Someone was asking me to post some of my very first paintings and drawings so that they could see what my beginnings were like. I thought this was a great idea and I actually found some of my old work when I was packing and moving earlier this month. It is always fun to see where an artist came from and to see their progression throughout their career. I remember back when I did some of these I thought “hey, these are pretty good.” Now when I look back at them I realize how horrible they were. It is funny how one’s perception changes over the years.
You might notice a bit of a backwards progression in some of these due to the fact that copying art (or doing master copies) is a lot easier than painting from your imagination or painting from life. The process of converting a real 3d object into a line drawing is also much more difficult than copying someone else’s drawing from life. They already figured out all of the problems, so all you have to do is copy their solutions. I guess you can kind of think of it as baking something from scratch. It will be much harder to create your own recipe from your head than if you find someone else’s recipe in a book and you just follow the steps. You aren’t really doing any of the problem solving that they had to go through.
Hmmm, maybe I should give a bit of background on my family history before I continue. Both my parents and both my sisters are very artistic. My mom used to create amazing architectural drawings and drawings of animals. She also used to paint scenes on my wall when I was a kid. One time she painted this Drew Struzanesque movie poster composition of a race car, a spaceship, and a bunch of other very “boyish” things on my bedroom wall. She also makes her own quilts and clothing. My father, who is a doctor, is also very skilled at drawing and painting in watercolors. One of my sisters is a fashion designer and she also used to draw and paint a lot in school and in college. My other sister is also very good at drawing and photography and creates her own jewelry. Was I born to be an artist? I dunno, maybe.
There is a big debate over whether or not people have a natural talent for things or if people can simply learn to be good at something. I think there is a bit of both. I definitely think natural talent can be passed down from family members, but that doesn’t mean you will be good at something without working hard and without many, many years of work and dedication. I think everyone has a natural gift for something, but you will never know what that is unless you try it and work hard at it. I know some people think “oh not me, I’m not naturally talented at anything.” Who knows, maybe that person would be a world-class oboist, but they would never know unless they tried it.
1984 (3 years old)
For some reason in my early works I had an apparent fascination with belly buttons. Nothing like a squiggly armed person with a belly button. Hmm, not much else to say about this one other than I am highly amused by this drawing.
I must say, my niece was much more skilled at the age of three than I was. In fact, she was better at three than I was at six. It will be interesting to see if she is an artist when she grows up.
I always find it a little funny when people ask an artist how long they have been drawing or painting for and their answer is “since I was three” or “since I was a little kid.” Practically every single little kid draws when they are young. I haven’t met a single kid who didn’t draw something when they were little. Heck, half of kindergarten is all about making art.
It just seems funny to me when they consider their art career starting at the age of three.
1985-86 (4-5 years old)
Ahhh yes, the humble beginnings of Daarken. Apparently I really liked using highlighters. I was 4 and 5 when I created these drawings. Thanks Mom for thinking to date them!
According to these drawings my Dad drove a medical rescue robot and my Mom flew a spaceship. I’m not really sure what is going on with the pyramid-tractor-bunny-dead potted plant man drawing. Actually I think that might be a rattlesnake…oh, and there is a chinese man next to the pyramid which I can only guess is my Dad. Slanty eyes ftw.
Just to put these in perspective, my niece’s drawings from when she was 2 were 10 times better than the drawings I did at the age of 5.
1987 (6 years old)
I guess I found the watercolors in 1987. As I look back at the things I drew and painted as a kid I can’t help but notice that everything is nice and happy. I painted flowers, smiling people, snowmen…all things that clearly go against my “Daarken” persona. Sorry to disappoint my fans!
According to the first piece my Dad’s hobbies include Chess, eating peas, and eating pie? Or is that pizza? It has to be pie.
My Dad sent me a bunch of these while I was away for my Singapore-Japan-Kansas City trip, so I figured it would be fun to add these to the post. Several of the painting he sent consisted of helicopters, so I am just posting one of them. I guess I was really into helicopters, tanks, and spaceships as a kid. Go figure!
I must say, the farmer with a space car for a body is pretty ingenious.
1992 (11 years old)
Let’s fast-forward to the year 1992. You remember 1992 right? When Mike Tyson was convicted of rape, Windows 3.1 was released, and a pound of bacon was $1.92? I don’t either, but apparently those things happened.
