE AMERICAN facial features, tan skin, and dark hair. FEMALE HALF-ELF WARLOCK in LEATHER ARMOR with a ROD. She points her rod at one of the giants, firing a beam of crackling green energy. MALE DRAGONBORN FIGHTER in SCALE ARMOR with a SHIELD and BASTARD SWORD charges toward a fire giant. FEMALE RAZORCLAW SHIFTER RANGER in HIDE ARMOR with a LONGBOW, shooting arrows at the giants. MONSTERS The two FIRE GIANTS are husband and wife. Like all fire giants, they are broadly built and stand 12 feet tall. They can be equipped as the illustrator sees fit, but their “stuff” should look formidable and wrought from iron. It would be great to give them some character, as befits a pair of “boss monsters.” Both are INJURED, but don’t look like they’re on death’s door. If the shifter ranger is included in the composition (see above), one of the giants can be shot with ARROWS.
Revised Line Sketch
This was a complicated brief, with lots of characters and potential. I began by exploring different story ideas and compositional approaches through quick thumbnails thrown down in my sketch book. This is a way to explore ideas rapidly and familiarise myself with the commission details. Once I have nailed my approach I then draw up a line sketch in pencil on board.
The Chapter Start runs across a page and a half with the centre of the book coming about a third of the way in from the left. I tried to create an image where elements would flow across the guttering to tie the whole together but the left and right 'panels' could also contain their own narratives. The left third has at the top the female Giant charging in to strike the Shifter Ranger and at the bottom the Cleric being struck, whilst the right has the main action of the Dragonborn leaping over the arcing fiery sword to smite the male Giant.
The line sketch is then sent for approval by the Art Director. I was asked to look again at the pillar infront of the female Giant. It was felt to be hiding too much of the action. A good point but I liked having the column there to reinforce the perspective, whilst also giving the sense of their being another space up there to add depth and reinforce the charge into the chamber. A creative solution to keep the column was to change it into a lava fall. This was a lot slimmer which let us see more, reinforced the fire motif and did the other things I wanted it to.
Alongside the first line sketch I also mocked up a quick digital value study. A line sketch without values can show all the detail, but isn't always the easiest to read. A value sketch helps both the Art Director and I see better what is envisaged. It is also common to be working on several projects concurrently and pinning this down whilst it is still fresh is always useful. I may also take this sketch further and add digital colour washes to explore different colour palettes, but I usually only finalise my colour choice when I get out the acrylics at the drawing board.
I paint in acrylics, usually working background to foreground and I often mask off the figures to allows for looser brushstrokes in the background. When scanned in I will make some digital tweaks, this is not just for colour correction, but to add some effects. In this instance the flame and magic was further saturated and some highlights strengthened.
This wasn't the first time I had the pleasure of working on Fire Giants and I will try and share them soon.
I have just had a lovely start to the working day. When I checked my email I wasn't deluged with spam but rather rceeived a couple of great photos I'd like to share.
tpena19 very kindly sent me a picture of her holding the prize copy of the Bugman's Game. I was relieved to see that it made its way across the Atlantic to California without incident and very pleased to see that it is now in the possession of such a happy smiley person.
The second photo is from an art collector who recently purchased one of my Magic: the Gathering originals and was kind enough to send me this picture of the painting in situ, along with these words.
…the painting is GREAT! My wife and I framed it and hung it in the living room (it shares a wall and exact framing with Parallax Tide by Carl Crtichlow) I can’t thank you enough again…
Fair warms the cockles of the heart and certainly sets me up better than the usual strong cup of coffee :)
The latest episode of the Ninja Mountain podcast is online today. I manage to sneak in with a very brief comment after having been prompted by the robot (!) interviewer. To have a listen follow this link:
I had the above chapter start illustration in there, a Warforged Titan battling some adventurers. I have had the chance to work on a few of these now and I have always found them very satisfying. The large format allows you to go a bit wilder than some smaller interior illustrations might.
The one drawback is the layout restrictions. The image spread across a page and a half, which means that quite a lot of the image is sucked into the gutter about a third of the way in from the left. I try to create a composition that works as whole but also with the right two thirds and the left third standing alone.
In this instance you have the female shifter on the left. She fills that left third nicely, but also acts to draw the viewer back into the focus of the composition, which is the lightning blast and warforged adventurer.
There were 604 peanuts in the tankard and she guessed 589 making hers the closest guess.
I would like to thank everyone who participated in the competition. I have deliberately not posted any comments or new entries since the competition started, just to keep the entry nice and 'clean', but I have very much appreciated everyone who has come to my blog and made a comment. Thanks.
