May 31, 2010


Another small drawing for The Stranger, advertising the Sasquatch Music Festival. This is the first time I have ever drawn a sasquatch (no Yetis either). I am surprised I rode out that fad a couple years back.

AD Aaron Huffman.

May 26, 2010


Time for some non-Hobbit updates, folks.

Here is a small drawing I did for an article in the Seattle Stranger about suicide and the Aurora Bridge. Read the article here. AD Aaron Huffman.

Some other small mentions:

-I was recently featured on We Love You So a few days back. It's a really swell blog cataloguing some of the influences behind Spike Jonze' Where the Wild Things Are that now serves as a general site that posts great stuff.

-Even more recently the super-talented Morgan Schweitzer featured my work on her blog, Monster Casserole.

-Last but oh no not least, Irene Gallo of Tor Books wrote a blog post featuring a number of charming and dissenting opinions on the ranking of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings vs. The Hobbit. For some reason my opinion is also there, sandwiched between John Howe and Mattias Adolfsson. You may know some of the other artists: Ted Nasmith, Justin Gerard, Stephen Hickman, Michael Kaluta, Donato Giancola, and Ian Miller.

More Hobbit drawings when I get to it.

May 24, 2010

Gollum 2

Gollum's getting weirder. Some of these are good, some of these are bad. I'll let you tell me what's what.

I really like that Gollum isn't given much explanation in Riddles in the Dark. It makes it a lot stranger and a lot scarier. Bilbo just wanders further down into the mountain, having escaped the goblins, and finds this pool. The narration tells us that there are other things in the old mountains besides Goblins; things slithered their way in when the mountain was still young and stayed. After being nearly killed by the goblins, Bilbo finds something that eats those goblins there at the heart of the mountain. And on top of all that, it lives by some weird code and agrees to a riddle contest with Bilbo? So weird. Gollum is the strange midpoint between the dark unknown and the familiar.

May 20, 2010

Gollum 1

A small confession: I am much more attached to the Rankin Bass Gollum than I am to the Weta version. Don't get me wrong, Andy Serkis did a stand-up job and the animation was groundbreaking and it makes a lot more sense in the long run, but come on. What's more interesting to look at? This guy or this guy? Those Rankin Bass guys were out of their minds on a lot their designs, but their Gollum is hilarious and great.

Anyway, Gollum is described as being slimy and dark as darkness, with long thin fingers, big lamp-like eyes and six teeth. He has pockets or at some point in the past has pockets.There are only small allusions to Gollum living outside of the cave and even smaller ones to him previously being a hobbit. I've been thinking a lot about all of the weird versions of Gollum that have cropped up over the years (a bunch compiled by Carson Ellis here), though many of those don't make a lot of sense in my version. I don't think Gollum can be be much bigger than Bilbo, if he has to resort to throttling goblins from the shadows to kill them. I picture him a lot like the corpse of a frog man, or like some little crustacean always between shells.

Only a few of these are alright, but they are a good starting point.

May 17, 2010

The Hobbit, part four: process

Alright, so, here continues the series of process posts for my Hobbit pieces. I'm going to try to streamline these a bit since a lot of the things I'll be talking about have already been explained about as far as I'm capable. I like to try to change up my process a little in each personal piece so I don't get bored and so things stay fresh.

Obviously, though, everything starts with thumbnails:

At this point I was freaking out a little bit. This was what I had accomplished through Friday, with the piece to be delivered the next Wednesday. I knew the approximate scene that I wanted to illustrate but not the proper moment, vantage point, or action. Kali was away in Chicago so I didn't have her around to help me out (like she always does). Things weren't working in the drawing or the composition, and before a sketch or thumbnail can click, you need to get at least one thing right. When you're working alone and the only eyes on a drawing are your own, it's easy to get discouraged.

I took some time off. I watched Moon, took a nap, got some coffee, and thought about what I wanted. I'm usually an advocate of letting your hand work a sketch out rather than your mind, but when one tool's not working you need to turn to the other. I knew that I wanted the dwarves chained at the bottom of the piece, and that led to placing the viewer amongst them. Once you have one thing working, it's easier to place the rest of the pieces where they need to go. After a few more bad drawings, I hit on something I liked:
I took Gandalf's figure out of the piece entirely, since Bilbo and the dwarves see the sword before they see the wizard. The piece immediately became stronger with the focus narrowed on the dying figure.

Up to this point I was drawing using a few different col-erase pencils, which I had never used before (and you can't tell because these images are in Grayscale). They're really nice to sketch with, since you have a larger range of values and you can really work a single sketch out without obscuring too much. They're also about 50% cheaper than the basic pencils at my local art supply store.

After I solidified a couple of things in the composition, I took the thumbnail into the computer and started moving things around digitally. I'm not 100% comfortable drawing digitally, but it's great in the early sketch phase because you have so much control over everything and can move and resize and play with value effortlessly. These were the thumbnails that I built up, and the numbered ones are those that I sent to Kali for her input.
At this point I was dealing with a slightly different part of the story than I ended up with. Immediately before the Great Goblin is killed, the bonfire is snuffed out and begins spewing blue smoke which shoots sparks into the goblin hoard and kills a lot of them. This is a super cool image and it would have been great to draw all of the goblins in their death throes, but it would have required a lot more work to maintain the clarity of the scene and time was very against me. I changed it a bit and focused the lens even more narrowly on the Great Goblin's death.

