Summer Shakespeare

One of the things I try not to miss in the summertime is the annual production of a Shakespeare play in the cloister ruins at Romateatern on Gotland. It’s always an amazing experience. This year, they are doing Othello, and we were lucky enough to get front row center seats on a warm summer night. It was great – wonderful actors and a simple-yet-striking production design. I recommend seeing it if you get the chance!

If you know the play, you know that it’s Iago who gets to really chew the scenery and Allan Svensson did exactly that to crowd-pleasing effect, but Peter Gardiner also did solid work playing the title role. I’d originally planned to try and furtively sketch a bit during the show (à la James Gurney), but the actors were basically standing right in front of us, so I was much too intimidated with these two intense characters just a meter or so away. Still, I did my best to memorize Gardiner as he did his “Othello gazes broodingly into the distance whilst Iago pours poison in his ear” pose. Below is my attempt to capture him on my iPad using Procreate:

Peter Gardiner in Romateatern’s 2012 “Othello”

Visualising Vance, Pt. 2

The Pelgrane

Here’s a painting that has been lurking in the back of my mind for several years. It’s a scene from one of the short stories in Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth (1950). The story is called T’sais, and here we see the titular character and a hooded man named Etarr on Modavna Moor at sunset, as they try to avoid being spotted by three saurian flying pelgrane. I took a first go at it last year, and while I think I got the sense of place right, the figures were barely there. There was mood, but no action:

At the end of this summer, I revisited it, and tried several new variations. I was trying get the hurried sense of Etarr suddenly pulling T’sais down into the furze as he spots the predator:

Although I love the pelgrane crop in this one, it’s not quite right as a whole, so try again:

This one felt like the figures in the foreground were passing by on their way to some other painting.

Finally, I get on the right track:

There was some good body language, and more connection between the whole group. I took this back to vertical format, and lightened everything up in the foreground. I was reading a lot of commentary from Harvey Dunn, so I was working with the figures first as silhouettes, and then tried to sculpt out detail with more and more value. I did a bit of self-posed photography to work out trickier bits on Etarr.

I was also inspired by a WWII-era illustration by Mead Schaeffer in how I handled the foreground/background. I’m glad I managed to get sense of true distance, and I was lucky enough to get a few sunsets with exactly this lighting effect outside our studio windows while I working on this.

Overall, I am pleased with this, and despite a few nitpick areas, I’m nearly ready to call it done. It’s not quite the vague, saturated red image I had in my head, but I think it works as a good illustration for the story. I could easily see it as a facing plate in an old hardbound edition, which is what I was after.

There’s another illustration coming from this same story – look for it here soon!


Visualising Vance

I was going through some of my kroki sketches last night, looking at several of a male model that we had several weeks back. He was a very tall man with dreadlocks, and he had a striking, unusual face – looking a bit like Ron Perlman. There was something about the flat expanse over his mouth, his facial bone structure and the intensity of his gaze under a deep brow – “saurian” was the term that kept coming to my mind.

At any rate, I’ve been wanting to try a rendering of a Dirdir – one of the four alien races from Jack Vance’s Tschai series – and I kept going back to these sketches. So, with apologies to this poor chap, I’ve used him as the basis for one of the pale, lizard-like Dirdir:


In the novel “The Dirdir”, there are also dirdirmen – humans who believe (or wish) that they are genetically related to the Dirdir, and who use prosthetics and body modification to emulate Dirdir appearance (The Dirdir, on the other hand, don’t seem to spend much time thinking about the Dirdirmen at all). With that in mind, I wanted the Dirdir to look roughly human in form and facial configuration, but to become stranger and more reptilian the closer one looks. The long antennae-like bits are called “effulgences”, and can glow or change orientation based on the emotions of the Dirdir.

“Éowyn and the Nazgûl” Final Judging

The final judging for the “Éowyn and the Nazgûl” art challenge has been posted over at The Art Order, and I am fairly staggered to find that I placed fourth in the results:

“Craig J. Spearing was our top winner, receiving recommendations from 10 judges
Nick Deligaris came in number two with nods from 6 judges
Allen Douglas came in number three – fighting tooth and nail for 6 judges as well
David Brasgalla came in number 4 with votes from 5 judges
Andrew Ryan came in number 5 with thumbs-up from 5 judges as well – just barely nudging out
Cory Godbey as the honorable mention”

The judges were:

John Jude Palencar, Justin Gerard, Matt Stewart, Arnie Fenner, Gregory Manchess, Donato Giancola, Eric Fortune, Don Dos Santos, Greg Hildebrandt, Jesper Ejsing, Petar Meseldzija and John Howe.

No pressure, right?

Congratulations to Craig for the well-deserved win, and to the other finalists! A sincere thanks to Jon Schindehette and all of the judges for a huge effort in making this happen – I can hardly express how motivating it is to have their vote of approval for my work, as well as the insightful and helpful critique that was offered during the painting process.

I’m going to put together a post about painting my submission, and try to get that up in a day or so… when my head stops spinning…

The Art Order “Eowyn and the Nazgul” Challenge Final Judging

Muddy Colors

View my portfolio at: Pixelhuset

“Éowyn and the Nazgûl” Final Lineup Posted

The final submissions for the “Éowyn and the Nazgûl” art challenge have been posted over at The Art Order – all 160 of them! I don’t envy the judges such a difficult task. The quality of work is very high, and there’s just so much of it.

