Here’s my new painting, a peaceful wintry scene of Arctic life featuring a big green bird named Guido. Click for the big one:

My Portfolio has a couple of close ups if you want to take a peek at the brushwork. And now a little info on the process behind the painting.
I was inspired by this snowy forest from episode 1 of Frozen Planet, an impressive documentary series narrated by David Attenborough.

Frozen Planet

I liked the lighting and the weird tree shapes. I wasn’t sure about what I’d come up with, I just explored ideas until I was reasonably satisfied. I ended up exaggerating the shape of the trees (until they were no longer trees) and introducing a character to create a complete scene.

sketch 1

I liked everything about this sketch except the way the shot was framed: Guido was at the center of the image (too static) and the big shape on the lefthand side needed some breathing room. So I expanded the environment above and to the left and finally I was happy with the composition.

sketch 2

The above sketch is the result of several hours of endless tweaking: getting the shapes to look just right, keeping elements diversified and unaligned to preserve the irregularity of a natural environment, creating the illusion of an endless forest of bulbous ice pillars extending towards the horizon.
The more time you spend on the sketch the less you have to tweak the picture later on while painting.

I still hadn’t figured out the lighting at this stage so I just started replicating the color palette of the reference images.
While the eerie Polar lighting was fascinating, I was after a happier, less disturbing atmosphere—it’s a holiday card after all. To that end I introduced some light blue into the snow. Note that at this point I was still completely unsure of what the image would look like.
You make it up as you go along.

paint 1

Several hours of failed attempts, hair pulling and diligent blocking resulted in this:

paint 2

The atmosphere, the background, the color palette and the lighting have all been established at this point. All that’s left to do is the detailing.

paint 3

Note what a big difference the introduction of the yellow rim lights makes. The whole scene lights up and sits so much better underneath the Arctic sunrise.
After detailing Guido and adding more fish the painting is finished.

paint final

With this painting I tried to take a very specific reference and turn it into my own picture, creating a character imbued with my sense of humor. Most importantly I had fun and I learned a lot.
No time to rest on the afterglow of a finished picture, though, so on to the next one.

Recipe For Every Illustration Ever

  1. Make it honest and fun.
  2. Sketch, draw and paint the hell out of it.
  3. No Star Wars references.

Digital Painting Resources

For a while now all my personal works have been digitally painted portraits. That’s because in my 13 years as a professional graphic artist I’ve designed just about everything, employing just about every tool and technique out there EXCEPT portrait/caricature drawing and painting.
It’s a humbling and liberating experience to drop all the Bezier curves, filters, layer styles etc. and just draw and paint on a blank canvas with my hand. In my opinion, among digital graphic techniques, digital painting is the least dependent on software, the most honest and the closest to its traditional, analogic counterpart.
In my journey to learn how to draw portraits and caricatures and how to paint digitally I’ve come across several impressive artists and resources that I’d like to share here.


Bobby Chiu

Bobby Chiu is a concept artist noted for his creature design, he works for the movie industry from his Toronto based studio Imaginism and he has an online art school called Schoolism which offers several top quality courses (he teaches digital painting).
His YouTube channel is full of art-oriented life coaching, improptu paintings, interviews with top industry artists and tutorials. Check out this video series in which Bobby completes a painting from scratch, in real time, sharing his workflow and technique. Invaluable lesson and inspiration.

Jason Seiler

Jason Seiler is the hottest caricaturist on the scene right now and he shares a lot of his work, knowledge and passion on his blog. In this tutorial he explains his workflow – he uses basic Photoshop brushes for everything yet see how his paintings look real. Those are some serious skills right there! Also check out these videos where he does a critique of his Schoolism students. It’s great to see how he manages to dramatically improve the likeness with just a few minor tweaks.

More on his YouTube channel.

Greg Newman

Faces of the NFL #3 - MJD
Greg Newman is an American artist/designer/developer who has recently taken Dribbble by storm with his NFL caricatures. He posted a very useful screencast on his blog, be sure to check it out. I really like the loose style he goes for in these paintings, especially the seemingly crazy tones he uses to render skin. It’s great to see how well they come together in the end to create interesting variation. Greg also works with very basic brushes, proof that you don’t need fancy tools if you know what you’re doing.

Chris Wahl

Chris Wahl is a superb caricaturist with impressive drawing and shading skills. His blog is full of great art and he has a lot of custom brushes available for download (use them sparingly until you can do convincing paintings with basic brushes).


Michael Kutsche

Michael Kutsche is a German concept artist. His paintings have incredible detail and Tim Burton put them to good use on Alice In Wonderland. His Behance portfolio should serve as inspiration to strive for the impossible.

Alberto Russo

Alberto Russo is a Swiss artist who has impressive paintings alongside more experimental pieces – check out that Beyoncé portrait. I particularly like the environmental lighting and ambience of his paintings.

Andrey Gordeev

Andrey Gordeev is a Russian illustrator. I really like the texture he creates with his brushwork and his characters are delightful. His series Around the world for twelve months is a classic.

Vincent Altamore

Vincent Altamore‘s caricature are always spot on and he has the best cross-hatching skills I’ve seen. I also love his painting style, extremely detailed and never too smooth. He always posts sketches and process shots on his blog so be sure to follow it.

Tom Richmond

MAD’s own Tom Richmond operates a blog full of his art and his invaluable tutorials on drawing, caricature and digital coloring. He is the author of the recently self-published “The MAD Art of Caricature”, a hot item on my grocery list.

Anton Emdin

I love Anton’s loose inking style: very dynamic and lively. Also a steady artist for MAD, he posts a lot of art, process shots and coloring tips on his blog, another obligatory daily visit for me.

Mark A. Facey

Mark has exploded onto the scene with his Creature Journal blog, full of paintings of weird, haunting creatures. Definitely keep an eye on him.

Mike Mitchell

I like the warmth of Mike’s paintings. Don’t be fooled by the facetiousness of his blog, this guy can draw and paint with the best of ‘em and his images are never banal. He inspired me to execute all my weird ideas just for my own amusement: if anybody else likes them that’s a bonus, not a requirement.

This list could go on and on as there’s a ton of great artists and resources out there. Happy painting everybody!

Fantasy Peaks

Fantasy Peaks
Another TV show character, this time it’s a remix of two characters from two different shows: Tattoo from Fantasy Island (played by Hervé Villechaize) as The Man From Another Place from Twin Peaks (originally played by Michael J. Anderson).
I thought it would have been funny if the guy who’d played a dwarf on one show had played a dwarf on another show too, hence the “TV mashup.”

Here’s a short breakdown of the process behind the painting.
I started with a clean sketch, no crosshatching and no shading.


I chose a medium dark color for the background to set the mood for the image and I started blocking in the main shapes to check that the composition was working.


Next I quickly painted the character in black and white to ensure the values were correct and the image read as three-dimensional.

black and white

The main color areas were blocked in as big, flat shapes on a separate layer in Color blending mode. This had the result of tinting the underlying b&w value study.


Jump to several hours later when the skin tones have been found (see the palette in the top right corner) and enough shape and volume have been blocked in to render the line sketch superfluous.


The face is completed with the addition of strong highlights and the rest of the painting is brought up to the same level of detail.


All the details are in, the lighting is enhanced and the painting is done.

Fantasy Peaks

See a couple of close ups in my Portfolio Gallery.

There are several things I should improve but given that this is only my second ever digital painting I’m satisfied with the result and I’m moving on. One can only do so much in a single image and I know the next one will be better.