I have send a note to Tpena19 and look forward to posting the game off to her in the States.
Today is competition time on my blog. I am giving away a signed copy of The Bugman's Game board game, which has just been released by Games Workshop.
Guess how many pieces of peanut there are in the pint-sized tankard pictured above. Please note that the salted peanuts I used come either whole, or else split in half, both have been counted as a single piece. I know, this makes it even harder.
Enter by posting the number you think is correct as a comment to this blog entry. Only 1 entry per person (if you enter more than once just your first post will be used). If more than 1 person gets the correct number (or the nearest correct number) the first person to post the number will win. Competition will finish on Saturday 1st August 2009 12:00 GMT (UK time)
The winner will be announced in a new blog entry. I will also notify them directly through the contact details in their profile. I will then send the game to any address you provide me with.
The Bugman's Game is a special promotional board game published by Games Workshop. It is only available for purchase at Bugman's Bar, which is in GW's Nottingham, UK, headquarters.
It is a light-hearted, beer & pretzels, game, whose objective is to get your Dwarf to the bar, then back again, with your food and drink. Sounds simple enough until you factor in the other Dwarfs, Trolls, Rowdy Revellers and the urgent need to get to The Bogs.
I provided all the artwork for the game; cover, board, cards and counters. It made a surprisingly refreshing change to flex my humour muscles and create some cartoon imagery - which I have always suspected I had in me.
I have included a few samples in this post.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Bugman's bar several times, and it is a fun fantasy themed bar. Adjoining it is a gaming hall which is also very well made up as a village square.
This time around the episode was structured a little differently; here is a summary taken from the NM blog.
Ninja Mountain Episode 25 - Three Way Split. Its a big one this week as three seperate Ninja Teams assemble to deliver a triple whammy in a joyously confused magazine format. First up we have Anne Stokes and Socar Myles discussing the topic of being an awesome female fantasy artist in what can appear at a glance to be a male dominated world. Next up its convention talk with Patrick McEvoy, Ralph Horsley and Jeremy McHugh - get the fat ole skinny on what to do at your next convention attendance! Whether selling prints or selling your soul to every art director you can lay hands on, this crack team discuss it all. Lastly Andy Hepworth, Ralph Horsley and Jon Hodgson discuss the work and influence of truly awesome historical and fantasy artist Angus McBride.
I think of myself as never having time for personal work. Invariably I feel the need to be working on compositional thumbnails, concepting sketches, or the like, rather than sketching for simple pleasure.
However whilst enjoying exploring my concepts for Oso I also realised that I do manage some personal work. Most Wednesdays I play in a Warhammer FRP campaign. This has been going for a couple of years now, and I regularly find myself doodling throughout the sessions, oftentimes this is work related...
... but if not they are usually representations of my character (of which I am on my second, the first - Josef Fraze - having had an unfortunate accident involving the wrong end of a Kislevite's sword). Dietrich Totenwasser is a Magister of the College of Light, and rather down on his luck at present, but still opposing the forces of Chaos.
The Images here are shown in reverse order of his career trajectory, though the wererat/skaven was a foe, not an incarnation! They are rendered in biro. I find that I can lay down a lighter line then firm it up when needed, but it is still relatively unforgiving.
This tends to mean that I 'follow the line' and end up with less considered pieces than my usual preparatory sketches, but conversely they can have more energy in them. I certainly hope you find them of interest.
I have been away for the best part of the last fortnight indulging two of my great passions; gaming and music.
Firstly I was playing in a live role playing game. This system is written and run by some friends of mine, and is held over a weekend on a Scout camp site. The site is nicely hilly, with lots of small streams, and extensive tree cover. All of which helps with the atmosphere and immersion in the game.
We are always looking for new players and details can be found here:
Whilst these games are easily derided (and I have myself done so in the past), I find that participation in them helps feed back into my artwork. This works in a number of ways; being involved in fantasy games, and working on fantasy games products, clearly has a close correlation for sparking ideas, my imagination, and an understanding of other players concerns and interests - what people consider 'cool' I suppose.
However the most useful aspect has been observing kit and costuming in action. Despite drawing/painting chainmail for years I had rarely seen it worn 'in the flesh' until I started LRP. Seeing players running around in this, along with the wearing of plate armour, robes, and the miscellanea of adventuring (pouches, scabbards, bags, etc) has really boosted my understanding of how to represent these in my artwork, oh, and showed up my own previous erroneous interpretations, For instance chainmail is heavy and 'slinky' it doesn't crease and fold the way fabrics do at all, but has its own distinctive dynamic.
