Monday, August 22, 2016

Monthly Schoolism Subscriptions now $15

I love teaching for Schoolism. Of course the classes are fun to teach and interacting with the artists taking the classes is rewarding. But I also love that Bobby and the crew at Schoolism are always trying to push the envelope with what's possible for online classes. So here's another amazing development from Schoolism:

Schoolism subscriptions are now available on a month-by-month basis, for $15. And if you sign up before Sep. 30, you get the first 7 days for free. Completely worth checking out! Go take a look at the list of teachers and classes available.

So jump in and learn from a bunch of the best in the industry, now with monthly subscriptions. Try it free for 7 days at least!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Infinity Mickey and gang

Mickey is such a hard character to get right. Even the smallest mistakes can make him look wrong, so adding our own stylistic twist was a challenge. Luckily, we had Jason Kim. I did the version on the left and I was feeling pretty good about how close I came, but then Jason managed to push it further and make him way more appealing at the same time.

I did a version of Minnie, that once again was improved remarkably by a Jason draw-over. My fixed version after the draw-over on the right---I'd include the draw-over but it was a little messier and i'm not sure if Jason wants it shown off :) .
We toyed for a little while with doing Donald and Mickey from the youtube shorts, but the idea didn't even make it to the prototyping phase.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Infinity Marvel Bots

There was a phase early on in the Marvel playsets where there were a lot of concerns about doing violence to toys, which somehow would be mitigated by making those toys: robot toys. Don't ask me why that was believed to make a difference; the ESRB is a very mysterious thing!

So in the Avengers playset we had Chitauri bots, in Guardians of the Galaxy there were Badoon Bots, and in Spider-man there were Hydra Bots. Here are some of my designs for these.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Disney Infinity stuff

I am so sorry to all my friends at Avalanche/Disney for the closing of the studio. It is an unfair thing and the world is worse off for the loss of the contributions you were making to the world of gaming and toys both.
However, there is one good thing about it; everyone can finally start showing the stuff that we were told not to post. I have a lot of art to show. So, so much. Starting with some Star Wars stuff. Stay tuned, more will be coming soon!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Designing a character with values

I'm creating lecture slides for the workshop I'm teaching with the IDEA Academy this Summer, and thought I'd share a glimpse of some of the things I'll be teaching. I think there are still seats left if you're interested in attending:

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Marker paper review (For Copics and Prismacolor Markers)

There are a lot of reviews on papers for markers out there, but not many that are focused on creating character design-oriented work: what I found were mostly people doing shaded apples with curlicue stems or arguments on art forums between people who had completely different priorities than each other. So I bought a large stack of papers I heard recommended and tried them for myself. There are still a few that I didn't try because the artists seemed to want something different from me, but I'll add anything I find to this review as I try it out.

I'll be posting a review on markers soon, but for now it should be sufficient to know that I picked Copics above the rest.
What I discovered pretty quickly is that Copics were amazing and fun with the right type of paper, and frustrating to the point of unbearable with the wrong paper. So I went on a wide paper search, hoping to find something that would make the markers great.

For those of you who just want the quick answer and skip the rest, these are the papers I liked best:
Borden and Riley Boris Layout
Xpress-It Blending Card

Now for those of you who want to know why. As you might read below, none of the top papers got an A grade---meaning every paper has weaknesses and I'm still on the search. For example, I found that Copics bleed through basically everything. I found I just had to always have a blank scratch paper underneath to avoid ruining either the next page or the table. That said, I'm pretty happy with the papers I did rate highly.

So here's my breakdown of each paper.

Animation paper (I bought this stuff for this review):
• No feathering!
• Colors are fairly bright

• Slightly translucent, but you'll want a blank paper underneath to catch the bleed anyway
• Doesn't blend much at all, mostly only layers color (maybe a pro if you prefer layers)
• Colors lay on slightly darker than they dry, which makes it difficult to anticipate what you're going to get

Grade: B+. This animation paper is pretty good in almost every category but I miss the blending too much to rate it higher.

Borden and Riley #37 Boris Marker Layout:
• Almost no feathering, markers stay where you put them
• Colors lay on how they dry
• Gives vibrant colors!
• Blends nicely once the paper is saturated, but layers colors before blending, meaning you can get both effects with little skill. 

• The blending takes a little patience; you can push colors all over the place with a little work but it's not super slow either.
• Slight visual texture (the paper is smooth to the touch) that shows up with blended colors
• Extremely translucent! This is a plus if you want to trace a drawing but it means if the paper behind has anything on it at all you will see it while you work.

Grade: A-. The translucency is an annoyance sometimes but its so easy to use with the markers I'm willing to forgive a bit. It doesn't get great Amazon reviews but I'd ignore that if I were you; it's still the best.

