Monday, April 21, 2014

My First Job for Wizards of the Coast - Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: Xorn

Xorn - Linked from the Escapist

About a week ago at PAX East, there was a Dungeons & Dragons panel where they spoiled some of the artwork for the upcoming 5th Edition. And since a painting of mine was shown before the audience in attendance for the panel, I think now is as good a time as ever to announce that I did my first work for D&D that will be published in the 5th edition Monster Manual!

Thanks to Mike Mearls for posting this photo from the D&D panel at PAX East on his Twitter!

The creature I painted is a classic D&D monster called 'Xorn', and since my artwork was included as part of the D&D panel it was put onscreen before a room-full of D&D fans, which is a pretty awesome feeling. D&D is a game I really admire and miss playing, I'm very happy that I finally got the chance to be a part of it's creation, especially in time for this brand new edition to come out.
Shot of the audience for the D&D panel at PAX East 2014. From Mike Mearls Twitter

This was my first job for Wizards of the Coast and I consider it a huge step-forward for my career. I'll be making another post soon to share some of my journey towards landing my first job on D&D for anyone who's interested.
Article on the Escapist on D&D 5th edition and showing some of the art, one of which is my Xorn!

Lastly, I just want to extend a big thank you to everyone who's taken the time to look at and critique my work, and give me feedback and encouragement. Extra special thanks to Jon Schindehette for giving me my chance to work on Dungeons & Dragons and to D&D veteran artist Chris Burdett who really helped guide me through my first job with Wizards and helped me keep my head on straight! This has been a huge goal of mine for a while now, but it's not time to slow down, gotta keep on moving ahead.

(I've only posted the versions of my artwork that I found online, I'll be sure to update this post with higher quality images once I get word that I'm allowed to).

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Origin Story of the Head of Uulhj: “Jowls of the Mad”

Head of Uulhj: “Jowls of the Mad”

 An Origins Story by Kevin Holmes

Head of Uulhj: "Jowls of the Mad" painting by Mike Burns

Far removed from the world’s surface rests a network of caverns lined by the drool of the Uuhlj. In time since lost, a demonologist cult sought to unleash chaos onto the world by opening a gateway to a dimension of pandemonium, only to become quickly overcome by the madness they had sought to embrace. With much difficulty and after much death and destruction, a band of demon hunters with a foundation of experience backed by powerful curse wards and sanity charms was able to hunt down the Uuhlj. Though the demons were immortal, the hunters sealed them away in one of the darkest corners of the underground, binding them completely and leaving them with no possible means of escape.

Innumerous years passed as the stories of the demons, their cult, and even those who fought against them were lost to time, yet the demons remained, furiously gnashing against their indestructible shackles. As their bonds did not break, their bones began to twist, their flesh tearing over eons as their heads severed themselves from their torso. With their bodies bound, these demon heads drifted off through their vault to aimlessly roam the long since abandoned connecting tunnels.

Uuhlj are fearsome in a way very different from an adventurer’s traditional encounter in that they are remnants of an immortal terror and cannot simply be defeated. Though incredibly slow in nature, their sheer presence emits a terrible aura of madness, causing the afflicted to suffer from a range of detriments ranging from paralyzing confusion to sinister and murderous suggestion. Often those unfortunate enough to encounter the head of the Uuhlj are more likely to find themselves backstabbed by befuddled allies than they are to get reach the fiend’s proximity. Should the demon ever wrap the shambles of its jaws around an unsuspecting victim, that person’s mind would surely be lost to madness forever.

Careful preparation is the cornerstone of living through an encounter with the head of an Uuhlj. With the aid of powerful curse wards or sanity charms, adventurers are able to approach the demon heads from a careful distance. At a range, the Uuhlj’s already tattered skin can be torn further with much resistance, and though it is impossible to kill one entirely, mangling one beyond recognition would certainly immobilize it, though the demon shreds may still prove problematic to those who encounter them in the future.


Kevin was an old roommate and good friend of mine from college, and he has a good head on his shoulders when it comes to designing monsters and their back-stories. I didn't have anything super specific in mind when I painted this piece, but Kevin saw it and then wrote up his own idea for the origin of this monster, which I was very excited to include here in my blog. It was a fun experiment and I hope I we get the chance to do this again in the future. In the mean time, if you liked Kevin's story, you should follow him on his twitter page. He's in the process of building up his web presence right now, but if you're interested in seeing some of Kevin's future projects that would be the perfect place to be to find out about them. Thanks Kevin!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The birth of the "Head of Uuhlj"

I was at the laundromat recently without anything to do while waiting for my laundry to do it's thing when suddenly I pulled out my sketchbook and started doodling. As usual, I started out sketching a bunch of not so great drawings that looked really bad, but after enough tries I eventually came up with a sketch I liked and would later wind up painting...
"Head of Uuhlj"
Jim Pavelec's new demon book "The Golden Ones" was finally distributed, and since I donated enough to his Kickstarter for it I got a copy. It's a really amazing book full of some very impacting, and creepy artwork. It made me really want to sit down and take another stab at designing my own demon, and that's what I had in mind when I did the following sketch...
1. Initial Drawing
1. A tight drawing leads to a tight painting, so it's good to really put the effort into nailing the drawing. Looking back, there are a few things I could have described better at this stage, but overall I was happy with what I came up with.
2. Flat colors, hints of form
2. Here, I laid in some flat colors to help me separate the creature from the background. I knew I wanted this painting to have strong shadows, with a feel of emerging from the darkness, so I filled a layer with a dark purple to unify the colors and to give me a good base from which to build up my lighting.
3. At this point, I'm starting to figure out all of my forms and I'm trying to introduce some color variety so it has more life to it. Trying not to get too detailed.
4. Here, I introduce a spotlighting effect. This is where I decided that I would leave the lower half in shadow and illuminate the top half. I'm really thinking about the mood I want to get from this piece. I also hint at the lighting off camera with the red in the lower left and the glow in the upper right.
5. Pushing the lighting, trying to describe the tumorous forms on his face, borrowing a trick I saw in Donato's Mechanic tutorial video. I also decided this needed to exist in an environment, so I came up with the idea to add a staircase to help lead the eye up and around the piece, and I echoed the staircase in the background to give the piece some depth.
6. Since my environment is mostly blue/purple and along with the help from Stephen Najarian who gave me a paint-over critique, I came to the conclusion that red just wasn't working for a back-light, it just didn't make sense in the environment, so I in some bluish bounced lighting into the shadows, to make it feel more like it was a part of the setting, plus it gives a good hot/cold dynamic between my highlights and shadows, also added some colorful glow to the steps. I originally called this piece DONE when I reached this point...

7. Final
7. ...but then I got another really helpful paint-over critique from Sam Flegal, who encouraged me to punch up the colors and contrast in my values. I also got a lot of feedback saying that he should be more wet and slobbery. So I took another couple passes at the piece and I'm really glad I did because I think this new version has a lot more impact than before.

I mentioned on my Facebook that I had something special in store for this guy, but I'm leaving that for the next blog post, so come back Friday and check it out. Thanks for stopping by!