Commissions Are Open!

Here are a few of the personal commissions I've done over the course of the last year. Check out the Illustration and Sketchbook sections of my site for more examples!

If you're interested in commissioning an illustration, shoot me an email at

8"x10" graphite

4"x4" pen & ink

4"x4" pen & ink

12"x12" pen & ink

11"x14" pen & ink

8"x10" pen & ink

4"x4" pen & ink

4"x4" pen & ink

4"x4" pen & ink

4"x4" pen & ink

Carden Illustration Gift Guide

'Tis the season to torture yourself trying to think of unique gifts for your loved ones! No one wants to be the impersonal jerk who gives out gift cards (although we all secretly love to get them...) Well fret no more, I have some really cool gift ideas that will help you win the holidays this year. Carden Illustration orders ship USPS Priority Mail, so domestic orders placed before December 20th should make it by Christmas (according to the USPS website). Packages do not include an invoice or any pricing information, so feel free to ship the order directly to the giftee. You can even opt to have your item gift wrapped for $5 more. If you don't see what you're looking for here, there are lots of other prints available in my store and on my Etsy page. Happy Holidays!

1. For the true crime fans and history buffs in your life...

Pair the H. H. Holmes Murder Castle jigsaw puzzle and/or the print with New York Times Bestseller The Devil In The White City by Erik Larson. Hidden within the Murder Castle illustration are details about the case that are outlined in Larson's book, making it the perfect companion. Holmes himself is hidden within the image, too! The package includes an info sheet about the hotel to give it some context. Perfect for any true crime or history fan, whether they've heard of Holmes yet or not! 

2. For the coloring enthusiasts in your life...

Pick up a pack of Prismacolor colored pencils and some Colorables! With four different zoo-flavored designs available, Colorables are printed on high quality Bristol, ideal for colored pencils. They come with a sheet of sturdy board to lean on so you can color anywhere, and at 11"x14" they are a perfect size for framing when the coloring is done!

3. For the diehard Ramones fan in your life...

Got a punk rocker in your family? They'll dig this pen & ink portrait of The Ramones along with their 40th Anniversary CD/LP Set! The portrait is a high quality 11"x 14" print of an original drawing I did just this year. What better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the best punk album ever made!

4. For the macabre H. P. Lovecraft readers in your life...


Know any readers of dark and twisted literature? They would die for this watercolor painting illustrating H. P. Lovecraft and his Great Old Ones. Paired with this beautiful edition of The Complete Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, it's the perfect way to express to your macabre friend that you love and accept them, even though they're kinda creepy.   

Illustrating "Who Killed Cock Robin?"

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly,
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.

Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my little trowel,
I'll dig his grave.

Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.

Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.

Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.

Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.

Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.

Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
we'll bear the pall.

Who'll sing the psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.

Who'll toll the bell?
I, said the Bull,
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.

All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.

Animals and birds are some of my favorite things to draw, so I took illustrating this odd little nursery rhyme as an excuse to do just that. The rhyme lists fourteen different species and I wanted to represent them all fairly realistically. Studying each creature and learning to draw it well enough to adapt it to my own composition was a wonderful exercise, and I learned a ton about birds! 

To offset the literal representation of the characters and their roles in the story, I chose to compose them in somewhat symmetrical, shield-like forms that complement the lyrical style of the writing. This was my first experimentation with watercolor - and color in general - so I opted to use a minimal palette for each piece. I hoped that the color would not only represent the passing of time (dawn, midday, dusk), but also the mood as the animals deal with the death of their pal Cock Robin (violence and anger, solidarity and support through community, sorrow and grief). Below are my color test sheets for each of the paintings. 

The original paintings, each 5.5" x 8.25", are currently on display at Springhouse Gallery in Smyrna, TN. If you're interested in purchasing the originals, email me at

Making the H. H. Holmes Murder Castle

I was first introduced to H. H. Holmes a couple of years ago when I read Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, a fascinating account of the serial killer's unbelievable career. Then a few months ago, one of my favorite podcasts, The Last Podcast on the Left, created a great 3-episode series covering the H. H. Holmes killings. It was while listening to these episodes that the thought of drawing the Murder Castle occurred to me. 



For those unfamiliar, H. H. Holmes was a charismatic young lady killer who constructed a hotel, timed perfectly for the Chicago Worlds Fair, which operated as a massive murder machine. He used it to systematically trap and kill young women, then clean and articulate their skeletons to be sold to universities. The hotel was riddled with trap doors and hidden rooms, where guests would be trapped and tortured before ultimately being thrown down the chute to the basement. To fully understand the drawing without reading the book, I encourage you to watch this short documentary which covers the basics quite well.

