Here's something I did last summer and never really showed publicly. Its for an upcoming mobile RPG called Ember. The publisher specifically wanted to reference my classic BioWare game art as this upcoming title is a top-down fantasy game similar to Baldur's Gate.
I had to do this one digitally so they could move the elements around. They wanted it to look like a painting, however so I painted it flat then chopped it up and rendered the parts of the figures that are covered up. App stores need weird horizontal formats , so flexibility is key.
A new Hearthstone expansion is out this week. Here's one of my new cards: Jungle Moonkin.
16X20" oil on panel.
Funny that a tiny card image viewed on a phone is in fact almost 2 foot-wide painting. But since I wanted to extend the art horizontally, it had to be this size to accommodate for a decent vertical amount of space for the seen cropped part.
EDIT: for any Hearthstone print requests, see what art I have on www.sassart.com and drop me a line with your request and mailing address to firstname.lastname@example.org. Prints are 20$ USD plus 5$ shipping by Paypal.
Yesterday I received an e-mail from a student asking for my thoughts on digital versus traditional art:
"Hello sir! I'm a college student pursuing an art career and currently trying to assemble
information for a persuasive speech. I wanted to know if you would maybe be
interested in answering a few questions about your career? If you could, I'd
appreciate it immensely! You are one of my favorite artists and you are in a
career path that I plan to follow. 1. Since you are an artist who does
both traditional and digital art, would you consider the digital interface just
as "valid" as any traditional work? Why? 2. Have you ever been faced with
someone who claimed that your digital artist career wasn't true art? 3.
Do you find that your techniques for digital art are similar to your techniques
for traditional art? Thank you so much in advance!"
Fortunately, a couple months ago I had written an essay for a book on just this topic, so I sent her my article. I intended to at some point post this publicly but forgot until yesterday when the exact question was asked, so I guess it's the perfect time to make a blog post.
Below is the essay, I hope you find it interesting:
Working in digital
versus traditional media as a genre artist.
everything is for the craftsman who transforms a part of the world
with his own hands, who can see his work as emanating from his being
and can step back at the end of a day or lifetime and point to an
object- whether a square of canvas, a chair or a clay jug – and see
it as a stable repository of his skills and an accurate record of his
years, and hence feel collected together in one place, rather than
strung out across projects which long ago evaporated into nothing one
could hold or see."-Alain De Botton. The Pleasures and
Sorrows of Work.
The above quote would
indicate that I am firmly in the camp of the traditional painter.
While in spirit that is true, in practice my computer is a powerful
and valued creative partner.
There are significant differences and
ramifications in the choice to illustrate traditionally or digitally.
To the uninitiated fan, non-artist or even adept with a refined
process, this question may seem like a simple matter of preference.
While media preference is a huge (and possibly most important)
factor, it may also be at odds with long term success in this
challenging industry. For young artists mulling their options, I
hope my relatively equal experience with each media can provide some
insight and direction.
My experience with digital art
stretches back to art college in 1994, with the use of Photoshop 2.0.
The early versions of today's powerful digital tools still provided
a massive shift in capability at that time. There was much easy and
"free" graphic results that easily impressed, compared to
an average student's attempts with markers and letraset. The
following year I was thrust into an environment working on video
games with homemade and early versions of 3-d digital tools. Over
the next 12 years I worked at BioWare as an art director and Director
of Production art, working in Photoshop, Corel Painter, Lightwave, 3d
Studio Max, and various game engine technologies. At the same time
that I was immersed in the digital world, I studiously attended
workshops, visited the museums of Europe and educated myself in the
centuries-old craft of oil painting.
After leaving the video games industry
in 2008 I embarked on the journey of becoming a "fantasy
illustrator", modifing my painting procedure to facilitate the
look and speed needed to work for publication. Sable brushes
replaced hogs hair ones and factory-prepared panels supplanted bulky,
Working equally in paint and on the
computer today, each project demands I constantly answer the question
of what media to use. Its usually not as simple as choosing the
stylus or the brush, as each step in the illustration process can be
a digital or traditional one, and there is a gain-loss balance you
need to be consciously aware of for every step and every project.
Our tool choices are generally a combination of practical
requirements filtered through preference, as we will see.
In October, 2011 I took the plunge and
switched to using oil paints instead of the computer for a
professional assignment. I was doing 25 lower-expectation-lower-risk
interior book illustrations, and I knew the inclusion of some oils
wouldn't cause alarm.