It will be very exciting to see what the judges’ reactions to the pieces are. All are giants in the field of illustration, and several are undeniable Tolkien experts in their own right. That’s daunting in itself.

Greg Hildebrandt’s work with his brother Tim was a major inspiration to me when I was a fledgling artist in the 70’s, and the 1977 Ballantine Books Tolkien calendar was one of my bibles at the time. It’s surreal to me that he will now be looking at my Tolkien art, nearly 40 years later. I hope I managed to learn something in the interim…

No matter how the judging goes, this challenge has already been a huge personal success for me, and I am heading into the summer on a real art high. Best of luck to everyone, and thanks to The Art Order and all the judges for taking the time to sponsor such a inspiring and galvanising event!

Here is my final submission. Special thanks to Annica and Rasmus Strand for modeling help and the loan of chainmail, respectively.

A painting of a scene from Tolkien: "Eowyn and the Nazgul"

The Art Order “Eowyn and the Nazgul” Challenge Line-up

Muddy Colors

The iPad Photo Roll vs. Your Digital Art

I did some testing this weekend to confirm something I’d long suspected: exporting digital art from an iPad painting app to the iPad’s built-in Photos app introduces an unacceptable degradation in quality.

In general, I find that the artwork I create on my iPad 1 using the Brushes app doesn’t look as good when I transfer it over to my Macbook Pro. When a painting is in progress, and I am sending over test images, I general just send a copy to the iPad’s Photo roll, and then use Dropbox to transfer that to my laptop. I find the images to look somewhat duller and flatter, although my laptop is barely 2-months old.

My first suspicion was the Photo roll, and I was right.

I can usually correct the dullness somewhat by bumping up the saturation a bit in Photoshop, but I also began to notice artifacts in the art when I examined it closely (I spend a lot of time zoomed in tight on my paintings, so I get a good sense of how an area should look). My first suspicion was the Photo roll, and I was right.

I have some issues with the Photo roll in general, and the near-total lack of control involved, but I’ve always assumed that the built-in iPad apps would tend to become more robust as time went by, so I try not to let it annoy me. I think that the Photo roll largely does what it was intended to do – which isn’t much. Unfortunately, many developers of painting apps are using it as their sole conduit for image export, thereby adding the shortcomings of the Photo roll to their own app.

Steve Sprang did something different with Brushes, adding a desktop component called the Brushes Viewer. Due to the way Brushes records all actions used to create an image, Brushes Viewer can take the Actions file from the iPad and generate up to a 6x TIFF version of the artwork, as well as Quicktime movies of the entire process at various rates of speed. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, especially if an artist plans to take their iPad artwork to print, as I sometimes do. The downside for Sprang is that he doesn’t yet have a Windows component (there’s talk of making it browser-based to ameliorate this).

I used Brushes Viewer on my Mac to recreate a painting I have in progress as a 1x TIFF (1024×768), and matched that to the same image exported to the iPad Photo roll as a JPEG (1024×768). Both images are zoomed in to 265% in Photoshop. Upon viewing the image below at full size, one can clearly see that the Photo roll (on the left) is introducing some truly nasty artifacts.

Comparison example of iPad Photo roll artifacting

(It also clearly shows that I need to fix her chin, but that’s beside the point right now)

Obviously, JPEGs are compressed by nature and TIFF is the right choice of the two for quality – but how many apps give one that choice? There is more than one way to get acceptable output (like the Photoshop integration of Sketchbook Pro), but the Photo roll is simply too weak for the task at present – and in fact, it’s actively detrimental to your artwork.

To me, the question of whether or not the iPad is a valid platform for art production is long moot – I’ve been happily using it as my main production tool for nearly a year now. Whenever I take a look at a new painting app for the iPad, I check to see how images are exported, and I’m always disappointed if I read that the Photo roll is the only conduit out of the app. I’m using my iPad professionally, and the Photo roll is not currently giving professional-level results.

Digital artists (and app developers!) should be aware of this situation and bear it firmly in mind when choosing the tools and methods to achieve the highest quality artwork output from our iPads.

“Éowyn and the Nazgûl” Art Order Challenge

Petar Meseldžija’s dramatic new painting “Éowyn and the Lord of the Nazgûl” caused a lot of excitement on the Muddy Colors collaborative blog a few weeks back, and that posting led to a retrospective of different depictions of the famous scene by a slew of famous artists. The Art Order was inspired to come up with an open challenge to depict the famous scene from Tolkien, and the Muddy Colors folks are going to participate with critiques, judging and prizes.

I decided to create a submission for the challenge, and started in with my usual researching and pondering. Surprisingly, I’ve ended up with not just one, but three paintings on the go. I’ll likely enter just one, but it’s been very interesting and rewarding to come at the same brief in a variety of ways.

I’ll post more thoughts on all of this, but for now here is a peek at the latest work in progress for my main submission candidate, approximately 70% complete:

Èowyn and the Witch King

The Art Order Nazgûl challenge

Muddy Colors challenge post

Petar Meseldžija’s blog post