I printed this thumbnail at 8.5x11" and redrew things a bit before rescanning and drawing further.
I worked out the Great Goblin's position and the dwarves a bit further and printed it at my working size, which was around 12.5x17.25". I spent some time sketching out the goblin hoard on a few sheets of paper before drawing it all together in a more comprehensive final sketch in light blue pencil on rag marker paper.
Here are my underdrawing and the final drawing, which was done on matte duralar. I really liked how my final drawing looked when layered over the sketch, and I figured I could work it into the final somehow. I remembered this post on Adam Rex's blog about using an original sketch as something of a texture layer under black lines. Adam did it 100x better than me, but it's something I'll be looking into further. This is how the two drawings look scanned:
Having the underdrawing in the final piece roughened things up a little and, I think, helped maintain some of the original charm. I think I ended up setting the layer to Multiply and lowering the opacity a bit. The little "x" marks are in places I intended to fill with solid black. I didn't draw that in since most of my coloring is done with the line layer turned off and it helps me to see where the blacks are going to go while I'm doing that.
Here are my two layers of flats. The first is a simplified layer which I use to block in colors and the second is the one I use to make selections. When I'm trying to figure my colors out, I don't necessarily need the same amount of detail in the flats as when I'm making selections. The simplified flats are easier to deal with when I'm just looking for the general, overall color.

The blue smoke and lack of additional light sources in the scene lent itself to a pretty specific color scheme.
I liked a lot of these alternate color schemes, but none of them were exactly right. Luckily, by this time Kali had returned and could help me out a lot. I usually shy away from cool colors, but it was called for on this piece.
Here are the final colors I went with before going into the rendering and texturing stages. I rendering things out in the same way as usual, but with a few different Multiply layers to add more shadows and depth to the smoke and main figure. I compiled a few of those steps into one image below:
And a few details of the rendering with the lines removed:

The little vertical lines are from a brush that I made from a pencil texture I've used in the past. I really like to turn textures into brushes so I can really layer them on without using a ton of new layers and inflating the file size. I was a little leaner with my texturing and rendering on this piece compared to the last several since I knew I wanted to keep a lot of my black lines and figured that too much texturing and rendering in addition to the black lines would look too messy. In general I am trying to draw more and focus less on digital tricks, and finding that balance is a really interesting challenge.

Here is the final piece in a little higher res for your examination:

May 13, 2010

The Hobbit, part four

"Suddenly a sword flashed in its own light. Bilbo saw it go right through the Great Goblin as he stood dumbfounded in the middle of his rage. He fell dead, and the goblin soldiers fled before the sword shrieking into the darkness."

Chapter 4: Over Hill and Under Hill

Click to enlarge.

At this point in the story, Bilbo and the dwarves are crossing a mountain ridge when they are are kidnapped by a hoard of goblins and taken into a cavern below. The Great Goblin recognizes the Elvish weapon Thorin carries as one that had slain dozens of goblins and goes mad with fury, leaping up and preparing to devour the dwarf. The great bonfire goes out in a pillar of blue smoke as Gandalf appears and kills the Great Goblin and many of his soldiers and the prisoners beat a hasty retreat.

Phew. That was a tough one.

I mentioned in the previous Hobbit post that I've been trying to work more with my unaltered linework, and that continues here. I'm realizing that there are places where it's appropriate for me to remove lines or color lines, but it's not quite the necessity that I used to feel like it was. I think this piece is more successful than the last in that regard.

I'll make a process post on this when I can, but don't expect it before Monday. I really appreciate any comments that you have on these pieces, as always.

May 6, 2010

Great Goblin 5

Those silhouettes up there are just warmups to get my hand moving properly, not serious ones. That secret stuff block isn't actually for an exciting new project, but it's from some freelance stuff I can't show yet, so there we are.

Anyway, tooling around with the Great Goblin some more led to these drawings. I didn't spend too much time making these look super nice, since I really need to just get booking on the thumbnails for this piece and needed to work a few things out for my own benefit. Necklace of skulls, wooden leg. Alright, ready to go.

I thought briefly about having the necklace of skulls being of the different races the goblins go to war with or conquer or whatever: Dwarves, eagles, and wargs (though they're buddies, the goblin chief might still want to show his dominance over them). HOWEVER, I have not designed the eagles or wargs and I don't want to shoot myself in the foot in case I come up with cool designs that don't adhere to those skulls. SO, dwarf skulls will probably have to suffice.

May 3, 2010

Gigantic melancholy and gigantic mirth

A small ink drawing I did for Steven at Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!, a wonderful blog devoted to drawings of literary figures, both character and authorial.

I've been a big fan of Robert E. Howard's Conan stories for a little while now, (Jose Villarrubia turned me onto the books and some of the early comics) and I'm really particular about which depictions of Conan I like and which I don't. I feel like a lot of illustrators just draw a really muscle-bound guy, a lot like the Schwarzenegger Conan. That's totally fine, but not really what I think the character is about. A much smaller sect of illustrators is able to tap into the actual character and draw something that is more along the lines of Howard's descriptions. Frazetta did it, Buscema did it, Brom does it, Gary Giani did it, and Tomas Giorello (who does the current Conan series) does it pretty well.

I always, always picture Conan just covered in scars, old and fresh. He's the toughest guy in the world, but never one to shy from a fight and certainly not a guy who's going to worry about parrying every minor hit. Conan is strength and impulse more than technique in his younger days, and I imagine he's had his face smashed in more than once.

I hope to do something Conan related eventually.

May 2, 2010

Great Goblin 4

I couldn't resist doing some more silhouettes for the Great Goblin here. More of these are working, I think, specifically 12, 14, 15, 17, and 18. I've got some stuff in mind for clothing and armament, so I should have some of that stuff up before too long. I'm still not quite sure whether I like the larger, more impressive horns or the smaller ones. They both say different things about the character.

Have you guys been looking at Picturebook Report? Kali and Andrea put up some crazy good pieces in the last couple of days. Can you believe we're doing all of this for you? It is sometimes hard to believe.