I had to put in black lines to get any definition at all on the edges. 
Borden and Riley #234 Paris Paper for Pens:
• Pretty good for layering

• Feathers and spreads almost every stroke, but not consistently enough to count on it
• Only okay blending. For a paper that feathers my edges this much it has got to be amazing at blending to justify the lack of control.
• Bleeds even though it specifically says it is "bleedproof"!
• Hard to get vibrant colors, you really have to layer them in to avoid the chalky look

Grade: D. This paper is really not terrible for markers, just mediocre bordering on bad. But what makes me give it a bad grade is the fact that it is not even good for inking. This is another one that was recommended by multiple artists but I honestly can't see why they would choose it. I'd love to hear

Strathmore Bristol:
• Blends okay, but takes a lot of work to do so
• Colors lay on nearly as they dry

• Not as vibrant as some of the other papers
• Bleeds a lot more than you'd expect for such a thick paper.
• The feathering makes the colors spread quite a bit, not enough to make it useless but enough to make small detail work annoying

Grade: B-. I had a lot of people recommending Bristol paper but I wasn't happy with either of the Bristols I got.

Canson Bristol:
Pros and Cons: Behaves almost exactly like the Strathmore, with easier blending but more feathering and even less vibrant colors. Basically a step down from Strathmore.
Grade: C

Hammermill Color Copy Digital
• Layering is great
• Little feathering

• Even though it doesn't feather, it pulls solid color from the marker in a slightly larger area than the tip, making tight details tricky
• Blending almost non-existent
• Bleeds a ton, you might need two scratch papers behind if you're really laying down the color

Grade: C+. This is one of my favorite papers for inking with pure black ink, but it's only just above average for marker work.

Hammermill Premium Multi-Purpose Paper:
• Great scratch paper!

• All the flaws of the Color Copy paper, but now with feathering.
Grade: C-. I use it all the time for drawing but I wouldn't use it for any serious marker work.

X-Press It Blending Card
• Super clean results
• Layers colors with first strokes, but blends when you work over the strokes multiple times

• Blending takes a bit of work
• Colors lay down much darker than they dry, making it hard to use
• Need to layer in colors to get good saturation (lays down pale at first)

Grade: B+. This paper takes a little skill to use but you can get great results from it. I'd rate it up with the Boris Layout if not for the strokes laying down darker than they dry---it slows down your work unless you're familiar with how the colors are going to look after drying.

Kind of a terrible iPhone photo but the image is really clean in person.
Stonehenge Paper:
• Great blending!
• Vibrant colors
• Barely any feathering, the colors stay where you put them
• Probably bleeds the least out of all the papers, but there's still a touch of color that comes through

• Paper has a touch of texture to it, which makes it nice for drawing on but might be bothersome to people who prefer a smooth marker surface. It doesn't interfere with how it takes the colors.
•A thirsty paper, if your markers are drying out you'll have to go over it twice to get a smooth flat color.

Grade: A-. This is really close to my favorite paper. I think the blending is just slightly better on the Borden and Riley Marker but this is a really great paper.

Winsor and Newton Pigment Marker Pad:
• None.

• Too many to count!

Grade: F. I know this paper isn't meant for Copics, but it's not only terrible for Copics, it's terrible for the Winsor and Newton Pigment markers it was made for. It's a terrible, difficult-to-control, useless paper. I would also not recommend the markers, something I'll get into in a later post.

Summary: I don't think my search is over, but I feel happy enough with the animation paper, the Borden and Riley marker paper, the Xpress-it Blending card, and the Stonehenge paper, that if I never find anything better I can be satisfied. But if I ever do find that perfect paper I'll be sure to let you know. I'd love to hear your experiences with these and other papers in the comments!

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Digital Painting for Character Design" workshop

I'll be teaching a 3-day workshop at the IDEA Academy in Rome this summer. The workshop is going to be on how painting can be used to facilitate the character design process, both as an exploratory tool as well as a finishing tool. It's going to be a lot more hands-on training than the workshops I usually do, so if you live close enough to come you should take a look!

Monday, February 08, 2016

Critique from "Lighting for Story and Concept Art" at Schoolism

Here's a critique I did for a student, from my "Lighting for Story and Concept" class. The lesson was on material design for characters, but the student did a pretty good job with the distribution and variation of surfaces, so most of this critique is focused on selling her ideas in the best way possible.

If you're interested in learning more about the class look here. It's an advanced class so if you struggle with stuff like cast shadows, occlusion, specular placement, terminator placement, etc. then you may want to take a lighting fundamentals class first. (I also teach one of those).

The line art for this character was done by Joe Olson.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Secrets of Valhalla

Here's a book I illustrated the cover for last year. Getting the composition to work with all those branches was tricky, and I still not sure the hierarchy is as clear as it should be, though it looks pretty good with the title in there.
In the book the tree is described as being silvery, but when I tried a full chrome tree it felt a bit out of control. So I tried silvery threads instead, and kept them mostly dark with the occasional glint of light so most the focus would be on the magic of the scene.

