Hi all, apologies for the lack of blog posts in the last few months. I’ve become a little disillusioned with social media lately and that’s meant I haven’t been posting content as frequently. I’m not sure if that’ll change too much, algorithms and the like are taking a bit of the joy out of it. When you post something and it gets half the engagement a similar post was getting a couple of years ago, despite having more than twice the number of followers, it’s a bit discouraging.
Anyway, here’s what I have been up to since summer.
Patreon. I’ve continued to work on my Patreon project – Weird Field World. There’s a bit of info about it here. I’m really enjoying fleshing out the world, adding background, history, little stories and characters. The engagement with my supporters there is great, and it’s very energising to have people to discuss the project with. You can support me here.
Inktober. I failed to finish Inktober this year. I think I just ran out of steam and enthusiasm for the project after a couple of weeks. My plan was to draw a series of little building based, loosely, on the play Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. I started off OK, but there wasn’t, perhaps, quite enough to go on for a whole month of building drawings. I think I managed 14 or 15 in the end. I was reasonably happy with most of them, and I might add one or two more at some point. A bunch of the illustrations are available to buy, so I’ll add a separate post soon.
Illustration work. This year has been a disappointment compared to last year. Working on a couple of books, plus work in a couple of magazines, some t-shirt designs and a little concept art work meant that 2018 was by far my best year for paid illustration work. 2019 by comparison has been awful. I’ve had a steady flow of private commissions this year, but no major commercial work at all. I’ve worked on concept art for a couple of clients, but both of those projects fizzled out due to publishing or financial issues. It has made me realise that I need to be much more proactive in seeking work, so in the last few weeks I’ve been getting organised. The year has ended brighter, a few little commercial projects have come in over the last two weeks, and I’ve had enquiries about a couple more.
Digital Illustration. A year or so ago I bought myself an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, hoping to dive in to the world of digital illustration. One of the main reasons for doing so was to be able to produce super clean linework that would reproduce well in print. I have found working digitally a huge, and difficult, leap. The simple act of drawing on something other than paper, even with a matt screen protector on the iPad, has taken a huge amount of time to get used to – and there were many times when I thought it simply wasn’t going to be possible for me. The turning point was a suggestion from Rob McCallum on Twitter that I simply give up working on paper for a while, and only sketch on the iPad. It might seem like an obvious solution, but to draw digitally, and not get the results you want, for even a day was quite a task for me. Gradually, over the course of a couple of weeks things began to feel more natural. I got used to the feel of the stylus on glass, to the way digital lines worked, how to tweak brush settings to suit my way of drawing. Now, although I still have huge amounts to learn, I really do feel comfortable working on the iPad. I even enjoy it. Part of that is down to just how good the iPad and Pencil are, and how great a piece of software Procreate is. Together they are really quite formidable. Adobe and Wacom should be worried, particularly with the lacklustre release of Photoshop for iPad.
Parklife. I’ve continued to get out for walks as often as I can, if not as often as I’d like, in Bushy Park. Getting out in to the fresh air, and out in the open is hugely important for me, particularly if I’ve been stuck at my desk for a few days. I still get a thrill from seeing the variety of wildlife in the park – Red and Fallow deer, woodpeckers, kingfishers, and a huge number of other different bird species. I can’t recommend getting out in to the countryside enough. Make the effort if you can, you won’t regret it.
Reading. I’ve struggled to find moments to read this year. Not commuting in to London at all has been one factor – the only good thing about a three hour commute each day is that it gives you three guilt-free hours to read each day. Apart from that I just don’t seem to have been in the right frame of mind. Perhaps it’s a feeling of guilt – spending time reading when ideally I’d be working – even if I haven’t had the work to do this year. I’ve tried to put things right in the last month or so. I read and thoroughly enjoyed Gareth Powell’s sequel to Embers of War – Fleet of Knives. And Ann Leckie’s Provenance, set in the Imperial Radch universe she introduced us to in Ancillary Justice, was a great read. Currently I’m reading Wilding by the appropriately named Isabella Tree. It’s the story of how she and her (affluent) family set about rewilding large parts of their 1400 acre estate in Sussex.
