New Gumroad tutorial up!

If you are interested in using a combination of 2D and 3D techniques to make images of spaceships, please head over to my Gumroad (link on the header) and check out my newest tutorial! For $15 CAD you get 2 hours of narrated video, the 3D objects, textures and PSD used to create this image:

190702 Ship Tutorial image only.jpg

Your support is greatly appreciated, and will help me continue to pay rent so I can make more art to share with you!

The Ars Aquatica Project

Here it is, the entirety of the “Ars Aquatica” project I worked on for #Mermay and #MaySketchADay. I actually started on April 16th, and finished today on May 31st….so this is about 6 weeks of work for me. I was doing a bit of freelance and living my life at the same time, so this isn’t 100% of my time, but I still think I worked pretty hard on this, and I feel like I learned a lot doing it.

I hope you enjoy looking at the results as much as I enjoyed making them!


So, for a little over a month, I’ve been working on an “urban fantasy” style story idea, where a boy gets into a fight with his stepdad in Toronto in 1990, goes out to a rave, and wakes up in a park in Vancouver in 2018….no memories of how, but now he can see fae beings living alongside the humans. Here is some of the work I’ve been doing :)

181124 Changeling Meeting1.jpg
181124 Huntsman1.jpg
181125 Unseelie Meg1.jpg
181127 Unseelie Hunter1.jpg
181128 Gnome Sneak1.jpg
181129 Hulder Dancing1.jpg
181203 Bus Stop1.jpg
181206 Office1.jpg
181209 The Turtle General1.jpg
181210 Hag2 Meg Greenbanks.jpg
181212 Warrior Patrol1.jpg
181214 Campus1.jpg
181215 Barrier1.jpg
181217 Art Deco1.jpg
181221 Conversation1.jpg
181223 Underground Bar1.jpg
181226 Nick and Conn Bridge1.jpg
181226 Forest Magic Card1.jpg
181227 Forest 2.jpg

Whew! There’s a month’s worth of personal work on this project :) If you are interested in the stories behind these images, my Patreon (link on the top bar) is free to read, and has writeups for each individual painting. Thanks for following along!

Two weeks of images!

I didn’t realize I forgot to post last weekend, so here is a large dump of two week’s worth of warm-up sketches, renders and things I did to learn new stuff in software. This week, as part of #inktober, I modeled and rendered my scenes that I drew in pen, so I’ve included those drawings as well :)

Elven Stellae1.jpg
180926 Incursions Forest1.jpg
180927 Incursion Field1.jpg
180928 Temple Steps1.jpg
180929 Fountain1.jpg
180929 Incursions Shore1.jpg
180930 Scout Tower1.jpg
180930 Village1.jpg
181001 The Orchard of the Order1.jpg
181004 Globe House1.jpg
181006 The Spire1.jpg

More daily sketches

Another week of rapid 3D sketching, mostly using Gravity Sketch, Oculus Medium and Octane, with a bit of Photoshop to tie things together.  I try to keep my working time on these to about an hour each, so that I can learn things without getting hung up on little details.

180819 Landing1.jpg
180819 Pit Stop1.jpg
180821 Down for Repairs.jpg
180821 Mining Guild Outpost1.jpg
180822 Fjord Dawn1.jpg
180823 Jump Gate1.jpg
180826 Beachside1.jpg

Some environment "sketches"

When I don't have a lot of time to make personal work, I try to make environment sketches, either drawn or in 3D.  They help keep me sharp, they let me practice and try new compositions and ways to handle textures and surfacing.  Here are a couple I've done in the last little while.

180818 Tundra Supplies1.jpg
180816 Alien Fungus1.jpg
180808 Abandoned Base1.jpg
180808 How Far Ill Go1.jpg
Land of 5000 lakes1.jpg

What do you do to practice and keep yourself sharp?

Character Design Self-Teaching.

I decided to spend a couple of days unpacking the character design logic from Gears of War.  My own personal characters have tended towards a minimalism that I got from Alex Toth being a huge influence on me, and I'm trying to broaden my style to make it a bit more current.  The GoW style is *too* micro-detail for my personal tastes, but I thought pushing past my comfort zone might be a good way to learn.

I started with a relatively simple design from the GoW3 art book, and did a master copy.