Another workshop

This time in Stockholm, at the end of May! If you want to come, go to and use the promo code NIELSON before February 15th for a discount.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Workshops this Spring

I'm headed to London and then Berlin with Schoolism this Spring, click here to find out more if you're interested in attending either one!
There's a discount for my followers, just enter in NIELSON when asked for a code.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Schoolism critiqued classes sale

The premium classes are the number one reason why I love to work with Schoolism. My development as an artist I owe almost completely to the great critiques I've gotten over the years from great artists. This is the only time Schoolism has ever done a sale on the critiqued classes, and the sale will be over in less than a week!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

CTNx Workshop Presentation

I'm going to give a presentation/workshop at CTNx with David Dibble, who came from Blue Sky at the same time I moved to BYU last year. He's got an incredible painting ability and experience on many films, including the upcoming Peanuts movie coming out. We're going to be presenting "Story-Driven Painting and Design: How to Saturate Any Image With Drama and Adventure." If any of you are coming out to CTN you should come and see! (I don't know the schedule yet but I'll include specific time/place when I know).

Friday, September 11, 2015

Class demo

Something I painted for the "sculpting with light" demo in my digital painting class at BYU. The class is for animation students so the stuff I teach is focused on painting for visual development and other animation work.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Hearthstone Murkalot

Something I did for the "Grand Tournament" expansion for Hearthstone.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Early Infinity Pitch

An image I did during very early explorations for Disney Infinity. At this point, the hope was that we'd have all sorts of types of toy in it, much like the Toy Story 3 Toybox mode. Some semblance of this idea survived, but for the main characters, John Lasseter really wanted to have a single style and toy type to unify everything. That was the right call for sure, but this would have been fun.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Some character designs I did for Disney Infinity 3.0

I did a bunch of work early on Disney Infinity 3.0, which is coming out in a week. Here are a few of the concepts that I did that I've seen on other sites.
Worked on Boba Fett. Career achievement unlocked!

Fear was such a fun character to draw. It was tricky figuring out how to pull off the feel of skinny appendages in a way that could be molded into strong plastic, though.

A take on Yoda that didn't make it in, but might have influenced the final look. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

"How do you find time for personal art?"

I was asked this question by another professor during the interview for my job at BYU. Now that I've been at BYU for almost a year, I understand that his question wasn't a test for the job, but an honest question about how to fit one more thing into an always-full schedule. The thing about being a professor is that you never clock in or out---your teaching and prep time, personal time, and freelance time all blend together and you're left to make your own calls about how to balance it all. I think I actually stammered my answer, something like "Well, uh, I just do it." That was a useless answer and I wish I could have a do-over.

I get summers off at BYU, which sounds awesome and laid-back, but in reality I'm spending that time working on freelance character design, illustration, preparation for my classes, and various tasks around the house. I get to set my own schedule, but it's always full no matter what order I put things into. What I thought would be a great break where I could do a lot of my own work has been just as busy as the semesters when I'm teaching.

So I've been thinking a lot about an answer Marcelo Vignali gave in a great interview with Bobby Chiu a while back. Answering a question about how he finds time for figure drawing, he said he makes figure drawing non-negotiable. In other words, he schedules time for it, and when that time comes, no other task takes priority, no matter how urgent (of course this doesn't apply to the house burning down scenario. Or maybe it does: guess I don't know Marcelo well enough to say for sure).

I've taken that "non-negotiable" mindset with my personal art these last few months, and I'm so glad I did. I have a block of time scheduled for it every morning---not much, just an hour---but it's enough for me to chip away at stuff that comes out of my own head. I can't say I've gotten to the point where it's non-negotiable yet; there have been days when I've skipped it for a big deadline, but I'm getting pretty consistent. And amazingly, even slowly chipping away at it is deeply satisfying, and I find more energy for the jobs I have to do afterward. For me personally, it works best to not overthink what I use that time to paint on---sometimes an idea works out and sometimes it doesn't. That's not the part that matters.
One of the paintings I've been slowly chipping away at. Not because it's worth painting, but because it's good for me to sometimes paint stuff just for fun.
The reason for this post is that I know lots of artists personally who struggle to find time to draw or paint their own stuff. I know many skilled artists who haven't done a piece of their own for months or even years. Most are people in the industry who by all appearance have completely full schedules. And yet as I've scheduled in that time, I haven't noticed a deficit anywhere else. I'm somehow getting everything else done just fine. Maybe there was some slush time in my schedule that I didn't realize was there, or maybe that extra energy is making up for the lost time. Either way, if you're the person asking the question in the title, I recommend trying this. Doing your own art may not be urgent, but it is important, and if you treat it as if it is urgent, you'll be better off.

And while you're at it, go read this article.

Early Tinkerbell Designs for Disney Infinity

The one on the left is from early exploration when we were trying to figure out the style of Infinity. The right was a modification I did during Infinity 2.0 to see if it would work for the toy.

You can see the final turned out a bit different---I think Josh Black did the final design for the toy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Gimme a Break

Something I started for a demonstration at the Toronto Schoolism Live workshop this year. Finally finished!

Monday, July 06, 2015

Some Gadgets from Disney Infinity

I was asked to design a robotic flying turret for AIM, but I figured there was no reason why it couldn't have a pilot. 
A car-sized flying turret for Green Goblin? Sure, here you go.
I don't know if this made it into the game, it was supposed to be a Shield-issued version of the Green Goblin's glider 
Some weapon designs from the Toy Story in Space playset, only a couple of these made the cut.

Friday, June 26, 2015


Something I forgot to post with the others.
This is the image I did the demonstration at the end of the atmospheric effects lesson.