Thursday, January 29, 2015

WIP - "Four" - about 70% complete

Here's a preview of my next Doctor print - "Four." This is about 70% into the process. This one is very exciting for me, because it's the first of my portraits that I attempted directly in color, instead of the greyscale process I usually use. I'm also not using the smudge method of blending my paints any longer, instead I'm just using a basic round brush with a lower flow to layer color with more control. It's been a really good lesson so far, and I'm ecstatic with how well my first attempt is coming along.

If you want to see the works in progress from the beginning, I have several posted at our patron stream, along with several high-res, watermark-free digital copies of my prints for patrons.

There will be a few more surprise prints coming out over the next few weeks, and we're going to be running our annual Valentine's Day Sale, so watch for the announcement to find the code you can use to get 25% off any of our merchandise at our Store, including this and any other new prints I manage to finish before then. - Indi


Monday, January 26, 2015

January Hangout Video


Hey guys! Every month we have a hangout for our Patreon subscribers to see sneak peeks of art or writing and give us feedback on what they would like to see. We recorded the public portion of the Hangout, below. It's going to be an exciting year! 




Saturday, January 24, 2015

Postmortem - Veranthea Codex Part 2 - The Pantheon


Continuing my postmortem look at my portion of the art for the Veranthea Codex, today's focus is the Pantheon. Now, I'm a little fuzzy on the background story for this - I think someone else was originally slated to do the Pantheon, but regardless, eventually it was given to me to create. Originally it was meant to be two eight-person pieces, but as we moved forward with it, it made more sense to do them separately, and ultimately, the separate pieces were used. 

There are sixteen gods and goddesses of varying races, classes, and alignments in the Veranthea Pantheon, and they were a challenge! The briefs were all very descriptive and very specific - and any changes made to them would directly impact writing, so I had to be careful. It worked out great that I am a bit of an overcommunicator since issues could be pointed out quickly in the dailies. 

Now, again, as VC is still in the process of finalizing and should be printed in a few months, I'm not going to share full pieces, even though I'm pretty damn proud of a lot of them. There is a preview of unreleased VC art at our patreon page: www.patreon.com/tortoiseharecreations, but otherwise, I'm only sharing small snippits of the pieces to point out things I learned or things I particularly liked, in keeping with making 2015 a positive-outlook year. So, let's get started!

I'm going to go through these alphabetically, mostly because I don't remember in what order all of these were painted. At one point I had a bit of an assembly line of gods going - one sketch, one flats, and one in-progress piece all in for approval at the same time - and all different gods or goddesses. I would have to say the largest lesson I learned during VC was speed. I simply had to speed up my processes, or I would have never even approached being "on time."

Aleana is first on the list - she's one of the few human goddesses in the list, so it was relatively familiar territory. I actually recorded the entire process from sketch to finished painting and uploaded the (heavily sped up) video to THC's YouTube channel. Speedpaintings are something I'd like to do more of, but my computer doesn't always enjoy running a 50-layer Photoshop painting and recording at the same time.  I was pretty happy with her face, especially her lips. She's got sass.

This goddess I won't describe much, since you'll see her in the final VC book and here I'm only sharing a tiny piece of her weapon. I can't actually tell you how many different types of weapons I learned during this project. A lot. I enjoyed the coins marking the edges of her armor, but mostly, I was pretty happy to have figured out how to make spikes that looked equidistant and equal sized that were sticking out at different angles. This is pretty basic, but it made me happy.
Arcanalus. He was the first god I painted, and one of the most challenging, which is why I chose to finish him first. He's a constantly-shifting mongrelman, and I was given freedom to choose whatever monsters/animals/things that he was currently comprised of. There are also orbs of varying kinds/elements. The orbs were surprisingly easy and I really like how they turned out. Also, I'm pretty proud of the lizard skin. I know it's damn near impossible to tell what's going on here in this tiny piece. It's a chaotic painting.  


Arenathi - an Elven child-goddess. This one was fun, but a bit of a challenge since the color palette was intentionally very simple - she's almost entirely painted with blues. This should have been very easy, since it's really no different than painting in grayscale, and I'm super familiar with that. But for some reason, especially toward the beginning of this project - I was scared to just go in with color and trust my eye. This got easier (and better) toward the end of VC.





This is a dwarven adventurer god, very well described. I initially read the art brief and laughed at it - you want me to fit FIVE (FIVE!?) mugs of ale in his grip (one handed - the other hand is full of other stuff) and make that look okay? FIVE?

