For this week’s blog (a week late due to family stuff and the subject of this blog taking way too long, but I’m getting ahead of myself), I’ll be taking a deep dive into my latest completed piece, “Curse of the Mermaid Gold.” Below I’ll be walking though my digital painting process in nearly complete detail (some layers have been combined into one step for clarity’s sake, and the order has been fudged slightly to make more sense). Even though I made this piece entirely for fun, this is the same layer of detail and effort I put into my professional work as well, because if something’s worth doing, it’s worth spending 40 hours on stretched over 13 days and countless uncounted minutes fretting over how much cave floor water is the right amount of cave floor water while making dinner or walking on a treadmill, staring 1,000 miles into the distance.


1 – Rough Sketch: Since this might be the first fully fleshed out piece I’ve created completely digitally, I started out by quickly scribbling my idea into Photoshop. I did put a 3×3 grid over to guide me, making sure that imported components roughly lined up with the rule of thirds, because design is really just Math + Taste.

2 – Final Sketch: After the quick, mad ravings were completed, I lowered their opacity and drew the final sketch over it. I’ve spent the last few years working hard to work less hard on this phase, and working digitally definitely helps speed things up considerably. Basically, the goal hear is to give it the same quality and detail in the drawing as if 14 year old Andrew did it, just with less teenage angst, depression, and inexplicable shyness.

Oh, and I’ve been asked quite a few times recently why I usually sketch in reds and oranges. This is because ink lines stand out really well over them. Also, it just looks “dope.”

3 – Ink Lines: Here’s where the real work happens. The quality of the sketch can be sophmoric (which I drop the opacity on and work over) because I go HARD with ink. I taught myself to draw as a kid from comic books, so I see my main style as an attempt to both replicate and elevate that. Basically, deep down, I’d probably rather be drawing the X-Men at any given time…

Anyway, I used the Classic Cartoonist brush to do all of this, because it can perfectly replicate my real world brush pen work without the constant possibility that I could ruin the entire piece at any given moment.


4 – Background Color Blocks: At this point, I start color blocking, putting in all the base colors that I’ll be building on top of. I think of my process from here on as either a boomerang or bell curve, because I start from the back and least important parts of the piece, work my way to the front and focal points, spend most of my time there, and then work my way back to back before finishing everything off.

I start every digital piece with the same color palette, and then mix from their to get the right tints and shades. I do this partly because I like those colors (I feel they’re very end of summer/early fall in their purest form), partly because it brings cohesion to all of my work, and partly because it saves me time, which is great, beause this is the phase that feels the most like work.

Fun Note: You can see where I screwed up much later in the process and painted on the deepter mountains and the cloud in this layer instead of the correct one.

5 – Water Color Blocks

6 – Cave Color Blocks: This one was actually pretty tricky getting the cave to a good color that wouldn’t blend in with fur coming up right n-

7 – Character Color Blocks: As many times as I keep swearing off fur and feathers, I keep going right back to them in my work. Must just be a gluton for punishment?

8 – Foreground Color Blocks


9 – In the Shade: Since I chose to do a 2.5 light source lighting approach, I needed to put darken up areas that weren’t touched by the moonlight.

10 – Water Shade

11 – Cave Shade


12 – Darker Values: At this point, I start adding the darker values to principle charactera and the foreground. A lot of professionals and art teachers will call this “adding value” and scoff at you if you call it “shading,” but that’s just semantic, patronizing nonsense, because “shading” is exactly what you’re doing. So, as far as I’m concerned, call it whatever you want; we all know what you’re talking about, because it’s all just “lighting” anyway. Because I come from a Film background, I like to separate it out like you would onset, lighting the characters, foreground, and background independently. I’m going for cinematic rather than naturalistic.

13 – Lighter Values: Here’s where the shapes get to start taking form, and I can finally start enjoying looking at my work.

14 – Shadows

15 – Shadows in Shadows: Since we’re not in an extremely dark setting (it is a full moon after all, and all that water is going to be bouncing that atmospheric lighting all over the place, we can’t forget that objects within a cast shadow will still cast their own shadows.

16 – Highlights

17 – Hotspots: This is the only stage where I’ll allow myself to use pure (think titanium) white (my palette starts with something like an egg shell insteadd), because that stuff is addictive, and once you start with it, it’s next to impossible to put it down. It’s basically the Oreos of art.


