this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: art

Guest post: Alex Connolly

This is the fourth guest post on this blog, and it’s the most unexpected. Previous guest posts have generally been about the quest author’s work – art, process, methods etc. That’s what I was expecting when I asked Alex to write me something. In an unnecessary show of modesty, Alex decided to not write about himself or his work, but of something much deeper. It’s very good. And you should definitely read his post below, but first, as Alex is too modest, I’ll sing his praises here.

Alex Connolly is an Australian designer and illustrator, living in southern Japan. He’s worked for Neill Blomkamp (director of District 9, Elysium and Chappie), Marvel (I don’t need to add anything here do I?) and Double Damage Games. I first saw his personal work and was blown away. Alex produces incredibly technical mechanical sci fi illustrations. Incredibly designed, but perfectly believable. Check out Alex’s work on his website and twitter.

And now, for Alex…

Ember in the Palm

First of all, I want to thank Rob for the opportunity to write for his esteemed blog.

Our creative agency, while not exclusive to, would be a lot different if it weren’t for the strange and dexterous marvels known as the human hand. No sooner free from the constraints of quadrupedalism, our ancient forebears took to all manner of evolutionary endeavours. Fast forward beyond the adaptive wonders of our Homo habilis ‘Handy Man’ origins, and we arrive not just at the mechanical deftness of our closer relatives, but breakthroughs in creative cognition. 

In three parts, I want to select particular moments in the history of visual communication that celebrate the hand as a creative constant through time. These are not necessarily definitive, more personal picks from a smorgasbord of creative pursuits as we tumble through time. 

The first part deals in the very definition of a touchstone. 

Turning Point I – Wonderwall

Parietal art or ‘rock art’ can be traced almost 40,000 years into prehistory. It is a strong visual demarcation that helps to define our ancestors as not just reactive wanderers, but as possessing an intrinsic creative drive to reflect and record. Naturally, given our physiology and biological perspective, it stands to reason hands feature as some of the oldest rock art in existence. These are our most practical tools; our dexterous and articulated arguably as important as the brains that operate them. 

As such, the oldest rock art currently recorded are hand prints. Two particular locations featuring these antediluvian artworks are the El Castillo cave paintings in Spain and on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, dated to 39,000 BCE and 37,900 BCE respectively. There has been some speculation as to which species of early human was first to be artistically inclined for its own sake. Conjecture has yet to prove whether Neanderthals committed to stone art in the same way as Homo sapiens, but it is understood that the latter were responsible for both El Castillo and the Liang Timpuseng artworks. 

Both locations were used by early humans as shelters for generations, featuring an array of figurative and symbolic artwork across hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. Hand art, a form dominated by negative space, has the artist — a shaman or perhaps a leader — place their palm against the rock face and spray ochre or some other form of intentionally-selected stain via their mouth or through a hollowed bone or reed. Theories as to meaning suggest anything from ritual to merely an act of self-actualisation, from ownership to leadership. 

In the end, all share intent. Marking a moment in time in communal space, iconography that is not merely acknowledged by the artist’s contemporaries, but by generations thereafter. Ancestors such as Australopithecus garhi and Homo habilis are often associated by their primitive tool creation and usage, but said usage was largely survival-oriented. In the case of parietal art, it speaks to complex preparation such as the gathering and production of medium, and the conscious capacity to undertake an act that does not directly translate to survival. 

Often perceived as the bare minimum of creative expression, the synaptic leap that could afford such action remains profound. Considering we are the recipients of this moment in time, it elicits what German philosopher Rudolf Otto called the numinous; an arousal of spiritual emotion or an overwhelming sense of awe.

While cave art soon came to showcase cognitive development of the visual cortex, in the ability to render wildlife or spiritual conceits, the state of modern visual communication arguably started with the outline of a hand.

In the next section, I want to share development of another aspect of visual communication; one that took the hand itself as a canvas, creating an ancient artform that crossed cultures and class.

Turning Point II – Shrubs in the Desert

Before hands were pressed to walls in ancient grottos, Neanderthal tribes inhabiting the Iberian Peninsula were known to practice the art of self-beautification, a breakthrough in symbolic-thinking that predated the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe by 10,000 years. 