Photo 2018-02-09, 11 18 36 AM.jpg

Next, I was interested in how they portrayed women as well as men, so I found a picture of a 3D model of one of the characters, and drew that as well.

Photo 2018-02-10, 5 15 06 PM.jpg

As my third and final (for now) master copy, I found one of the characters that was "bursting" with micro-detail, and copied him.

Photo 2018-02-11, 9 59 19 AM.jpg

Only after those 3 studies did I attempt to apply the design language to my own character.  I didn't try to slavishly copy exactly, but rather to learn the ideas of the master copies and apply them my way.

Photo 2018-02-11, 9 59 55 PM.jpg

I had a lot of fun with this process, and I recommend it for anyone who is trying to stretch their visual libraries and sense of design.  Learn first by observing and copying, and then try to take that to your own idea.


Thanks for reading!

Egil's Saga Re-Imagined

When I was in Iceland this month, I picked up a book of Icelandic Sagas, the stories from the 8th-11th century that chronicle the population of the island and the deeds of the families involved.  Being me, my first thought was, "Wow, this could make a cool basis for a sci-fi story!"

The layout of the Viking world makes it tailor-made for such a thing.  First off, most locations are simply farms.  There are few cities or towns.  Second, travel between them is mostly by boat.  Converting that world to one of small asteroid-based settlements connect by spaceship is a very small jump.  Each ruler of an area would be the largest asteroid in a small cluster of vassal rocks.

Obviously, my world names and such may change, but right now, I'm thinking in terms of this:

  • The North Belt - The largest concentration of settlements.  At the start of the story, it is in the process of being unified under one ruler.
  • The Ice Belt - Newly colonized and somewhat remote.  Attractive to those escaping politics in the North Belt, or those simply looking to make a fresh start.
  • The Green Belt - The outer limits of settlements, although explorers have found a planet beyond it.
  • Umbria - A planet further in-system than the belts.  Rough and tumble by the standards of the in-system planets, still considered soft and easy pickings by the belt-dwellers.  Often raided for materials and slaves, although some belt-dwellers have found riches serving as warriors for the agricultural centers on the planet.
  • There are more systems closer to the sun that are highly populated and civilized, but they won't be detailed in this first pass.

The Old Norse word for port or harbor is "Vik", and many believe that is the source of the word "Viking" - Basically, to go to ports for goods (often raiding, but sometimes trade.)  

For my story, given asteroids as the settlements, I'm going to use the term "Rock" and "Rocking" in much the same way.  Rockers are those who leave their homes to search for treasure and slaves and glory.

Visually, I decided to start this one with characters, which is a little different from my usual methodology.  I've been taking traditional Norse costumes and silhouettes and trying to update them to a tech look without losing their design language.  Here are a couple of the ones I've done so far:

170821 ES Male Costume1.jpg
170821 ES Male Costume2.jpg
170822 ES Male Costume3.jpg

Here's the first of the women I've tried - I think they may change more from the historical, as I have no interest in creating a "Man's World" story, and actual medieval Norse women's garb isn't that suited to deeds of adventure.

170822 ES Female Costume1.jpg

Obviously, these are just sketches to get my brain thinking, and not finished works of art, or even concept art.

I am enjoying the process, and I'm going to start thinking about specific characters and locations from the original saga, and how to translate them into a tech story.  Thanks for following along!

From 3D to finish

Ok, we got the house modeled and textured.  I'm not really going to show any pictures from the texturing process, as they are pretty boring and I don't think would explain a lot.  I used a custom adobe/stucco texture on the walls, with the windows and roof made up of an aluminium texture with some added dark bits in the cracks.  I put the whole thing through a "dirt" smart texture in 3D Coat that scruffed it up and added a lot of grime into the corners and crevasses.

As I mentioned earlier, I made the choice to model the house in sections, which I then loaded and created Unreal Engine materials for.  This is also a pretty straightforward task, 3D coat creates UV jpgs for base color, roughness, normal maps and all the rest.  It's basically plug and play.

