Old Year, New Year

So far, there’s been a lot going on for me in 2014 in all respects, but I’ve managed to keep it all together for the most part. The first priority of the year was to look at my work from 2013 and pick the pieces I feel are worthy to send to the Spectrum annual. This past year I seem to have stumbled into a kind of style without quite meaning to – pencil/ink illustrations with digital colour. I realised that most of what I’d want to submit this year came from this one direction I explored, and they seemed to hang together well.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

Second priority of the new year was to finish two pieces from 2013 that just needed that final push of effort to complete. I wanted to get them sorted so I could move on to new things. One of them is a larger-scale acrylic painting called Winter VI that I’ve been working on since last march, and it was great to finally wrap it up and include it in the Spectrum submissions. Howard Lyon’s amazing and enlightening post Feeling Gray Today at the Muddy Colors blog gave me the final key towards finishing  - I repainted the face for the third time and finally achieved what I was after thanks to Howard’s insights (not the best photo, sorry!):

Winter VI - 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

Winter VI – 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

I also created two acrylic portraits to give as Christmas gifts, and was quite pleased with the results – again, it was right after reading that remarkable post, and in contrast to the nearly 11 months I spent circling Winter VI, I created this portrait of the eminent John Wheeldon in just one of the five hours I had available in which to paint it:

John Wheeldon - acrylic on canvas.

John Wheeldon – acrylic on canvas.

Lots more on the go and some fun new things to show already, but I’ll make other posts for them. I’ve also started the second term of my oil painting course under Barbro Runefelt- Taltavull, so I know some good things will come from that…

Happy 2014! (and thanks again, Howard!)

Valkyrjan IV update!


I’m very pleased that Valkyrjan IV was selected by the jury for inclusion in Jon Schindehette‘s upcoming Inspiration book project. It’s very exciting for me as the jury was composed of some of the top artists and art directors working in fantasy and science fiction publishing today – not to mention that the challenge submissions were filled with wonderful and strong work from all quarters! I’m somewhat surprised to find myself in such company.  I always imagine that my personal art sensibilities are a bit arcane and old-fashioned.

It’s a nice validation of the piece, I think – one that I’ve laboured over for years, trying to find the right way in. I had an idea for a darker, more “historical” treatment of a valkyrie about four years ago, and my first attempt was with ArtRage and a Wacom tablet in January 2010. Soon after that, I started using an iPad for my painting  (which I much preferred). I came up with an improved version that I was happy with at the time, but I eventually felt dissatisfied again.

The idea stayed on the back burner until Northern Light Workshop 2, where I decided to take some digital sketches and try to execute the final in acrylic on paper. I think it worked out pretty well considering how rusty I felt with analog painting, and both the instructors and my fellow classmates were very encouraging to me about the picture. Still: not satisfied.

I’d recently had a fun photo reference shoot with Elin Hökby, so I asked if she’d help me get this valkyrie sorted once and for all, and we ended up with some great material. John Jude Palencar’s Rag and Bone piece gave me some new ideas, and I decided to combine it all and go for version IV. The final process is detailed here, but wow – what a long road to get a piece realized! Below is a capsule history graphic showing the key development stages (along with some side diversions):

A "short" history of Valkyrjan IV.

A “short” history of Valkyrjan IV.

I’m really pleased that it all seemed to pay off in the end, even if I sometimes felt like a dog that would not let go of a chewed-on shoe! I also enjoy seeing how my work has changed in almost four years (or not changed in some cases). For instance, here is the original treatment of the valkyrie’s chain hauberk from four years ago, compared to how I handled the same item today:

Chain mail vs. chain mail...

Chain mail vs. chain mail…

Back then, I was slavishly trying to render every detail, thinking that this would be impressive in and of itself (sometimes it can!). Four years on, I’m letting line suggest the outer form and just giving vague hints about the surface of the garment. I don’t know if one approach is necessarily better than the other, but I feel the way I am working now gives me much stronger results. Happily, the judges of the challenge felt the same way!

Thanks again to Jon, Irene Gallo, Lauren Panepinto, Julie Bell, Terryl Whitlatch, Terese Nielsen, and Rebecca Guay for their votes of confidence in my work – it means more than I can properly express.

Valkyrjan IV

18x30 cm, Sepia Ink on Watercolour Paper with digital colour.

18×30 cm, sepia ink on watercolour paper with digital colour.

This piece is my submission to ArtOrder’s November 2013 Inspiration Challenge. It hasn’t actually been easy to be inspired right now, as this is perhaps the least inspiring time of year here in Sweden. There also hasn’t been much spare time lately for a project like this, so I had to take a lot of short periods of time where I could find them.

I’d been working on this idea on and off since the second Northern Light Workshop, where I’d been trying an acrylic painting of this theme with varied results. Unsatisfied, I invited the gracious Elin Hökby to come back to the studio to help me with poses, and she was interested in the direction of the picture. With her help and support, I came up with enough material that I felt I could get the feeling I was after for the piece – a darker take on the valkyrie inspired by the rune stones I’d seen in Visby on Gotland.

