Monday, December 12, 2011

Paki Says Hello

A recent sketch of Paki, the guide from The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures.
Would you like to buy a copy of The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures at a discounted price? You would? Then head on over to my publisher's online store, North Light Shop, and enter the code PakisGift upon checkout to receive a discount of 50% off the retail price of the book! The coupon code is good until December 31st.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Creature Scales

This scale chart from The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures shows the size of all the creatures from the book (minus the sea serpent and living island–they're too big!) compared to a human.
I would have loved for these scale diagrams to appear alongside the description of each creature in the book, but, sadly, we couldn't find the space.

Did you know that you can download bonus materials for The Explorer's Guide, including this scale chart, from IMPACT Books?  Click here to go to IMPACT's website and sign up for their mailing list to receive free desktop wallpapers and a bonus drawing demonstration for the cavern rat!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


And now for something completely different.

I like to sculpt. I've actually only completed a handful of sculptures over the last decade or so, but sculpting is something I've enjoyed doing for a long time. Molding and shaping something with my hands is relaxing for me. While I still make plenty of mistakes while sculpting, I don't have the same anxiety about it that I often do about painting. Somehow it feels like the clay can always be fixed.

I made this sculpture way back in 2003, specifically for a mold-making and casting class I was attending. Once the class was over, I didn't have the space at home to work, money for the supplies, or the time to practice making molds, so my knowledge has since lapsed. These photos show the sculpture before it was taken to class, where it was subsequently destroyed upon its removal from the mold. This was something I was aware would likely happen. The sculpture has many pesky undercuts that a sculptor would usually deal with by cutting apart the sculpture and molding and casting each piece separately.  I still have two resin casts and a silicone mold of this sculpt should I ever try my hand at casting more.

The sculpture was made of super sculpey with a wire armature underneath. I've learned a lot since making this piece. You can see how much of it has not been smoothed out or sanded, and the tail, especially, is lumpy.

I've also included the design sheet I drew up before beginning the sculpt. Not very technical. Remember, those drawings are nearly ten years old. Please be kind!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What I'm Baking

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cake with Chocolate Ganache 

Been baking lots of pumpkin stuff. It's that time of year! This cake is super moist and delicious, and easy to make. It requires a lot of maple syrup, unfortunately, which is used instead of sugar. I say unfortunately because we no longer live in Wisconsin where you could get a quart of syrup at the farmer's market for a lot cheaper than it costs out here. Luckily the rest of the ingredients are relatively cheap and easy to come by.

Recipe adapted from Sinfully Vegan, by Lois Dieterly.


Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Wet ingredients:

2 cups maple syrup
1 can (15 oz) of pureed pumpkin (you can also use the same amount of fresh pureed pumpkin)
4 tsp flax powder (I use ground flax seeds)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

Chocolate Ganache*:

1/3 cup chocolate chips
3 tbsp soy (or other non-dairy) milk

*Double this if you want additional chocolate ganache to more fully coat the top of the cake.


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a bundt cake pan with canola oil or cooking spray.
2. Combine flours, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium sized bowl.
3. Combine syrup, pumpkin, oil and applesauce in a large bowl.
4. In a small bowl, vigorously whisk together the flax powder and water. Add this to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine.
5. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing to combine. Make sure not to overmix! Fold in the chocolate chips.
6. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 75 to 80 minutes, or until knife or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand to cool for about a half an hour (I usually wait until the pan is cool enough to handle without oven mitts), then remove from pan by running a butter knife around all the edges of the cake and turning it over onto a baking rack. Allow to cool completely.

Make the ganache:

1. Heat soy milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until just about to simmer.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate chips and using a heat-proof rubber spatula, stir until chocolate is completely melted and the ingredients are blended together. Set aside and allow to cool for about five minutes.
3. Drizzle over the top of the cake with a spoon.

Served with vanilla Coconut Bliss ice cream.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Explorer's Guide to Making a Cover: Part 1

The Cover Drawing

When I began work on The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures, I already had an inkling of what the cover should look like. I was fond of the idea of a wrap around cover featuring all, or at least as many as possible, of the creatures that appear inside the book. I wouldn't be telling the truth if I said I wasn't inspired by the cover to Capcom Design Works. I love the energy and fun of characters crammed together, moving across the page. There is always something new for the viewer to discover. This was unlike many of IMPACT's other cover designs, but when I proposed my idea to my editor and the designer, they were excited about it and told me to go for it.

