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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

31 October 2012

Unreal Environment Sketch

Finally my Skillful Huntsman book came in the post. It is a beautiful book and very much recommended to everyone. Lots of excellent ideas and techniques. Also, it's very interesting to see the design process of some of the best people in the industry.

Anyway, right to business. Having read the skillful huntsman I've made some preliminary sketches (which I'll upload to this very post when I scan them in) and went into painting. The visual development is for the Unreal project, but is also relevant to my honours. This is a media test (custom brushes etc.) and the test of the pipeline.

The outcome if fairly pleasing to the eye, so I deem this a success.

30 October 2012

A look into the aesthetic theory

The Halloween is approaching! Unlike some, I'm not looking forward to it. This year I'm swapping the parties, copious ammount of drinking and metric fuck tons of fake blood for the fun and games that ensue when you're a customer safety steward. So this year I'll be looking forward to three and a half thousand drunk students crammed into one building.

But not to panic. Uni work is also being produced, if at a slightly slower pace; and there is just not enough hours in the day to blog. So once I get a spare moment to scan things in, look out for a giant post backdating a few weeks.

In any case, the project proposal is well under way and my Evernote account is bursting with various notes and bookmarks.

I've talked about the question of appeal in the past, and my line of inquiry lead straight to the theory of art, or the aesthetic theory. An interesting book on the subject is written by one Henry G. Hartman in 1919 and is a broad over view of the key principles.

He, for example breaks down a painting into its basic elements. The presentative elements, such as line, form and colour; and the representative elements, such as conation, mood and symbolism. Hartman also analyses various elements of painting in an attempt to find the very basic and most important one. In the book he argues that colour is less important than light, because various colours have varied psychological effects on the viewer. I find that I disagree with that arguement, because a painting without colour is nothing but a black canvas.

Presentative Aesthetic Elements

  • Color
  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Atmosphere
  • Line
  • Drawing
  • Mass
  • Space
  • Modelling
  • Proportion
  • Harmony
  • Movement
  • Rhythm
  • Texture
  • Surfaces
  • Brush-work
  • Composition
Representative Elements
  • Design
  • Figures
  • Ideation
  • Affection
  • Conation
  • Craftsmanship

More about that in the lit review.

Having identified the gaps in my skill as an artist, I'm working hard to plug them. Currently I'm following a series of Youtube tutorials by Peter Han about dynamic sketching. This is the sort of thing he gives out as homework:

My sincere apologies for the hazy phone photo. One of these days I'll invest into a home scaner.
Anyway, I bet you're bored from all this critical analysis of complex theories (wink, wink). Let's see some pictures!

As a hobby and an excuse to make some awesome art I took on the Unreal Challenge project with a group of 3rd and 4th year students in the uni. Here is a little environment sketch I did for that.

Let's analyze. The colours in this piece are quite harmonius. The lighting is harsh and strong, which would suggest stronger contrast. However there ins't much contrast in the painting. The darkest tone is maybe a 60% blue/gray. A complimentary colour to make the composition less boring could be used. The forms tend to be blurry and merge into the background. Also, there is no clear foreground, middle ground and background separation, which makes the image a little flat. However the implied feeling of a desolate, almost sterile desert is conveyed quite well.

25 October 2012

Unreal Challenge

It's amazing how beautiful colour schemes can be found in the strangest of images. Take this one for example, a thumbnail I doodled. Quite a nice, if bleak colour scheme, wouldn't you say? The swatches for photoshop are from the infamous Blue Waffle picture. Go figure :P

But back on topic. Here's a doodle I made for the unreal challenge.

22 October 2012

Material Value Study

As mentioned in the previous post. I was doing value studies of various materials. I find it helps not only my drawing and understanding of the subject, but also my painting skills are improving.

More to come tomorrow!

I don't even know what the first one looks like. I think it might've been wood but as they say in Russian, first pancake is always fucked up. I'm not sure I'm translating this properly.