One thing I do wish to make clear is that I in no way intend to glorify what H. H. Holmes did by drawing the Murder Castle. In fact, I will go on record now as being profoundly anti-murder. However, one cannot deny the sheer brilliance it took to pull this off. I can only imagine what this man would have been capable of had he used his powers for good rather than evil. This illustration is intended to supplement books and podcasts on the topic and to help people visualize how the hotel that Holmes built might have looked and how it was used.

The Murder Hotel drawing started as what was supposed to be a quick project I could knock out between jobs and an excuse to take a whack at a 3D cutaway illustration, which I've always wanted to attempt. Naturally, I got a bit more into it than I had initially intended, but overall it took about a months work. My special gentleman friend, Andy, volunteered to help with the research and prepared several pages of notes and reference material. (Thanks, Andy!) I stuck them all to my desk and began sketching the framework of the building.

The most challenging part was plotting out the structure of the hotel and deciding how and where to cut away. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible, so I used the original blueprints and some excellent drawings by Rick Geary to guide me. 

Once I had the structure of the exterior of the building down, I placed a sheet of vellum over it and started breaking it down floor by floor, deciding where to cut away in order to show as much as possible. The chute and hidden staircase that ran through the heart of the hotel was to be a primary focus, so I put those in first and built the rest around it.


After lots of adjusting, erasing, and making a mess, the sketch was finished and ready to scan. I think it took about a week to get to this point.

I printed the sketch at a low opacity on a sheet of heavy Bristol and began the ink drawing. I don't normally print the sketch on the paper, usually I ink on a sheet of vellum placed over the sketch. However, in this case, the lines didn't have to be quite as sharp as some of the other drawings I've done (the Colorable zoo, for example), and I thought that some of the values of the sketch could show through and add help to some dimension to the finished picture. It worked out well, and I far prefer drawing on Bristol to vellum, so I'll definitely be using this method again.

In an attempt to keep my greasy finger prints off the paper, I started wearing this dumb fancy glove that I had lying around from my halloween costume. It is now my special fancy drawing glove and I use it all the time.

A major aspect of keeping the drawing organized was managing the line weight. If the lines were all the same width, it would be difficult to tell where the exterior ends and the interior begins. I kept a little guide with four key line weights that I would use to check my consistency as I worked.

By this point, I was making some pretty tough decisions about the level of detail. My instinct is to fill in every space with as much detail as possible, though I feared that it would be too muddy and confusing if I did that here. So I used restraint and kept the surface details to a minimum. I didn't realize how much color would help organize the picture, so I now wish I'd gone with my gut and detailed the crap out of it. Lesson learned.

One of the best things about drawings like this is it's hard to get bored. Whenever one area becomes tedious, I can just move to a different area and draw something else for a while. 

Weirdly, I experienced next to none of the existential dismay and panic that typically comes with a project like this. I think because it didn't seem arbitrary in any way, entirely founded in interesting fact. It was extremely enjoyable from start to finish.

It took about a week to finish inking the drawing.  

Once scanned, I spent a few hours in Photoshop cleaning up mistakes and minimizing any visible white out marks. Next I started blocking in color. Since the image is so complex, I knew the color palette must be pretty minimal. I used this image for color inspiration, sampling all my colors from it:

I separated the exterior and each floor into its own layer group to keep the file as organized as possible. I don't do an awful lot of coloring - to be honest, I tend to avoid color whenever possible - so I tried to use this as an excuse to learn.

Once all the flat color was done, my next challenge was to light the thing. It was tricky, because there were two lighting structures to consider: the lighting of each individual room, and the lighting of the entire cutaway building as an object. Plus, I haven't really done anything like this before, so it was a little intimidating. But wow, it was so much fun to go through and turn the lights on! 

Here is the finished piece and some detail shots. Definitely a lot of things I would change were I to do it again, but overall I'm really pleased with how it turned out. If you're interested in the H.H. Holmes case, I highly recommend reading The Devil in the White City. Also, Martin Scorsese is turning it into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Holmes.

Update: My sister, Bethan, is an avid Sims player and built the Murder Castle for the game. Go here to download the house and the H. H. Holmes character!



Making the Illustrated Map of Nashville

I knew my way around Nashville pretty well before, but after spending hours studying, sketching, and then intricately drawing the entire city from the river to West End, I can pretty much get from anywhere to anywhere without thinking twice. No thanks, Siri, I got the nav on this, girl! I should probably host one of those silly segway tours you see zipping around town. 

I was asked to create the map during my internship at Anderson Design Group. The shop is on the Nashville Trolley Tour and gets a lot of tourists coming through, so Joel wanted an illustration including all of the most popular tourist spots and local businesses, from his shop to the river. Holy crap that's a lot of spots. Step one was to figure out how to frame it all in a single image.

