What I’ve been up to (June)

In an effort to try to get into blogging regularly, I’m following Joni van der Leeuw‘s example and try to write regular blogs about what I did the past weeks. I like writing but it’s one of those things that quickly drop to last place on the to-do list and therefore never gets done. I’m opting for monthly updates now as weekly seems a bit too much effort (and I don’t know how much I have to share anyway), but we’ll see!

Job hunting

MerMay has come to an end, and so have a lot of projects I worked on the last three months. Yes, my planner is almost completely empty: that means hustling for jobs again!

I applied for a few job offers, though, and last week was nothing else than drawing art tests. I suddenly found myself drawing only space suits and ships the whole day to meet the deadlines, oops!

Indigo

Indigo is the most important game industry network event of the Netherlands, always taking place on the last Friday of June. Just like last year it was held completely online. Met new people, some who might hold exciting opportunities! I have a few more meetings next week that spilled over, fingers crossed!

C#

And last but not least: I’ve been learning how to program in C#! Back in April I had a few meetings with a career coach (a free opportunity I thought wouldn’t hurt) and I did some tests to chart my interests and skills. Guess what? Even though I’m a creative person (duh haha) I’m also quite happy doing analytical stuff. In fact, I’m the opposite of the chaotic artist cliché, I’m actually a very organised person, starts work every day at the same time, never comes late to meetings, etc. And the fact that I’ve had a self-build website in my teens and installed this website myself too shows I have affinity with code the very least!

So my career coach strongly advised to look into programming. There is, after all, a high demand in developers. I came across a C# course I could participate in for free due government subsidy, so I took my chance! C# is after all the scripting language in Unity, probably the most popular game engine.

This is not a career switch, though! I do not want to give up all the time and energy that I’ve been putting into finding my way around illustration and game art. I just think that knowing my way around code will be a valuable asset. And it would be cool to develop my own little games, wouldn’t it?

My Experiences With Popular Art Challenges

If you follow a bunch of artists on social media you’ve probably seen a few in passing: themed ‘art challenges’. They are usually named after a specific month the event is taking place, for example Inktober, Junfae, Plein Airpril, etc. I’ve participated in my share and now MerMay has ended, I’m ready to share some experiences and learned lessons!

Back in January I stumbled upon the hashtag #creatuanuary, a yearly event on Twitter where people design a creature according to a prompt list every day during January. Being a creature enthousiast, I simply had to participate. I knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw something for all the prompts, though, so I just picked a few I liked the most.

vampire bat dragon

The prompt for this one was ‘bloodsucker dragon’. Many entries were combining mosquito or leech features with dragons. I thought it would be more interesting to look at vampire bats, not in the least because bat wings are traditionally the inspiration for dragon wings – studying them would help me draw better dragons in the long run too!

wolf bear creature

For the Tibicena (a demon in the shape of a large black dog with red eyes, hailing from the mountains of the Canary Islands), I combined the heavy build of a bear with more wolf-like hindquarters. I wanted to make the beast appear rugged and hardy to be able to survive in the harsh conditions of the mountains.

In the end, though, I was only able to bring three prompts to a finish. What went wrong with #creatuanuary is that I put in too much effort in each piece, which made them take too much time to finish in one or even a couple of days. In hindsight, that was probably also the case with the Inktober challenge last year, which I also didn’t manage to finish: I wanted each piece to be good, so I put in a lot of time, which I couldn’t keep up.

So for MerMay, I wanted to do things differently. I decided to a) not to use a prompt list or plan what to draw exactly ahead, but see where it will take me and b) try to prepare myself by making some sketches in advance. This turned out quite well: by making time almost every day to sketch and paint a little, I found myself creating little watercolour paintings which I could paint quite quickly and felt like small paintings rather than sketches.

I did prepare a list of interesting sea animals for inspiration, but that was all. I just let the drawings take me, and in the end I did quite some fish creatures that only vaguely resembled mermaids, but that was fine too! I found a way to create small pieces with little effort to keep up with the treadmill of social media, but most important of all, have fun with it!