Until next time. Bye!

Back from Morrocco

I've not been wasting time while I was away. Obviously with the lack of internet not a lot of research has been done, but some ideas were developed and sketches made.

I'm still stuck on the topic of originality in design. I feel like my designs are not very... appealing.

This book deals a lot with appeal and is written by an ex Disney animator Tom Bancroft. It's very interesting from the point of view of general principles of design as it talks about various methods used to make the design stronger and more appealing.

So here are some of my experiments. Again, trying to push the design further, give it more personality and appeal through the use of interesting shapes and proportion.

Moving away from the cliche; consider different styles. E.g. Soviet constructivism. Also consider attributes of the setting - cold, unhospitable etc. Ref: Lost planet, Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Guard.
It's time to look at things like Skyrim, Guild Wars and Lost Planet for inspiration on the topic of cold environments and settings. How do people dress to keep warm? How can it be made to look cool? Upon reading various "Top 10" articles about video games with snowy, icy worlds I started to ask myself, how does it affect the characters? Some art directors don't deal with it at all! Like Mario or Final Fantasy VII for example. Just look at their half nakid bodies! (Source:

I also spent quite a lot of time searching for Takashiro Kawano's art (the art director on Lost Planet) but he seems to be untraceable. However the basics are obvious from this one interview I found on Siliconera: environment disappears in hazy, white mist, stark constrasts between white and blues, strong shadows and bluzzard whiteouts. It's interesting to see the red lights on some characters, which were put there to contrast with the environment. One thing I found I hate however is the functionality in Asian design. Unlike traditional painting, which is very minimalistic and simple, their design is completely broken. Various bits of tech sticking from characters' backs with no purpose whatsoever. Feng Zhu mentioned that as long as the design has appeal we don't need to worry about functionality, but I don't believe that is true. A design has to be appealing and functional to add to the sense of immersion.

This image sums up my opinion of Japanese character design. (Source:
I'm still aware of my goal to polish up my environment drawing skills. That's pretty much what my trip to Morrocco was about. Sketching from real life. Here are some sketches. A lot more will be done later.

So just to conclude, today I had a little rant about character design and showed off my personal development sketches. Tonight I'm picking up some books on architecture and doing some texture studies. 

Cheers for reading!

8 October 2012

Hangover Monday

While nursing my mild hangover and contemplating the dangers of drinking on a Sunday I decided to write a short update on my concept development.

I have my aim and objectives in mind, however it is difficult to put them down on paper and word the properly. But my general area is illustration and concept design.

I identified some gaps in my knowledge and started working to plug them. Environments are a big weakness of mine and I got some pens and a sketchpad in an attempt to improve my skills and get some general drawing done.

Here is the first page, inspired by the "Sketchbook" section of a recent issue of ImagineFX magazine (issue 88).

My aim for the next wee while is to really get my drawing skills up to standard. As J.P. Targete said in his Gnomon DVD I mentioned a few posts ago - drawing skills are a lot more important than painting skills. Having a good foundation is extremely important.

That is it for today. It is now time to start gathering material for the literature review.

4 October 2012

Character Concept

I'm still deciding on the exact story I'm doing to use my visual development powers on, and there are lots of other little details to be decided upon. However I managed to do some initial doodles, just so there is something to show off. I confess, in the whole 3 years at university this is the first time I've ever used the scanner.

It is not a lot, but this is a start.

Time for some critical analysis. As much as this series of images seem to follow the pipeline established through J.P.Targete's tutorial, the author feels that these images lack originality and authenticity. The character doesn't not come across as a hunter/shooter/soldier. He lacks character. The thumbnails tend do be very similar to eachother and no new ideas are explored in the process. The artist seems to lack confidence to experiment with shapes and backs away from brave ideas. These thumbnails must strive to move away from the norm and be more daring.

Here we go, I've identified a gap in my knowledge, which I will work hard to plug.

