Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fantasy Illustration - Tiamat's Chosen: Designing Ningal

Continuing the character design feature from last time, next up on the design plate is Ningal. Like Tiamat, Ningal is a pre-existing character in the D&D Forgotten Realms universe. This design was very straightforward. In the sketch, you can see how she compares to Tiamat's design - taller, with a more athletic build. I always tried to be very conscious of making every character unique from head to toe - not just clothing and facial features, but also their body type and build.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Fantasy Illustration - Tiamat's Chosen: Designing Tiamat

A recent book cover commission I worked on called for five detailed fantasy-themed character designs. In a series of blog posts over the next week or two, I'll talk about some interesting points about each of character designs.

First up is Tiamat, a canonical character of the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms universe. The client called for some substantial changes to her appearance, however, so she's very different in these design sketches.

My initial pass on her was a modern take on the classic design in Jeff Easley's Tiamat painting.

The client liked a lot of the design elements of the initial design, but had a younger, playful and flirtier Tiamat in mind, so it was back to the drawing board for a second pass.

In the second design she's shorter and less curvy, more impish rather than sinister.

I also came up with some variations on her outfit. #1 is the classic fantasy bikini, but this interpretation of Tiamat called for a more modest costume, so I tried a number of other designs. All of them feature dragon claw shoes, a nod to Tiamat's other form, a five-headed dragon. The client chose design #4, which you'll see in the finished illustration.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pegasus Anthro in the Clouds - WIP

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a flying Pegasus anthro in a flowing white gown. This image is from my upcoming book, Draw Furries. Since we weren’t able to fit a step-by-step demo for this image in the book, (you know, limited space in publishing and all that) I’ve posted a series of buildup sketches, and work-in-progress snapshots of the painting process here on my blog.

Now here’s a meaningless question to ponder. Are Pegasi an offshoot horse species, a specific breed of horse, or can any horse be a Pegasus if you slap a pair of wings on them?

Anthro Pegasus under development. From basic form thumbnail to rough sketch.

Final sketch.

Color WIP. Follow the numbers.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Domo Invaded My Life!

Domo invades my life and work.

I just received my author copies of DOMO: the Manga from Tokyopop. Thank you, Hope Donovan (my editor)! I'm really impressed with TP's production values on this project. The book is in FULL COLOR and the trim is slightly larger than a typical manga, perfect for DOMO's highly visual stories.

Lindsay and I put together two chapters for the book. Like with our previous book, Peach Fuzz, Lindsay drew the line art, while I did cleanup, coloring, and effects.

Aside from myself and Lindsay, several other artists participated in putting DOMO the manga together. They include:

Priscilla Hamby - A.k.a. rem (
Sonia Leung (
Maximo V. Lorenzo ( Who did a 4 page comic that shows up in the exclusive 7-Eleven version of the DOMO manga. (Way to go Maximo! I love the penguin rock band!)

So, next time you're out, drop by a 7-Eleven or you local book store and check out a copy of DOMO: the Manga. If you're like me, and hardly ever get out of the house, you can always pick up the book on Amazon.

BUT WAIT! There's a SPECIAL option. I'm now taking pre-orders for the Domo book through my website. Go here to place an order: If you order a copy before October 17th, you'll get a bonus original sharpie marker rendering of Domo-kun by Lindsay Cibos included with your order. PLUS, purchasing a book enters you in our Peach in Portugal Giveaway (see details on my website here:!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swine Flu - ATTACK

This is a picture I worked on a while back as a companion piece for Viral. I never posted it on the blog and it seemed perfectly appropriate for this week's IllustrationFriday topic, "germs".

See the little green piggies? They’re coming for you.

...that reminds me. I'll need to look into getting vaccinated. I don't want to get sick/get other people sick, at all the art and anime conventions next year.

Sketched on 9”x12” Strathmore Bristol, finalized and painted in Photoshop CS 3. The image came together over a couple of days.

I used this picture and Viral on my most recent self promotion postcard. The explosive word bubble on the front is where the addressee sticker goes, but you can just imagine he's coughing his lungs up.

Unfinished Business

An associate of mine recently informed me that I never posted the finished images for Strength, or the Uncle Sam - What's for Dinner.

