Saturday, 6 December 2014

Sunshine on Leith

There are many reasons why I like living in Leith and for a while now I've wanted to reflect that in a painting called, 'Sunshine on Leith,' after the eternally gut wrenching song by The Proclaimers. Yes indeed, sometimes the title comes first. This is perhaps frowned upon as shallow in certain circles, but for me titles have always been an integral part of the ideas behind a painting.

The trouble is, I'm spoiled for choice. There are so many paintable views around here that I've got stuck in an infinite loop of dithering. I guess this ultimately means there will have to be more than one picture.

However, just the other day while walking a well trod route around The Shore, we happened across a couple of geezers doing a photo shoot on the old Victoria Swing Bridge. As we approached I realised it was, of all people, Charlie and Craig Reid aka The Proclaimers.

This painting is an ArtRage oil brush study done quickly to see if it might work as a real painting. I think it makes a very interesting composition and have deliberately kept a wide view to preserve a few cropping options later down the line, but I actually really like the scale of the figures against the bridge's frame so it might not change much. This is not the most amazing view of Leith I ever saw, but it fits the title better than I could have hoped. Sometimes the artist doesn't get a choice in subject matter!

Sunshine on Leith

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Unfinished Business #1: Facing Demons

Last week I finally got round to updating my website for high resolution screens like Apple's Retina. A responsive site will have to wait, I have more learning to do first. Anyway, as is the custom, I ended up trawling through years of backup discs for master files, but somewhat distractingly, those discs are also littered with unfinished pieces which got abandoned along the way.

This particular reject started as an experiment in atmosphere and skies using
E-on software's Ozone 3 plugin for Cinema 4D, which dates the original idea to 2007. I liked Ozone, but it was somewhat erratic and very slow to render final quality skies, so all I had to work with was a small grainy preview.

Instead of attempting to resurrect the 3D scene though, I opened the low res render in ArtRage and resized it to 16,500 pixels wide (55 inches, 145cm.) I set a canvas texture background, then using the chalk and airbrush tools started painting sharpness and detail back in.

I occasionally flipped back to Cinema 4D to create extra assets as required, so simple versions of the boat, soldier and kelpie creature were composited into ArtRage where more detail was added with final touches done in Photoshop.

The image is called, 'Facing Demons.' It accidentally ended up being a companion to another painting created back in 2011 called, 'Facing North.'

Facing Demons

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Giulietta è Morta!

Giulietta è Morta!
Some months ago I was waiting to get tired one night when yet another rerun of 'Shakespeare in Love' came on the television. It is of course total fiction, but what does that matter? The film works as a vehicle for some of the greatest lines ever written. And even after all these years it is still a feast for eyes and ears. Those final scenes in Burbage's theatre made me wish I could experience Shakespeare at its very roots, before this age of screen based technology where we consume visual and aural stimulation ad infinitum until it becomes a normalised sea of white noise. It must have been incredible to see the first run of a Shakespeare play. That night I was inspired to start on a piece which progressed slowly as and when spare time allowed. It is the pivotal scene in which Romeo thinks Juliet has poisoned herself.

Wireframe Scene in Cinema 4D 
Such personal works are always about learning and experimentation. I began by exporting fbx files of Daz's basic Genesis figures into Cinema 4D. This is something I often do to get compositional placeholders quickly set. The figures were fixed, tweaked and posed more than usual, so I kept them. The scenery, clothes, hair, lighting and final render were done in Cinema 4D. A basic headstone was made in C4D, exported to ZBrush, where I used DynaMesh and ReMesher to add the little putto, before sending it back to Cinema. He points up in tribute to a symbolic gesture featured in Da Vinci's 'St John The Baptist.' The title, 'Giulietta è Morta' is of course Italian for Juliet is dead! The final image was rendered at 10,000 x 5780 pixels (85 x 50 cm at 300ppi.)

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Making Myths: Benstravaig

Not so long ago I did a very quick thumbnail sketch in Mischief as part of a monster challenge. Unbelievably, my name was picked out of a hat and as a result I will soon be the lucky recipient of a Wacom Intuos Pro. Thank you so much Mischief makers, my venerable Intuos 3 can now be retired.

