Wednesday 27 January 2021

Art of 2020


Year of the Rat!

The year of 2020 has seen many changes throughout. Obvious plague aside, this year has been by far my most productive year in terms of output. So much so that I can't really review every piece I made during the year, as I have during previous blog posts so instead I've made a selection that hopefully tells a story of my progress through the year.

Part of this surge in productivity may be due to lock-downs earlier in the year, part of it may be due to improved mental health thanks to starting my transition around the same time. Turns out that reducing dysphoria does miracles for motivation, big surprise. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Art of 2020 started off with another slow art block, as the years often seem to do. A few sketches and unfinished pieces not really worthy of noting. I also dabbled in 3D modelling again during the early year, but found sculpting too time consuming to keep focused on. This first completed piece began in the second half of march.

This picture defined quite early on a rendering style and work flow that I'd continue to refine over the year. It also marked the creation of a character that I'd draw repeatedly, called Doll. I used a combination of references to create the pose, and I'm quite happy overall how it turned out, if a little unrefined in areas, particular the hair.

The hands are also some of the best I've done all year--probably because I shot reference for once.

However my next couple of pieces didn't quite follow on from the success of this first image, I still had a bit of experimenting to do.

The incomplete Demon Girl. This is a take on another character whose conception is a few years older. This was my first foray (this year) into painting and really rendering things out. I learned a lot from this piece, but my rendering skills and my anatomy knowledge (particularly in the face) were not quite up to scratch for this project, and I continuously stalled on it due to frustration.

But that didn't stop me from creating more art, this time.

This piece dialed back my efforts into less of a realistic approach to rendering. This character is one of my old Dungeons & Dragons characters, and she is a wizard. Overall there's a lot of parts that I like about this picture (the rendering on the arms and hands, once again shot reference for these as well as the crossed legs.) but there are also areas that needed a lot of refining: the face in particular, and much of the rendering on the clothing is bland and uninteresting.

Some things were changing though. Starting my transition had empowered me to socialize more, and I began sharing art in a discord community around the time of Demon Girl. Eventually this led me to streaming on twitch to help teach a fellow artist some of my tricks--it started off with some gesture/figure drawings but eventually culminated in this:

Shameless self-promotion:

The next iteration of Doll. This picture was another defining moment in the development of my style over the year, but most notably it defined a split in styles, where I began to allow myself a simpler style to explore with and have fun, instead of pursing the grueling realistic rendering that I'd been pursuing for much of the early half of the year.

I found that it was important to create art that didn't pressure me to perform to the best of my ability, and to instead create things that gave me joy. I found this very important as the year progressed; it was around this time I started getting increasingly frequent requests for commissions from members of the community.

Goddess of the Hunt.

I'd taken a handful of commissions earlier in the year, when I was still defining my style and workflow. Much of them are in a similar vein to the Wizard piece, but around August things were starting to change, and my art was improving, I feel, in a major way. This Goddess isn't the first commission, but it does mark the beginning of a particular style I developed for commissions. And I'm quite proud of how this one turned out, too.

It was around this time that I was getting requests back-to-back, and found that I rarely had time to express myself through personal artwork. Having developed a simpler style, and having a muse for personal outlet helped a lot during this time or I probably would have suffered burn out.

Doll and Cyan, the muse

I created a lot of art of Doll and Cyan through the year. Cyan is the character of one of the first people to commission me this year, and who would later become my best friend. I would often sketch the two of them doing stuff together and most of them were rough and unfinished. However, during October I took on a drawtober challenge to produce a drawing every week throughout October, and these two characters were the subjects. It provided a lot of variation between my commissions, but also a lot more work!

The picture above is the last picture of the two I made for the year.

The last commission of the year was this character turnaround, which represented the largest amount of work I'd ever done on a commission before, and I think also the best work of the year so far. It shows how far my art ability has progressed over the year quite well, I think!

For 2020 I had set myself a couple of art goals: The first was to produce more character concept art, and more environmental art. I wanted to focus on creating finished pieces that I could use to build a portfolio that was more than just sketches and half-finished work.

