Battle for Zendikar

160816 Sphere of Exclusion

Quarantine Field – Battle for Zendikar

Back in July of last year our son was born. Anyone with a kid knows how hard it is to work full-time when you have a new baby in the house. Over the first 8 days I had a combined total of 8 hours of sleep. When I did get some sleep, I was waking up every 2-5 minutes because every sound made me think “OMG is my son ok?”

Right after he was born I received my Origins commission, which included the description for Fiery Impulse, Consul’s Lieutenant, and Hangarback Walker. Those weren’t exactly simple cards to illustrate, so it was challenging trying to finish those cards while helping to raise my son. After I finished those illustrations, I asked my AD if I could get some easier cards for the next wave. Luckily my AD threw me a bone.

The first three cards I received for Battle for Zendikar were Jaddi Offshoot, Ghostly Sentinel, and Tide Drifter. It was still hard finding time to work on my freelance and teach my mentorship. I would often have to paint while holding my son as I bounced up and down on a yoga ball. For some reason he would only stop crying or fall asleep while bouncing on a yoga ball. Although, it was good exercise!

You can probably tell that these three illustrations are a bit looser than some of my other illustrations. I have to say, the fish brush saved my life when I was painting Tide Drifter. Thanks Jonas De Ro!

brood butcher

Brood Butcher

This was also around the time when I was trying to push myself to create different and more dynamic compositions, like in Fiery Impulse. I think for the first three illustrations I resorted to my typical painting style, probably due to the lack of time. When I received the briefs for Brood Butcher and Quarantine Field, I tried to push myself again.

There are still some things that bug me about these illustrations, like the dark object in the foreground in Tide Drifter and the poorly rendered water in Brood Butcher, but sometimes you gotta turn in what you have.

Patreon for your face!

daarken patreon

My Patreon face!

Hey everyone! Some of you may have heard that I am planning on creating a Patreon. I want to offer some cheaper alternatives to my current mentorship program, so I think Patreon will be a great platform.

I would like to offer some milestone goals, but I can’t do that if I am only offering mentorship slots. I have to limit the number of mentees I have, otherwise I might not have enough time to do all of the paintovers each month if this thing suddenly blows up. If there are a limited number of slots, then I won’t be able to reach stretch goals.

Instead of only offering limited mentorship slots, I will also be offering an unlimited monthly video tutorial tier. This will give me the ability to reach milestones and provide additional content.

What type of tutorials you may ask? Good question. The monthly videos will range anywhere from painting demos to talks about the industry. Painting demos are pretty common on the internet these days, so I also want to mix things up and talk about other things in the industry, like portfolios, finding work, what the industry is really like, etc. Maybe I could have guest speakers too? Who knows. I’m pretty shy though, so I dunno about that one.

You can think of this as the “box of chocolates” video tutorial package; you never know what you’re gonna get. I can also offer a milestone goal where you have the ability to tell me what you want to see each month.


Here are the tiers and the rewards that I have so far. Just keep in mind that these tiers are a work in progress. I might change them or add other options. The pricing is also still temporary, it may or may not change.

• Tier 1 – $5 – Monthly video tutorial
• Tier 2 – $15 – Monthly video tutorial + Paintover + Written notes for 1 piece of art each month
• Tier 3 – $25 - Monthly video tutorial + Paintover + Written notes for 2 pieces of art each month
• Tier 4 – $45 – Monthly video tutorial + Video Paintover + Audio commentary + PSD for 2 pieces of art each month
• Tier 5 – $55 – Monthly video tutorial + Video Paintover + Audio commentary + PSD for 2 pieces of art each month + Personal assignment
• Tier 6 – $65 – Monthly video tutorial + Video Paintover + Audio commentary + PSD + for 2 pieces of art each month + Personal assignment + Monthly chat

If you have any suggestions of what you would like to see or what I should add or change, please let me know. This is your chance to give me some input about what you want!

Milestone Goals

Here are a few ideas I have for milestone goals. Again, please let me know if there is anything else you would like to see.

• More mentorship slots
• Additional monthly paintovers
• Vote each month about what you want to see for the video tutorial
• Additional rewards for each tier (what should they be??)
• More in-depth video tutorials
• More explosions!?!

