Tag Archives: art

Fantasy Game Artwork Commission? Cruenti Dei Gets Inked

I heard through my social grapevine (thanks, Paul!) that Sardarthion Press, a publisher of fantasy role playing games, was in need of an artist.  After the publisher perused my online pieces, he decided to take a chance on me, and I decided, “never done anything as weird as this before…that’s a good enough reason!”.  And so began my adventure of sticking my toes into this new and bizarre genre.

I was very nervous that I wouldn’t be able to recreate a feel similar-enough to artwork in previous publications, especially since the style and application was far removed from the majority of my experience.  Plus, I had to create some humanoid-lizard-and-ant-creature type people characters.  These things had biographies and personalities and that had to show in the images.  Wait, what?  What did I get myself into?

To help me get it right, my first questions were to help me acquire a good understanding of the game, the world it takes place in, the psyche of the dinosaur-man-monster, etc.  The author, Thom Ryng, was kind enough to give me a crash course on his game creation, Cruenti Dei:

 “…strategic fantasy game, where every player is a different country. Each turn represents five years. The various countries on the largest continent (Sahûl) are federated into an elective empire (sort of like the historical Holy Roman Empire). Each turn in the newsletter, a portrait of the current Emperor or Empress is printed. (That’s where I come in.)

     “There’s magic. The gods are real and aid their worshipers. Technology is early Renaissance, so cannons AND magic. Yowza.  (Yowza, indeed!)

     “Imperial culture ranges from quasi European in the northeast to pseudo Chinese and Japanese in the west.

     “More info here: http://www.sardarthion.com/?page_id=42

“The empire has four major kindreds, and only one of those are Human – and they aren’t really considered “civilized” by most of the others.”

So I needed to do 2 official-type portraits of humanoid leader things in this otherworldly society – 1 lizardy thing and 1 ant-type thing.  I was going to need some more information.  There are rules about their appearance and they have personalities, and… oh wow.   Luckily, there was still more info Thom helped me out with…  For the badass insect lady creature:

“Insect-like sentients known as Malebolge dominate western Sahûl. (Yes, badasses, check.)

“…Malebolge are descended from ground-dwelling hive insects similar to ants. They generally have six limbs, although some males may only have four. Different castes vary in size from the graceful Queens, who may be taller than Wenemet, to some Workers, who are two-thirds the size of a Saurian. (Oh wow, that’s a lot of stuff.)

 “…All positions of authority and power in Malebolge society are held by females. The males are considered mentally inferior and, in some places, held as chattel.  (Tee-hee-hee.)

“…This particular Malebolge is Countess Cir’ik VIII of Kicitchat. She lost an eye during the duel that guaranteed her accession to the throne of Kicitchat. She has just been elected Empress of Sahûl.”  (Woah, a one-eyed ant empress??  This will be fun.)

I started letting my hand get accustomed to drawing insect people and played around here:

Malebolge Sketch

Most of the picture would be made up of folds of fabric and patterns, so I decided I wasn’t too worried about her portrait.  I was very worried about his, though.

The dude I refer to is the lizard man warlord Mr. Ryng describes here:

 “Saurians are descended from a group of herbivorous, hollow-crested hadrosaurs similar to Parasaurolophus. (Oh, right, of course.  Wait, what?)

 “They believe strongly in tradition and any new innovation is likely to be justified using past precedent, no matter how obscure.
Saurian society is legalistic almost to the point of ossification… (K, crochety.  Got it.)

“Their head crests are (in polite society) always hidden by a hood or hat, except when they are at prayer.  A Saurian army is typically equipped with the heaviest armour and weaponry available…” (So dude is gonna need some sort of head dressing that I have to come up with and I gotta make some armor for him, too.  Alrighty.)

In addition, there was a portrait of a real human person that Thom wanted the artist to draw inspiration from.

So, to recap, I needed to come up with a humanoid lizard creature with a big bump thing on his head, something covering the bump, armor…oh… and he will have to have a similar expression as a certain grumpy old man.  I got this.  Here were my first doodles:

Saurian Sketch

I tried to not think about the resemblance to Madonna too much and resolved to simply make the final version not pop-star like at all.

It was exhilarating to think that I would shape the mental image of these characters for all the players of this game…shaping a virtual reality of sorts.  What a challenge.  What an honor!

The author gave me feedback and further direction on what he wanted and I set out to finish the pieces as quickly as possible.  There was a tight deadline and since I’m away from home 12+ hours every day during the week, I had not a lot of time.

The dinosaur guy did prove to be as difficult as I anticipated, and I believe the author winced so hard he didn’t even want to tell me over my first two attempts.  Finally, though, we arrived at versions for both that satisfied him.