It was a very good year…

I’m not exactly a Sinatra fan, but I thougth this would make a striking title to my yearly retrospection post, haha! It has hardly been a very good year in many aspects, but I feel happy and humbled that the pandemic hasn’t hurt me or my business financially!

I started this year trying to get a foot between the door in the board game industry, I contacted a lot of companies during January and February. I was even asked for a quote for Christmas themed puzzles. I attended OBJECT with fellow BNO members and had my first and last convention on March 7th and 8th.

Don’t look at my sleepy head, I was a bit nervous tabling by myself again! Too bad the convention itself was not too exciting either; there were very little visitors.

And then everything closed down in this year’s first lockdown on March 17th.

Right then I was in the middle of starting to work on a game prototype with Roofkat – I had visited him in Zaandam in February, a good two-hour trip from my house. The lockdown forced us to work via Skype, but it would probably been the same without it.

A lot of my fellow convention artists weren’t as lucky as I was; they depended on the income of events like Comic Con Rotterdam. And one by one they were all cancelled. Some set up a online equivalent: Stay Home Comic Con. People could join the Discord channel, watch streams and there was a website with links to everyone’s webshops. I participated in the stream too (woo, first time!) and I had 60 watchers at one moment! I enjoyed doing it, so I considered streaming on a regular basis, but I haven’t really picked it up yet. Maybe because I’m secretly too nervous for it!

Spring passed and the first holiday I was going to spend with my boyfriend was cancelled. I spend the summer mostly working, trying to enjoy the ridiculous warm weather whenever I could. But with everything live going online, I was able to attend conventions and events I never would have attended live, being too far for me to travel too. I made a lot more international contacts, which might help me in the future. That’s definitely a good thing that this pandemic has brought me!

Some other highlights of this weird year:

  • I made a mural with friends of Draw Club Rotterdam at a local culture centre! We were almost finished halfway March but didn’t get the chance to add the final touches until August. It has become a Frankenstein’s monster of different styles, but I’m quite happy with my dragon’s head!
  • I was asked to jump in and create some map illustrations and icons right before Godhood’s launch. It was great to work on that game again after a few years, so much has changed since then.
  • The game VR Giants, where I did level concept art for, had a very succesful Kickstarter campaign! I was able to share some things I made for it, hopefully more soon!
  • I participated in three zines this year: A Pokémon Snap zine, one focused on character design and a monster girl zine. The two last ones had very similar timelines which made meeting the deadlines quite stressful. I hadn’t expected to get in them both! Can you guess which one I rushed?
  • I also participated in the Artstation Keyframe challenge, but should have made more time for it; I was unable to finish it before the deadline. :/
  • And other cool things I’m not allowed to share yet, unfortunately!

Looking back, I definitely want to have another go at trying to get into board games. I think I’m limiting my options too much only trying to do video games. After all, there are plenty of board games in need of fantasy art too and in the end I just want to paint and draw fantastic creatures.

Organising Notes and Ideas

When I made the switch back to Windows after five years of using a Macbook Pro, one of my concerns was migrating my notes.

I have an Iphone and I had totally grown used to creating notes for anything – resulting in over 250 notes of college lectures, recipes, freelance project notes and written thoughs. It was a total mess.

Notes to Evernote

A small impression of the notes I made for this world I was making up in my teenage years!

Time to dig up my old Evernote account. In my teens I had made an Evernote account to organize all my story ideas, species and characters I had made up and wrote comics about. I was quite obsessive about it creating a believable world for these characters – it was quite the trip down memory lane when I first logged in after three years, haha!

I enjoyed using Evernote as it allowed me to arrange notes in different categories and assign tags to them. As I was already used to working with it (albeit a bit rusty!), it seemed the perfect solution for keeping my thoughts organised.

Problem arised: how to get my notes from Apple’s native Notes app into Evernote without having to copy and paste them all by hand?

It’s clear that Apple doesn’t want you to use ever a different program than it’s native Notes app: migrating notes to another program, especially Evernote, is a pain. I tried multiple automation scripts, but none seemed to work for me, it would export the notes as .html files full of markup, or .txt files, both which Evernote can’t import.