Speaking of gaps, I've identified a few more. Targete mentions that it is important to push all aspects of one's drawing, characters, environments, creatures etc. It ocurred to me that I've no idea how to design an environment or what good vehicle design should be like.

On the other hand, my project has solidified in the tutorial today. I'll definitely be doing visual development for a Russian folk story. Just need to decide on the actual story.

This one seems like a good condidate, but I'm wondering if it is too long.

Plan for the future: get a sketchbook and fill it with some environment and vehicle sketches. I must also address my lack of understanding of value and form. It is now clear how important traditional art education is.

Until next time!

3 October 2012

Just another Wednesday

Well folks, it seems I have a solid idea of what I'll be doing for the next year. I love this slow and steady approach, allowing ideas to emerge on their own and harnessing creativity, rather than forcing it out.

The process started with me wanting to do illustration of some sort.

I chatted to Fred Richards, a Masters student in my uni; and together we came up with an idea of reimagining an existing piece of work. For some reason I imagined what the guys did for Skillfull Huntsman and got terribly excited. I thought of taking Brave and re-designing the characters, props and so on, to be in a futuristic sci fi setting. The aim would be to explore effect of genre and setting on character archetypes and story.

Then I had a talk with Brian, which turned into a heated discussion about merits of trying to adapt an existing work. His arguement was that if a character is walking for 3 days to a place in fantasy setting, what is stopping him from flying there in a shuttle in sci fi? This question of believability humpered my excitement.

However then we had a breakthrough which we both got stupidly excited about.

I'm going to follow the steps of the Skillfull Huntsman crew and visualise a short folk tale. However there is a twist. It will be a Russian tale, one of the ones I grew up with. This gives me a chance to add the element of Russian folklore into my designs and explore symbolism in illustration.

I personally think this is an excellent idea. However, it might change any second in the chaotic world of idea generation.

I'm just writing it down so I don't forget.

PS: Today I ordered the Skillfull Huntsman. In the view of my current circumstances, I'm really looking forward to reading it when it arrives.

2 October 2012

Vehicle Design

So I'm sitting here in class and accidently overhear the lecture that is going on behind me. They are designing vehicles. I finish my previous post and get a little bored. Why didn't we get this in 2nd year? What these guys are doing is awesome, and I had to find it all out by myself. Unfair.

Anyway. I decided to give it a shot too using the concepts learned in the previous DVD.

So here are the thumbnails and the silhuettes.

And here's the design.

This is some sort of exploration vehicle. Its head is the cockpit whereas the engine and the cargo is stored in the back section. Its legs are split on ends to allow for easier grip and climbing. The doodle beside the main sketch is another version of its head. I quite like how it turned out :)

Maybe tonight when I get home I'll turn it into some kind of story. Maybe it's stuck in the jungle, or fighting off some vicious demons. Or perhaps its at a exhibition in London, glistening in all its steampunky glory.

That's why I love what I do. Anything is possible.

Honours Year Begins

It occurred to me that I haven't been keeping a regular blog starting with week one. That is a failing on my part. We don't have internet at home until 19th of October and it never even enter my brain that the library has internet facilities.

So in this first (if belated) blog post I will outline the deliverables for this year and recap on what I've been up to in the past 3 weeks.

Week 1

Introduction week. Not much happened. Started a research diary, in which I put everything I watched, read or played, with annotations and comments. Some ideas emerged as of what this honours project can be. Questions were asked, such as: why are some designs and illustrations technically brilliant but lack appeal and appear boring? How to avoid genre cliches in illustration? Can storytelling techiniques be used in painting? How is stylastion better or worse than realism? Why are some Asian artists have extremely few brush strokes but convey more atmosphere than hyper realist Western painters? How does art history affect modern illustration and concept design? How is concept design different from illustration? And so on.

