Artwork by Carmen Cianelli

The other morning, I was chatting it up with a few or the regulars on the ArtOrder chat, and the subject of reference came up. I'm not going to argue the merit of reference in illustration. In fact I'm going to skip right past that subject. In the midst of our reference discussion a glancing comment about Anita Olsen's posts about her university illustration project and mood boards. Love 'em or hate 'em, mood boards often step beyond the idea of reference material and enter the realm of research. It doesn't matter which of my hats I'm wearing at the moment - illustrator, designer, photographer, art director... I find the research phase of creative development to be the most intensive and rewarding portion of the entire creative process. Just yesterday, I pulled together a concepting team to start the research phase for a new product line we are developing over at Wizards of the Coast. I'd like to take a minute and talk about research, an how it can be useful and helpful for the creative process.

Dungeon Delve Challenge Sketches

Posture. A lot of the characters are very upright and strong. That is very heroic, and normally that is something that I look for in my D&D art. In this circumstance though, this character is suppose to be beat down, injured, worn out...basically had all the 'heroic' kicked out of them. Make them slump, make them weary, have them supporting themselves, think of them about three steps away from complete exhaustion. If they look like they still have fight in them - they probably aren't very tired or desperate yet. I'd like to take a minute and highlight a few images that jumped out at me. Roger Bethke. I like the sense of "lost" in Rogers piece. Giving a character multiple options for where they can go emphasizes the sense of being lost. 

The heavy black vertical shape cutting through the image bothers me though, and I've look at the composition. The doors could and cavern elements could help lead the eye around the image rather than just feel kind of arbitrary. Melissa Koch work at Coloring Pages website. Melissa is really capturing the idea of weary here. The weight is off to the side, she's holding herself up here. I don't really get the sense that she is lost though... Alexander Nanitchkov. Love the sense of despair, and the feeling that there is impending doom. The warm/cool adds depth to the image. I'd love to talk about many more, but I'm short on time. Take a look at your sketches again, and give them one more pass with the thoughts I mentioned above in mind.

D&D and IFX Sitting in a Tree

That's the subject line of the email Claire Howlett, editor of ImagineFX magazine, sent to me. It had me singing that silly little children's tune most of the day. Partly because it is one of those insidious tunes that buries itself into your brain and you can't shake it loose, but the primary reason I was walking around singing had to do with the news that she shared with me. If you are one of those lucky folks that live in the UK, then you might have wandered past your local magazine stand and seen the ultra cool Dungeons & Dragons issue of ImagineFX that hit the stands on the 16th. Those of us in the US have to wait until next month to get a copy! What's so cool about this issue. Well, it's about Dungeons & Dragons! Does there need to be more than that? Well, it seems that some of you aren't convinced yet! The Dungeons and Dragons special edition of ImagineFX comes with a 2011 fantasy and sci-fi art calendar, plus it's free DVD full of tutorial goodies. Within they look at the history of D&D and how it helped to define fantasy art for many, in a 10-page feature filled with some of the greatest D&D art.

Providing the cover is Dan Scott, artist for D&D, Warhammer and World of Warcraft, and he accompanies it with a workshop of his elfin image. They've also got Eric Belisle to bring a key D&D encounter to life, and Dave Allsop takes a simple brief and makes a sprawling monster being for a game card. Aside from D&D, they also throw in additional content. In the tutorial section, Daniel Murray looks at mixing 2D and 3D to bring new life into a familiar comic book character. Brett Bean provides a tutorial on creating a glowing industrial character in Sketchbook Pro, and Sergio Paez shows you how to storyboard your scenes like a pro. They profile the book cover artist John Picacio, looking at how he blends mediums and styles to produce his iconic images, as ever there’s loads to find on the free DVD, with over eight hours of video advice. Sold yet? You should be. I know I am, and can't wait for my issue to show up.

Goals Setting for the Busy Creative

I'm not really one for new years resolutions, but I've decided that I would like to consider setting a few goals for the year. Draw everyday. Do one painting a month. Revisit my portfolio. Design a t-shirt. Design a sticker. Find 12 new artists. Create a new art book that features unpublished artists. Book my speaking and convention dates early. Do one world building exercise. Attend at least one new event professionally, and one personally. Alright, that'll do for starters. Last year, I found that it was useful for me to write things down that I want to accomplish. It helped me focus on what was important to me, and start to prioritize tasks. In fact, I found that it was even more useful to put them onto a calendar and force myself to set aside time to accomplish the tasks. Seems kind of simplistic doesn't it? Set aside time to accomplish something important. A crazy novel idea, huh? You'd think someone would have thought of that before.

Okay, I know it isn't a brilliant new concept. Folks have been doing it for years. The problem is - no one taught me to do that! I would just flit from one task to another - doing whatever bright shiny bauble caught my attention at the time. Sure, I was always entertained, but I wasn't necessarily very productive of effective. I needed to get myself organized or my wife or boss were going to kill me. I don't know about you, but my life is very full and I am constantly finding myself with less time than tasks. I've finally started getting a little bit organized (imagine that...after only 50 years!), and the calendar technique has become one of my most useful and effective ways of staying organized. Now that I've got a list of things I'd like to accomplish during the year - I'll sit down with my calendar and start setting aside time to accomplish them. How about you - do you have a list of resolutions or goals?

What steps are you going to take to make them happen? Do you write things on your calendar, make to-do lists, have software helpers, fly by the seat of your pants? Each of us has to find a system that works for us. Share your system and maybe you can help teach someone else a tool that will dramatically affect their life. WMC Fest. Speaking of my calendar, you might notice that one of my goals is to book my conventions and speaking engagements early. One event is trying to help me do that. I recently received an invite to speak at the Weapons of Mass Creation event hosted by Go Media. We'll see if we can sort out the details, but I wanted to point out the event to everyone and give it a quick plug. It sounds like a great event - 20 speakers, 20 designers and 20 bands. It's got to be one of the least expensive events I've run across, and a portion of the funds help benefit a good cause. If you are in the US midwest in June.