Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cath Palug

Claws in the Night
Size: 12x17 inches
Medium: Watercolors
Details closeups -here-
Prints and original available -here-
In Progress sketches -here-

As told in Llyfr Gwyn Rhydderch (or the Mabinogion), a collection of Welsh legends:

At the Black Stone in Llanfair in Arfon, the great sow Henwen gave birth to a kitten (after having previously birthed a wolf-cub and an eagle). Coll mab Collfrewy was the swineherd, and when he picked up this ferocious little kitten, ball of scratching and fur and claws, and Coll hurled it into the sea to drown.

The kitten clung to life as fiercely as it had clawed at Coll, and managed to survive and swim to shore at Anglesey, where it was discovered and raised by the sons of Palug. (Hence the name Cath Palug, "Palug's Cat", although it is sometimes thought to be translated as "clawing cat" as well.)

It is said that this Cath Palug grew to become an enormous beast who terrorized the surrounding lands. When word came of the ravages, King Arthur sent his knight Sir Cai to dispatch the giant cat. Nine-score warriors and champions rode alongside Cai...and none of them returned, save Cai. How the confrontation went - whether Cai slew Cath Palug, or simply fled...the poems and stories do not say.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

VBC (Very Big Cat)

Sketch on the table for upcoming painting. Cath Palug. Sir Kai and his buddies don't know what they're in for.

Sketches that led up to that final.
Palug with the Cat next to him. Wanted more focus on the Cat though. Tried a different pose. Stalk-stretching with the boy riding him. But that seemed too...domesticated. Like a horse (or He-Man's Cringer! oh no!) Scribbles of Kai and co. in the bottom right. Top left rough thumbnail composition.

Attempted combo of two concepts. Still not quite there.

Tried a different pose. Liked the low-to-the-ground panther-type-stalking, tail swishing.

Some more photoshop to figure out composition, and a digitally scribbled in tree for them to stand on instead of a cliff. Finally happy with this, and so it becomes the basis for the final sketch.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Smooth Backgrounds without Masking Fluid

When working in the negative space and painting a background in around a foreground element that you want to keep clean, you might look at all the tight corners and crevices and think that the only possible way to accomplish the task would be with masking fluid. Not so - I rarely use masking fluid these days. I find that painting around is much faster and effective, and I feel that the various aspects of a piece are better integrated if I can avoid masking fluid's hard edges.

For this piece, in the initial stages, I painted around all the fish. I wanted the water to be smooth and blended, but not to interfere with the bright oranges and whites of the koi.

Started by using a round brush to lay in some greens quickly, starting from one corner where I do want a hard edge (the lower surface of the water). Work quickly, making sure the paint stays wet. It's not such a large area that this is difficult though. Starting in small tight corners is easiest.

The lower left area near the fish's tail is where I'm continuing the greens. Making sure that lower edge stays wet, I dilute the paint on my brush a bit, and then start to pull that wet edge downwards and around into the next chunk of background.

Dilute some more, and continue pulling that lower wet edge downwards until it fades into the white of the paper.

Once this layer dries completely, I can repeat this process, starting in a new corner and pulling the edges of the wet paint out to blend into the surroundings. As long as the edge always blends to clear, you can layer small sections of washes like this, and have a (mostly) seamless background.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lo Clasico @ Fort Mason Cowell Theater

Venturing out into the stormy sleet this afternoon to see Lo Clasico at Fort Mason's Cowell Theater in San Francisco with Bern. A Flamenco treat!

A little difficult to get too much sketching done since it was dark, but I managed a few scribbles.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Iron Khan

Iron Khan
Medium: Watercolor
Size: 12x17 inches
Prints and Original available -here-
Detail closeups -here-

Cover for Iron Khan by Liz Williams, to be published by Morrigan Press within the next month. The floating city of Agarta in the distance.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beginnings - Part 3 - Balancing Acts

A continuation of -this post- from several months ago.

I've been meaning to get back to this topic for months now, but just haven't found the spare time. Adjusting to being a mother as well as squeezing painting time in hasn't left me with quite as much ~other~ time, like rambling in here.

So anyway, I left off last time at where I got my first few illustration jobs. Parallel to that however I was doing something else as well, which I think separates me a little from my other artist peers. Most of the other artists I know seem to fall into those who mainly make their living doing work for publication/commissions/illustration or working for a large game or movie company doing concepts or in-house art; and those artists who don't bother with the entertainment market and instead focus purely on licensing and print sales. Basically artwork that is dictated by someone else's needs and designs, vs. your own artwork which you then need to find a way to market and sell (if you intend to make a living out of it). Somehow I managed to land straddling in between with one foot on either side.