For the most part I succeeded in this goal. I produced quite a lot of character art, designing many people's OCs through commissions. I also finished a lot more of my art work, thanks to having the deadlines of commissions to help motivate me. I still didn't finish very much of my personal artwork, however.

I also did almost no environmental artwork, and very few detailed backgrounds.

For 2021 I have a few new art goals, a little harder to define progress than the previous years. I want to improve the overall rendering fidelity of my work, and continue to develop my techniques. I also hope to improve my brush stroke confidence--I am quite a messy and loose artist, and as a result I tend to over work my lines and brush strokes. My stroke accuracy has improved, but is still far off where I'd like it to be.

The end goal is to produce higher quality work at a reasonable output. Since September I have been doing art commissions full time, and if I want to make it into a full-time job that I can support myself with then I'll need to up my game.

Here's to another year of art!




Friday 20 December 2019

Art of 2019

Following in the footsteps of the previous year--where I set the goal to do more art in 2019 and rambled for several paragraphs about art I'd created--this is a blog post where I ramble further, surprising no one.

Saint Genevieve

You're no saint, you're no saviour.
The first new piece of 2019 pretty much sums up the struggles I faced throughout 2019. It started with my line work, and while the initial sketch was quite inspired, and I was quite happy with it, it took a lot of work to clean it up. It felt like I was fighting with my tablet the whole time, and no matter how many times I redrew lines my precision never really seemed to improve. It took a lot of hours to clean the whole thing up, and that lead into a whole host of other issues.

My art style has always leaned heavily toward stylistic, cartoony, and cel-shaded, but mostly out of laziness / inexperience with rendering and digital painting. I really wanted to improve that this year, starting with this piece and I had grand designs for the lighting and shading, some of which you can see in the face area.
Problem was that once I got down base colours and some simple shadow shapes I kind of didn't know how to proceed toward the next step, and it caused me a lot of frustration here. Eventually I spent so many hours struggling at every stage and had spent so long working on it that I kind of hated everything about it by that point, and so I had to put it down. I tried coming back to it, but honestly when I look at it now there are so many problems it would just be easier to start from scratch.

Not really finishing things is another theme of 2019.


I drew this piece to mark the birthday of one of my oldest OC's. Straight away it's pretty obvious this piece is on-theme with "not finished, but finished enough" with the lack of colour, and the remnants of the base sketch left underneath. It's something I need to stop doing, it's a lack of confidence in my line work and volumes.
Still, it was a fun and quick piece that was never meant to be much more.

Not Like Other Necro's

My best pieces are always inspired by a really solid vision in my head, and this is one of them. Even though there's a lot of problems I can still look at this one and feel good about what I did. Inspired by the "Not Like Other Girls" meme, and the absurdly pink outfit that I dressed my Guild Wars 2 necromancer in. It was the top post on r/guildwars2 for two days so that's my only real claim to fame in 2019 I guess.

Not many people got the joke.

While the image still leans heavily on cel-shading elements, there's some evidence of rendering peeking into this one. I did, however, learn some valuable lessons about layer masks while working on this one.

Finally some rendering

I put these two pieces together even though they were done at different times because they were similar experiments with rendering / digital painting. The elf princess was a mess that I painted over continuously for weeks and I learned a lot about using my tools in photoshop to paint. It also demonstrates my on-going issue with values and volume. The one on the right was a much quicker piece, based on my Sylvari Chronomancer from Guild Wars 2. I had a lot of fun painting the facial features of this one, and discovered that painting with a different colour pallet is actually easier for me than painting with human skin tones.

Both, however, suffered from the same major stumbling block that ended a lot of my artwork this year prematurely. Rendering hair fucking sucks and I don't know how to do it. The same issue is evident in the previous Necromancer artwork.

Guns of Liberty Character Bios
Not labeled chronologically.
1. John Chamberlain. 2. Archbishop Darcius. 3. Rachel Masters. 4. Lalita Laffel. 5. Genevieve Jones.

