It’s stupid to be even having this conversation. It really is. But here I am.
So, I do this…
and variations thereof..
It is how I draw and, for the most part, it makes me happy. What’s more, I’ve been very fortunate and have made a living in the past from my ability to draw as an industrial designer as well as teaching visual communication at university for a number of years. So I should, and do, know better.
But here we are, having this conversation.
Staring work on the visual world building of MAG-100 is something that I’ve been looking forward to for some time, and now with the writing thing finally sorted, is the right time. But bad habits are hard to move on and as usual, I found myself doodling on the back of bits of paper…
This sort of sketching just feels natural
A lot comes out of these doodles but as I am using the raw sketches as part of the book, I really needed to pull the finger out and start using the sketchbook again so 1. I don’t loose work and 2. it stays protected. But that’s when it started happening. As I started drawing in the sketchbook, I started to get an uneasy feeling – the sketches were not good enough, not slick enough, not polished enough, just not… ‘enough’. An immense feeling of dissatisfaction hit me. But why? Looking back through that pages of the sketchbook, I liked what I was seeing; it made me feel good, the work was ‘right’. So why, starting again, was I being hit with these feelings?
I realised it’s something I’d touched on in this post, but in a nutshell, I more or less blame social media.
My feeds are predominantly made up of other artists and designers I follow and what I see when I look at the feeds is the work of others I generally really like/admire for whatever reason. What I’ve realised though is at the subconscious level, this overexposure creates a feedback loop where, rightly or wrongly (the latter in my case), I start to compare what I do against those I follow. Why this is so wrong is a whole post in and of itself, why it’s even worse for me, where I have a style and a process I developed, like and am happy with, is completely destructive. Every designer and artist has an element of self doubt about what they do, endlessly feeding that doubt with ever increasing amounts of fuel is a recipe for disaster.
Sketching is a tool to get from point A to point B, a way to envisage and explore the idea in my head on paper. It’s never been about proving how well I can wield a pen, or how beautiful I can make a line. But only once I have the idea in front of me in the physical world, can I decide where I go with it – 2D, 3D, something in-between?
In fact, with the tools available today, worrying about the sketch beyond a certain point is a futile pursuit. I’d even go as far as to say that worrying about it is detrimental to the whole point of a sketch in the first place – the ideation process. A sketch should represent the character and intent of the idea and also that of its creator, and generally the quicker, more spontaneous it is, the more character it holds. Highly polished sketches always make me wonder how much of them are about the idea vs. showing off.
Comparing what I do, or how I do it with the myriad of others I see on my feeds every day is, putting it mildly, complete bullshit. Yes, I’ll sometimes see things that’ll spark an idea, an inspiration, a technique, but to be concerned that what I do does not equal what they do? That’s madness. Sketching is as much part of a designer or artist’s personality or style as anything else, so to try and be someone else is ultimately doing yourself a disservice by robbing you of your own voice.
You have to have faith in yourself, your own voice. Sure, over time it will evolve and change as it matures, but the most important thing is that it’s yours. Make sure you keep it that way.
Something I wrote in early ’21, I thought it was worth digging this post up as it more or less set the direction of how I have been seeing the visual style panning out after the PostIt Note project; this concept has been the one thing that had unrelentingly stuck with me as I worked through everything else.
The PostIt doodles I’d been doing for the last months of ’20 enforced an idea of ‘constraint’ – their diminutive size forced a focus on story and composition in the simplest manner; which produced some very interesting outcomes.
The concept behind the quasi isometric format (quasi as I am using perspective rather than being true isometric) is similar – each base, or volume, is a concentrated moment, a point in time where just the slice of most interest is extracted; it’s very reminiscent of a model dioramas – something I have always loved. I had thought about this format for many years, but shelved it because @thisnorthernboy sort of ended up owning it with his most very excellent isometric buildings… I hope he doesn’t mind my adopting the format!
2020: Fooling around with z-Brush seeing how an isometric could pan out in 3D
2022 Note: Since writing the above, I have discovered the work of Owen Pomery, a commercial illustrator out of the UK, who also does a lot of isometric illustrations. I’d be lying if I said I was not a fan of his work and this naturally raises all sorts of questions within myself – with several artists I know using the isometric as a style, should I be doing the same thing, would it been as ‘copying’ and all that sort of guff? As it was put to me “…Rob and Owen are on the scene, sure, but not in the same way.” And the truth lies in that statement. Any creative endeavour is clouded by those who have, or are doing, similar things, it can’t be helped. But it’s what you bring to it that makes it yours, so you should not those that came before, or exist in parallel, stop you from chasing your own ideas or interpretation.