Everything turned out better than expected! :)


Earkenta - I struggled with which portion of her to share, but for a good reason - I like the whole piece! She's a dwarven goddess of Earth - entirely made up of different stones and gems and covered in runic carvings. I was ecstatic with her from initial sketch all the way through to finished painting.

I did use texturing for many of these pieces, something I am actually trying to get away from - I prefer using a combination of soft and hard round brushes to create the textures the old-fashioned way - like I would with a "regular," i.e. non-digital, painting. However, when speed is a concern, textures are shortcuts that most freelance artists use, I've found, and I had to rely on them to cut my per-painting time. I couldn't afford to spend a week on each to get it perfect, or I'd still be painting until March. The entire project was an eye-opener for me in terms of when to sacrifice things I normally do for speed.

Elaith is a perfect example of something I mentioned at the beginning of this article - the fact that everything I painted mattered, since each piece was full of necessary religious symbology for that particular deity.

He's an orcish barbarian god, savage as the day is long, and so I decided to sketch him with a bearskin over his shoulder, the giant skull of the bear serving as his belt buckle. This was well-received - except that the bear had no place in Elaith's symbology. It was requested that I make the bear a jabberwock instead - and I sweated through the sketch, sure it was not going to be recognizably jabberwocky. But I finished, and it did.

I also happened upon a manual way to paint fur that was really easy. I started from the edge of wherever the fur would end and work backwards, building up each "layer" of fur with tiny hair strokes, working from dark to light. It's a technique I've already been able to reuse in another painting, so this piece was a real teacher for me.



This piece was a gnomish god of deceit and trickery, and while there were a lot of lessons from this brief, I'm going to only focus on my gemstones. I got significantly better at painting glowing gems. I really like painting glowing things. Also, I'm still using the feather techniques I picked up from Fern Sea Chronicles, THC's very first comic from several years ago. Every project has lessons - hell, every piece has lessons. Artists get just a little bit better with every piece they finish - which is why we tend to look at old stuff with a super-critical eye.

(I'm pretty certain the Nightmare Gods have been shared in their entirety, so I'm including a much larger slice of that piece than the others)

The Nightmare Gods. I loved this piece, and not only because I was able to knock out three of the Pantheon in one piece. The descriptions were vaguely Lovecraftian, so I took that and ran with it. This is the first piece where I was perfectly content with the spittle and ooze that I painted - something that is harder than it looks. It's also the painting that is closest to the initial sketch - pretty much identical except for some additional eyes painted on the hand (not included in the slice). I love it when I get it right the first time, that is such a good feeling.

There are things I'd like to have done better on it (and every one of these paintings), but that's not the focus of this piece. Overall, this was a success for me, from the ridiculously bright red tongue, to the bizarrely eyed/mouthed tentacle monster, to the creepy purple hand. Each abominable god had its own disparate color palette, but they came together in the final, with all three holding their own against the others.



I painted an orange goblin literally covered with gold. Gold everywhere. I drew as much gold on him as I thought I could in the initial sketch, and was told to amp it up and double it! Gold on gold on gold. I got plenty of practice doing gold.

Actually, I'm pretty comfortable with all metals now. That feels good to say.


This is a halfling bard-type goddess, playing a lute. I'd never painted turquoise before and decided to give it a go, since it is one of my favorite stones. I loved the warm feeling of this piece after it was done, with the warm reddish leather of her armor and the cool stones making their presence known. Fun times!




I actually wanted to share Tristanaleus' kilt, since it is awesome, but this piece was - by request - the darkest of all of them (he's a shadowy god) and it was a little hard to see in the cutout. So here's his eyes and a bit of his horns.



And finally, here is a tiny portion of the god of the sea, but mostly I just wanted to share the badass sea serpent rising from the depths behind him in the print version's background. :D Sweet.

That's it! That's (just about) all of the pieces I did for Veranthea Codex and a little bit about what I learned during each. I hope you enjoyed reading this postmortem as much as I did looking back on the project. Great people, and a great project - check them out at www.verantheacodex.com if you haven't already, and watch out - I'm pretty sure there will be more from them in the future!

- Indi

Friday, January 23, 2015

Red Ink - The Pros and Cons of "Flow Writing"

Red Ink is Indi's author blog that she maintains at goodreads.com. 

I've mentioned in the past that my favorite days are the days I sit down to the dreaded blank white screen, and open my head, and stories seem to write themselves on the screen before me. Sometimes it feels like I'm reading them instead of writing them, following the words as they appear on the screen, somehow unconnected from my fingers sliding across the keys.

