Thursday, December 29, 2011

Artist of the Month-Franz Kline

In my continuing Artist of the Month series I routinely try to explore artists outside of the Fantasy genre that have influenced my work or inspire my work tangentially through their unorthodox process. This month I expand upon this idea by including one of my favorite artists Franz Kline (1910-1962).

As a fantasy artist it would seem that there is very little connection between the high modern Abstract Expressionist and myself, but he is one of the few painters who's work I keep hanging on my wall in my studio. Kline is the ultimate composer. When ever I begin a work in the thumbnail stage I, (and every artist) should look to Kline. Eliminating narrative, eliminating color, eliminating space, Kline works in pure abstract composition. Influenced by Asian character brush painting Kline takes the pure form of the thumbnail sketch and elevates it to high art. The essence of the creative process.

There is not much to say about his work.  It is what it is.  Pure and clean and sublime. There is no context or narrative, simply the essence of painting. I have always admired his compositions and he is the master of the thumbnail. So the next time you are struggling in your sketchbook over a dozen preliminaries, look to Kline and draw inspiration from the master who spent his life executing thousands of paintings dedicated to this simple and limitless exercise.



Friday, December 16, 2011

Clothes vs. Costume

I had a professor once that told me that there was a difference between clothes and costumes. Costumes are what people wear when pretending to be someone they're not, while clothes are the items we wear every day.

In fantasy character design I am constantly trying to balance the practical with the fantastical. As in any other type of design form needs to follow function. When designing the garments and gear of a character in a fantasy game that will be in combat situatons and traveling to different environments and locations, I always like to refer to actual soldier gear. The past 150 years has allowed us to take candid photo reference of what soldiers actually wear into battle. Although the technology has changed over the past several thousand years, the soldier's gear has altered little.

In this photograph (ca. 1863) we see soldiers preparing for rail transport to the front. Whats noticeable is how little they carry. A small ruck sack, ammunition case and rifle. This was a direct example of form following function. 19th C. soldiers never traveled far from their supply lines and a regiment would be accompanied by camp followers and even family that would cook and make camp.

In this WWI photo taken fifty years later we see how soldier's gear has evolved. Notice that there are no backpacks. Trench warfare had ground movement to almost zero. A soldier's primary concern was protection against machine guns. These German soldiers have sacrificed all their weight allowance to armor. The high leather boots and leggings were to protect them from standing and sleeping in the mud for weeks.

In WWII, only thirty years later, the style and technology of warfare has evolved again. Warfare and combat become extremely mobile. A soldier must carry everything he needs to last for an entire mission inside enemy territory. If you can't carry it, you don't have it. Its this form following function that we see almost all armor (except the helmet) abandoned in favor of mobility and all weight allowances are surrendered to ammo pouches and gear. The entire body becomes a backpack.

In Vietnam the rule of form following function changes again. Mobility is of crucial importance, but soldiers were closer to supply lines with the use of helicopters and fire support bases. Supplies could be sacrificed to more important needs, like armor and ammo.

Today the contemporary soldier is no different that anytime in the past 5000 years. In the middle east we see new armor styles evolving. Armored vests, elbow and knee pads, as well as eye protection are essential for urban close-quarter-combat. Shattering glass and broken concrete have replaced shrapnel as threats. With no need for long marches backpacks have been replaced by water pouches. The soldier's gear is tightly packed around the torso in order to maintain balance in the rough terrain. and to move in tight quarters easily. With close supplies and support their are almost no personal supplies carried on patrol. The new warfare has also introduced female soldiers into the equation. So what does female armor look like? Its exactly the same as male armor. The US Army frowns upon kevlar bikinis.

So although as a fantasy artist I am not trying to replicate historically accurate armor I hope this shows is that we can all draw a great deal of reference from actual soldiers and combatants. The fact is that a soldier will only wear what she absolutely needs. If it does not serve a function its abandoned, and its appearance is of no concern to them. This gear is what keeps them alive. When designing characters of my own, I continually try to remember, what would this person wear to keep them alive today? I try to design clothes and not costumes.



Monday, November 28, 2011

Champions of the Heroic Tier

Thought I would share a cover I did for Wizards of the Coast. Champions of the Heroic Tier (Wizards of the Coast 2011) I'm including my original thumbnail and the final cover. Fairly self explanatory, but a fun painting, lots of fiddly bits and action!