With the former, your self-marketing approach is to focus on the art directors. The ADs and their companies worry about the publicity and distribution of their products (featuring your artwork). However, landing the jobs and keeping your pipeline full is your responsibility. It can get tiring tracking the various jobs and commissions and making sure your schedule is not over (or under) booked, and keeping yourself on track and not procrastinating. Also your art becomes focused on realizing other peoples' concepts.

The latter model gives artistic freedom (of a sort). You're free to draw and paint whatever your heart desires; as long as you can figure a way to make it something your audience will want to hang on their wall. If you're fortunate, you can find that audience; and then things become a balance of staying true to your own artistic vision while resisting the temptation to just create "easy to sell" art. The key is to love what you are creating. If you ever feel pressured, unhappy, or forced to do subject matter then it is time to re-examine why you're doing it in the first place. If I didn't love painting what I paint...I might as well go back to getting a programming job. The down-side of this business model is that it's time intensive. You become a retailer of your own artwork: maintaining a website shop, traveling to shows to sell, dealing with shipping and licensing, etc.

Being in between these two has let me enjoy illustrating for publication the subject matter that I actually want to do. I don't have to maintain a constant packed commission pipeline because the other part of my business gives me the freedom to choose the jobs that really appeal to me. This results in me producing better artwork. Subject matter that you connect to is always going to inspire the creation process so much more.

A rather long aside, but to get back to my original tale about how I managed to find this path:
Parallel to sending out my portfolio to art directors of various game companies, I started my website. I also started posting artwork on Elfwood, which was only a couple years old at that time. I donated some artwork for Thomas to use on the web design, and for that favor I got links from the front page of the site to my gallery, and from there to my website. That was the beginning stream of traffic I had directed to Now there are many other gallery options as well - Epilogue, DeviantArt, GFXartist, etc, from which to gather traffic. This is good and bad I think. More options as an artist. But more options dilutes the viewers as well. I think that the successful results I saw were due in part to the limited websites of this sort, which focused attention. Similarly when I began to post prints to Ebay, the smaller size of it in 1999 meant my listings weren't just floundering under everything else.

I get asked by young artists how to establish themselves. I'm afraid there's no easy answer; my own path has been meandering and a result of serendipitous timing and emerging markets on the internet. I think that each artist has to find their own way - and in part the artwork itself dictates how that will happen. Even at the same place and same time, someone with a different style and voice would have to go about it in another fashion.

Two and a half years into my "two year post college plan" I found myself still in my software job. By this time however I had stretched out various tendrils in several directions. I was getting regular commission work from various game publishers, and I had a reasonable revenue stream coming from my website and ebay. It was hard to think of quitting software though. Health insurance, stable predictable job, stock options! But then some calamitous events in my personal life triggered me into finally quitting software and stepping into what seemed terribly scary - self employment, in 2001. I actually resisted completely severing all ties at first and managed to get Plumtree Software to agree to give me an extended leave of absence. However, I never returned.

For the first few years I did a whole lot of commission/game work. There's a sparkle and excitement to seeing your work in print. After a while though, that sparkle wore off and I realized that though being in print was a thrill, doing artwork that had meaning to me, AND that could be in print was even more amazing. At that point I started being more picky about what jobs I took on, deciding that it was better to dedicate my resources to personal work in between commissioned projects, and only taking on the jobs that really called to me.

... Perhaps to be continued again sometime in the (near) future. Any topics in particular you'd like to hear about? Please let me know!

Iron Khan in progress 2

Got a reasonable chunk of painting time in today! Things starting to look blurry right now though *yawn*. Definitely time to call it a night.

Iron Khan in progress

Some progress being made...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Blue Magic

Oh my goodness, my box of blue magic arrived. The colors are so vibrant, and there are some gemstone based ones as well (mmm...Lapis Lazuli blue). An assortment of blues from Kremer. I can't wait to use these on something. Perhaps on the Iron Khan painting that's waiting to get started.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Big Batch o ACEO and Keyword Cards

Oops, I've forgotten to upload these for a while. Here's a bunch that I've done in the past month.

