Plains Walker, Wind Rider

As often happens, when I’m in longer meetings where I’m mostly listening to others, I will use “doodling” as a way of helping me stayed engaged and listen “more better”.  While it’s in argubly strange to some, doodling indeed allows me to listen better, not worse, than if I just straight-up listened.  

For what it’s worth, I’ve always done this for as long as I can remember.  And depending on the topic in school, such as math, it was my main mode of note-taking; assuming you agree with me that images of eyes, hands, dragons and anything else my imagination could conjure constitutes notes!  

I suspect that since I’m such a visual thinker that when forced to listen to people talking for long stretches, which can quite literally make me hugely irritable, that my doodling provides a stage, as it were, for the words to dance and play until I can finally find a way to make them to settle down in my head.  

I mention all this since this is how this particular piece of art started: in a large meeting of folks with me doodling.  For the record, I only got through the very preliminary concept phase of this piece as my doodling truly pretty unstructured.  Nor I did not start with this concept squarely in my head, but it sorta emerged as I went.  Only later, when I had time in a hotel room and on an airplane, did much more of the refined stages of the drawing emerge, as it were.

Concept, Value Study

Initial concept done in values.  I had this idea of a large fantastical beast, and is my wont, I wanted something that felt organic.  As such, I ended up with the antlers evoking a sense of tree branches and the beast itself made out of gnarled roots and tree limbs all interlinked; at least, that was the intent.  

Refined Value Study

Well, I woke up in the morning and hated (yes, hated) what I had done.  To be honest, I went to sleep hating it.  And woke up hating it even more.  But then in a flash, I realized my objection with largely structural with the plains walker’s neck, or lack thereof.  So with that in mind, I quickly just cut the head off and moved it and forward; it took just a few minutes to get it reattached to the body.  

From there, the rest was pretty straight-forward in terms of adding details.  Given that the antlers were meant to be tree branches, I opted to add a flock of birds resting on a limb.  And since I wanted to connect the human with the plains walker, I rather (too?) subtly had the front left leg’s tree limbs of the beast work their way through the earth and reappear as the human’s “staff.”

Color with details

At this stage in the development I thought I was mostly done, to be honest.  I was pretty content and thought of calling it quits.   There were a few things I did post the above, but I was pretty close to “done”, or so I thought.  

Now, I knew I wanted a wider formatted image, thus the black bars at the top and bottom.  Aside: this was largely a misunderstadding on my part since the app, Procreate, used to be unable to change the document size after creation so I created the bars to remind me of the constraints.  But I kept asking myself: what the hell are they both looking at?  And honestly, I had no idea!  And that was a clue that I was nowhere near being done.

Back to the conceptual phase.

As I mentioned above, I had some wonky image and document ratios going on.  As I was on iPad Pro using Procreate, I thought I would have to wait to get the image and document ratios to match.  And then lo and behold!  I discovered that Procreate can change the document size, and that changed everything! !!!  

The moment I was able to not only trim up and remove the black bands, I added space laterally so I could put something, anything, in the space oppositive my protagonists.   Originally I was going for very much a landscape image, and I had no intention of adding another creature in the picture. This was particularly true when I had the image orientation with the plains walker moving from right to left.  But!  But when I flipped the image such that the Walker was on the left side of the image, I knew I had more of the story to reveal.  This was even more urgent (for me internally) now that I created this widening chasm that needed something for the viewer to see.   It was just natural for me to go back to the concept phase and see what I could discover as shown above with versions A and B of the wind rider.

It is maybe not too surprising that a dragon and rider – wind rider, if you prefer – just emerged in a matter of seconds.  In the above two versions, I’m exploring some nuances in the narrative.  Are they friends?  Are they enemies?  Are they actively engaged in battle?  Or just at the moments before some unholy onslaught?  To be honest, I had no idea.  But as always, I tend to allow my narrative to be emergent.

Plains Walker & Wind Rider (final render)

And this is where we ended with both a plains walker and wind rider.  I opted to make a more menacing human atop the dragon with a more dominant posture along with position on its back – you gotta be a pretty big bad ass to opt to sit atop a flying animal!  Given that the Plains Walker is sedate and not in a dynamic pose of pending battle, I opted to similarly show the Wind Rider as poised with tension, but not necessarily on the very moment of attack; instead, allowing the viewer (you) to decide what might happen next.  