18 – Tide: This was a good reminder that no one knows what’s in your head but you. Since I knew that the captain here was going to be kneeling in several inches of water, it didn’t bother me that it looked like he was hovering over the cave floor. Everyone else? Not so much.

19 – Ripples: Always fun. I think Bob Ross was at his happiest while slapping some ripples onto his canvas with a palette knife.

20 – Arm Extra Shade: His left arm, with all that fur popping out of the leather jacket, was really bothering me, so I doubled up it’s shade quotient to get it in line.

21 – Magic: Is he being curse right now, having just transformed? Or is the magic about to tranform him back after he’s returned the gold? That’s for the fan to decide, having left it intentionally up for interpretation. But just like Christopher Nolan, I’ve left at least one clue to let you know what I know is really happening. P.S. The author/director/artist always knows the answer. If they say otherwise, they’re lying.

22 – Stronger Magic: Had to add a couple more layers to both beef up the tendrills wrapping around the capatain, and brighten up the tendrills reaching out of the chest.

23 – Glow: Congratulations! We’re halfway done. But seriously, if you’re still hanging in there, thank you.

24 – Stronger Glow: Same with the magic, an extra layer was needed to help separate things without being in your face like an anime. And we never want to be like anime. Never.


25 – Floor Darker Values: At this point in the project, I was ready for it to be over, so it was great that I left all background and painterly stuff left to finish.

26. Floor Lighter Values

27. Shadows in Water: At this stage I got to start tying the characters and setting together.

28. Reflections: I didn’t want thsese to be too exact, but to be just enough to trick your eye into believeing you’re seeing the reflections that it’s been trained to expect.

29 – Water Gradient: This was subtle, but really helps sell that the lighting conditions shift once you enter the cave.

30 – Water Texture

31 – Wave Highlights: Part of me wonders if I should have brightened these up closer to the volcano, but I didn’t want to draw too much attention to them. So I probably made the right choice, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t think it over every time I look at it.


32 – Cave Lighter Values: Just some rim lighting for the moonlight.

33 – Cave Painting: As we’re getting farther into the background, I was able to knockout adding texture and darker values all at the same time.

34 – Cave Shadow: I was going to leave this detail out of the piece, but my wife insisted it was a good idea. She was totally right, and that admission should bank me some good will ahead of the next artistic disagreement.

35. Cave Glow

36 – Stronger Cave Glow


37 – Background Shadows: We’re in the home stretch now!

38. Background Paint

39. Volcano

39 – Stronger Volcano: Because if you’re going to put a volcano in the background, it might as well be about to erupt.

41 – Deep Background Texture: Things were looking too smooth back there, so I multiplied some watercolor painting texture over it to grunge things up a bit.

42 – Smoke: Just to top off the volcano properly.

43 – Blue Overlay: I added this to push the background more into a moonlit temperature and to be able to have the glowing volcano without (hopefully) unnecessary complaints that I have too many focal points in the piece.

44 – Water Color Paper Texture Underneath: I don’t like my work to look too digital, so usually will incorporate some paper texture into the piece. A wise man doesn’t build his house on the sand, and a wise artist doesn’t paint on 100% white. So, I grouped all the artwork layers together, set them to multiply, and through some watercolor paper beneath everything. Unfortunately, this pushed everything a little too dark for my liking…

45 – Final Texture and Saturation: …so I screened the watercolor paper over the whole painting, finishing everything off with a saturation layer to put the colors back where I want them to be.

And that’s it! Just 45 easy steps to create a were-raccoon pirate captain and his cycloptic pinata-parrot being cursed by mermaid gold. Now, I’ve got another Monster Bash party planned to go down during Spring Break – should I create something else in this world, or come up with something completely different, but equally weird?

Let me know in the comments, and smash that like butto- nah, just kidding. But thanks for reading. I’m hoping to go into some similar Deep Dives on a couple other projects this year, but in totally different styles and mediums.


In the last update, I said that I should have another Year of the Ring character sketched and inked. I missed the mark on that one:

However, I was able to complete the sketching on Quickbeam (because Treebeard gets enough love already). Just need to add a couple short passengers, and it’s ready to ink.

The reason I didn’t finish Quickbeam was because I got distracted by this sketch of Wolverine.

See? There really is always a part of me that would rather be drawing the X-Men.


Thought I’d officially wrap up the year with a review of the favorite five pieces of artwork I created in 2022, presented in no particular order, aside from how I feel about their relative quality at the moment I’m writing this.

