Monday, July 25, 2011

Aquanauts process detail # 4 Character close ups and descriptions

The final detail shots of this painting are of the characters.  I made up a fun little back story character description which kept me going as I painted.  From left to right is...

DREQ-Al  - (former) Commander ( full name unpronounceable - name sounds like human sneeze - condensed to Dreq  - Aquatic Alien from planet ( homeworld unpronounceable ) - referred to by star chart binary as PL86 - 75309 ;)   Dreq body has regenerative abilities like Earth Starfish.
Personal Log Quote " rggreregrgryy yyegruiuhjh hzzzzsssss!"  - ( Explicit content - Translation Deleted )
MIGUEL FUENTES New Commanding officer & Aquanaut war vet - Human male - Born Dominican Republic - Earth
Personal Log Quote #2 " It's all fun and games until someone gets blown out an airlock "
There typically isn’t any ethnic diversity in the humans depicted in sci fi fantasy illustration for whatever reason. So here was a chance to add an African American male and Japanese woman to the scene.  Nothing stereotypical or stupid.  I wanted him to have a heroic yet contemplative gaze.  More of a Benjamin Sisko vibe than “Homeboys from Outer Space”.  I felt his complexion and suit color would give a nice color accent and color contrast to what is essentially a blue painting.  Here is a close up of the face.  I’ve really been inspired lately by the work of portrait painters like David Kassan, Simmie Knox and Garin Baker.

SIVA – (former) Chief Medical Officer  - Amphibious Humanoid Female from small moon orbiting former commander’s homeworld. Hates Dreq's species due to a little issue of the enslavement of Siva's race and subsequent genocide of 3/4 her population.  Arrested for multiple assassination attempts on Dreq.
Personal Log Quote " Dreq?  Dreq can suck my left pouchling sac!  If she gets injured on an away mission she's on her own.   Believe that!"
Personal Log Quote #2  “When I find a way to kill something whose organs and limbs grow back…your ass is mine!”

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Aquanauts process detail #3 Value Study & Final Painting

When working in oils I follow the Frank Reilly method of painting that was started back in the 1950’s at the Art Student’s League.  This method taught me to paint with a controlled palette.  As I move through a painting almost all my essential colors are premixed into value strings from light to dark.  I toggle back and forth between direct painting and careful premixed areas.  There’s merit to both diving straight in and pre mixing for guaranteed results.  Ultimately you have to go with whatever works best for you.
3 value gray tone study - oil 3"x 6"?
Here are some stages of painting the background.  I tone the board in acrylics just enough to eliminate the glowing white surface but not enough to lose my underdrawing road map.  From there I move background to foreground and refine as I go.
This is a photo of my palette after a day’s work.  Based on this I was painting the creature’s head and arm.  I work on a glass palette placed inside a Masterson palette box.  A piece of masonite toned with a neutral gray rests underneath the glass.  This box retards the drying time of oils and can keep my mixtures wet for days.  If you premix an oil palette then put this box in the refrigerator, your palette can last well over a week.  Airtight box in a cold airtight box.  The fridge step was beneficial back in college but I don’t go that far anymore.

 Find out more about Frank Reilly:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Aquanauts process detail #2 Drawing and Color Sketch

As seen on Stargate Atlantis...Which is not why I bought it
About 80% of the prep work I do for a digital or traditional painting starts digitally on a fully loaded tablet PC.  This is used to handle my concept work as well as all my client presentations.  I use the Toshiba 14” satellite R25-S3503. 
When it comes to drawing something that I will paint, I don’t bother with tonal rendering. Instead I try to block out the planes of the faces, establish my light and dark then move on. Working out my values and light/dark contrast can be done in the color study. 

 At this stage I’ve basically worked out what I want the image to look like.  If it had remained a digital painting this color study would have represented my first layer/ first wash of color.  The whole image could’ve been done in less than a week.  No concerns of drying time or clean up.  This color sketch took about 2 hours.  I drop the saturation to 0% to check my values as I go. 

The high resolution drawing is then taken to my local art store. The original drawing file was 13”x21.7” @ 300 dpi.  I had the printer nearly double that to 24”x40”on acid free vellum.  Since this was a personal piece I wanted something that hopefully would have presence from across the room instead of working at a smaller scale to save time. 
Before transferring the drawing, my panel was primed and sanded 3-4 times to make sure I had a strong smooth surface to work on.  The edges of the board were also sealed with gesso to make sure no moisture damaged the bond of the MDF (medium density fiberboard).  MDF doesn’t like water.  The drawing is transferred, primed and ready to go.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aquanauts process detail #1 Gathering References

After a round of rough sketches I had a fairly good idea what the composition and overall concept would be.   I then set out to find reference materials for the figures and environment.  Since the environment needed to be set deep underwater, looking to photos and paintings showing light falloff from the surface didn’t apply.   Oceanography photos of deep sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles were studied, as well as images of various sea creatures.  Professional models were also used.

 I could have made up how light fell across an alien head but it needed to be as believable as the other two figures.  Luckily I had originally done a sculpture last year that fit perfectly.  It was just a small head and neck maquette done for fun.  When I had the opportunity to do this painting it felt natural to drop her in.  The wet look to the maquette was achieved by applying my mom’s clear nail polish.  I didn’t have the professional gloss coat normally used for sculpey but this worked just fine.  I’m glad I put time into every wrinkle of her skin.   Reflected blue light popped up in areas I would never have expected.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Illustrations that depict a person(s) standing in front of or gazing out a large window have been a staple in american sci fi for almost a century.
    Usually the image will show some futuristic vista on another world or more commonly a colorful nebula.  For that reason alone I decided to relocate this entire image deep into the unknown abyss of the ocean and focus on the characters within this world.  For beneath the surface lies the future… a shameless quote from the intro to “Seaquest”. 

 This image was done for an upcoming sci fi art exhibition being held this month at the Tubman Museum in Macon, Georgia.  The Show will include the work of JP Targete, "Brotherman" creator Dawud Osaze Kamau Anyabwile and many others working in the field of comics, illustration and fine art.
It was really cool to be included in the invitational for the exhibition.
I liked the idea of doing a simple portrait of a human officer standing between two opposing alien races on some distant aquatic planet.   I gave two of the aliens’ gills to suggest some common link between the two.   Here is the result.  24” x 40” Oil on MDF panel. 
A few weeks ago I met a number of students from all over the world at a workshop given by James Gurney.  Some of them had  many questions that I tried my best to answer without visuals.  So for them and you, the next few posts will chronicle the creation of this image from start to finish.


This is a grand experiment, the first entry of a long overdue blog.  The last few years have been bittersweet.  They have also been the most demanding and rewarding of my career.  I can only hope that the future holds even greater professional challenges.  I’m currently working as lead concept designer of unannounced projects for The Blue Man Group.  In 2010 I also had the honor of working remotely with Richard Taylor’s design and fabrication team at WETA Workshop on designs that didn’t involve middle earth.   BMG has two years worth of my portfolio that I can’t show publicly for at least another year.  So I figured it was time to post some new work in order to remind companies that I exist.    

I would like this blog to be a visual archive of things I’ve done, places I’ve been, works in progress and various images I will show when NDA’s clear.  So I guess without further adieu…Begin Captain’s Blog: Artdate 0715.11