Norwescon 42 Artshow

I made it (again) to the Norwescon artshow; but barely, by the skin of my teeth. I have no idea why my teeth have skin on them; note to self: look that up.

It’s maybe not too surprising that I’m pretty euphoric at the moment. It’s a pretty strong show this year, certainly the strongest I recall since starting my annual pilgrimage to Norwescon about 4 years ago. But according to at least one very accomplished artist, a certain Mark Ferrari with whom I’ve developed a full-on artist crush for since he’s just awesome, it may be the strongest he has seen in the past decade or more. Which makes it an even greater treat and privilege to hang my work aside so many other very, very talented artists.

If you are at Norwescon this year – and let’s be honest, who is not – then do stop by my humble booth at panel number 10. I forgot some things given I did not expect to make it off the waitlist this year, but hopefully that will detract from the display.

That all said, as I reflect on the past twelve months since Norwescon 41, I do wish I had accomplished a bit more in the past year in terms of output. I mean Mark Ferrari did 56 pieces in the same of 12-18 months … he’s a beast! I had a pretty strong middle of the year, but sadly toward the end of the year my right should got pretty bonked up which caused me quite a bit of pain, throwing me a bit off my game. Yes, excuses! But one of the great things about shows like this is the amount of inspiration and new, higher bars you find for yourself by seeing art and talking to the artists themselves.

If you’re interested, you can also see all the artwork on display at my other site: Ward’s Pics. You can even purchase your own prints from the site, if that’s yer kinda thang. 😉


Back in February of 2018, I happened to be at CR Sandidge sipping on a glass of wine while sketching. As fate would have it, Miss Caris was also there to visit her mother, Athena. Now, for folks who don’t know me, I tend to fill in my time doodling things like eyes, trees, fantastical beasts, but especially dragons. Oh, I do like me some dragons.

Given that both me and Miss Caris were sharing our drawings with each other, the conversation eventually moved to Sabrina’s love of dragons and Athena’s desire to have a dragon-themed label for Sabrina. We talked some more that evening, and I told Athena I would happily design something for them. She said yes, and the rest is, as they, history.

I’m writing the below on the eve of the Sabrina bottle grand debut scheduled for April 20th, 2019. While I will not be able to attend the debut evening, I wanted to share a bit of how we got from that fine evening well over a year ago to today. The below will progress in chronological order, starting from concepts and ending with the final design; hopefully along the way I can share a bit of how we made it through the various turns to where we are today.


When I got home I immediately started drawing various roughs of dragons. As we had not yet discussed specifics, I was trying out various styles and motifs that I thought might work on a wine label. I tried a few cute and cuddly critters around themes of fertility and contentment. And if you look carefully, you might even find one or two concepts that look a bit like a bunch of grapes! And if you are curious, I wrote a post on how I took these concepts and further fleshed them out as personal projects.

Sketches, Line

As we I started sharing my initial ideas with Athena and Sabrina, it came out that they wanted a more Asian dragon. When I think of Asian dragons, I imagine something akin to what you might see at a Chinese New Year festival, large head like a tiger and a long, sinuous body that tapers to an end like a snake. So I started moving my ideas along these lines with the help of Sabrina who shared with me dragons she loves.


Dragon Emerges

I knew that having the dragon wrap around the bottle would really help sell the concept; and I thought it would really make the Sabrina stand out amongst its peers on a wine shelf as something unique and special. Below is one such idea where we start t see a more asian dragon emerge, with more rendering applied as we start to lock down on what does and does not resonate with all of us.

Concept, Warp (original)

At this point, we had a good direction to proceed. An asian dragon wrapping around the bottle; but, as evidenced with the above versus the final design you can tell that we were not satisfied with the dragon’s head, a prominent feature of the design. I still liked the idea of a dragon as a grape, as so I took this general shape and turned it into the below design concept.