Now the fun part!  I used the same desert map that I used for my last 2 vehicle designs, but found a different POV and built the house.  I did have to increase the size of every component by 1.7, which I figured out by loading the first section next to a model of a human.  Doors are great for this, they frame the people and give you a very quick read if the sizes are working in comparison.  Once the model was constructed, I adjusted the lighting, moved the camera around, adjusted the lighting some general, just stuff you do to find your composition.  The advantage to 3D is that when your design is complete, you don't have to do more thumbnails for scene composition, you just move your camera around and tweak things until you've tried all your ideas and picked the one you want.  Unreal lets you create camera viewpoints with "Control+<number>", so you can cycle through different camera angles and compare them.

Here's the Unreal Engine render.

The other great thing about UE is that because it is a real-time render engine, you get great results the whole time you are finding your shot.  I used to hate setting things up in Vue, running a 3 hour render, and then discovering that something was off in the high quality render that didn't show up in the preview.  This is *much* more efficient.

The rest reminds me more of matte painting than anything else.  I took the render into Photoshop, replaced the sky, added some mountains and some foreground interest and did a bit of color tweaking.  Since I was happy with my 3D model, I didn't do a lot of paint-over to change parts, but this would also be the time you could "fix" low-res models with more detail if you needed to.

Here's the final image:

Thanks for following along with me through my design process from thumbnails to concept art painting.  I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions, feel free to drop me an email :)

2D and 3D sketches

After the thumbnail process was complete, I drew my first choice for the house design.  You'll note that I used pen and paper - These interim steps are for me, not for clients, and tool choice is almost irrelevant.  Do it however you feel like, the important part is to increase your understanding of what the thumbnail represented.

To make sure my understanding was there, I chose to make notes.  This can be a really good idea if you want to share with an AD or teammate before you go further.

After the drawing was done, I jumped into 3D-Coat.  Because of the voxel nature of 3D Coat, it is great for loose 3D sketching, but pretty heavy on system resources.  For this reason, I went back and forth on if I should model the entire structure as one thing, or build it in components.  In order to keep sizes consistent, I opted to create each part as a separate section, but then down-rezzed it and made a *very* low-poly reference model of the entire thing.  This ended up being a very good thing for me, as during the the texturing phase I accidentally overwrote one component, and having the entire house let me recreate it very easily.

There's the fundamental design for the house!  The next stage is to quickly texture the sections in 3D-Coat, and then bring them into Unreal Engine to render with an environment.

If this were a studio project, I would definitely share what I have at this stage, as it would be very common for the AD to have notes of things to change, and this sketch phase can be very iterative.  Since I'm my own AD, I have the advantage of saying, "Yes!  You knocked it out of the park!" on the first pass :)

Next step, getting ready for the final painting!

Thumbnail development.

In 2005, a book called "The Skillful Huntsman" was published by Design Studio Press, and concept art was forever changed.  For maybe the first time, students were able to see process steps to making entertainment design, and of course, those students began to emulate the process laid out in that book.

One of the parts of that book that got perhaps the most attention was the concept of thumbnail silhouettes.  The idea is actually, really, really good - to think of the shapes and read of what you are trying to design instead of getting bogged down in the details that are so easy to fall prey to in line drawing.  Of course, when students started aping this technique, many of them didn't have the understanding of form that is REQUIRED to make this a useful methodology.

The result, frankly, created wave after wave of incredibly shitty designs in our industry.  Instead of focusing on readability and form, people got caught up in how "interesting" a shape they could generate - usually by adding a shit-ton of spikes.  When that didn't happen, the designs were unreadable and not taken further.  Portfolio after portfolio were filled with pages of little black blobs that could never inform anyone further down a pipeline with information needed to do the work.

In the last couple of years, there seems to be less of that going on.  The word got out that it wasn't a "cool" technique to get jobs.  Now, I'd say the pendulum is swinging the other way, towards tighter and tighter linework.  That will probably cause it's own set of problems, but is beyond the scope of today.

This morning, I started to rough out some designs for a building in my "Strange Futures" project.  It's going to be the home of an isolated old guy living out in the desert, where he has to ward off attacks by mutant dinosaurs.  I want to capture the feeling I got driving through the Badlands of South Dakota and seeing old shacks in the middle of nowhere, but also have a bit of "cool" to it, and show the mish-mash of technology that is the cornerstone of Strange Futures.