I’m really excited about this new venture. I believe the way monthly Patreons work is that you are billed at the beginning of each month, so I plan on starting later this week. I already have two video tutorials finished and I hope to have a few more finished before I launch; I want to make sure I can deliver on time.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions, I really want to hear from people before I launch this thing. Thanks!


160289 Chandra's Scorching

Fiery Impulse – MtG Origins

It has been a long time since my last post. We just recently moved and with my work schedule and helping raise mini Daarken, things have been pretty busy.

Origins was a special set for me. I was lucky enough to be on the concept push for Origins, so I helped design the look and feel of the set.

If you have seen the other cards that have been previewed, you will know that architecture, vehicles, and elaborately designs props and weapons play a huge part in this set. Those are also all things that I normally don’t paint, so it was a real challenge.

Before I started working on the concept push, I received a mixed review on my book Elysium. The person said

“I didn’t give it 5 stars like many others though, everyone has their own perspectives and reasons; me, I would have enjoyed more variety in color and poses. I understand that that artist is commissioned for specific pieces, but it doesn’t feel like he takes much risks. I’m not sure how many pieces he worked on to be exclusively for this book, but that would have been a great opportunity to get out of his comfort zone. It feels like he has a formula that works and is in a safe place at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I became an instant fan, the book is high quality, I agree with many of the reviewers, but didn’t give it the 5 stars because every other work was a little expected.”

Most people might ignore a review like this or think “they don’t know what they are talking about.” For me, this review really made me take a closer look at my decisions as an artist. I thought about it for weeks and months on end. I’m the type of person that will dwell on one single bad review instead of the hundreds of good reviews. This review wasn’t really bad, but you know what I mean.

Kaladesh Captain - MtG Origins

Kaladesh Captain – MtG Origins

After I received that review, I went to Renton for the concept push. Maybe the art gods were keeping tabs because I ended up having to work on a lot of architecture, vehicles, and elaborate props. It was great to get out of my comfort zone, but I was constantly second-guessing myself.

When it came time to work on Fiery Impulse, I did the sketch how I normally would. It was just the standard standing pose with Chandra casting some magic. Nothing special, but it got the job done.

After I finished my sketch, the words of the reviewer echoed through my head. This person was right. I wasn’t pushing myself or taking enough chances, so I completely started over. I tried to come up with something more dynamic and something out of my wheelhouse. If I hadn’t received that review, I probably wouldn’t have come up with that composition.

Hangarback Walker - MtG Origins

Hangarback Walker – MtG Origins

I guess the moral of the story is to take any negative feedback you receive and try to improve upon it. Don’t get mad or stomp around your house pouting, try and become a better artist. You are going to constantly receive criticism as a professional artist. If you can’t take it, you probably won’t last long.

I think it also helped that this person was nice with their feedback. Had they resorted to trolling, the result may have been much different. So I guess there is a double moral to this story; if you give someone a critique, be professional about it and try to give them feedback that will actually help the person.

Hunter Tutorial



Last month I came out with a new video tutorial about the process I go through when designing characters for a client. I haven’t done very many character design tutorials and I’ve been playing Bloodborne a lot lately, so I wanted to create something that was inspired by Bloodborne.

You can purchase it from Gumroad. If you are a PayPal user, just PayPal the money to my account ( In the note section, tell me you are purchasing this tutorial and include your email address. I will then give you a link to download it for free from Gumroad. Here is a little info about the tutorial.

Price – $7.99 buy, $2.99 rent
Length – 199 min.
Format – MP4 2560×1600
Bonus Material – Brushes (link) and JPG of final painting
Language – English, full commentary (English subtitles)
Software – Photoshop CC 2014


After I released my tutorial, a few people asked about adding subtitles to my videos. Adding subtitles takes an incredibly long time because you have to listen to the audio, type a few words, go back and listen to the audio again, type again, etc. etc.

Not only that, but you actually have to change the subtitles in order for them to work. Spoken English is much different than written English, so often times you need to edit the subtitles so that they make more sense or flow better.

You also have to consider that not everyone is a fast reader, so you need to try and keep each section of subtitles to around 42 characters. Typically you don’t want to make people read more than 21 characters per second. Now I understand why sometimes when you watch something with subtitles, they don’t always match what is being said.