ACEOs (clockwise): koi, Astraea, devotion, enchanter, monkey, monkey

Keyword cards: absolute, bravery, dragon, bard, Ganesha, compassion, orca, bliss, determination

Keyword cards: spire, Morrigan, universe, duality, wisdom, goddess, calla, owl
Keyword cards: path, dryad, stag, heather, fun, blessed, mischief

Keyword cards: spider, hope, fairy, sagisou, selkie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Iron Khan sketches

Sketch for a book cover project in the works. Above is the finalized sketch that I'm ready to start painting. I'm thinking to hold off breaking out the brushes just yet though because last week I splurged and bought myself some brand new assortment of paints from Kremer Pigments. I'm so eager to try them out and can't wait for them to arrive! **art geeking** Ah, but this kit of Blues just looks so lovely....

Some of the scribbles that led to the final:

The initial 3 thumbnail concepts I sent to the client. The first and third options were more literal to the action of the story, while the second one more of a fantastical combination of various aspects. Authenticy to the tale as opposed to direct accuracy. It was my own personal favorite option, but I wasn't holding too much hope the client would choose it (because the client never ever picks the one the artist thinks is best!) Surprise, she did concur and picked #2, which made me very happy!

Elaborated on it, getting the details of the bird and figure down. Flipping through the manuscript to make sure I get the details of it correct.

Refining the City as well. Pulling out references for Asian style architecture. Haven't really done Asian cities very often (if at all)...more used to European castles and fantastical cities. Photoshop magic to get everything placed correctly and make sure the composition isn't lopsided. Then it gets printed out and I transfer the final drawing to the illustration board!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

VOOTTOO December discount code

VOOTTOO has just informed me that there is a 20% discount in December for all skins. Just enter the discount code "STEPHLAWDEC" when you check out. Also should note that if you need your order to be in before Christmas, the last day for that would be December 12th. I've just uploaded a whole bunch of new pictures from the past six months as well, so there should be more recent artwork available!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Seduction

The Seduction
Size: 17x12 inches
Medium: Watercolors
Detail closeups: -here-
Prints and original available: -here-
Sketches: -here- and -here-

* * *

She sings with voice that's summer-laced
She lifts her arms with lithesome grace
She dances, skips, steps back a pace,
and beckons, haloed in the light.

"Lay your head down, come and sleep.
Let weary world drift to your feet.
Lay your head down, come and sleep.
Taste of innocence so sweet."

She beckons, lures, and tempts to chase.
No shadows fall upon her face.
She chimes, "Come share a sacred place
we carve to keep back night."

"Anemones cup crimson wine:
Let words and needs sift past, like wheat.
Leave marigolds to dream of dawn.
Taste poppy juice, so rich and sweet."

She promises no promises taken,
nevermore to be forsaken;
a peace from which to never waken:
Taste of innocence so sweet.

* * *

In European legends, it was said that a unicorn could not be captured by force. The only way to subdue the fantastic beast was to let a maiden wait alone. Lured by her, the unicorn would venture near, and lay his head upon her lap, at which time the hunters could spring on the creature.

In Medieval writings and art, the unicorn was frequently symbolic of Christ, most famously in the unicorn tapestries depicting The Hunt of the Unicorn and telling the story of Christ from birth to resurrection.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Custom ACEOs

Samples of my new offering of some custom keyword ACEOs. These are the same concept as the keyword Special Edition tarot cards where the customer provides a single word for me to base the image from.

Left to right: Koi, Gryphon, Dhampir

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unicorn final sketch

Ready for painting!

"No no no. That's not good," says Dana. "That's why there aren't any more unicorns!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

"The Seduction" - Unicorn rough sketches

Rough sketch from my sketchbook for a piece in the works.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foxes of the Past

On the heels of this most recent painting (A Dream of Grace), I was asked by a few people about my past pieces on a similar theme. The older pieces I had retired from my website, but I thought I'd post them here to satisfy the curiosity for those who have never seen them.

As time passes, I find myself occasionally wanting to revisit concepts I've explored in the past. With a new perspective or twist, a new eye, and (hopefully) better skills. One hopes that it can go beyond simple rehashing of the same tired images, and instead approach a subject with more visual eloquence granted by the passage of time and experience.

True Reflections (2009) was my most recent foray with fox spirits. This was a piece I did for Dreamscapes, Myth & Magic in a chapter dedicated to exploring trickster archetypes. Foxes and fox spirits fit into this segment quite naturally. The piece itself was kept more basic in composition, and I had to rein in my tendencies to elaborate too much, due to the restraints of having to make the painting something that would fit into a step-by-step format.