That’s it for now. I’ll do my best to post more often. Do let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to write about.
I get asked a lot about what art materials I use for my drawings and illustrations. So here’s a blog post showing exactly what I have scattered around on my desk right now. If you aren’t familiar with the kind of stuff I draw, have a browse though the blog, or have a look at my work on Instagram or Facebook.
A good pencil won’t make you any better at drawing than that rubbish one you have in your pocket from a recent trip to Ikea. An expensive brush won’t instantly turn you in to the worlds best watercolourist. That watercolour pad you splashed out on, you know the one – hand made, 100% cotton, acid-free, cold pressed – isn’t going to make your drawings and paintings any better than if you were drawing on a Post-It note – unless you practice, unless you draw and draw and draw. New art materials are great, but they aren’t a short cut to being great at art, because there isn’t a short cut to being great at art. You just have to draw. Draw the stuff you love, draw the things you find difficult, set yourself some challenges, but most importantly just bloody well draw.
Now to the inky, graphitey stuff…
Pencils (from top to bottom)
Staedtler Tradition, from 3H to 3B
Staedtler Mars Lumograph, 3H and 3B
Palomino Blackwing 602, not sure of the hardness – maybe a B?
Faber-Castell 9000, HB and 2B
Pentel Graphgear 1000 0.7mm By far my favourite mechanical pencil to use.
Copic Multiliner SP, 0.03 to 0.7 thickness nibs (my favourite technical pens)
Rotring Tikky Graphic, 0.3 to 0.7
Staedtler Pigment Liner, 0.05 to 0.8
Brush Pens and Nib Pens
Copic Ciao Markers (lots of them, particularly orange ones)
Sakura Gelly Roll Glaze Pen (opaque white)
Bits and Pieces
Cheap brush for clearing loose graphite or eraser bits
Toothbrush (an old one) for splattering paint or masking fluid
Goldline A3 Layout Pad (the big yellow one)
Daler Rowney A4 Tracing Pad (the grey one)
Daler Rowney A4 Smooth Heavy Weight Cartridge Pad (the pink one)
Daler Rowney A4 Bristol Board (the green one)
Daler Rowney A4 Fine Grain Heavy Weight Cartridge Pad (the brown one)
A3 Minisun LED Lightbox – essential for tracing and refining sketches
Life-size human skull model – reference to die for
As I said before, nothing on this blog post will make you draw any better, that’s up to you. Now, stop reading, and draw!
Usually if I wake up early I just lay there wishing I could go back to sleep. Today, at 5.15am, I decided to get up and go for a walk in the park. Proved to be a pretty marvellous idea as I got there before it became inundated with joggers and dog walkers.
The park – Bushy Park – is just a couple of minute’s walk from my house, and I feel very privileged to have it so close by. It’s a Royal Park, set up by Henry VIII for his hunting requirements and its oak trees were used to build ships for his naval fleet.
It’s a varied landscape, acid grasslands, acres of Yellow Meadow Ant anthills, open oak woodland – as well as lots of later ornamental landscaping put in place by Charles I and later monarchs. There are herds of Red and Fallow Deer, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, and an abundance of other birds. This morning I watched a Sparrow Hawk circling and a male Kestrel perched on a branch with its prey. Getting out of bed early has really set me up for the day.
This is the first of my guest blog posts, and my first guest author is Nick Stevens.
Nick is an Artist Member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists, and was on the board of the IAAA for several years. He specialises in realistic 3D rendered depictions of unflown space missions, and the space program of the Soviet Union.
Now, over to Nick…
Computer Graphics for free.
There’s a general perception that computer based graphics is a highly expensive business. And while it is true that the professionals use software with annual licence fees in the thousands of pounds, and high end graphics workstations, you can get very good results using cheap, or even free software. All you really need is a computer, (it does not have to be the latest and greatest), and time to invest in learning it. The second part is important! There’s a lot to learn, and whatever software you use, you won’t find a handy one click button, helpfully labelled “Instant Great Art”.
Types of software.