It took me about 3 weeks to create the subtitles for a 199 minute tutorial. I’m glad I took the time to finally release a tutorial with subtitles, but I probably won’t be able to keep adding subtitles to my videos. Unfortunately it just takes too long. Maybe if my schedule changes I can add more in the future, but right now I probably won’t be able to.

I proofread my tutorial several times, but I’m sure I still probably missed something. If anyone notices anything, please let me know so that I can make changes.


Forbidden Stars

Forbidden Stars © Games Workshop

Forbidden Stars © Games Workshop

Two years ago I started a painting for the game Forbidden Stars by Fantasy Flight Games. Of course at the time I had no idea it would take two years before it was announced. I had actually given up on this, thinking that the project probably died and my painting would never be seen by the public.

Similar to my other Warhammer paintings for Fantasy Flight Games, this one has part of the background that is cut out to allow the box design to show through. Doing this looks weird when there is no context, but it looks cool when it is on the box.

I don’t paint very many vehicles and I wanted to paint some views that you normally don’t see. The problem with that is that you can’t really find any good reference shots online of uncommon angles. The good thing about working on Warhammer Online is that I know a lot of people with 40k minis. Luckily my friend was able to shoot some reference for me.

Originally there were fewer elements in the sketch, but they decided they wanted me to add more. I submitted the revised sketch, which was approved. After making the changes and taking the painting to final, they decided to go back and take them out.  Even after I gave them the revised final, they still decided to make more changes.

You might notice some differences between my version and the one on the box. A few of the ships have been moved, the Ultramarine’s backpack is a bit different, and they removed my name from my painting. These changes were made by another artist. This is actually fairly common when you work for a client. When you create a work for hire, they have the right to change whatever they want without letting you know.

During the process of this painting I had to make a ton of revisions. Other than the revisions I had to make during the sketch phase, I think I ended up making around 22 separate changes to the final illustration. I think the changes made for a better painting, but it was a long and hard road.

DokiWear Art Glove Update

DokiWear CG Art Glove - Black

DokiWear CG Art Glove – Black

I just received some new DokiWear gloves and they are pretty nice. You might notice that they look different from the original pair I reviewed. I liked the grey ones before, but I think I like the black ones more.

They also changed the way they fit. The original pair I had was just a sample, and in my review I had mentioned that they were a little loose and I couldn’t see how they would work well as a compression glove. The new pair I received, also a medium, fits much better.

I should also mention that I am wearing the DokiWear gloves on top of my Handeze Flex-fit gloves. I still need the extra wrist support for my carpal tunnel syndrome, so I’m hoping one day DokiWear comes out with a version that has a wrist support.

The stitching also seems to be tighter and closer together than the original sample I received.

The gloves are now available for purchase online. Before you could only get them if you backed their Kickstarter, but now you can order them from their site. I’m excited to see that DokiWear is improving their glove design and I look forward to any new versions in the future.

Litup LP3 – Review

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Litup LP3

This is the light box I wish I had back in school. The light box I used back at the Academy of Art University was small and about as thick as a brick. The Litup LP3 is extremely thin and has an active area of 16.93×12.2. Plus you have to admit, it looks pretty slick.

As always, you can watch the video review instead of reading the wall of text.

The LP3 light box is just that, it is a light box that is used for tracing drawings. I’m sure photographers and graphic designers have other uses for it, but for me it would be used for tracing drawings. It doesn’t transfer your drawing to the computer, it is just a good old fashioned light box.

The Light

What is cool about this light box that older boxes don’t have is the ability to change the brightness level. If you are in a dark room, you might want to use a lower brightness level so that you don’t burn your eyeballs. The LP3 also remembers your last brightness level setting. If you turn off the LP3 and turn it on again, it goes back to the previous setting.

During the video you will probably notice that the light flickers or has a rolling black bar. You can’t actually see the flicker in person, but you can see it through the camera due to the difference in refresh rates.

I tried testing the LP3 out with different types of paper. Obviously regular printer paper is fine, but I also tried 100 lb. Bristol Board. The light is strong enough to easily trace your drawing onto Bristol Board. I don’t have any watercolor paper around, but if I ever do, I will update this review.

The surface doesn’t seem to get hot either when working for long periods of time. It has been at full brightness for two hours now and the surface still feels like it did before I turned it on.

