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Process for Our Grasp of Heaven

Wanted to show off some of the steps for my new painting, Our Grasp of Heaven, that I posted yesterday.

Top left you can see my initial block-in. I played a lot with the colors early on to hit a certain look that I had in mind. I try to establish all of the colors, lighting, and mood early on so I have a better idea of how the image is going to evolve.

From there, you can see in the top right image how I work in the background. The nebulae were painted by hand with a technique of brush tool, smudge tool, and a fair bit of dodge tool. Took a lot of patience, but there was something extremely relaxing about such abstract work.

Then I shot reference of myself to use for the foreground figures. Set the timer on my camera and took a whole ton of shots. Picked out the best poses and composited them into the painting itself so I could get a feel for how the end result would look. I did a lot of moving around, tweaking, and scaling to get a grouping I was pleased with. Then I began blocking in the figures and painting them. A whole lot of rendering later (and then a pass of full-body tattoos at the end), I ended up with this.

If you want a copy of this piece, it’s now available in my print store. Buy a print here.

How to Start a Painting

A good start is always better than a mediocre finish.

By learning to start well, you’re setting yourself up for making much better paintings down the road. You can render something till the end of the time, but if it didn’t start well it’s likely not going to finish well.

In this 2 hour, 30 minute video I create 6 different sketches in Photoshop while answering a wide range of audience-contributed questions. From theoretical topics to more technical details, we cover it all.

And you know the best part? It’s free! That’s right, I’m giving this video away. All you have to do is click the button below, share it on Twitter or Facebook, and the download is all yours. I’ve even included the original, high-res file so you can zoom in and check out exactly what I was doing on each of the pieces.

To follow my work or find out when I release more free content, please check out my Facebook page or Twitter profile.

Love the Process

Nearly everyone loves to look at a good painting. Very few actually enjoy the process of making one.

As artists, our love of the craft should be focused more on the process than the end result. I love making pretty pictures as much as the next guy, but it’s not the results that drive me. It’s the process. Sitting there throwing pixels or paint around—that’s why I do this. If, at the end of the day, I’ve got something nice to look at then that’s great. But even the worst day of painting is still great because I’ve been doing what I love.

When artists focus all of their attention on the end product they often struggle with motivation. So they ask how to get motivated to practice. They groan and complain about all the practice. About the long hours. About the countless studies. They constantly wonder how long it’s going to take to get good. They enjoy art. They don’t enjoy making art.

If you’re going to become successful at art, you need to love making art. Thankfully, this is a love that can grow over time. I’m not the sort of artist that can’t go a day without painting. Never have been. There are plenty of artists like that, and I’m honestly a bit jealous of them. But I’ve found that if I almost force myself to work on a regular basis I start to become more dependent on it. The more time I spend on it, the more I love it. I just need to push myself in the right direction. Maybe you do too.

Always do the work you love to do.


Meridian Sketch

It’s time for some livestreaming! Starting in just 10 minutes or so I’ll be working on this piece for a few hours (starting at noon EST on June 25, for the record). Come on by and watch a little painting. Hope to see you over there!


Painting “The Iron Wolf Barbarians”

The Iron Wolf Barbarians by Noah Bradley

Sketches for The Iron Wolf Barbarians by Noah Bradley

This is my latest piece that I did for Jon Schindehette to be published. I did my usual three different sketches for him. He picked the second sketch, but I must confess I was kinda hoping for the first one to get picked. It was a very different mood than the other, which I’m guessing is part of the reason it wasn’t chosen. I’m trying to stick characters into my pieces more and more—the reason being that I would love to branch out into cover art more, and purely environmental pieces are rarely used for that.

But back on topic: I had a great time painting this one. Anytime you get a chance to paint a snowy scene you’re probably in for a good time. The values tend to be very crisp and contrasty, so it leaves plenty of opportunities to play with the arrangement. Oftentimes you can get a nice variety of color in the snow (yellows, blues, purples and such are usually seen), but here I actually tried not to. I wanted to aim for a more muted piece. I was looking at my work and thought it got a little… candy-coated at times. Too many saturated colors for my own good.

