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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.

2 October 2012

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