There are, broadly, several types of software, and I’ll cover those first.
The biggest division is between 2D, (like painting on paper), and 3D software, (making things you can view from any angle). 2D software can be divided into pixel based, (like your screen, essentially a mosaic with lots of tiny tiles), and vector software, where shapes are defined that can be scaled smoothly to the required size.
A good example of a pixel based image would be an icon. And a good example of a vector would be a typeface or font. (As with fonts, vector images are generally converted to pixel images at some point).
With 3D, I’d say the biggest divisions are between general software, (things like Maya, Lightwave 3D, 3D Studio Max) that try to cover all aspects of 3D graphics, and specialist systems that make it easy to do one thing very well, such as Daz Studio, (for characters), or Vue, (Terrains and landscapes).
Whatever you go for you will find that your physical media art skills give you a head start, as you probably already have a good grasp of form and colour.
2D Vector Software – Inkscape
Inkscape is very highly regarded, 100% free, open source, and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
It does the same kind of thing as the (expensive) applications, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and Freehand – and it supports industry standard formats like .SVG, .PDF, .PNG, and .EPS.
2D Pixel Software – GIMP and Affinity Photo
Gimp stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, again, it’s 100% free
Again it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.
Its user interface can take a bit of getting used to, but it does have its strengths. It is perhaps the best at loading obscure and scientific image formats, for example, and is handy to have for those kinds of conversions. Also it now supports higher bit depth colour channels. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand that bit).
Lots of help and tutorials out there too, so Google is your friend!
If you do need something more capable, (and this is the only bit of commercial software I am going to recommend), take a look at Affinity Photo. It’s insanely powerful, yet costs less than the “Lite” versions of the likes of Photoshop. It will even run on an iPad, and gives acceptable performance on my old iPad Air 2. Though I wouldn’t want to stitch together large panoramas with it.
2D Paint software, Krita
Krita, also available for Mac, Windows and Linux is painting software, and is 100% free and open source.
This means that unlike image processing software, (Photoshop, GIMP), it focuses on emulating traditional tools, with the advantages of digital such as undo, and layers. So it will let you work with the digital equivalent of a marker pen, watercolours, or oil paints, reacting to existing elements in a similar way. It works well with Wacom tablets.
General 3D Software: Blender 3D
Blender is a powerful general purpose 3D program, 100% free and again available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has some advanced features like a hair and fur system, and fluid simulation. Like any 3D software, it is complex and will take some learning, but it has perhaps the most actively supportive community of any software. So support is second to none while you are learning.
There are entire short films where you can download all the assets, (files, images, models and scenes), to examine. This includes the Pixar style “Big Buck Bunny”, which you can watch here.
If hard science is more your thing, NASA provide plenty of 3D models in Blender 3D format, ready for you to use. You can download them here.
Sculpting software – Sculptris
From the makers of ZBrush, Sculptris is free sculpting software, (Windows and Mac, not Linux).
It’s important to note it is no longer being developed, but even so, pretty good for free. Most 3D software is based on placing points and polygons; sculpting software emulates sculpting with materials, in much the same way that painting programs emulate brushes and paints.
Everything at once!
If you have a somewhat old laptop or desktop, you might want to consider turning it into a Linux system. This will take a bit of getting used to if you normally work on Windows or Mac, but it is very efficient, and will perform much better than it would under Windows or Mac. Every time I boot into Linux it feels like I’ve just had a hardware upgrade.
I’m recommending a particular flavour of Linux, called UBUNTU STUDIO.
It’s a special version of the popular Ubuntu Linux, aimed at creatives. And after installing it on your computer you will find that it comes with a whole mass of graphical tools already installed and configured. And audio tools, video tools, photography tools, and publishing tools. These include Blender, GIMP, and Inkscape.
You can also install it alongside your existing operating system, but that’s outside the scope of this blog post.
While not all the tools included are best in class, (or anything like it), there’s a solid core of extremely useful and powerful software here. And as I said, it will run well even on older hardware.
You can also try before you install, setting up Ubuntu Studio to boot from a USB stick. Instructions are here.