Uncle Sam - What's for Dinner

Aren't they handsome together.

-- More art soon!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strength - WIP

AKA Strong.

Another entry for The drawing is finished and composed, but I'm just starting on the painting. More soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Impatience: Full Walk-Thru

When I back up an image on DVD, I clean up any unnecessary intermediate files saved along with the big milestones. Before I delete the intermediate steps, I use them to build a developmental walk-thru that details the process that went into creating the image. These step-by-step guides are often helpful to look back on if I'm confused about how I did a painting technique or a special effect.

Here is the walk-thru for Impatience, along with step-by-step into annotations.

Concept sketch to digital rough.

Rough pencils to finished sketch.

Progression of the colors.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ted Kennedy Funeral - Quick Sketch

It was on TV in HD. Used the freeze frame function and did some quick, spur-of-the-moment portraits.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


My take on "Caution" for -- Just got it in under the wire.

I had two ideas for this piece. (Actually, three ideas if you include the quickly dismissed “semi-naked chick in caution tape” concept.) The first idea had to do with a runner bursting through a repeating black & yellow caution-tape finish line. The line marked the edge of a cliff and the runner continued past the edge, lunging into the sky. Was he flying or falling? Who knows? Maybe I’ll do this picture sometime. It seems like a strong concept.

The second idea was some sort of smiling swindler trying to take advantage of a person. The key to this piece would be the use of the black and orange-yellow color “caution sign” palette. It hit me that the swindler’s tie would make for a perfect pathway for the repeating black & yellow caution pattern. Several days later, the picture was complete.

Sketched on 9”x12” Strathmore Sketch paper. Finalized and painted in Photoshop CS 3.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mushroom Princess - Leisure

Rough sketch with colors

Inspiration for colors

More art soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Reverse Engineering a Peach

A couple of days ago, I was seized with the irrational desire to do a Princess Peach fanart picture. I wanted to do something cheesecakey, like a Gil Elvgren picture, but mixed with a James Jean-like surrealistic thread.

As preliminary work for the picture, I compiled a bunch of Princess Peach character art from around the web. When working on a picture based on a famous design I'll look over the official art and draw a couple of takes on the character. Working style into someone else's design is largely an unconscious process. However, to gain a more complete understanding of the character, I decided to formally break down the design and rebuild it.

I found two different full body renders of Princess Peach. The first is from the New Super Mario Bros. DS game(left), and the second is from Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii (right). At a glance the characters look the same, but resize the images so that their heads are the same size and then it's immediately obvious that the Smash Bros. Peach is taller than the New SMB Peach. I decided to toss the shorter Peach and work with the more modern Smash Bros. design.

To understand the character's build, I first need to determine her body proportions. To help with this process, I placed the art on and use the size of the character's head to figure out the height of the body. While I can't be sure of exactly where Peach's legs end underneath her gown, I can safely approximate Peach's height at around 5 heads tall, typical for a cartoon mascot character.

Typical adult proportions are around 7 1/2 heads. That would mean Peach, at about 5 heads high, has roughly the same body proportions as a 6 year old. Now, I'm sure the designers never intended to pair her up against a real human, but when you do, it illustrates how weird she looks. It seems that Princess Peach has an adult figure with a child's proportions.

Next, I figured out her anatomy by establishing some basic landmarks for her body. How long is her torso compared to her legs? Does she have a long midsection or a compact one? Where is her navel, and where does her torso end? Because Peach rarely struts around in anything skimpier than a ballroom gown, it's hard to be certain of her body lines. Doing my best with the clues in the visable anatomy and clothing, I created a model for her body.

To double-check my model, I compared the length of her legs against the upper torso and head. For most people, the legs (starting at the hip joint and running to the foot) are about the same length as the torso and head combined. It appears my take on Peach confroms to these proportions.

With the body lines established, I've acomplished the goal of deconstructing Princess Peach. Now that I know how she works, I can use the grid to translate her design to a side, back, or 2/3s view and create my own character design sheet.

For my rendition of Peach, I don't want her to look quite so young. Using the teen photo as a proportion guide, I cut up and stretch my sketch of Peach's body until her body matches the target proportions. This is the design I will use to create my illustration.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Art created for the weekly illustration challenge site, This is my take on the subject “Wrapped”.