Concept, Dragon

Its All in the Details

Given that everything to date had been done as a raster image (the dragon is just a lot of pixels), I needed to convert everything to a vector image for purposes of printing. This is an entirely different workflow than how I normally work with my artwork, but vector yields much better results when you want to print something that will require a lot of little adjustments to scaling, et cetera.

The below is a version that was getting close to the final version. You can see that I’ve extended out the horns of the dragon, and added visually interesting patterns to make it more tactility given that the final print would only include a few colors – I could not rely on shading to help achieve the results I wanted but instead shapes and lines.

WIP (v Feb 21)

We already knew that the we’d use the metallic ink for the logo, and I wanted to that ink elsewhere. So as the design emerged, the idea of the dragon conjuring an orb fit well with the theme, and would allow me to use this ink to help harmonize the dragon with the CSR logo.

But beyond that, we did not quite know what color(s) to use the for the dragon. And this is not as straight-forward as if I were printing to paper. On a wine bottle you have different colored glass, and the color changes on whether there is wine in the bottle or not. So finding a color palette that would work in all these situations was not straight-forward to say the least.

Color Study, Overview

While we did settle on a very simple palette of white, I would still love to do a run of bottles with a bit more more color. The below is my version of color that I really like.

Color Study, Variety

An artist is never really done, and that is no less the case with Sabrina bottle design. I was not satisfied with the amount of detail (or lack thereof), and I had a lot of issues with a solid white tail seen in the above image. So I went back one weekend, and spend time refining details and redoing the tail entirely to better balance with the text.

Final Version

In total, there is something like 80+ hours of love poured into the design over the course of 6-8 weeks starting in February of 2018. Since then I’ve worked with the printers and was ready to go for Athena and Ray when they were ready to finally bottle Sabrina. The day is here, so I hope you enjoy a glass or two – my only hope is that my own art pairs well with our preeminent artist and winemaker: Ray Sandidge.


CR Sandidge Sabrina 2018 wine bottle

About the Artist

Dragon Warden – Artist Self Portrait

I currently reside in Manson, Washington with my partner and our two great danes. We are very fortunate to live near her parents, as we moved out here for a slower pace of life, and still hope to start a family of our own in this lovely valley.

My day job more revolves around being the chief technology officer for an edutech startup called Varsity Tutors, so it may seem a far stretch for a person with my background to design a wine label, let alone draw a dragon. But I have a lifelong passion for creating art, and I grew up with equal passions in physics and mathematics as I did in illustration and art; albeit in high school I started steering toward engineering as my career path. Alas, that is for another story. Suffice it to say, I had experience in the past with publishing and graphic design from the mid 1980s when it was possible with a Mac and laser printer to do it yourself out of our basement. And while most of my professional career is centered on technology, I’ve worked very closely with designers and artists through out that time and thus have a strong working knowledge of process and technique. While I would argue I’m more artist than designer, I did have the distinct pleasure of designing Chelan Valley Family Medicine’s logo in recent years.

I’m looking forward to doing another wine label for C.R. Sandidge scheduled for next year. And I’m always open to chatting if you have ideas you want to see come to life, dragons or otherwise! Please do contact me!

Level Up! 2016 to 2018

I’ve wanted to go back to some of my older pieces and re-do, largely born out of both a dissatisfaction with my treatment of the subject and a desire to see if my skills are sufficiently “leveled up.” Ironically, I keep psyching myself out worried that maybe I have not grown enough to warrant the effort. Well, I stumbled on a post from May 2016 and realized I had inadvertently already done just this.

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Art Fundamentals no 2: Values vs Color

This post is much more one of a pragmatic conversation on whether to “glaze colors over values” or “directly paint with colors”. Before I get further, let it be known that I don’t think you can take the strong form of this argument, in that it is perfectly fine to side on either side of the debate and be right — for yourself. That all said, it is nonetheless a perennial debate found online at various sites and critique circles, and upon reflection I found the underlying arguments worth investigating in so much as they elucidate the nature of light and color, and inform the artist of various dimensions that must be solved to successfully create realistic renders.

Continue reading “Art Fundamentals no 2: Values vs Color”