Painting a valkyrie at Northern Light Workshop 2 in 2012.

I wanted to try the so-called “Rackham technique” I’d read about on William Stout’s blog (watercolour over warm-toned ink lines), and so I traced out my sketches on Canson Montval watercolour paper. I used a waterproof Faber-Castell sepia brush pen to ink the linework. I was sort of a nervous wreck doing this, but everything worked out. I was admiring the finished line art when I suddenly realised I’d left out a letter in the old norse translation. I sat there in shock for a while, trying to decide how to handle it. I was going to scan the linework before colouring it anyway, just in case, so I scanned it and fixed the mistake in Photoshop.

I printed out the artwork onto new sheets of the same watercolour paper, but somehow it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I was quite depressed about the whole situation. I finally decided to take the pressure off myself and just colour it digitally. I have a set of digital watercolour brushes created by Justin Gerard that I just love, so I felt better directly about this decision. I still want to try a proper test of the Rackham method, but it’ll have to wait until the next piece!

The finished sepia inking on "Valkyrjan IV".

The finished sepia inking on “Valkyrjan IV”.

From that point, things went well. Even though I set out on this piece with Arthur Rackham and John Bauer firmly in mind, when I look at the finished work, I see how much I’ve been influenced by Hasui Kawase in the colouring. I can even see Mucha and Moebius in there in places. All of our various  inspirations are whispering to us as we work, I suppose.

The text in the framing is a fragment of stanza 54 of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in old norse, which I hope I’ve managed to translate (and spell!) correctly. It says approximately, “Down from the sky came maidens with shining helms…”. I wanted the overall tone to be a bit ominous, and to include the ravens, who are sometimes associated with valkyrie. Her garb is closer to actual viking styles, and she carries a saga-sized drinking horn!

I wonder what the judges of the challenge will think of it – it’s a powerhouse lineup of famous artists and art directors, so no pressure there. At any rate, I learned so much creating this, and I’m motivated to take things further next time – to have the courage to colour the entire piece with watercolours…

Prästinnan (work in progress)

"Prästinnan" - Work in progress 24x32 cm Watercolour on paper

“Prästinnan” – Work in progress
24×32 cm Watercolour on paper

I thought I’d post this crappy photo of a work in progress. This is another watercolour experiment using the new “All Terrain” set I bought from American Journey. I love this palette, and I’m having a lot of fun learning to use it. This is a portrait of a friend of a friend in her absolutely amazing warrior priestess live-action roleplay costume. What you can’t see here is the large wooden portable shrine she has strapped to the back of her plate armour! It’s not the best resemblance of Frida unfortunately, but other than that I’m generally happy with the way the picture’s working out. Really enjoying watercolours…

Dark Ranger

"Sylvanas" 17x25 cm, Graphite with Digital Colour

17×25 cm, Graphite with Digital Colour

I’ve always rather liked the character of ranger Sylvanas Windrunner from the Warcraft universe. She’s a bit like the Borg Queen: definitely someone you should stay far away from if at all possible, yet somehow compelling and magnetic at the same time. What I don’t care for is the “hot” treatments that most artists seem to give her in illustrations – she’s a revenant, after all, so that’s certainly uncomfortable territory to tread. I’ve always wanted to do a more low-key portrait of her, and give her a more “realistic” look (which is a bit silly given the character and milieu, I know).

I also did a lot of reading this summer about the Japanese Shin hanga ( “new print”) printmaking movement, and I became interesting in incorporating some of what I learned into my work. This picture is definitely informed by the palettes of artists like Hasui Kawase, and I was also intrigued by the depiction of hands in many works. My figures usually end up having my hands because I shot them for reference, so I wanted to get past this somehow. I’m happy with the hands here – and at the very least, they’re not mine! The excellent character and costume work of Carolina Dahlberg was also inspirational.

One last note: in my studying of archery, I came across the technique of so-called “instinctive shooting”, which was quite interesting and seemed very different from modern technical shooting – although that was equally impressive. I’m always pleased at how much I learn just from doing research for a painting, and the unexpected roads it can lead me down!

Hasui Kawase at Wikipedia

More Watercolour Experimentation…

"Jehanne with Apple Blossoms" Watercolour, work in progress.

“Jehanne with Apple Blossoms”
Watercolour, work in progress.

Here’s my second watercolour attempt, also very much in-progress. This image has been in the works since last summer, when I had a friend pose for the sketches for it. Here I’m building up many washes of very light tones, trying not to destroy the surface of the Canson paper too much as I go. I’m deliberately using a very narrow colour range so far, and it tends to vary between looking pretty good and going muddy, depending on the wash. I wanted to see how this technique feels to work in, and what kind of results I can get with it – it’s really different from how I tend to use acrylics. It’s been a real exercise in patience, waiting for each wash to fully dry!

