Twenty years of no lines.

This is the oldest image in the gallery section of my website. It is not the first thing I drew with Illustrator. But it is the first thing I drew with Illustrator where I went from a scan of a pencil rough to flat shapes, instead of putting color under a scan of an inked drawing.

The date on the gallery is August 29th, 2000. Twenty years ago. The date on the copy of the Illustrator file on my hard drive is 2005, but that’s a lie; somewhere along the journey from a bulky second-hand PowerPC Mac clone running MacOS to a Powerbook running OSX 10.14, all the creation dates on my files got lost.

I’ve been doing this no-lines thing for twenty years. I pretty much stopped doing outlines entirely once I did this piece. It was hard at first, but as I learnt various tricks, I got to a point where using lines feels too easy. Feels like cheating.

And twenty years later I’m finally doing something with this character, too. She was originally the sidekick of “Ensign K”, now Baron K is her sidekick in Parallax. They’ve both got pretty much the same shapes, though the costumes and worlds are different.

That’s from late July of 2001. There’s only a couple finished images between these two, I was mostly busy riding the bus to Spumco, working on Flash animation for a horrible man. And my process was a lot slower back then: I was still learning to draw, to a certain extent. I was figuring out Illustrator from scratch. Illustrator was a smaller toolbox, too – it had just gotten transparency in 2000. I hadn’t found out that the Pencil tool has settings, with terrible defaults; I just thought it was kind of shitty, and painstakingly made all my shapes with the Pen.

The first image is also a skin for Audion, an MP3 player for the Mac that had a very flexible skinning setup. You could arrange your buttons any way you liked, and have whatever weird shape you wanted for your play-control window. Nowadays all my music is in iTunes, which spends its time hidden and being controlled by the media keys on the keyboard; back then those media keys didn’t exist, so we ended up with little desk toys like this.

Or like this. Which was a self-portrait from November 2001, according to the dates in my site’s gallery. It’s a self-portrait of me at the time: a skinny, not-very-masculine guy, who was trying to figure out just what “gender transition” would really entail, and if it was something he wanted to do. I’d been signing most of my art that I posted online as “Peganthyrus” since about 1997 so this was clearly a thing I was playing with; I wouldn’t actually start on hormones until about 2002 or 2003. It’s been a while, I’m not exactly sure beyond “somewhere after Weekend Pussy Hunt collapsed and before Katrina”, which means somewhere between 2000-5.

But I digress.

Here’s one of my earlier experiments in Illustrator. Still clinging to lines but very close to letting go. This is also just about the only piece of mine that involves a gradient mesh, a tool I find to be far more fiddly than its results justify. I think a lot of this might have been experimenting with the pencil tool? Zig-zag effects on simple curves for the ferns – one of my first halting explorations into territory I would end up returning to much later when I started trying to pull on everything I’d learnt over two decades to do full-color comics by myself.

This is pretty typical of my Illustrator-with-lines work. Scanned ink work – this looks like it’s probably some kind of brush pen – with Illustrator shapes below.

Or this. With a badly-drawn version of my then-roomie Gabe Swarr. Who has been spending the last couple of years working on the remake of Tiny Toons. Complete with occasional meetings with Steven Friggin’ Spielberg. I couldn’t hack it in the animation industry but he sure could, geez.

There was experimentation with other tools now and then, too. I’m pretty sure this is Painter. Does that default to saving as a .RIFF file? Because I have this on my drive as both a PSD and a RIFF.

And this. This was done with Creature House’s Expression, a vector package built from the ground up for faking natural media. Sadly by the time I had enough money to buy a legit copy of it they’d been eaten by Microsoft, who made it Windows-only and much less natural-media focused. If they’d stuck around I might be putting out very different work nowadays. But I went with Illustrator because that was the least awkward tool for doing the color workflow I was used to from my formative years in Deluxe Paint I-V on my Amiga, where I could twiddle a palette swatch and see everything drawn in it change. I still rely on that to this day.

Also man I sure did draw stretched-out torsos and necks back then. The arm’s deliberately stretched out to stylize motion; the body and neck, I think, are stretched out because I just… did that a lot.

And finally in this tour of Early Art From Me:

I learnt so damn much about working in sharply limited palettes drawing this. I remember feeling like the whole thing was a complex puzzle: this part has to be this color, but this part that also has to be the same color has to pass behind it – can I make it work solely as silhouettes? or do I find an excuse to use one of the other two colors as a highlight or shadow to create a contrast? Mostly I pushed myself to make it work entirely as silhouettes in this one. I also learnt something important about zooming in; I think it was after finding myself zoomed in and drawing reflections on an iris in this drawing, which were not even a pixel at final size, that I made myself learn the habit of hitting command-1 (view>actual size) on a regular basis to keep myself from getting lost in minutae nobody would ever see.

And for contrast, here’s a piece I did last week:

(click this one for the full size image)

I’ve felt like I’ve been getting too painterly in my recent work so I took this one back towards a limited palette, though I had to expand that out a bit to include the colors of the bisexual and trans flags. Other than that the palette’s only slightly less limited than the “four tints of two colors” that I used in Absinthe. This only took three hours; I don’t have any time tracking on these old files but I am pretty damn sure most of them took a lot more than that, despite their general lack of any kind of background!

(this one links to the full size too)

(yet another link to a full size image)

And some recent painterly stuff: a page of Parallax I’m happy with, and a stream commission that’s actually clean (I’ve been streaming now and then lately, and it has mostly been very horny stuff.). I like the airbrush feeling I have in these; 1990s me really loved the look of airbrush art but found actually dealing with the noisy compressor and trying to organize endless layers of physical masks to be a lot more hassle than it was worth. 2020s me just does a bunch of gradients and blurred shapes and slaps a noise texture on top and figures it’s close enough to airbrushed Dr. Martin’s on cold press illustration board for something that took a fraction of the time. But I’ve been chasing that look pretty hard for the past year and I think it’s time for some fucking around with flat stuff when I’m not working on the comic.

 

Anyway. If you wanna look at more old art by me, the last page of my site’s gallery is here. Perhaps someday I should make it work better on mobile phones and whatnot, it’s full of neat visual effects that happen when you hover your mouse cursor over stuff.

  1. I know nobody that can make Illustrator sing like you do. Most of the time, when you explain what you’re doing, my eyes glaze over after the first one or two terms. I’ve been using vectors as long as you have but I found my flow and stuck with it. You’re conducting symphonies. Great work here, great walk through of where you’ve been and are going. I totally get the lineless thing, believe it or not: half the time when I turn off my lines layer, I like the flat colors just as well, sometimes better. Ah, well! Keep going. You do amazing things.

  2. Heh, I think I tried out Expression briefly, but my PC system of the time just couldn’t run it fast enough as I recall. Sad that it became a footnote in Microsoft’s attempts at reinventing itself — it got shoved off to the developer tools side, and I think it was eventually dropped once the API its fortune had been tied to fell by the wayside.

    I’m pretty sure you’re right about Painter using RIFF files, at least in the beginning. That tool has been on a wild ride — Fractal Design, Metatools / Metacreations, and now Corel. I’ve no idea what it’s like nowadays, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come in a paint can. :( That makes me sad.

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