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.