I had to really dig to find this post from the past (ended up using the waybackmachine), as it touches on quite a few things for the next stage of MAG-100; finding it was also important for a post that’s going to follow on.
2020’s Inktober rolled around rather quickly this year and I had made a pact with myself to hop to it; 2019’s attempt fizzled at about week 1.5, so I was determined to run the full course. I even had the aim of using it as a vehicle to explore the ‘Tour of the Universe’ world building project further. The problem was, I have been busy with… ‘stuff’, so the idea of spending an hour a day on an ink drawing was not really on the cards.
I was off to a bad start even before I began.
And then there was my natural propensity to get bent out of shape about the technical aspects, a matter only complicated when debating whether to do it digitally, or analogue. But about a week out from the start of Inktober, I had the idea of drawing on PostIt Notes. I am not sure where the idea came from (nothing’s original) but I thought it was an interesting concept. So after having a bit of a play on an old pad that was laying around, I decided to give it a go. If nothing else, I’d be doing something very different from what I’d usually do…
When I started with the PostIt Notes, I quickly found they not only have very strict boundaries (duh!) but also remove any ‘preciousness’ that often comes with sketchbooks. Their small stature as a canvas meant sweeping lines, or large levels of detail were not options, and even the smallest fluctuation in line weight made a big impact on the sketch. So over the course of two weeks, I found my drawings becoming lighter and simpler, with the emphasis on conveying the idea through composition, and ‘just enough’ to make it interesting. Plus, the very nature of PostIt Notes, sitting unobtrusively on the desk and always open, ready for something to be jotted down, meant I found myself spontaneously popping out little scenes and designs several times a day as they came to mind. I began sketching a lot!
Then, one day, this appeared in my Instagram feed:
“I’ve been following you for a while and I really wanted to emphasize to you how much I love your work. I see all kinds of complex art on my feed, work that takes hours, days, months, and yet the originality of their work is lacking. Your style is so simple, yet the ideas conveyed are extraordinary. Simply wonderful. Thank you for doing what you do!”
And that’s when I realised what’s happened…
<fade to anecdote>
Way back when, my graduation ‘thesis’ project was a design for a semi conceptual Ducati (it was the project than landed me my first job at Ducati). As part of the project, I had to make a half scale model of the design. It was a fairly large undertaking, if for no other reason than a motorcycle has lots of ‘bits’, most of which had nothing to do with what I was designing. When everything was done, I’d graduated and all that, the head of the transportation design department came and asked if I would bring my model in for him to show the 4th term transport design students. I was a bit flummoxed, the model was goodish, but nowhere near the insane level of detail and quality the trans majors popped out term after term (I went through the product design department, causing more than a few ruffled feathers with my project). Regardless, I brought it in and he showed it to the full class of students, some 35 odd.
And what did he say?
He said it was an excellent model, the perfect balance between accurately representing the design concept and detail. ‘Just enough’ I think he told them, in an attempt to make them understand that what had been going on in the department, as far as the models being made, was excessive and somewhat pointless in the scope of a design project.
My constant wrestle with sketching comes from a commitment to use 3D as core medium for illustration. Sketching, drawing, is a tool to help me quickly visualise an idea to translate in the 3D world, where I can resolve, detail, colour and all the rest. But the lure to create more elaborate 2D sketches and drawings is always a constant distraction to my end aim and in many ways, has always been a source of distraction.
In the Instagram and online folio world of highly polished work, it’s very easy to loose sight that a drawing, or sketch, need be nothing more than a communication tool, conveying what’s needed to get the point across. The PostIt Note project has not only seen me increase my ideation output tenfold (a very useful thing when trying to ‘world build’), but it also has forced me to relearn how to do… ‘just enough’.
And for prosperity, here’s the entirety of the series, rescued from Instagram…
It’s an official thing now
I am happy to say that after almost 4 years* worth of grind, and everything that comes with that, I have finally wrapped up the writing part of MAG-100. And it was anything but smooth sailing. During that time I have managed to go around in circles, chop, change directions, names, aims, doubt why I was doing any of it at all and pretty much anything else you can throw in there. But after a chain of ‘events’ (wondering if that’s the right word?) over the past few months, everything took on a very sharp focus and as if by magic, all the pieces fell into place, resulting in the completion of the writing.
And I’d be lying if I said it was not a monumental relief.
It turned out that the whole thing was a giant jigsaw – I had all the pieces and managed to put some of them together but without the box art as a guide, completing it was proving very difficult. It’s hard to say what happened exactly. Looking back at some past posts here shows that it happened over a period of time, and on several fronts, but there ultimately was a definite trigger to what happened next. In a sudden unexpected burst, I spent several weeks focused on chipping away until finally, it all just slotted together. The keystone fell into place after I rewrote a tale that was feeling out of place when a bolt of lightning, as cliché as that sounds, hit me and I realised the lead in that I had been using for his tale needed to be at the start of the book. In hindsight, the ironic part of this was this short piece was one of the first things I wrote back in 2018 and I wrote is as…. the introduction!