5. My Wedding Invitation Portrait

Are these portraits perfect? Nope. But I feel like I nailed the style, got to really watercolor paint for the first time in Photoshop, and this painting obviously holds huge sentimental value for me, so it HAD to make the list.

4. Jack Skellington

This is the last project I completed in 2022, just in time for Christmas, and so new that it doesn’t even hasn’t even made it to my portfolio yet. Aside from just generally really liking how it turned out, I’ve included this sculpt because It’s a project I had to save. Originally intended to be completed for Christmas 2021, I had to put it on the back burner once I realized I had completely botched his head and hands (the original skull actually made it into a pirate octopus diorama made by my daughter). So I returned to it in December, regrouped and refocused, and knocked out a head I was proud of, refinished the base, and put together two hands that I could accept 😉

3. Why Not Both?

For my annual return into my Bad Apples collection, I pushed the 3D element further than usual, this time using sculpey clay (what I use for almost all my sculpture work). It must be affective, because my daughter still thinks the ketchup and mustard looks real. Still need to make a print of this guy though…

2. Trick ‘r Treater #1: The Headless Horseboy

Coming from a similar situation as Jack Skellington, this ink and watercolor painting sat in my closet (even making a home move unfinished) for 2 years after I missed finishing it for Halloween 2020. This year, I learned my lesson, brushed the dust off of it in September, and finished it in time for the holiday. I can’t wait to add to this series every October, and I can’t wait to see which little monster walks down the sidewalk this Halloween!

1. Spongebob Squarepants

Quite simply, this is the best sculpture I’ve ever made, and might be the best thing I’ve ever made period. One of my art goals for 2023 is to bring this level of quality and detail into everything I create.


My next post (coming Friday the 13, appropriately enough) should include some new developments for at least a couple of ongoing projects.

First up, I’m getting close to finishing this illustration that I started at the end of 2022. Its idea originated in March of 2021, and I’m more than ready to see it finally finished. I’m at the point now where all I need to do is finish laying in the lighter values, shadows, highlights, effects, and final texture. Well, that sounds like a lot, and it probably is, but it should move much faster than the work has that got me to this point.

Year of the Ring

As per usual for me, I way overplanned and overscheduled 2022 to work on Year of the Ring character designs. I’ve cut those plans to a more focused and finishable project scope, and I’ll keep working on it throughout 2023. As of now, I’ve got this ink drawing of Gimli ready for color, and another sketch to be finished and inked this coming weekend.


Man. It’s been almost 15 months since my last blog entry. A LOT has happened in that amount of time. Let’s take a look, by way of a helpful, bullet-pointed list:

  • September 2021: I started a new job as the Creative Director for video and events production company. It’s a great fit, and I get to do lots of illustration, design, and art direction (I’ll touch on some of those projects in a future post).
  • December 2021: I got engaged!
  • April 2022: I got married! My little family of three pretty much doubled, because now I have a wonderful wife and step-son, and two dogs. Oh, and we all moved in together into a house.
  • August 2022: The three kids all started at a new school. Thankfully, it’s right next door to us, so mornings and afternoons are way easier and less stressful than they were in the single-dad years.

Now, that’s just a short overview of the last year (my wife and I also went on a couple great trips too), and doesn’t cover all the art I’ve put my hand too in that time. For that, I’ll need to break the updates up into catagories: illustration, sculpture, and animation. Let’s start with…


In February of 2022, I took part in the Love for Kettle art auction again. My piece this time was, “Why Not Both?”, an acrylic painting on 9×12″ wooden board. Since I like to work 3d elements into the Bad Apples series, I decided to try something new and create the condiments out of Sculpey clay. I was delighted to find out that this painting was bought by the owner of my previous entry, “Hold the Pickles” – which has got me thinking of how I can create a bookend piece that would give them a nice trilogy in February 2023.

This summer, I announced a big project: Year of the Ring. This was designed as a way to get me back into regular work after the marriage and move, so that I could do character designs and sculpts based on Lord of the Rings without having to exert too much energy into creating my own IP. However, because I am what I am, I way overbooked and overscheduled myself with ideas, which immediately got blown up by getting a much more creatively demanding day job. However, I’m very happy with the pieces I’ve created so far, and will continue to tinker away until I’ve at least illustrated the Fellowship…. except Gollum and an orc or too would be really fun to draw….

