Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Recession of 2009

Well, I have been extremely busy with assignments both within the gaming and fantasy art field as well as from commercial illustration and design gigs, far too busy until now to get my hand written blog entries typed and loaded here.

Has the recession affected me?


While I have seen the scope of assignments decrease, the number of jobs has stayed about the same, although I just completed a marathon 30 illustration job which I will post more about when the client has the images loaded into the new intro video clip for their online game. I’ve had a few jobs with Goodman Games, several maps and a city map assignment from numerous indie publishers, as well as some character design jobs and RPG fantasy logo work.

These jobs have been great, with about half being ink and the rest being strictly digital painting, however, my fantasy art career still only makes up about a quarter of the work I do. Last year I did plenty of work for Scholastics Canada Ltd. which were excellent assignments and the art director, Noel Upfield, delivered clear instructions, helpful feedback and was entirely fun to work with. The mountains of fantasy work I have produced over the years has certainly helped me to produce work in other fields, both with speed and accurate adherence to art direction.

I have also continued to produce folders full of finished ink and graphite art for Outland Arts, both for The Mutant Epoch tabletop RPG and our line of Fantasy clip inks. We’ve also commenced work on the Fantasy RPG, and I have produced some early play test maps and text illustrations.

As for the recession of 2009, it seems to be all over the news… but where I live in Kamloops, British Columbia, things seem as optimistic and energetic as ever and the construction of new roads, malls, homes and office buildings goes on without missing a beat. I have also been involved with several local companies who require graphic design, and they have kept me as busy as ever, too. Still, I am not getting large assignments out of the USA or eastern Canada right now, and haven’t for a few months. I realize that I need to start promoting myself to get the better paying color illustration jobs, such as those I received from Wizards of the Coast well over a year ago now.

When I set out to be a fantasy artist, I didn’t think RPGs would total well over half of that line of work, instead expecting to do book cover illustration. I suppose I have been so busy with the production of ink and interior color assignments that I haven’t given myself the time off to focus on promotions, experimentation, and new portfolio images.

Regularly updating this blog is just one of the things I need to do to get noticed and let people know about my work. Advertising, checking the forum postings on relevant gaming and publishing sites, getting involved in online discussions, and updating my portfolio website are also essential and have always worked well for me. Am I going to

get on twitter and tweet? What about facebook? Podcasting? These last three I am not so sure about. I wonder if I could better spend that time to create new portfolio pieces in my most recent, accepted style… digital panting.

I will continue to update this blog on the progress of my promotions.

Best regards,

Will McAusland

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Been Busy

Its been awhile since I posted here, but the delay was certainly not the result of a lack of art or things to say. In truth, since Avalon’s birth I have been very productive in every creative department and suspect I’ve had the busiest year in a long time. I’ve even had plenty of time to write entries for this blog, but only in a note book while sitting at Starbucks, and simply haven’t had the chance to type them up and load them.

How things change in a matter of months. The economic slow down and credit crunch might explain the slowed pace of new assignments across my desk. Normally I’d look at this more relaxed pace as a chance to get some rest, clean the studio and update my web sites, but I am somewhat concerned about this recession, it just feels different than others. Better start storing up tins of food, spare boxes of ‘F’ lead pencils and lots of sketchbooks.

In spite of the slow down, I have a couple of really nice fantasy illustration gigs on the go, one for a collectible card game designed by Mark Lambert, which I’ll post about when the art is done and his company have their site up, and the other job is for Goodman Games. Joseph Goodman has been one of my longest running and best role playing game clients. A month ago I produced some interesting gray scale orc images which I’ll try and get posted here shortly as well.

Of course, as lead artist, co-creator and art director for Outland Arts, I’ve always got hundreds of ink, graphite and full color digital images on the go. Below are a few of the tiny inks placed throughout the main book called The Mutant Epoch: Hub Rules book. I swear, this book has over 580 illustrations! The most heavily illustrated RPG in the world, hands down. Besides the Hub Rules, we’ve already got the cover art for the monthly magazines and a couple of the adventures already finished, as well as dozens of maps and interior ink and graphite images.

For the following images, keep in mind that these are tiny, some only an inch by an inch in size. I'll be posting more art shortly and adding the other posts once I get them typed. Enjoy.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Baby Avalon and new digital illustrations

I'm Back....
It’s been over a month since my last blog entry here. I’ve been busy in the studio with portfolio imagery, more Fantasy Clip Inks sets, art for The Mutant Epoch RPG and numerous client jobs, but most importantly is the joyous arrival of Avalon McAusland, our new baby girl.

