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!

Between high culture and mainstream media

Just came back from the yearly BNO general meeting of members – yesterday I went to the monthly Dutch Game Garden network lunch. Both events to meet industry contacts, though very different people attending. I often wonder how many people would go to both of these very different meetings, and I feel it must be only me.

Ever since I decided to take a chance on the game industry, I felt a bit of an intern struggle to create work I feel truly fulfilled about. Don’t get me wrong, I love working on game assets and illustrations! I would be quite happy if I could draw buildings and plants for games for the coming years, sure! Thing is, my art school background nags at me when I see more ‘high culture’ designers present their work at events such as OBJECT or Dutch Design Week. It is as if I miss working towards a higher goal, bringing humanity further (which I think those designers aim for), which I cannot really achieve just drawing trees and bushes for some entertainment game.

Prints and objects sold by Studio Kars + Boom at OBJECT. This was perhaps the most illustrative project present at the fair. I think the way of presenting the work (bare wood on the concrete floor) already gives an impression of how conceptual some of the other projects were.

Being among these ‘high culture’ designers at the BNO feels weird when I think about while I sell my work at extremely low-culture places such as Dutch Comic Con. One of my teachers once even implied those conventions are not a place for schooled Creative Pioneers like me. I actually love to present at such low-brow conventions! Is it below my education when most of my fellow convention artists are hobbyists and the work presented is fan art (even though I aim long term for more original work)? That’s a quite narrow way to see it, isn’t it?

While the Dutch Design Week might be the pinnacle of ‘conceptual’ design, it does not reach the masses. I doubt all of the people at the DGG network lunch have even heard of it – which is perfectly fine, what does game development have to do with design furniture? Games need nice-looking imagery, not conceptual ideas, at least the mainstream ones.

Tapping into that, I’ve always seen it as a decifit that I didn’t study Game Art. I’m sure having done a broader Illustration Bachelor has its advantages; I just haven’t found out how to tap into those talents. It’s nice I have a better understanding of art history and contemporary design, have had freeform figure drawing lessons or did projects about the local neighborhood, but those aren’t skills the industry asks for. Those 3D modelling or C# lessons would have been much more valuable.

My graduation project was the first and last time I was able to combine what I simply love to do (drawing creatures) with a statement (representation of harpies and women alike). It seems that my art teachers where more happy about this project than the industry people I have talked about it, but it’s a start.

During this project I stumbled upon themes I found highly interesting and that I would love to develop further, such as helping people connecting more to nature, feeling more part of a whole and the role of monsters and creatures in our culture.

Now I could of course could create games about these themes myself – the medium is perfect for statements short and long. Thing is, learning how to program and design are separate disciplines in themselves. Even though I love to learn to make my own games from scratch, it seems wiser to focus on art for now until I can make a modest income with that.

I think my best bet for now is to try to combine the ‘simple things I draw for money’ and the ‘statements I want to make about the world’ in small illustration-heavy projects such as comics and zines – in such a way that they tick all the industry boxes and make me feel I’m drawing nice things and contributing ideas to the world. That’s enough challenge for now!

Moving to a new neighborhood

Funny thing is, all my friends say, what a nice neighborhood! While I think, uh, it’s still old houses, high crime rate, not really cosy looking, so … What are you talking about?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have found an apartment here. It’s the first time I have so much space to share with only my boyfriend!

Looking back on 2019

What a year it has been, both personally and career-wise! Back in January, I was busy adding the final touches to my graduation project. After that I took a short holiday and I started with my freelance career. Time for a review: what have I been doing this year?

Graduation: finally into the wild

I underestimated how hard it would be to find work in the illustration field, and that made me feel quite self-concious at times. On the other hand, I knew it would take years before I would make enough of my illustration business to quit my part time job, and I was trying everything I could to make it happen. I could feel stressed and sad for not doing enough, but I was already putting in all the effort I could.

I also realized that being alone all day working by myself is something that comes naturally to me. Of course I would start feeling lonely if I didn’t speak to another human being for a week – but I really enjoy being just with myself all day.

In the end I’m still proud to do what I always wished for in five months work: creating concept art for video games! Hope to be able to show you something from that soon!

Global Game Jam

A week after graduation I participated in the Global Game Jam, which was a blast! It reminded me how great it is to work in a team, meet new people and learn from each other in such a pressure-cooked environment.