Here’s the illustration I made for our wedding invitation! We were going for a very specific, muted ink and watercolor style, which I’m sure I overworked a bit. This was a traditional-digital hybrid project, starting with a rough pencil sketch on Bristol paper, then scanning and cleaning up the proportions in Photoshop, then printing that onto 140lb watercolor paper and inking with brushpen, before finishing things up by scanning that back into Photoshop and painting digitally.

Since my wife, Katelin, is wise, she is pushing me to finish up hanger-on projects before starting new ones. First on the list was the Headless Horseboy, whom I had drawn, inked, and put down the base colors in watercolor in October 2020. When I didn’t get him done in time for Halloween (probably because I was a little busy making something else), the painting got put in the closet and kind of forgotten for two years. Thankfully, it survived the madness of the home move, and I pushed through and got it completed for this year’s Halloween; even releasing a print for sale. I’m excited to see which little monster walks down the sidewalk in 2023!

And then there’s this big boy. Starting as an answer to the SVS prompt of “Fairy Tale Traveler,” I went into this as mainly an excuse to discover and dial-in a digital inking process that would perfectly match my traditional brushpen work. A) I happily nailed it and B) I stumbled on an IP idea that is taking up a lot of my headspace (remember how I specifically did NOT want that to happen for at least a year?), and I’m itching to flesh it out. What I know right now is that this is Quentin, who is on a quest in the Land of the Dead to find out why his family has vanished to the Land of the Living. However the story pans out, I’d love to create this as a graphic novel, or a heavily illustrated novel, a la “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

Well, that wraps things up for the Illustration Update. My goal is to publish a blog every other Friday (and if I can do that for a year, adding a newsletter to the mix), so by the time I write the next one, I should be pretty far into the drawing of a pirate mutating into a were-raccoon. It’ll all make sense then. Trust me.

Vector Illustration Process

We’re one week away from Easter, and I’m just starting to wrap my head around the fact that we’ll all be spending it shut off in our own homes. This morning, I ran to the grocery store and grabbed some candy, chocolate, plastic eggs, and baskets for my kids, so that the holiday can feel as normal as possible. We’ll even put on some nice pink clothes, which is weird, but all of this is weird.

Speaking of weird – my vector illustration process. So far in this blog, I’ve focused mainly on traditionally produced artwork, but I’ve been a professional graphic designer since 2008, so most of my work is actually created digitally, using Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is fun primarily because it looks like witch-craft to anyone unfamiliar with it. I think most people can understand Photoshop in the abstract (you’re painting… but on a computer!), but creating vector artwork in Illustrator (you’re making art with points and math to insure infinite scaleability?), not so much. Which is a shame, because it’s really versatile.

Let’s take a look at my vector illustration process using my Adventureland poster project as an example.


I created this, along with three other thumbnails for the other posters in the series, so that I could show the client my rough idea for the layout, and what elements/attractions from Disney World’s Adventureland would be featured. Pretty sure the whole set took between 10 and 15 minutes, because each design was really clear in my head. Now, when I pitched it to the client, I included a detailed explanaition of what was going on, but for my purposes, this was good enough for me.


Once my client responded back with approval, I printed out the reference images I’d googled, blocked out the frame on some 14×17″ bristol paper, and got to sketching. I feel like this sketch took somewhere between three and four hours to knockout, primarily due to the pirate ship. 1) There wasn’t a reference image from the Pirates of the Carribean ride that showed the angle that I needed for the illustration, and 2) I don’t recall ever drawing a pirate ship before. That doesn’t mean I hadn’t as a kid, but I have no memory of it. This created a fun challenge to tackle.


After the final sketch was completed and I’d scanned it into the computer, I created this insanely simple color sketch. I’d already pitched the color palette that I intended to use to my client when I sent over the thumbnail, but I wanted an abstract view of how the colors would work together with the Adventureland layout (for my eyes only). This is a step that I would definitely call “productive procrastination.”


At this point, I placed the sketch on the first layer of my Illustrator artboard, set the transparency to 50% and the blending mode to Multiply, so that I could create the artwork underneath without losing my guide (which is all that the pencil sketch was ever going to be). I then pull out an extremely sophisticated tool that makes all the magic happen.