Those are great days.

I call it "flow writing." I don't know if that's a widely-used or acceptable term or not, it's just what I call it. It feels like the words rush out of me in bursts. Then, it stops. I read a bit of what I wrote and have to engage my mind to at least start the next sentence - and then more often than not, I'm off again for the next page, or chapter, or at least a few paragraphs before the cycle starts anew. It's a weird process, writing. 

Some days aren't so great. They consist of me being unable to visualize the next steps, the next action, the next chapters. Sometimes I'll get around that by skipping ahead, but rarely - that seems to always cause problems for me in integration with the larger story down the line. Regardless, this post isn't about the bad days, the blocked days. It's about the pros and cons of being in the flow.

The pros are pretty simple. I get a lot of writing done and the quality is higher than when I'm forcing the words to comply.

"How could there be drawbacks to the beautiful feeling that comes with flow writing?" you may be asking yourself, and it's a valid question. None of these cons are enough to tip the scales, certainly. I'll take a lifetime of flow writing days, even with the oddities that I'll be sharing, over the days where the blank screen taunts and laughs. No question.

The first day back into flow writing is lovely. I may notice that several albums have gone by on my playlist without me having heard them, but otherwise, nothing too extreme. I still act like a capable human being, for the most part, though my non-writing actions are in auto mode. My walk to the kitchen or the bathroom are robotic, my mind not registering my surroundings but still intent on whatever sentence or stub I'm on. I bump into things. My path is erratic. But I'm still mostly human.

Fast forward a day or two and the side effects start to really show. I have trouble following conversations if I've just finished writing for the day - I need at least an hour to do nothing and wind down. Anyone trying to talk to me is going to have a bad time, not an angry time, just a frustrating one where they probably have to repeat themselves a few times. I am trying to keep up at this point, but my focus is soft.

I may realize that I have forgotten to eat or drink or go to the bathroom for extended periods of time. This is ridiculously common, and I have to concentrate to prevent from becoming very dehydrated during extended writing sessions. If I remember to eat, I've learned that I need to make a sandwich, or something that requires little preparation. If I set something in the oven to cook - well, that's just a bad idea. I can't honestly tell you the amount of times I've glanced up at the clock after a good chapter and felt that electric current of terror - oh shit! There's a pot pie upstairs in the oven! How long has it been? HOW LONG?

I thought I had trained myself to automatically set timers, but the other day proved that even if I leave the kitchen repeating "SET A TIMER!" in my mind, the walk from the oven to my computer is apparently enough to erase that. The characters and storylines filter back in and take over the parts of my brain that regular people use to do basic things.

My memory also gets bad - and for me, that's saying something, since I don't have the greatest memory for events or conversations to begin with. But the further I get, the less real life seems to stick. It takes a great deal of patience for people to be around me at this point, because I'm really only half here, and half may be a bit optimistic. After a week or two of being immersed in the novel, I have a hard time being social without feeling like an alien. Real people feel a little less real than my characters. That feeling persists until I've finished.

I'm trying to offset the most controllable of these drawbacks by taking a short break at the end of every chapter to down a bottle of water (I have to finish it, because if it sits there and I start typing again, it's forgotten for a few more hours) and move. I'll do some crunches or some yoga or just dance about randomly for a while - anything to get me out of the chair and off my rump for a little while. But if you happen to see me socially for the next few months, please try to be kind if it takes me longer than normal to answer or I look like a foreign anthropologist studying the way people interact at a party. It's a side effect. 

But it's worth it.

- Indi


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Morel - Chapter One: Sacrifice, Page 1



And with this, the story begins. You may see some differences between this page and the prologue. Morel is designed as a newspaper-style comic developed with Instagram in mind. I have a feeling Chapter One will continue to be a learning experience. - William

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Postmortem - Veranthea Codex or On Being a Newbie Freelancer - Part 1



Hey everyone, I'm trying something slightly different in 2015. Whereas I used to look at work I'd done and see nothing but where improvements could have been made (I still do, that's a hard habit to break), I've decided to balance that urge with the opposite. I'm going to look at my work for the Veranthea Codex over the last several months and pick out the bits I'm most proud of in each piece.