“Wrapped” started with the octopus. I liked the idea of using its out-jutting tentacles as a framing device for the picture. I considered using a modern day diver, or an unfortunate swimmer as his victim, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was making the picture more mundane than required. Since there were no restrictions (and I’m already using a monster octopus) why not delve completely into the realm of fantasy, and make its victim into a mermaid?

There you have it. She’s wrapped.

The final image with a more restricted color palette.

I consciously limited the palette and degree of brushwork in this piece, modifying my painting style to match up with the sort of quick-turnaround work seen in magazine spot illustrations. I was shooting for two days, but the work took a little longer than expected – maybe 2.5 days in total.

The final sketch, drawn on a half sheet of 9”x12” Strathmore Sketch paper.

Basic color tones, plus “paper bark parchment” texture from I was glad to see that a little texture could bring the Octopus to life. Almost no shading or painting required. A nice trick when you can pull it off.

Color + dramatic shading.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Work-in-progress of a new picture for Mermaid meets Octopus. Flesh meets beak.

I'm going to cut back on the detail for this picture. I'll also be more restrained with my coloring. More spot illo, less Hildebrandt. Hoping for a two day turnaround.

Here's the work up.

Concept sketch (red/blue) with revised lines (black).

Rough sketch - Details on the mermaid character.

Rough sketch - Composed with the crop and ready for the final sketch pass.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Someone just can’t wait to be king. ;)

Art created for the weekly illustration submission site, This is my devious take on the subject, “Impatience”, for the week of August 9th, 2009. Similarities to any royal family, or member of any royal family, either living or dead, are purely coincidental.


Sketched on 9”x12” Strathmore Sketch Paper. Image finalized and painted in Photoshop CS 3. About 5 days from concept to completion.

This is the earlier, incomplete version that I posted on Thursday night. Lots of painting and palette alterations have happened since then.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Diary of Abandoned Pictures

As I back up images off my hard drive, I’m pausing to look back at pictures that never saw the light of day (aka the internet).

These images, sometimes scraps, sometimes nearly complete, litter the art directory on my hard drive. I never know what to do with these things. Occasionally I'll pop into a directory and browse the artwork. Very, very occasionally, I'll make a half-hearted attempt at finishing one of these remnants. I never get anywhere with these pictures though. There's always more important, more modern, or more relevant work that needs the time.

Incomplete projects can really weigh you down, and over the last several years, I've accumulated quite a few. I abandon these pictures for any of several possible reasons. In some cases, the images ran up against long term projects and had to be abandoned. In other cases, I was unhappy with the creative direction. Some pictures are contest entries that I didn't feel confident enough to submit. Finally, some pictures I completed to the point required to fulfill a task, and then left otherwise incomplete.

Whatever the case, it's time to make a record of these projects, wipe them off the hard drive, and move on. Life is full of endless possibilities. There's no point living in the past, or getting hung up on pictures that were never meant to be.

Fantasy-ish Girl Caught Changing.
An example of what happens when I try and make a "quickie" image. I wasn't happy with the direction the picture was going and realized it would take more time an attention than I was willing to give it. Therefore, it was abandoned.

Mage Fighter
Mage fighter was an image I desperately wanted to complete. The character art was in the cel coloring portion of Digital Manga Workshop. I intended to have the picture set is a London alleyway, but because of the time constraints on the book, I only managed to finish a small portion of the background before I had to move on. Note the woman's cockroach familiar.

Gymnastics Postcard Concept
During the 2008 Summer Olympics, Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson -members of the USA Gymnastics team - took gold and silver in the women's individual all-around. For 48-hours or so, all of America was excited about their victory. Then Michael Phelps won his 35th gold medal and all eyes shifted to him.
I considered doing a patriotic promotional postcard featuring these girls arching through the air hand-in-hand. Never got around to doing the picture, but I had blast sketching gymnasts in all sorts of body contorting poses.

Uhm... Yeah. Next.