The cover was the last piece of art I had to do for the project after completing all the interior art and the manuscript. It was to be a wraparound cover for an 8.5 " x 11" book. I wanted to do the cover painting at least 150% larger* than the print size, but that posed a problem with the many differently-sized creatures marching across my composition. The heads of the largest creatures (the forest behemoth and flying fish) would be massive, requiring detailed coverage of a large surface area in relation to the rest of the painting. The smallest creatures would still be tiny and not allow for all the detail I would like, unless I did an image that took up an entire sheet of 22 x 30 watercolor paper.  Since I also had a deadline to consider, and I knew transferring, scaling up and re-drawing the image, and finally painting it would be too time consuming to finish in time, I decided to try something new. I would draw and paint the illustration in separate layers, scan in the pieces, and use Photoshop to digitally complete the painting.

Initial thumbnails for the cover

While the idea remains the same in each sketch, I was trying to work out the best way to fit all of the creatures into the allotted space and still leave room for the title. As you can see in all three of the above sketches, I didn't do a very good job at leaving room for type!

The chosen one

We went with #2, and I moved the flying fish back behind the other creatures to create some blank space at the top right-hand side of the cover for the title. I was able to leave the left side of the image, which would become the back cover, as-is, with the understanding that much of it would likely be covered by text.

Rough study of the cover with guides and bleed space.

Using Photoshop, I blew up the cover thumbnail to the size the cover would print on the book. I printed the image, and overlaid tracing paper to rough out the drawing. At this stage I wanted to develop the poses and positioning of the creatures, drawing them to look more like the actual designs rather than their cartoony thumbnail counterparts, but I did not continue on to a detailed, final drawing yet. I knew it would be necessary to tweak the creatures to get them working within the composition. I did each rough drawing separately so that when I scanned them in, I would have many different layers I could play with.

The first part of the final drawing, with background layers finished.

Once I was happy with the way the rough drawing looked, I moved onto the final drawing. Again, I drew each character on a separate piece of paper so that I could make changes and move them around easily once they were scanned in. I used the rough gestures to start with, enlarged them to a size at which I was comfortable drawing, and with a lightbox and drawing paper overlaid, I drew each creature. For those creatures that I knew would be obscured by others in the final art, I only detailed out the parts that I expected to be visible in the final.

The chimera layer

The sand dragon layer

Minotaur and marsh nymph layer

Sphinx layer. I ended up drawing a lot more of her than necessary!

The final cover drawing, with all the layers of creatures put together.
Once each drawing was finished, I scanned them all in and positioned them within the composition. By placing each creature on a different Photoshop layer, I was able to make any adjustments needed to their size and placement. Before I moved onto the final painting, I scaled down the entire group of critters to better fit the dimensions of the cover.

Click to see an animated GIF of the progression!

*It's usually a good idea to paint illustrations larger than they will print, because it gives you the freedom to fully detail the image. If your illustration is going to print small, you would have a  difficult time painting the details on objects or characters at the actual print size. Additionally, the reduction in size upon printing helps tighten up those details. One must be careful, however, about painting too much intricate detail on small areas of the artwork that will reduce even more upon printing. What might look good on the original painting could become difficult to read as the details meld together at a reduced size.

In Part 2, I'll discuss the final painting(s), and how I used layers and a little digital painting to combine disparate pieces of art into one finished illustration.

Post edited for clarity.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Forest Behemoth

Another recent sketch of a creature from The Explorer's Guide. For those interested in buying a signed copy of the book, I've finally made them available to order online. If you click on the image of the cover in the sidebar to the right you'll be directed to the page on my website with ordering information. Or you could just click here!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Shadows that Rush Past

This is a book cover I completed recently for The Shadows that Rush Past, a collection of scary Inuit folk tales for children. The book has just been released in Canada and was published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit owned publisher in Nunavut focused on keeping the stories of Inuit mythology alive.

It was tricky to develop the composition as it had to be a wrap-around cover for a square book. There are four stories in the book. I illustrated two of them, and fellow fantasy illustrator Larry MacDougall did the others. I tried some compositions that incorporated elements from all four stories, and some that incorporated the two I was working with. My art director ended up picking this one, which was less cluttered. The stories were each so different that I wanted to have some kind of transition between the disparate elements from the front to back cover, so I added the ravens and carried the mountains in the background through both scenes. I wish the scan more properly represented some more of the subtlety of the colors and values, but it always seems difficult to capture when scanning transparent media.

