Friday, 28 December 2012

The Trouble Upstream Illustrations

Cover image
At the end of November I was lucky enough to receive a commission for the cover image of Andrew Means' new book, The Trouble Upstream. Released as an ebook through Smashwords, the story is delightfully written and engaging from the the first page. It is set on a wild river in Arizona which appears to be drying up, threatening Beaver's home. Along with friends Skunk and Ringtail, he sets out on a journey to the river's source in search of a solution.

Back Cover image
Andrew is also planning a print release, so we agreed to produce a greyscale back cover image of some pack rats playing on improvised instruments, which was a joy to paint.
Both were produced with natural media software, ArtRage Pro and Adobe Photoshop. They were both completed in a few days with clear, simple guidance from Andrew. The book is available now for both Kindle and iPad and I can thoroughly recommend it! Click on images to zoom.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Piggotty Wood in ImagineFX Magazine

I'm thrilled that ImagineFX magazine has included a news feature about the iPad version of Piggotty Wood in their 2012 Christmas edition. Under the heading, 'Beautiful Ballad,' Nicola Henderson points out that 'ArtRage proved to be the ideal platform to bring Sav's tale to life, and with stunning effect. Check out the high-resolution trailer on his site.' Thank you ImagineFX! Issue 90 is packed full of amazing art, features and tutorials. I urge you to buy a copy today!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Ballad of Piggotty Wood - iPad Edition

The Ballad of Piggotty Wood book cover
"Little Badger Joe lives in Piggotty Wood, once a wondrous world now ruled by an evil queen. Life is harsh, fearful and ugly. Yet Joe's grandmother tells childhood tales of carefree times before the heartless queen's reign. Piggotty Wood was beautiful. Life was rich and rewarding. The seasons passed happily as a tranquil dream. Those days of freedom seem forever lost.
Then one day, as Joe's father passes by a gigantic ancient oak, it suddenly, terrifyingly roars to life, demanding little Joe be brought to its roots in apparent sacrifice. Father bravely refuses, but when Grandmother is kidnapped instead, a terrifying set of events are triggered which change Piggotty Wood, and Little Badger Joe, forever."

Link to book on iTunes store HERE.

The Ballad of Piggotty Wood is a tongue in cheek, but affectionate look at the kind of stories I enjoyed when I was young. Such tales were dark, atmospheric, quirky and more often than not, created by the Grimms, Ladybird Books or British legends Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin (check out Charlie Brooker's tribute.) One of my favourite comments so far comes from my brother, who said it feels 'somewhere between Terry Gilliam and J.K. Rowling,' both of whom can definitely be counted as influences.
First released as a physical book through Blurb in 2009, this version features updated and all new illustrations. The second edition is currently exclusively available for the iPad at the iBooks store. You can download a free sample by clicking the link above. As if that wasn't enough, here's a tasty trailer...

If for any reason you cannot see the trailer please view it at YouTube.
Or you can download a full quality version in three sizes here: 1080, 720, 480.

Snippets on the Making of...
The trailer was created with Apple's brilliant motion graphics software, Motion.
This was the first time I'd used it, and Motion's interface designers made it so intuitive, I rarely needed to dip into the manual. The same can be said for GarageBand which was used to write the theme tune.
My good friends, ex band mate Chris Yeamans and fellow ArtRage users Nick Harris and Byron Callas kept me straight with all kinds of great advice.

Piggotty Wood Icon
What started as a simple way to practice 2D illustration is fast becoming a whole universe of adventure for both the characters and myself. When Apple released iBooks Author, I only ever had one candidate in mind for an initial foray into digital books. The first edition received such a great reception I jumped at the chance to take it in a new and exciting direction. An important part of this version is support for Apple's built in Accessibility functions. You can easily set the iPad to use three finger gestures for Zoom, which is a great way to enlarge text or home in on illustration details. The same gestures control VoiceOver, which provides audio descriptions of each illustration. It will also narrate the story, depending on which part of the screen is touched. The rate at which VoiceOver speaks is also adjustable and in this case, I found slowing the speech rate down from the default more suitable for Piggotty Wood.

Pages 4 and 5 of Piggotty Wood without the text.