I’ve sent a pre-complete drafts out to some folks I know for feedback, because one always wonders if what they are doing is just complete and utter nonsense or not. Pleasantly, what’s come back is what I was hoping for; as the format concept driving MAG-100 is quite a different from what one would consider a ‘book’, hearing that others gelled with it was more than comforting – having it compared to Stewart Cowley (TTA series) or Simon Stalenhag, was completely unexpected. The critiques that did come back, again very reassuringly, were areas that I had already started to address after the drafts had gone out, so that by the time the feedback came in, I more or less had the areas covered.
So where to from here? With this finally done (barring the odd tweaks and editing that happens), it’s on to the visuals, which is where this whole things started in the first place. What I can say with 100% certainty, is that this is officially a ‘thing’ with an end goal finally on the table. So what better way to put down that milepost than with the official MAG-100 website?
* I had to dive back into old files to find out exactly when it was I started this project… which it turns out was late 2018.
It’s been a bit quiet here the past for weeks, something to do with being busy punching out client websites (which tends to pay the bills!). That’s not to say I have not been filling the gaps with project work, I have indeed…
Ian McQue popped this post out recently…
Looking back at it, it’s actually quite poignant…
After having moved house a few times over the past two years, I’ve cleaned out my file drawers, culling back to only, *ahem*, the best of the doodles, sketches, scribbling and ideas I had accumulated over the past years. Interestingly, as Ian rightly pointed out, one does tend to circle on the same idea, subconsciously or otherwise. What I find most interesting about this is that while I have visually circled on the same concepts for many years, writing wise I deviated quite a bit. I can’t really explain why, but the visual ideas never really aligned with the written ones and while I have spoken about getting the ducks in a row previously, I never managed to put this disconnect together until I started going through the sketchbooks.
This doodle here is a good example… I have messed around with ideas like this for a good long while now but they simply do not fit into the narratives I have been writing – they’re not MAG-100, The Silent nor Sub Orbital Machine 9. Until now.
There’ve been little, almost subconscious, crumbs between the wordage and the scribbles over time but they have been divergent processes; which could explain the maddening endless circles I’ve spoken about. So sitting down with the words and sketches in front of me, it became suddenly obvious that to fold the various ideas and concepts into one another would be a simple affair, everything was (surprisingly) already structured, I just needed to make the missing connections. What’s more, as I did it the narrative evolved to become much closer to the concept of science fiction that I enjoy – crazy, big picture and challenging.
The same connection process can be said with the art itself…
I have been chasing all these different style and methods as I vainly tried to align what I was doing – there was colour 3D, black and white, sketches, scribbles, and on it went as I bounced from one thing to the next.
The big 3D illustrations I could do (in my own somewhat retro style)…
but they didn’t fit with the ideas of what MAG-100 was becoming in my mind (see the previous post about the game aspect). The idea of pages of sketch-work with highlighted details (3D or drawn) seemed closer to the mark but lacked aspects of story telling that I liked. Circling back into the past work, what found I really enjoyed was the paneled style of drawing, like a mix between comic and story boarding, which allows breakaways for things of interest. It also suits my style of drawing and black & white as a medium, which I always had a strong preference for.
But most interestingly, this style of working is something I keep coming back to in one form or another, as I like to tell narratives in the things I draw – my doodles tend to be little visual narratives of objects or scenes rather than single point ideas.
So maybe there’s a reason we all circle on the same ideas….
One of those ‘itch’ projects that needed a scratching…
Trying to capture ‘brand identity’ in four separate concepts that revolved around the same basic idea and layout. You can decided if I got it right or not…
PS: I added the ‘Japanese box art style labeling after the fact, as I thought it was sort of funny.’
It was one of those funny tangents. I was reading up on Battletech’s ‘Alpha Strike’ rules, as I get the tabletop ready for the young man’s first (ok, third after Giant Killer Robots and X-Wing) foray into some table top gaming, when I remembered I’d left the game component of MAG-100 languishing for quite a while. I lost momentum with the game after I got carried off down the torrent of story writing and struggling with the art aspect. So being a Sunday afternoon, I decided to open the work I’d done back up and see just what sort of shit-show I’d created.
And to my surprise, it was not a shit show at all.
Clearly there was room develop but the bones and mechanics were all there, fleshed out nicely into something, even in its rough form, could be played right away.
So what’s this all about then?