Princess Avalon is a great baby, sunny and easy going, willing to smile and sleeps much of the night. Mom and baby are doing great, while the rest of the kids coo over her and compete for her attention.

I am actually getting more time in the studio than I expected after the arrival of a new baby, due only to the fact that my wife, Brooke, is able to be a full time mom right now and encourages me to get to work, going so far as to allow me to work late into the evening to meet deadlines and update my sites.

As you can see I have produced some new fantasy images. These shown here are entirely digital paintings, built over an underlying pencil sketch which I scanned in as RGB at 300 or 600 dpi. Clicking on any of these will take you to a larger view on my web site at . I have to say that while digital painting is potentially faster and offers far more options, it can be somewhat harder on the hand, and is akin to inking with a technical pen more than painting with real brushes. An artist friend of mine, Fraser Hallett, pointed out that I may be using too small of a Wacom tablet, thus forcing me to make smaller marks with the pen tool. The tablet is 8 x 8” in total size with only an effective 3.5 x 5” sensitive or working area, so perhaps he has a point. I will definitely look into getting a larger table in the months ahead.

Besides the fantasy digital paintings shown here I have also produced numerous images for scholastic books Canada, as well as an illustration of the 2008 YM-YWCA dream home lottery house. While I might not be able to paint faster digitally than when using acrylics on these jobs, the ability to change a specific colour or move something certainly allows more flexibility, and time savings when dealing with editorial changes… so again, another benefit of going digital.

When I’ve had enough of emails, digital art, web design and other work on the computer, I love to move away from it and sit at my light table and do some inking, especially with a brush. There is something magical and ‘old-world-masterish’ about working by hand on real paper, something appealing and nourishing. Holding up a finished image to the light and seeing an original is so gratifying that I am certain I will never go completely digital, and, for some specific projects, may in fact make a return to oils and acrylics. When the weather warms up a bit outside I will be able to open the windows at either end of my studio and try my hand at some oil painting on canvas or masonite, so expect to see some experimental imagery in the near future.

To close, it is clear to me that creative balance is essential for artistic growth, inspiration, fun and steady work output. By this I mean in order to spend long hours in the studio, day after day, week after week, I need to mix up my mediums, experiment with various techniques, and break away from popular fads, old styles, bad habits and the comfortable.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Getting Inspiration from the real world and getting out of the studio

While looking at books in my extensive art library, cruising web sites such as, , , reviewing my collection of scale models, collectibles, relics, fossils, trinkets and scraps of natural history, there is as much, if not more, inspiration to be had out in the real world. Of course, going to a coffee shop and meeting with other creative people, visiting an art supply store, book store, or other man-made setting can offer inspiration, for me the world of nature is still the greatest muse.

Like anybody else in any profession, whenever I feel drained, pent up, burnet out, and isolated, the quality of my work goes down the pipe. My battery runs down and I am unable to challenge myself with new techniques, perspectives, poses or view points in the work. I simply lock up and can’t create until I’ve stepped out of the studio.

Taking a few hours or even a weekend away from illustration improves the quality of the art as well as the productivity of the hours spent in the studio. Furthermore, when I am not working, I am out there enjoying the speculative genre as much as possible, looking at other artist’s work, reading excellent books, throwing some dice during a tabletop role-playing game with friends, watching movies, flipping through comics, and listening to my kids tell wild, imaginative stories while they draw. Spending time in the real world is also among the best things I can do for my art, and thus for my clients. Of all the replenishing things I do, is my almost daily exposure to the wild areas which still exist around our home here in Pineview Valley, Kamloops.

Sometimes, while walking our dog, I go with the kids, and they see things and ask questions that come across as somehow wondrous, magical and remarkably creative. The natural world around us is incredibly beautiful, as well as ghastly and horrific at times; my kids will find a dead animal, watch a huge spider sucking the juices out of a bug, kick up sun bleached bones, observe a long trail of ferocious red ants on the march or discover a spent shotgun shell from decades gone by. Such things spark the imagination, rekindle forgotten visions and themes, fill your creative juice jar, and remind you of your own childhood, and the wonder that comes with youth.

Getting out in the real world is essential to being imaginative and productive in the studio for any sort of creative person, but I arrogantly claim that it is especially important for a fantasy illustrator or writer, because there are aspects to life that need to be encountered first hand in order to convey it to the drawing, painting or book.

