Scifi book character portrait - Mira

I love working with authors and gamers doing character portraits. Each one has something special about them and Mira was the first scifi character I got to paint that wasn’t one of my own.

Author Paul Grover described her as being soldier, emotionally and physically scarred in a run down, rusty space opera. Apart from her dark hair, green eyes, and angular features, the most significant feature was the damage to her face. I was given a lot of information to work from, but still a lot of freedom.

Because we settled on a face on portrait, I went straight to the line art and did up two versions. She wears a beaten up leather jacket over her blue ship suit, but I thought that it hid some of the details such as the flags so I proposed a slightly different version without the jacket. The client decided to go without the jacket and left the background up to me - which I wanted to hint at space, but make it a little more painterly and rough.

Sketch and colour concepts for Mira

Mira - the final portrait

Sentinel Fantasy Book Cover Commission

This is my newest book cover illustration for the novel Sentinel by Melanie Jordaan (title may be subject to change). I was given several pages worth of scenes featuring various characters, locations and magic concepts. One of the difficulties I had was trying to fit as many of the important features into the illustration as possible, but I knew it had to focus on the Sapphire sentinel (the protagonist). A few scenes were discarded as being too dark for the tone of the book cover (i.e. great imagery, but not fully indicative of the novel itself), or too complex (i.e. too many competing features/ characters). The city is set on the top of a mountain, contains a crystal wrapped map room, and the background has an impossibly large landscape of a moat-like river and mountains in the distance. This almost became a secondary character to Sapphire.

These were the initial sketches I sent through. Most of the action has to be on the far right, where the front cover is. The left side should be fairly empty to allow for the blurb.

Sentinel Thumbnail sketches

I sent through the sketch based on option 6 as chosen by the client. The scene was one where Sapphire is looking back, watching as night changes into day. It's kind of a metaphor for the internal battle between light and dark the character goes through. I wanted the blue of her dress to pop, which is why I wanted the background to be oranges and pinks.

Sentinel Colour concepts

There were some final adjustments to the sketch which included some villages along the shoreline, removing the staircase and moving the moon. The client sent through a detailed description of the map for the floor. Colour concept number 1 was what was decided on. Her costume needed to be head to toe, with a veil covering her lower face. Although the architecture is more European gothic, I combined elements of Chinese garb and simple cotehardie of European style. The fabric is meant to magically flow as though touched by air. There's also very little decoration.

 Sentinel approved line-art

Sentinel approved line-art

The glass/crystal went through a few rounds of edits. This version I toned down as the ebook version looked quite pale. I'm not sure what version the client will go with.

Sentinel Cover Illustration - Glass more transparent

This is the approved final image. The background is toned down a bit because the crystal/ glass is more opaque.

Sentinel approved final image

 Detail of one of the villages... yes, details matter :)

Detail of one of the villages... yes, details matter :)

 Detail of Sapphire, the protagonist

Detail of Sapphire, the protagonist

Why I dislike unsolicited critique

A few weeks back I responded to a Facebook post where the person was going to provide unsolicited critique as though it was something that the artist should feel grateful for. They explained who they were going to go after and how they saw this helping the artist.

As an artist, I wish I could shout out to these people to PLEASE STOP.

I'm not saying that art critique is bad. It is not. Art critique and feedback is vital to development, and as an artist one of the best things you can learn is how to take critiques and feedback and use them to improve. Any artist that has been to art college goes through years of having their work pulled apart by lecturers and peers.

However there is a time and place for this.

Artists post art for various reasons. Artists paint for different reasons. For some it's a vocation, an emotional release, a job, a way of expressing and reacting to something. But art is not made for the sole purpose of having some random person on the internet to pull apart, however well their intentions are.

What is an unsolicited critique?

Unsolicited feedback or critique is when you judge the artwork publicly and offer your personal advice on the art. It may be as simple as 'you should have painted the dress red' or it could be a much more critical analysis of anatomical issues, or rendering issues.

Generally it does not provide information on how the artist can fix the problem and is often given by someone that may not be an artist. That being said, critique from anyone, regardless of their background can be valid. It's just that most artists know the 'code' for when and where it's appropriate to offer feedback such as critique forums or private groups.

It's not an opinion such as 'I don't like ponies in paintings'.

I used the example of going on a date with someone, and telling your date what is wrong with their clothes or hairstyle. It's often uncomfortable for the date, made without all the information at hand, and casts the person giving the feedback in a bad light.

Why wouldn't an artist want to hear what I have to say?

  • Some work is just a sketch. It will never go any further. It's a brain dump, a scribble, a fleeting thought, a bit of fun. Would you like every single thing you do analysed?
  • Sometimes artists just post it as a record of this is what I am working on.
  • A lot of art is directed by a client. By critiquing the art, you may be critiquing and criticising a client - who may be a company, or may be someone just like you. That portrait may be of a character that has lived with them since they were a kid and you've just told them indirectly that their ideas are crap.
  • Some work is cheap, it's done in a rush because of client deadlines or budgets. It is done. There will be no more fixing. The artist has moved on. It may have been painted 6 months ago and the artist has improved since then. The amount of times I've had people commenting on artwork I painted 15 years ago as though I painted it today is amazing.
  • Sometimes the artist knows what's wrong and doesn't need an additional voice telling them what they already know and are planning to fix later. Many of us are perfectionists and highly critical of our own work.
  • Some days the artist is just having a crap day and you pointing out their flaws, however nicely, may make them want to stop painting. Many artists struggle with mental health issues. Comments that you think are unimportant or throw away may have devastating effects on the artist's mental health.
  • Some artists are not mature enough to deal with critique and feedback. Your comments may fall on deaf ears, or more likely be taken as an attack.