So, in the end, I did copy and paste all 250+ notes by hand. It took an hour or so, but at least I got them where I wanted them!

Notion.so

Now some people have recommended Notion.so – and it looks pretty amazing so far!

Having used Notion.so for a few months now, I can heartly recommend it! I use it to collect notes about every part of my business, that means notes and feedback about projects, task lists for updating Etsy and social media post planning. And not the very least: Notion does support importing notes from Evernote!

My Notion ‘opening page’, with sub pages for each project to keep track of.

I also moved my complete CRM to Notion. I used to keep track of studios and people I reached out to in Excel, and I still miss the ability to color cells conditionally as you can in excel. What I got back in exchange, however, is the posibility to link databases – and that is really notion’s strength. I now can link companies to people, which makes it really easy to see whenever I contacted studio X and who I was in contact with, when, and what we talked about. Adding more info means of course also spending more time writing down all that data, but I still believe it helps!

Analog Photography

I have a secret love for analog photography. Secret, because I don’t think my friends know I’m into shooting film. Maybe they think I like taking photos because they’ve seen me with my Nikon D3300, an entry-level DSLR. I dare to bet they’d be very surprised if I told them I also own a Russian wayfinder from the 70s and a Minolta X-700, back in the 80s quite state-of-the-art SLR, though! 😀 I believe I love analog photography so much because it juxtaposes art and technology, exactly what got me into video games too.

This love for film started during my stay in Prague. It was a windy day in June, about a week before I would go back to the Netherlands. While exploring the city I stumbled upon a flea market on the banks of the Vltava river. There were a few tables on a boat, and my eye fell on a table filled with vintage cameras. The guy behind the table saw my DLSR and we started talking. He was so enthousiastic, so in the end I did what I could never have guessed I’d ever do: I bought a Zorki 4, a Russian Leica clone, fully mechanical, build in the early 70s.

I bought it not just for the looks, I wanted to use it too. The reason I bought a DLSR was partly to learn to shoot in manual mode, adjusting the shutter speed and aperture by myself. Up to now I had been lazy, shooting all my photos in auto mode. With the Zorki, there is no lightmeter or program mode to help me decide which settings to use. This thing doesn’t even have an on/off button!

The first film I shot through the Zorki was on holiday with my family to Ireland. Sadly, the shutter had some issues, so only a few photo’s turned all right from that roll. It made me wonder, did I have to have my Zorki checked and cleaned by an expert? Understandingly, the thing is fifty years old, one cannot expect it to work flawlessy anymore. On the other side, a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust) would probably cost more than I paid for the camera itself.

I decided to roll with it, see if the problem persisted. I tested the shutter at different speeds with no film in it, and after a while it was behaving normal again. It also did it’s job with a piece of test film. Problem solved?

The real test came a month ago, when I decided to take my Zorki to a weekly holiday to Maastricht. This time I used a black and white film.

No shutter problems anymore! I have to say there was one photo on this roll of 36 that did have a white bar over it, but the photo was so dark I couldn’t figure out what it was again I tried to photograph. Either way I’m very happy with the results of this second try!

These photos here were my favorites, some turned out too dark or underlit. But that’s part of the learning process! After all, I have to calculate the right combination of shutter speed and aperture for each photograph individually, bound that I get it wrong sometimes. Next time I’ll try a roll with my Minolta, can’t wait!

Artstation Challenge: Color Concepts

Too bad! It seems I cannot finish the finished keyframes for this challenge, I guess I stranded at the colour concepts:

The bottom row are the ones I liked the best, though I am still not decided on the colour scheme for the third keyframe. I’m going to try to finish these keyframes still, but not before tomorrow 8 AM, which is the deadline for this contest!

Artstation Challenge: Chosen Scenes & Character Designs

Another update on my entry for the Artstation Box of Mystery Challenge – only a good three days left to finish my pieces!

I’ve decided on refining the follow scenes: an establishing shot, the kids discovering the imaginary magic of the box, causing havoc and the box being driven off to the trash. It feels weird to end the story with a sad keyframe, but I better work on four scenes I have visualized well than trying how to figure out what the ending would look like, I think!