Once I figured out the orientation and where the major streets would lie, I got to work plotting as many locations as I could into what I call the SUPER ROUGH! (This is the rough draft of the rough draft.) 

While I was able to edit out lots of the smaller streets and buildings, the map did need to be reasonably accurate while including every place on the list, so plotting everything out took a long time. Dawn, who runs the front desk at Anderson Design Group, reviewed it and gave me notes. 

After establishing which locations had to be included and where they should go, I blew up my super rough to 150% actual size and printed it off. Using tracing paper over the print, I redrew the map adding distinct characteristics of each location and other details. 

Drawing an entire city from an aerial perspective without a helicopter is rather challenging. I had to use several resources so that I could turn the buildings around in my head to get the perfect angle, including multiple reference pictures per location, Google Earth, and Google Maps Street View. Google Earth is actually getting pretty damn sophisticated; while many places were still only available in 2D, much of the city could be viewed in pretty helpful 3D imagery. I have no doubt that very soon I'll probably be able to take an aerial screenshot of Nashville and be done with it.

Once I got to this point, I had to scan it in and move some stuff around, and print it off again before I could continue:

I filled in all the gaps and by the time I was done I had so thoroughly scoured the streets of Nashville via Google Maps that I could probably draw it from memory. But wait! We're only just getting started!

Next, I went over the whole sketch with a fine-toothed comb and marked any edits or adjustments that needed to be made before I could start inking.

Now that I had a fairly tight sketch, I was ready to begin inking! I printed the sketch at around 50% opacity and at 150% scale, taped it to my desk, and placed a sheet of 19"x 24" Canson Vellum over one side. (It is so large that it has to be scanned in pieces and digitally re-assembled anyway, so I inked it on two sheets of vellum.)

This is right around the point in the process where this starts to happen...

Oh god. I've made a huge mistake. What was I thinking?! Holy shit, what am I doing?! Like, I actually took their money and said "Yes, of course, I can totally draw that." This is not only going to take literally FOREVER, it doesn't even look good! Jesus. What am I gonna do? How can I POSSIBLY finish this? They asked how long it's gonna take HOW LONG IS THIS GONNA TAKE IT'S NOT EVEN GOOD WHAT AM I DOING?!

Look, it's OK, I always do this, don't panic. It's always super daunting in the beginning. Just keep drawing, there's not really much else I can do... I've just gotta remember that ALL my drawings look shit 'til they're about 80% finished. Just trust yourself and put on a podcast or something.

OMG I LOVE DRAWING drawing is freaking awesome this is so fun crap - I'm gonna stick a mouse there by The Gulch (hehe rich condo mouse) - wow this is kinda starting to look cool my next one is gonna be way better though DRAWING RULES

Whew - one half done. And you know, if it actually IS shit and no one likes it then at least I'm enjoying it, right? Is that self indulgent? Man... is this a selfish way to spend time? Should I be doing something more helpful or... does it even matter anyway? Does anything? Jesus.

Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh BATMAN!!!

I guess I'd describe this inner turmoil as a bit of a tendency because so far that's pretty much how it goes with most pictures I make. Yes, I love drawing, but it's not like I'm lounging about in a pastoral setting kicking my feet back and forth as I whimsically doodle away. OK that might have happened a time or two this summer... For me, drawing can be a taxing process, physically, psychologically, and emotionally. 

Emotional States of Intense Drawing

This chart illustrates the various emotional states I can expect to experience throughout the picture-making process.

Yes, that's a bit dramatic, but these big pictures are monsters! As I draw my 600th tiny window, things can go a bit weird upstairs. Some might think I only do it for the Creative Glee phase, but I think the other parts are important too (and I'm not entirely convinced that General Panic isn't just my nature.) I learn to trust myself a little bit more with every picture, but I think that's mostly because every picture is a little bit better and I deserve it.

I swear I usually name my layers...

Once the ink drawing is complete, it is scanned. The largest scanner I have access to is A3, so I scan it in pieces and Photoshop's amazing photo-merge feature can usually reassemble it for me. Next, I'll spend some time cleaning up the lines a bit, correcting any mistakes or adding bits that had to be redrawn.

It's easy for me to get carried away at this stage; to get caught up in trying to endlessly perfect everything. This is one of the reasons I prefer to work traditionally. When I'm limited by my eyesight and dexterity, I can only go so far. Working digitally, one can lose sight of the image as a whole or chip away at the drawings charm.

Overall I'm happy with the picture. I see mistakes every time I look at it, and I learned so much while drawing it that it makes me immediately want to draw another one and do it better. But I also get lost in it and enjoy looking at it and I find stuff I forgot that I hid in it, which is what I loved most about the drawings that inspired me to become an illustrator in the first place.