What also happened was that I started doing master copies of comic book drawings, complete with a signature on a scroll. I was 11 years old at the time. I remember the comic store I used to go to ended up hanging these on the wall, kind of a big deal I guess for an 11 year old boy. I’m sure the customers probably thought “what the hell are these things?”
1995 (14 years old)
<insert fast-forward noise here> The year is 1995 (O.J. found innocent, Toy Story is the top grossing film) and I stepped up the game a bit by making master copies of comic book covers and interiors using Sharpies and Microns.
I know the first image is from 1995 because that is the cover to Spawn #32, but I’m not quite sure what the year was for the second image. I am guessing around the same time. If anyone knows, please let me know.
This was the time when Image comics came out and I was flooded with awesome artists like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell, Marc Silvestri, and many others. Many of them were around before Image, but this was the time that I really started to take notice.
At this point I wasn’t drawing anything from life because I thought that was boring. I only drew things from comic books. I remember doing some of these drawings in class during high school. Well, the only class I was able to do them in was Astronomy class, but that was only because our teacher was busy playing Spades with the other students. Yeah…we didn’t do anything in that class.
Unlike an article, which shall not be mentioned, no I did not barely pass my classes because I was too busy drawing. I was in the top 3% of my freshman class and by the time I graduated I was still in the top 10% of my school. Guh, I hate journalists that don’t do their research and only base their articles off of stereotypes…but anyway, we won’t go down that road.
1998 (17 years old)
In 1998 I won my first art competition, winning a nice crispy $100 bill. My winning piece was a scratchboard piece I did of a comic. I was pretty surprised that I won because I never win anything.
Hmm, is it just me or do I look really tiny in that pic? I am the one on the first row on the right. I am half the size of those other two guys. Oh, and they spelled my name wrong in the caption but got it right in the article. Good job Mr. Editor.
I had always been known as “the guy who could draw” back in high school. I just did it as a hobby, I had no idea I would ever grow up to be an artist. It was simply something I enjoyed doing. It’s funny when I talk to friends from high school and they say “I always knew you were going to be an artist.” How did they know!? I didn’t even know.
1999 (18 years old)
These master copies were created back in 1999, right after I graduated from high school. The pencil drawings were done back in 1998 I think, but inked and colored in 1999. I was 18 at the time when I colored these.
Both were created in Photoshop 5. I scanned my pencil drawing and then I inked and colored it with Photoshop. I actually didn’t really do any “painting” in Photoshop, but rather I inked it using the pen tool since I only had a mouse. I would then flood-fill sections with the paint bucket. This was before I went to art school, so I taught myself digital. I was actually going to school for computer science at the time.
2001 (20 years old)
In 2001 (1 pound of bacon increased to $3.22. Curse you inflation!) I moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art University after realizing that computer science wasn’t my cup-o-tea. As you can see, my figure drawings were horrible compared to the master copies I used to make. I always grew up using the direct drawing technique, but when I went to art school they told me never to direct draw, but rather to use construction lines and bubbles and whatnot. I really struggled with that since it went against everything I knew.
At the same time I was really into Anime, so most of my own personal work was Anime. I should also mention that in 2001 I was completely emo, so most of my personal stuff was about death and dismembered people and sad people that sat in corners contemplating how horrible their life was.
Oh god, the horror. Still fumbling with life drawing and the stupid construction lines. I can’t remember when, but I think around 2002 I started to hit up the free figure drawing workshops regularly. I know the first year I didn’t really go to any of the workshops, and it showed.
After becoming a workshop regular, I really started to see improvement in my work. If anyone is going to art school, please, please take advantage of figure drawing workshops. You will be amazed at how much improvement you will see.
Oh, the other awesome thing about the figure drawing workshops was that the fashion students were always required to attend, so the workshops would always be full of hot girls. I must admit, that was a big part of the reason why I attended the workshops, hah. Hey, I was 20 years old at the time, give me a break! That aside, I really did enjoy figure drawing.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t one of the reasons, but rather just an added bonus.
2002 (21 years old)
I always tried to keep it a secret because everyone in art school, especially the teachers, hated Anime and thought of it as “lesser” art…if they thought it was art at all. It was like I was trying to keep some weird fetish a secret. I felt bad that I liked anime, like I was doing something wrong or naughty.