I was approached by the inimitable Mike Myler in mid-2014 to be the lead artist for an entire continent - called Grethadnis - for an extensive Pathfinder campaign setting book called the Veranthea Codex. I leapt at the chance - I'd done some Pathfinder-supplement work previously for Rogue Genius Games, but this was a significantly larger project and I had some reservations about my ability to a. meet all the art briefs, and b. finish a LOT of paintings within deadlines. Still, I was on top of the world and thought I could manage the work. I'm happy to say I did, and I learned a lot of lessons that I think will be valuable to me going forward, so I'm writing this in case it might be valuable (or at least interesting) to someone else as well.

First, the non-art lessons I learned:

  • Freelancing is a tough business, and You're probably not charging enough
Total opposites, right? No. I guess maybe there's some artists out there that severely overcharge for their work, but I doubt there's many. The standard public may not fully understand how much time goes into each piece - but your art director or project coordinator probably DOES. If you're lucky, you'll have someone on the team who might gently inform you that your rates are really, really too low. If so, that'll be a great day. I mean, who wouldn't want to hear that? 

I think it's also important for the artist to be honest with themselves as to how much time goes into each piece. If I know that three complex scene paintings are going to take me 25+ hours to complete, I need to consider that vs. simple character pieces with no or limited background. I consider myself super lucky that the VC crew were as open as they were with answering questions and offering feedback.

  • Appreciate the art of an art brief. 
Art briefs are written descriptions of what needs to be in a particular piece. I had to learn what constituted a good art brief, and they were mostly very good, extensive and detailed, and gave me a lot to work with. They included example pictures if it was a monster or race that I might not be familiar with or if there was a specific feel to the painting that they were going for and descriptions of the background area, the characters, and the action separately. I also had to learn that sometimes not EVERYTHING can be fit in, so verify with the writer which portions of the art brief are vital and which bits you can reimagine if a composition is being stubborn. If something in the brief is confusing, ask questions, or submit a sketch or two so they can see what page you're on and you can start closing in on the right composition together.
  • Ask questions and ask for feedback. Send more WIPs than you think you need. 
Okay, so I might have gone a little overboard on WIPs, sending at least one each day I was actively working on a painting. BUT those WIPs let the approvers/writers catch a lot of things early that would have taken me more time to change after the painting was finished.  Also, since these projects are usually made up of many, many moving parts at the same time, the writer was often able to add little details into his description that reflected what I had painted. It was a positive collaboration, and it fueled me through the project. 
  • Plan your time accordingly and You can't burn out.
There were a lot more paintings than I had initially prepared myself for, and they took a lot more time than I had anticipated. A lot of other projects got pushed to the backburner for considerably longer than I'd imagined. This was mostly because I was originally afraid to look like a freelance newb and didn't ask the questions that would have clarified a lot of the documents. This is something I will know for next time - do not be shy about asking questions. Be Socrates. Ask everything. Just don't ask everything to EVERYONE - use whatever contact is most appropriate and send them a list of questions that they can answer when they have time. There are no stupid questions as a freelancer. Ask them. 

Okay! On to the art! Now, VC is hopefully going to print in March, and I'll have a lot more freedom to show the full pieces then - in the meantime, there's a preview of unreleased VC art in our patron-only stream at www.patreon.com/tortoiseharecreations - go check it out! For the purposes of this post, though, I'm only going to share tiny bits to point out things I learned or things I liked. 

Beztekorps halfling
The first few pieces I did for VC were the Beztekorps, and Braxthar Grimdrahk, both pieces that were released during the VC Kickstarter. I was generally happy with both of these, and it definitely buoyed my confidence going into the rest of the project.

This flying halfling is pretty small in the overall piece, but it marks the first time that I fearlessly carved light and shadow with color directly, jettisoning the middle greyscale steps that I normally do. I did this for almost ALL of the VC art, simply because of time constraints. It is faster to work directly in color. I still don't know which I prefer, but it definitely lets me be a little looser, something I certainly need to improve. I successfully backlit the halfling with color highlights, and I was very excited about this.





Braxthar's Detectorium.

Braxthar Grimdrahk - face/goggles
Braxthar Grimdrahk may still be my favorite piece I did during VC. I did do some of his in greyscale, but all of the accessories and items were done directly in color, and I love the color story on this piece. This introduced a lot of fun collaboration with Brian, Grethadnis' main writer, as he was able to take the light source I'd created and turned it into a brand new item. It was cool being able to influence the game by painting something that inspired the writer. Definitely one of the highs.

I'm going to skip ahead to the scenes for a moment and touch on the gods in Part 2.



