Category Archives: Art

Zhichao Cai

Visual Inspiration: Zhichao Cai

I’ve been ramping up my research for The Bell Forging Cycle, Book IV and while browsing through my Pinterest boards, I kept coming across the work of Chinese illustrator Zhichao Cai also known as Trylea. Since I found his work inspiring, I figured it’d be worth it to take a moment and share some of my favorite pieces with you.

When it comes to mood boards, I tend to like grimy and dank cityscapes occasionally interrupted with bright splashes of neon. So my eye is always drawn to pieces that show clusters of humanity. Trylea’s work has that, but it also differs significantly. It’s mainly due to his use of color. Even his densely packed cities are awash with a vibrancy that captures a unique and frenetic energy—it makes his work stand out, and his pieces serve as a good reminder that even in concept art we don’t need everything to be grim.

I included a small gallery of some of my favorite work below.

You can check out much more of Trylea’s work on his Zcool page, that seems to be where he shares most of his work. He also posts high-resolution versions as well as some process shots. It’s worth spending some time on his page. You can also find him on Behance, and he has some work on Art Station. If you’re not a member of any of those sites, I encourage you to join and give Trylea a follow.


If you like Zhichao Cai’s work be sure to check out some other illustrators and concept artists I’ve shared in the past:

The Poisoned Garden Continued

The Poisoned Garden Pt. 2

Way back in February, I wrote a post about the debut of Kari-Lise’s latest series, The Poisoned Garden. Well, I am excited to share that the next installment will premiere Saturday in Melbourne, Australia as a part of Beinart Gallery’s upcoming group exhibition: Dreamer, Lover, Maker, Fighter.

I love this series, and I’ve enjoyed watching her create each piece. There is a narrative richness in The Poisoned Garden that I find quite appealing. Each piece carries a shadowed sense of wonder tinged with beautiful melancholy. They’re haunting. I’ve included a few of my favorites in this post, but I’d encourage you to click here and check out the full show. It’s amazing.

Kari-Lise Alexander — "Picking The Perfect Poison #2"
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Picking The Perfect Poison #2” in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — 'When You Bite The One You Love" Detail [Left] In the Studio [Right]
Kari-Lise Alexander — ‘When You Bite The One You Love” [Left] Detail [Right] in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — "Collection"
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Collection” oil and graphic on paper, 8″x10″

Unfortunately, neither of us will be in Melbourne for the opening this weekend, but if you live nearby, you should swing by and check out the work in person. There’s a luminous quality that is impossible to communicate via the screen. The opening is Saturday night, June 2nd, from 6pm–9pm and the show will be on display through June 24th. Contact the gallery with inquiries about any particular piece.

Kari-Lise is planning a print release as well. If you’re interested, I recommend you sign up for her newsletter. It’s an excellent way to stay up to date on what she’s doing.


🎬 Overlooked Details

If you haven’t taken the time, make sure to watch the short documentary about Kari-Lise’s work: Overlooked Details, An Artist’s Journey, directed, edited, and filmed by Scott R. Wilson. (It partially documents her work on Inflorescence.) It’s fifteen minutes long and very much worth your time. It’s a raw, heartfelt, and vulnerable glimpse into her journey. I’ve embedded it below, and I recommend watching it full screen. You can view the full credits here.


🖼 Previous Work

Interested in seeing Kari-Lise’s previous shows? I’ve written about them before, and I’d encourage you to check them out, there is some excellent work, but it’s also amazing to document her growth as an artist:


✨🎨✨

The Poison Garden

The Poisoned Garden

This weekend, Kari-Lise and I will head to Portland, Oregon for the opening of VEILS at Talon Gallery where Kari-Lise will be debuting the first five pieces from her 2018 series, The Poisoned Garden. The show opens on Saturday, February 17th, and we’ll both be in attendance. If you live in Portland or the surrounding area come on by and say hello. We’d love to see you. The opening reception is from 6pm–9pm. The exhibition will be on display through March 12th, 2017, and it is both free and open to the public.