I had one teacher who flat out told me that anime wasn’t art and that you can’t learn a single thing from looking at or watching anime. Yeah, the hatred for anime ran deep within the walls of the Academy. To be fair, not all teachers felt that way about anime, but many of them did.
I blame America. America tends to take things and exploit them until they are destroyed. That is basically the story of King Kong right? We take something, make it ours, and exploit it until we destroy it. Or the radio. They take songs that we like and play them over and over until they become mainstream and you hate them.
Sorry for the tiny picture, but it is the only one that I have. During the first few weeks of my figure painting class we focused on painting individual body parts. I think this was the only painting I took a picture of and I don’t think I even have that painting anymore.
I tend to throw away my old drawings and paintings. At the time you always think “man, these suck, I don’t want them.” Years later you look back and wish you had kept some of your early work. Maybe for nostalgic purposes or maybe so you can keep a physical record of your journey, or maybe so that you can post them in a blog post!
I think these master copies were also from 2002. The first is a Boris Vallejo master copy done in graphite on bristol paper. The second is a pen and ink master copy of Frazetta. I didn’t use Sharpies for this one, instead I used crow quill pens with actual ink (getting fancy!).
2003 (22 years old)
Another year and more studying. Around this time I started trying to just draw and paint how I wanted to draw and paint instead of trying to force myself to draw and paint how my teachers wanted me to. At the figure drawing workshops I started doing more direct drawing instead of the stupid circles and cylinders.
The crazy self portrait was for my Heads and Hands II class. We had to make “crazy expressions” of either ourself or a friend. I didn’t really have anyone to take a picture of, so I used myself. This was also around the time that I was doing a lot of self portraits because of Andrew Jone’s self portraits on conceptart.org.
This self portrait was actually the first oil painting I ever sold. That story is actually pretty funny and interesting, but I might have to save that for later. I wish I had kept the guy’s contact information.
2004 (23 years old)
2004 was my last year of art school. I only went to art school for 3 years before getting my BFA in traditional illustration because I had transfer credits from UT and CSUS. From 2003-2004 I really started going to figure drawing workshops regularly. I think I went to probably 3-4 per week. I affectionately became known as the guy that liked to draw deltoids, and soon after, they coined the phrase “daarktoids.” I dunno why, but I liked drawing deltoids. Yeah I know, I’m weird.
About three months after I graduated I was contacted on the phone by Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast. They wanted me to do some freelance work for them, so I immediately agreed before even hearing what the project was, pay, and deadlines.
My first commissions were so horrible that I don’t even have the files anymore, I had to google them. I swore these would never see the light of day again, but I must submit to the horrors that once were.
I have no idea why people hired me back then. Looking back at my old art I realize how lazy I was as an artist. It is funny because back then I thought my art was really detailed and refined, but now it looks so loose and unfinished.
Again, it is crazy how your perception of things changes over time. The first painting was for Fantasy Flight Games for A Game of Thrones, and the second was for Wizards of the Coast for the D&D book, Heroes of Horror. Horror indeed.
At the same time I also got a full-time position as a concept artist at a small gaming company called Mind Control Software. The games I worked on there were not the type of games I liked or played, so I don’t have any samples of my work. Probably for the better.
Even though I felt my work was very subpar, I still got regular freelance work from several different companies, and soon I was able to completely support myself on freelance work alone. The reason I was able to get work without having to go out and find it for myself was because I had a very strong online presence. I posted on many different art forums, I had a website, a blog, and I made a lot of friends and contacts in the industry. Since I started working in 2004, I still have not had to go out and look for freelance work, clients always contact me.
2005 (24 years old)
In 2005 I think I had my first “breakthrough” in terms of creating a painting that propelled my work significantly forward.
I was studying Craig Mullins and trying to figure out why his paintings look so realistic, but at the same time they are incredibly loose. I realized that he achieves this because his shapes and lighting is spot on. In “The Park” painting I tried to use those same techniques.
After that I started doing cityscape studies from photos I took around my apartment. Most of these were really quick, maybe 2-3 hours each. I was also still doing studies from photos of people, places, architecture, you name it. Before this I hadn’t really painted any buildings before, so I took it upon myself to improve upon an area that I had little experience. Going out of your comfort zone is another necessity if you want to be an artist, especially a concept artist.