Carberic the Usurper


K’ivik the Deposed

More than anything, this exercise made me wish I already had the Surface Pro 3 I finally bought afterward to help me take my art digital.  These originals were done in real, actual ink-type ink and I was not able to adjust the contrast with layer adjustments alone in Adobe Photoshop.  Instead, there was a lot of time-consuming, painstaking pixel-by-pixel manipulation with a mouse on my somewhat ancient laptop.  “Ohhh how I wish I had a digital pen for… dammit!….’undo’…ohh, I wish I had a digital pen.”

The final versions of these without the snazzy, gigantic watermarks can be seen here on the Turn 23 editions on page 28 (“132”) for the Malebolge here:


And on page 28 (“132”) for the Saurian here:


Do you want to play Cruenti Dei?  Well you can!  Here’s a link with more information:


Happy gaming!


Why Do We Dream? NSFW

Why do we sleep?  More interestingly, why do we dream?  If fortunate, we spend 1/3 of our lives captive in a state in which we are unable to purposefully interact with our tangible surroundings!  One Third!

Or maybe that’s not true at all.  Maybe when we sleep it’s like coming up for air after being submerged for a long time deep in the ocean, and dreams happen when we open our eyes above the surface.   Maybe we sleep and dream because otherwise, we would drown in the fantasy of day-to-day life…

Researchers, biologists, military Q’s and the like have many of their own theories on the purpose behind why we all turn to useless slabs of drooling meat each day.  Of course, there are the known side effects from sleep deprivation which range from irritability to inability to concentrate, right up to hallucinations and Bat Shit Craziness as in this The Atlantic article by Seth Maxon.  Yet, that still doesn’t explain why sleeping and dreaming is needed to keep your marbles all in the same place.   Recently, it was also discovered that toxins Occupying your brain are flushed while you snooze as your brain cells shrink to make way for the biological fire hoses.  I’m no neuroscientist, but I would imagine it would be difficult to think with shrunken brain cells if that process happened during waking hours.  This starts to approach a reason behind why we psychologically need sleep, but still doesn’t explain all of the weird surrounding sleep and dreaming.

Like, for example, did you know you can problem-solve in your sleep?!  In this Livescience article, studies are highlighted in which students solved math problems in their dreams.  It goes on to submit that problem solving while asleep is a rather common occurrence documented throughout history and it can sometimes solve problems our awoken mind cannot.   Psychologist Deirdre Barrett’s hypothesis boils down to dream as a thinking tool which takes advantage of looser, sometimes less logical connections of dots …because sometimes our brains work best when we are not in full, conscious control of how we use them… because sometimes they work best when we are not behind the wheel…  But then, who or what is behind the wheel?

My imagination conjures a strange answer to all these questions and the seed of it lies in the Christian lens through which I perceive all things.  There are over 100 instances of variants of the word “dream” in the bible, and God uses dreams to: convey information — “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife,” –Genesis 20:3  (“she already got a man!”); to piss other people off — “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more,” –Genesis 37:5; to freak people out — “Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions,” –Job 7:14; to speak directly to prophets — “…if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream,” –Numbers 12:6, and a bunch of other stuff.  Mix that with: “…the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters,” –Genesis 1:2, and “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters,” –Genesis 1:6 and we get to the point where my brain starts coming up with weird shit.

So, God uses dreams for a variety of communications with man, and the Spirit of God dwelled on the surface of the waters in the beginning.  That water was separated between aboveness and belowness by a gigundous gap.  We live in the below part separated from the water above.  Does the part of God’s spirit in the above part perhaps meet us halfway when he wants to drive an idea home?  Do our spirits get pulled into that limbo while we sleep by His messengers who have the ability to traverse that separation?  Do we get a chance for part of our daily life to press our hands up to the glass of that divide as if a prison visitation to find our bearings again?  Does God sometimes or always reach out to touch the other side of that divide?  …much like Michelangelo’s famous painting on the Sistine Chapel?


I don’t know.  But it’s kind of a neat idea, don’t you think?  I picture it with God’s messengers, naked and pure as children, hauling the man they’ve been given charge of into that meeting place… whether we sleep peacefully or whether we are towed into that limbo still bound by despair, our spirits guarded carefully while allowed a time-out from the most exhausting of races.  I picture it just like this, the “Firmament”:

"Firmament" - mixed traditional media by Erin McDermott


Prints of this piece can be ordered here: The Untapped Source  Matting and framing options can be set to “No” to reduce cost substantially.

Special thanks goes out to one little girl’s parental unit who gave me permission to use her as the perfect model I’ve been lacking for the 14 friggin years since I started this composition!

Surface Pro 3: I Can Haz Digital Art?

This week, I had the privilege of dining with some tech celebs in Chicago (no really, they were stopped on the way out by a fan), and afterward, we walked by a billboard for the Surface Pro 3 — “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.  They mocked the Microsoft product for its ability to run horrible Microsoft Office programs, and perhaps their tech snob tastes were as refined as their excellent tastes in beer, but I had to defend the 3.  Secretly, I’ve been lusting over that little machine since it was unveiled, and on June 20th, when it was first available to purchase in stores, I even went to drool over it in person.

Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store
Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store in Chitown


I’d been searching for a lightweight laptop that could also create digital art well.  Like a cat to its first cheezburger, I was (and am) a total newb in the digital art arena, so I first turned to my friend Marc Grunert for some expert advice.  Marc is not only someone I’ve known for many years to be a talented artist, he also makes his dough that way!  You can check out some of his amazing illustrations here:  http://marc-the-upstart.deviantart.com/  Marc directed me to Wacom’s Cintiq Companion which soon became my first digital art hardware crush:

Wacom’s Cintiq Companion


Wacom’s products are widely known to be in the Cadillac class of digital art hardware and reviewers commonly remark on the realistic feel and responsiveness of the drawing tools.  I knew if I were aiming for the best product for creating art, Marc had steered me straight. Unfortunately, along with being crazy-expensive (over $2k for the higher memory version + keyboard accessory), it was also a bit heavy and bulky for lugging on the trains and buses during my 3+ hour daily commute.  I needed something powerful but lighter and smaller, and I’d be willing to sacrifice a bit on drawing performance to get there…

And then the Surface Pro 3 was announced, and I dropped my Cintiq Companion crush faster than Romeo dropped his obsession with that Rosaline bitch.

However, it became clear before it even was available, the Surface Pro 3 had its own flaws.  There was the immediate concern that the drawing capabilities would be a little more than a little shittier than that of Wacom’s Companion or even that of its own earlier version.   The previous Surface Pro actually used Wacom technology in its pen and it came with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity.  The Surface Pro 3 moves to N-Trig technology with only 256 levels of sensitivity.  I was largely skeptical that a human needed over 1,000 levels of pressure measurement.  As an engineer with a bunch of experience under her belt in several industries, I thought it all smelled like a lot of marketing B.S..  And based on this lengthy explanation from a Microsoft scientist, that assumption was probably correct: http://surfaceproartist.com/blog/2014/5/27/microsoft-addresses-n-trig-concerns-in-reddit-response

The other big concerns came from this awesomely candid review by Gabe, artist from Penny Arcade:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2014/05/23/surface-pro-3

I was most alarmed by the lag Gabe noticed while drawing and the fact that the HOME BUTTON was PERFECTLY LOCATED to KICK THE ARTIST BACK to the HOME SCREEN.  REPEATEDLY.  That’s just aces, Microsoft.

Luckily and surprisingly, Microsoft brought the gemba to them by inviting Gabe over to observe him (trying to) draw:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/news/post/2014/06/16/surface-pro-3-update   After a couple rounds, the engineers had a fix for the home button problem — it would be disabled while the pen was in contact with the screen.   Unfortunately, the drawing lag issue appears to remain unsolved for the moment.

Here’s what I found from my personal observation of the Surface Pro 3 in downtown Chicago:

1. After a week of being on display for the public’s grubby fingers, there was some significant wear.  The type cover was already approaching filthy, and take a look at the pen’s already worn nib (pardon my shitty phone pics, I was feeling too self-conscious to pull out my camera under the watch of an already raised MS employee’s eyebrow):

Surface Pro 3 Worn Pen Nib


2.  I love mechanical keyboards.  I have these awesome fingernails that I can use for peeling oranges, opening packages and attacking assailants like the mutherfucking Wolverine.  They’re not going anywhere just so I can use a shitty touch keypad.  Nope, screw you, Apple.  I’m really happy the Surface Pro line is continuing with physically moving keys!

Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3's Keyboard
Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3’s Keyboard


3.  The FreshPaint app is stupid-addictive.  I read this warning in other reviews, but I Had No Idea How Bad it really was.  I kept telling the MS salespeople, “yeah, yeah…uhh…I’ll be right off of this…thing…ooohh, wow…”.   Check out my modern art!

Surface Pro 3 FreshPaint App
Yeah, I Made This. Hard to believe, I know.


4.  See that screen?  It’s pretty shiny.  Not sure how much of an issue the veiling glare would be in different ambient light conditions.

5.  The software fix for the home button location issue seemed to be already in place!  It still kicked me back to the home screen once though, when one of my drawing strokes continued a tick after the pen left the surface.  It was an extremely irritating moment.  Grrr.  I feel you, Gabe.

So for now, I’m holding off on purchasing anything to see if Microsoft finds a good fix for the drawing lag and also to see what the competition might have to add to the better-than-decent-drawing-plus-better-than-decent-computing arena.  I hope my tech pro friends and art pro friends will forgive me, whatever choice I ultimately make.

I don’t want to disappoint anyone who may have been expecting a cat pic in this post based on the title — even though cats really, really aren’t my thing.  So, here.  I present to you, The Ranger, my roommate’s saber-toothed mountain lion of a cat who is:

The Ranger