I'm currently working on a similarly insane illustration of the same size and level of detail. I'm about half way through the Crippling Self-Doubt phase, but writing this reminded me that just around the corner is almost half an illustrated zoo's worth of Creative Glee. Follow along on Instagram as I draw it! 


Here is the Illustrated Map of Nashville after being colored and lettered by Anderson Design Group. Buy a print at their website!

This image was created in collaboration with Anderson Design Group, Inc. Copyright ADG, Inc. All rights reserved.

Storybook Illustration

One of my absolute favorite assignments while studying illustration at Watkins College of Art was to create a "dummy book" - a partially finished illustrated book, typically sent to publishers as a sample. This dummy book could illustrate any public domain story of my choice, and since I was feeling pretty introspective and weird at the time I opted for a Franz Kafka story. A Report to an Academy is the tale of an ape who has to decide between a life of captivity and a life spent performing for the entertainment of humans. Yep, real uplifting stuff!

Note to reader: If you're interested in downloading the dummy book and reading the story with my accompanying illustrations/sketches, click here. Please excuse the horrendous type - I hadn't yet taken any typography courses when I made this!

Choice of Medium

In keeping with the rather dark and weighty nature of the story, I decided that moody, black & white drawings would be best. I made this back in Spring of 2012, before ever trying to draw in pen & ink, so pencil was my weapon of choice. While not always appropriate, I feel like it's emotive, traditional look was ideal for Kafka. I used mostly a mechanical pencil and a black colored pencil for the finished illustrations. I later took Kristi Hargrove's Drawing II class and she suggested I use proper pencils. Needless to say, my drawings are much better now.

Character Design

I did a lot of research in preparation for this project. Most of the illustrations feature the story's protagonist, Red, so a lot of this research revolved around him. My first step was to teach myself how to draw apes, which pretty much involves Googling "ape" and drawing a bunch of apes. Once I had the basics of ape-yness down, I designed Red. I studied ways to give him as much emotion, character, and humanity as possible while keeping his look consistent. 


One of the most challenging aspects of the project was dividing the story into sensible sections for each page. It was a lot of fun plotting out where each picture would land and deciding what would be the most appropriate visualization of the illustrated segment. This process emphasized how much power the storybook illustrator has, guiding the reader's imagination and creating a world in which the author's story can live.

Meet Red

This is the opening spread of the book, introducing Red who narrates the story. I decided that the reader should first see him post-transformation, as the man-like performing ape he is at the time he is telling his tale. In this illustration, I used the various items on his dressing table to give the reader clues into his lifestyle and character. My favorite pictures are those that continue to reveal their secrets well after the first glance; pictures that can be studied time and time again.

Dummy Book Sketches

Every page of the book features some sort of image, from spot illustrations to full spreads. It was a great deal of fun to create Red's universe, depicting his past spent traveling on a merchant ship, his time spent in study with various teachers and doctors, and his later stages of life as a "civilized man".

All of the drawings began as rough pencil sketches. I then digitally refined the pictures that were not to be fully rendered, to give them a cleaner, more finished look. To see all the sketches, download the entire dummy book.

The Cover

For the cover image I wished to summarize my own interpretation of the story and what it says about freedom and identity. While Red does not end up in a cage at the zoo, his cost was to sacrifice who he was and act as another entirely. While he enjoys aspects of his newfound humanness and the illusion of freedom with which it comes, he is less free than he ever was. The ship in the story carries him to his fate - a life of captivity, one way or another. The ship in a bottle also appears in the final spread, a trinket on Red's writing desk beside his finished report.


I took quite a bit of license with my pictures, perhaps projecting a more solemn and nihilistic perspective of the story than others might have. Red's voice sounds strong, but I wanted to capture his inner life. I tried to approach the design as a cinematographer would, communicating not only through the subject matter, but also through the point of view and scale. This picture accompanies Red's reflection on freedom. He describes how humans can't possibly know what it is to be truly free, yet are consistently deceived into believing that they are. I hoped to illustrate his isolation, and the human hivemind from which he so fervently separates himself.

These illustrations were due one week apart, and I was taking three other classes at the time. I remember having to stay up literally all night to finish this drawing in time for critique the next morning - my first college all-nighter! 

Naturally, looking back on this project now there are things I would do differently. Over the three  and a half years since I made it, I've learned a lot about composition, flow, and storytelling, and my drawing skills have vastly improved, but I'm pleased with it as a first serious attempt. The two finished illustrations garnered some attention while I was at college, winning some awards including a National Student Addy, which really boosted my confidence and fueled me to work as hard as possible. Since discovering pen & ink I haven't done a ton of finished pencil drawings, but the pencil was my first true love. I hope to work on more graphite and storybook projects going forward!