Friday, November 25, 2011

Artist of the Month- Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf)

This month I am inspired by my daughter's interest in Peter and Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Listening to the New York Philharmonic production my daughter was enthralled by the audio and developed a whole narrative in her mind. Trying to watch the Disney version she was disturbed that the story did not follow her imagination and I quickly disposed of the rendition to allow her to imagine the story in her own way. I thought that this would be a great concept-art learning moment for students and artists to interpret the music in their own way. Attached is the audio for the Leonard Bernstein , New York Philharmonic Production of Peter and the Wolf (1960). I encourage you all to listen and interpret the story your own manner...

Peter and the Wolf-Bernstein


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Battle Cleric Redux

After my last post I decided that it might be fun to revisit my twenty year old character of the Battle Cleric. Its twenty years later and the bearded priest has leveled-up more than a few times. His adventures have left him scarred but wiser....aren't we all.

A battle hardened veteran, and still a bad-ass undead killer.



"Battle Cleric Redux"
6"x9" digital
©2011 William O'Connor Studios

"Battle Cleric"

9"x12" pen and ink
©1991 William O'Connor Studios

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

This month is the twentieth anniversary of receiving my very first commission. I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to do this work for twenty years! Its a bitter sweet reflective moment and thought I would share my memories.

In the Summer of 1991 I was studying illustration at Parsons School of Design. Although I was a Fine Arts Painting major at Alfred University my parents insisted that I should have a more practical back-up plan, and it was commercial arts or teaching. My instructor at the time suggested that I try pen and ink, since my sketchbook was filled with unfinished drawings. On his demand I rendered the image above (Battle Cleric, 1991), and promptly put away my pen and inks.

Two month later once back at University I was 
encouraged by my gaming friends that I should send off my portfolio. In an attempt to get it out of the way, and get back to my "real work" I sent off color copies and my one B&W to three publishers. TSR, White Wolf, and Isaac Azimov's. Peggy Cooper at TSR sent me a very encouraging form letter, I am still waiting for a reply from Azimov's, and I received this letter from Josh Timbrook and Ken Cliffe at White Wolf. Yes, I am so old that correspondences (and sketches) between artist and AD were sent via mail!

Within a week I called the White Wolf offices from my dorm hall phone (Yes, No Cell Phones! No Email.) I talked with them and they hoped I was available to produce 27 pen and ink illustrations for a new project "Ars Magica 3rd Edition". I agreed, assuring them that I was on the job, and that it was no problem. I was terrified!

My memories of the job are still very vivid in my mind. I remember my first thought was that I had been hired, and I had only done one pen and ink in my entire life! I didn't really know how to work in pen and ink. I went to the library and pulled out every pen and ink and woodblock artist I could find (again, no internet, just the old card catalog system!) I found Albrecht Durer, Howard Pyle, and several Golden Age Illustrators in the children's section of the local public library. These I made copies of and wallpapered my studio. If I had to render grass I found a Pyle's Robin Hood illustration with grass and copied the technique. If I had to paint wood, I looked to Durer to see how he did it. In this way I managed to scratch out 27 illustrations.

That was probably the biggest learning curve on a project that I've ever experienced. I learned more about the publishing industry, composition, design, drawing and illustration in two months than I could have learned in ten years of school. I remember that the most exciting part was that I was going to be published. In a hundred years, after I was dead, this artwork would still exist somewhere on a bookshelf.

I think what is most interesting is how different the market is today. The business of fantasy art is unrecognizable from two decades ago. There were no websites or art blogs. There definitely weren't any art challenges or portfolio reviews. There was no Comic Con and no Spectrum. This was before Magic The Gathering, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings. Before the term "Concept Art" was in reference to anything other than performance installations. Before Fantasy became an international multi-billion dollar business. It was a very small industry with very few people in it. Everyone knew everyone else. You sent them your work, and if they like you they hired you. No recommendations, no workshops, no followers or page views. No symposiums or master classes. No style guides, no R&D, no creative directors or crowd sourcing. Twenty years ago was just an artist and the art director on the phone making stuff they liked. The X Generation produced some stellar artists. Among my fellow classmates of '92 include Donato Giancola, Irene Gallo, Tony Diterlizzi, and Rebecca Guay. I'm very interested to see what the next twenty years will bring!

Enjoy this very limited gallery of a few pieces that I did for that project, twenty years ago.



