A Superman

 

Illustrator, 30min.

So someone I follow posted the results of asking an AI to do some Superman costume redesigns

and I saw some pretty good shapes in there and decided to play around with them.

Now I kinda want an excuse to draw an 8-pager with this version of him.

I think it would be neat to get as many S/lightning bolt visual themes into this as possible, I was already feeling that some with the design of the S on his chest. Like say a follow-up drawing to this one with the same angle but now the red swoop is a big S because he’s turned and is coming down to the camera.

I did not have any real intention with the skin color beyond “is there really any particular reason a Space God should manifest as a white dude” and “this brown looks good against the rest of the colors” but there is probably a lot of delicate ground for a white lady to tread in drawing a story about a Black Superman. The American Way hasn’t been about Truth and Justice for anyone who doesn’t qualify as “white” for its entire existence, and ignoring that’s risky. If I can figure out how to navigate that then maybe I’ll do something short, this guy’s shapes are a ton of fun to draw!

utena but hors

Client: “Peggy can I give you some money to draw the heck out of ‘the Utena intro except they are hors’.”

Me: “very the yes, I love my fuckin’ job so much”

I was really glad Illustrator finally added canvas rotation the year before I did this. It’s really kind of embarrassing how ling it took them to add it. It’s still a minimum viable hack, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s annoyingly aligned to the canvas instead of the screen, like shift-constraining things, or dragging out a friggin’ selection marquee. But it works a lot better than “drawing stuff right side up, flipping it upside down to see how it works, then either trying to work on it further upside down, or flipping it around again to edit it”.

Here’s a closeup of our heroines. I giggled like a maniac when I decided to use the Sword of Dios for Anthy’s horn. Presumably this implies that she pulls it off and hands it to Utena when it’s time for a duel. Which is fucked up but feels less fucked up than pulling it out of her heart like she does in the show.

Also here’s the cloud layers by themselves. I made heavy use of a few variants of the cloud appearance stack I wrote about a few years ago. It’s pretty neat to swoop in a vague blob and have Illustrator turn it into a bumpy, fiddly cloud complete with its own rimlighting (gradient fills across strokes are super useful for that), then switch to the highlight or shadow cloud appearance and whip in some shading. I can knock out cloudscapes like this absurdly fast now.

you can click on this for a closeup if you can’t read all the little lists of effects

Sacred Geometry For Higher Engineering

Every so often I find myself playing with ways to create the look of an airbrush that’s spitting out a lot of too-big paint drops because it’s running at a low pressure. Today was one of those days. Halfway through it started looking like an old textbook cover so I turned it into one.
Illustrator, 2h.
This one’s done by applying Astute’s Stipplism effect to a bunch of gradients. If you’ve got their plugins then you might be interested in seeing how I did it by looking at the source file – mostly it’s lots of transparent gradient fills and strokes with the stipple effect applied. If you don’t have their plugins it’ll be a giant uneditable mess. :)
Someday I will find a way to do this that looks neat and lets me work with the same speed I have in other methods. This is not the day; I can see this getting a little faster but it’s still pretty fiddly.
Shirts/prints/stickers/notebooks/mousepads/etc are available here.
Source file and a high-res image are on Patreon.

graphic styles for comics production

So right now I am working on a 13-page comic about a lady magician and her demon sidekick getting into trouble at a rave that 2016 me roughed out. 2022 me found it recently and decided it’s still good, so I’m finishing it.

Today I did an important part of bringing it up to 2022-me’s standards: I’m making Graphic Styles for everything in the model sheet. This took about two hours total; the model sheet contains a generic version of these two characters (seen above), as well as them in Magical Rave gear, and Khebunassvem (the demon) in Combat Mode.

This is no small amount of fiddly bullshit; it takes time to pack all this stuff up into named swatches, and time to think about the most efficient way to make Illustrator draw a bunch of shit for me. This was two hours on top of character designs that were 100% done by the standards of 2016 me. Plus a few design revisions, Chloe used to have straight hair but I decided curly felt better.