These pieces were created over the space of 2 months, with the first (Rachel) started in April before the Waddoff piece, and the last (Darcius) at the end of June. I lumped them altogether since they were all created for the release of my debut novel, Guns of Liberty (shameless self promotion).

The first, Rachel (3) shows many of the classic markings of my laziness. Cartoony proportions, simple shading, and a sketchy underlayer. But it was also the beginning of my rendering attempts, a lot of which is evident here. I played with a lot of layer masks for lighting effects. The expression makes it still one of my favourite pieces of the year.

Rachel was followed by Genevieve (5) and here I really started getting a better idea of what I was doing. I relied a lot less on the liberal use of layer masks for this one. It was also the first face that the Liquify tool's face-aware feature recognized something I've done as being a face, which felt pretty validating. Working with Gin's skin tone was a challenge that I enjoyed.

The final three were done in a more rushed state due to the rapidly approaching deadline of my book release, so I fell back on some of my lazy techniques of unfinished lines, liberal layer masks, and cel shading. I would have loved to spent more time rendering out Lalita's (4) sassy expression. But I'm reasonably happy with that forehead shine on Darcius (2). Chamberlain (1) was the weakest of the bunch by far, and seriously needed more work but I'd procrastinated hard that week.

Punk Girl

A random inspired drawing that didn't really go anywhere. I needed to break into a different aesthetic from the other art I had been doing, by the time I got it to this stage however the numerous anatomy issues and bad line work made it difficult to continue. I think I fell back into bad habits with this piece and it didn't feel like a progression. It had potential but just ended up like one of my generic doodles.

Casual Elf

This piece came after a lot of study and watching excessive tutorials online and I think it shows. This piece is still massively unfinished due to my old friend and roadblock, rendering fucking hair. I really tried, but I just couldn't get it, which eventually led to frustration and demotivation. Hair is a serious mental road block for me that I couldn't envision how to progress.

I also struggled significantly with marrying values with colour. My lack of painting experience and knowledge was seriously biting me in the ass at this point in the year.

I had a lot of fun with this piece, D&D casual wear was the basic idea. There are others bouncing around my head that I'd like to get to work on one day.

Paint Studies

The last quarter of the year started with mostly paint studies and style expression/experimentation. I picked some of the highlights to show above. I didn't do much with figures at this point, and mostly practiced painting faces and face parts in bulk. I found working in red a real relief on the eyes that helped me look at things differently--however it seems to result in weaker grey scale values overall so it's not something I use outside of experimental studies at the moment.

Highland Maiden

Started as a sketch out of a really silly and exaggerated pose and slowly evolved into something pretty cool in the end. It remains pretty rough and finished because once again: fuck hair rendering and its ability to suck the joy out of my pieces. I spent quite a lot of time working on and refining this piece, and there were some hilariously bad phases with the face.

Including this magnificent abomination

Good lord.

This is a character I definitely want to come back to and finish at some point. But she has pretty complicated hair and I have much to learn about hair in general.

Lighting Practice

It's not nudity if it's a study!

This one again started with an exaggerated pose from figure drawing, but ended up turning into a practice of lighting planes rather than a character like the previous. Overall I liked how it turned out, but I definitely could have spent more time refining it and making it into something instead of leaving it unfinished. But that's the theme of the year.

After this point, I received a commission to do some environmental artwork for an advert, and also began doing storyboards for a short comic set after the first book in my brand new series! (more shameless self-promotion) both of which I'm unable to show art from at this point in time, so that concludes my 2019 in art.

In the middle of November my Intuos broke down, and I replaced it with a Huion tablet, and while I haven't made any new art to show off yet, I have been having a lot of fun using it and can't wait to get back into art for 2020!

Overall I'd say I succeeded in my goal for 2019, which was the very low bar of "do more art".

My goals for 2020 are to work harder on two things: Character Concept Art, and Environmental Concept Art. This means I'll have a focus on fixing one of my biggest issues of never finishing my art to a presentable state. By the end of 2020 I aim to have a presentable portfolio that doesn't just consist of studies and half-baked characters.

Here's to a new year of art.