Most illustrators will tell you an image is never really finished, so when the reformatting process forced me to start tweaking, I soon realised pretty much all of them would get a makeover. Because the new dimensions only allowed one verse per page, I also needed to paint a few completely new ones. The iBooks' side-scrolling nature steered me to create large panoramic paintings in places, some of which span five pages. For me, this scene continuation gives the iBooks version a more immersive quality.

Page Selection Screen

Mac and PC standalone versions are also in early development, but until then thank you for your continued support, and I hope you enjoy Piggotty Wood on your iPad as much as I enjoyed making it! Click on images to zoom.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

We Who Are About to Die Salute You

For some reason I was reminded of gladiators thrust into a certain death battle when recently, the British government took the decision to kill whole communities of Badgers in the somewhat pointless hope their deaths will reduce bovine TB. If you are French, you might be thinking, 'good,' because I am reliably informed that in France badgers are thought of as  nature's scum! But whilst I completely understand good management of the situation is essential, I am immensely saddened at the thought that all those magnificent creatures will die for nothing. I can happily live without beef and all the associated health problems linked to the way we process and eat it, but a Britain in which badgers are enemies of the state is unthinkable to me. This is a complex and contentious debate which does involve livelihoods, but unfortunately we humans are sometimes guilty of acting like self serving monsters. After all, this is their country too. Here are some interesting articles: Observer Letters, Countryfile Article. I, Science
The image is a detail from a panoramic for the upcoming iPad version of Piggotty Wood, which features quite a few reworked and brand new images necessitated by the change in format. It seemed very appropriate on this sad occasion! Click on image to zoom.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Cold Crags

Cold Crags, 40cm x 30cm
While waiting for gesso to dry on what was intended to be the next painting in my Accidental Tourist series, I decided to do a quick small study of something I might not otherwise have chosen. This is what I enjoy about taking up a theme, a collection of related paintings become like a music album where every track contributes to the overall feel with some lesser known pieces acting as support to the better known songs. The reference for this image was just one of hundreds in my bank and there is nothing at all special about it - I took many more spectacular shots on that day but the large dark mass of cliff side warmed by the waning sun caught my eye. I liked the way the dark mass continues in the gorse hedge as it trickles its way diagonally across the canvas towards us. So this painting became less about depicting a landscape and more about the esoteric arrangement of shapes. For such a simple thing there are some quite complex relationships going on. At a base level each quarter of the canvas yields and intriguing detail in its own right. Alternatively, the horizon splits the painting into two equally intriguing segments. Or you might notice the arrangement of flowing curves pretty much converging at a point where the path disappears round a corner. Here you can just see a couple of tiny figures who, together with Anna provide a reference for the scale of the landscape. You may also notice Anna is placed on the line which splits the canvas into thirds while her long shadow supports the hedge diagonal and reveals where the light is coming from as well as the time of day. The distant clouds also counter these diagonals providing symmetrical shapes either side of the horizon. I could go on!

3 figures on path provide scale
Again I used Atelier Interactives, this
time employing a quick and direct dry brush technique. I laid down a Burnt Sienna wash before using a palette of Titanium White, Toning Grey, Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Orange and Permanent Alizarine. I like this sketch and it demonstrates to me the value of not discarding imperfect reference photos. :)
Click on images to zoom.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Accidental Tourist

The Accidental Tourist, 91cm x 61
Following on from my last post which featured a digital painting of The Accidental Tourist, here is the physical version executed on MDF, coated with Liquitex clear gesso and measuring 91cm x 61cm. This is part of a continuing exercise in learning how to use Chroma's Atelier Interactive acrylics and the more I do use them, the more I fall in love.
Fast Underpainting
Here I used the paints together with accompanying mediums, impasto gel, slow medium and unlocking formula to fine tune my workflow. The imapsto gel makes paint more textured, glossier and aids quick drying, allowing the rapid build up of underpainting textures. A standard oil underpainting takes much longer to build up. Fast drying impasto layers mean you wait minutes rather than days before dragging fresh paint over them to create ragged edges which catch light and suggest more organic detail than is actually painted. Not surprisingly, slow medium slows down the drying time and also aids paint flow which helps achieve sharper edges for detail work, while unlocking formula allows you to reactivate parts of the painting so that you can blend fresh layers with previous layers. For the final finish, an even sheen was achieved by brushing impasto gel over areas where thinner paint dried dull. Impasto gel is milky when applied, but dries hard, clear and non tacky. It is a very pleasing finish, not at all like the plastic acrylics of old but more akin to an oiled out oil painting.
The scene shows Anna with Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis behind. The arrangement of rocks around her could easily suggest ruins of an old stone circle, but these boulders are in fact glacial erractics. Click on images to zoom.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Path to Culcrieff