From a technical execution perspective, I also tried my hand at some foreshortening of the dragon’s body and wings – something (foreshortening) that I often avoid since I suck (technical term) at it.  That all said, I’m happy with the wings, especially the wing that comes toward the viewer.  I added a bit of blurring to the wingtip in the hopes of aiding the eye to be more naturally drawn toward the wind rider.  

But while happy with the wings, I may go back to the body at a later date when I’ve had a chance to figure out how to more specifically address, and in particular the tail that I tried to have come out and then recede away from the viewer.  I’m not entirely convinced that the illusion works, and I also think it may introduce some compositional issues for the viewer.

Close up of the Plains Walker.

Overall, I’m actually pretty happy with this piece.  While I find I’m never entirely satisfied with my work once completed, still I think this piece overall works well.  I think there is tension, albeit subtle, between the protagonist and antagonist.  Structurally, I think the composition generally works to draw the viewer’s eye in without allowing to getting unintentionally ejected.  And I‘m happy with the value control and color gamut – especially where I used the same hues to tie certain elements together to create a stronger narrative.  In particular, I think the elements like the flock of birds sitting on the Plains Walker’s limbs tie nicely with the lone sparrow making its way to the human who is holding a staff alight with the same lighted leaves as is streaming from the plains walker.

Close up of the Wind Rider.

I hope you enjoyed this, and if you want to see a quick 60-second time-lapie from initial concepts to final render then scroll down to the embedded video.  Enjoy.

Sky Dragon

The last in the series of dragon concepts I did for C.R. Sandidge wines, I finally spent some time to do a rendering.  While a little less painterly, I thought the balance of line and painterly approaches melded well together.

I did not have a final image in mind, as it were, with the rendering so much of this is purely organic.  Given that I was quite literally flying myself, I decided that the dragon should be flying high above the clouds.  Unfortunately, as I was away from the internet I did not have a lot of good references for rendering clouds at sunset; that said, I think the clouds all said came out well enough.  Nevertheless, on reflection, I wish I spent more time on the clouds to better giver the sense of sunsetting over them.

I had an idea of the dragon have some Asian accents, but I was curious about it have fur over parts of its upper torso, along with the idea of the mane being gaseous and alight in light and flame.

While too late, I sorta agree with others that a closed maw would have worked better for this dragon.  I decided I was “done” by the time I got this feedback, and decided to let is rest as-is.

If you scroll to the bottom you can watch a time-lapse of the dragon revealing itself.  Note, it is a little longer at 3 minutes, but hopefully you find the time well-spent.


Initial pass with some details getting fleshed out.
More progression with the rendering
Final render

Dragons, Dragons and more Dragons!

Awhile back, seemingly almost two years ago, I happened to be sitting at one of my favorite wineries with my iPad in-hand.  As I oft due, especially in crowded spaces, I was engrossed in sketching while trying to ignore the cacophony that is, to my ears, humans in a crowded space.

Out of the periphery of my hearing, the co-owner was sharing with Marit and family how they were thinking of creating a new label for one of their wines.  They had named two wines after their daughters, and the wine named after their older daughter’s had as of yet had nothing but her name on the bottle.  As it just so happened, their daughter was fond of dragons.  Dragons, you say?  Dragons!  It was at this point in the conversation that my ears perked up, put aside any concerns around random human interaction, and inserted myself into the here unto ignored conversation.  As it just happened at that time, I was doodling a few dragon heads as is my wont when I cannot imagine much else to draw.  One thing led to another, and we ended up working together on a project to create a label for their wine.

I ended up creating a number of rough concepts, trying to find a style and concept that would work well for both their daughter, who helped guide my hand, along with fit the constraints of being printed directly onto a bottle.  For good or bad, I started out doing concepts in a raster app (, which I had to ultimately translate to vector for the printers.  I will happily share more once the bottles are printed (later this year?), and I’m comfortable sharing a bit more on those specifics.  And in the meantime, I had all these concepts just laying around.  So while I was at Norwescon 41, I got the idea to take each of the concepts and render them more completely.  It took me a bit longer than the few days at the conference, but I eventually rendered each of these out using slightly different techniques till I got to a much more painterly approach in the last two.

A bunch on simple concepts I sketched out before we selected on a final one.
Each of these concepts shown together after rendering them.

By my nature, I tend to have an illustrator’s approach to my work with strong line elements.  But as I’ve matured, I’ve wanted to move away from this style largely as way to push myself as an artist.  That said, my first few attempts at rendering show my strong inclinations to line.

