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.
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.
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’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.
Well, blogging every Monday didn’t last long. Anyway, here’s a Tuesday dose of inspiration.
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.
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?”
“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:
“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 Kennedy, Jean 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 Concepts, Sketching From The Imagination: Sci-Fi, and Issue 2 of the brilliant Graphite Magazine.
“Where can I buy your work?”
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.