Path to Culcrieff - Acrylics
Quite some time ago I painted an image in ZBrush which featured Anna being caught in a photo I took of Ben Nevis. I Liked the idea that her silhouette accidentally appears in so many images of outstanding views and decided to paint a series of them in my spare time. Life being what it is, spare time has been limited since then - my to do list gets longer every day, so I have only just got round to the first traditional image in the series. Painted with Atelier Interactive acrylics on canvas board, Path to Culcrieff shows a magnificent conifer splitting the canvas from top to bottom. It is late afternoon, the shadows grow longer and the waning sun projects intense patches of light and shade onto the tree. We used a wooded path to get back to the cottage every day and this was the point at which it opened up to reveal gorgeous panoramas of distant Munros. Anna provides a sense of scale as she  steps into the tree's shadow and I love that she has since replaced her rucksack with a little pink one - something likely to become a signature of the series. I think the next painting will be a traditional version of Accidental Tourist with aforementioned change of bag colour!
Accidental Tourist - ZBrsuh (Digital)
I'm still learning how to use the Atelier Interactives so this painting was all about exploring the materials. The result is rather tentative and I want to get to a stage where the strokes are looser, wetter and more confident, but all in good time. Click on image to zoom.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Mor Bheinn from Culcrieff

Mor Bheinn from Culcrieff
A couple of posts back I featured a sketch of the view from our little self catering cottage in Crieff showing the peaks over Loch Earn. This is a close up of those peaks with Mor Bheinn (big hill) in the centre and Ben Vorlich's white peak to the right. I was very taken by the haze which clearly separated background and foreground. I also liked the dusting of snow on Mor Bheinn, how it is in shadow while Ben Vorlich catches the sun and also how the scale of the trees conspire to make those hills look even more formidable.
This painting is experimental on two counts. Although it is painted with Sennelier oil pastels which are classed as drawing tools, I took advantage of their very soft buttery nature by treating the pastel sticks as tubes of paint, adding colours to a glass mixing palette (i.e. drawing splodges of colour onto the palette) and mixing them together with a palette knife. The final mix was also applied to the canvas with aforementioned palette knife. I really like the effect and although I will never give up paint, this does actually have an advantage over oils and acrylics in that the mix on your palette will never dry and you will almost be able to use 100% of the colour on your palette because the knife scrapes up every last bit off the glass, even when there are mere smearings left.

Rule of Thirds
Had I followed the standard rules of composition, the line of foreground trees would be sat higher up so they occupied the bottom third of the canvas; the so called 'rule of thirds.' You may disagree, but I think placing them so low further accentuates the height of the hills as it looks like they're being forced off the page by the humongous beast mountain! Okay maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but it does illustrate my approach to many personal pieces; I like to play about and see what can be learned. Anything worth keeping then gets fed into the commercial skill set. Finally, because the painting has some impasto strokes I took the photo with the main light source coming from the left. This matches the painting's light source and creates shadow from the impasto, giving the impression of more fine texture detail. Click on images to zoom.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A is for Alice