One personal and nerve rattling example of this is from a night the autumn before last when I ran into the biggest black bear I have ever seen. When it stood up and shook its head, the animal being only eight feet or so away, I thought for certain I was dead. There was a sharp jolt of adrenalin in my gut and my mind raced over the possibilities, and odds of getting out of this one with my entrails and brain intact. The nearest car or fence was much further away than the bear was to me, and besides, I watched bears in my back yard climb up over such fences with effortless ease, and scale a steep bank with two bounds while it took me great effort to get up the same rise. So, knowing that running was a guaranteed end game scenario, I just kept walking, leading my Husky–Shepard cross along as if I hadn’t seen the bear. My dog, interestingly enough, hadn’t detected the bear as the wind was going with us (although twenty feet later she got a whiff of the beast and went nuts).

As I walked away, acting all casual, realizing I had a lockblade folding knife at my hip, wondering if I had any chance of even opening it while being tackled by a 400 pound omnivore, part of my mind considered what it must be like to live in a world of real monsters and mutants, such as in the settings I illustrate. In Dungeons and Dragons, for example, in any edition of that RPG, there is a creature called a bugbear, which is about three times as robust as a man and tremendously blood thirsty… anyhow, here now, in reality, I had a taste of terror, of an encounter, and the anticipation of the ‘crunch’ I would get any second from the bear behind me.

I recalled that there was a bicycle rider who was mauled by a bear less than a mile away, a year before. The victim managed to survive, although I heard he lost part of his arm and leg, he said the bear that attacked him was the biggest he’d ever seen, as well. Attempts were made to kill the bear, but after trapping and shooting one the next day, DNA results determined they got the wrong bear, so the culprit was still about. The bear standing up and looking at me from a few feet away could easily have been the same man hunter.

A few feet on, I dared a look back. The bear had dropped down onto its all fours, turned from my direction and went back to where the half completed fence on a new, incomplete house, provided a gap. Walking on, I watched as the bear passed behind me under a street light, about twenty feet back now on the open road, and passed between two parked cars. The back of this bear was higher than the front hoods of the sedans parked there, confirming that, yeah; it was a big friggin’ black bear. I lost sight of it at that point and moved off at a good pace.

The story above serves to illustrate that life experience is as useful to an artist as it is to a writer. When I work, I call upon my own experiences to place myself in the scene, as if I am one of the characters or just off camera witnessing it. There have been more experiences than I can mention here, but a few include hunting (before I became a vegetarian 10 years ago), ridiculous scuffles and scraps in bar rooms, streets or high school halls, misadventures with motorcycles and other vehicles, travels to strange places and far off countries, getting chased by a bull across a farm field as a kid, being pursued by an unseen predator in the snow at dusk (seeing tracks of a cougar criss-crossing my own as I doubled back to collect something I dropped, while the rest of the camping group went on without me; something big thumping in the snow to my right), car accidents, storms at sea in an open boat, riding a horse without knowing how to make it stop, getting swarmed by wasps while simultaneously falling down a rocky ravine, being questioned by an Egyptian customs agent while young soldiers with AK47s coolly starred at me and my family members, the muzzles of their assault rifles aimed in the general direction of my stomach and groin as they share a smoke, and the list goes on.

Getting out of the studio may not help your hand eye coordination as much as hours of drawing, but it sure gives you inspiration, ideas and a wealth of visual reference. If you have some interesting stories or advice in this subject, I’d sure like to hear it.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

The debate between Digital or Traditional Painting

Is Digital painting a valid art form? Is using Photoshop or Corel Painter cheating? Would I ever sign my name to something created on the computer? If I digitally painted, could I say that I did it, or that I helped the computer do the rendering? Also, since there is no original after the image is done, could I ever feel that the image was ever more than just a color study? And what about using digital 3d models to slap my own costumes onto… to pose them a certain way and drop them into a scene and call it my creation? Would that be like building a real 3d model kit, painting it with model paints and photographing it and saying it was all me? Is that art? Perhaps it’s illustration? If so, what’s the difference between art and illustration and is one more valid than another – more important?

Here are some thumbnails of my digital art:

Now here are some Acrylic paintings I've done...

Regardless of the secondary debate of if something is art or illustration; the above mentioned questions tormented me for a very long time; ever since I first started witnessing digital art years ago. Obviously from what is in my portfolio, I have accepted digital painting enough to employ it, and addressed some of the concerns I’ve been harboring for so long.