Ars Magica and Artwork ©Atlas Games

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Deck of Many Things

Every once in a while you are thrown a curve ball as an illustrator and a funky project lands in your inbox. I had actually forgotten about this assignment since it was commissioned so long ago. "The Deck of many Things" was a 23 card assignment to produce playing cards that would be used as props in the game "Madness at Gardmore Abbey" (Wizards of the Coast, 2011.) Actually the deck was commissioned to be released with the D&D online magazine, and was presented as a rush job to be released the following month. With roughly twenty business days to produce the artwork I presented a mock-up image to the art director of what I felt confident I could produce under the tight deadline and still deliver on schedule. In the end the project was shelved and the rush was not necessary. (The foibles of publishing). The image shown here represents the original card back that I was rather partial to. Months afterward I was commissioned to re-design the card back because a yin-yang symbol would not be contiguous with the game universe.

Aesthetically the challenge was not to make the images look like contemporary cards, but rather like antique objects or an old woodcut tarot deck. It was a fun assignment, and a lot of work to complete 23 images in 3 weeks, but one of those assignments that only comes along once in a blue moon.



Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Accidental Artist

If there were a formula for being creative, we would all be Steve Jobs. The fact is that there is no formula for creativity. Creativity is the antithesis of formula. You can read all the books, and take all the Master Classes and workshops, but in the end despite learning all the anatomy and painting skills in the world there is no class that you can take, no book you can read, that can make you an artist.

Today was my set-up day at New York Comic Con. The Jacob Javits Center is this week the Mecca for Pop Culture. Games, Books, Movies, Comics, everything you can imagine, blitzed into your sensory receptors like a shot of heroin with 100,000 fellow junkies. As I set-up and got settled-in I walked around and was quickly over-come. After all, no human should be exposed to that much Hello-Kitty in one day. I love the fans, I love the artists, but for me its like Vegas. Its beautiful and flashy, but not Real, its all showmanship. I decided that if I were to survive the next four days, I had to center and focus myself.

Escaping the venue I jumped into a taxi and headed for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What was the opposite of massive pop-art over load?- The Japanese Wing! There I sat with my sketch book in Astor Court (left) and just decompressed preparing for the onslaught. I wandered through the rooms and was once again enchanted by the beautiful Scroll landscapes. I worked in my book and decided I would paint a large vertical landscape as my next piece.

Inspired by the idea of a landscape I worked my way to the American Wing intending to see some Beirdstadts and Hudson River Valley School artists for inspiration. I was informed that the wing was closed for renovation. With no other options I worked my way to 19th Century painting Wing, Hoping to see Corot and the other landscape masters of the Realist School.

To my surprise I discovered that the 19th Century Wing had been completely rearranged. The new director has moved in many new paintings that I had never seen before. A David Caspar Fredrich landscape was exactly what I was looking for. A new gallery devoted entirely to the Orientalists was a surprise, and an Art-Nouveau Room reconstructed with a Mucha painting was entirely new to me. What a pleasant surprise! As I wandered back into the front Gallery, I saw a grizzled gentleman that looked very familiar. In a city of 8 million I don't expect to see anyone I know, but with the show in town I took a chance. I introduced myself, and it was in fact, Michael Kaluta! Another wonderful surprise. We chatted over the changes and additions to the gallery and hoped to see one another at the convention.

The moral of the story is that to be an artist one must venture off the beaten path. Do not put blinders on to only one thing, but venture outside of your comfort zone and explore. I have a new zest of ideas and new zeal for painting that did not exist yesterday. Go out and explore! Good hunting artists!!



I recently finished my Metropolitan inspired Japanese landscape painting. It was very well received at Illuxcon and sold to an old friend.

"Race to Minas Tirith"
oil on panel
©2011 William O'Connor


The painting "Race to Minas Tirith" was selected for inclusion into Spectrum 19.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NY Comic Con 2011

Greetings Everyone!

Just a note that I will be attending The New York Comic Con this year at the Javits Center. I will have a table in the Artist's Alley at Booth #W9!
We're expecting around 100,000 attendees so come early to chat, get an autographed copy of my book, or to see what I've been up to lately.

I hope to see a lot of fans out there this weekend!



Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Persistence of Remembering

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 is upon us there are no end of articles, shows and retrospectives. Although each of us has a story and each of us has a perspective, as my readers will undoubtedly know my fascination with art is how it reflects the people and the time in which it is made. The vast array of art and words that are written today will be forgotten in a few months and a new event will fill our daily lives.

So how do we remember? What will continue to persist for our children and our children's children. The past week around the New York area there has been a flurry of activity in every city park and every town square. Volunteer groups and firemen are busily cleaning up their 9/11 memorials in preparation of Sunday's services. I have to admit that I had never really noticed these memorials before. It turns out that my town has three. With only the passage of one decade they have become as ubiquitous and invisible as WWI memorials with their army surplus howitzers.