A is for Alice
Once upon a time long long ago, I woke in terror to the random realisation there had never been occasion to to illustrate Wonderland. We all know what these famous characters look like right? Actually no, not in a situation where I am responsible for creating my own version of them. I've never had to think about it before because I've always been spoon fed Alice imagery and there have been so many iconic visualisations since 1865 it would be almost impossible to think one could stay within the bounds of the original idea and still create something totally unique. I have enjoyed the relatively recent trend of moving the story on to Alice's teen years where she is often depicted as a stripy socked knife wielding psycho goth, but I wanted to avoid that (for now) and go back to my very first introduction to Wonderland. I can't remember my exact age, but I would have been between five and ten because we performed Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as an end of year school play at infant school. I played the Dodo and still remember being horribly embarrassed at having to wear green tights. That's right, girls' tights. Green ones. How I suffered for my art! Thinking back to that time my overriding impression was a confusing riot of nonsense, noise and colour and I had no idea what was going on. This was nothing like a normal story where all the elements related to the world I knew, but like millions of kids I completely loved the idea of escaping
Rabbit Detail with reverse Clockface
humdrum reality through mysterious portals. I kept the focus sharply on the characters by leaving the background less detailed which, together with some aerial perspective has the effect of making the characters stand out more. I also made the Tweedles and Chesire Cat larger than they should be as a nod to Alice shifting size through the story. This is unsettling as our brains know that objects further away should be relatively smaller (that Father Ted sketch still makes me laugh!)

Crayon Tool Settings
Edit Layer Texture
This image was an attempt to capture my initial impression of some of the more famous characters. It was created in ArtRage Pro with the humble crayon tool which is actually much more powerful than it first looks. The image (left) shows the crayon tool settings - just two: Pressure and Softness, with a reset to default button. For this image I set Pressure to 40 and Softness to 0 which, together with a graphics tablet has the effect of laying down colour with hard pressure but blending colours together with light pressure. These two characteristics make the crayon tool very intuitive to use as you can colour and blend in the same stroke. For this image I reduced canvas textures to a minimum but you can add texture via the master canvas settings or for even more control, on a layer by layer basis by using the layer pop-up command, Edit Layer Texture. In addition you could also add texture with the powerful stencil system. If all my digital painting tools were taken away and I was left with just these, I'd still be pretty happy. :)
Click on images to Zoom.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Simple Pleasures

View from Cottage
Having recently completed several revisions of some 250 3D renders for Cambridge University Press over the best part of a year, I suddenly felt an inexplicable desire to step away from computing for a short while and partake in simpler pleasures - like sketching! To start with we nipped off on a short break to Crieff where I was reminded what upright apes actually use legs for. It's called walking and Perthshire is a pretty good place to do it. I'm going to let you guess what the image entitled 'View from Cottage' is all about, but to help you out a little I should mention we stayed in a self catering cottage where the stunning views looked over to the Trossachs and Ben Vorlich's white peak.
You may have noticed this image is sketched on canvas and displays some fairly dynamic impasto/sgraffito strokes. Well, that is because I finally got round to testing my giant Sennelier oil pastels and I can honestly say they are absolutely amazing for sketching. This image was made in a 30 x 40cm canvas sketchbook using white, medium grey and black pastels with a craft knife for scratching and a blending stump for blending.

Holyrood Raven
Here is another image done with the same tools, this time sketched from a photo I took of a Raven perching on Holyrood Park's Crags.
Pesky things never sit still so here we go again with the great photo debate - well I am firmly on the side of taking reference images, I love taking photos, I do it more than sketching - but as many say, it is often best to use reference as inspiration rather than slavishly copy. I mostly use photos for initial form and lighting info then stop looking and let the image grow by itself. Here I quite liked the slightly irksome distribution of tone and the way the contrast between bird and bleached out background makes my eyes dance in a jarring kind of way. Art shouldn't always be about balance and harmony you know, shake things up! Why should the viewer always get their creative nuggets spoon fed? :D

Salisbury Crags
Shaking it up a little, this sketch was done on the same day as 'Holyrood Raven' on my iPad in ArtRage and shows the view of Salisbury Crags from Holyrood Palace Cafe. I used the pencil and crayon tools and as you can see, put the basics down quickly then left it. Sometimes unfinished things posses a charm all of their own. I like this sketch.

Three Graces, Canova
It has occasionally been known to rain in Scotland, but fortunately there are still plenty of sketching options thanks to a proliferation of Museums and Galleries. This is an iPad/Artrage oil brush sketch of Antonio Canova's masterpiece, The Three Graces currently housed in the National Galleries of Scotland. I often walk past such pieces on my way to visit Sargent's gorgeous Lady Agnew, but sometimes it pays to stop and notice other treasures. On the same day, I discovered Frederick Church's breathtaking Niagara Falls which really must be seen in the flesh.

