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

Balancing a day job, freelance illustration and illness

I started this post a few times. It was long and rambly with a lot of talking about art college and the beginnings of the internet business model. I decided to scrap it all and just keep it simple. I started making some notes about things I've learnt along the way, and I'll be re-posting over the coming weeks some old articles I wrote for EMG Zine/ Part time painter blog where I talked about specific techniques I've tried at one time or another to try and help productivity.

As a bit of background:

  • I've had an art business since 2003 when I got my first website and ABN. Most of my art income comes from painting commissions, though in the early days the majority came from originals and print sales
  • I've worked part time since I was 16, starting full time work in IT mid 2003 after several years full time study at university. I was still studying part time while running a business and working full time. I made a conscious decision to work in IT as I am one of these people that can't just be consumed by art... I like constant learning and being mentally challenged. The art business is more than just painting - you are an Entrepreneur, a one person shop. It's a lot of work and I tip my hat to all full time artists. 
  • I don't have a partner or children. So guess who gets to do all the chores :D But I have a cat who does not understand boundaries
  • I got diagnosed with my illness when I was 17. I was misdiagnosed for probably 10 years until my physical and mental health hit rock bottom about 10 years ago. It's a managed condition. I see doctors regularly, I'm on daily medication, I go through good patches and extremely bad patches. People judge you for it - especially as it's not a visible illness, and aspects are completely misunderstood. I daily have to manage what I eat, how many hours I sleep, and try and keep my stress low - yeah, work in IT, that's a low stress job! 

So here are some high level thoughts on balancing multiple hats.

According to plan...

 

Knowing your limits and setting boundaries

You know yourself better than anyone else. When you are not doing the art business full time (or don't have a lot of support), you are doing it around other things - family or work or illness. You have to be realistic about how much time you actually have for your business... and then think about how much time you have and whether you can actually commit to every spare hour you have. 

I get home from work quite often after 7pm at night after working a standard day. I have one day off a week that many weeks is half taken by doctors appointments. After getting dinner and getting my crap together for the next day (in theory there's cleaning dishes, maybe doing a load of washing) I am left with not a huge amount of time. I can't stay up late. My meds make me tired, plus I need sleep or my condition deteriorates. I sometimes will answer emails, do some social media, write a blog post, pack an order... but most of the time I've learnt I need to have wind down time for myself. I might game for half an hour or watch some TV or read a book. Years ago I used to come home, and paint or study until midnight. Nowadays I can't.

Knowing my limitations, I've come to the realisation that I don't work quick enough for freelance gigs like game cards or company illustrations. It's why I do private commissions because I have more control. I've only done one illustration for a game when I was overwhelmed and probably didn't have the energy. It took longer than I wanted (though there was no strict deadline), but I always felt bad about it.

What are your priorities

Priorities can shift at any time of the year, at any time in your career. Your business has to be fed and nurtured, some times it will take more energy than at others. You have to make a commitment to it. But, that doesn't mean your priorities are going to be consistent. When I first started, prints and products were my priorities. I had to change my priorities when the margins became really narrow and I worked out I effectively had 3 hours on a Saturday morning in which I could get to the post office. You would think this is plenty of time, but what happens when a family event comes up, you get sick, you have to go to a shop that's open in the same time but on the other side of town.

Priorities also are about what makes you happy or gives you satisfaction as an artist. You're compacting your art business time down into maybe a few hours each night and possibly part of the weekend. You will begin to resent your business if you feel like you are coming home to more work. Or you'll burn out.

Think about what it is about the art business you want to focus on and don't apologise for it. As long as you are professional, carefully consider what does and doesn't align with your priorities.

Preparation

One of the things I did badly when I started was reacting to things, rather than being prepared in advanced. I'm moving my print sales pretty much to fulfilment as the time cost for packaging items and going to the post office, even for one item is worth less to me than time spent painting. But while doing lots of print sales I found that sitting down and preparing a stockpile of prints, buying backing boards in the right size rather than hand cutting to size, and using prepared templates instead of a custom one all save time and energy. I used to have stickers for shipping labels but these days I've changed directions so don't do huge amounts of physical sales.

For commissions, I have contract templates, I should have canned email responses but I don't. I do however try to make my information about commissions clear and concise. Consider having a FAQ page... I think mine hit the dust when I rebuilt my website, but I did make a post about image usage because that is what I used to get the most emails about when I was first starting out. 

Also set up client expectations up front early. I have worked out I have to chunk work into thumbnails, sketches, and then the final painting. I give an estimate for the work explaining roughly when I'll be checking in, and try to stick to it. Unfortunately things don't always go to plan as you can't prepare for being sick or your computer dying, or thunderstorms preventing you from working digitally the only day you have off! 

Learn to say NO 

I cannot stress this enough. If a commission feels off, don't take it (working with a day job means I can be a bit choosy). I still take on work that occasionally the interest wears off on part way through, but I've learnt that some work or some opportunities can be energy vampires. When your time is limited, you do not want to be stuck doing something that takes up time you don't really have and makes you resent your creative business. Most of the time something else will come along that better aligns with your priorities anyway.

If at first you don't succeed...