Thumbnail sketch made in Mischief
It wasn't a very well executed thumbnail, but I liked the idea enough to develop further. I live in Scotland and had originally planned to choose one of its many mythical beasts, but in the end decided to make one up. Often while standing agog at the beautiful environmental effects dancing round Arthur's Seat, I see a giant sleeping beast and imagine what it would be like if, after all these millions of years, Arthur's Seat suddenly stood up, shook itself down and walked off.
I'm sure this idea is not unique but don't want to be visually influenced, so no research is done in that area. My beast should have a local name which, in the highlands would be Gael inspired, so (hopefully) I stitched the most obvious Gaelic words together; Benstravaig - roaming mountain.

Pick-axe snout
Benstravaig has no predators, so it lumbers across the landscape in its own time on its own path regardless. Its pick-axe snout and tail gouges a deep crater-like nest in the ground. Once settled in the nest, nature soon hides the seams and it becomes indistinguishable from any other mountain. Benstravaig then happily absorbs water and nutrients for as long as the environment remains stable. Eventually though, over millions of years, lands shift and weather changes. The roaming mountain is deprived of sustenance, so it stands up, shakes itself down and strolls off to new pastures. Where do roaming mountains come from? No one knows, though some say they are born as small islands in the lochs of Scotland.

Over the last few versions, Pixologic's ZBrush has made it so easy to create anything from a virtual lump of clay that it is often quicker and more intuitive to sketch designs in 3D. With tools like DynaMesh, ZRemesher, a plethora of sculpting brushes and Spotlight for texture painting, I soon had me a new myth. Snout and tail designed for digging, strong thickset legs and the mountain top back, which is where water and nutrients are absorbed. Its mouth is not for eating, but grinding stubborn rocks while nest making.
Below is a turntable movie also made in ZBrush.

(or view bigger 20mb movie here)

I then exported the model to Cinema 4D and set up a basic scene with trees, rocks and smoke effects.

(or view bigger 3.5mb movie here)

And here's a side view of the legendary Benstravaig, rendered in Cinema 4D and as ever finished in Photoshop.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Artist Feature, ArtRage

I humbly take my place among the honoured to be asked a few questions by Hannah Starrett Wright at Ambient Design, makers of my favourite natural media software, ArtRage. You can read the interview here.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

ArtRage 4.5 Coming Soon

They Are Coming - ArtRage Pro 4.5, 18,000 pixels wide
ArtRage Pro 4.5 is coming soon with a major shift to 64-bit, vastly improving performance on large scale paintings. Other new features include canvas grids, manual reordering of swatches/toolbox elements and live pencil tilt for supported systems. You can currently buy version 4 for $25 with a free upgrade to 4.5. It is a thing of beauty. More info HERE.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014


Regular readers will be familiar with my fondness for all things treeish, so it was really quite pleasing to go and see an exhibition called, 'Sylva' at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
The exhibition features a collection of breathtaking drawings by Sarah Simblet to celebrate the 350th anniversary publication of John Evelyn's classic book, which is also on display to compliment 'The New Sylva' by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet. Entry is free, what's not to like?

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Zazzle Store

It has been a flying start to the year so far and I haven't had that many idle moments - long hours, little sleep, you know how it goes fellow freelancers. During one late session, I had finished working on some animation project and set my computers to render the results. There is always a 'wind down' period where your body is really tired but your brain is still wide awake making sleep impossible, so I turned my attention to a white rabbit, originally painted in ArtRage but being recreated in Mischief, vector painting software which has doubled its export size to 20,000 pixels since I first reviewed it. I had been staring at the rabbit a while before looking for my coffee mug when to my great delight, an afterimage of the rabbit appeared on the mug. When the gods of creativity speak, we must obey or face their terrible wrath! So I set up a Zazzle account, put my white rabbit on a mug and ordered one. I was so delighted with the results I have decided to further appease those vengeful gods by sharing the results with you.
I have opened a Zazzle store, Boxy Art, beginning with two iconic designs; Wonderland's white rabbit and a gorgeous hovering bee I bumped into at Edinburgh Botanics. All items are customisable with position, size, text and background colour options. I have lots more ideas, but if there is anything you'd like to see, please do not hesitate to contact me. Fanfare please... here's the link, enjoy:*

Sunday, 23 February 2014

American Impressionists in Scotland

Eleanor by F. W. Benson
Yes! I really can't wait for this exhibition at National Galleries Scotland beginning 19th July entitled, 'American Impressionism: A New Vision.' If you're over for Edinburgh festival this year then works by Cassat, Singer Sargent and McNeill Whistler among others can only enrich your experience. One of my favourite paintings, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw was supposed to be on loan (to Paris I think,) but will now only spend a week away in order to be among the highlights of this exhibition. More info here.