Two hours is nothing to sneeze at. But this is the payoff. These are the paths I have to draw, using these various styles. Illustrator then does a bunch of stylistic stuff to it and makes it look cool. I don’t have to fiddle with drawing any of those ragged edges, or even remembering which brush I use. I just say “I’m gonna draw Chloe’s hair”, find the right section in the Graphic Styles, click on the appropriate style, and draw a loose shape that Illustrator noodles a bunch of curls around. Kheb’s tail and its little spade is just one line. All that Kirby Krackle in Combat Kheb’s wings and aura is done by Illustrator around simple shapes. Doing most of the rest of this comic is now gonna be super fast; I just look at my roughs and quickly flesh them out into full drawings, without ever having to fiddle with trying to remember what brush I used at what size and in which color. If I ever draw another story with these two then I can reuse all this work. Probably with a little time to design new costumes for whatever situation they’re in.

If you wanna have a look at the Illustrator source and see what kind of crazy tricks I used, it’s over on Patreon.

A Lengthy Adventure Awaits

Recently I played a couple video games that do some interesting things with flat shapes as the background. Solar Ash is a lovely little thing from the same people behind Hyper Light Drifter, which has a very flat-color aesthetic overall; Elden Ring is basically the new Dark Souls game except with different lore and an open world. It’s got a much more detailed look but it does some nice stuff with flattening things out as they recede into the distance.

I wanted to play with this sort of thing so I drew this. I decided to keep the foreground simple because the focus here is much more on the sense of depth.

Usually I do this sort of thing by alternating layers with parts of the background and layers with a translucent rectangle of the sky color; this time I tried something different and used Astute’s “Shift To Color” effect on the layers. This was a little unwieldy in some ways but it made it a lot easier to have a few untinted layers that really pop out against the darker shapes; almost everything is actually drawn in the same bright cyan as the foreground, with varying amounts of purple applied via Shift To Color.

I also used their Halftone effect for the grass – custom symbol halftones are very powerful, especially with a native Tweak effect applied after to mess it up a little. If you’re curious as to how that actually works then you can grab the source from Patreon.

Dragon Heart

Illustrator, 2h.


This Wednesday, I saw a man in a t-shirt with a pseudo-x-ray-looking ribcage on it while I was cycling through the French Quarter. I decided I really wanted that, except with a luminous dragon coiling around a glowing heart. When I got to my destination, I took a few minutes to find a decent ribcage image and scribble this over it.

Then I got to work on Parallax and forgot about it. I doubly forgot about it over the next few days; when I came home the next day, one of the cats had found her way into the neighbor’s attic and was mewing loudly out of a broken window. She’s been up there before so I just laughed and said “yes, you are the Tallest Cat today Artie, well done” and went inside, but when she was still up there in the morning and didn’t show up for the usual feeding, the SO and I started to worry.

See those windows under the peak of the roof? See the black segment on the right? Imagine a small stripey cat poking her head out and mewing very loudly and very sadly, and here’s you with no way to get up there. That was my weekend.

We ended up spending Friday and Saturday consumed by attempts to get her down before she died from dehydration. The house next door is a double; one side is unoccupied, the other’s resident was nowhere to be seen. Ultimately we managed to get into the unoccupied side, which was beginning to be renovated but was left untouched for a good while. This meant that there was a small hole in the ceiling that Artie could look through, but wasn’t willing to jump through. Still, we could get some food and water up there, which was an immense relief, because it meant we’d just reduced the problem to “convincing her to come down”; this morning, we managed that, and celebrated with king cake and with grounding her stripey ass for a few days.

Artie was very good about climbing into the carrier without even putting a treat in it, once we got it up there.

I sat around a while just scrolling the internet, which was a really nice change from two solid days of being consumed by worry over this cat who we never even asked for – she’s one of six cats who kind of came with the apartment over the past few years; the lady on the other side of the shotgun double we live in let one local cat have a few litters in her apartment before kicking them mostly out, we couldn’t not feed and scritch them, and it got up to five kids from three different litters before we finally got all of them snipped.  We kinda love them all and mostly they are not a problem but… well, we first met Artie when she got outside and climbed all the way up the doorframe and sat there in the transom window crying for help. Which we provided. She wants to be the Highest Cat but is not as good at climbing down as she is climbing, and hopefully she has learnt some hungry, cold lessons about what parts of next door are safe to climb on.