Kitsune (2001). Quite a jump back! I did this piece for my friend Sylvia Leung's web-comic, Wish3, based on her character Himitsu - fox spirit, friend, guardian, guide. Anatomy ( both for the girl and the foxes) was clunky, And my color palette was a bit less refined at the time. I liked really vibrant, distinct shapes. Partly that was due to the fact that I was still doing a whole lot of digital painting as well, and the in-your-face colors of painting on a screen with light pixels was how I tried to paint with watercolors as well. I like to think that I've since developed more subtlety, and learned to appreciate watercolors more for themselves, while keeping a really glowing and vibrant palette.

Lady of the Gingkos (2002). I'd recently come back from a sojourn in Japan. It was autumn, and the trees were glorious cathedrals of living light - fiery orange and emerald maple foliage, and carpets of golden gingko leaves. In Kyoto I visited a temple of Inari (to whom foxes are sacred, and whose temples are often guarded by two white foxes). A tunnel of crimson torii gates stretched up the mountainside, flanked by a bamboo forest. In the dimness along the path, with the eerie whisper of the swaying bamboo, there were occasional fox statues. The image of that place formed the inspiration for this piece.
A Dream of Grace was an attempt to go back to this image that I had in my mind. My own "dream of grace" perhaps. Trying to approach and capture the feeling of mystery and wonder that I had in me at times during that trip. As a result, the new painting does have a similar color scheme, and there are familiar elements, like the swirl of gingko leaves, and the fox-spirit-maiden has an echo of the pose from this original piece.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Dream of Grace

A Dream of Grace
Size: 12x17 inches
Medium: Watercolors
Prints and original -here-
Detail closeups -here-

Throughout Asian folklore, there tales of fox spirits. A common variation in both Chinese and Japanese stories is of the man who finds himself traveling alone. He comes upon a beautiful girl, and falls in love with her at first sight. It is only later that he discovers she is a fox spirit, having beguiled him either for her own fancy, or sometimes for darker purposes.

* * *

A dream of mist:
of ghostly shapes,
of sauntering shadows,
beneath moon's pale disk.

A dream of trees:
that rake the sky,
of silent sentinels,
a lattice of etched leaves.

A dream of beauty:
she glides with a grace
of a leaf skirting the wind,
silver moon-touched face.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Kitsune in progress

A bit of painting time today. Made some reasonable headway. The background trees have come out sufficiently spooky as I had in mind. Paintings don't always go the way I want or expect, but this one is so far doing quite well in that respect.

Going to have to pause here though, as I probably won't have a chance to get back to this until Monday, since I'll be at the Sacred Well tomorrow, and Sunday will be busy celebrating my daughter's 1 year birthday. Amazing how fast the past year has gone!

And I sound like a broken record...but I LOVE this purple....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ACEOs & Keyword Sketch Cards

On the Tarot Special Edition front, I've finally gotten caught up enough with the backlog, that a waiting list is no longer necessary. However, it still does take about 3 weeks from when you place an order for me to get it processed, due to the customized card.

Due to the popularity of the keyword sketch cards, I've decided to offer ACEOs along that vein. I accept a single keyword to inspire the drawing. They are done on 3.5x2.5 inch archival bristol board, and protected with a clear plastic sleeve. For more information and pricing, -click here-

Keyword sketches going out in the mail this week:

Clockwise - butterflies, dreams, wolves, raven, cups, fulfillment, way, always
Clockwise: seiner, forest, vampire, dancer, passion

Clockwise: writer, chaos, shaman, destiny, tree, mask, hummingbird, passion

Clockwise: owl, fantasy, lion, grace

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kitsune Sketches

Eek, November has been flying by. I have no idea how the weeks have passed, but my paint brushes definitely need to be pulled out. Next piece on the drawing table, Kitsune! Ready to get started with painting. Borrowing a little from my ooold painting "Lady of the Gingkos" with the dress that trails off into gingko leaves.

A couple of the preliminary sketches. First scribbles for the fox maiden. Felt too posed though. Wanting her to have a more unconscious grace. Just walking down a mossy path and unawares of her otherworldliness.
Next sketch. Lost in her own thoughts; or perhaps only pretending to be so, to lure the unwary. Eventually went with this concept, though I tweaked the sizing and placement of elements a bit in photoshop before settling onto the final composition.