The results of my first few paintings
were fine, but not spectacular. My minor dissatisfaction with the
results provided a greater motivation to eliminate their shortcomings
which served as omnipresent tangible reminders, not simply buried in
a computer folder. There is more at stake in creating a physical
painting than a digital one. It can take twice as long, but more
importantly its permanence demands it to be an expression of your
best efforts. This is the first lesson I learned when I made the
switch. Something hanging on a wall and constantly looked at will
mercilessly remind you or the viewer of its shortcomings, while a
sub-par digital painting can easily be deleted or forgotten. My
first few oils didn't utilize much reference, and I regretted not
being totally thorough with the process. The 5% additional labour of
taking some quick photos made the difference between a passable
published work stored in my closet and something I am happy with
displaying for posterity or selling. My annoyance with a painting's
shortcomings led to much growth from the motivation to fix issues and
apply lessons immediately. They were much more work, so I needed to
make it count.
Producing tangible oil paintings also
allowed me to get better by enlightening me to the key aspects of
good art by viewing it in different contexts. Catching a glimpse of
a finished work in a dim room under different lighting impressed upon
me the importance of a simple, effective value structure. Seeing a
painting in less-then-optimal light or from a distance, the success
(or lack thereof) of compositional structure became clear. Making
real paintings will give you an appreciation for other real
paintings, the hierarchy of effective visual choices and the
importance of planning. There is no "undo" button.
Working traditionally will force you to become a better artist and
open new artistic avenues for exhibitions, original sales, personal
works and a legacy of tangible, appreciating artifacts.
Personally, my oil paintings take about
double the time as my digital ones of similar scope (Notwithstanding
the time-cost of buying materials, varnishing, photographing, etc.)
If the original painting is worth the same value (eg. $1000) of the
commission fee for the image, then it's technically a wash. I could
do 2 digital illustrations in the same time as 1 oil, and thus the
money is equal. However, take into full consideration the difference
between doing 2 pieces versus 1:
2 compositions, 2X the communication
with the client, 2X the potential for things to go wrong (many
changes, not being paid, not having a good idea, etc). Now compare
this to completing 1 painting in twice the time where the labour may
be greater by the focus can be distilled and the painting be made to
be a large, expensive original piece. The math starts to make more
sense when the $1000 original is worth $3000 or more. Suddenly that
$1000 illustration assignment is a month-long project that is
building your reputation in other areas, growing your artistic
capabilities and giving you a portfolio of larger works. A portfolio
of big images will lead you to get more of the same level of
commercial assignments and private commissions, but if you go the
purely "volume" digital route, then you will have to find
the extra time to make larger, personal works to have the same
portfolio and opportunities. (And with today's illustration rates
good luck with that!)
In fact, illustration rates have
changed little in the past few decades, even dropping in some cases
as quality expectations have only increased. This poses an issue
for artists in every medium and underscores the need for commercial
work to have potential for secondary income streams. The supply and
demand rule would indicate that we would need an increase in top tier
companies and projects outpacing the influx of new artists to force
illustration rates higher. Those prospects are dubious and out of your control.
Alternatively, increased demand and escalating prices for your
original art is a realistic goal based on the quality of your work
and your efforts to build a collector base, rather than market forces
outside your sphere of influence. There have been a number of bulk
purchases by well-heeled collectors in recent years snapping up large
quantities of originals from popular franchises. Fans are just
starting to realize that this art is available for sale, and the more
mature comic art market may be a harbinger of potential future value
for fantasy game art-collectibles.
Today's illustrators need to look at
the lifetime-value of each artwork. Can the art be made into prints
and "merch", re-licensed or spun into physical by-products:
studies, sketches, originals. Can you gather the work into a book or
have a gallery show? A great piece of digital art trumps an average
oil painting in your ability to extend it's value into new and
profitable forms. If my Facebook feed is any indication, only a
small subset of artists, fans, and clients care to differentiate
between digital and natural media. Inspiring and memorable digital
images don't need an asterisk qualifying that it took less effort;
as imagery, it just doesn't matter. What matters is that the method
of creation you chose is the best choice for maximizing impact and
income over the long-term.
What are the professional implications of changing your tools? I
have been fortunate enough to not lose any clients with my media
switch, but it was also a transition almost 10 years in the making.
