Monday, August 6

Close-up ~ Dodge & Burn retouch

While there's still many an illustration to post, I'm back in 'retouch mode' and thought I'd do a quick log of recent images...

The above shows a 'before & after' close-up at 300% zoom, though for the sake of my eyesight this was retouched at 500%.
Lighting for the shoot was superb and skin condition/makeup was pretty good to begin with, but with the greyscale aids and a little contrast bump, skin is not a pretty thing beyond 100%!
The top 2 layers are just a visual guide to better show uneven areas, these are hidden when finished ;)
The 'fix' layer group is the important part! A dodge mask lightens the whole image, the burn mask darkens it - each of these can be rubbed through to smooth the greys.
With the greyscale turned off the original image is much lighter, many of the fixes will look minimal/unnoticeable in colour...but if it's worth doing it's worth doing properly!
Main aim is to create a flawless complexion that still retains texture to at least 100% view. It's non-destructive and absolutely no blurring or cloning is used.

I also had the pleasure of working on images for the lovely Victoria Beckham... I mean, Gill Penny, who looks more posh than Posh and makes for a great model. Was a real honour to meet her and MUA Kelly Smith. Both highly recommended for their respective talents!

These images (and many more to come) were shot by super Stu Keating in his super (Macclesfield) studio. An example of a photographer whose experience really shows - creative and competent in setting up perfect lighting and directing models to get the right shot first time. Also a laugh to work with, which I'd consider equally important!

Wednesday, December 21

Bird Food

During the cold months it helps to have a bit of chub! Animals especially can suffer as they're constantly out on foraging duties.  Watching our own puffball birds in the garden inspired a few pics last year, finally got round to finishing this one on a more relevant theme.
~*~ Feeding Ideas ~*~

Fat Cakes
Perfect Winter food containing seeds or insect matter. Be sure to remove any mesh bags!
Crushed nuts are great, whole nuts may present a choking hazard - put them in a wire feeder. Birds don't like salted types either!
Best in Spring for feeding up chicks, but they'll love these all year round! If you're not keen on live ones, it's nice to soak the dry variety in water to compensate.
Niger/Nyjer Seed
Good an' fatty! Very small so require a special feeder, or mix them into other foods, or place them in a tray.
Sunflower Seed
Husks take effort to remove, so you can buy hearts/kibble instead.
Half a fresh coconut can be used as a case for your own fat-mix once they've picked out all the goodness.
Set aside a tub you can save your waste in & tip in the garden. Fruit, bacon, rice, cat/dog food, cheese, cereal, breadcrumbs are all appreciated!
Apples & pears. Bonus if you have Holly & Ivy bushes growing for their berries!

Breakfast and supper are the best meal times for birds before the cold nights take their toll. Even animals appreciate cleanliness, so make sure the uneaten food is periodically cleaned away to stop molding!

Info. nutshell'd from the BBC Autumnwatch page ~ Some great photos to be found and many other wildlifey tips for all.

Monday, December 5

WIP ~ Nevermet Press #1

Here it is, if a little delayed! I'll always aim to keep updating as I'll likely find it interesting as I improve and get inevitably wrinkly.
I was assigned the short story "I made a Friend" by (NYT Bestseller) Philip Athans which, at the moment, can be read for free HERE! Really enjoyed it, and it's likely to be the first in a line of steampunk-themed tales I'll be working on. After reading I doodled down some ideas & compositions, trying to keep in mind how they could look if ever used for the magazine's cover.
First ideas usually turn out to be the best, this one was no exception, even though I felt quite fond of them all. Never before that day had I drawn anything remotely robot, so a massive thanks to Jonathan Jacobs for seeing a style potential in my work. Something whom those 'higher up' should do much more often.
#1 - Having never encountered anything comprised of odd shapes before, shapes is exactly how I broke it down to a manageable creation! Blocked in the basics and headed over to to lay down the main areas.
#2 - Used a clipping mask for each shape section & moved the texture around to show its best bits. Another clipping mask over that set to 'soft light' for the shadows, which instantly improved the structure and became the rinse & repeat for the rest of the image!
#3 - Masked out parts of industrial textures to find crude embellishments for him and rendered a corpse-like pose in DAZ Studio. Gets the job done. I'd like to point out at this stage he was imported as a default, half naked figure, so it was back to clipping masks and textures to fix him up some suitable clothing.
#4 - More 'soft light' layers to keep building shadows and sourcing some passable-quality, period kitchen utensils.
#5 - If anyone knows a way to totally mask out a black background from a translucent object, do tell me now! Thankfully for the tone of this image it wasn't a massive problem, CS5 managed most of the work, clever little thing. I figured the robot would huff & puff somewhat when angry/stressed due to high steam pressure. Naturally.  Tweaked some layers to better fit the background objects. Think I toyed with a warming (photo) filter at this stage too.
#6 - While I could have added a border at stage #5 and called it finished, it didn't have quite the same 'ambience' as the simple starting doodle. SO, slapped down 2 more 'soft light' layers, one filled totally with an almost-black, the other with a warm cream. Added a mask to both of these and erased away at the dark layer for a slightly vignetted look.
Any fans of fantasy/steampunk/RPG, or self-publishing enthusiasts, please do check out Nevermet Press and 'Stories in the Ether' which contains a great collection of shorts. If you'd like these magz on your e-reader details can be found HERE! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 22