We kept on working on the game that resulted from the jam, until we finally decided to pull the plug in August.

Although we decided not to continue, I look back upon this as a happy learning experience. Looking forward to the next Global Game Jam in two weeks already!

Heroes of the Ages: A Legend of Zelda Anthology Book

This was my very first collaborative illustration project for a so-called zine, and I naturally enjoyed working on it, being a tribute to a game series I absolutely love!

In February the Kickstarter launched and it seemed to go really well, until a few hours before it would end Kickstarter took the campaign down due copyright infringement. I was quite struck by this case of bad luck, my first dive into the zine community it seemed amazingly fruitful… I guess we became to large to go unoticed.

I’d love to have another try at these community projects, though I have to select them on being for profit. After all, art is my job now!

Conventions and Etsy

2019 has also been a year I had more tables at conventions, with varying results, of course. One cannot expect to do everything well at the first try!

Overall the experience is the same: I enjoy doing it, but I feel I neither a) have artwork that fits in the scene so that it serves the masses or b) have artwork that is original and niche so I can thrive while doing by own thing. In other words, I should critically review what I want to get from these conventions.

Opening an Etsy shop however has surely paid back its efforts: right from the start I was already making a few sales! Without any advertising! I still have to learn a lot about best practises and how to optimize my products, but I’m happy so far! Still, my thoughts about convention artwork also haunts my Etsy shop, especially as Etsy doesn’t allow fan art to be sold.

Art Summary 2019

Let’s end with on happy note. On DeviantART it used to be a kind of tradition for many artist to share a ‘art summary’ whenever a year turned over.

Creating these usually left me with a feeling of not creating enough, but now looking at it, I feel excited to start creating! On to a creative 2020!

Dutch Comic Con Winter Edition 2019

Ah, Dutch Comic Con. The largest comic convention of the Netherlands. Infamous for its visitor numbers and the outrageous prices of tables. To counter that, two friends of mine, Dewy and Sarah, decided to share two tables between the three of us. That way we would pay less and still be present on this large convention.

Was this approach a succes?

One thing we quickly noticed, two tables for three people is somewhat smallish. In fact, we could all just fit all our merchandise and prints in the space. Dewy, having the largest inventory of us all, couldn’t display all her products. Next convention it’ll be probably too small.

Nevertheless, we managed to get everything kinda in place and the rest of the weekend went pretty well. I sold all my Hollow Knight stickers because I forgot to take the last bit of stock with me on Sunday. Lesson learned!

On the other hand, I notice a trend between me and my table buddies – they sell a lot more items than I do. How come? First of all, they offer more products – Sarah has more poster designs and all posters are also available as postcards, while my poster artwork is only available as posters. Dewy has so much fandoms covered with her smart customisation options, that there were almost always people going through her button designs and often people were standing in line to see what’s on offer – standing before my stand.

While the obvious solution would be just to create more (fan) artwork, I don’t really want to go that route. I fear I end up with a lot of stock, spending a lot of money on prints of which I don’t know they will sell. Besides, I don’t feel so comfortable anymore with just creating pretty pictures of someone else’s intellectual property. I fear that they’ll come to get me for that someday, and I rather draw whatever I feel like drawing than to think hard about what’s popular at the moment.

I know a few artists that seem to get by creating whatever they like to do; Evaboneva makes prints of her own artwork that seem to sell quite well. The same goes for Nikki Smits or Ines Borba.

Thing is, they all have a very recognisable style, which I don’t really have? I think my work is pretty generic digital painting; though I like to go deep with my creature designs, they are not unique enough (yet) to really stand out?

Something to work on.

Digital Painting Workflows

I recently finished this illustration for DeviantART’s Cosmic Corsair Original Character Contest.

Not to talk my own work down, but I believe I could do better if I had planned more time for this. Nevertheless, I am happy with what I produced in the time given. Even more, I liked the workflow I discovered while working on this.

This illustration was the first finished piece that I tried to paint almost solely in Procreate. I bought my Ipad Pro a month ago, but I had only used it for study paintings and sketches so far. In the end I did switch to Photoshop, as I really missed some colour editing tools and layer modes. Switching between the programs was pretty easy though using Airdrop and I’ll definitely will create more illustrations this way!