The character on the cover is the amautalik, a giant ogress that kidnaps and eats children. She carries them to her igloo in the "cage" on her back made up of antlers and driftwood. The scene on the back cover is from a story about a giant polar bear that has been terrorizing a community, and the arrogant hero who slays it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

What I'm Baking

I like to bake. It's probably my favorite hobby that is not art related. (Some people say baking is like an art form, so I say this is still relevant to my blog!) And with what other hobby can you eat the tasty results?!

Since moving to Seattle, I've participated in several vegan bake sales that help raise money for a local animal rescue, Pigs Peace Sanctuary. For this weekend's sale I made pumpkin chip muffins, brownies, and I tried out a new recipe for chocolate pumpkin bread.

Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownies (from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)

3 ounces firm silken tofu (1/4 package of Mori-Nu)
1/4 cup almond milk (any non-dairy milk can be used)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder*
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1 handful of walnuts, chopped

*I like to use a mixture of "regular" and dutch processed cocoa powder. Dutch-processed cocoa has a deep, rich chocolate flavor, so if you like dark chocolate things, I recommend trying it out. You can even use all dutch-processed cocoa if you want to.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8x8 inch brownie pan with parchment paper, making sure it covers the bottom and the sides.

2. Puree the tofu, almond milk, and canola oil in a blender or food processor until smooth and fluffy. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and make sure you get everything.

3. Transfer tofu mixture to a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and use a fork to vigorously mix them together until smooth. Add the vanilla and mix.

4. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Use the rubber spatula to fold and mix the batter until smooth. The batter will be very thick. Fold in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth out the top. You may need to spread it a little towards the edges of the pan, but it will spread when baking if you don't get it into all the corners perfectly, so don't worry. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes. (The original recipe called for 30 to 32, but I like gooey brownies so I bake them a little less. I'd rather have gooey brownies than cake-like brownies.) Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

For Chocolate Pumpkin Loaf photos and recipe click here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Wizards and Warriors Invade the Indiana Convention Center!

Anyone living in a town with a convention center that hosts a decent-sized comic book, anime, or gaming convention has probably seen the excited yet slightly bemused coverage on the local evening news of all the ghosts, goblins, and "weirdos" dressed up to attend the con. I saw one of these reports repeated on both the evening and nightly news while at our hotel during Gen Con. (They were very interested in talking about all of the money we nerds were bringing into the city.) I always get a kick out of the stuff they focus on and their taglines about the costumed heroes! and warlocks!!

Anyway, I have been meaning to share more of the costume photos we took at Gen Con Indy 2011. In honor of Halloween, here they are!

Drow costume. Great armor!

Wayne Reynolds poses with a fan (center) dressed as a Pathfinder character he designed.

"You wanna get outta hea'? Talk to me."

Cool costume and awesome steampunk'd wheelchair!

This was one of my favorite costumes of the convention. So beautifully done!

More steampunky goodness.

Abraham Supertallincoln

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't Make Her Angry

One of the fun parts of meeting people at conventions like Gen Con is doing personal commissions. I usually only take a small number and sometimes have to finish the art at home. Frequently, due to the nature of Gen Con (it's a gaming convention heavily focused on role playing games), artists are asked to draw pictures of people's characters. Receiving a description from an art enthusiast is much like receiving a description from an art director. The artist has to conjure up an image of the character that will satisfy both the artist's creative impulse and the customer's hopes of getting a cool drawing that captures the essence of their character.

For much of my published work, I'm frequently asked to do more wispy creatures and characters like faeries, and animals and dragons (all of which I love to do, don't get me wrong) so it was a refreshing break to do a tough half-orc warrior woman with big muscles. I usually try to draw interesting looking armor that appears practical and, of course, sticks to the description–gotta please the client! I like to avoid stuff like chain mail bikinis as much as humanly possible.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Interview at Fantasy Literature

I recently had the opportunity to chat with the fantasy and science fiction book review website, Fantasy Literature, about The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures, and a little bit about my approach to art in general.

Check out the interview here.

If you leave a comment on the Fantasy Literature article, you will be entered in a contest for a chance to win a copy of the book!