Wolf Head
The National Museum of Scotland is also a great place to gather references with an abundance of useful stuff for arty types. This is a wolf's head sketched with afore mentioned giant oil pastels. Now, I admit any arguments on the morality of stuffing and displaying creatures are (quite awkwardly) put to one side here because - and this will always be a contradiction - I am a fauna lover which, ironically, is what draws me back to see animals in the kind of detail it would usually be all but impossible to see without smearing oneself in dung and indulging in a spot of rural creature stalking. Or failing that, buying tons of expensive photographic gear and carting it thousands of miles across the planet, at which point another moral argument kicks in involving gigantic carbon boots! :D Click on images to zoom.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Highlights Continued

This is an idea so beautiful in concept
and execution it deserves a post all of
its own. A while ago I came across a breathtaking sculpture made from Ian Rankin's 'Exit Music' in the foyer of the National Library of Scotland and have since found that it was only one of 11 sculptures which made up a modern day tale so magical you'd be forgiven for thinking it came from the pen of J.K. Rowling.

A year ago mysterious sculptures made from books began appearing in Edinburgh's public institutions dedicated to the written word, beginning at the Scottish Poetry Library where a wonderful "Poetree" sculpture was found with a note which said, 'It started with your name @byleaveswelive and became a tree.… … We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is for you in support of libraries, books, words, ideas….. a gesture (poetic maybe?)'

The Stories Are In The Stones
As the year drifted by more sculptures emerged at the National Library of Scotland, the Filmhouse, the Scottish Storytelling Centre, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Central Lending Library, The National Museum of Scotland and the Writer's Museum until finally, a pair of exquisite sculptures labelled 10/10 appeared back where they started at the Poetry Library. The creator has remained anonymous and last I heard the Poetry Library is hoping to exhibit the whole collection. It is both heartening and inspiring in this day and age to know that someone can create such beautiful objects in support of creativity without a thought for self publicity. Whoever you are, thank you for a wonderful gift, I salute you.
But wait, the magic does not stop there. On 25th November 2011 Ian Rankin got in touch with the Edinburgh Bookshop and said he was expecting a parcel to be delivered - could they let him know when it arrived. The parcel was another sculpture labelled 11/10. Simply brilliant.
The story and images come from  where you can find more details. Click on images to enlarge.


I admit to being a passionate figurative art lover, always have been since the days of Ladybird Books 606D series, such as 'The Elves and the Shoemaker" and 'The Three Billy Goats Gruff' illustrated by Robert Lumley. I am always looking out for stuff to ogle and there are so many great things to check out this month, kicking off with David Gray's painting techniques blog featuring some fascinating time lapse videos of the maestro painting his masterpieces.
Something I picked up from David's blog that I really must try - walnut oil as a painting medium. Not that it'll make me a better painter but I've read a few good things on using it, most currently in the latest addition of Artists & Illustrators magazine where there is an excellent article on non toxic painting. Leah Mebane explains that walnut oil can also be used for cleaning brushes - of interest to me because I currently work at home in a fairly compact space so I've been using water soluble oil paints which I'm happy with, but much prefer her idea of using only pure earth pigment and walnut oil, which would get rid of toxins and fillers completely.
Meanwhile in ImagineFX magazine, the real stand out item for me is Felideus' amazing beer label illustrations for Italian brew, Busker's Beer. I have seen these online at itsart but it is good to know his gorgeous style is reaching ever wider audiences and actually they look even better in print.
Meanwhile, issue 84 of International Artist just dropped onto my mat, a magazine which contains so much goodness it is impossible to put down. I could choose many highlights from this edition but I particularly liked Omar Rayyan's article on the art of illustration and the amazing James Gurney's masterclass on atmospheric effects.
Finally, Pixologic recently released an update to ZBrush which includes tools for making fibres and hair without having to leave the app as well as many other new and amazing goodies.
So much ocular feasting to be had, click on the links and enjoy!