Loish’s Workshop

I was lucky to attend the Intuitive Digital Workflow workshop by Loish in the beginning of October, as a part of the Playgrounds Festival. Loish showed how she approaches digital painting by creating a rough sketch, adding colour and effects with layer styles and finishes her illustrations by just adding details and corrections on top.

GlitchedPuppet

Loish’ workflow reminded me actually of another illustrator I followed for years: Melanie Herring, also known as GlitchedPuppet (Glip) or formerly PurpleKeckleon. Similarly, Melanie starts with a very rough sketch, and adds a rough colour blockout underneath. They then add colour variety using various layers modes. The full walkthrough can be read on her blog.

Both Glip and Loish work with what they have during the proces, building upon their sketch rather than figuring everything out at the start of the painting.

What does it say when two artists I look up to use similar approaches to digital painting? Something in their way of working resonates with me!

I have been following Glip’s work for more than ten years now and her approach has influenced my early digital works a lot. Learning that Loish works in a similar way makes me realize I should experiment with these techniques again. I never liked doing line-art and my sketches are usually quite rough too, which may be why my Inktober drawings tend to take so much time. I’m not the kind of person to make a detailed drawing before diving into colour, I want to sculpt and carve the painting toward a finished design.

The end result of Loish’ workshop: two portraits in different light conditions.

I hope the mobility of the Ipad helps me experiment more on the road with these techniques!

Thoughts on social media and their ‘lifespan’

I just came back from a three-week holiday to the States – during which I used little to no social media. I used to write an announcement on each of my active social media that I was unavailable during my holidays, but this year I only posted a short notice I was going to Oregon and Washington on Instagram. I didn’t write anything on the site that used to be my main place for sharing my work: DeviantArt.

My artistic journey pretty much started there, as many of my generation. DeviantArt launched in 2000, having the claim onto being the very first social media site – before social media were even a thing. I made my account in May 2009 and it took me over a month before I even dared to upload my first drawing – My 13-year-old self was terrified for the reactions of the public!

This year marks my tenth anniversary on DeviantART, a place where I was exposed to a lot of different art, which let me learn what I want to achieve in my own artwork. I found my artistic heroes on that platform! Artists of whom some have moved away from the work that made me fall in love with them (such as the eponymous PurpleKecleon, who goes now by the name GlitchedPuppet). Others have left the site altogether, such as DoruDrutt and HeartGold, Some are still active and creating, such as Shinerai and Kila Zamana. And others am I happily following on other platforms, such as oomizuao and Allison Theus.

I too have grown quite inactive on the site. I once claimed after creating a Instagram account I would never ‘leave’ the site, but what can one predict about the future anyway?

That brings me to the following: DeviantArt has changed a lot since then, and a lot of veterans claim it is not the community it used to be. The site used to have the edge over other social media in terms of sharing artwork, but when Tumblr came around I saw a lot of artists move over there. It seems there are a lot of places online that do things better now than DeviantArt. And now I’m pursuing a creative career, I’m actually worrying whenever the unprofessional reputation the site has gained will hurt me..?

The devs are trying to update DeviantArt to the new age of social media, but I wonder whenever it will bring back the community spirit that has left the site. On the other hand, I suppose it’s only natural to move on and leave some places behind. Still, it feels like I’m moving out of a place where I grew up artistically, even more so than during my four-year Illustration bachelor.

Still, online communities grow and fade, or in the very least change over the years. Somewhere deep down I know I shouldn’t feel ashamed to leave DeviantArt behind, but as the site was so important to me in my formative years, it feels like breaking with a part of myself?

Starting an Etsy Shop

Ever since I started selling prints and other products at conventions, I played with the idea of opening an online shop. After all, why deny all my followers that aren’t able to visit me at conventions the possibility to buy my work? I first intended to host a website here on saskle.com for that, but after talking with some fellow convention goers, I decided to use Etsy instead.

Why Etsy? Being such a well-known shopping platform, customers just use the search bar to look for whatever products they’d like – if I had opened a shop on this website my traffic would depend completely on my own marketing and following on social media.

And I reaped the fruits of Etsy’s popularity quite quickly – I already sold one product, my shop being barely online for one month!

This illustration has proved to be very popular on Tumblr, so I’m more than happy that someone wanted to buy it too!

I do like to move the Etsy shop here to my own website in the future – simply because I don’t like to depend too much on third-party platforms. But for now all my prints, zines and other merchandise can be bought at my Etsy shop!