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March 5th, 2012

The Lyssa Challenge

I previously posted the official results of the Art Order/Black Gate “Lyssa” challenge. It was fun to look at all the great entries, and a challenge for me to decide not just who to elevate to my top ten, but how to do it.

Whenever I judge an art show like this, particularly if I am looking for a “Best in Show” or the equivalent, my first pass is entirely emotional. A few will stand out immediately. My “favorite,” if I can use such an absolute term, is generally the one that I most wish I had painted. My top two revealed themselves pretty quickly.

But then it gets difficult. When there are over a hundred to choose from, how do you break down the third, fourth or fifth place candidates? I decided to lay out a spread sheet with all the numbered images and five categories, for which I assigned a number from one to five. The categories were:

ART, meaning the basic craft of the rendering – light & shadow, quality of shape and line, color, anatomy, brush-handling, and all those academic qualities;

DESIGN, a catch-all for the quality of the conceptual look of the character, layout of the image, and composition;

ORIGINALITY, which speaks for itself: Have I seen this before? Can I identify the inspiration? Or is this a new vision born of itself?

NARRATIVE: Is there a story suggested here? Is something happening or about to happen? Does the image tell me more about the character than just what she looks like? Narrative is the single most important quality of good illustration. In the end, this turned out to be the tie-breaker in several cases. 

REFLEXIVE RESPONSE: That’s a poor title for the fifth category, but after I’d narrowed the field down to twenty-five or so images, I assigned each a number based entirely on my emotional reaction to it. This category may have been a bit of an outlier in that it’s entirely subjective, and yet art is always subjective one way or another. It’s hard to say why one illustration moves you when another, perhaps better-rendered and technically superior painting does not.

 I have ten favorites and some runners-up that deserve mention for merit of one aspect or another.

 I’ll start there.

 RUNNERS UP (in no particular order):

Aaron Riley’s Lyssa is wicked cool! I love her arms and hands and the flow of lines. I only wish those glowing bands had been less hard-edged. Outstanding composition. Excellent and confident handling. Great job.

Sidarth Chaturvedi’s Lyssa has more narrative power than all but a couple of paintings. I like the Asian turn of Lyssa and her attire, and the colors and composition make for a compelling bit of story telling. A little more control of values might have pushed this one into the top ten.

Filip Burburan’s Lyssa is detailed and complex and very original. There’s lots of story potential here: are those dragons alive? Carved into the tree behind her? Is she bringing them to life? Turning them to wood?  Nice! A little more modulation of light and gradation in the highlight-to-shadow transitions, perhaps. Very strong.

Jason L Carr pulled Lyssa out of her comfortable fantasy universe and dropped her into a suburban sci-fi fantasy instead. Though perhaps Jason pushed the description of Lyssa to its limit (giving her only a scarf of white and gold) I found the originality of the approach great fun. The shotgun is lit by a mystery light source that illuminates no other thing in the picture, and there are some other minor lighting miscues, but the details and rendering are otherwise rock solid. Nice job.

Jeremy Wilson’s Lyssa is imbued with mystery, and set in beautiful light, deftly handled. Enigmatic and original.

Dallas Williams’ Lyssa, a gorgeous young lady, studies her tomes. The composition is very nice. I’m not sure what she’s looking at, but the face and figure are alive. A little more care in the lighting of the scene could have really sold it (the dress is whiter than either of the light sources, for example, and the rest of the lighting is arbitrary in places). But the overall impact is very good.

Oscar Perez turned in a painting with lighting issues and anatomy trouble, but the graphic quality totally drew me in. I love the colors and textures, the Klimt-like mass of black hair with its adornment of beads, and the glowing lemon-colored bangles on her wrap. Something about it kept drawing me back in.


There are too many to comment on them all, but some of the others that caught my eye:

Alex Stone,  Alexander Nanitchkov,  Angeline Thong,  Ari Targownik,  Ashley Stewart,  Bendik Berg,  Beth Trott, Dagmara Matuszak,  David Brasgalla,  Elisabeth Alba,  Graeme McCormack,  Herman Lau,  Immar Palomera,  Kim Sokol,  Marcel Mercado,  Michael Berube,  Michael Thom,  Milivoj Ceran,  Mitchell Malloy,  Niko Photos,  Pete Deidrich,  Ryan Valle,  SC Watson.

The official runners up were Michael Anthony Gonzales Aaron RileyHerman Lau Aaron Holly,  and Mitchel Malloy.

I wish I could go on commenting on all the pieces turned in, but I simply don’t have the time…

The top ten were extremely difficult to sort out, and as I write this I’d love to call them all tied. Can I do that? Maybe I can break it down a little more than that, but any such judgment might not feel right tomorrow, or later when I read this on Black Gate or ArtOrder. It’s that close, and the qualities that form the basis of the decision are so different from piece to piece that they’re almost impossible to quantify fairly.

But here goes.

