Well, let’s see. I was raised in the high desert of California and moved to the Bay Area in 2006. I studied illustration at California College of the Arts and Crafts. I currently live in Oakland and I now share a studio with illustrator, Michael Manomivibul in Berkeley. I specialize in creature design and animal illustration for film, games and publishing. I’ve worked with Wizards of the Coast, EuropaCorp, Bethesda Softworks and WIRED Magazine to name a few.
On the client side, a project I worked on with Bethesda and Darkhorse was just released. It’s the Hero’s Guide to the Elder Scrolls Online. I illustrated the First Section of “Kyne’s Challenge: A Hunter’s Companion” and the complete “Agents and Reagents: The Bounty of Mundus.” It was a really great project to be a part of. I just wrapped up working on the next incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons with Wizards of the Coast and I am currently working with Paizo and Monte Cook games on new adventure campaigns. I’ve been working on a personal world building project called The Red Valley. It’s really beginning to take shape and I’m very excited to see where it will go in the coming months.
The Red Valley is sort of the answer to an older world building project, The Morae River. I grew up in a desert and in the last 10 years that place has gone through some dramatic changes. It’s no longer the wide expanse of old ranch land and wilderness it used to be when I was growing up there. I thought it was barren and lifeless while I was growing up there but these days, I miss it. The Red Valley explores an extremely harsh desert and the flora and fauna that inhabit it.
It’s story arc is based on the seasons the region experiences and how these creatures cope and survive. I want to show just how much life there is in a desert, even if it’s a fictional one. Our planet’s deserts are fragile places and they are bursting with the most badass life around. Everything in a desert is specialized enough to cope with the extremes and yet generalized enough to make the most of an situation. It’s a remarkable place and I hope to capture a little bit of what real deserts are every day.
I don’t know if it’s corny to call Nature an artist but that’d be my first, second and third inspiration. The natural world is so varied and holds so many amazing designs and solutions, it can be overwhelming. I’ve always really liked the way John James Audubon depicted his specimens. I try to think about silhouette and what the creature/animal is doing when I illustrate them. Other artists I admire include, Heinrich Kley, Winslow Homer, NC Wyeth, Terryl Whitlatch, Crash McCreery, James Gurney, Dugald Stermer and Jean Henri Gaston Giraud (Moebius).
Do you consider them to be an influence on your work?
I would think so. I tend to look to their work regularly for inspiration and guidance.
Because you create the magnificent creatures, what sort of creature is your favorite to work on?
On the real side: I’ve been really into ungulates lately. It’s diverse group of hoofed animals and I find their anatomy and touch shapes very fun to work with. I do always enjoy working with feline anatomy since I live with two of them. I’ve recently grown to appreciate avians more these days. If I’m creating a new creature, I really like to create balanced creatures.
I do like working with predators a lot but I like to consider their weaknesses and behaviors as well. All too often, predators shown as hulking, drooling monsters when in reality predators must be very smart and cautious. They are putting their entire body at risk when they attack prey and it’s something to consider while designing. That said, I have had a lot of fun creating crazy monsters for games and such. There is a place for everything and it’s good to have fun. 🙂
How do you come up with ideas for your creatures? Is there any special way you approach the creative process of the work?
It depends on who and what it’s for. For myself and my own worlds, I tend to think of it like a wildlife guide. I ask questions like, What does it eat? How does it move around? Is it male or female and is there a difference between the two? These questions will begin to help me pinpoint what I need to have the creature look like. In my head, behavior will always inform design and so, even if the creature will only exist as a drawing and never move around, I like to think of it moving around.
I’ve done this with projects that let me do as a please. This always helps me visualize it as a living, breathing being. Lately, for rpg table-top games and such, I’ve been asking the same questions. While I am designing concepts for mythical beasts, I am always looking to the natural world for guidance. It helps keep the improbable looking plausible which is important when you are trying to sell a world. A lot of RPG tabletop clients have a creature or monster in mind already and they give me a very detailed prompt. My job is to take their written concept and translate it into an image. Again, I do this by asking the same questions but within their guidelines. Yes, it’s a catoblepas, but how can we make it look like something unique, plausible and interesting.
Do you listen to music or watch TV when you work? Is there a specific (tv show)(music album)(insert media) that gets you in the zone?
I consume a crazy amount of media while I work. I listen to quite a few podcasts during the week while I work. Some of my favorite shows include, Radio Lab, My Brother My Brother and Me, The Memory Palace, 99% Invisible, Stuff You Should Know, The Moth, Throwing Shade, Snap Judgement, Science Sort Of and This American Life. I subscribe to Rdio right now and I like to let it run and choose new music for me. I find that it does a really good job based on the artists I like. I watch a few movies and shows while I work. I’ve watched almost every nature documentary on Netflix multiple times. When I was crunching on Dungeons & Dragons work, I re-watched the entirety of Futurama, haha!
How do you juggle your daily life with the amazing work you do? Are there ever any challenges between the business aspects and art processes?
I keep business hours. When I was working at home I’d tend to work between 9am and 7pm. Now that I have an external studio, I tend to work from 10am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday. This timeframe keeps me focused and I am able to get enough done per day. It helps me break it up into time for work and time for house/life stuff. Of course I will work on sketches and drawings here and there at home too. I find that this has worked for me. Other artists have different routines that keep them productive.
Are there any exciting things we can look forward to in the future?
I mentioned Dungeons & Dragons earlier. I’m very excited to see that in my hands soon! The field guides Elder Scrolls Online should be rolling out soon. I’ve also been working with some short film projects and well as some motion picture stuff but all of that will probably remain under wraps for a while. Of course my own personal work is taking center stage a little more lately and I’m very excited about that!
Where do you see yourself in a year, in five?
I’d like to have The Red Valley half finished soon. I’ll also have visited Denmark twice next year as a teach a creature design course at The Animation Workshop. Perhaps a bigger space to fit in a large drafting table? I’d like to delve more into other areas of illustration, editorial, advertising, etc.