For me, the debate went on longer than it did for others, and I suppose I am a late adopter to digital art merely out of the fact that I collect original art, and love creating it myself to either hang on the walls, give away or sell as a stand alone creation. While there was a time where I felt digital art was invalid, cheating, remote, transitory and just plain not for me, I have since come around to see that the end result is the highest standard by which I measure illustration. Is suppose, the ends do justify the means, so too, does the objective of the image being created.

For example, if I am undertaking a 60 by 180” landscape painting for my living room, I’ll use oils or acrylics on a real canvas, as the end result is a physical art object with no intention for mass market, internet or print and poster sales, although those are also very possible. In the next case, I am enlisted to produce a image for a book jacket which will end up measuring 6 x 9 inches, be printed on 5000 books and the client has no interest in the original nor the means in which I render it… so long as I meet the deadline and it is delivered as a 300 dpi tiff and in the style of previous works I’ve done or those by another artist they direct me to.

In this later case I’d go digital every time, since the ‘end use’ is multiplication of the image and having it digital in the first place will aid in getting it to the client, and the original file is something that I should probably duplicate to back up in case the client ever needs to recover their copy.

The above examples point out only a few aspects of the pros and cons of digital and traditional painting. As the debate within me raged over the last few years, and as I found myself doing increasingly more all-digital assignments out of necessity or demand, I gradually took to the computer graphics form, and found it had benefits and stylistic nuances which appealed to me. I realized, too, that I would have to have a closer look into going digital, weighing the pros and cons of each with a list. Below is what I came up with:

Pros and Cons of Traditional Painting


1. Originals to hang on walls at home, show, Conventions, events as unique promotions.

2. Original can be sold for the full commission price, if not more, as fine art at shows or online.

3. My kids can inherit my originals, and the art could stay in the family for generations, growing in value as well.

4. Hand crafted, old world masters ‘feel’ and respect. “You did that by hand!?”

5. I love my art supplies, brushes, canvases, boards, mixing the paint, experimenting.

6. I can paint upstairs or outside, with no power supply, getting away from the fricking screen.

7. No radiation.

8. Still feels like ‘real’ art… legitimate.

9. Can’t be deleted or corrupted. Canvas won’t crash or lock up.

10. Not cheating (no filters, dodge-burn, unlimited undos, saving versions, layers, etc.)

Cons of traditional media

1. Dying ‘Old School’ art form. Dated looking.

2. Messy.

3. Set up time.

4. Can’t bring painting to Starbucks or on holidays to work with on my laptop.

5. Can’t save versions or back up a copy.

6. Can’t move figures around on background or enlarge or shrink, flip etc.

7. Fumes with oils.

8. Heavy to move portfolio of originals.

9. Needs storage space.

10. Risk of fire or flood ruining entire collection.

11. No un-dos

12. Very slow (although I am considered a fast painter)

13. No ability to Zoom in to work on one area unless one wears opti-visors (magnification goggles for jewelry or model making work).

14. Not in Style! Therefore not in demand by art directors and thus I might not get any illustration work regardless of how nice an original might be).


10 Pros

-14 Cons

= -4 Score against

Pros and Cons of Digital Painting


1. No photography of artwork needed: already high resolution and ready to be flattened, converted to CMYK and sent to client via FTP or CD-ROM.

2. No Scanning color art (similar to photography pro, above).

3. Individual figures and elements can be used in other products or placements in a book or on a web site.

4. Twice to ten times faster to paint an image.

5. Increased productivity translates to more jobs and more income.

6. Way more options for effects, filters, brushes, tools, layers etc.

7. Pencil drawing could be considered the ‘original’.

8. Back up ‘master’ image can be stored in other offices or homes for safe keeping.

9. Hang prints at shows, Conventions, home, etc. (archival prints can be made on reasonably affordable printers these days).

10. Easier to make changes requested by client.

11. Paint anywhere, anytime on laptop.

12. no fumes.

13. Free painting supplies forever, once computer, software and Wacom tablet are purchased.

14. Almost no clean up or set up.

15. Style is current and sought after.

16. Digital art is not going to go away.

Cons of digital painting

1. No original.

2. Risk of computer crash.

3. Risk of data corruption by virus, error, glitch, or time degradation.

4. Risk of computer theft.

5. Must stare at a screen for countless hours.

6. Need larger screen (22” minimum for serious artist using software with a lot of pallets).

7. Harder on the hands using a Wacom pen or, god forbid, a mouse.

8. Need a ton of hard drive memory and RAM.

9. Everybody and their dog are getting into digital art, and maybe the demand for the style might not be strong enough to provide work for all these talented artists.