Monday, 27 February 2012


Excuse the pun, but there has been something of a period costume thread running through this month. While my main computer was busy rendering 3D images I started another painting to practice ArtRage Pro's square oil brush. It does suit an 'alla prima' inspired technique so I'm going with that for a while, see where the pictures take me. This scene is a light hearted take on the nature of fashion through the ages and perhaps the most spectacular examples came from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries.
Dress by Anna Scatola
Some details of the pannier dress were very loosely based (er, minus the elegance!) on an exam piece Anna designed and made which incidentally earned her a perfect 100% mark. Although I have merely hinted at detail in the painting, it is quite staggering to see the amount of work gone into this dress and although impractical in the modern era there is something very sad in the thought that our modern mass manufacturing monsters have all but killed off such breathtaking artistry. Here I've chosen to base the silly wig on some of the topiary, although wikipedia says that contrary to popular belief 18th century women did not wear wigs but coiffures supplemented by artificial hair powdered grey or blue grey. No matter, I had a thing in mind and a large part of me has always enjoyed ignoring the rules. :)
The thread continued with ImagineFX's March 2012 magazine cover featuring a beautifully painted pirate image by the brilliant Ally Fell. The costume theme also popped up again with the completion and launch of a friend's website. Ali Mitchell is a talented costume designer whose long list of projects include the recently released Red Tails by Lucas Film. Ali liked the simplicity and directness of Anna's website so we put one together based on the same principles.
Click on images to enlarge.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Beware the Twigmen!

This was originally one of two early concept backgrounds for a client, but we realised the brief was resolvable using the first image only. It sat forgotten for a long time until I went to inspect the storm damage at Edinburgh Botanic Garden and snapped the roots of a fallen tree which on viewing, reminded me of a stick-like creature. Actually the more I look at this photo the more creatures I see - the current count stands at five! Once I'd decided to sketch a couple of them the discarded concept seemed an ideal backdrop.
Twigmen was originally started in Photoshop, but I fancied some practice with ArtRage's Oil brush so the original was loaded as a tracing image set to automatically choose colours from that tracing image. I really liked the freedom of this stage and kept some of the original results on the background trees because it reminded me of my favourite christmas present as a child - painting by numbers kits! Ah the memory of unstopping those tiny plastic pots and  catching the potent wiff of linseed oil has stayed with me all these years. Meanwhile back in ArtRage, once the canvas was covered with a layer of active oils normal painting resumed. Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Arthur's Seat

Arthur's Seat - ArtRage Pro
I grew up in North Lincolnshire, a flat
part of the world where unbroken horizons stretch for miles and skies are vast blue canvases for abstract formations of cumulus cloud. This is where the Glasgow School came to paint masterpieces like 'To Pastures New' by James Guthrie. In moments of boredom I would blur my eyes and imagine the clouds as far off mountains, places where dragons dwell and hobbits roam in search of adventure. I desperately wanted to live somewhere lumpy! Well now I do and perhaps those juvenile longings subconsciously contributed to my move north, because Edinburgh is anything but flat and all the more beautiful for it!

Arthur's Seat Texture Detail
This painting is a result of both my fascination with Arthur's Seat and a continuation of custom brush creation in ArtRage Pro. Here I simply removed the brush's ability to scale with pressure creating an impasto flat brush. I really like the built in textured marks such brushes make, they do a lot to combat that 'digital' look. This particular view is from the top of a multi storey car park in Leith, but it is a constant presence wherever you go in the city, turning even the most mundane of scenes into something more inspiring. When I next get the time and inclination I'd like to create a physical version of this on a large canvas with thick paint and huge brushes.

Cù Sìth - ArtRage Pro
In this old digital painting I used a photo reference of Arthur's Seat as the domain of the mythological creature Cù Sìth (Coo Shee,) said to be an enormous otherworldly green dog with shaggy fur and a long braided tail. Painted in ArtRage Pro with a combination of AR's native oil brush and a custom sticker spray brush. I could happily spend my days photographing or painting Arthur's Seat yet never get the same view twice because the weather constantly swings between extremes, providing an infinite number of inspiring views. Here is a tiny random selection of photos I have taken of Arthur's Seat and the surrounding area.

From Calton Hill

Salisbury Crags
Salisbury Crags
St Stephen's Church, Edinburgh

View of The Pentlands at Dusk
Blinded by the Light!
Who Needs Lords
Mini and Maxi!