That’s right – the humble mouse. That’s all I use to create all the points and vertices needed to form the outlines of all the shapes that build up the illustration. In my mind, a stylus is for Photoshop, and the mouse is for Illustrator. They’re different programs that function very differently. It only makes sense to me to use different tools to subconsiously reinforce this as I work. Plus, in my experience, the mouse is just faster when clicking vertices out.

For this step, I’m just focused on blocking out the overall shapes and color sections of each character or element. These are also given their own layer, as to cut down on the chance that I will go insane as the illustration gets more and more complicated.


Now, I go through each big color blocked shape and drill down with more detail. Since I’m basically just tracing the pencil sketch on this step, I like to work the vector in as red or magenta lines. These colors stand out the strongest underneath the pencil lines, so I never lose track off what has and hasn’t been outlined. Also, they are exceptionally fashionable. Two birds; one stone.

Once all the red outlines are in place, I assign each outlined shape a color from the set color palette, then make sure everything is arranged from front to back in a way that will allow everything to overlap correctly (which is basically a digital version of placing colored paper cutouts over each other).


The last step is to add the shadows (for this posterized process, I don’t add highlights in Illustrator), which is done by adding one of the darker colors over the flat color blocks at ~25% opacity on a Multiply blending mode.

Steps 5 through 7 are done for each element in the illustration, but sometimes I do them piece by piece (for example Blocking, Adding Detail, and Adding shadows to the hippo before moving to a parrot), and sometimes I do them for the whole illustration at once. It really just depends on what rhythm feels better on that day. And, just if you’re curious, this is what all the outlined shapes on the illustration at this point in the process look like all together:

Wow. Now I understand why this (and each poster in the series) took at least 30 hours to illustrate. But, to me, it’s worth it, because everything is individually scalable and editable in a way would either be impossible or cumbersome in Photoshop. This illustration would be just as easily produced on a stamp as a building wall.


These travel themed posters are all tied together by their frames, so on this step I designed the four tiki masks and swashbucklin’ swords, x-marks the spot graphics, and then added a weathered texture over all of it.


This step is short and fun, the carrot at the stick of all the late nights sitting in front of the monitor wondering when I’ll let myself go to sleep… or if I will ever see sleep again. Once everything is “done” in illustrator, I turn all the layers off, then add them back in back-to-front, and watch the illustration come together. It’s at this point where I give myself one last chance to to see if I’ve missed anything, if I want to move anything, or if there’s anything else I want to add.

Personally, I find it hypnotic, especially considering it’s usually 1 a.m. whenever I find myself at a finishing point. Somehow it always works out that way.


Now, this isn’t a step that I do for most vector work, but for these travel posters (for which I’m intentionally going for a retro, screenprinted look) and a couple of my Flat Pops, I do drop the finished vector art into Photoshop. All I do is grab an old-school grainy brush and lightly reinforce some of the shadows with some texture, to get a little bit of a spatter/half tone look.


Projects vary in complexity, but I invariably do steps 2, 4-7, and 9 for all of my vector work. It’s challenging and fun, but by the time I finished this set of posters (the last two of which still are waiting to be released), I feel like I may have pushed Illustrator as far as I can for the sort of work that I make. This leaves me two paths: to go backwards into more simplified or abstract vector work, or to start working more in Photoshop. And the answer to that, I feel, is yes.


Oh, and if you want to buy a tee or tank top with the Adventureland print on it, you can pick it up at Nick & Lete.


Well, seeing as I just spent this weekend mostly sleeping to recover from full-time homeschooling/working from home, I don’t have a ton of update at present.

  • I’m running an Instagram promotion for my emergency coloring pages (found here) because I want as many kids and parents as possible to have as many resources as possible to get through this pandemic shut down. So far, 63 people have downloaded the PDF, and that makes me happier than all the shirts I’ve sold on TeePublic to date. I’ll have that PDF available for download until everyone in America is able to go back to school and work.
  • For fun, and to get myself in the graphic novel mindset (besides all the Batman I’ve read in the past couple weeks), I’m going to put something together for a mini-challenge on the SVS Forums. A blank comic page (with the panels, of course) has been posted, and you come up with whatever story you want. Should be good practice.
  • Tonight, once the kids are asleep, I’m jumping back onto character design for my graphic novel project that’s sat dormant for 5 years. So the iron is hot, so to speak. I’ve also planned out the month to set some time aside to get the ball rolling on my Narnia cover project and Gravity Falls character paintings. That is, unless the world goes crazier.