I’m so stoked this is finally reaching the public. There is a narrative aspect to The Poisoned Garden that really draws me in as a storyteller, and the series is shaping up to be a favorite. Kari-Lise is really throwing herself into the work, and it shows. Afterwards, you’ll be able to view all the pieces at Talon Gallery’s website, feel free to contact the gallery directly to inquire about any particular piece. I’m excited the initial debut of The Poisoned Garden is finally seeing the light of day.

Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Find” (Detail)
Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Find” (Detail)

Kari-Lise Alexander [Left] “Summer Dream” 10″x10″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Alone Amongst the Irises” in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — [Left] “Summer Dream” 10″x10″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Alone Amongst the Irises” in the studio
There are a few more pieces in this set that I’m not previewing here. To see them you’ll need to subscribe to Kari-Lise’s newsletter or come to the show. A collector’s preview is coming later this week, it’s easy to sign up: click here to subscribe.


🎬 Overlooked Details

If you haven’t taken the time, make sure to watch the short documentary about Kari-Lise’s work: Overlooked Details, An Artist’s Journey, directed, edited, and filmed by Scott R. Wilson. (It partially documents her work on Inflorescence.) It’s fifteen minutes long and very much worth your time. It’s a raw, heartfelt, and vulnerable glimpse into her journey. I’ve embedded it below, and I recommend watching it full screen. You can view the full credits here.


🖼 Previous Work

Interested in seeing Kari-Lise’s previous shows? I’ve written about them before, and I’d encourage you to check them out, there is some excellent work, but it’s also amazing to document her growth as an artist:


See you Saturday, Portland!

✨🎨✨

Building Better Mountains

Making Magnificent Mountains

Coal Belly, my current project, is a sprawling steampunk-ish adventure novel that spans the mountains, cliffs, and ridges in a world of interlocking rivers. To keep track of characters and locations, I began maintaining a map. The story takes places in a technological era similar to the post-reconstruction United States, around the 1890s. Because of that, I wanted my map to capture the styles of maps from that period. The sort of thing a cowboy would have in their saddlebag. Which meant I spent some time on Old Maps Online.

While researching, I noticed there was a shift in the late 1800s in how cartographers drew mountains. Earlier in the century, most mountains were rendered as illustrations. Cartographers would draw little adorable ranges as a representative of the mountains. It’s a common enough style, and one I’m sure you’ll recognize. You can see this style in this map from 1832.

Map of the Western State (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832
Western States (Detail), Daniel Adams, 1832

This is a standard approach and one appropriated by most fantasy cartographers today. It’s a style I’ve used in past maps. It works well and definitely lends a touch of antiquity to a piece. But, Coal Belly is more modern than that. When I started looking at mountains in maps made later in the century, I noticed there was a shift. Cartographers moved away from the illustrated ranges and towards an early topographical style. You can see the shift in the maps below.

United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
United States (Detail), David Burr, 1875
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia (Detail), A. J. Johnson, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886
Kentucky, Tennessee (Detail), Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1886

It’s a fascinating change and one I really liked. Since most of my own fantastical cartography work is done in Adobe Illustrator, I began experimenting with creating brushes. Each of the maps above was drawn by hand so recreating a similar feel took a lot of experimentation. Different brush styles and widths. Eventually, I settled on pattern brushes based off a series of random strokes. I feel like I got really close. You can see my handiwork below.

Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.
Sample of my 19th Century Mountains brushes in use.

I made twenty brushes, with a variety of line styles and densities. They tend to work best as separate strokes and then tightly grouped together. And because they’re vector based they can be adjusted for any size project. There’s a lot of ways to adjust the overlaps for corners and such. They’re quite versatile and can be blended and combined in numerous ways.

Quick sample using the brushes — with more time I'd focus on typography and color to give the map an antique look
Another quick sample made in Illustrator and Photoshop using the brushes

I ended up scrapping these mountains for the Coal Belly map, as they interfered with the map’s legibility, especially on eReaders. But, I think they would be the perfect fit for the right project. Which is why I’m giving them away for free. Just click the download button below and you can use these mountains brushes in your own project.