Understandably there is little sympathy from your clients if you
can't be "on brand" or provide the fidelity required to
illustrate an awe-inspiring narrative. No one may care that you put
triple the time into your oil painting or that it's layers and
texture delight in person. In fact, that painterly charm might make
the work difficult to photograph or read as messy once the art is
scanned for publication. You may have no choice in media if you are
set on the particular highly rendered, low-paying fantasy genre
marketplace if you can't seamlessly transition.
Digital art has many advantages in
fidelity, finish and flexibility. My 20" cintiq monitor zoomed
into a digital painting is the equivalent of working with a 000 brush
on a 4 foot wide ulta-smooth panel. The amount of detail and control
digital art allows has made traditional media a rarity in the corners
of the illustration field that demand such rendering.
(Interestingly, the ascent to these standards has seen new trends in
flat, simplified and stylized illustration as a counter-point to the
mass of glowing ultra-detailed digital work.) Most of the top
traditional illustrators in the fantasy genre got in and built-up
before the digital arms-race had a chance to exclude their talents.
Oftentimes, being a traditional painter of these subjects means you
simply won't be able to render at the speed and complexity of your
fellow artists, and your work will need to survive on effective
composition and evocative mood. Alternatively, as a digital artist,
you have almost no bounds to the visual expressions of colored
pixels. Digital art is valuable in relation to its ability to
empower the artist to make effective imagery efficiently. Digital
imagery can be reproduced, licensed and leveraged into product for
sale and be far more profitable than originals who's content lack
One of the strengths in using digital
tools is the ability to quickly produce alot of work and grow your
compositional picture-making skills. If you make good, purposeful
decisions, they can transfer across media. My advice in the use of
digital media is to use it simply. I generally use one "brush"
and one layer in Corel Painter. Each bit of pixel-paint being a
color and value that I know should be there, with sound reasoning.
If you are using a bunch of adjustment layers and continuously
fiddling with the overall tones of the image as an equal task to the
pixel-painting-application, then you are using the tool for discovery
and that process is not going to build painting facility nor be
transferable across media. Go slower, do the preparatory studies and
make sure the act of creating digital art is an intentional
process-driven craft. The assurance of efficient results is key to
art under deadline.
Digital art is so empowering that its
benefits can close the very doors an artist is trying to open.
Thousands of digital artists (including me!) are clamoring to produce
the slickest, most vibrant awe-inspiring imagery and are upping the
ante so fast that the benefits of digital media are nullifying itself
due to its over-saturation or unattainable standards. Just as a
young artist's portfolio is approaching an acceptable quality bar,
that bar is pushed higher by the marketplace. Do we keep pushing
forward or do we find a way to make our voices heard by taking a step
sideways? A change in media is one of the obvious ways to start on a
different path. We therefore have to ask ourselves if the goal of
our art is imagery or artifact, expression or self-expression.
I don't want to make a qualitative
assertion that physical art has any universal dominance over digital
art. An image can change the world, and an oil painting can languish
forgotten and unseen if there is nothing that resonates. Each has
obvious utility in different corners of the art world. Both have
advantages, and as a genre illustrator being able to do both is an
empowering angle in a career defined by internal and external change.
As previously stated, my prescription
to utilize digital's benefits and avoid it's pitfalls is to paint
with the same intelligent mindset regardless of tool. To ensure that
hand dexterity is exercised I always do initial sketching on paper,
even if the other 95% of the work will be on screen. Most
professional illustrators in the fantasy gaming field employ a
back-and-forth approach, switching from paper to computer frequently
as a tool's benefits dictate. Most of the painters I know prepare
roughs and create color studies on the computer, as their paintings
needs to compare side-by-side with digital art in its published
context. I have no issue using the computer extensively in service
of a painted end-product, and strict adherence to some sort of
inflexible process-dogma is professional suicide.
I guess the discussion of "traditional
versus digital" is somewhat moot considering the fact that
digital processes are so widespread with so-called traditional
painters in this field. The real question is if the efforts to
obtain a physical end-product are worth it. There are real risks and
rewards to working in paint, and it's a balancing act to determine if
your preferences and abilities are properly aligned and the timing
The most important aspect in your
choice of media is the question of "what do you love to do??"
Since the remuneration aspects are dicey, your fuel in this industry
is your passion. The traditional path is a steeper one, and its
potential future benefits are irrelevant if your oil painting skills
hold you back from gaining career traction and momentum as an
illustrator. Choosing a primary media doesn't preclude you from
switching in the future or using other tools in your process. The
important thing is that your path leads to growth and fulfillment.