This concurrent development in consciousness is evidenced by the discovery of discarded shells containing trace elements of foreign pigments. In essence, crude palettes within which to mix lepidocrocite, haematite, pyrite, and charcoal for the purpose of crafting body paints. Studies suggest that a driving factor for this paradigm was social pressure, as Neanderthal tribes began to condense in lower Europe, and eventually amplified by the arrival of Homo sapiens. Therefore, survival required an intensification of visual impact. This was, in essence, a primeval social mantle atop a Darwinian core, as groups encountered each other and vied for best first impression. It can be argued that little has changed.

Make-up has been a staple of self-expression ever since Humankind’s cousin started mixing hues, expressed throughout history as a signifier of wealth and importance. Egyptian pharaohs associated beauty with spirituality, leading to a ritualisation of cosmetics. Certain minerals such as Malachite and Galena gave the distinctive aqua-green and black tones of Ancient Egyptian eyeliner, with the production thereof being prohibitive and exclusionary. 

Such exclusion has meant that visual communication and its development was often the providence of aristocracy. Monied strands of society who, by merit of position and patronage, inferred artistic appreciation as an upper class pursuit. But not all visual art is beyond the means of the underclass, and in the case of henna, can appeal to and be practiced by all levels of society.

Made from the rugged Lawsonia inermis that flourishes in arid climates, Henna has been used in beautification since the Bronze Age. A powder is ground from the leaves of this resilient plant, then mixed with liquid such as lime juice or tea. After resting, it is applied to the hands, feet or hair, where the now-freed Lawsone molecule binds with keratin, leaving behind a robust, rusty red that lasts for weeks. 

The plant’s abundance, and relative ease of preparation, meant that time was the only prerequisite to usage. 

Henna usage has been recorded from North Africa, throughout the Middle East, to the Sub-Continent and as far as the Malay Peninsula. As impressive as geographical spread is the cosmetic’s sheer universality in the societies who used it. The Hery Sesheta embalmers used henna to decorate nails prior to mummification in Ancient Egypt, and Cleopatra herself used it both in body decoration and in hair dyes. The North African Tuareg and Amazigh tribes took to using henna to adorn their hands with the same ornate patterns they wove into their Ehan tents. Practitioners of all regional faiths found henna an excellent way to bypass texts that forbade permanent tattooing, or frowned upon adornments such as jewelry that could conceivably convey idolatry. 

It was brought into Persia through the Rashidun Caliphate’s westward conquest beginning in 633 AD, and while indigenous usage on the Sub-Continent was speculated to have started earlier, the later Mughal invasion of India in the 16th Century cemented it as a social norm. Contrary to association, the country was one of the last places to take up this art form.

Henna design variation naturally between region and culture. From Mali’s fish bone style to the aforementioned angular geometry of the Algerian nomads, from the ‘dipped fingertips’ of the Hebrews and Copts to patterns produced by string guidelines across Persia; each hand possessed intricate and highly meaningful adornment, reflecting the culture within which the owner existed.

More importantly, this was across the entire socio-economic spectrum. From the poorest castes to the richest nobles, henna was a cultural constant. Mummified remains of peasantry in Ancient Egypt, their rudimentary interment a far cry from the careful preservation of deceased nobility, still exhibited henna pigment on their scarified remains. 

Requiring a level of symbolic interpretation, and aside from practical creations like weaving, henna’s prevalence is visual communication that existed against prohibitive conditions like literacy and status. This highly personal beautification of one’s own hands remains unlike most artistic pursuits in the ancient and medieval worlds at that time. 

In the next and final post, I want to present a critical moment, where the physical and the virtual collide to leave an indelible mark on creative culture.

Turning Point III – Futureworld

It was seen as a dancing band of light displayed on the curved display of a cathode-ray tube, signal voltages rendered in visual form. Ben Laposky’s oscilloscope arrived in 1950, offering the first rudimentary glimpse at a simulated visual future, even if a byproduct of test machinery. 

Twenty-two years later, in a graduate program at the University of Utah, Fred Parke and Edwin Catmull carried what Laposky had started to then-unimagined levels. All it took to leave an indelible mark on visual communication was an industrial-grade research computer and Catmull’s left hand. 

