Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Class sale

I did this image as a tutorial about mixing light colors for my Schoolism class.
I also noticed that my class wasn't included on the flyer sent out by Schoolism, so I thought I'd better post something and say that the sale DOES apply to my class.  The sale is $100 off self-taught classes, until Jan. 25, 2012.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I recently watched Troll Hunter and got inspired.  I don't think a film has captured my imagination so strongly for a long while now.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Neversink cover

Here's another book I did art for.  I did a bunch of interior art for this as well, so I might post some of it when the book comes out next year.
I was heavily inspired by the art Xiangyuan Jie did for Brother Bear, especially his painting of the glacier creeping over the mountain.  It just seemed like the right feeling for the world of the book.  Check out his art, he is amazing!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stealing Apples

Done for a Friend article.  I wanted to try a different render style, but looking at it now I wish I would have done something more with the drawing style as well.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


I forgot to mention that Schoolism is having a $100 off sale on all self-taught classes for people who sign up today and tomorrow, if anyone's interested.  Sorry for the late notice!

I did these clouds as a 45-minute warm-up this week, thinking I'd show some of the things I teach about atmosphere and clouds in the class.  I saw this scene last year and it has stuck in my head ever since.  Painting clouds can be really fun!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quick Cover

Another book cover.  I did this one in a hurry, but it turned out okay anyway.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Interview with Bobby Chiu

I recently did an interview and quick painting demo with Bobby Chiu.  You can watch it here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Link vs. Link

For the Avalanche blog "Legend of Zelda" topic.  See if you can decipher my feelings about the newer Link designs vs. what I imagined the old one to be.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Art Book for sale now

You can now buy the book I sold at Comic-Con last year, here:

I've spent the last year deciding whether to publish it as is, or to beef it up and move it to a more cost-effective format.  In the end, I decided to focus my energy on other projects and just release this book as is.  Unfortunately, that means Blurb will be the only way to get this book!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Random Cars 2 Concept Work

I usually show the best stuff I did rather than the odds and ends from a project, but Cars 2 was mostly odds and ends for me.  So here's a glimpse into the actual day-to-day work of a concept artist.

I was the first concept artist on Cars 2, and my first job was to create a style guide based on the first movie since Pixar didn't have one for Cars 2.  I did a bunch of pages for this, but I'm only posting these (and posting them very small) because I'm worried about legal issues.
We had almost no art from Pixar at the start, so my first task was to show how to translate Tokyo's Ginza district at street level into the Cars world.  I gave up on this one because I knew this was mostly wasted effort since we would get the actual art from Pixar later.
Our world builders are very competent, but we end up doing lots of paintovers anyway, I think because multiple eyes on something always produces better results.
Another early task was to test out how various game design ideas for gadgets would look on the cars.  I don't think any of these ideas made it into the game.
I went back onto the project at the end, and at this point they needed final concept for the gadgets.  Some of my job was to add some polish to things other people had done (The upper left cluster), but in other some cases I had to explore a bunch of new ideas.  In cases like this you just paint or draw over the model because it's a waste of time to draw the car over and over again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cars 2 Videogame

I worked for a short time on the game for Cars 2.  It turned out pretty good!  Not that I can claim any credit for that.
This was for a ceiling texture in the Italy track.  It was meant to tile with itself, flipped horizontally and vertically.  Based heavily on drawings done by a Pixar artist I do not know the name of.  If you know the artist, please let me know so I can give him/her credit.
All image rights belong to Disney.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Great artists still steal

Here's an awesome video series that addresses many of the same ideas (and in a more elegant way) that I did in a previous post. Watch through the credits because he puts more content in afterward.

