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 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?”
I’m now happily accepting a new round of illustration commissions. If you’ve ever wanted to own some original art – and like my work – now’s your chance.
If you would like to buy an original drawing, email me at rob [at] thisnorthernboy [dot] co [dot] uk , and you can request one of the following:
An isometric building
An imagined place
Something else entirely
What you’ll receive will be a black and white pen drawing, on an A4 or A5 sheet of 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.
Any other requests – type of landscape, style of robot etc. can be made, but there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to take this into account. I know this sounds a little strict, but I only want to accept commissions that I’ll enjoy drawing right now, and in return you get a lovely surprise when you open your finished illustration.
What will this cost?
For an A5 (148 x 210mm) commission I charge £60 + post & packaging.
For an A4 (210 x 297mm) commission I charge £100 + 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 can accept payment by PayPal.
When will you get your drawing?
I’ll aim to complete and post all illustrations within three weeks of receiving payment.
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!
Instagram is full of #2016bestnine posts right now. Everyone uploading a little three by three image of their most popular images of the year – you can do the same by going to https://2016bestnine.com
Mine are mostly from October, or Inktober. That’s fine, it was a month where my follower count went bonkers and I got lots of lovely feedback about the isometric drawings. Not sure any of these would be my favourite illustration of the year though. (This might be, although I can’t post the full image for another week or so.)
Do you have a favourite image I’ve posted in 2016?
New Year’s Eve sets like an appropriate time to thank you all for continuing to support my blog, to comment and like here and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I can’t really work in a vacuum, so your feedback and encouragement is incredibly important, and I am very grateful. Thank you all, I hope to create some great stuff in 2017 and I hope you’ll be with me all the way.
It’s finally over! At the beginning of August I wrote that I might be making a rod for my own back by committing to one blog post a day for the month. I was right. I really enjoy writing my blogs, but I tend to write and post them when I feel I have something to share or something to say. Finding the time, and a subject every day was a real struggle. Far too many of the posts have been written hurriedly at eleven o’clock at night. I definitely think I write better with a little more time – both to do the actual writing, and to think about the subject.
How was it for you? Did you enjoy reading a new post everyday? Were the subjects interesting? Was the content too image heavy? Too wordy? In the future are there particular subjects you might like to read about? I’d be very interested to know your thoughts, so please add a comment if you have time.
In terms of stats, blogging every day didn’t have much affect. I had just over 1400 visitors in August, compared to 1100 in July. A little up on my average of 930 each month so far this year. Likes, comments and new subscribers were about the same as previous months too. I think previous posts, where I’ve written in a little more depth about a topic, or had the time to put together lots of images, have definitely had better responses and have been shared more widely on social media. Which I think suggests that it’s all about quality rather than quantity.
Next month I’ll revert to posting three of four times, and I’ll try to make sure they are a little more detailed and considered.
Thanks for reading, if you are still reading and haven’t nodded off by now, and please do add a comment when you get a chance.
Goodbye August. Hello September.
The postman brought me some goodies today courtesy of the Draplin Design Company. If you haven’t heard of DDC, you might have heard of Field Notes. I’ve talked about them before and I’m a big fan. Aaron Draplin, founder of both DDC and Field Notes Brand recently published a fantastic book – Pretty Much Everything – a retrospective of his work, and in fact almost an autobiography. It’s a beautiful book, absolutely chock full of content, design, wisdom, inspiration. Draplin also produced an Enhancement Kit – a slip case, stickers, bookmarks, prints… – to go with the book. That kit arrived today and it’s lovely. The stars of the show are the gorgeous fabric slip case for Pretty Much Everything, and the two packs of special Field Notes Brand notebooks – with an amazing orange foil.
I might be making a rod for my own back with that title but – I’m going to try and blog every day in August. They might not be long and involved posts, and they might not always be image heavy, but I’ll try to blog each day for the month.
I’ll start with a quick post about what my day involves.
I’m working on finishing a tattoo design commission – of Sisyphus pushing his boulder up a hill, in my style. I’ve done lots of sketches, and tweaked after some feedback and I’m now in the final stages of inking.
I have some concept sketches to do for a company in California. I can’t say any more than that at the moment, other than there will be castles.
If I get those two things out of the way then I’ll start working on some designs for a branding project for a community sports project in East London.
Right now as I type, I’m listening to the latest North v South podcast. A podcast about, but not about design that I produce with my friend Jon Elliman. This week we talk about tennis balls, scrambled egg sandwiches, recycling, and we review pies as always.