At the time, Catmull was undertaking a research task not in the field of art, but science. It specifically related to the difficulty of rendering and animating curved surfaces on the hardware of the day. This processor-intensive computation favoured simple geometric patterns where vector coordinates could be rendered in relation to each other with comparative ease. As a technical challenge, the human hand was selected to map, compute and animate, as it required the problem of simultaneous movement to be solved. Moreover, rendered not just as rudimentary vectors, but via a technique called texture mapping to give definition and dimension to the model. 

The two made a plaster cast of Catmull’s hand, then set about charting the contures of the model into a series of triangles. Three hundred and fifty interlocking triangles were then measured in relationship to each other using a computerised drafting tool that logged coordinates in three-dimensions, which in turn slowly replicated the cast within a custom CAD program Catmull had coded.

Once all the information was transferred to the computer, so began a case of manipulating vertices in a simulated three-dimensional space, and ensuring that neighbouring sections acted accordingly to realistically portray articulation. Texture-wrapping was then applied over the wireframe, which accounted for light sources and calculated shadowing. It was a new form of sculpture, a simulacrum of the organic in an electronic landscape. And while the painstaking minute-long animation occurred clumsily frame by frame via off-screen photography, this digital hand was a crucial jumping-off point for computer graphics and animation. 

The ramifications for rendering figurative complexity within a synthetic space would cause ripples beyond calculating and testing engineering theories; one minute’s worth of hand-waving would set the imaginations of artists on fire. Without it, genre-defining authors like William Gibson may not have conjured their ideas about virtual reality in quite the same way, if at all. CG may not have come of age in cinema quite so quickly, had Catmull and Parke been satisfied with the crude cylinders and quadrilaterals of the era. This was a watershed moment, in every one of its three-hundred and fifty interconnected pieces.

From the spattered negative space on rock walls to the philosophies behind Univers, visual communication has been a constant but ever-evolving way for humankind to relay their ideas through shape and colour. Environmental and extraneous contact points throughout history supercharged our capacity to render, reflect and record our ideations of the world, with an intent to instill or share them with others. 

Cognitive development in the visual cortex, alongside increasing social elements, suggested that early humans put as much intent into parietal art as the Henna artists of the ancient and medieval worlds. Henna art itself a broad concept that traveled the trade routes, or found contemporaneous usage on account of the plant’s ubiquity. By the time the artform had arrived in the Indian subcontinent, it had spread far and wide, and was used to convey its own myriad stories.

And while it started as a painfully rudimentary process, the mitochondria of Parke and Catmull’s painstaking work exists within each and every 3D project; from Hollywood effects to a kid teaching themselves Blender.

That inherent creative drive, however it bears out, is something to be treasured and cherished. Particularly as visual artists, where the uncanny and ineffable conversation between brain and hand presents itself as an artistic communication, Otto’s numinous is never far away.

Even when the blank page is a burden, or our creative batteries feel flat, therein remains the powerful original spark, one that was pressed against a rockface at the dawn of time. 

Huge thanks to Alex for this fascinating and unexpected guest post. That last sentence will stay with me for a long time. Once again, do have a look at Alex’s website and follow him on Twitter.

You can find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
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Blog, interrupted.

Hi all, just a quick update to say I haven’t forgotten about my blog, or those who read it. It’s been a bit of a crazy year, and time for writing, and the headspace I sometimes need to do so, has been in short supply.

I am intending to get back to writing more regularly, and hopefully I can kick that off in a few weeks time.

Until then, here’s a recent mecha illustration for you. Drawn on the iPad, in Procreate. I’m working digitally quite a lot at the moment. Commercial work – I’m doing some concept art for games – means fast turn arounds and frequent iterations and amends, so digital works well.

One last thing, you can now buy digital downloads of my book, Weird Field World, and an accompanying colouring book, through Gumroad.

You can find prints of my work here

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What’s new?

Quite a bit probably as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged.

I’m just over a, thankfully mild, bout of Covid. Omicron finally caught up with me after two years of dodging it. It does seem like this latest variant is getting just about everyone this time. Stay safe and well everyone. Get jabbed, wear a mask.