Time, dedication, and talent are much more important than money if you want to get into computer based art. Software will not magically make you an artist, but it will give you the tools you need to become one, even if all you have is an old desktop PC and monitor gathering dust.
For more stuff from me, please visit: www.nick-stevens.com
Huge thanks to Nick for taking the time to put together this very handy blog post, which I’m sure will be useful for a lot of people wanting to get in to computer arts. Do check out Nick’s website – there really is a huge amount of wonderful work there, and give him a follow on Twitter.
I’ll have another guest blog post coming up soon.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a bit of a space nut. I’ve always been fascinated by space, astronomy, astrophysics… and to be honest I’d still like to be an astronaut.
2019 marks fifty years since the first moon landing, when Eagle the lunar lander of Apollo 11 touched down. To commemorate that historic moment, and because I just love everything about the Apollo missions, I’ve created a couple of posters.
The first, Twelve Human Hearts, celebrates the humans to have stepped on the surface of the moon. It’s a huge shame that nobody has been back since Apollo 17.
The second poster, F-1, marks the power and brilliance of the Rocketdyne F-1 engine that powered the Saturn V rocket.
Both posters are available from Ellipress. You can also get them as postcards.
My good friend Gareth Hammond is doing something amazing in aid of The Alzheimer’s Society. He’s cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats – 980 miles in just nine days. To help him raise some money I did this little tribute to The Beatles Yellow Submarine (Gareth’s a big Beatles fan) to be raffled off.
Hi all. Over the next few months I’m going to publish some guest posts here on the blog. I’ve asked a bunch of people over on Twitter and the response has been great. There’ll be posts from established illustrators, 3D modellers, comic artists, video game concept artists, book cover illustrators… It should be lots of fun and a bit of a change from my usual posts. If there’s a type of creative person you’d like me to feature on the blog just let me know in the comments.
I’ve started a Patreon page. If you don’t know of Patreon –
For creators, Patreon is a way to get paid for creating the things you’re already creating (webcomics, videos, songs, whatevs). Fans pay a few dollars per month OR per post you release, and then you get paid every month, or every time you release something new.
Currently I make a living dividing my time between being a freelance graphic designer, and being an illustrator. My income from illustration breaks down in to Commercial work – like book illustration or video game concept art, Private commissions – selling original art to order, or by selling prints and postcards of my work. These are all great outlets for my work, but it’s hard to predict how busy I’ll be with commissions at any one time, or if I’ll receive any commercial work.
Starting a Patreon page should give me a small, but regular monthly income from my art. It may be enough to buy some art materials, it might be enough to pay some bills. I’ve really no idea yet, but every little helps.
Here’s how it works.
My Patreon page will feature only my work on Weird Field World – that’s all the strange knobbly spaceships I draw.
If you want to become a Patron, and to support my work you can choose from three tiers of membership.
$2 per months gets you access to –
$4 per month gets you all of the above plus –
$6 per months gets you all of the above plus –
Regular content for all subscribers will be sketches and final illustrations, background writing on the universe including a timeline and history of the story, maps and charts, technical drawings of spaceships, and I will also be writing some fiction to accompany the drawings.
If you’re interested in supporting me in this way, head over to my Patreon page for a look. Patronage starts at just $2 per month.
I started a little sketch lately. Nothing more than a doodle really. Started off as nothing on a sheet of copy paper. Wasn’t sure what it was going to be, if anything. But after a few minutes I had a bit of machinery. So I thought I’d carry on. Definitely channeling a little of Geof Darrow’s work on The Matrix, and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, I decided that I’d try and fill the whole page with machinery and cables and wires.
It took a while. But I got there in the end. Here are a few process shots…
Once I’d finished the pencils, I decided I’d scan the illustration, blow it up and print it out, and then drop it on the lightbox for inking. I wanted to go a little larger when I inked it just so I could get a little more detail in, and to make sure the quality was good enough for a print for my store.
The final inked illustration looks like this…
At the top of the page you can see the colour version I’m working on to be produced as a print.
If you’re interested in the materials I used in this piece…