this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: blogging

Computer Graphics for Free

 

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.

You can find more of his work on his web site, and Nick is pretty prolific on Twitter too, where you can find him at @runnymonkey.

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.

inkscape.jpg

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

gimp.jpg

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.

affinity-1.jpg

2D Paint software, Krita

Krita, also available for Mac, Windows and Linux is painting software, and is 100% free and open source.

krita.jpg

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.

blender.jpgThere 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).

sculptris.jpgIt’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.

ubuntu.jpg

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.

Conclusion:

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.

leonov-on-moon

For more stuff from me, please visit: www.nick-stevens.com

Thank You! 

Nick

 


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.

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…

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Patronage

First-Five

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 –

  • Regular posts including illustrations, background, and fiction.
  • Access to sketches and process videos as I work on the project.
  • Early opportunity to buy original illustrations.
  • Digital exclusives – like desktop or phone wallpapers.

$4 per month gets you all of the above plus – 

  • One original Weird Field World sketch per year.
  • A set of three postcards featuring WF spaceships.

$6 per months gets you all of the above plus – 

  • Choose the name of a Weird Field World spaceship (which will become canon in the universe) and receive a colour sketch of that ship.

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.

 

You can also find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…
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Island Life

I’ve recently got back from a holiday in the Maldives with my wife. It was predictably (it’s my sixth visit) beautiful and relaxing. Now I’m back at my desk and about to start working on commissions. Until I have some more illustration work to show you I’ll post a few snaps from my trip.

 

As ever you can also find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…
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Instagram Competition!

If you are a user of Instagram I’m running a little competition over there at the moment. Head over to my profile for a chance to win the print of your choice and an original sketch.

Please note this is Instagram only, so please don’t comment here.

Instagram Comp

You can also find prints of my work here

And you can find more of my work online…
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Instagram
Facebook
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Inspiration Tuesday

Well, blogging every Monday didn’t last long. Anyway, here’s a Tuesday dose of inspiration.

The Thing

The Thing film poster by Studio Ronin

The art of Christopher Shy and Studio Ronin.
I’m completely new to the work of Shy and Ronin, and I can’t believe it’s escaped me for so long. I must have seen some of their film posters at some point (and I would definitely have loved them), but apart from that I’m completely ignorant.

From the website of Studio Ronin

CARVE YOUR OWN PATH
Created in 1994, Studio Ronin produced its own unique blend of design and concepts. Under the direction of Christopher Shy, Studio Ronin created its own
in-house effects studio, and began working in film building miniatures, producing concept art as well as costume design, and visual design. In 2000 Studio Ronin
began its most ambitious project of producing its own intellectual properties, starting with Silent Leaves.
Publishing only graphic novels, Christopher Shy soon set a certain tone to the work. “No single issues, only complete books, we do them our way, and we run it
like a book company.” Silent Leaves became Studio Ronin’s first book, followed by Man To Leaves, and with Michael Easton, the acclaimed Soul Stealer trilogy.
Other books include Pathfinder, which was made into a film; Ascend with Keith Arem; Good Apoll:; I am Burning Star IV for Coheed and Cambria, (Studio Ronin
completed stage design for the band that following year); Silent Leaves Exceptions To Life; Dead Speed; and City On The Edge of Sleep. In 2010, Christopher Shy
and Studio Ronin completed Deadspace: Salvage.
In 2004 Studio Ronin gave its first large scale gallery exhibition of Christopher Shy’s tempera originals, some over 8 feet tall. The paintings were shown in Chicago
at Echo Gallery, and the exhibition was held over for one year. Christopher Shy’s work is now on permanant display in Chicago at Gallery Provacateur.
In 2006 Studio Ronin began working in advertising. Clients include Nike, Harley, Mitsubishi and others. Its imagery was “fresh, dark, and daring.” Film posters
followed, as well as print ads – all taken in a different approach while continuing to write, create, and publish its own brand of IP. In 2008, Studio Ronin licensing
was born, and Christopher Shy’s images were reproduced under his careful direction on skateboards, snowboards, t-shirts, and jackets. Christopher Shy accepted
an award in Italy for Artistic Excellence in 2010. In 2011, Soul Stealer was named book of the year.
Studio Ronin has carved its own path – creating an image of what an independent art studio can be, and redefined the doors that should be open for the small,
masterless studio. A unique vision to the work of both the entertainment world, and fine art.

Carving your own path should really be the goal of any artist or illustrator, but it’s easy to lose sight of that. Studio Ronin and Christopher Shy are a beacon in that regard. Have a look at their output, then go carve your own path.

Most mainstream film posters follow a very defined route, photo montages of the big stars, not doing anything different out of fear of not getting the marketing ‘right’. Studio Ronin take a completely different route creating beautifully painterly images that evoke the essence of the film. Beautiful work.

 

You can find more of my own work online…
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FAQs

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I get quite a lot of comments on my posts on social media, and often people are asking me the same questions, so I thought I may as well answer a few of them here.

“Where can I find more of your work?”

I post regularly on social media, so find more of my illustrations on –
Instagram
Facebook
Tumblr
Twitter
Artstation

“Do you have a Patreon?”