Work-wise – I’ve been doing some concept art for a sci-fi video game which has been a nice change of pace. Producing lots of variations of spaceships, refining and finessing them. Lots of fun. I also did some illustration work for another video game, this time a fantasy/gothic themed one. Again great to do something a little different. I think I learnt quite a bit working on both of these, and as there’s likely to be much more work from both, plenty of opportunities to level up.

Personal work – I’ve continued working on both my Innsmouth and Weird Field World projects. Adding illustrations and background writing and fiction and fleshing out the worlds. I still have plans to produce a book of the first chapter of Innsmouth. And of course, book two of the Weird Field World – titled (somewhat unsurprisingly as) Weird Field War is in the works.

YouTube – I did a little process video of me drawing a space station. Head over and have a look. I waffle on about my thoughts as I draw.

There are a couple of new products over at my store. One Innsmouth related, and one a bit of sci-fi merch!

Elk Island Lighta new Innsmouth print, available in a load of different sizes. I’m really very happy with this illustration.

Raptor 01 – a new enamel pin badge, based on a design from my Deep Space Fleet II poster. You can buy the badge here. There are plans to launch a Kickstarter at some point to produce a whole fleet of enamel spaceship badges.

I’m still out and about as often as I can taking photographs. I’ve had a slightly dodgy achilles for a while now, so I’ve had to take things a little easy. One of my favourite recent photos, taken at the London Wetland Centre.

Iceland – I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a very long time, and I’m finally going. At the beginning of May I’ll fly out, with my dad, for a two week road trip around Iceland’s ring road. It’s 825 miles through some of the most amazing landscapes, and I am very excited. I’ve got a drone for the trip, so fingers crossed the weather allows me to use it to capture som of this big sweeping vistas. I am very excited. Expect several blog posts about my trip once I’m back.

And that’s you all caught up. Is there anything you want to read about? Any ideas for future posts? Let me know in the comments.

You can find prints of my work here

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Commissions for 2021/22

I’m now happily accepting a new round of illustration commissions for 2021/22. If you’ve ever wanted to own some original art – and like my work – now’s your chance.

Commissions

If you would like to buy an original drawing, email me at rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk , and let me know what kind of thing you are looking for. While you can ask me to draw absolutely anything, it’s probably best to stick to subjects and themes that you’ve seen me produce already. I’m not saying I’d never draw a portrait of your cats, for instance, but it’s unlikely. Some subjects I love to draw are:

Ships and Lighthouses
Isometric buildings
Robots
Astronauts
Spaceships
Imaginary places

What you’ll receive will be a black and white pen drawing, on good quality, 220gsm cartridge paper. If you would prefer a colour illustration – let me know and we can have a chat.

You can also request for the illustration to be landscape or portrait in orientation.

I can’t guarantee that every request will be something I’d be happy to draw – but I’ll do my best. If you take a look at previous posts on this blog, or on my Instagram page you can see the kinds of thinks I like to illustrate..

What will this cost?

For an A5 (148 x 210mm) commission I charge £85 + post & packaging.
For an A4 (210 x 297mm) commission I charge £150 + post & packaging.
For an A3 (297 x 420mm) commission I charge £250 + post & packaging.
For an A2 (420 x 594mm) commission I charge £450 + post & packaging.

When you email me to request a commission, if you can include the address you’d like it shipped to, I’ll work out the cost of postage and let you know. If you’re happy with the overall cost I accept payment by PayPal.

When will you get your drawing?

I aim to complete and post all illustrations within one month of receiving payment.

PLEASE NOTE: This post is regarding private, personal commissions. If you want to discuss a commercial proposition – illustrations for a book, game, or anything else that you would be selling, then please get in touch directly.

You can find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

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Well, it’s been a while (again).

Apologies for not updating my blog for such a long time. I think once the Weird Field World book was printed, packaged, and mailed out to all the Kickstart backers I was a bit drained. I’d been so focused on the book for so long it was difficult to give anything else my attention really.

With a bit of distance I can start to give a bit more love to the blog and to my Patreon page that’s also been a bit neglected of late.

I thought I could start by letting you know what I have been filling my time with over the last few months.

