Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A Little Strange

To boost my confidence after my disappointment at the way my Modern Fairytale competition entry turned out I thought I'd post something that turned out fairly well. Its my submission for the CG society 'Strange Behaviour' challenge. I've posted a link to the competition site previously but here' s the finished image.

It was inspired by two 'characters'. Firstly Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's magical superhero 'Doctor Strange'. For those not familiar with the 'Master of the Mystic Arts' below is Kevin Nowlan's fantastic rendering of the character and below that a comic cover that bears an eerie resemblance to my effort (I didn't come across this til after I'd painted mine, honest!).

The other 'character' behind the image is my 4 year old nephew. Like lots of kids he's obsessed with dressing up and roleplaying superhero's, usually Spiderman or Superman. Everyone's used to this but what if he had a thing for dressing as a slightly darker character like Dr Strange - someone looking a little spooky and linked to black magic, and astral projection. Wouldn't this be considered real 'Strange' behaviour? Especially if he managed to gain some of his powers...

Well it's not perfect by any means and didn't win anything but it did get some favourable comments at the CG society and the Painter magazine site. Maybe if I had retained the landscape approach I used in my initial sketch below this would have helped. The aghast parents just bursting into the bedroom on the left helps define the main character as a child in fancy dress (and not a moustached goblin as might be supposed) and the greater area given to the room would allow us to present it more clearly as a child's bedroom. Despite this I'm fairly happy with the result Maybe I'm too easily pleased.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Little Red Riding Hoody

Finally finished my entry for the Dulwich picture gallery competition. It's not what it should be but what with the dealine and everything I didn't have enough time to teach myself how to paint properly. Oh well here it is...

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

"Nothing is written..."

Many moons ago, movie magazine Empire ran a competition where you had to choose a Brit flick and convince them in 100 that this was the greatest example of celluloid mastery that Blighty ever produced. I chose David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, and then set about utterly failing to come up with anything coherent. The problem was words kept faling me and I kept wanting to storyboard the thing.

So I didn't get anywhere with the competition, but I did come away with the idea that it might be interesting to do a film review in a comic book format - which is something I hadn't seen before... and still haven't. Anyway here are the foundations to that lost project, some studies of Peter O'Toole in Bedouin attire using done with a bit of painter, a little bit of photoshop, and even some real live pencil!

Monday, 21 January 2008

What big eyes you have...

Just a quick check on progress of my proposed Age of Enchantment entry. I've been concentrating on the Psycho/Red riding hood crossbreed. Goats were proving too problematic, maybe I'll get back to them when I have more time. I've just managed to work out this fairly clean version of the red riding hood composition. I think it works ok... so on to the colour.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Age of Enchantment

Last weekend we visited the Age of Enchantment exhibition at the nearby Dulwich Picture Gallery (link above). The exhibition focused on the classic period of early twentieth century book illustration taking in the work of Beardsley, Housman, Rackham and Dulac. For me the highlights were getting to look at the original incredibly detailed ink works by Beardsley, and the beautiful use of colour work by Dulac.

The exhibition runs until the 17 February. There is also a competition linked to the exhibition. It asks you to create your own fairytale illustration in a modern setting. So suitably inspired I statrted work on a couple of concept. One is Little red riding hood with the wolf recast as a Norman Bates style cross dressing maniac. The other idea is 3 Billy-goats Gruff as an altercation between a motorist and a particularly belligerent toll booth operator. Closing date is Jan 28th so not sure if this is going to be finishable with other work on but here goes. WIP below.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008


After I moved heaven and earth not to jump on the Pirates/Skull themed bandwagon with my Painter X project, preferring to go in the direction of a certain Dr Jones - here, bringing us full circle, is the latest offering from the good Doctor himself and Mr Struzan.

You can almost hear uncle George - "The guy from TRANSFORMERS and a SKULL - the kids are gonna love it!"

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Alternate endings

Having worked on each element seperately, I had some problems when I brought them together - there was just too much going on in the composition. The submission date for the competition was looming however so I panicked and just ploughed on. I was also having some difficulty due to the enforced reliance on Painter. I couldn't seem to replicate the textures for the distressed and moss covered temple interior that I was using as a background. Its not that Painter couldn't do this, just that it took me longer to find out how while I was pining for my photoshop brushes. Eventually such problems along with a couple of other projects that had to take precedent meant that come the competition's closing date all I had was what you see below.

It was pretty close to being finished though so I continued to work on it. Now that it was no longer in competition I was free to take it into photoshop and to come up with a new design for the Painter X can.

I was fairly happy with the individual elements, the main character and the background, but the whole thing just seemed unfocused. I felt part of the problem was that I had started work with such a loose brief. I think It always helps if you can design for a product, I was never sure what this was supposed to be - a poster? a bookcover? I was thinking about this when I came across an A5 booklet, a guide to Painter X that came free with issue 15 of ImagineFX magazine. I thought it would be interesting to see if I could use my illustration as an alternate cover for this guide and see if the constraints this imposed would help with decision making on the composition. It meant sacrificing one of the booby-traps, flopping some of the other elements, changing a leg in one instance, and cobbling the background together again but I think over all its a stronger image.

So no win here but I managed to learn quite a bit from the process which is fitting when you consider that Indiana Jones never gets to hold on to the treasure in the end either. Now watch this space for the sequels.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Main Man

For the main illustration, where our hero finally finds the treasure I wanted something very like the shots used for such scenes in the Indy films. Usually this meant a low angle shot of the hero, hands outstretched ready to grasp at the prize, with his obsessed face illuminated by an unearthly glow eminating from said prize (see below)

I wanted the character to retain the adventurer's garb with just the slightest hint of him being an artist/illustrator. He also had to be generically heroic looking - not Harrison Ford. This initial sketch was done using Painter's Square Chalk.