While I’m super comfortable with strong lines and solid colors, as noted above, I’ve wanted to move away from this approach to capture a much more painterly feel.  The below two renderings are my attempts to push what I’m comfortable with, and while I can already see what I’d do differently, I’m fairly comfortable with these two attempts, especially the latter one.

And for those interested in seeing a bit of the process from beginning to end, below is a very short 40-second time lapse of me creating one of the above pictures. I hope you enjoy!

This is a slightly longer edit of the last of the dragon concepts at just under 3 minutes.  At some point I should consider adding narration to these videos; let me know if you agree.  🙂

Dragon Die

I have been working with another artist on a cover for a dice box.  My contribution is to provide the top box art, which he will then use a laser etcher to add to the precision-cut wood boxes.  At present, we’ve landed on a 10″ by 2″ box (5:1 aspect ratio).   The current piece is just me going a bit silly on the rendering since ultimately the final piece, minus either of us doing post etch work, will come out black and white. If I was serious about it, I would clean up my lines and coloring.  Nevertheless, I thought it a pretty cool design worth sharing.

norwescon 41, day 2

Art Show

Well, I got a lovely surprise this morning when I woke up – someone dropped out of the art show at Norwescon.   Well, okay, that’s not lovely news, now is it?  Bad Ward! But it did mean that as I was on the waitlist, the show coordinator reached out and asked if I’d like to participate.  Huh?  Of course I would!

Granted, I did not have the frames ready for hanging, but when has a little bit of last minute rush hurt anyone?  After a quick detour to Michaels for hanging tackle, and Home Depot for some tools … I was off to the art show to hang my stuff.  It took me more time that I hoped, and some stuff got messier than I would have liked due to the hanging wire making my hands messy.  Note to self: white frames not a good idea going forward.   But some 90 minutes later, I got everything hung and labels printed.   I’m not really expecting anyone to buy my work, but its nice to have finally made it to the Norwescon Art Show – largely since it was Norwescon two (or three?) years ago that got me to really think about getting back into pursuing art as a hobby after a nearly 25-year hiatus.  And secretly hoping that I may someday be able to afford it as my second career.  But I’m not there yet – both skill-wise and financially for that kind of transition.

I did have one treat before leaving my exhibit: a young girl saw one of my pieces hanging, and immediately dragged her mother over to see while exclaiming “oh my gosh! oh my gosh! oh my gosh!” so I may have at least one more fan after this show. 🙂

Post Note: If you are curious what piece the little girl liked, keep on reading below.  It is the one piece none of the panelists liked.  Which is a good note to self on know why audience.

Artist Workshop

Then at 3pm today I also participated in the artist workshop where you can have your work critiqued.  Julie Dillon happened to be on my panel, which is an extra treat since she was the artist guest of honor for the first Norwescon I attended … and as noted, it was here that got me really interested in getting back into art.  And without putting to strong a point on it, it was Julie’s presentation that year that helped me believe I too could really make the leap back into art in a serious kind of way.  So it was especially lovely to have her participate today.   I also had an art director from Paizo Publishing, along with another generalist artist and two avid art collectors.   So quite an eclectic set of folks to review my work.

If you are interested, I’ve attached below my raw notes from the session.  What follows is a more considered summary of the experience.

To give some context, I’ve historically not enjoyed hearing critique of my own work – I was frankly too immature to listen to feedback and incorporate it in my younger years.  And in the past few years – as I’ve traversed through the Dunning-Kruger effect – I grown as an artist who can really see my own weaknesses much more than I could two years ago, while simultaneously seeing in other professionals strengths that I do not yet possess.   And while I think I vastly more emotionally equipped to handle critique than some twenty-five years ago when I was in high school, I nevertheless found it a surprisingly emotional experience.  This is not to say it was not a wonderful experience; it was.  It’s just that it was subtlety and even sublimely different than what I expected going into it.

To be brutally honest, on reflection, I had secretly hoped I’d hear a bunch of people tell me how awesome I am – I am not.  And of course, the entire point of going into a critique is to find the places where either you are blind to, or re-inforce your understanding of known weaknesses.  Yes, people will generally try to frame any critique with compliments on areas that you are strong, but no one is there to blow sunshine up your arse.  And they did not.  That all said, I walked away with no new surprises, and got great triangulation through very consistent feedback on areas where I know I am weak.  So all in all, a very worthwhile hour of critique.

