Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Over Christmas break I was absolutely determined to do some personal work.

That...didn't work out.

I started a drawing, but it had been such a long time since I had drawn anything just for fun that it was just overwhelming and I never finished it. I worried that I had my originality had atrophied. How could I call myself a creative if I could only draw what other people told me to draw???


Fast forward a few months, and all my clients have been dragging their feet on their projects for several weeks now. Seriously, what's going on over there in New York?? After having way more time off than I'm used to, I thought maybe I should give a personal drawing another shot. This time, I'd try redrawing one of my oldest digital paintings. I flipped through my old stuff, looking for something that had a good concept but needed better execution. I found it in this drawing from 2011.

This is my interpretation of the Japanese ghost story Hoichi the Earless. In this story, night after night a blind bard named Hoichi is asked to perform the song the Tale of the Heike, which is about the massacre of the Heike clan. Because he's blind, Hoichi thinks he's playing for a royal audience in a palace. He doesn't know that he's actually playing in a graveyard for THE GHOSTS OF THE HEIKE CLAN!!!!!!! (If you're interested in the story, you can either read the book Kwaidan or watch the 1965 film, which is super obscure and only cool people know about it.)

So anyway, about this old drawing. If you want to say that you like it better than the new one, just get that out of your system now, ok?

"Actuallyyyyyyyyyy I liked the old one better."

You good now?


First I'll go over what I like about this drawing.

Now let's go over what doesn't work so well:

Basically I liked the overall concept and some aspects of the color scheme, but the composition is lacking. The directional lines are too horizontal. There are some curves kind of framing the scene but nothing really "points" at the main character. It reminds me of a diorama, with flat layers lying on top of each other.

My goals for the new drawing were:
  1. A more dramatic composition
  2. More historically accurate clothing
  3. Establish depth in the environment
  4. Finish it up with polished rendering.
After some thumbnail sketching, I came up with a composition that was similar to the original drawing, in that Hoichi is sitting in the bottom center, facing straight forward. But this time I arranged the ghosts in a towering pyramid rather than crowded around in a vaguely horizontal line.

This broke up the "diorama" look and give the scene some much-needed oomph.

After doing some research into Heian-era clothing, I started sketching the scene on top of the thumbnail. First I sketched really roughly, and went over it again and again, tightening things up each time.

Once I had everything basically figured out, I blocked in some rough color, keeping everything on separate layers so I could adjust them as needed.

From there I started flattening the layers and painting. I put much more time into the rendering than I'm sure I would have done back in 2011. I've noticed that over time my paintings have become more detailed and polished, and this is mostly because I've become more patient in my old age.

I made a process GIF so you can see how the painting changed and developed as I went along. That's a freedom I don't have with client work. When illustrating a commission, I have to stick closely to the sketch that the client previously approved. They don't want to see any surprises when I turn in the final, so I have to have everything figured out ahead of time. Being in complete control of the drawing and having the freedom to change directions was refreshing.

When I compare the two paintings, I see that the new one has a sense of style that the old one doesn't have. The new one looks like me.

It's a good feeling.


  1. Sounds like a common problem for artists (especially ones coming out of school) The fear of atrophied creativity when not working on "an assignment".

    Its inspiring to see some analytics to the art by looking back in order to keep what works, but also identify what is weak in order to change that for the better. Its an editing process of picking up where you left off. Thank you for sharing this journey!

    1. "Picking up where you left off" is a good way to put it! Thanks for the comment Erik!


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