As a concept artist you need to be able to paint anything. If someone asks you to paint a wolf, you need to be prepared to do it and not say “well, I don’t really paint animals, sorry.” Sure there are some concept artists who specialize, but if you have a bigger bag of tricks, you become more valuable to the company.
The third painting is a master copy I did of a photo I found on the internet of Aya Ueto. I had made a little animated gif of the process of the painting, but I don’t think I have it anymore.
As you can see, my studies were still ten times better than my imaginative work. My imaginative work hadn’t caught up yet, and they wouldn’t for another year. It was definitely frustrating that after all this time, my imaginative work was still miles behind my studies.
2006 (25 years old)
Even though I had been out of school for 2 years, I was still going to workshops fairly regularly. I got a part-time position at the Academy teaching digital painting workshops. This allowed me to attend figure drawing workshops since I had an ID. I also went to several of the conceptart.org workshops. These first two drawings were done at the San Francisco Conceptart workshop.
If you want to succeed as an artist, never stop learning. Always push yourself to be a better artist and make time to practice. Even professionals need to practice their craft in order to stay on top.
Yup, the Daarktoids were still there! Actually, after everyone started calling them Daarktoids, I ended up drawing more of them just because it became my signature style. In reality, the reason I usually only rendered out the deltoids was because most of the poses were 2-10 minutes long, so I only had time to focus on one or two things and deltoids were always the easiest thing to render in that amount of time.
After working on D&D for almost two years, I decided to ask my art director if I could work on Magic: The Gathering. They put me in contact with Jeremy Jarvis and I got my first Magic: The Gathering gig. Even though Future Sight didn’t come out until 2007, the illustrations I created for it were done in 2006.
That is the bad thing about doing art for movies and games, it can take anywhere from 6 months to several years before you are allowed to show your work. Your “new” work quickly becomes your old work. In fact, I just posted some of my old Warhammer Online concepts the other day, and those were originally painted 5-6 years ago.
2007 (26 years old)
In 2007 I received an e-mail from BioWare Mythic (Mythic Entertainment at the time) asking me if I would like to be an in-house concept artist for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I flew out for an interview and I was hired shortly after.
Warhammer was something that I had always wanted to work on, so it was a great opportunity and one that I couldn’t pass up. Being a concept artist on a AAA title really opens your eyes to the industry. I had to quickly learn to paint anything and everything.
I ended up concepting a lot of environments and interiors/exteriors, something I had little experience with. Unfortunately most of my work can’t be shown and probably will never be seen, which sucks because I don’t have a lot of environment samples in my portfolio even though I created a lot for Warhammer Online.
The other thing that being a concept artist taught me was to pay attention to the details. My work became much more detailed after working for Mythic. The reason being is because modelers have to build models of your concepts, so I couldn’t leave anything to the viewer’s imagination. I know some people criticized our concepts because they were “too detailed,” but it was a requirement of the job, not personal preference.
In addition to starting at Mythic, I also started freelancing for Blizzard, working on their World of Warcraft TCG. I was already a WoW player, so it was really cool to be able to create illustrations for Blizzard.
2009 (28 years old)
They were coming out with a new Living Card Game called Warhammer Invasion. At the time I didn’t realize that I was about to embark on a Warhammer cover journey that would last 2 years, and is still going.
I think so far I have already done 16 covers for them. Almost all of the covers are large battle scenes with many figures, something that was always a challenge for me. Not to mention I still had a full-time job, so I had to work on these illustrations after I got home from work.
The first cover I did for them I only had a two week deadline from start to finish. Working on these covers has really helped my painting speed. A lot of people ask me about the white background on some of my Warhammer illustrations, and those are there at the request of the client due to the packaging design.
This was also the first time I recorded my painting process with Camtasia. I had originally recorded the process for an in-house EA demo, but that ended up falling through, so instead I released it as a free tutorial on my YouTube site. This tutorial ended up paving the way for many more tutorials to come.
Unfortunately I didn’t know much about recording tutorials and the only version that survived was a really tiny low res video. My mic was also pretty bad, so the audio wasn’t that great.
I have four full length tutorials available for purchase from my store and many more free tutorials on my YouTube site. I also did a bunch for 3dTotal which are slowly being published on their site. I will probably upload them to my YouTube site in a few months.