There are dozens of techniques for improving productivity. Pomodoro, time-boxing, those tools that eliminate distractions, Rescue Time (for watching how many hours you spend avoiding work...) Try each one, and if it doesn't work, move on. Just be prepared that some things will work, some things won't. You are trying to work smarter, not harder. 

Build in down time

You are not a machine. You need to have fun. It is healthy to paint your own personal work, go to the movies, have family days, go on holidays, exercise (bleh), do things that you enjoy. I probably paint less these days because I game more than I used to when I first started my business, but I need that time where I'm not thinking about work. It's my thing that I look forward to. You have to have something you enjoy doing outside of work and family.

And don't feel guilty about it (unless it's interfering with deadlines and you're procrastinating)

 Build in downtime... go to the beach

Build in downtime... go to the beach

  

Don't compare yourself to full-time artists!

Oh man am I bad at this. When I don't feel like I've improved in years I have to remember other artists have a lot more time to practice their craft. They are working constantly in the arts industry... it's like comparing a top level athlete to someone who plays football on the weekend. It's OK to be slower, it's OK to have smaller sales and make less money, it's OK not to get the awards, it's OK not to have thousands of followers. 

They are working at it all the time. If it bothers you, turn off social media for a while and just paint or do something that makes you happy. I found that I had to stop looking at Instagram because it was seriously depressing seeing people doing amazing art all the time... and me painting maybe one full painting in a month or two. I stuck with twitter because there was more words than pictures, but I still could connect with other artists.

Get involved with artist groups

There are going to be other artists like you. They may be difficult to find but connecting with artists who understand having a hundred hats in the air is going to make you feel not so alone. (Or maybe that's just me). Artist groups and challenges can get you excited and out of a rut.

You're going to get overwhelmed at some stage

It's going to happen. Whatever you do, there are going to be times where there are simply not enough hours in the day, you're unwell and need to rest, or you've just overextended yourself. If something is not working, try to figure out a way to make it work. Try different techniques until you find some solution that works. Cut back on the things that don't give you what you need. Don't agree to things that you know are going to be more trouble than they're worth.

Well... there's probably more that I've forgotten, but that's probably enough reading for now! Hopefully this helps at least one other artist not feel quite so alone. If you ever want to chat, I'm on twitter where there are some great artists that interact on a regular basis. I'm in a few great Facebook groups - mainly One Fantastic Week though they tend to be more focused on full time artists - still a great group for connecting and asking questions.

If you know of any great groups for connecting with artists, let me know!

 

The Moss Mist fantasy cover art

This is my latest cover art that I just finished for Regina Richards.

The brief was based on a scene in the book which had a lot of complex elements. 5 characters, each with detailed descriptions, green skinned characters in leather garb against a forest background, and one blue skinned character who is central to the novel. The original brief called for the female character to be on top of the rock, but the client and I agreed that it took the focus away from the two main characters  and just didn’t work for the purpose of the commission.

Sometimes this happens – what is a great action scene in a book, will translate fantastically well to an illustration, but may not work for a cover. When designing cover art, you have to remember that there has to be space for the author’s name, as well as the title of the book. As an illustrator, it’s my job sometimes to try and guide a client down a path that I think will work better. But all of my commissions are very much collaborations, with a very large amount of input from the client. Ultimately it’s the client’s product that I am creating work for, and it’s their name that will be associated with the work most visibly.

That’s why commissions can take me 2-3 months from the first contact to the delivery of the final images. This piece had 5 sketches, one colour sample, and a couple of tweaks to  the original sketch. And then there is the painting (I think I took 2-3 weeks for the final painting). In amongst this, I normally have a day job, although for this one I was at home, but not very well. I couldn’t spend huge amounts of time at the computer without feeling sick or dizzy.

Anyway, here’s the finished product, and a few sketches as well!

The Moss Mist - final wraparound cover

The Ebook cover illustration

The line art / sketch that the client went with. I never fully render trees as I tend to prefer painting those details and allowing them to be a lot more organic

The colour concept with design markings to show the spine location and bleed

Cada Female Character Portrait

I had the pleasure of working on a character commission portrait doing my favourite type of character – female warrior/ ranger kind of characters. The character had previously been started by another artist who was sadly unable to complete the work, so I was given a great concept sketch which was really loose, but gave me some great starting points. The client pointed out some actresses the character reminded her of, and I worked from there.

This is a digitally tinted and textured painting, which started with a pencil sketch on tracing paper. I love sketching on the velum like surface. I then transfer and clean up the sketch in Photoshop, adding a background. A tinted, textured paper is added, then I add the colours

Ranger character Cada

Cada - face details

Original sketch – This is purely pencil, hence all the smudges

An alternative sketch where I did the head and some details in Photoshop, while tracing over the original sketch to change the costume a bit. The pose was a little closer to the original concept, but the costume was not – I was a bit worried the first sketch would be too simple.

Cada - alternate sketch

RPG Portrait - full body

I love doing character art for Dungeons and Dragons original characters. It gives me a chance to design some fun but practical armour, as well as completely impractical costumes. If you want a full  colour portrait, commissions start from $200 for a single character with a fairly simple background (like simple forest, cloudy skies - if you want complex alchemist study or detailed city scene it may cost a little more). Further information available on my commission page