10:       Rafi Adrian Z has painted a scholarly Lyssa. Her costume is simple but stylin’. I love the addition of the eyeglasses. She seems quite self-assured and perhaps bemused that we are bothering her. But what captivated me most about this painting was the amazingly deft and spare brushwork.  The rhythm and flow is deceptively easy. The shapes are loose and expressive. It’s confident, painterly. Less isn’t always more; sometimes it’s WAY more. Bravo!

9:         Aaron Holley has a very deft and confident hand. Nice movement, good colors and lovely, sumptuous brush strokes. One of only two images that chose a POV above or below the normal eye-plane, and the foreshortening is well done. Very nice dragon, too! An especially nice touch is the glow of the dragon’s eye on her hand.

8:            Michael Anthony Gonzalez created a classic, formal composition with Lyssa’s black hair and soft flesh tones setting her apart from a swirl of white and gold. Her face is arresting, her pose demure: “Shh. The dragon is sleeping. Don’t wake the dragon.” No kidding, don’t wake the dragon! You never want to wake the dragon. I wish the modeling on the dragon had been a little more complete, though it’s an accessory according to the art order itself, But all in all a very pretty and satisfyingly quiet Lyssa.

7:         Ruk Trumata’s Lyssa is gorgeous and wistful. I love her face. Her costume is gorgeous and gorgeously rendered. The light on the figure is handled really nicely. I like her staff and the beautiful shapes the wind makes of her billowing sleeves and hood. But best of all, she has a monkey! Who doesn’t want a monkey? The only thing holding this image back at all: the background is so stark in places that it competes for attention.

6:         Tyler Walpole’s Lyssa delivered in every category for me: the painting is solid, the handling of light and texture is all adept, the costume is distinctive and complex and interesting and original, and the narrative is dynamic. While other paintings might have better brushwork or more clever costumes or equally intriguing tales to tell, Tyler delivered solidly on every count.  A complete illustration. Well done.

5:         Josh Godin gives us a Lyssa who would be at home in the dark streets of Shadowrun. Completely original, from her electric blue eyes to her glowing gas-mask to her camo skirt to her red high-tops. Street-wise and casually dangerous, and utterly unafraid to stand next to her wanted poster with her thumb out. On my next corporate run, I want her on my team.


I’m going to pause here and restate that I agonized over these choices. Any one of these might be number one tomorrow or the day after. My numbering scheme is of no use here, at last. In the end I have to listen to my emotional response and choose the ones that I have the most positive reactions to.

And so:

4:         Anna Steinbauer has nailed the lighting in this snowy mountain scene. The skin tones are perfect. The movement in the figure and skirts suggest that she might have been running but a moment before; the wind is blowing in any case. “You see that I can summon a mystical spirit ibex, do you not?” she might be saying. “Now what are you doing on my mountain? Be gone before I summon a herd of mystical spirit yeti.” Beautiful balance of colors and values. Excellent!

3:         Allen Douglas wins the prize for winsome fun! The only roly-poly Lyssa in the bunch made me laugh out loud—a children’s’ story-book Lyssa with patches on her knees, pink ballet slippers, and goggles.

2:         Jason Rainville set the narrative bar very, very high. Holy crap! While the costume and concept are dynamic and bold and utterly fearsome, the narrative is subtly, menacingly, horrifically implied entirely in one insane eye. Why does she have these crazy living snake sculptures under her cloak? Are they part of her? Are they companions or tormentors? Where has she been? How did she get this way? Dear lord, Jason: see a doctor.

1:         David Chen won me over in the final analysis with a triumph of rendering. The textures are rich, the lighting sublime, her skin soft and alive. She is, perhaps, more princess than wizardess, and yet she might kill you where you stand with her fireball. I could quibble over the lack of light-effect from that flame, but the colors and shapes and brushstrokes just draw me in. I could look at this for hours. It’s the one piece I most wish I had painted, which is the final point of arbitration for me. Outstanding.


So there you have it. That’s how I called it, based on artistic and design skills, originality, narrative power, and shere emotional response. There were four other judges whose ingredients were churned into the final recipe: Jeff Easley, David Deitrick, Jeff Laubenstein, and Lauren Panepinto. The top five finishers were all in my top ten, so I’m happy with the results. As I might have mentioned, it was always close! Instincts alone broke some of my ties, and if I judged it again today I might not come up with the same answer. 

The official top five were:

#5 Anna Steinbauer; #4 David Chen; #3 Jason Rainville; #2 Ruk Tumata, and #1 Josh Godin (all their links can be found above).

I regret that I don’t have links to all of the portfolios of these many talented painters. Google and the original Art Order post should reveal most of them. Once again, congratulations to all who participated, and kudos to the top however-many.

Posted by Todd in Blog Home

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One Response to “The Lyssa Challenge”

  1. rebecca says:

    incredible! i saw the list some time ago and didn’t realize it had been added to. i really need to look at all these artists more closely- it would also be excruciatingly difficult for me to choose any favorites.