2010 (29 years old)
In May of 2010 I left BioWare Mythic to pursue a full-time freelance career.
I started working for more video game companies as a freelance concept artist and continued to work on Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, and Warhammer.
The first painting was done for Wizards of the Coast for their Dark Sun D&D line. I grew up reading Troy Denning’s books, so having the chance to work on Dark Sun was like a childhood dream come true. Especially since Brom was the original artist for the Dark Sun books and D&D game. It was also a good opportunity for me to work on a brighter painting since it takes place in a scorching hot desert.
The second painting was for Fantasy Flight Games for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I actually did this painting while my wife was in the hospital after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fantasy Flight Games ended up calling the expansion “Signs of Faith,” sort of fitting isn’t it? Before you say “Hey! You should have been in the hospital with your wife,” I wasn’t allowed in the hospital at the time, so I worked on this painting when I wasn’t at the hospital.
2010 Was also the time when I started trying to make time to create personal pieces. For the longest time I didn’t spend any time painting for myself because I was so busy with work. When I did have a spare moment, the last thing I wanted to do was paint more. Plus having carpal tunnel in both wrists and cubital tunnel in my left arm didn’t help any.
2011 (30 years old)
Whew finally, 2011. This ended up being an epic post. I only intended to post a couple drawings I did back in school, but it kind of grew into an unstoppable monster.
It is really interesting to see how far you have come and how you have changed over the years. I have been working professionally for 7 years and I still feel like I have so much farther to go. I wonder where I will be in 10 years, or in 20?
The first painting was a magazine cover for Big Huge Games for the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. This piece was challenging because I had to keep each element on a separate layer, which is not the way I am used to working. The turnaround time on this painting was pretty fast too.
The second painting was a personal fan art piece that I did of Nicodemus from The Secret of Nimh, one of my favorite animated movies when I was growing up. I noticed that I work much faster when I am working on something I like, or painting for myself. I ended up painting Nicodemus, Justin, and Mrs. Brisby in two days.
I hope you enjoyed taking this trip through memory lane with me. The best advice I can give to anyone who feels that they aren’t good enough to work professionally is to never give up. You won’t get anywhere without a lot of hard work and dedication. If being an artist is something you truly want to do, be prepared to put everything else aside in order to achieve that dream.
2012 (31 years old)
I’m back! I was taking a look at this post again and I figured I should update it since 2012 is almost over. The funny thing is, the paintings I planned on showing all ended up being painted in December of 2011, so I had to go back and pick some different ones that were actually painted in 2012. Part of the problem is that I can’t show some of my newer paintings because they haven’t been released to the public yet.
Much of this year has been spent working on three different Lord of the Rings games: Guardians of Middle-earth, The Hobbit Armies of the Third Age, and The Hobbit Kingdoms of Middle-earth.
It has been a great ride and I feel very lucky to be able to work on an IP like Lord of the Rings. I don’t really want it to end, but I think I am about to finish up all of my Lord of the Rings projects in the next week or two.
Now that I think about it, I haven’t worked on very many actual illustrations this year. Most of the illustrations I did were for Magic: The Gathering, but almost all of the 2012 paintings haven’t been released yet.
I did a few for 5th Planet Games, Applibot, and Warner Brothers Games, but the majority of my work this year has been character concept work.
A huge chunk of my time during the first half of this year went to finishing up my art book, so it almost feels like I don’t have as much to show this year, at least not in terms of paintings that are public.
2015 (34 years old)
Hey again! It’s been three years since I last updated this post, so here are a few new pieces from 2015. I’m pretty sure these were painted at the beginning of 2015, but maybe they were at the end of 2014? I can’t remember exactly.
Over the past year my freelance workload has decreased due to the birth of my son. Wizards of the Coast is my main client, but I still do a few little jobs here and there for various clients. My most recent clients include Gearbox, Id Software, and Bethesda. I’ve also been doing more concept work for Wizards of the Coast. It is fun contributing to the look of an entire set, but it is also very stressful because I want the fans to enjoy the concepts I create.
My mentorship has also been on the decline. I’m not sure if it is because most of my fans have already taken the class or if maybe I’m not getting the word out to new people. In any case, I started a Patreon to attract new mentees.
I’ll try to keep this post updated over the years to come, it should be fun!