It’s mainly been nature photography. I got a new camera back in October, which I blogged a little about here, and in March, I bought myself a new zoom lens for it. I’d grown increasingly frustrated by seeing animals and birds, but not being able to get a half decent photograph of them, so a zoom seemed a necessary addition. I went for the Fuji 70-300mm zoom, rather than the 100-400mm version, mainly because of the difference of almost £1k in price. I’ve been incredibly happy with it so far. What I didn’t really expect was that it would really change how I experienced the outdoors. Previously, if I was out for a walk I wouldn’t give a huge amount of attention to those things I couldn’t photograph – little birds skulking in bushes, or distant buzzards and kites circling. The new lens brought all those things close enough for me to identify and to get some decent photos, which made me massively more interested in them. Since getting the new lens in March, I’ve counted seeing 68 species of bird, and 13 of those were brand new to me. Even though I was walking in the same places mostly, and at the same times of day, I was noticing much, much more.

Some of my favourite photos are below. All taken with the Fuji X-T4 and 70-300mm lens. If you enjoy these, then please consider following my new Instagram photography account.

Besides taking photographs, I have managed to find time to get a few new products up on my online shop. If you enjoyed the Weird Field World book there are some matching stickers and prints available.

In March and April I worked with the UK fragrance company Thomas Clipper, on the packaging for their new men’s scent – Atlantic. This was a really enjoyable project to be part of. Here are a few images from the final packaging.

I’m going to make an effort to blog more regularly for the rest of the year. As always, if there’s something you’d like me to write about – let me know in the comments.

You can also find prints of my work here

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Weird Field World book now available.

My first book, Weird Field World, is now available to buy here. If you’re a regular reader of the blog you’ll know that I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the book, and now all of the backers’ rewards have been mailed, the book is available to the general public.

The Weird Field World is a project I’ve been working on for around three years. It started off as a couple of little doodles on scrap paper, as I wondered what a spaceship might look like if it had an entirely novel form of propulsion. I figured it might look a little weird, and that name kind of stuck.

I built the project and produced content for it over on Patreon. The income from my supporters there allowing me some time to develop ideas, to write, and to draw lots of spaceships. What I’ve ended up with is a book full of spaceship illustrations, character drawings, written fiction, maps, diagrams, and a lot of world-building. I’m very proud of it, and the feedback so far has been fantastic.

If you’d like a copy, click here to buy one from my shop.

You can also find prints of my work here

Become a Patron!

And you can find more of my work online…
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And if you’d like to buy me a (virtual coffee) you can do so here.

Guest post: Conor Nolan

24_FinalResult

This is the second of my guest blog posts, and my guest author today is Conor Nolan. I’ll quote Conor’s bio from his website, as it’s definitely worth a read.

Conor Nolan’s first memory was getting a paper cut after drawing an amorphous blob meant to be a sumo wrestler. Two and a half decades later he’s still drawing, though practice has reduced risk of injury. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2012, Conor gradually found his footing in the world of illustration. Since then he has worked with a variety of clients, from VICE to Dark Horse Comics to Dungeons & Dragons, and has had his work appear on posters, shirts, card and board games, beer labeling, record covers, magazines, newspapers and a battery of other platforms. Conor lives in Rhode Island with his dog, where they break up time at the drawing desk with nature walks and well deserved coffee breaks.

You can find more of his work on his web site, Twitter, and Instagram. You should definitely check out Conor’s store too.

Now, over to Conor…

Imagine a book of maps. Each page shows a different place, with a multitude of paths leading to a multitude of destinations. Within each path there are beginnings, twists and turns, and eventually, an end. The journeys shown on one page may not resemble the next, but in embarking on each, there are certain consistencies implied: the use of a compass, a continual pressing forward, and the buzzing excitement of seeing your final destination on the horizon. This book, and the myriad journeys within it, looks a lot like my process. Rarely does the path to a final piece share the same route as the last, but all share certain commonalities of exploration, persistence, and fulfilment. Let’s start at the beginning of one such journey, and follow it to its destination.