Why am I really offering unsolicited critique?

Ask yourself what is the purpose of your critique and why you feel you need to give it, and publicly. Is it because you really see promise and want to help them improve, or is there another reason? 

Most artists like to assume you really think you are trying to be helpful, but the sad thing is, that if you ever want to work with the artist or engage with them in the future, by offering the unsolicited advice, you may inadvertently burn your bridges. Artists generally don't like to work with people that are overly critical because they'll unlikely be able to ever please them.

What should I do if I want to offer feedback?

Ask the artist first! 

Ask! Ask! Ask!

Some artists are cool with it, many artists find it rude and off-putting. Some may tell you to join a critique forum and post your feedback while the art is in progress. Some artists offer opportunities to provide feedback by posting WIP shots or asking for advice. Changes are much easier to make at that stage than once it's fully painted.

If the artist says 'no', respect them for their reasons. You have to remember at the other end of the internet is a person with feelings. It doesn't matter if they've been painting for 50 years or 6 months, 

What is my opinion?

I don't like it. I find it extremely rude. If you provide me unsolicited advice you'll likely be ignored, possibly even blocked. I won't get into an argument with you. If I want feedback I ask for it. I have to be in the right head-space for it. My clients I expect feedback from. That's part of the collaboration process. 

I'm fine if you want to ask me questions as why I chose to paint a certain subject or make a certain artistic choice. But I am really, really self-critical. I see flaws in every single painting I do. I know what needs to be done. But sometimes I am over a painting and just want it out the door so I can move onto something new.

What's your thoughts?

Pathfinder Elf Magus commission

This was a fun commission to do - a female elf sword and magic wielder. Although it's weird not painting backgrounds, it's also kind of a palette cleanser being able to just focus on a character.

Being a Paizo Pathfinder elf her eyes are somewhat different to the elves of LotR or elves you commonly see on TV.

Miribeth - female elf Magus

A detail version of the pace. This is close to full resolution as the painting is 8.5 x 11.5 inches @ 300dpi

This is the original sketch, but the client wanted to see what she looked like with a braid instead

Also, a few quick notes about my commissions. At the moment I'm not doing portraits of people. To be honest, I'm not really interested in trying to capture exact likenesses of people. I think they are great fun for the person receiving it, but for me, painting It stresses me out and I don't enjoy the commission at all. Maybe I'll go back to them one day, but for the moment I'll leave them for portrait artists that enjoy it.

I also only accept PayPal/ credit card. No crypto-currencies, no EFT, no Western Union transfers. I also only work with contracts. If you're uncomfortable with this, or cannot pay via my method of payment, please don't ask me about prices.

Ria - Tiefling Palading from Dungeons and Dragons

I love Dungeons and Dragons commissions. The world is so rich, there are so many playbooks, and unlike many visual RPGs such as Guild Wars or World of Warcraft, I'm designing a character from the ground up.

Recently I worked on a commission for a client I've worked with several times in the past. This time, he wanted a representation of his Tiefling Paladin, Ria (there's a long back story, but it's not mine to tell :) ) Being a tiefling, they have horns and a tail, and often times coloured skin that's not quite of this world. The skin and hair colour was very fixed in the client's mind and he provided some artwork as a reference, as with the symbol of Lathander, her God/ religion.

I always start with a couple of thumbnail sketches. In this case it was 4, but because I plan on reusing the poses I'll only show the one that we settled on. At this point they are really rough, the armour was combined from some different thumbnails, and the background was from a different sketch. You may be able to see some of my redlines from the pencil sketch this started from.

Unless the client says to go full fantasy, I try and keep the armour relatively realistic - that being said it is fantasy! I mix and match things from European 15th-16th century 

 Thumbnail sketch

Thumbnail sketch

This is the original sketch. Her horns were more pronounced and her tail longer. I hadn't designed the sword or fully worked out the background. This was a relatively simple background. We worked through a couple of different horn concepts and changed the tail length 

In this instance I decided to keep the armour standard steel, and focus on the background as defining the armour light. Lighting can really change the mood of a piece. Most clients tend to want portraits to be fairly well lit and not so gloomy but I always like to provide a few options

This is the final painting. Because it is not a detailed background (and the client wasn't charged for a detailed background) it is fairly painterly and more suggestive of a forest. It also helps push the character into focus. A lot of time was spent rendering metal!

 And here's a closeup of the face. This full painting is painted at 8.5 x 11.5" @ 300 dpi. 

And here's a closeup of the face. This full painting is painted at 8.5 x 11.5" @ 300 dpi. 

If you want your own character commissioned, go to my commission page to see my pricing and some previous examples