WIP ~ Raul Xi

Commission time!Anyhow, another good anthropomorphic character for me! A wolf fighter by the name of Raul Xi of whom I was given this reference as a starting point: Pic! A relaxed pose was suggested as his creator already has a nice collection of him in fighting motion!
#1 - My very first idea & the one I liked best. Wanted something that would look good with simple, soft shading/colours & let the lines do most of the work.
#2 - Pencil lines, just on regular printer paper as the texture wasn't particularly important for this one. Tidied up the scan - levels and a bit of burning in round the eyes.
#3 - On various layers set to multiply, got down the basic flat colours picked from the reference image then added the first layer of shading/highlights with clipping masks (makes things easier & neater).
#4 - Soft light layer! Added more glow-y, brighter highlights with a warm cream colour, and deeper shadows in a purple hue to tie with the background a little better. Wooden textures from, no surprise, added on a clipping mask & set to multiply as the background needed to be much darker than my original purple.
Beams are just gradient-filled, rectangular selections with a good amount of gaussian blur (about 87 radius) with 'dust speckles' caught in the light. Sparkles. This layer is just normal, the blur adds enough translucency for the lines.

Well aware I still need post the WIP of my contribution to Nevermet Press, so that'll be the next one, for sure this time.

Saturday, November 19

WIP ~ Winter's Herald

2nd product by Knightvision Games I had the pleasure of contributing to! The cover style was given a more minimalistic revamp so this time my assignment was to create a creature figure as the 'centrepiece'!
Crystkin: Bi-pedal, chaotic, half-dragons with blue-white crystallised skin and stubby wings. They use a breath weapon called 'Cone of White Out' and wield crystal weapons.
#1 - First idea with all the elements in. Imagined their armor-like skin to be encrusted with rocky gems.
#2 - Suggestions were for a sword-swinging pose, stockier figure and some glowing!
#3 - While the 2nd pose was okay'd, I went ahead and did some home improvements. Gave him a slightly more Tyranno anatomy and corrected the pose for a little more dynamic.
#4 - Here he is with his base texture down and main colours & details. At this point I hadn't quite decided how to tackle his crystal parts and how much ground to add, considering he was to be placed on a pre-made cover layout.
Finally added a background just for gallery purposes and changed the ice-breath colour to increase visibility against the pale cover.

My other assignment for this same rulebook was for an interior piece in black & white, showing the 3 archetypal characters encountering a 6' ice-elemental warrior inside a cavern. Naturally I imagined it to be glistening and gem-studded.
I like it when I nail ideas within 3 attempts.

"Winter's Herald" is a DnD/Labyrinth Lord adventure set in an arctic-like environment and contains several new monsters to encounter! See a preview & buy a copy HERE! (Also on Lulu, and Magcloud in print!)

Monday, November 7

Logo ~ Cyleak

Whilst this little project was completed some months ago, I felt I'd still like to write about it and give a link to Cyleak...
About: A project destined to be a source of high quality audio for use in movies, games and other media.
Its aim is to provide an interesting selection of personalised and customised compositions for game developers, movie producers and anyone else seeking variety of sounds for their work.
Samples: Check them out on the homepage HERE!

The keywords for the logo's concept were 'turtle', 'soundwave' and 'speaker'... so here's the initial ideas I had!

#1 is the original idea Cyleak roughed out for me, neatened up a bit and added the desired colours just for visual aid. #2 is a little more abstract using the shell as the main theme and a bit more 'tribal' feeling. #3 perhaps a little too out the box, the soundwaves aren't going to be highly visible at 'icon size'.
The bottom design is the final, pretty much a mix of all the ideas' best bits and the one we decided to polish up into the beauty below (with Illustrator CS5).

Friday, October 7

WIP ~ Maddie

Here's another nice change for me! Haven't drawn a horse in many a year so this request was extra fun to do. A pet portrait for an old school friend who wanted this done as a surprise for her sister :)
Maddie the pony, done on pastel paper with Prismacolor pencils for that special white glow!
Started out getting the highlighted areas done, which was most of the form constructed just with white. Blue paper was the perfect partner, white paper would have made this a challenge and potentially left me with a dull, muddy-looking pony. Only 2 shades of blue used for the shadows and a peach plus beige for accents and warmer shading.