Download 19th Century Mountain Brushes

No Illustrator? Download the Photoshop Brush Set1

These brushes are designed for Adobe Illustrator and are licensed under a Creative Commons 4.0 International License. So they’re FREE to use for personal or commercial work, and I’m not looking for any attribution. That said, I would love to see how others end up using these brushes. So please reach out and let me know! I’m not looking for any payment, but if you want to support me consider buying one of my books.

[Update 11/27/2017] Thanks to some friendly help from cartographer and designer Martin von Wyss over at the Cartographer’s Guild I was informed this process is called hachuring. Hachure maps are still in use today, in fact. While my brushes don’t follow the rules necessary for informative real-world hachure maps, they still imitate hachuring enough to work for fantasy cartography.


1 It needs to be mentioned that the Photoshop brushes are significantly limited compared to the Illustrator version. These brushes were designed to work along paths so the mountains will look hand-drawn. While you can use the brushes in Photoshop there will be limitations. They’ll look more stamped and less custom.


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Kari-Lise Alexander's WAKE

WAKE [Update]

As I posted previously, I spent the weekend in Los Angeles, California for the launch of Kari-Lise’s latest body of work, WAKE. While I’ll have more to share about the trip in the future, I wanted to write a quick update letting everyone know that the whole show is now available to view online! Just click below and check it out. It’s incredible.


View WAKE at Thinkspace Gallery ↦


This was Kari-Lise’s first show in the L.A. market, and it was great to see so much support. The crew at the gallery were wonderful. The show looks amazing in the space. I was telling a friend this morning that it was nice to see the pieces hanging on a proper wall. A few fans even made treks from San Francisco and San Deigo to check out the show! Our trip was a blast and it was a whirlwind of a weekend.

Opening Night at Thinkspace Gallery
Opening night at Thinkspace Gallery

If you’re in LA, go check it out. The show will be on display until April 22nd. You can also read more about WAKE and Kari-Lise’s work at any of the links below:

Kari-Lise Alexander's WAKE

WAKE

This weekend, Kari-Lise and I will head to Los Angeles for the opening of her latest show, WAKE at Thinkspace Gallery. The show opens on Saturday, April 1st, and we’ll both be there. If you live in L.A. come on by and say hello. We’d love to see you. The opening reception is from 6pm–9pm. The exhibition will be on display through April 22, 2017, and it is both free and open to the public.

For the last year, I have watched Kari-Lise work through the creation of this show, and I have been amazed by the outcome. I couldn’t be more proud. After launch, you’ll be able to view the full show at Thinkspace Gallery’s website, feel free to contact the gallery directly to inquire about any particular piece. Kari-Lise is also sending out a collector preview to anyone subscribed to her newsletter, subscribe here. I’m excited for WAKE to finally launch so everyone else can enjoy the series. There’s a lot to love.

Night Garden in the Studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Night Garden” in the studio
[Left] <em>"Surface"</em> 2016, 12"x12", Oil on Panel [Right] "Wake" 2016, 36"x 36", Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander — [Left] “Surface” 12″x12″, Oil on Panel [Right] “Wake” 36″x 36″, Oil on Panel
Coyote in the Studio
Kari-Lise Alexander — “Coyote” in the studio
Kari-Lise Alexander "The Arrow" 24"x12", Oil on Panel
Kari-Lise Alexander — “The Arrow” 24″x12″, Oil on Panel

If you’re interested in the work from Kari-Lise’s previous shows, I’ve written about them before, and I’d encourage you to check them out. In late 2015 she released A Lovelorn Theft, earlier that year she shared her 2014 work in Inflorescence. She’s had other shows as well, and you can see these and more of her past work at her website, kari-lise.com.


If you haven’t taken the time, make sure to watch Overlooked Details, An Artist’s Journey, it’s the short documentary about her work, filmed by Scott R. Wilson. (It partially documents her work on Inflorescence.) It’s very much with your time and is an amazing glimpse into her journey. I’ve embedded it below, and I recommend watching it full screen. You can view the full credits here.