Watercolour First Steps

Untitled work-in-progress. Watercolour & graphite, 24x32 cm.

Untitled work-in-progress. Watercolour & graphite, 24×32 cm.

Just thought I’d post a quick work-in-progress. This is my first serious attempt at full-sized watercolour painting. This composition was an unused idea for the ArtOrder Viking challenge, but I’d had the basic sketch around since last winter and always wanted to complete it somehow. I re-drew it on Canson Montval 300g and started in with the watercolours. It’s a very exciting media… it feels very wild to me here at the start and I have very little clue what I’m doing, but I’m really enjoying the challenge.



“Wanderlust” 18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

This is another piece created for one of Jon Schindehette’s Art Order events: the “Viking” challenge produced in collaboration with Allison Hourcade of RockLove Jewelry. Allison has produced a really wonderful new line of work based on historical viking hoard finds, and the art challenge was simply to include one or several of these pieces into an illustration.

I decided this would fit in thematically with some work I am currently doing anyway. I’ve been researching viking history quite a bit in recent years, and I’m especially interested in some of the newer theories about social structure, fashion and gender roles. This character builds off accepted historical material and plays into some of the newer ideas.

As with Drakflickan, the model for the young woman was the gracious, beautiful and very patient Elin Hökby, who quite definitely possesses a valkyrie’s spirit.

Rune stones are pretty fascinating in and of themselves, and I’ve been lucky enough to get to see some important ones up close. I thought this was a good opportunity to get one into a painting. The inscription on the stone is several stanzas which I quite liked from the skaldic poem Darraðarljoð. The Younger Futhark runes spell out the stanzas in Old Norse, and I hope I didn’t muck it up too badly.

Carl Larsson’s Viking Woman was also an inspiration for this piece.

Wanderlust won first prize in the Comic/Graphic Novel category, and was one of the three nominees for “Best of Show”. Sincere thanks to all the judges and organisers for your time and effort in producing the challenge!

Also as with Drakflickan, the painting is graphite on 120g Canson croquis paper, and was digitally coloured in Photoshop CS6 using Justin Gerard’s excellent watercolour tool presets.


"Drakflickan"18x26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

18×26 cm Graphite with Digital Colour

This is my entry into the recent Art Order challenge with the theme “Dragon World”. This is intended as the cover to an imaginary book for older children called “Drakflickan” (“The Dragon Girl”). The idea of the challenge was to not only depict a dragon, but to show the dragon’s integration and influence with the world that it inhabits. I worked to achieve this by showing an intimate and obviously comfortable connection between the girl and the dragon, and suggesting some sort of working relationship by having them both be similarly armoured.

I didn’t want to do be too explicit about what the relationship between the two actually involves, whether they are equals or one serves the other, but the motif on the shield hopefully implies that they’re involved in some larger tradition of their cultures.

This was created with graphite on 120g Canson croquis paper, and was digitally coloured in Photoshop CS6 using Justin Gerard’s excellent watercolour tool presets.

Sun Pillars and Light Pillars

Dinotopia artist James Gurney often posts at his blog “Gurney Journey” about interesting light and atmospheric effects like sun pillars. I often see sun pillars here in Sweden in the summertime, but I took a photo of this rarer (for me) wintertime pillar back in winter 2011.

A winter sun pillar over Lake Mälaren in Stockholm.

A winter sun pillar over Lake Mälaren in Stockholm.

On the evening of December 2rd, 2012, my wife and I left our art studio and noticed a strange and ethereal shimmering quality in the very cold air. It was innumerable very tiny ice crystals… so fine that one couldn’t quite make them out without looking in just the right way. We looked out over the lake and saw pillars of light rising from the lights on the far shore.

At first, I thought it might be happening in my eyeglasses, but when I removed them, the pillars were still there. The night was dark, so I tried to capture them using the NightCap app on my iPhone. These shots are not ideal, but at least I was able to record this startling phenomenon. It’s easy to imagine that this effect is some kind of lens flare taking place in-camera, but this is indeed how it looked to the naked eye:

Light Pillars over Lake Mälaren, Dec. 2nd 2012.

Light Pillars over Lake Mälaren, Dec. 2nd 2012.

When we walked further down the street, I looked back, and now the lights were blocked by the row of flats facing the lake – but we  could still see the pillars extending up from behind the buildings!

Light Pillars, Dec. 2nd 2012.

Light Pillars, Dec. 2nd 2012.

The next day, many people observed and took pictures of some glorious halo effects in the sky, but unless you were lucky enough to be out late on the evening of the 2nd, you may well have missed these strange and beautiful lights!

Here is a last picture taken by Sam Hellerström that appeared in Aftonbladet. It really shows how surreal this phenomenon was:

Photo: Sam Hellerström.

Photo: Sam Hellerström.


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