Another sketch of a creature from the book.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Explorer's Guide Previews

Parka Blogs was kind enough to give The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures a mention on Monday. If you haven't visited Parka Blogs before and you like art and art books, go there now! The blog features detailed reviews and helpful information about art books ranging from fine art, to illustration, to concept art.
In addition to the preview pages offered on Parka Blogs, click on the image to the left or visit my website's splash page for an in-depth sampling of the interior pages of The Explorer's Guide. It rotates, I say!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Maurice Sendak Interview

Terry Gross interviewed award-winning children's book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air. The interview is incredibly moving and well worth listening to.
This Pig Wants To Party: Maurice Sendak's Latest
It really is touching; you might need to have some tissues nearby.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Crowned Ibak Sketch

I apologize for the long hiatus from posting.

I drew the above sketch in a copy of The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures for my friend Chuck Lukacs. Chuck is a fellow sci-fi and fantasy illustrator and IMPACT Books author. He collaborated with artists Jim Pavelec, Chris Seaman and Thomas Manning on the fantasy warrior how-to book Wreaking Havoc, and his latest book is Fantasy Genesis: A Creativity Game for Fantasy Artists.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gen Con Wrap Up (Part One)

Okay, I'm finally sitting down to post my wrap up for Gen Con! So much happened, I'm not sure I know where to start.

Vinod drawing at our booth.

It always takes a few days for me to recover from the hustle and bustle and late nights of a convention, if you could call sitting down talking to people hustling and bustling. By the end of the fourth day, when it's time to dismantle the show and the panels surrounding us that once held art seem to suddenly disappear into thin air as we're packing up all our stuff, exhaustion has set in. If only I had pictures of how quickly the convention center is transformed from "Gen Con" into empty tables, rolled up carpets, and piles of cardboard boxes.

Gen Con Day Two
Friday was off to a good start when, early on in the day, I sold an original painting from the D&D book Savage Species, which was one of the first projects I worked on as a freelance artist. If I'd had a blog six years ago when I did my first convention, Wizard World Chicago, and sold my very first print, I would have talked about how astonishing it was to me that someone liked my work enough that they wanted to buy an image of it to keep and maybe even display in their home. Selling an original piece of art still gives me that feeling, maybe times 10. I can't say enough how much it means to an artist to have people respond positively to your work.

Another panel of my work on display at the art show.
Later on in the day, I had the pleasure of meeting Susan J. Morris, author of A Practical Guide to Faeries, A Practical Guide to Wizardry, A Practical Guide to Dragon Magic, and The Faerie Locket. It's rare to have the opportunity to personally meet the authors of the books I illustrate, so I was very happy to talk with her and hear that she liked the work I had done for her books.

Meeting Christina at Gen Con.
On Friday afternoon I also met my editor for The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures, Christina Richards! I was very grateful for her patience and guidance throughout the process of creating my book and it was a real treat to finally meet her in person. I'm incredibly pleased to say that by the end of the convention, The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures turned out to be a favorite at my table.

The day wrapped up with the annual Gen Con Art Show artists' reception, where something completely unexpected happened: I was honored with the 1st Place prize for original art for the work I had done for my book! Vinod was honored to receive the Juror's Choice Award. Best in Show went to Scott Murphy. Congrats to everyone who won awards, and many thanks to Art Show Guest of Honor Jeff Miracola and fellow judges Chris Rahn, Wayne Reynolds, and Barbara Fisher, our fabulous art show coordinator. 

I forgot to take a picture of our table with the ribbons, so I swiped this one from the awesome Betty Edwards. Thanks!!

Gen Con Day Three

Day three of Gen Con was on Saturday, and like most convention Saturdays it was super busy! While I had sold a few copies of The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures here and there on Thursday and Friday, Saturday was the day that the book's popularity seemed to explode! By the end of the day I had sold every book but the display copy, and while I was incredibly excited about the book's warm reception, I was kicking myself for not bringing more with me. Hopefully anyone who missed out on a copy will pick one up at the store or online. *hint, hint* ;)

Some budding art enthusiasts peruse our work.
Vinod made a big sale of an original to an art collector and fan who had bought our sketchbooks in the past.
I wish we had found the time to walk the exhibit hall and take more pictures of the many displays as well as more of the other artists' booths. We usually try to make it to the show before it opens (one of the perks of carrying an exhibitor's badge) and walk the aisles before the crowds pour in, but this year we couldn't seem to get ourselves there early enough.

Our neighbor, Dan Scott, feverishly signs Magic Cards for fans.
Ralph Horsley and his piles of original art.

Fellow IMPACT artist and author Chris Seaman at what might be the nicest booth in the show!
I'm realizing this post has become a little cumbersome, so I'll finish the Gen Con 2011 wrap up with an additional post soon. To be continued...