I also had a shot at the designs of the two kids:

I loosely based them on my own sister and me for convenience’s sake. Would loved to delve deeper into this (I never designed kids before), but time is not my friend!

Wish me luck!

Artstation Challenge: Box of Mystery

So every now and then, the most important portfolio platform of the entertainment industry (I guess it’s safe to call it that!) launches a contest for artists to practice their skills (and win some cool goodies). There are multiple categories to submit to, usually character design, keyframe design, environment design and prop design. After the design rounds, there is usually a second round for 3D modellers to pick their favorites from the 2D submissions to model.

This time Artstation partnered up with Lightbox to host a contest around the theme of a ‘box of mystery’. I really wanted to enter; these contests get a lot of views and interest and they tend to be very good for both your portfolio as your visibility – unfortunately I had already a lot of deadlines going so I couldn’t start on my submission any sooner than this week. Oh, and the deadline is July 13th. Oops!

Anyway, part of your submission is a collection of blogposts wherein you show your design process. Why not share that here too?

I went for the keyframe challenge for two reasons: 1) I once got the feedback on my portfolio that my illustrations (which are kinda keyframe designs) are much stronger than my character designs, and 2) I still have to design characters if I’m designing a keyframe from a story! Now I don’t have much time to really delve into the characters, I think, but I’ll see how far I can get.

I decided to create a story that is an ode to imaginary friends, which I think fits the theme of creativity pretty well: kids’ play is all about creativity and imagination, and making up someone to play with needs a lot of imagination!

I’m not really good at coming up with a story outline out of the box, so what I usually do is sketch scenes that I think are interesting.

With these sketches, I came up with the following storyline: two kids are playing in the attic when little creature comes out of one of the boxes. The kids start to play with their imaginairy friend, but as they start to play more wildly, their parents say it’s enough and lock the box up or throw it away. Ultimately they discover that they can use their imagination to bring anything to life, not just that cardboard box.

The next step would be deciding which scenes are going to be finished keyframes, and refining them! Wish me luck!

Realistic Horse Coats with Procedural Textures?

During the INDIGO showcase yesterday, I got the chance to talk to the ladies of Studio Deloryan. They’re working on a horse management game called Horse Reality, featuring realistic genetics of the horses’ coat colours. The illustrations of the game are beautiful, but as they all need to be drawn by hand, it quickly becomes quite a workload.

Promotional art of the game Horse Reality, these images are also used in-game.

Think about it: all the featured horse breeds need to be illustrated in all the possible coat variations these horses can have. In addition, Deloryan told me that every breed also has separate illustrations for mares, stallions and foals, tripling the amount of images needed.

I’ve never been a big horse fan (I skipped that phase), so my horse drawing skills aren’t that developed. But even if I were able to illustrate horses of the quality of this game, I would definitely think, Isn’t there a way to automate the proces of creating artwork of all the coat variations?

As early as 2003, the Pokémon Spinda had procedurally generated spots on its sprite. Interestingly, the four dots would each have a square mapped out in which it would appear, designed so that Spinda usually would have a spot on each of it’s ears and two in it’s face (or one, if the two overlap). A very efficient way to create diverse but still similar variations, if you ask me!

You would need something more advanced for the generation of realistic textures, of course, but the tech isn’t new. The genetics of horse coats is pretty complex as this online tool nicely illustrates: some gene combinations result in almost indistinguishable variations, while other genes handle different kinds of spotted patterns (such as tobiano or overo).

This tool work with semitransparent images, as the patterns are always appear the same – but combined with technology like the randomization of spots on Spinda, it should be possible to create unlimited variations of tobiano markings, shouldn’t it?

As interested in technical art challenges as I am, I quickly looked if there exist any algoritms or scripts that could generate spot patterns of horse coats, but I found none. There is a Minecraft Mod that brings realistic horse genetics to Minecraft, but it uses only pre-made textures. If anyone knows of a tool that generates spot-like patterns, let me know! I’d love to explore the possibilities of this!