Anyway. After a while petting Artie and reading the Internet got bored. And people started tweeting about “Appreciate A Dragon Day”, which mostly seems to be observed by posting pictures of your dragon fursona, if you have one, or by saying nice things about the people in your life with dragon fursonas. I posted something nice about the users of dragon.style, the dragon-themed node of the People’s Distributed Social Network that I run, and how much I appreciate that they are there to keep it from just being me talking to myself. And then I remembered this drawing, and decided to finish it.

And now here we are with me posting it.

T-shirts, prints, laptop skins, but mostly t-shirts, can be obtained over on Redbubble. I’m ordering one myself once I’m done posting this!

And there’s a high-res render and the AI source are over on Patreon.

Weaver

The valley spirit does not die.

She is called the Mysterious Female.

Her gate is called the Connection

between Heaven and Earth.

 

Like down, or cotton—soft, soft—

yet strong and lasting as silken floss

Spinning, spinning, thin and long,

she continues on and on.

 

Use her power, and your work

Will not be hard.

— Tao Te Ching, chapter 6

(translation: Benjamin Hoff)


Illustrator, 3h.

 

Late last year I found out that the author of The Tao of Pooh had a new translation of the Tao Te Ching coming out. The unique selling point of this one is that he is trying to shorten the game of Telephone that any ancient text is subject to, by going back to the oldest versions he could find and looking into how the language had shifted over time. I hadn’t ever read the Tao Te Ching and this seemed like a good one to try, so I pre-ordered it, and promptly forgot about it.

This week, it showed up on my doorstep. A present from past me! Wednesday evening, I hit the bong and sat down with the book, intending to quietly read the whole text through with minimal reference to Hoff’s copious endnotes notes explaining both his decisions as a translator and something of what the short, oblique sentences are aiming at. But then I came to this chapter and, well, I have read a lot of books on magic, and I can tell when an author is saying “here is a helpful spirit associated with this work, you should chat with her”, and I am pretty sure that is one of those times. I got a brief flash of this image, and spent a couple hours with Illustrator instead of reading the rest of the Tao Te Ching.

High res and AI source on Patreon. Prints/shirts/wallscrolls/etc on Redbubble.

Judgement Takes A Holiday

The other day I saw a photo of someone’s altar to Anubis, which contained, among other things, a little toy Millennium Falcon. “I don’t know why,” they said. “Anubis just made it very clear that he wanted this on his altar.”

And this image instantly leapt to mind. Apparently a printout of it is now helping to decorate that altar, so, success!

 

Illustrator, 30min.

The Luminous Fleet

Earlier this year, A.C. Sobrero asked me to do a cover for the third book in their series, “The Luminous Fleet”. We ended up tossing a lot of email back and forth discussing the themes of the story, what kind of book covers we liked, and playing with ideas. Ultimately I wound up illustrating a scene where the commander of the invading Earth fleet talks to the Sorceror-General of the local furryish natives; I chose to do this in a style inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, since some part of the culture of the locals is inspired by Meiji-era Japan. Which was really not in the same stylistic place as a lot of the eighties SF covers we were initially looking at, but works for the story – culture clash is a major theme, and attempting to make the cover be from the non-human point of view felt like it tied into that.

 

Also it let me ask myself “how would Hokusai depict a floating hologram window” and any day where I get paid to ask questions like that is a pretty good day. :)

And for what it’s worth, Gary Ruddell’s cover for Bujold’s “Mirror Dance” was the particular inspiration for this overall composition; I had to pull back somewhat to get space to show something of the cultural differences with the outfits, and account for the extreme height differences (the lady was raised in low-gee, so is Very Tall), but this was the image that popped into my head as something to really push the “there is a conflict” theme when I was doing initial thumbnails.

And here is a screenshot of the Illustrator file with some of the reference material sprawled around the artboard. Not included: the books of Japanese prints I have on the shelves of my library that I flipped through and pondered.

Illustrator, 11.5 hours.