Beowulf - Process

I had the great pleasure of illustrating a comic book style version of Beowulf for Heinemann Publishing, and was honored to have it included in the Society of Illustrators West, 52.  I thought it would be informative to go over some of the process of making this story come to life - because it was a HUGE challenge!  (Nothing like starting a comic book to bring you to your knees and humbly learn to walk all over again.)  I have to give great credit to art directors Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for giving me so much freedom on this amazing project. 

I'll use the spread below to show how things evolved from initial brainstorms to finish.  Here we find Beowulf diving into the lake that is the entrance to Grendel's lair, battling terrible monsters in his path.  Watch out, Beowulf!  Mother's behind you!

It all starts with the manuscript which needs to be broken down into panels on a page.  I was given a completed manuscript and, in this particular case, was given freedom to develop the layout of the panels myself.  I'd scribble and sketch right into the manuscript any characters and layout ideas that popped up.  Here are a few examples from some different pages.

As you can see, these are SUPER rough, really sketchy thumbnails.  At this point I'm brainstorming.  I don't know what the characters look like yet, but I'm jotting down story ideas.  If flow and layout seem to work on a small scale they should be able to translate to a larger size. 

Character designs did need approval eventually so the main characters were all developed roughly around this time.  Here are the main crew: Beowulf, King Hrothgar and his Queen, Grendel, and my favorite, Grendel's mom.   Quick note here that after approving the designs the publishers requested Grendel and his Mother be clothed in some way since this was a book for the educational market. 

Because the story takes place in ancient "Viking" times, this project took an enormous amount of research to get the correct feel for characters, time, and place.  This includes clothes, armor, architecture and all cultural elements.   I actually really LOVE the process of researching and gathering reference for these stories since it ends up being truly educational for me.

The crazy scribbly thing below is a thumbnail spread that has been enlarged and copy placed into it.  Enlarging a thumbnail is a surefire way for you to start weeping in your hands.  Believe it or not, these thumbs do have enough information for me to proceed to the next step.  There's still a lot of tweaking involved at this stage.  The layout on the right still felt confusing so it got developed some more before it got to the final stage. 

After receiving some feedback and any other changes to layout/copy, it's on to final drawings.  Somehow I have to translate all the scribbly gobbledy-gook of my thumbs into drawings that make sense.  The thumbnail above got turned into the drawing below.  I received another round of feedback on these final drawings to make some more adjustments here and there before moving on to final painting.

This is a good time to mention reference photos!  I needed to take lots of reference shots in order to accurately draw forms.  I can guarantee that any illustrator you know has more than a few embarrassing reference photos like these lying around.

While I awaited approval on final sketches I decided to solve color problems.  It's much easier and faster to do this on a small scale so I used my early sketchy thumbnails for this process.  All spreads were laid out and I keyed out the color scheme of the story from start to end.  Similar to color scripting a film or animation, I wanted to use color to emphasize certain moods, major changes in story arcs, or place settings. It was at this point I discovered that having the page be a black background instead of white would enhance the dark mood of the story.  I made this suggestion to the art directors and happily they went with it.

After some more back and forth with the art directors to fine-tune drawings with the layout and placement of text, it's off to final art!  I figured out my color problems already so I used the color script I made as my guide.  In this case, the art directors requested that each panel be painted as a separate image, not all together on one page, so they could make additional changes easily if needed.  Here we have final art, painted digitally, pieced together into their final positions and awaiting copy.

And below are the printed pages.  You'll see there was a small change made to one of the panels to help clarify for the young reader what is happening. There's always a bit of push and pull with these complex projects and small tweaks and changes can come through to the very end.


And that was my process for completing Beowulf from manuscript to the finished page.  I hope this is helpful for some people to see.  Illustrating a comic book is a very involved process with tons of work, but oh so rewarding! 

If you'd like to see the full set of illustrations for Beowulf minus the copy, please click here.  Thanks for reading!


It's been a couple years since I finished this project but I can finally talk about it!  I illustrated this comic book version of the classic story of Beowulf, being published by Heinemann for the educational market this year.  Specifically, it's the last in a series of stories aiming to help young, struggling students learn how to read. This was such a challenging project and so rewarding.  I'm thrilled I could be a part of a project that helps teach and foster a love of reading, and hopefully beyond that, a love of stories.