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

I can't wait for part 4.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Sometimes cool ideas become real projects.  But most of the time they find a quiet corner to die in, like an escaped pet newt drying under the couch.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memory sketch

I usually have a ton of doodles from memory littering my desk, but I thought this one would make an interesting image so I took it a bit further.  I also like to push myself into trying new techniques every once in a while.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Glorious Adventures of the Sunshine Queen

Here's another book I did the cover for.  This one went through a lot of changes along the way so I really had to hurry at the end.  I'm happy with how it turned out considering, but I also wish I could have taken more time and really made it stunning.  Oh, and the book is great.  I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cool people

A couple weeks after our new baby was born, we got this gift in the mail:
It was a framed original from Bobby Chiu, along with a note congratulating us and explaining the creature (elephant mice are born the size of walnuts but grow to 3 times the size of African elephants, in case you didn't know)  We've gotten many gifts for our kids' births over the years, but I have to say this is the coolest one so far.
Also, occasionally I get requests from people who want to create models from my paintings.  They usually turn out pretty good, but I think this is the best one so far.  Nice job by Porter Vinson.  I'm including my piece below the model for comparison:

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Art of the Heist

Some people misunderstood the intent of my last post.  It was certainly condescending toward the "thieving" artist. But it was not in a sanctimonious-dean-accusing-a-student-of-plagiarism way, but in an experienced-thief-shaking-his-head-at-the-burglar-caught-by-leaving-tracks-in-the-snow kind of way.

Because let's face it: all artists are thieves, if you count being influenced by images or ideas that you didn't create as stealing*.  So it's not "good artists borrow and great artists steal"; it's good artists clumsily pick-pocket, and great artists pull off the heist of the century.  Great artists steal in ways that are either untraceable or in ways that are so masterful that nobody cares where it all came from.

So while I'm not one of the all-time great plunderers, for the sake of other bungling burglars out there I'd like to share the ways I've learned that you can steal and still "get away with it."

The Lookie Loo
Otherwise known as "using reference," this is the most fundamental grab-and-run operation.  It consists of drawing or painting something that already exists, usually while the artist is looking directly at that thing.  Sometimes the artist will set up a scene and then pilfer it verbatim, but other times he or she will pinch from smaller photos or art that describe the individual elements needed for the larger piece.

The Memory Game
Similar to the Lookie Loo, but in this case the artist steals imagery or ideas from things he or she has seen or been inspired by in the past.  The beauty of this ploy is that the artist may perform the theft without even realizing it is happening.  In order to avoid a surprise outcome with the Memory Game, artists may intentionally throw in a Combination Caper or layer in a Romance Scam to throw people off the scent.

The Combination Caper
Here the artist lifts multiple ideas from different sources and fuses them together. The success of this caper relies on constructing an image from things the audience is already familiar with, so that they will subconsciously register each contribution as it influences their reaction to the piece.

The Parrot Ruse
Otherwise known as "quoting," in the Parrot Ruse the artist repeats a recognizable portion of another artists' work in order to establish context for his own message.  By calling upon the viewers' familiarity with the work being quoted, the artist suckers them into thinking that his wholesale rip-off is acceptable because "it's ironic."  The non-art equivalent to this would be stealing a Lambourghini in broad daylight while singing.  Not only would people allow it: they would applaud afterward, assuming the theft was a clever part of a flash-mob.

The Romance Scam
Sure, the artist's character design isn't that original.  But when everyone is looking at the way she's handled the lighting, or the emotional expression of the piece, most people don't even think about the design.  The Romance scam works by misdirection---the artist hides her fraud in one area with fancy execution in another.

I'm pretty sure I didn't paint all these textures from scratch
Salting the Line
This is one case in which an artist can get away with taking other art or photos directly, if it is done carefully.  By layering in textures, patterns, or other effects from another source, the artist can quickly add polish and something interesting to his piece.  This type of cheat only works when nobody recognizes the source being used, or if some combination of the sources creates an effect that masks the individuality of the plundered pieces.

