Ian McQue's dirty tech

Ok, when I think of blocky, dirty, lived-in tech that has a fantastic sense of design....I think of Ian.  His pen drawings are a thing of beauty too, but today we're going to take a look at one of his so-called "speed paintings."

The painting.

The painting.

Although there is an environment and characters, I would say that this painting exists to highlight the vehicle and to give it a sense of placement.  There's not really a deep narrative element, so on the "technique/design/narrative" triangle, this one certainly favors the first two.

Without story, the elements of the piece exist to show off the design and to draw attention to parts of the image.  Look at the dark triangle shape in the snow pointed directly at the rear treads, and the light triangle on the left side.  The vehicle itself is basically a dark "L" shape with treads.  Notice how it has been placed slightly to the left of center, to make it feel like it is going somewhere, and not static, even though it is sitting still in the painting!

2 value read

2 value read

The two-value read is very straightfoward, and clearly shows those shapes I was talking about above.  The guys on top add visual interest to the silhouette, and keep it from being boring.  The dude in front also helps bring your eye up into the vehicle.

3-values

3-values

I love this.  The background is the lighter 2 shades, the vehicle is the dark.  Super clear read, and the full story is expressed.  You could practically show this and convey everything you *needed* to.

4 values

4 values

Yeah, this is just overkill.  It's almost the greyscale version of the image.  It does show the depth into the image better.

Let's move through the details front to back:

"What, I had to pee!"

"What, I had to pee!"

The guy in the front is actually surprisingly tightly rendered.  There is a clear sense of the materiality of his outfit and the way the light hits him.  The edges of his silhouette are very clean, and it feels like he was painted using opaque, relatively simple brushes.  There are a couple of gradient-style changes in value, but they are very subtle.  It's hard to tell how the shadows were painted, but the highlights mostly seem to be cross-contour in nature.

The front treads.

The front treads.

In comparison to the guy, the treads are quite loose.  They are basically blobs of colour and silhouette. I love the snow at their base, it's literally just a couple of dabs with a square brush!  He's left some of his "scribbling" in, and it really adds to the sense of dynamism.

The cockpit.

The cockpit.

Almost like he's deliberately alternating detail, the cockpit is rendered significantly tighter.  It's still impressionistic, but there is a real sense of form, shape and design to the components you see.  I can feel the form changes from the shadows and the highlights.  I especially enjoy the micro-details he's put in here to make it feel both "lived in" and interesting to the eyes.  Ian is a master of both "rest areas" and high detail areas in a design.  Check out how much energy the textures have - you can feel that he's just laying in confident strokes and moving on to the next, not fixating on what "rust" looks like.

 

Riding dirty.

Riding dirty.

...and another loose spot.  The silhouettes are VERY clear, but if it weren't for that, these soldiers would be very hard to read as people.  He's used the lasso tool to block off areas and paint with them.  Unlike artists like Jaime Jones, Ian doesn't seem to use a lot of texture brushes and strokes to add interest.  Ian's stuff is a lot more graphic, relying on silhouette and clear reads to give visual punch.

Can you see the forest for the trees?

Can you see the forest for the trees?

Man, that background.  It's sole purpose is to contextualize the vehicle, and he's made something incredibly beautiful in it's simplicity and mark making.  Those ground twigs are made with so much confidence and bravery....I know I don't have the balls to paint things like that and leave them!  So good!

[EDIT]  Ian let me know that there is a tutorial for this image and several others HERE.

Learnings:

  • Good design first, then technique to support that.  Narrative isn't always required to be #1, but it still supports the design.
  • Strong shape reads
  • Balance your areas of detail with areas of simple space.
  • Balance your areas of texture with flatness or low-contrast.
  • Don't be afraid to make a mark and then just LEAVE IT ALONE.

Thanks for reading!  Please share if you found it interesting.  See you next time :)