this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: blogging

Green

Green. I seek out green places more and more as I get older. The combination of peace and the sounds of nature seem to give me an incredible sense of well-being. Advocates of ‘Forest bathing’ have a point. At this time of year, particularly, the colours are incredible. Fresh, vibrant, jewel greens. White and yellow of Cow Parsley and Cowslip. The unexpected violet-blue of a glade of Bluebells. But green, always the green. Dappled sunlight and mossy roots and rocks. There’s a path I’ll always take.

I now have a new Instagram account solely for my photography.

You can also find prints of my work here

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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

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: Alastair Temple

This is the second of my guest blog posts, and my guest author today is Alastair Temple.

From Alastair’s website –

Alastair is a professional engineer who has been known to dabble in Digital Art and Photography. He is a founding member and administrator of the international art collective The Luminarium. Alastair has worked with a number of clients worldwide ranging from bands and artists such as Delta Mainline and Jonathan Kreisberg to publishers such as HarperCollins. Alastair is from Scotland and is currently based in Malmö, Sweden.

You can find more of Alastair’s work on:
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Behance

Enough of me, over to Alastair.

This blog post has taken me quite a long time to write (we are coming up for about 10 months now), partly because I am very good at putting things off and partly because I really wasn’t sure what to write about. When I initially put myself forward for doing this I had suggested that I put together a walkthrough for my piece Going Home, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed relatively uninteresting (for those that do want it, I have included a quick overview at the end).

Going Home

It was only after making a more recent piece, my Lighthugger illustration, and how well received it was that I thought of something which will hopefully be more interesting. I realised what I had done well in these pieces, and it is consistent if you look back through my portfolio (for example my first ‘successful’ scifi piece The Guardians has similar features) it is that I hide the lack of details, and hint at them rather than showing them.

Lighthugger

This is even clearer when we look at some of the actual models for example those of the jump gate/portal from Going Home. To put it simply I am not a very good modeller, and I can’t paint, so I have needed to come up with some strategies to hide these facts while I slowly improve them. It is these that I will share with you today, and hopefully they will help someone else out there as well.

The Guardians

Model close/ups (lighting and textures removed):

Model Close Up
Model Close Up

Strategy Number 1 – Scale is your friend
The first and simplest way to reduce the detail needed is to make use of large scale scenes. When things are a long distance from the observer, you simply can’t see as much. For example in Going Home I didn’t need to worry about if the windows looked real or the structure made sense because you can’t see it. Scale allows you to think about general proportions of the object and how it fits into your composition while not having to worry about all the little details that make an object look real when close up.

Strategy Number 2 – Utilising Lighting.
The second strategy is to use lighting to hide or obscure areas and therefore minimise the detailing required. Here backlighting (or side lighting) is your friend. These types of lighting are dramatic to start with which is a definite bonus, but also they highlight the overall shapes of your objects, the shape of any key components and to use textures to hint at smaller details. If we take for example my Lighthugger piece, the use of backlighting, and the nebula behind the ship allows me to define the conical shape of the ship, highlight the two outboard ‘conjoiner drives’ and the ice shield on the front. I can use textures/displacement maps to hint at panelling and other details on the rest of the ship as well as adding some lights to give an impression of windows/exhaust vents/hangar bays etc, without having to worry about if the actual details make any sense. If we take the same model and piece, and reverse the lighting so it is front lit, then you can quickly see it looks like the simple model it is and there aren’t any real details to speak of.

Lighthugger – final with backlighting
Lighthugger – lit from front

Strategy Number 3 – Use Assets (by others and yourself)
This is a fairly simple and straightforward point. You don’t have to create everything from scratch for every piece. In all of the pieces I have talked about today I have re-used things I created for other projects, I have kitbashed from my own assets and kitbash packs (there are a lot of good free ones out there if you don’t have the budget to pay), I have used textures made by others and I have used generative programs to create things in ways I would not be able to myself.

For example in The Guardians we have:

  • The large structure I created in Mandulbulb3D, just messing with parameters until I had something I liked.
  • The lens flare was created by my friend Bobby Myers for me to use for the project.

In Going Home:

  • The ship was kitbashed,
  • The planets were both created using Video Co-pilots orb plugin (and the base texture for the gas giant was an acrylic paint texture by Julian Frener).
  • The engine lens flare is from a pack I bought a while back.

In Lighthugger:

  • The ship utilises textures by Travis Davies and some created in JSPlacement.
  • The background nebula is created through a number of fractals made in Apophysis.

So I guess what I am saying is, don’t let your lack of skills in certain technical aspects stop you. Work on them definitely, but in the meantime, minimise their impact on your final piece by starting simple. Concentrate on getting the composition, colours and feel right and try and do a little more each time!

That walkthrough overview for those who are interested:

  1. Model jump-gate in favoured 3D software (I used Cinema4D, but 3DsMax, Blender or any other could easily achieve the same results). 
  2. Model or kitbash a spaceship design also in 3D. Include both in the same model so they are lit the same, but render separately to ease composition later.
  3. Make 2 planets, I utilised Video co-pilot’s Orb plugin for After Effects for this and utilised an acrylic paint texture for the gas planet.
  4. Composite in photoshop (note for a central composition like this, you want everything to be almost, but not quite symmetrical).
  5. Add lighting effects, lens flares etc and do final colour corrections. 
  6. Save and upload.

Huge thanks to Alastair for putting this blog post together. As someone who is just starting to learn 3D there’s a lot of great advice here. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I have. Do check out Alastair’s links, website and social media.

Park Walk

Another beautiful walk in Bushy Park. The ground frosty, the air clear and crisp, the sky bright blue. Couldn’t be bettered. Here are some pics.

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

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Guest post: Nick Stevens

 

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

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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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Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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

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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

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