Areas of interest were also identified: illustration, concept design, world building and visual narrative. Personal goals also make appearance in the diary. They answer the questions: what do I personally want to achieve by the end of 4th year? And these are: a strong professional portfolio of high quality illustrations, understanding of my industry from business side and an understanding of my field as a professional, develop creativity and originality that sets me aside from competition.

Here is a list of artists and books I looked at:

Visualising Research: A guide to the research process in Art and Design by Carole Gray and Julian Malins - This books put the notion of academic research in a perspective I could understand and broke down the process into a set of simple questions: Why? How? and What? They represent the aim, the methodology and the context of the research.

I looked at works of Adrian Smith (Games Workshop Illustrator that worked on various Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 publications), Mike Mignola (Hellboy, BPRD comics). I even bought a book. This one:

I even bought subscription to ImagineFX magazine.

My first idea was to design various characters and to see how they look in different settings. This is the simple doodle I created:

Week 2

This week started a bit slower. The lecture advised us to start our research proposal, which I didn't do. However I met with Lynn and she advised me not to worry about it just yet. She said to just do stuff that I like doing and that is somehow related to the area I wish to do research in.

Thus a lot of entries about various films and games appeared in the diary. Not as much games, because as I said before, the internet isn't going to happen in my house until later in the month, and most games these days require internet activation. Stupid idea if you ask me. But I digress. Below is the list of all the things I did and watched.

Adventure Time (Cartoon Network): Fantastic locations and weird characters in every episode. Interesting use of colour and lighting to create mood. Episode appear light hearted and cute, however some have sinister undertones and interesting themes. Like the one about storytelling. Searching for the concept of "suspence" the main protagonist nearly murders a family of small creatures, thus creating suspence.
Planet Earth: Beautiful imagery and panoramic aerial shots of our planet. Excellent show to gather ideas for creatures and environments. Will re-watch later.
2000AD Cover Art Featuring Judge Dredd: Gives an glimple of the weird, colourful, psychotic and brutal universe of 200AD. Still hasn't arrived, but I'm looking forward to gathering inspiration from these illustrations.
The Emperors Will (Warhammer 40,000): It arrived and turned out to be a fantastic resource for the dark gothic imagery of the universe. The illustrations range from older pieces to new, digital creations.
The Mask: Interesting idea of meta reality, in which everything acts according to the rules of the Mask. E.g. characters can suddenly dance, or wear funny underpants even though put on a normal pair that morning.

2000AD Cover Art
Week 3

This week started with determination to create some art. However that never happened as I got completely distracted with a Gnomon DVD which I took from the library. Here are some notes I mage on it:

Gnomon Workshop: Imaginative Illustration
with J.P. Targete

Step 1: Thumbnailing
  • Good composition is paramount.
  • The process: grey marker, black fine liner to add detail
  • Finish with black marker for shadows and white acrylic for highlights
  • Create 3 thumbnails minimum
  • Frame with black matte board
  • Don't forget to make notes on the thumbnails, e.g. nice pose, cool action etc.
Step 2: Character and Creature Design
  • Large shapes first, finer details last.
  • Each design you create has to have its own feel and personality
  • "I learned a lot by concepting and not illustrating. Really helps your character design" ~ J.P. Targete
  • Don't lift your pen from the paper (refering to black fine liner when sketching), keep the form flowing.
  • Combining illustration and design skills helps create better illustrations, i.e. conceping the characters before the final painting
Step 3: Final Sketch Layout
  • Reference vs. No Reference: It's basically up to you and the situation.
  • Sometimes you can over-do the sketch. That's alright. You can fix it in later stage.
  • Work on all aspects of your skill. If you only ever draw characters your environments will look bad (At this point I noticed that I don't really ever draw vehicles and environments and decided firmly to start on them in my sketchbook)
  • Put down as much tone as possible before going into the painting stage.
  • Experement lots. When you start the final that is it, you can't work on anything anymore, you'll just be rendering.
Stage 4: Acrylics and Oils
  • Should still be able to see the sketch through the initial layer of acrylics
  • Have no fear. You can always fix things by painting over them or wiping paint off.
  • As long as you have a vision it doesn't matter what medium you use.
  • Every painting goes through that "shit" stage. You just have to pull it through. That's what distinguishes a professional and an amateur - the ability and experience to see paintings through.
  • Embrace the happy mistakes.
  • Formal art eductation is very important, as it provides good foundation.
  • Never use pure black.
  • Colouring and painting skills are not as important as drawing skills (e.g. understanding of form, lighting, composition etc.)
  • Don't focus on one area and don't neglects bits of painting.
  • Dark values - closer, light values - farther
  • Warm colours - closer, cool colours - farther
  • When painting wet on wet, put a lot of medium on the brush so the paint adheres better.
  • 3 main areas of the painting: background, middle ground and foreground.
  • Don't over do the sketch, otherwise you'll get bored when doing the final as there will be no more room for creativity.
Lecture Notes