Edinburgh Castle From Salisbury Crags

 Click on images to enlarge.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A Gift For New Neighbours

Happy New year! Where did the last half of 2011 go? Ho hum, work has completely swamped my days and nights of late, so the seasonal break was hugely welcome. Along with high spirits and good cheer, I used the spare time to re-introduce myself to ArtRage Pro's brilliant Sticker Spray tool. The subject matter was not initially significant or planned, but grew from brush stroke tests while designing an impasto brush head. It eventually became a fantasy piece in which a mother and baby of unspecified species are welcomed to their new home with a basket of fish. Above them Gannets inevitably begin to gather for scraps. The image is 5000 x 3500 pixels at 300ppi which roughly translates to the imperial paper size, A3.
I've always loved paintings which make beautiful sense when viewed as a whole, but break down to abstract textured marks in close up. The Impressionists and The Glasgow boys are two of my favourite examples of such techniques and I kept them in mind when designing the brush used for this painting.

ArtRage Pro gives us the ability to create editable stickers with depth, gloss and shadow settings. These stickers can be used as single 'peel and stick' elements or sprayed out in user definable ways with the Sticker Spray tool. It is this ability to emit samples in controllable ways which gives us the opportunity to make custom brush heads. The process for this brush involved three stages illustrated in the diagram above (click image to zoom.) Column 1 is the final brush stroke. I made 3 slight variations because sticker spray brushes do not currently react to Artrage's surface and light settings - a heavy impasto, a light impasto and a reversed impasto which digs into the surface. Column 2 is the sticker sheet to which you can add data for colour, texture (depth,) gloss and metallic effects. For this brush I have simply provided colour and depth information. Column 3, the Spray Variation panel is used to fine tune the behaviour of your brush as is the Settings panel in column 4.

The first stage in brush creation is to make the actual brush head bitmap. In this case I made six variations which will be sprayed out randomly to avoid too much repetition in the stroke. Variation must be arranged in a grid on the same page so that each element lies within its own square. Later I will tell Artrage to randomly choose any of these six shapes for each sample sprayed. In order to ensure my brush can use a full colour pallet, the initial brush heads of the colour map must be pure red. This is simply because ArtRage uses pure red as the starting point in its colour processing. The colour map actually has a transparent background and is loaded as a png file. Transparency discards everything but the actual brush shape. The next map along, the depth map, is black and white where black represents no depth and white is maximum depth. This map is used to add depth to the heavy impasto brush. The depth map for a lighter impasto effect changes the white to a dark grey. The reversed brush uses a white background with black shapes.

The colour and depth maps are next loaded into a newly created sticker sheet within ArtRage (see column 2.) I could have created my sticker sheet as a single row of six shapes, it doesn't matter as long as type in the matching numbers bottom right of the sticker sheet; columns: 3, Rows: 2. Artrage now draws the correct grid showing the six shapes contained in their own squares. I also choose where to store the new sticker sheet and give it a name then press OK. Column 3 of the diagram shows the Spray Variation panel accessed through Settings. This is where I give the brush its characteristics. I want the brush to access the full colour pallet so I set Hue/Tracing H to 100%, Luminance/Tracing L to 50% and Saturation/Tracing S to 100%. Next I want the brush lay down any of the 6 available shapes in random sequence so I set both Sheet Row and Sheet Column to 100% Random. I make the brush pressure sensitive in two ways. First by increasing brush size with pressure via Scale/Pen Pressure and second by increasing the transparency of the mark via Alpha/Pen Pressure. I also set Rotation/Stroke direction to 100% to make the brush shapes follow the directions of stroke. Finally I set Luminance/Base value to a low negative value to compensate for the effect the depth lighting has on colour (er, I think!) EDIT: Wait, that last sentence is wrong. :D It turns out my colour map wasn't quite pure red (originally done in Photoshop.) To fix this I imported the map into ArtRage, coloured it up then re-exported and now no compensation is necessary. Finally I return to the Settings panel, set the Spray Rate to 95% and make sure the Auto-Flatten and Continuous settings are checked. If Auto-Flatten was not checked hundreds of thousands of samples would be editable which would eat your computer memory in no time. Continuous emits samples even when your hand has stopped moving. It is like Photoshop's Spray Gun setting.

I've realised it is easier to make a new brush than to describe making a new brush. :) Click on images to enlarge.