The Chop Shop
Think of it as a collage of crime.  This one is commonly used by digital matte painters, who need to create a sense of realism, but do not have the time or inclination to paint in every leaf on every tree.  In order to pull off a Chop Shop successfully, the artist has to know something about composition and how to get things to fit together.  The artist's primary goal in a Chop Shop job is assembling his ill-gotten goods in an appealing way.
Scams that Don't Work (Anymore)

The Pablo Pipoppycock
Don't have any original ideas?  Just vandalize one of your lifted ideas with some crazy effect and call it "modern."  This lowbrow version of the Romance Scam appeals to people's fear of being considered less intelligent than others.  Just be aware that, even if your lengthy essay explaining the piece impresses your art school buddies, you can't expect to win any points in accomplished art crook circles.  It's a small-time scam and we've all tried it at least once, but the real satisfaction is found in bigger heists.
The Snake Oil Swindle
Selling a product made by someone else as your own?  We all know that direct copies and studies have value to you personally, but don't try to profit from them unless your big dreams as an artist include being blackballed by at least a corner of the industry.
The Flemish Prisoner
This is when the artist decides that, since nothing is original anyway, he or she will just paint the same boring things as everyone else and not ever even attempt to have an original thought.  Mastering a technique, but not developing the ideas beyond stage one, is just a waste of potential.

*Disclaimer: I'm not condoning actual art theft, of the literal or figurative variety.  In fact, I don't believe artists are thieves any more than I believe that artists are accountants.  I DO believe in relaxing a little and appreciating the fact that all artists are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Please don't begrudge another artist if they are standing on your shoulders; because you've enjoyed the same courtesy from other artists around the world and throughout history.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal"

Even if Picasso or T.S. Eliot really said that, I'm pretty sure that this is not what he meant:

Something I painted a few years ago

Art from a recently released game called Tiny Bang Story

I'm still not sure how to react.  On the one hand, the artist borrowed heavily from my art without credit or recompense.  But on the other hand, they made it look like that.  I should probably feel more bad for the culprit than anything.  Not bad enough, however, to spare him or her the public ridicule he or she rightly deserves.

Update:  Joe Olson points out that the kid in the image (including the hand on the shoulder, but not his eyes) appears to be modified from a picture by Kevin Keele.  It's very strange---the rest of the art in the game looks pretty good and the artist here obviously re-painted everything him/herself.  So why do such an ugly hack-job on this portrait?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lord McCaw

This was for an exercise I did with some of the other concept artists.  We were supposed to take an animal, find an appropriate personality, and push the caricature a bit.  I want to do another where I push the caricature further, but I was happy with it anyway, considering I did the whole thing in an hour.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


As a kid, I loved Superman. But now he's so boring to me. Maybe it's that he can do everything. Maybe it's that he acts like "the ring is so heavy" Elijah Wood whenever fake green rocks show up. Or it might just be that in order to balance out all his power, writers seem to love making him unsure of himself. Uncertainty doesn't necessarily make a character appealing. It just makes you frustrated with him, like you always are with Hamlet.  And let's face it, Hamlet would have been way less interesting if they made him sword-proof.

Friday, April 01, 2011


Gestalt psychology is an important concept for artists, and it's one way that the struggle of order and chaos is part of good design.  The Gestalt effect is also built into everyone, so you can expect audiences to respond exactly the same, regardless of age, gender, or culture.

Gestalt psychology is about how we sort the complicated mass of information our eyes (and other senses) constantly feed our brain.  Look closely at the above image for a minute.  Stare at one point, or move your eyes around.  Notice how everything swims a bit, like your brain is having a hard time retaining the shape and spacing of the circles?

Now look at this image in the same way.  Any better?

How about this image?  Notice that most of the swimming is gone.

Your brain makes sense of things by forming relationships between the objects in your field of vision.  When these relationships are all equal (in the first image, even the blank spaces are similar in size to the circles), your brain has to constantly work in an attempt to organize the field.  In the third image, your brain easily categorizes the shapes by proximity, value, and size.  Clustering the circles into groups and the colors into gradients makes this sorting even easier.