Gunslinger in the Forever Dark -
enlarged to show holster and
cyber hand
Brazier from Polydracte piece
(Right - Gunslinger) I shared a work in progress of this section of this piece early on, but I am so stupidly proud of the cyber bits to this gunslinger. Also, I made sure to include the carved gun holster I painted, because it's really too small a detail to see in print, I fear - the scene is pretty large.

I'm also really happy with the glowing blood on the aberration that he just killed, and the transparency of his holographic double, but I can't share the entire image, so you'll have to wait on those. :)

Also, I'm pretty happy with my progress on the "embers" front, as shown in the gunslinger's cigar as well as the brazier from the Polydracte/Iniplixetz scene (think giant d20 worshipped by jungle dwarves and an artifact that is currently turning a man into a donkey and you have the general gist), above left.


Magickaar - I got to paint a mecha!
 For this piece, I got to paint a mecha. That was awesome, and I'm very proud of how the metal pieces and the glowing runes, the enchanted arrows and the cracks in the glass all played in the final piece. I liked this one a lot, and it was one of the pieces that bolstered my confidence that I would be able to finish on time, since it was also a resemblance request. This piece just flew by for some reason, taking a lot less time than I had anticipated.
Spires of Srendthav - the coral crown of King Wearantir


Compositionally, a lot of the art briefs were tough for me. We got there eventually, but it took a lot of feedback and patience while I kept getting close, but not quite what they were looking for. I grew in patience a lot over this project, and was able to distance myself from the feedback much better than I would have a few years ago. Even when I initially missed the mark, the whole thing was so informative and positive.

Some of my paintings were fully painted, and some were more of a lineart shading. This later piece required a crown made of coral - I played with the concept for quite some time in sketches before I considered that it would be easier with coral AND other things from the sea. Luckily, they loved the idea and we moved forward!

I really liked the spires too, but you will just have to wait to see the whole piece. :)

Madbear's possibly imaginary Owlbear mount
The Theatre of Blood scene was probably the hardest one for me, for some reason. I just could NOT get my head around this piece, so it was a struggle to choose something positive. I look at the piece and I just see frustration. Still, I did really like the owlbear, so here is a small portion of him. He took me a great deal of time, but I think he turned out pretty great. I am also a lot more comfortable doing blood, ooze, and other viscous fluids now than I was before this project!



To Be Continued in Part 2!
Update: Click HERE to read Part 2.

(Thank you for reading! I know this was long! - Indi)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Patreon Campaign Now Live!



I was reticent at first to dive into Patreon, but once I started researching the platform, I realized that it's the best idea to come along since Kickstarter, and I'm a big fan of KS. 

What is Patreon? It's essentially a tip jar for creative types that does two things: 
  1. It allows you access to extra stuff in our patron-only stream - and I do mean extra stuff, stuff that we can't or won't share elsewhere. Art nudes that Facebook deprioritizes or blocks? Fine by Patreon. Raw .psd files that I have never shared? No problem. Exclusive first looks at chapters from upcoming novels - like the first chapter of "Into Dreams," Book Three in the Gina Harwood series? Not something I'd give away this early to the public, but patrons? Patrons get all KINDS of stuff! All tiers have the chance to win original art once per quarter, and higher tiers get enrolled in the Print-of-the-Quarter club. Plus, you get to feel really good about supporting independent creators. 
  2. It gives creators a monthly stipend of funds that they can count on, instead of the natural ebb-and-flow of sporadic commissions, freelance work, and convention income. Because of this, they can be a little more free to create even more personal content than they could before. It's a net-positive service for everyone involved. 
To get started or check out the options available, visit our Patreon page at http://www.patreon.com/tortoiseharecreations! You'll notice that it has tier levels, much like Kickstarter did, so read through them and decide which one is best for you! Or just start at the $1 tier and you can move up - or end your pledge - at ANY time. 

We did our level best to explain everything in roughly 2 minutes with our intro video, but I totally understand if people still have questions. Feel free to comment here, or send us a message at our Facebook Page, or email us at tortoiseharecreations@gmail.com. We hope to see you on our Patreon page and at our monthly hangouts! 






Saturday, January 10, 2015

Support THC on Patreon!

Patreon - Coming Soon!


Introducing Morel - The New Superheroine Comic written by W. O. Billman II

Morel:
The story of a young twenty-something woman coming to terms with her homosexuality and newly acquired super, but strange, powers. She loses her best friend and first love, which drastically changes her life in more ways than she or anyone could ever have imagined.



Upcoming Convention Appearances

THC will be appearing at the following upcoming conventions! Great Philly Comicon - April 7-9, 2017 in Oaks, PA http://www.philadelphiac...