10. Perhaps in five or ten years, Art Directors might really crave a more hand crafted, old master look and feel.

11. In 500 years, you can bet that the originals by Frazetta, Boris, Brom, Vess, Parkinson, Easley, Caldwell, Elmore, The Brothers Hildibrant, (WILL increase list by ten more dudes), will still be around and considered among the great works of our civilization, and fetching prices at auction that are unfathomable to us in present day currency values. Even if your grandchildren can sell some of your works a hundred years from now, if they are oils or acrylics or some other hardy art materials, they too will fetch a tidy sum for them. How will digital art fare in a five hundred or even a more modest hundred years? Will the files be lost or corrupted? Accidentally deleted?

Pros 16

Cons -11

= +5 score in favor

So traditional painting gets negative 4 while digital painting gets a plus 5… the result strong enough to make me order a 22” Dell flat screen with which I have been doing a lot of new digital images. I cannot say that I have completely switched over to computer art, even though I tell myself that I have gotten around the whole originals thing by considering my pencil drawings in my sketchbook as the original, not the painting on the screen.

Within me, I debate the same issues I started this entry with; is it valid, is it cheating, is it mine? Can one continue to do cutting edge, even trendy work with non-digital media? I think anyone who takes a look at Brom’s work can have that answered for them. He uses oils to render dark fantasy imagery in a style which countless up and coming artists take inspiration and stylistic tips from. I’ll stop short of saying they are copying him because how can any creative person, especially a fantasy artist, not look at Brom’s stuff and have their own artistic expression not echo his? Said another way, he has been working for well over a decade, and his work does not look dated or old school at all. I am not sure he has switched over to digital or not, or if he plans to, but I hope he stays with the oils so people 500 years from now will have something left of this great age of speculative art.

For myself, the only solution is to neither fully accept nor fully reject digital nor traditional painting. Instead of forcing a choice, I’ll use either digital or traditional, based on the demands of the job, the end use for the image, the time line, scale, price, and even the subject matter. Even as I explore the possibilities of digital art, I will continue to delve into new styles, techniques and mediums with paint, clay, textured boards, and canvas. Perhaps my unique voice will find its best match in some as yet to be discovered medium, yet, as I am a fantasy freelancer with a family to support, the important thing is the best result for the image I provide to my client, on time, and on budget.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

visit to Castle Comics in Penticton BC, summer 2007

This past summer I was on holiday at a nearby city here in British Columbia called Penticton. Hereupon I visited the community’s game and comic shop called Castle Comics and got talking with the very friendly, well informed and approachable owner Rich Nobert. I noticed that the place had undergone extensive renovations since the previous summer, with a new layout, floors, paint and in particular, the coolest gaming table I’ve ever seen in use. It was a long, ornate, remotely gothic wooden table surrounded by six or eight high backed chairs. The whole set was just awesome, just begging to sit at, roll up some characters and set out on an adventure. Maybe once the Mutant Epoch is finished me and some of the Outland Arts guys can go demo the independent RPG system on the locals there.

At any rate, Castle Comics is going to be a mandatory stop for me whenever I visit that pleasant holiday town, and I totally recommend the shop to any of you who pass though that way. Their collection of comics, figurines, RPGs, board games, dice and art books are excellent, and Rich carries some rare, older collectibles that I’ve never seen anywhere else before.

I should mention that I bought a gold d20 (yeah, okay, I collect dice and yes, it’s plastic) and a stack of older Savage Sword of Conan comics and other graphic novels.

In closing, Castle Comics doesn’t have a web site, but I’d like to set up a page for them eventually, maybe at my Creative Community web site at . In the meantime, here is the shop’s address and phone number for those of you heading to Penticton: Castle Comics

1415 Main Street Penticton, B.C. Canada V2A SG4 phone 250-492-4258

For those of you in the Kamloops area, my home city, of course you’ll want to visit High Octane Comics and Collectibles at #250 3rd Ave. Kamloops B.C. V2C 3M3, phone 250 377-8444, or check out their excellent web site at I’ll do a proper write up of High Octane in an upcoming entry.