Yes I do. On my Patreon page I’ll be building more of my Weird Field World of spaceships and alien technology. I’ll regularly post sketches, finishes illustrations, maps and charts, and even some written fiction. Supporting me gives you access to unseen work and gives you the opportunity to buy original art before anyone else, and also the chance to get involved with the world building of my Weird Field universe.

“What pen do you use?”

This is the question I get asked more than any other, and I know other illustrators get it a lot too. The first thing to say is – it isn’t about the pen. Yes you might get a bit of a difference in quality of line from pen to pen, obviously a brush pen gets you a different look to a pigment liner, but the pen doesn’t make you any better at drawing. The only way to get better at drawing – is to draw.

However, if you’re interested in the geekery of pens:

Copic Multiliner – 0.03 to 0.7 nibs
Rotring Tikky – 0.3 to 0.7 nibs
Pentel Pocket Brush
Kuretake No8 Brush Pen
Stabilo Point 88

Blackwing 602 pencil
Tombow Mono100 pencil
Steadtler Tradition HB pencil
Rotring Tikky mechanical pencil
Lamy Scribble mechanical pencil

Platinum Carbon fountain pen
Kuretake Zig Manga dip pen

Uni Posca White pen
Sharpies

Other kit…
Minisun A3 Lightbox

Sumi Ink 60
Winsor & Newton Masking Fluid
Daler Rowney A4 Cartridge paper
Moleskine A5 Sketchbook

“Where did you learn to draw?”

I was always the kid that drew, from as far back as I remember I was always drawing. When I was a little kid I used to sit in an armchair at home with a bit of wood across the arms, like a desk. I’d sit there and draw spaceships and monsters and dinosaurs and dragons for hours. Throughout all my school years, despite studying art, I don’t really recall being taught anything at all. Even at college (studying for a graphic design degree) I don’t think I got much in the way of tutoring. After college I barely drew at all for twenty years, since then all my progress has been through practice, and being inspired by all the great artists doing great work out there. One thing that has definitely helped since I started drawing again, has been daily drawing projects. For a whole year I drew a robot every day, and I’ve also taken part in the Inktober initiative for the last few years. Committing to drawing every day, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, is a fantastic way to improve.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Where aren’t there ideas? If you read books or comics, if you watch TV or film, if you look out of your window at home or school or work – there are ideas everywhere. You just have to look and let everything soak in. I get inspired by all kinds of things – looking at industrial buildings from the window of my train commute, the weird old oak trees in the park near my house. Films and books are a big influence – I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd so in my work you can see bits of Ralph McQuarrie, Jim Burns, Carlos Ezquerra, Cam KennedyJean Giraud and Enki Bilal.

“Why don’t you do a book?”

I’m working on a book. Slowly. It’ll be written and illustrated by me. Currently it’s about 75% written, but I’ve barely started thinking about the illustrations yet. So, nothing will be out for a while. There will definitely be a book at some point. And it will be about trolls. I have worked on illustrations for a couple of other books –  Build! A Knight’s Castle, and The Illustrated World of Mortal Engines (of which you can read more about here).

You can also find my work in Beginners Guide to Sketching: Robots, Vehicles and Sci-Fi ConceptsSketching From The Imagination: Sci-Fi, and Issue 2 of the brilliant Graphite Magazine.

“Where can I buy your work?”

You can buy prints of my work here. My good friend Jon Elliman runs Ellipress and has an amazing eye for detail and makes sure my prints look great.

If you would like to own some original artwork drop me a message on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and let me know what you are interested in. There’s a little more information here.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Updates…

It’s been a while since I blogged – work and holidays have both combined to keep me from doing so.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on getting some artwork ready to sell online as prints – should be ready to go in April – which is very exciting. I’ll be launching with five or six different illustrations, most of which will be available to buy at a couple of different sizes. When everything is confirmed I’ll post here about it.

I’ve also completed a couple of commissions and worked on some concept art for a couple of clients – I can’t share any of that just yet though.

For now, here are some of the sketches I’ve done over the past couple of months.

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Any ideas?

So far on my blog I’ve mostly posted images of my work – in progress and finished – some stuff about my process and bits and pieces about what materials I use.

What have you enjoyed reading? What would you like to see more of? Are there things you’d like to know about me, my work, my methods, or my inspiration?

Let me know in the comments!

 

Isometricness III

It’s been a couple of weeks since the end of Inktober and, despite my computer’s hard drive failing, I’ve finally got all the images scanned and cleaned up.

The month was rewarding for me in terms of my drawing, I definitely think I improved from week to week. It was also great in terms of marketing me as an illustrator. Over the course of the month my Instagram followers increased from a little under ten thousand, to over twenty thousand – I haven’t been able to work out quite how that happened. Every one of the isometric drawings sold, and I got another 15 illustration commissions on the back of that.

My next blog post will be about social media, so I’ll discuss a little more then about Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Here are all 31 of my isometric Inktober drawings. Do you have a favourite?

1_clean

Day 1.

 

 

31

Day 31. All done.

Thanks very much to everyone who liked, commented, shared and retweeted my posts throughout October – and a special thanks everybody that bought one of my inktober illustrations.