Three days ago, I got up and took a really big bong hit and read a review of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. Which made me decide to take out my copy of the inspiration for that book: a series of prints of vast, imaginary prisons drawn by an 18th-century Italian guy named Giovanni Battista Piranesi. I looked at his drawings, I considered the two versions of most of them – one from when he was in his twenties, one from fifteen years later, where he went back in and drew a bunch more stuff, resulting in darker, denser imagery.
And then I just kinda started drawing this with no real plan or intent in mind. I decided I wanted to try to finish it as much like M.C. Escher’s wood/lino-cut work as I could manage: ‘me pretending to be Escher pretending to Piranesi”, as I described this a few times when I shared in-progress versions here and there. I fooled around with the WidthScribe plugin, and learnt that it can be pretty unstable – I crashed a lot, and unfortunately couldn’t make a good isolated bug report to pass to its developers. But once I’d learnt to save aggressively when dealing with it, I was able to quickly do stuff like decide that the column on the right should be drawn in hatchmarks radiating out from the central lamp instead of along its length (as I had it drawn at first), which would have taken days to change versus like twenty minutes including the time spent dealing with crashes.
Prints available on Redbubble. Source file on Patreon, if you wanna see how I did this – I leaned heavily on a couple of Astute’s plugins, you’ll need Widthscribe and Stylism to see how those were used. There’s a lot of use of pattern fills and blends for the various radiance effects, too.
I worked on this kind of obsessively for three days straight, it’s about nine hours of work total. Today I decided it was finished, and went for a walk to look at things further away than my monitor for a whole. On the way out to the park I realized that it needed some cats as well as a few people wandering around.
So I added a few. And some birds. It makes the whole piece feel a lot livelier to have something besides humans in there. I could add some more stuff but really I think it’s done, and I would like to have my attention back for other projects now.
This is a detail of a figure over on the left who’s mostly hidden behind the lantern light.
And this is a glimpse into the magic of WidthScribe. I can draw a greyscale image, then draw a bunch of lines on top of it, and this plugin will turn them into set of finely-etched lines that vary in weight based on the tones below. It’s pretty neat. Prone to crashing when I start editing it, but pretty neat. I really wish there was a way for Illustrator’s crash report to say “hey this is probably a plugin crash, please pass this on to the address registered by the plugin developer”.
(This is also a glimpse into part of my process: I like to make a layer called “notes”, where I type notes of things I want to make sure not to forget when I take a break from a piece and come back later.)
Anyway. Here are some progress shots, from messy loose pencil tool sketches to final-except-for-colors-and cats.
Also just for laughs, here is a screengrab of the whole thing in outline view…
..and here is a screengrab of the whole thing in outline view after I expand all the blends and effects.
Document Info says this file about 3k paths before I expand everything, but those 3k paths make Illustrator create about 8k. Which really leans into how I like to describe Illustrator as “my magical assistant” – I outline what I want it to do, and it does it. Mostly without complaint though it sure did start getting slow to refresh the screen near the end of this piece.