  • Imagination is the most powerful tool for an artist. It is cultivated from one's own experiences and a personal visual library (physical or metaphorical).
  • Don't spend more than a few minutes on a thumbnail. It can be as detailed or as loose as you like, or depending on how client likes it.
  • 3 main design elements to consider while thumbnailing: Composition, Flow of Action, Lighting (lighting is optional but useful)
  • Materials used for thumbnailing: Pantone/Prisma colour grey and black markers, Acrylic white for highlights.
Character Design
  • Distinct silhuette is important
  • Be daring in your designs (Personal note: but keep functionality in mind, no half naked warrior princesses with a bit of metal around her crotch)
  • Important questions to ask yourself when designing characters: a) Who are they as individuals? b) What relationship do they have with the environment? c) What relationship do they have with eachother?
  • When working on an illo, only design what you need to.
  • Decide early on your focal points and divide your design time accordingly.
Creature Design
  • Design creatures with personality: add expression through shapes of their eyes, mouths and poses.
  • Make them believable: understand structure and anatomy.
  • The only way to understand structure and anatomy is through observational drawing.
  • Little details like broken horns, scratches and marks add character and story.
Final Sketch Layout
  • Final sketches are only final if they're approved by the client!
  • Sketch can be as loose or as tight as the situation demands it.
  • Always refer to your thumbnails and concepts throughout the process.
  • White will always make the blues very cool and desaturate your warms.
  • It's best to use reds/yellows mixed with white for highlights.
  • Highlight will reflect the colour of the light source.
  • Shadows will reflect a lot of environment colour (Also, shadows are opposite to the light source colour, e.g. red light produces blue shadows)
  • Again, never use pure black.
  • Let the paint do its thing. If it bleeds, let it. It'll create a cool texture.
  • Put darks first, then midtones and then highlights.
  • Try to create a good balance of value vs contrast.
  • Separate the back, mid and fore grounds.
  • Make sure the original thumbnail survives up to a degree.
  • Add just enough detail to enhance the image and clarify things for the viewer.
It took me 3 days to fully watch and appreciate the DVD. I'm looking forward to trying these ideas out myself. The end of DVD had some excellent resources. One of which is a link to Design Studio Press, who specialise in concept design and illustration books, as well as have a huge database of good artists.

This concludes this blog post. I apologise for the wall of text. TL;DR - I did cool stuff and made some notes.

Also, the lecture we were to establish our research domains and topics of interest. Here they are.

Domain: Concept Design and Illustration
Topics of Interest: Character design for film, fantasy book illustration, concept design for games, limitations of genre in concept design, character archetypes in concept design

These lead to my aim and objectives, which I will add to this post later this week.
Next Steps
  • Get some materials and a sketchbook
  • Do a few experiments at home (Bamboo+PS)
  • Go to the library and see what else they have that is fun to read
  • Make myself a study timetable