It’s a good habit for artists to critique their own work. Sure, getting input from other professionals is invaluable, but those people won’t always be around when you’re working—nor do they know exactly the sort of painting you want to do. So step back not just from the painting you’re working on, but step back from all of your work. Look at it all together and try to analyze what is working and what isn’t. Find ways to improve or eliminate the failures, and find ways to accentuate the successes. I try to do regular self-critiques on my portfolio so I have a good idea of the sort of work it needs.

Copyright 2011 Wizards of the Coast

Studying the masters

Noah Bradley's watercolor materials

Master study of William Stanley Haseltine by Noah Bradley
Master study of William Stanley Haseltine by Noah Bradley
Master study of Thomas Moran by Noah BradleyMaster study of Albert Bierstadt by Noah BradleyMaster study of Thomas Moran by Noah BradleyMaster study of Thomas Moran by Noah BradleyMaster study of Albert Bierstadt by Noah Bradley

I am not the greatest artist to ever live.

But that’s pretty obvious. There are countless artists—both dead and otherwise—who are far greater than me. Perhaps one of the best ways to get better at art is to steal all of the “secrets” those artists have mastered. You can get a lot just from looking at the paintings, but sometimes you’ll pick up on more from actually copying the pieces.

So one of my goals lately has been to do frequent master studies in my sketchbook. In an effort to keep things fresh while I’m doing them, I’m also teaching myself a new-ish medium. It’s watercolor and white gouache. I’ve used it here and there in the past, but I’d hardly say I’m comfortable with it. And as much as I love painting in Photoshop, there’s still nothing like getting your hands dirty with traditional mediums.

My working process is a bit crude, I imagine. I find myself just throwing paint at the paper until I’m happy with the results. It’s probably my relative unfamiliarity with the medium but I’m definitely forcing it to do what I want. I start first with some transparent coats of thin paint. I try to establish the overall colors right off the bat. Then I’ll start to go in with some darks and try to get the right value relationships established. From there, the paint tends to get more and more thick and the details start to come out. I’m admittedly not shooting for a highly detailed rendering with these studies—that’s not what I’m looking to learn from them.

And that’s ok. Because when you’re doing a master study you don’t necessarily need to pay attention to everything at once. Sometimes it’s just fine to learn as much as you can about the individual aspects of the piece—the color, values, composition, etc.

With these studies I’m not doing them nearly large enough to focus on brush work or texture, for instance. Rather, I’m focusing on getting a solid overall read, studying the interesting color relationships, and seeing what sort of compositions work best in landscape painting. I already feel like I’ve learned a lot and even applied some of those lessons to pieces I’m working on right now. I highly encourage anyone out there to give master studies a try if you’ve never done them, or if it’s just been a while since you’ve done one. If nothing else, it can be a fun way to experiment with new mediums. Branch out and don’t get too stale.

No matter how good you are, there’s always more to be learned.

The Forgotten Temple

The Forgotten Temple by Noah Bradley

The Forgotten Temple sketch 1The Forgotten Temple sketch 2

The Forgotten Temple - Legend of the Five Rings card

For nearly the past year I’ve had the great pleasure of working with AEG on their popular and 15-year-running card game, Legend of the Five Rings. I’ve done a whole pile of cards for them at this point, but they’ve all been kept under wraps. Until now! The first of my cards has just been spoiled in their new Forgotten Legacy set. I’m thrilled to be able to show off a taste of what I’ve done.

As with much of my work, I’ve also included the rough sketches I sent to the AD for approval. With this piece I was really striving for a mysterious feel to it. I’m a bit new to the whole L5R lore, but I was told that this was going to be a newly explored place for the clans of Rokugan. They wanted a temple and a creepy sort of sacrificial altar. You know, fun happy stuff.

I knew a lot of the details would be lost when it went to card-size, but I still detailed it up so that I could potentially make prints of the piece. I paint these much, much larger than their printed size. Most of the time when I’m working on a piece I’ll paint it two or three times the final resolution. With these cards I worked eight times the final resolution. Not only does it give me a nice final size for prints, it also assures that the piece will be tight enough when printed at card size.

I’ve had a blast working on these cards and can’t wait to show the rest of them. I’m also planning to potentially release a book with a complete collection of all of the cards (trust me, there are enough to make a whole book out of them).

Hope you enjoyed this—because there are plenty more where this came from.