The Zodiac
Set the way-back-machine to 2004. Sometime before working on Peach Fuzz volume 1, I started on the project of anthropomorphizing figures of the western zodiac into female characters. The series was taking longer than expected, and after completing 3 or 4 designs I ran smack dab into an 8 month long comic project. I put the Zodiac characters aside and never touched them again over the next 5 years. People really like these characters. I still receive emails about this project from time to time. I'm sorry, but the Zodiac project is officially over.

Cancer was nearly done and Aquarius was inked.

If it's any consolation, Lindsay later finished the designs as a series of chibis.
They're so freakin cute.

New York Anime Festival Mascot
The picture I planned to submit for their mascot contest. Somehow this picture became my ultimate nightmare. I ended up with 3 different versions of the character, and several differently styled color approaches. Unhappy with the results, and running up against the deadline, I left the picture unfinished.

Maybe it is finished... You decide.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Over the years, Lindsay Cibos and I have kept careful sales records, charting what pictures and products were successful with audiences at anime conventions. I started writing this document as a personal meditation on what works and what doesn’t at conventions, so that I’d have a better idea where to apply myself when it comes to creating images. What I found through writing this is that I was not only creating a list of factors that contributed to whether an image sells at conventions, but also a list of traits that helped explain why some artistic endeavors appeal on a broad scale. I thought my findings might be of interest to other artists, so I’ve taken the time to compile them. I hope that through sharing this info, other artists might also be inspired to share their own knowledge on the subject of creating successful art.

Conventions: Passing attraction. Picture yourself walking through a typical anime/comic convention dealer’s room. If the convention is worthwhile, then the floor is an overwhelming sensory experience. A vast diversity of people pack themselves into living channels that run down the length of cramped aisles. Strange and horrible smells arise from the crowd, assaulting your olfactory nerves. Ambient noise rings a deafening crescendo in your ears, forcing any conversations to take the form of highly focused yells. Your eyes dart from one visual highlight to another. You’re barely able to focus on navigation or destination. Everything around competes for your attention. You find yourself drifting along with everyone else.

Within the crowd, there are other distractions. Some attendees dress in elaborate costumes celebrating characters from popular shows, video games, comics, and anime. Other attendees wear bizarre fringe fashion and fetish-wear designed to display the maximum legal amount of skin.

Every aisle in the hall is lined with venders doing everything they can to attract people to their table. They erect huge displays featuring hard to find merchandise, they shout out enticing bargains, they stand on their tables and clash enormous replica swords together, and they play J-Pop music videos on large monitors at the maximum volume.


Now imagine yourself as an artist attending the convention. You decided to take the plunge, and put down $50 for a table in artist alley. Somewhere in this chaotic carnival of freaks and fandom, you reside. You set down an 8.5x11 inch art portfolio, and wait for a tide of people to crash into your table.

Will you succeed in generating interest in your art? Will you lose your time and investment, earn back your convention costs, or make a killing at the con? Like a general following Sun Tzu’s Art of War, it all depends on what preparations you made before the event and how you handle yourself at the event.

To be a successful artist, it helps to understand your product and the marketplace. What grabs attention and makes people want to buy? To help, I’ve broken down the factors I consider important to artistic success in a tiered hierarchy. From the standpoint of a convention attendee – AKA your potential customer – they move up the hierarchy making small, often subconscious assessments on whether the piece of art is appealing. If the art passes the test, it becomes more interesting to the viewer, and then they assess the work according to the next tier. Art that registers strongly on any tier is often successful. The more tiers a piece registers on, the more success it has.

Hierarchy of Traits Affecting Artistic Success

  • Venue
    • Quality
    • Size
  • Familiarity
    • Famous Characters
    • Popular Themes
    • Popular Subject Matter
  • Appeal
    • Cute
    • Cool
    • Sexiness
  • Controversy
  • Quality
  • Price
  • Personality

Over the next several blog posts, I’ll elaborate on this hierarchy. You’ll learn what makes an impact at conventions, and why. As you look over this list, you'll find these factors don't just apply to art at conventions either. The principles work just as well in the online marketplace, and can also be used to analyze the appeal of other artistic works, including fashion, writing, or even music.

In the next installment we’ll focus on the venue, the first and most important factor on whether your art will have an impact with an audience. See you next time!