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.

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!

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!

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!

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!