When I had started creating the universe of MAG-100, one story came about that made me realise that there was a whole backstory that would actually make for an interesting tabletop game, especially one with a campaign background to it. I’d played enough games over the years to know that complex games need to be designed really, really well in order not to become a bore; I’ve been a long time fan of the beautiful simplicity of Steve Jackson’s Ogre for a very long time which, funnily enough, started to become less fun the more that was added to it. So as a bit of something to do, I sat down and started designing a game that would be fast to play, simple to learn but have a whole lot of scope from a play point of view and even from an expansion/development aspect.
Then I shelved it.
Now call this serendipity but it became obvious after having looked through what I’d already done, I needed to roll the game aspect into the book that MAG-100 has become. Doing so helps tie everything together, the words, the art… the whole point of it. I’m not writing a collection of random stories with associated drawings and the like, I’m creating an expanded backstory for…. a game!
[ I’m still aiming to keep the game simple but depending how I intend on putting it out there, there’s scope for a whole lot more. For now though my aim is to start it off with a very back to basics affair – mapboard, counters…. simple 6 sided dice.]
Once upon a time I used to do architectural visualisation, or achi-viz these days, as a living. In fact, at the time I was one of the very few in Sydney offering full 3D services to architectural practices and had a solid client base. My particular specialisation that most offices found very useful, was in the area of technical images, especially photomontages, that were used for planning assessment and approval. Good times.
The Silent project returns me to those days and in fact the idea of using 3D montage was the birth point of what The Silent has evolved into.
This image I put together as a test, as it’s been a long while since I did any sort of montage work, so the skillset is rusty to say the least. Using a model I had made for MAG-100 and a photo I took some time back, I wanted to see how the presentation aspect ratio works out as well as what I could do with KeyShot.
Overall I have to say I am quite happy with the result!
This sort of follows on from this post here, where I was talking about trying to rationalise a design and form language for the MAG-100 universe…
I literally have pages on pages of doodles and scribbles of forms for spacecraft and vehicles. What’s common about them all, and has been for some time is at some point (I actually remember when) all the forms started to collate into a few very distinct groupings; and just in case you missed it, none of the forms adhere to the current norms you’ll find in the majority of concept design. But as I have touched on in previous posts, with so many things going on between the various projects, ideas kept on bleeding into one another, so it just became impossible to separate the ideas.
The above pages (mostly the first two) are the result of sitting down and making a conscious effort to go through all the pages and attempt to sort the different ideas out into themes that I could then apportion to the various projects…
The first image shows where I settled for the MAG-100 narrative. Over the past 6 months or so I have been playing with a range of forms and details (you can see more in previous posts) that have revolved around a similar set of ideas. Designing a language for MAG-100 was always difficult, as I needed a language that not only represented intended but also time and technological advancement. At the same time though, I wanted elements or commonalities that became identifiable between the various points, helping to express a level of ideology in design that was carried through over time.
The second image shows a far more singular language that I am working up for ‘The Silent’. Here the goal is vastly different – the designs needing to create a feeling as part of the overall when you look at them in situ within the image. The designs for The Silent are intentionally vague and sculptural, rather than detailed products, their forms being intentionally somewhat identifiable and alien at the same time.
What you can’t see here, but is something I have already identified, are the surface materials that I will be using when modelling the various designs. When I have been thinking about these, I have been doing so very much from a design and manufacturing point as much as a societal one. What I have decided on I am sure will surprise some out there.
This came up as one of those off the cuff Twitter ‘challenges’, when the uber talented games concept designer Shaun Mooney asked who else would like to join him in redesigning what is only known as ‘Kaneda’s bike’, an iconic design from the even more iconic movie, Akira.
‘What sort of sacrilegious bastardy is this?’ I can hear the screams now…
I would never have thought about doing it, if for nothing else than the original is such a pop-culture icon; appearing on everything from t-shirts through to a real running version. Maybe it was the fleeting mention that tickled me, or maybe it triggered something deep down that I had been mulling over for some months now – dabbling in two wheeled and ‘speed’ concepts once again. It’s been a long time.
As this is one of those concepts you could just keep going with endlessly, I gave myself a time cap of a week or so to come up with something in the gaps of the day. It was also a good test of my ‘new’ way of working – no one’s paying me to do endless finished 2D renders which, to be honest, I never really enjoyed, so these days I have been going from loose doodles, where all the character of the idea is captured and heading right into 3D, where I can explore with ‘digital clay’; something that could never have been done when Akira was made.
So here is my take on a design ‘what if’.
The design is not a blank canvas concept, I wanted to think what would have happened if Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira’s creator) took a right turn instead of a left in his own design process for the bike. So keeping some of the core notions from his design, I fused them with my own to go down a very different road.