And Now For Something Completely Different

As many of you already know I started my art career as an illustrator working in science fiction and fantasy. This was back in the mid eighties and before computers were tools for artists. Computer games looked like pong and pacman not like a blockbuster movie.

I still work in games and in Science Fiction and Fantasy and recently had the opportunity to contribute to a book called SciFi Art Now. John Freeman is the editor and has a blog where he is interviewing some of the artists for the book. My interview is here with a link to a download of this step by step demo in .pdf format.

My piece in the book was made digitally using my own photo reference and 3d models and combined and painted in photoshop. For this piece I painted right on the plate (photo) although this isn’t always how I work digitally it is an effective tool to quickly sketch ideas and bring them to completion. The following is the step by step process I used to make Marooned.


I started with a photo I took on a painting trip to the Sierras in Eastern California. The sandstone looked melted and gave me the idea for a crashed spaceship. I got down on the ground to shoot the small sandstone rocks from a worms eye view.


1. I  separated the foreground from the sky into two layers. Using a hard brush, selecting local colors and the eraser tool I began to make the framework of the spaceship.


2. I created a third layer for my figures around a fire and established some color to get the general feel of how it will fit in the scene.

3. Next I painted some walls with portholes to make the ship seem familiar, again using the local colors in the photo to keep the sense of light.


4. I continue to add more hard edges and machine like shapes and establish a horizon line with mountains in the distance.
5. I rough in the figures around the fire on another layer. I paint them all in warm hues so they will stand out against the rest of the scene. I make one figure female and the two sitting figures male to create a subliminal tension for the scene. Next I created a sky gradient on another layer. This will be my basis for the stars and planetoids that come next.
6. I create stars by using the noise filter then selecting a limited color range and copying and flipping the selection. I do this a couple of times adding a layer each time and make a color pass over each version to vary the look of the star field. The last thing I do is go in and hand paint selected stars with the airbrush tool before collapsing the layers back down.


7. I build and light the planetoids in 3ds Max and then import the images on to their own layer in Photoshop. At this point I collapse all of the layers except the figures and fire and then manipulate the colors and values to harmonize the scene. I want everything to be covered in dust to give the sense of the passage of time, unifying the color does this and I choose a color that will compliment the tones in the fire.

8. To finish the painting, I collapse the whole image and adjust the color for the figures and add more detail around them. I work all over the image fixing and adjusting where I think things need it.

Tom Thomson


Armand Cabrera
Tomas John Thomson was born near Claremont Ontario Canada August 5, 1877. One of ten children he was raised in a rural area on a farm where Thomson developed a love of the outdoors and nature.
Thomson tried different jobs during his twenties apprenticing as a machinist for a short time , attending business school and working as a commercial artist. He tried to enlist for the Boer war in 1899 but was refused because of his health.

It was in 1909 after securing a job as an engraver for Grip LTD that he began to paint in his spare time. The other employees included Franz Johnston, Arthur Lismer, Frank Charmichael and Fred Varley. These men would later form the Group of Seven along with AY Jackson, JEH Mac Donald and Lawren Harris. Though Thomson painted with these men he was never officially part of the Group of Seven.

Thomson continued to work as a commercial artist until 1913 when he decided to try and paint fulltime. He never realized his goal and found side work as a guide, fire fighter and ranger to help supplement his income. Thomson painted many outdoor sketches of the untamed northern wilderness. It is this raw and rugged aesthetic that he is best remembered for. His strong graphic design and bold, sometimes crude brushwork captured the spirit of the places he painted.

Thomson died unexpectedly, in 1917 at the age of 39, of a possible drowning accident. Since his death his art has come to stand as Canada’s first national art with little connection to Europe and its influences. The work of Thomson and the Group of Seven still has a powerful influence stylistically on Canada and its subsequent generations of artists who respond to its bold honesty.


The Group of Seven and Tom Thomson
David P. Silcox
Firefly Books 2003


The source of our art then is not in the achievements of other artists in other days and lands, although it has learned a great deal from these, our art is founded on a long and growing love and understanding of the North in an ever clearer experience of oneness with the informing spirit of the whole land and a strange brooding sense of Mother Nature fostering a new race and a new age… ~Lawren Harris

Virginia Workshop 2015


Armand Cabrera

I just finished up a studio painting workshop here in Virginia. These are the 1 hour demos I did each day. Demos are a great visual tool to convey the information I discuss with students during class. When I started teaching one of the rules I made for myself was to train myself to demo every day in a reasonable amount of time so students still have plenty of time to work on their own problem solving during the class. Each class is different sometimes the class is an outdoor painting class and sometimes it is focused on studio painting. Each of those situations have their own set of challenges. 
When I was taking lots of classes I found it frustrating that some teachers could not or would not demo in class so I made sure I did when I started teaching workshops. I also didn’t like teachers who showed up with a finished painting in class and pretended to paint on it for students. I believe working from blank canvas to finish on a painting for students is one of the best tools a teacher has for conveying the art process.

In each demo I focus on a different aspect of problem solving using my approach to the subject. These are always geared towards the students interest and so the demos vary greatly from workshop to workshop. In this instance the things people were most interested in were forest interiors, water and trees without any foliage on them.