What is most interesting and curious to me is the difference between the pieces I like the most and they liked the least.  In particular, pieces where the narrative was strongest was the most appreciated by the panelists.  For example the three works titled Hello, Morning Reverie and Visitor stood out as being the strongest in narrative, and all were universally liked.  That does not mean there was no feedback for points on improvement with this pieces, but it seems that strong narrative will gain  you a lot of forgiveness when some parts of the piece do not work.  And therefore the corollary to this is that pieces with little or no narrative are consequently open season for very strong negative reactions.

Another surprise is that the first piece, Dragon Eye, did not read as a sleeping dragon by anyone.   Of course, since I drew it, I can see nothing by a dragon.  So that was an interesting bit of feedback I’d never received till now.  They all saw either a very abstract piece, or even a spaceship … but no one saw a dragon eye till I noted the title of the piece.  And because there was no strong narrative, I think a lot of the panelists got hung up on it.  That said, at least one panelist seemed on the fence to liking it since the subject was a bit elusive at first.

Even though I least like Morning Reverie stylistically, it seemed to be one of the stronger pieces for everyone else.  And ironically, Earth & Sea – which I like more than the others, was panned universally by the panel of folks.  And it evoked the strongest negative emotions from one of the panelists in the most uncertain terms.  (And hint to the post note above, it’s this latter piece which the little girl loved.)

One of the consistent pieces of feedback was that if I were to pursue a professional career then I really need to nail a single style – or minimally have portfolios specific to each style.  Given the work I brought for review is all over the place, this did not work well if it were for a professional review.  So that is good to know – especially as a “jack of all” kinda person, this is actually quite important feedback if I ever decide to pursue this hobby seriously as a professional.  As the art director noted, when they hire an artist they want to know that person will produce work in that very specific style.  So I guess that makes a lot of sense.  Granted, I sorta feel as an artist I cannot call myself an capital A Artist until I’ve mastered a more painterly style … which is something I kept noting in the works presented.  In particular, line art and illustration come very naturally to me, and a part of my journey is to discover a more painterly style within me.  Anyway, I digress.  Back to the feedback, I gotta focus on nailing perspective and anatomy, two places where I’m sufficiently off.  Generally speaking, my use of colors, textures, and details around rendering were strong.  But where people generally tripped up were on anatomy and volume/form.

While everyone (read: me) wants to hear they are awesome – I found it far more encouraging and useful to hear some very consistent feedback and reactions from people unfamiliar with any of my work.  And it was re-assuring that the areas where I feel I am weak are also the areas where others noted I need to work on; minimally I feel more confident I am on the right track.

Onward and upward!

dragon eye

  • not immediately obvious but in a good (?) way at least for a collector.  Dr Seuss 
  • Composition interesting but opening the eyelid would increase immediate recognition.  Too abstract.   Temper between what kind of art you want to make — interesting vs selling. 
  • Riding the line between line or representational work.  
  • Possibly open up eye and change some color top and bottom

Dragon Lady

  • cool textures and color story.  
  • Shape of head and eyes that are off for a professional. 
  • Everything should be planned out in the narrative for professionally for a brief or beats.  
  • Work more on anatomy … structure of the head.  Drawing from life and facial features at muscle memory.  
  • Get back to basics
  • Woman and dragon pull against each other
  • Woman’s anatomy feels off
  • you can audit classes specifically for facial anatomy and color theory
  • Ear distance seems off for a human … use reference material but do not just copy
  • Dragon head is not sufficiently contrast … details not popping. 
  • Dragon coming down over shoulder
  • Anatomy Coloring Book
  • Texturing and rendering good
  • Anatomy needs work


  • Fun textures and shape
  • Simple rendering
  • Curiosity and mystery
  • Front left foot looks a little not far enough down … from perspective it appears off

Earth & Sea

  • hire for a specific style
  • professionally try to nail your own style and not have too many styles per portfolio
  • Roots do not translate well … are they tentacles 
  • Face works better since it is more stylized and allows for more exaggeration
  • What is the concept or narrative?  Confusing what the story is? There are scenes, but over arching story is missing. 
  • Roots do not grow that way – really does not like this piece at a deep level (my read of them, not their words)
  • Water is chasing the roots away. … but narrative is missing 

Morning Reverie 

  • Story is strong … resonated with people much more
  • Face and body language much stronger … allows for much more story to tell
  • Colors are cool
  • Lighting from background
  • Rendering strong
  • Attention details
  • Perspective and anatomy … get back to basics.  Core skills need to be built up
  • Readability is harder.  Contrast is competing, not helping viewer 


  • works for the story
  • Keep the dragon low contrast
  • Seems to work for everyone