My art for Beowulf was accepted into the Society of Illustrators West, 52 exhibition.  Many thanks to art director and designer Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for the opportunity to collaborate on such a fantastic project, and allowing me lots of freedom.

Below are the spreads for Beowulf, minus the text and bubbles.  Click on an image to enlarge.  Enjoy!


Oil Painting Portrait Studies

Three head study portraits I've been taking alla prima portrait painting with Felicia Forte and the weekly studies have been so much fun.  Plus it's just nice to get back into oil paints again after being away from it for so long. The workshop is limited to using the Zorn palette.

This shows three quick studies in a single 3 hour evening session: top is 60 minutes, bottom left is 45 minutes, and bottom right is 30 minutes, completed in that order respectively.  It's a great exercise to make quick color and value decisions in a limited time and really force yourself to simplify shapes.  Always. So. Much. To. Learn....

Oil Painting

While I'm busy working on another book, I've been dipping my toes in oil paints again, taking an ongoing workshop with Felicia Forte.  Fun and extremely challenging.  For every step forward there are two steps back.  This particular portrait was one I was happy with.  3 hour session using the Zorn palette.  It's fantastic to paint from a model again. Portrait in oil paint


Society of Illustrators West 52, Exhibition

Beowulf graphic novel

If you're around town in Burbank, CA this week,  I invite you to come to the opening of the Society of Illustrators West 52 exhibition at the Center Stage Gallery.  Opening reception is this Friday, March 7th from 7-10pm.

My work from the graphic novel Beowulf will be be exhibiting along with all other works accepted in the juried show.  I can't make it myself this year but there should be tons of fantastic art to check out!

Find more info on the exhibition here.



Society of Illustrators West, 52

Beowulf graphic novel I learned over the weekend that one of my art pieces was selected for the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles, 52.  Many thanks to all the judges!  An exhibition of all selected works will be taking place at the Center Stage Gallery in Burbank this spring, March 7 - 30, 2014.

This image is from an interior spread of a graphic novel version of Beowulf, and the entire project has been one of my favorite and most challenging to date.  I can't name the publisher just yet - the publication date keeps getting pushed back and it is now slated for 2015.  However, I do have permission to show the work!

Many thanks to ADs Dianne Cassidy and Kathy Reynolds for selecting me for this awesome project and for all the freedom they allowed me from start to finish.  Also a big credit to designers Kathy Meisl and Michelle Groper for putting all the intricate pieces together for the final book!

I'll show more work from Beowulf and share a little bit about the process in future posts.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl

Last summer I worked with National Geographic Learning on an educational children's book and it's finally published!  Here are a few images from Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl children's book

Reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, these two star-crossed lovers are part of an ancient Aztec myth that describes the origin of 2 volcanoes in what is now present day Mexico.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl children's book

What's particularly cool about the timing of publication is that the volcano Popocatépetl has just started erupting again.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl children's book

According to the myth, the erupting volcano is the soul of Popocatépetl yelling at the gods and the sky, calling out to his great love Iztaccíhuatl who died in his arms and remains a silent, dormant volcano sleeping by his side.

Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl illustration

Dutch-Flemish Oil Painting

It's been so busy this past year and while I am unable to share any of the projects I've been working on just yet, I can share progress on single painting I've been working on in Sadie Valeri's classical atelier in San Francisco.  Sadie teaches the Dutch-Flemish method of oil painting and I thought it would be a fantastic way for me to get back into oils again, having not worked with the medium since college. I chose to paint a small skull of a marten, an animal related to the weasel, which I already owned and a copper mug that was part of Sadie's collection of objects.

Unfortunately I neglected to take photos of the process from the beginning so I don't have any pics of the drawing on it's own and the open grisaille layer by itself.

It starts here, with the beginnings of closed grisaille over the open grisaille.

The open grisaille is study of the value range of the subject in Burnt Umber only, without any white paint, leaving the white of the canvas open in the light areas.

The closed grisaille uses a mix of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue, and White. I mix a string of gray values using these colors and flesh out the values of the painting even further, sealing the canvas fully in paint.

Over the closed grisaille I began to lay down color.

This technique is a slow process and I only have the opportunity to come in once a week to work on it.