The art of the 9/11 memorial is different because the event is different. Those that died (in every town and hamlet within a 20 mile radius of Manhattan ) were civilians. These were not soldiers who died valiantly for the survival of democracy. They were not killed on the field of battle to defend the American Republic. The 9/11 memorial functions as memorial and shrine. Most striking is the memorial as reliquary. Pieces of the World Trade Center have been dispersed around the region to be artfully arranged into neo-modern henges of broken stone and steel. Others are modest plaques copying the memorials of the previous centuries, merely listing the lost, with no aesthetic intrusion into the landscape.

However we remember the events of ten years ago it strikes me that these public creations will be the only day-to-day reminder for my children. As she grows up, and for generations to come, they will be a permanent part of the landscape, in the background of soccer games and passed a thousand times on the way to the library. What will these objects say about us in 100 years? It is obvious that they will reveal far more about those that survived than those that died.

The following images are of just a few local 9/11 memorials around the New York Region.

Be Well.


At Top:
Pearl River, NY 9/11 Memorial

Closter, NJ 9/11 Memorial

Glen Rock, NJ 9/11 Memorial

Huntington, NY 9/11 Memorial

Westfield, NJ 9/11 Memorial

Ridgewood, NJ 9/11 Memorial

Morris County NJ 9/11 Memorial

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Artist of the Month-Marcel Duchamp

"I don't believe in art. I believe in artists."
M. Duchamp

More than anyone else the face of Modernist hatred seems to be focused primarily on Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). I think this stems from a fundamental lack of knowledge and understanding, which is a shame, because his work is so accessible. Personally I love Duchamp. There's nothing to get. Its not about classical mythology or esoteric historical figures. His work is funny, self-deprecating and iconoclastic, qualities that I admire in any artist. Duchamp was the ultimate anti-art-artist. (Banksy and Warhol are amateurs compared to Duchamp). He went up against a centuries-old academy of stuffed shirt authorities with their Victorian salons and Gilded-Age aesthetics and tweaked their handle bar moustaches.

You gotta love Duchamp for the absolute punk he was. At a time of classical ateliers and Ecole de Beau Arts he was the first garage artist. Nothing was sacred to this guy. If it was classical or institutional he laughed at it, turned it upside down, drew a moustache on it and pissed on it. (literally and figuratively.) You don't have to like it. You're not supposed to like it. If you want nice, easy, likable pictures, look at Bouguereau, but if you want art that challenges, look at Duchamp. He was a crazy, Dada-Surreal, Steampunk, Mad-Scientist! The Einstein of the art world. Art became Relative. He wasn't saying that an upside down urinal is art, he is saying that ALL art is upside down urinals. 500 year old traditions of smearing colored mud on canvas with sticks is just as silly and random (or more) as bicycle wheels on stools. There is nothing intrinsically sacred or artistic about paint or marble, but rather the conceptual, creative process of the artist is where the value lies, and he reveals that with humor and sacrilegious glee. He was the first Concept Artist. If inspiring emotion is a prerequisite of art than Duchamp does it in spades. It is a hundred years later and he's still pissing people off. He makes every sophomore painting student scream in red faced wrath, "Its not Art!!" and Marcel just smiles from the grave and sardonically quips, "Exactly." For that alone Duchamp is awesome.



at top:
Bicycle Wheel
1913 mixed media
Museum of Modern Art. New York

1917 porcelain and ink
Tate Gallery. London.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

W.I.P. Dragonward

I have the opportunity to share a work in progress for a book cover that I'm painting. This is a pencil drawing and a grayscale rendering in photoshop to establish my values. The final will be in oil. I hope to share with you when its finished. I'm looking forward to working in oil for a client again. Its a lot slower but I like the process.

Once moving to paint my technique is a process of layers with some alla prima touches. I use glazes to enhance color and tone.




12"x16" oil on paper
©2011 William O'Connor

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Artist of the Month-Lucian Freud

Reflection (Self Portrait)
oil on canvas

I would be remiss if I did not do an Artist of the Month of Lucian Freud (1922-2011), who passed away last month. Called the greatest English master painter since Gainsborough, Freud was by far the most famous and successful painter of the past generation and regarded as the painter laureate of Britain. For a generation every artist who has struggled to do alla prima life studies can thank Freud.

