Passion Projects: How to Keep the Fire Burning

For artists and designers who make their living off their craft, burnout is inevitable. Thankfully most burnouts are temporary. But how do you pull through those "dark nights of the artist/designer soul"?

One way to rekindle the fire is the concept of "Passion Projects." A Passion Project is simply a non-commissioned side project, an artist does for themselves, possibly for their portfolio that is just plain FUN.

Many artists/designers at this point may protest, "But I don't have time!"

My response is that for your own sanity, and for the quality of work you want to maintain for your clients, you need to make time.

How to choose a Passion Project for yourself:

  1. Challenge yourself with something you want to learn. In my case I wanted to learn to paint digitally.
  2. Choose something you love no matter how crazy it is. For me, I often do a mash-up of crazies. For my project, I worked from my obsession with the G.I. Joe-A Real American Hero action figure card art of the 1980's and the timeless music of the punk rock band, The Misfits. I'm a huge fan of the Misfits brand as well as their music and absolutely love their "Fiend" mascot.
  3. Take your time. Think marathon, not sprint. Many of my passion projects are accomplished over a period of weeks and even months.
  4. Have fun. There's no pressure here. If it becomes burdensome and stressful, it's probably not a Passion Project. (Unless of course you're just experiencing the growing pains of learning a new medium.) Feel free to put it down for a while and come back to it. In fact sometimes you have to because life gets in the way. But the important thing is that you are staying creatively active and challenged in between client projects.

So there you go. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay challenged. Go start a Passion Project.

DEATH TROOPER: Inspiration from the Past

I recently finished this piece for Skipro Toys. When he offered me the job, I immediately knew what well of inspiration to draw from.

The project is for a short run of vintage Kenner style "Death Troopers" in celebration of the new Rogue One movie in which the character appears. So there is a cool retro vibe already present if you're taking into consideration where Rogue One fits in Star Wars chronology.

So I wanted a retro feel. But not JUST a Kenner retro feel. So I began looking at old issues of the 1970s Marvel Star Wars comics that were all over the place visually. Then it came to me.

The sky opened and Inspiration fell like an anvil from Heaven.

Most are familiar with the old, controversial EC Comics from the 1950s that caused an uproar due to their violent and unsavory content. But whatever one may think of these books, they had some great art and some iconic covers.

I scoured the internet for photo references and finally stumbled across this brilliant Harvey Kurtzman cover...

Epic. Completely epic. So with respect to Harvey Kurtzman, this is the route I took.

Special thanks to Skipbro Toys for letting me be a part of this awesome undertaking.

SHOGUN FETT: Remember the Giants

I never had one in my youth, but by far one of the most impressive lines of action figures were the 24" Shogun Warriors licensed and released by Mattel in the late 1970s. A few years ago, I bought some off Ebay but ended up reselling them as they were just so huge. (And they had wheels on their feet which made me scared they would roll off my shelf and plummet to their doom.)

As a child, I had several of the 3 and 3/4" incarnations of the characters. "Dragun" was a personal favorite of mine. I also recall a 30 minute Shogun Warriors cartoon on HBO I watched a myriad of times. And I had several issues of the 1970's Marvel comic by the same name.

Last year Skipbro Toys was doing another cool release, this time pairing the 3 and 3/4" Shogun Warrior line with Star Wars's Boba Fett. He invited me to do the card art and I was happy to oblige.

The awesomeness that such a challenge entails is everything I love about being both an artist as well as a toy fanatic. So I began scouring the internet for some inspiration. I pulled out some of the old Marvel comics and got to work.

As you can see, as is typical for most 1970s box art, the packaging is breathtaking.

The more I looked, the more I noticed one image kept emerging as a sort of iconic Shogun Warriors image. It was the headline character, Mazinga, posed in the following position over and over again...

And by the way, do you remember how awesome Colorforms were?

So I settled with a look and feel that harkened back to the greatness that was Mazinga and began with the preliminary sketch. I believe I cranked this out real quick in Manga Studio.

Then I puled the sketch into Adobe Illustrator and began tracing the forms and blocking in basic colors...

Then once I had things blocked in I bring it all into Photoshop and begin adding highlights and shades. This is my favorite part, because this is where it all comes together. And if you haven't done your due diligence in the early stages, things typically fall apart at this next point. Thankfully this project was pure joy from beginning to end.

And here is the final product.

Trading Card Wrappers: Disposable Genius

I'm a child of the 80's and for that I am forever grateful. In terms of pop culture, the 80's spawned some of the most enduring intellectual properties that have lived on to our current day. Transformers, Star Wars (I know the original was 1977, but still), He-Man, Thundercats, Tron, Dark Crystal, the list goes on and on.

One thing that went hand in hand with these IP's of the 1980's was trading cards. Every cool show or movie that came out had a line of trading cards to go with it. I remember my Mom and Dad taking me to the drug store a million times to buy ANOTHER pack of Dark Crystal and Tron trading cards in hope that I'd get the 2 cards I was still missing to complete the set.

Funny thing I never understood. There were times I had the compulsion to buy trading cards for things I had no interest in... Close Encounters, Rocky, Mork & Mindy, DUNE!

Why?

As a child I didn't know. But as an adult graphic designer and illustrator, I know exactly why. It was the dang awesome art on the waxpack wrapper.

The formula was simple. 1. Wax paper. 2. Mediocre to poorly drawn line art. 3. Three to four bright Spot colors with terrible registration.

That's all it was, but it was enough to stir joy in my soul enough to want them. A few months ago I went on Ebay and began repurchasing just the wrappers to study, and for inspiration to have on hand. And I'm so glad I did. The following are my own designs/my loving Homage to the Topps Waxpacks of days gone by. Enjoy!

Stranger Things Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Stranger Things Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Skelepatch Kids Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Skelepatch Kids Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Misfits Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Misfits Wax Packs, by Tim Baron

Enter Manglors: Repainting a Childhood Memory

One of my earliest childhood memories is going to a department store with my Dad, and buying a toy with the single most amazing box art (painted by Ken Kelly) I've ever seen.

Enter the MANGLORS!!!

Behold the box for Manglord! This was the first Manglor figure I got.

Behold the box for Manglord! This was the first Manglor figure I got.

Anyways, within the box there was an egg which housed the Manglor figure. Which also was a pretty awesome idea. You were supposed to be able to pull the figure apart and stick him back together and combine him with other figures from the toyline.

Problem was it didn't work.

Probably the greatest example of a crap toy sold purely by the box art alone. At least to me it did. That being said the toy execution was the only bad part of it. Like I said, the box art was awesome, what the toys were supposed to do was awesome and the alleged mythology behind the Manglors was awesome.

The image of the Manglord figure was forever burned into my psyche as a child. Internet searches turn up a scant few poor photos and scans, so I decided I needed to repaint the image.

I've been doing alot of digital painting as of late and so for a couple hours a day for about 6 weeks I worked on this. I finally finished it the other day. And a laborious process it was. But a labor of love.

Here is some of the process as well as the final image.