In early February 2019 I was asked to supply the artwork for a concert poster. The band was Phish, and they’d be playing two shows in July back to back. Inspired by the show structure, it was decided that the poster should be a diptych, with one poster representing each show, and the two coming together to create a single unified artwork. The final art was due in late May, allowing enough time between art delivery and the show for printing. Phish has an avid fan base, and has supported an ongoing legacy with their concert posters, with past artists including Jim Pollock, David Welker, Chuck Sperry, and Ken Taylor, amongst many others—so I was looking forward to being a part of that tradition.

The guidelines for the project were set. The posters would be screen-printed (giving me 3-5 colors to work with) and the dimensions were 16 x 22”. 800 of each night would be printed, and then delivered to my studio where I’d sign them. The subject matter of the art was generally up to my discretion, however it was advised to stay away from fish, skulls and anything too morbid or macabre.

My first step was to start putting ideas down on paper. It was important to me to create an image that would work across both posters, but still feel singular if someone could only afford one of the two. I started to thumbnail possible directions to hash out ideas. These thumbnails are rarely legible to anyone but myself, but excepting this blog post, usually no one but me sees them!

Once I’ve selected the strongest concepts from the pile, I draw out more coherent sketches with additional details and clarifications added. The majority of sketches that I use for professional work don’t include color, but I felt that the limited palette available to me with screen-printing made it wise to consider color earlier in the process than usual.

I submitted the following three sketches, and a short description for each, to the client for review.

 

 

The art director for the project reacted positively to these sketches, but suggested there might be room to push things further. Fortunately, there was room in the budget and schedule to allow for this, so she keenly asked for an additional sketch, which I happily submitted. 

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This concept was a continuation of a narrative that I created in 2015 for my first concert poster for Phish. In that poster, I showed an intergalactic cowboy and his spacesuit-clad horse mining fallen stars from the surface of an alien planet. For this new sketch, the same cowboy was still prospecting a far away world, but this time, he was birdwatching, and taking in the local fauna. One bird in particular is highlighted, with the cowboy’s binoculars fixed on its location. The art director selected it as the sketch to move forward.

12_2015Poster

My next step was to develop a rock solid drawing. Many years back, I was lucky enough to see a talk by Kali Ciesemier at The Society of Illustrators in New York, where something she said really stuck with me: that the key to a good illustration is a good drawing. As obvious as it seems now, what resonated with me about this advice was the realization that it never pays to be lazy when drawing, especially at the beginning. Consider the eraser your friend! If something doesn’t look right, get rid of it and start anew. 

13_FullDrawing

Keeping this lesson in mind, I tend to draw on Bristol paper when working through my drawings, as it can really take a beating with an eraser and not show it too much. Bristol paper is sold by a lot of different brands, at all different price points, but in my experience, the variation in quality between options is minimal. I didn’t have a sheet big enough to match the final size, so I taped two pieces of 12.25 x 15.5” Bristol together, making the entire canvas 25.5 x 15.5”. My preference is always to draw slightly smaller than printing size, as it saves me time when working through an elaborate drawing. 

I almost always use Bic mechanical pencils when I draw. I buy them at the supermarket in bulk right after “Back to School” season and everything is on sale—$10 gets me a year’s supply. Their points are consistently and remarkably sharp, which makes them very conducive to detail-oriented work. I also find their erasers to be far sturdier than those on the typical pencil. The main downside to Bic mechanical pencils is that I’m certainly not helping the environment by using a disposable plastic pencil! My 2020 resolution is to invest in more permanent and durable mechanical pencil that I can continually refill. 

14_BicPencils

After the drawing is complete, I scan it with my HP Officejet 7610. It’s both a scanner and decent printer, and has been a reliable workhorse of mine since I bought it in 2012. Since the drawing is smaller than print size, I scan it in at 600dpi. I use my Wacom Intuos Pro tablet to clean problem areas in Photoshop; anything from proportional irregularities to eraser lines to typographic placement is fair game. When I’m happy with the drawing, I change its Color Mode from grayscale to duotone. The duotone color I use is a non-photo blue, for reasons I’ll outline a bit later on. Instructions for this step below:

15_ChangingColorMode16_ChangingColorMode217_ChangingColorMode3

After this I divided the drawing in half, and printed both halves on separate 11 x 17” pieces of Bristol paper. These two prints are pieced together with archival tape on the backside, revealing the full non-photo blue print of the drawing, and also the start of the inking phase. 