I went on to clean up this sketch, added a sepia background (close to what I had prepared for the 'map' background) and started working with values.

Again I almost like this unfinished version more than what I ended up with. It reminded me of Western posters of the 70s for films like 'High Plains Drifter' and 'The Missouri Breaks'. Once more though this had to be more about exploring what Painter could do so I kept to the script and started to integrate the character into the existing composition.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Perils, pitfalls, and pencils

Having worked out that I was going to illustrate sections along the route drawn on the map I just had to work out what would be happening along this route.

Indiana Jones' path to his treasure was always beset by booby traps or plagued by our phobias - snakes, insects, rats. But this wasn't Indiana Jones following this map. This treasure was a futuristic art tool combining the properties of all existing traditional artist materials in all possible colours and hues - but with the eerie ability for its paints and inks to never run dry and its pencils and chalks to never blunt. This was not a treasure to be desired by an archaeologist, but the dream of a struggling artist. It stood to reason then that the perils faced by our artist explorer should be the dangers and fears of an artist. So I took the awkwardness and nuisances sometimes experienced when working with traditional media (the problems with a blocked and sputtering airbrush say, leaky or drying pens, or the pecil that snaps every time you sharpen it) and melded them with the Indy booby trap convention to create...

I've placed the original cleaned up line drawings here first ( all done on Painter X, I can assure you - X my heart) as I quite liked the feel of them, I was almost persuading myself to ink them cleanly to give a black and white comic book effect, but that would hardly have shown off what Painter could do - so below are the gaudy colour versions -

Looking at traditional art tools trying to see the possibilities for spears, spikes and snakes in their form, I began to see other things as well - faces in the shape of sharpeners and inkwells - they reminded me of the carvings of the Mayans and Aztecs and I started to imagine the resting place of this 'Paintpot of the Gods' as the Temple of an Ancient South American civilization dedicated to the worship of art. So into that Temple we'll venture dear reader in our next (yaaaawwwn) enthralling instalment.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Painter X marks the spot...

Happy New Year one and all. My obvious New Year's resolution should be to keep this blog in a more up to date fashion, but first of all I'm going to have to make it through the things I intended to post last year. So for a while its going to be a bit of a review of work done in 2007 (and in a couple of instances even earlier).

Back in February Imagine publishing's Corel Painter Magazine was launched to coincide with the release of Corel Painter X. The Premiere issue included a competition which gave you a chance to win a copy of the software in limited edition paint can packaging. All you had to do was use a trial version of Painter X to produce a piece of artwork which included the Painter X can somewhere in the composition.

I wanted the software, I liked the idea of having to work the product into the design, all I needed now was an idea. Here's how my simplistic mind kicked into action. The X of Painter X was what I focused on - 50s and 60s horror films that played on their X rating sprang to mind - "X the unknown", "The Quatermass Xperiment" etc - maybe a schlocky 50s style movie poster could have been the way to go, with something sinister creeping from the Painter X can. This probably wasn't what Corel would want their product to be associated with so I moved on. More recent X type imagery in the pop consciousness include "The X files" again probably not a wholly positive association in terms of the product.

A more upbeat path may have been The X men avenue - Painter X as a mutated superhero version of your everyday paint can. 2007 however was the year of the Pirate, they seemed to be everywhere- we'd just had our second instalment of the Pirate of the Carribean trilogy, and number three was heading our way in the summer, the skull and crossbones were everywhere from children's bookcovers to T-shirsts and leggings. Pirates have treasure maps - treasure is marked on maps with an X - Painter X as sought after treasure definitely had possibilities.

I liked the idea of perhaps involving a treasure map as part of the artwork. Drew Struzan had used Treasure maps as backdrops for a number of his movie posters of the years including, Cutthroat island, Hook and The Muppets' Treasure Island and I thought these might serve as inspiration

Struzan is probably better known as the artist behind the Indiana Jones movie posters and the covers for the spin-off novels. Surprisingly he never used his treasure map trick for these films but it certainly would have been appropriate. I was a little worried about jumping on the Pirate bandwagon so a Saturday Matinee treasure hunter style character gave me another interesting option.

Another aspect of Struzan's work that I felt would help with the treasure map idea is the way that a lot of his posters are a collage of scenes or set peices from the films. I was interested in using the treasure map as almost a peice of sequential art with a different scene marking important stopping points on the map. I thought the little triangular and circular windows that he 's used on many of his book covers could work as windows onto the treasure hunters journey.

At the end of the map's trail where X marks the spot I intended to have a larger image focusing on the treasure hunter as he finds the fabled Painter X can.

One thing that I wanted to avoid however was a complete steal of Struzan's style, which can at times be almost photographic in its realism. I was looking for a more pulpy comic book feel. Something that inspired and legitamized this approach was the work done by legendary comic book artist Jim Steranko in the concept art for the original Indy film "Raiders of the lost Ark".

As far as I can tell Steranko's artwork seemed to be responsible for the iconic look of the character, Fedora, Leather jacket, bullwhip etc so in a way I was going back to the original concept in reverting to this pulp cover style ( I also felt I had a better chance of pulling the thing off this way.)

So with my trial version of Painter X downloaded, my inspirational material in one hand and my whip (well wacom stylus actually) in the other I set off into perils unknown to seek fortune and glory... And in true serial fashion you'll have to wait till next time to find out what happens next.

To be continued...