Strangely, in Gestalt psychology, too much order feels chaotic and organic disorder feels more controlled! This idea can be incredibly useful in painting.  An artist with a good understanding of Gestalt effects can visually engage an audience without overstimulating them, helping them be open to the ideas his or her art is trying to express.  I'll talk about some specific Gestalt principles in later posts, so stay tuned!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Schoolism Sale

In case anyone's interested, the self-taught version of my Schoolism class is $100 off for a short time!  The self-taught class has all the lectures from the full version, but doesn't include the personalized critiques,  instruction, and paintovers.  For more information, go here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Order and Chaos

One of the objectives of good design is to create something aesthetically appealing.  Aesthetic appeal does not necessarily mean beauty in the traditional sense---so appeal could be awkward, or even "ugly," if it strikes the right chord and your audience likes the result.  That said, there is an element of beauty to every great design, even when "ugly" is the purpose.
Purpose, premise, and story are intuitive (but not necessarily automatic) parts of the appeal equation, because most people can sense when a story is interesting, or when a premise is new, or when a personality resonates with them.  But what about all these seemingly arbitrary rules about the visual relationships of lines, shapes, and colors?  Are these universal rules or something that is a product of our art culture?
My answer (and this is a working hypothesis so feel free to chime in) is that while the current trends in visual design aren't universal, the thing driving those trends is.  The universally appealing law underlying the use of design principles is the age-old conflict between order and chaos.

Order versus chaos is a fundamental struggle of the universe.  Creation struggles against entropy, explosive stars struggle against gravity, life struggles against plague and famine.  Convection, which life on earth depends on, is the byproduct of systems seeking stasis, but the result is incredibly chaotic.

Original file here
Order and chaos are also a fundamental human struggle.  We seek stasis in our lives, but then we're not happy for long once we achieve it.  This is one of the major forces driving industry, war, and politics---people, societies, and countries endlessly striving against each other either in the attempt to reach a sense of security or to sate their dissatisfaction with the security that they enjoy.

I believe this is what makes great designs appeal to something deep inside us.  When something is too ordered it becomes boring, but when it's too chaotic it's overwhelming.  This struggle is such an integral part of life that when a design balances this struggle in a way that parallels what we experience in nature, it can resonate with us in the same way that a great story can.

The idea of order vs. chaos has a huge variety and depth of application in design and painting, so that's what I'm going to talk about in the next series of posts.

Monday, February 28, 2011


This was for an imagination sequence in the game.  Thanks again to Dave McClellan for help and critiques.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Another paintover

I had more to work with this time.  The red rock was built by Reed Hawker in 3d, and most of the sky done by Dave McClellan (link on my sidebar).  The sky hadn't been placed in this world and they didn't really have a look for this area, other than they wanted it to be flowers and butterflies while still having some tie-ins to the rest of the old western town look.  I pieced this together, and Reed did a fantastic job at making the world look like this in the final game.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Level Paintovers

I did a lot of paintovers in the game, but most of them were quick scratchy things that aren't really worth posting.  A few of them turned out well though, like these ones.
I included the screenshots they gave me for comparison, in case you're wondering what those vague polygon blobs are.  That's not a knock on our level guys, they're excellent!  They just didn't give me much to work with in these cases.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Something else for the TS3 game.  Designing a toy is both fun and boring at the same time.  You have some interesting restrictions to play around with and the result is appealing and familiar even when it's something new.  But then there's this frustrating threshold of imagination and life that you just can't cross without losing the things that make it toy-like.
I never finished the interior shots because the game went a different direction, but you can at least see where I was planning to go.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The best muffin I've ever drawn

Here's some unused concept art I did for the last game I worked on .  I might post more every once in a while just to keep things from getting too word-y around here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Retraction of Sorts

I said that premise should be the first thing you address, but someone's great comment made me think I should revise the part about it being first.  Purpose and premise, while extremely useful in the search for good design, don't need to define your process.  Especially if you have a method that already works for you.  For some people the exploration and discovery process is something that comes naturally.  Great ideas can come from many sources and sometimes in surprising ways.

That said, at some point along the road, you should be able to answer these questions or you'll have a hard time pushing your paintings or designs to the next level.  Go ahead and look at premise first if you don't know where else to start, but if you have a feel for where you want to start, do that first and then try to address premise and purpose retroactively.