I have also found the costuming/kit aspect to be enjoyable in it's own right, besides also giving me a very good excuse (as if one were needed) to acquire my own armour and other very useful pieces for reference. The pictures at the top of this article are of my latest purchase; a custom made open sallet, which I think is gorgeous on so many levels, and now has pride of place next to my drawing board. It was made by Maxim Suprovich of wildarmoury:
The second passion, music, I indulged this last weekend. For me one of the huge benefits of working from home is the ability to listen to music all day whilst working. It is something which I feel enhances my quality of life no end, and it was certainly enhanced this last weekend when I attended the Glastonbury festival.
It is, allegedly, the largest music and performing arts festival in the world. 180,000 people gathered in fields near to the legendary Glastonbury Tor http://www.glastonburytor.org.uk/ (supposedly the site of Avalon, and visible from the festival) for five days of hugely enjoyable entertainment. It has an 8-mile perimeter and a plethora of stages. I am now exhausted, but recharged, happy to be home, and looking forwrad to getting back to painting :)
I am glad to announce that Paizo have released a new pathfinder module; Beyond the Vault of Souls, which has my artwork on the cover. The full painting can be seen above.
To the left is the image fully realised and with all the trade dress on. Seeeing this for the first time I find myself reflecting on what I should note works well, or conversely what might be better approached differently.
As the podcast reaches an historic episode (has it really been 20!) I had the great pleasure of participating once more. Jon had kindly set up the voicemail on his Skype so that we could receive listeners' messages, and so we took this opportunity to respond them, and what started out failry innocuously ended up with a very lively debate.
I had a very enjoyable time at the GamesExpo last weekend, and I just wanted to say thanks to all the people that stopped by to chat, buy artwork, get books/cards signed, etc.
I would find it hard to give a balanced review of the show as I spent nearly all my time on the stand, with only a brief dash around (thanks to the kind assistance of Linda Pitman) to buy a couple of games and a pressie for my wife, Anne.
However, from my limited perspective, I got the sense of a lively event with a bustling atmosphere. One thing I especially like about this show is the huge variety of games covered, from RPG's through board games to miniature gaming with reenactment exhibitors, Daleks and Stormtroopers thrown in. It was also very nice to see a strong family element, with lots of young children stopping by and asking if those were my drawings :)
During the course of the show it was pointed out to me that an interview I gave at the 2008 show is now available online at:
It is always revelatory to see images 'in the flesh' that you are only familiar with via reproduction, and this time was no exception. The ability to absorb the whole, then inspect the tiniest part of the image, and to just be in the same space with these paintings is fabulous.
I got a special kick out of seeing the Frans Hals. I was very excited by his ability to mix loose and tight marks to create focus whilst mantaining lot of energy. Plus they all have a certain playfulness to them.
When I stepped out I really felt fired up to get on with some more painting, and to push myself hard. Inspirational :)
Now I had best get on with packing my artwork in preparation for this weekend's GamesExpo.
Wizards of the Coast have just recently published the 4e Monster Manual II. I was fortunate enough to be commissioned to work on a number of pictures for the book.
In particular I enjoyed working on the Remorhaz (ice centipede/thing) which features as a chapter start, and thus runs across two pages; though this presented it's own problems with the guttering falling across the image, about a third of the way in from the left.
The weekend of June 6th & 7th I will be attending my first convention of the year, which is being held in Birmingham. I attended last year, and it was a great show with plenty of variety in the games on offer.
I will be exhibiting on a stand, where I will be showing/selling my original artwork, along with a selection of white-backed (artists proofs) Magic: the Gathering, and WoW tcg, cards for sale. I am also very happy to sign any cards/books/games that you bring along.
I am a member of an artists private forum called Ninja Mountain. It has been a great place to share information, critique, gossip and giggles, besides also making and maintaining some great friendships.
Some of my fellow artists have been very good at putting out a regular weekly podcast on all matters art related. I have had the pleasure to be involved on a number of occasions, and this week I got the chance again.
Please go and have a listen as we tackle the huge topic of colour theory, along with various other diversions.
This is my first blog posting, and it also coincides with the much needed revamp of my website.
Whilst there is still some fine tuning to make I am very happy with the changes that have been made. Not just because it has some more current images, which were sorely needed, but also the additional features and overall layout. Most notable being the addition of the slideshow.
I am intending that this blog will be embedded on my home page, and act as a news source and means for you to make your own comments.