As a student in the 1940's and an emerging career through the 1970's Freud is remarkable for his stalwart resistance to abstract modern painting. Facing contemporary painters like Stella and Rothko in America, Freud painted unabashedly figurative portraits with classical oil techniques. The first response to his work is the surface of his paintings. Having been known to work on his portraits for thousands of hours, the surface of impasto, tonal brushwork is built up in thick layers until the paintings take on an almost sculptural quality bringing dimension and life to his work. The realist and candid compositions of his subjects creates a voyeuristic mood relating the model to the painter and then to the viewer. Looking into Freud's work for me is like looking into art history. I see Courbet and Rembrandt in his brushwork and palette, as well as Manet and Cezanne in his stark presentation of the figure. Freud's work is also reminiscent of some of his contemporaries such as Alice Neel, Chuck Close and Eric Fischl.

Night Portrait
oil on canvas

In the 1980's the advent of Post Modernism and the emergence of figurative art and Neo-Expressionism, made Freud extremely popular. He quickly rose to the top of the art world where his paintings remained big sellers for the rest of his life. In 2008 his 1996 painting Benefits Supervisor Sleeping (below) set a world record for a sale by a living painter, fetching almost $34 million, and in 2000 was commissioned to paint the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

In the past decade however, Freud's legacy has been debated. Was Freud a revolutionary painter who reinvented the medium of painting and the subject of portraiture? or was he merely an artist who's popularity exceeded his talent and spawned a thousand copy-cats? Only the perspective of time will tell. This debate always takes place with the death of a great artist who is great during his own lifetime. Picasso and Monet fared well, while others like Gerome and Bouguereau were cast aside. With his passing, Freud's place in the pantheon of the art history canon will be argued and discussed by much more learned academics than me.



Benefits Supervisor Sleeping
oil on canvas

©2011 William O'Connor Studios

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mobilis in Mobili

"Mobilis in Mobili"
16"x20" oil on panel
©2011 William O'Connor

I have been working on an illustrated edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This portrait of Captain Nemo began life as a study for a larger painting, but I thought I would share it. Trying to capture the dark and exotic aire of Nemo as he sends the capitol ships of the world's navies to the bottom of the ocean!

This painting will be on display at The World Science Fiction Convention in Reno Nevada in a couple of weeks.

I've got studies and schematics on the drawing board...hope to share more soon!



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2011/12 Convention Schedule

Greetings Friends and Fans.

I entered this year resolved to not do any conventions, preferring instead to stay close to home and work. Well we all know how plans go, and it turns out I'll be doing at least three this year, and 2012 is shaping out to be pretty full! I love to see my old friends and meet fans, so I'm looking forward to an exciting convention season. I hope to see a lot of you at one of the following venues.

World Science Fiction Convention (mail-in). Reno, NV. Aug.17-21, 2011
New York Comic Con. New York, NY. Oct.13-16, 2011
World Fantasy Convention. (mail-in) San Deigo, CA. Oct. 27-30, 2011
Illuxcon 4. Altoona PA. Nov.3-6. 2011, 2011
Boskone. Boston, MA. Feb. 17-19, 2012
Lunacon. Rye, NY. March 16-18, 2012
Big Apple Comic Con. New York, NY. May 19-20, 2012
World Science Fiction Convention (Chicon). Chicago, Il. Aug.30-Sept.3, 2012

Have a Great Summer Everyone!, and I'll see you soon.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Artist of the Month-Hasui

Being a traditionally trained American Art student, Asian Art never played an important part in my education. The Asian wing at the Met was merely a short cut to the Armor Room. I was familiar with Japanese art in as much as it influenced the Impressionists, and in my early work I illustrated extensively for AEG's Legend of the Five Rings.

In 2005 however, I was in Chicago and had the opportunity to see an exhibit of Japanese woodblock prints at the Art Institute. It was one of those formative experiences that you don't expect or look for, but changes the way you work for the rest of your life. Represented were Hiroshige, Hokusai and most importantly Hasui Kawase (1883-1957).

Directly influenced by his predecessors in the tradition of woodblock it was obvious that Hasui was also influenced by western modernism in his simplifying of forms, dramatic compositions and cinematic use of lighting. I was mezmorized by these alluring, beautiful and candid snapshots of an Asian landscape that straddled the 19th Century woodblock tradition and the 20th Century modernism.

Today Hasui's influence continues as evidenced by contemporary artists like Hayao Miyazaki (1941-present). Every time I watch Ponyo or Totoro with my daughter I see his influence, and his images are some of the few prints I have hanging in my home. I am glad that my daughter is being exposed to this amazing artist long before I ever was.

To view an extensive gallery of Hasui's work, and acquire one for yourself visit:

Hasui Print Gallery