Litup LP3

Litup LP3

The Cons

There really aren’t many. The only main problem is that it has to be plugged in to use it. Most electronic devices do, so that isn’t a surprise. Some of the fancier models from Litup actually have a battery that allows you to use the device without plugging it in. If you are worried about using it without the cord, you might want to consider getting one of the upgraded models.

I saw some reviews that mentioned the cord is too short. I guess it really depends on how far away your desk is from the outlet. Sure it could always be a little longer, but for most cases I think the cord is probably long enough. I only mentioned it in the video because I was grasping at straws.

There seems to be quite a bit of variance with the cord length. Customers on Amazon are reporting the cord length to be anywhere from 36 in. long to 62 in. long. Maybe they received a different product, but my cord is 76 in. long. Unless you have a severe lack of outlets in your workspace, the cord should be long enough (unless your cord is only 3 feet long). According to Amazon, receiving different cord lengths could be a problem when ordering this product. Maybe Litup recently changed the cord length, but the short cord length reviews were from last month.


I really can’t find anything wrong with the LP3. The comment about the cord and power issue are so minor that I wouldn’t really even consider them as cons. I was really grasping at straws trying to figure out something to say that could be improved upon, and it appears these issues have been addressed with other models. I would have been extremely excited if this product had been around 14 years ago when I was in school.

Dragons of Tarkir

159802 Kolaghan's Mastery

Kolaghan’s Command – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

At PAX East, Wizards of the Coast previewed some of my paintings from Dragons of Tarkir, although I think the entire set has been released online by now.

I only have three cards in Dragons of Tarkir. I actually had to opt out of the second wave of commissions because the deadline was going to be a little too close to the birth of our son. This was the first time I declined Magic work, so I was a little afraid that they might forget about me and not hire me again for the next block. I’m glad I did though because it gave me more time to prepare.

There are so many new names in Magic and their work is incredible, so I always worry that one day I won’t receive any new Magic work. I think most artists feel this way once they have been in the industry for awhile. This fear also helps push me to try and create better art. It doesn’t always mean that I do produce better art, but I definitely try to. At the same time it is also exciting to see all of the new names and what they bring to the game.

Boltwing Marauder - Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Boltwing Marauder – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Thinking back, I probably should have opted out of this wave as well. At the time I was on-site at Wizards of the Coast for a concept push working on some secret stuff. During the concept pushes I’m at WotC from 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Monday through Friday. It is a normal full-time job. That means in order to work on my freelance, I have to do it after hours at the hotel.

Typically I would get off at 6:00 pm, shower, and then eat some dinner. That means I probably won’t start working on my freelance until around 7:30 pm. I would probably get in a good 4-5 hours of work before I had to go to bed since I wake up at 7:00 am.

So after getting off of work, I had to work on all three of these illustrations. Of course two of them aren’t exactly simple. Multiple figures, horses, and dragons. I’m getting old now, so working 12-13 hours a day isn’t as easy as it used to be.

If you have ever had to work in a hotel, you also probably know that they don’t exactly have the best desks. Most of them are way too tall, which would wreak havoc on my wrists. It also doesn’t help that I have carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists and cubital tunnel syndrome in my left arm. I probably could have gone back to the office, but after being there all day, you kind of want to get away. Plus I think they turn off the A/C at night, or maybe that is just on the weekends.

Foul-Tongue Invocation - Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

Foul-Tongue Invocation – Dragons of Tarkir © Wizards of the Coast

It also didn’t help that I was struggling with all three of these paintings. Horses are always hard to paint, plus I think dragons are hard to paint as well. I think it is mainly their wings that give me problems. Multiple figures with multiple horses and dragons? Blah.

I often go through these periods where I feel like I forgot how to paint. I was definitely feeling that when I was working on these. I couldn’t figure out the colors, I couldn’t figure out how to render certain things, I just felt like I couldn’t paint. Maybe I get this way when I’m burned out, I don’t know.

Foul-Tongue Invocation gave me a lot of problems as well. I wasn’t very happy with this painting and I sort of wrote it off as one of those paintings that you finish and then throw away. The dragons are usually a lot larger than that, but I had to show one next to a human and make them both important and both read at card size, so I had to just make the dragon smaller. Sometimes you gotta bend the rules to make something work. Maybe this is a baby dragon. Yeah, my excuse is that this is a baby dragon.