This is where the painting is now, with two additional layers of color over the grisaille.  There will be more layers and more detail eventually added to the copper mug which has a great weathered and beaten up texture on it.

And finally here is the still life set-up and my palette on a given day.  I likely have several more sessions to go before this is complete.


My artist friend Julia Lundman has also been working on a painting at Sadie's atelier and she has written extensively about the process on her blog.  I highly recommend checking it out!


Jerry - The Boy Who Could Not Fail

Jerry - The Boy Who Could Not Fail My latest collaboration on a children's book is out!  Last fall I partnered with the Boomer Esiason Foundation to illustrate a children's book based on the childhood of Jerry Cahill, a long-time survivor of cystic fibrosis.  Jerry - The Boy Who Could Not Fail is a positive and inspirational story for kids on how to overcome obstacles in life.

Jerry - The Boy Who Could Not Fail

Working with Jerry on his story was an incredibly humbling experience and it's given me a new outlook on how to approach the sometimes bumpy road of life.

Jerry Page 6

When he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at 6 years old, Jerry was told he wouldn't live to be 16.  And yet he beat the odds and is now 56, still going strong and working to keep his mind and body healthy even with such enormous challenges to face.

Jerry page 18-19

Jerry learned to fly by competing in pole vaulting and he now coaches the sport in high school.  He is a rock star and a spokesperson for the Boomer Esiason Foundation.

To learn more about the incredible Jerry Cahill I encourage you to check out his new site You Cannot Fail, based on the mantra his parents taught him to get through the tough times.  You can also visit the Boomer Esiason Foundation for additional information on cystic fibrosis.

Jerry page 26-27


My Gecko is Sick! - It's baaaaaack!

Malal Yousafzai My friend Lisa Wong and I have revived our shared sketchblog My Gecko is Sick.

"Like Lisa mentioned in our previous post, we recently came across this article: 

In response to this depressing lack of representation of an entire gender in media, we wanted our next theme to be a series of images highlighting great female heroines, both real and fictional.

Malala Yousafzai was just in the news again yesterday, speaking out for the first time since her attempted assassination by the Taliban for her belief and fight for the education of girls.  (Really?  Why are the Taliban so frightened of a 15 year old girl?)  Undeterred, Malala is starting a fund to continue to champion the right of girls to receive a education in Pakistan.

If this isn’t incredible bravery I don’t know what is."

Emerging Artists Exhibit - AGBU Young Professionals

Sorry for the lack of posts!  I've been super busy all year long with projects that I can't post about yet.  But I can tell you about a charity exhibit I'm participating in this weekend.

The Emerging Artists Exhibit is organized by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) and will be held at the SomArts Gallery in San Francisco.  Myself and 5 other artists representing different visual mediums will be showcasing our artwork throughout the weekend.

Opening night is Saturday, December 1st at 6pm.  The event is ticketed, $15 at the door, and all proceeds will benefit the Greenhouse Initiative Charity for Armenia.

Drop by if you're in town and want to help out a great cause!

Colorado Watercolors

Just returned last night from a gorgeous trip to Colorado for a friend's wedding.  My boyfriend and I had some time to go explore the epic mountain ranges over the few days we were there.  We stopped in San Miguel canyon for a breather where the rock walls were saturated a deep crimson from the iron in the earth oxidizing on the surface.  I can't even begin to show you how crazy beautiful Colorado is.

Leo Dillon, 1933-2012 I'm so sad to hear about Leo Dillon's death over this past weekend.  One half of the mega-artist team of Leo and Diane Dillon, Leo's work with his wife Diane has been hugely influential to myself and countless other artists.  With impeccable design, draftmanship, and an acute sense and celebration for cultural diversity, their art has a sensuous quality that resonates and invites your eyes and mind to linger.  My sympathies to Diane, and I hope she will continue to create such gorgeous works without her life partner.

See some more of their work here through the Lines and Colors blog post.


My filing cabinet was in dire need of a good clearing for quite some time and I finally tackled the challenge last week.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover this little old piece from back when I was a student at CCAC in the illustration program.

I believe this is a classmate, Ryan, who sat to pose for me while I drew him in pen.  Looks like I then laid some sepia washes down, along with a couple spots of more saturated orange and highlights.

I honestly can't remember what the Lumberjacks reference is about.  It shall remain a mystery...