18_Materials

Illustrator Henry Pitz wrote in his 1957 book Ink Drawing Techniques that “no medium reveals its deepest secrets except to those who love it”—a feeling that couldn’t resonate more with me. To me, drawing is the battle, and inking is reaping the spoils of war. I find a quality of expression in inking that is unsurpassed. It’s my favorite stage of the whole process, one that I find calms my mind and leaves me oddly meditative.  

19_FullInks

For these posters, the inking process took me about two and a half days of work. I prefer small brushes for the same reasons I work with mechanical pencils—they can get into tight corners and allow for a lot of detail-orientation and precision. When I ink something large like this, I tend to work in a rotating fashion, starting in a corner, inking a good chunk, and then spinning the paper around to work on another corner. The main purpose of this is to let the ink dry. It’s not uncommon for me to put my hand on wet ink, smudging a segment of the drawing, and rotating the canvas prevents that chance. Another concern I watch out for is prevents natural oils from getting on the paper. These natural oils will show up as fingerprints or palm prints in blacked out areas. It’s a small thing, but I try to prevent it to keep the illustration as pure and high contrast as possible.

Once the inking is completed, I scan it into my computer on grayscale mode at 600 dpi. This mode doesn’t pick up the non-photo blue and therefore the ink drawing is left isolated. The ink drawing is enlarged to print size, and coloring commences. With the amount of adjacent projects I had on the table, I chose to hire a colorist friend of mine, Meg Casey, to color flat the drawing: a process that includes blocking out the main shapes, coloring book style, within the drawing so that shading and color can be applied. Fortunately there was room in the budget for me to hire Meg, and it saved me a ton of time to work on other projects. When I received the flats back, they looked great.

20_MegsFlats

https://www.behance.net/megcasey

Finally, it was time to figure out coloring. The original sketch was a warm palette, with red, orange, and yellow, plus the white of the paper. After living with this combination for a couple days, I decided to reassess: I found it to be a bit of a strain on my eyes, and too close to my 2015 Phish poster palette as well. I wanted to mellow it down without sacrificing the psychedelic vibe that was achieved by three analogous hues. Intuition told me that a purple oriented palette was the right way to go, but it took me a few tries to get there. Remember, only 3-5 colors could be used since this would be screen printed. 

21_ColorAttempt122_ColorAttempt223_ColorAttempt3

The approved end result was 5 layers. The colors spanned from the deep, dark purple of the line work, to a sky blue that cuts through the purple like lightning. 

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Here’s how the isolated color palette looks.

27_FinalColorPalette

With the illustration completed, thus started a back and forth conversation with the very patient Half and Half printing. They received the final print file, and executed the necessary tweaks to get it ready for screen-printing before starting the process. A couple weeks later, the prints arrived, and the quality blew me away. Hats off to the wonderful people at Half and Half. They did impeccable work and I hope to collaborate with them again in the future. 

http://thehalfandhalf.com/printing/

The second to last step was to sign all of the posters. Vanity aside, this was no easy task with 1600 prints! Signing took me another three days, followed by packing the prints up again for transport. Luckily, the venue of the show was only an hours drive from my studio, so I was able to hand deliver the posters myself. 

So: one journey ends and many more await. Hopefully you enjoyed the ride, and gained some insight along the way. My process is personal and imperfect at times, but over my career I’ve learned to trust my instinct and do what works for me. Should you have any questions about any of these steps or my work, feel free to reach out at nolanillustration@gmail.com. 

Thanks to Rob for letting me take up valuable real estate on his blog. He’s a great artist, and a wonderful person. 

You can follow my work here:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nolanillustration/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/conor_draws

Website: www.conornolan.com

Massive thanks to Conor for putting this post together for me to publish, I think he did an incredible job – of both the poster and the blog post. Conor’s work really is stunning, and he’s definitely an artist whose work I look out for on social media. Brilliant and inspirational. Do check out his links.

Thanks again Conor.

Off the radar

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 WarFleet 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.

 

You can find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Fifty years since one small step

Apollo_Two Up

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.

 

You can also support me over on Patreon

And you can find more of my work online…
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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Guest posts

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.

You can find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…

Patreon
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
Tumblr

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com