Foul-Tongue Invocation detail

Foul-Tongue Invocation detail

I also didn’t like how the girl’s face looked at card size. The glowing bits from her eyes and mouth just made her look weird at card size. The glow from her eyes and mouth was in the description of the card, so I had to put them in there. It looks a lot better larger, so take a look at the detail shot.

I actually completely started over on her face too. The first one I painted was pretty horrible and the lighting was bad. I also didn’t really capture the features that I wanted. Instead of trying to make something work that doesn’t, I just deleted the face and started over. Sometimes you just gotta throw something away and start over.

It might seem a little silly to worry about these things, especially when the images on the cards are so small that most people won’t even see the details artists worry about. I think I mainly do it because I don’t want to create a bad painting, regardless of how big or small it will be printed.

New Tutorials & Mentorship

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Working with Layers – For Beginners

After speaking with some of my students, I have come up with some new tutorials and additions to the online mentorship.

Video Tutorials

I’ve been doing video tutorials for many years now, but lately I haven’t been able to produce very many tutorials due to my schedule. Creating a tutorial of an entire illustration takes weeks, sometimes months to produce. Plus I usually don’t have the extra time to create personal paintings.

I have decided to start creating some shorter tutorials that are geared more toward beginners. Watching professionals create an entire illustration is great, but sometimes it isn’t very useful to amateurs. Plus many times the artist assumes the audience already knows the basics of Photoshop. These shorter tutorials will focus more on the basics instead of creating an entire illustration. This way I actually have time to create new tutorials.

The first tutorial focuses on layer modes. I talk about some of the various layer modes I use, what I use them for, what they do, etc. If you are already familiar with layer modes and how they work, this tutorial probably isn’t for you.

I plan on making the next tutorial about blending. It seems that beginners always have a problem with blending in Photoshop. There are several techniques when it comes to blending, so I will go over them in the tutorial. I am not sure when the blending tutorial will be available, but it should be soon.

If my schedule allows, I will still offer free tutorials on my Enliighten site. Unfortunately I have bills to pay, so I can’t always offer everything for free. Providing cheaper and/or free content is still important to me, so look for more in the future.

Personal Paintovers

In my mentorship I do paintovers of every single assignment for every single student. I had one student suggest that I offer paintovers of paintings not created in my mentorship. This would be open to anyone, you don’t need to take my mentorship. This way if you need help with a painting, I can show you how to fix it directly.

The personal paintovers are a little more expensive than my other tutorials, but that is because each tutorial is unique and I can only sell it once instead of creating one tutorial and selling the same one over and over. The paintover is yours and yours alone.

You can submit just about anything you want; it could be an illustration or just a character design. I don’t do very many mechanical things or vehicles, so I am probably not the best person to do those types of paintovers. I also don’t do 3D, so I won’t be doing any 3D paintovers.

You can purchase the personal paintover from my store. After you make your purchase, just send me the image you want me to paintover. A Dropbox link to your file is probably the best way to go.

Advanced Digital Painting - At Your Own Pace

Advanced Digital Painting – At Your Own Pace

At Your Own Pace Mentorship

This was another suggestion from a student. I understand that many of my students work and have families, so trying to do a homework assignment every week can be very difficult. The “at your own pace” mentorship is tailored to fit your schedule. If you need 3 weeks to do one assignment, you can.

So why would you want the structured mentorship over the “at your own pace” mentorship? The “at your own pace” mentorship does not offer discounts (except for the military discount) or payment plans. The “at your own pace” mentorship also doesn’t allow you to have live chats with all of the other students at the same time. Since the mentorship will be tailored to your schedule, it will just be a one-on-one chat with me and no one else.

I will probably only offer the “at your own pace” mentorship to a few people at a time. Since I will still run the normal structured mentorship, I don’t want things to get too confusing since I will have several students all working on different things. If it turns out to be easier than I am expecting, I will offer more slots.

The Intro to Digital Painting – At Your Own Pace can be purchased here and the Advanced Digital Painting – At Your Own Pace can be purchased here.

You might notice that the Advanced AYOP is a little more when it comes to adding the premium assignments. That is because the AYOP premium assignments will be a little more personal and you will have more input. I will email and discuss them more with you than I normally do with the structured class. Emailing individual students takes time, plus you don’t know how long it will take for people to respond, so I can’t do that with the structured class. Hopefully this will allow you to create an even tighter portfolio.