I'm not ashamed to admit, I did a page of silhouettes.  My tendency is to keep things too close to "reality", and I want something with more panache than just an old tin shack or mobile home.  Silhouettes almost force you to go beyond the basic cubes of those realistic homes.

Here's my first page:

Obviously, as I moved down the page, I started combining earlier ideas into new mash-ups, which is completely fine.  I decided I really liked #14, #17, #18 and #19, so I took those 4, made a new sheet, and started drawing into those shapes to give an indication of what the blobs might actually be.

From these tighter silhouette sketches, I'm leaning towards the top 2.  In the next part of this development process I'll take those 2 and completely redraw them, trying to add details and clarity without losing form.  I'll also probably start thinking of what they look like from other angles, in a very loose way.  After that, I'll jump into some simple 3D modeling to kick out something I can rotate around and get a feel for.  I'll share those steps with you guys later on in the week :)

As I prep for Spectrum Live...

Rather than an opinion piece this week, I thought I'd share some work I've done on a personal project over the last 2 weeks.  I wanted to work on my take of a "Superhero vs Aliens" movie story, set in Vancouver B.C.  Style-wise, it was based on an "X-Men meets the Avengers" vibe, with normal people who have superpowers instead of costumed heroes.

The Team

The Team

My four "superheroes" are all college students at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.  I don't go into how they got their powers, but Nicolas has telekinesis and can fly, Lauren is your basic "Super Soldier" archetype, stronger, faster and more sturdy than Olympic athletes.  Her boyfriend, Calvin, has telepathy, and Jenny can create destructive energy blasts from her hands.  I will admit, it made my day to create a team with no beefcake white dudes, and where the white woman has "normal" human proportions, and a bit of cellulite.  

Celebration of Light

Celebration of Light

As Lauren and Calvin relax and watch the summer fireworks...



An alien breach team gates in.  They have been monitoring via deep-cover agents, and have an agenda before the full invasion begins.

Welcome Home

Welcome Home

Part of that agenda is removing potential threats, like our four heroes.  Nicolas narrowly escapes an explosion in his apartment.

Alien Vessel

Alien Vessel

The alien spaceship has come down to Earth and is waiting in northern B.C.

Fighter Hangar

Fighter Hangar

When the assault team fails, fighters are dispatched.



They make the trip down to Vancouver as the mothership moves more slowly behind them.

Dodging Blasts

Dodging Blasts

Lauren and Nicolas engage the fighters while Calvin and Jenny sneak back to the mothership through the closing warp gate used by the assault team.

Hallway Blasts

Hallway Blasts

Jenny takes out some guards and she and Calvin advance to try to find some way to stop the ship.

Power Cell Containment

Power Cell Containment

Unfortunately, they are captured just after discovering one of the housing units for the mothership's power cells.

Flight Over Vancouver

Flight Over Vancouver

With no time to spare, Nicolas leaves Lauren to fight on the ground, and goes to rescue his friends and help them stop the invasion.

Entrance Hatch

Entrance Hatch

He sneaks his way aboard the vessel and is reunited with his friends.



What happens next?  Not sure!  I've got enough paintings for this project for right now, so I'm actually getting ready to start a new project.  I really find this "storytelling approach" to development really helpful for keeping things interesting and consistent.    You don't have to have a full script mapped out when you start, often as you are painting, new things will come up.  There was originally going to be one more character, Jenny's 11 year old young brother, but as I started working, he didn't fit where the story was going, and he was dropped.

Timing-wise, this was about 2 weeks' worth of work. I tried to do at least one image a day, plus some paper thumbnailing of ideas.  Technique-wise, this was a bit of a mix.  A couple were straight "Photo-plate and painting" images, some were Daz Studio and Photoshop, and some were full 3D environments kitbashed in Unreal Engine and then brought into Photoshop.

They were not painted in story-sequence order, I jumped around all over the place.  If I were going to keep working on it more, obviously I'd need a finale, and I could really use an image or two of Calvin being heroic....telepathy isn't an easy power to make look dynamic!

Thanks for reading!  Two weeks today, I'm flying down to Spectrum Live!  I'll have a new sketchbook with many of these paintings, plus some other projects.  If you're going to be there, stop by and say "Hey" :)