Tuesday, October 4

WIP / Composite ~ Temple of the Horned Goddess

Finally! A process outline of the cover for an RPG adventure by Knightvision Games!
Above are the drafts we went through based on a sample text. First 2 are an exterior interpretation before I realised the landscape was in fact an indoor illusion. Latter 2 is more 'adventurer' style, focus on characters and the devils. Managed to clean up the composition on the 4th ;)

As I neglected to take screen caps through the actual painting process, this is more a layer-by-layer breakdown of the final. *click for bigger*
#1 - Laying out the room shape & fighting with the perspective & spacing for the characters. Burning in some depth & a dark back area for attention to the statue!

#2 - Decided to place the 'illusion' on the same wall/floor planes, attempting to make the field '3D' would just greatly clutter up the image around the characters, which are more important ;)

#3 - Utilised DAZ Studio for a quick composition aid - great reference for any tricky lighting situations & allows everyone to be shuffled round to ensure they fit the room before actually painting.

#4 - Not massively visible here, but this layer textured up the devils to make them more reptilian & edited away that default model face. (see detail crop) Tweaked their lighting.

#5 - Characters! The stage I wish I'd taken WIPs for, because here they looked terribly 'plonked'. Went with the fantasy archetypes: dwarf barbarian-ish with his leather & fur bits; human warrior in shiny armour; female magic-user who, in retrospect, I could have given elf ears to.

#6 - Lighting. Added staff/magic light as the main source & relevant shadows for everyone.

Final - Added a 'soft light' layer for blotting in much needed extra shade & a warmer central glow.

Temple of the Horned Goddess is a Labyrinth Lord/AEC adventure. Designed for 4-5th level characters, the adventure can be placed in any generic fantasy setting.
This book includes:
  • Over 25 pages spanning overland and dungeon encounters
  • Map for the Village of Hardin's Point
  • Overland maps of the surrounding jungle and the Skinks lair.
  • Detailed maps of the Temple of the Horned Goddess
  • New monsters to challenge the PCs
  • New magical items and weapons
..:: Buy me?! ::..

Tuesday, September 13

WIP ~ Ritual

A 3rd commission for Mr. P. Driessen, which must be a good sign! Once again featuring his feisty, feline sorceress, Isnari. There was already a pose in-mind, but that never usually stops me having a fiddle with some other options...
And as I made such an appealing case, the next commission lined up will be of the 3rd option ;D
Tools of choice this time were Prismacolor (Karisma now in the UK I believe) pencils and 'Murano' pastel paper.
*click for big!*
#1 - Firstly I'd like to state, unless you're a total pro master, starting an image on white paper/background will be awkward (what's your mid-tone?!) and the final image can often lack 'punch' unless you do well with colour theory and contrast.
So, as this was going to be a dark image I opted for a dusky blue. Perfect for strong lighting, but not too dark as to make adding shadows fruitless.
Blocking in light from the fire and also added some reflected light to add dimension as once her black fur is added she'd get lost on the paper. Poor girl. If there's no actual second light source, use a colour from the background as the reflected light/to tint shadows.

#2 - Added that black and looked over a few cat pics to decide what 'shape' her head was going to be. She's based on a domestic breed, rather than wild big cats, so her features benefit from fluffy, soft details and curves.

#3 - Boosted the vibrancy on the highlights as the scanner 'flattened' her somewhat. Background was a hard choice. Initially we placed her in a great, marble hall. Wasn't totally happy with all the extra space this gave as she needed to be a solid, main focus. Must stay simplistic! Lots of 'overlay' and 'multiply' layers.
The stained-glass was a happy trial, the colours in the window allowed for extra harmonious colours to be splattered in. (#5)

#4 - Finally added the fire, making sure the light wasn't quiiite as strong as her highlighting. Magic is the reason for the orbs and sparkles, should you really need a reason for such things ;D

#5 - Details and extras! Few shadows, added jewellery and floor texture to ground her and give the room a bit more context.

+ A close-up of her papery texturey face.

Monday, August 29

WIP ~ KeepWatch

I believe this will be the 2nd post concerning a commissioned piece and I still forgot to screencap it's creation at more than 3 stages, but it's always nice to look back on!
We had a quick play with the character poses at the start and went with something a little different from the original idea towards a wee bit more narrative context. Here's how I presented such an idea...
Beautiful. Many anatomy references were needed to get this position looking better, but the colours in the final turned out quite similar... *click for bigger*
#1 - Neat sketch on my textured paper, which I tried to preserve the effect of without allowing it to 'dirty' the overall appearance. Chose 3D models to position for my pose references ;) Brushed in some bright whites in Photoshop to help when applying colour.

#2 - Flats. As this was my first time, believe it or not, actually using clipping masks, each character/major item is on its own layer (set to multiply/overlay). Great for adding markings, textures, non-overlapping colours and using large brushes in a more forgiving way. No shading at this stage other than what the pencil's created.

#3 - Shadow & highlighting. Created on clipping masks set to 'soft light' with large, almost black, airbrush. Smaller, warm hue for highlighted areas. Also added 'photo filter' to warm everything as the flats made it look a bit too chilly up there! One extra, normal layer for scribbling in some small, very bright details to pick out the light edges better.
And here's it all put together...!