Thursday, October 11, 2007


This image was done as the cover illustration for the book, The Alchemist's Apprentice, by Dave Duncan. The story centers around the apprentice of legendary alchemist and prophet, Nostradamus. Talk about a cool job! The story takes place in 16th century Venice and it's a great read, full of intrigue, action magic and the feel of Venice at its height.The art director wanted the cover to have the look of an old painting and also to convey the alchemy theme. Lucky for me, they haven't changed Venice in all that time, so I was able to start with a current photo of the Grand Canal. I had to cheat a bit to get a view down the canal from a balcony, which doesn't exist. I made that in 3d and other objects in the scene, but not the armilary sphere. That beautiful astrological device would have taken me too long to make in 3d and I had a good picture of one in a museum somewhere, so it was blended in. The young man went through quite a lot of turmoil. As it turns out, the art director, editor and others were uncomfortable with the first guy I had , who was dressed accurately in striped velvet pantaloons, tights, a doublet, etc. The whole Shakespear look. They were concerned he might not convey the "manly look" they wanted. So after various attempts to macho him up, we replaced him with the guy you see here, wearing clothing much more fitting the 18th century. I guess mass market books just aren't ready for the pantaloon! I gave the image several brownish "glazes", the same as I would do with an oil painting, and then added a semi-transparent crackle. This looks best when it's not an all over effect, but rather, appears in patches that fade out into a painted look. I could describe the technique further if anyone is interested.
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Tuesday, October 09, 2007


This image was created for a textbook double page spread. The client wanted a view of the inside of a textile mill, typical of mills that flourished in the early 1800s. These were operated by children, as well as women and men and were really hellish places. I had to do a lot of research to get the feeling of what it was like inside one of these. Powered by water wheels and later, huge steam engines, they were dangerous, noisy and filthy places that shortened the lives of those who worked in them. This was before the birth of photography, so I had to rely on eyewitness drawings, but these were often sanitized. Dickens wrote movingly about the mills in his short but powerful book, Hard Times, and his view of them was very dark. This illustration began with an 3D construction of the interior space and machines. I used an architectural 3D program called Sketchup, then Cararra, another 3D program which renders more realistically. I only had to make one of each machine, and the clone them to fill the mill. It was a challenge to get the shafts of light pouring through the dust, which I managed by cutting virtual windows in the roof and blasting a bank of "lights" through them. The addition of "atmosphere" in Cararra helped make the effect. The people were created crudely in Poser and imported into Cararra, where their main function was to cast shadows and help me work out the relative sizes of people to machines. None of this was easy and things kept going wrong as the file size grew larger and larger, slowing the program down to a crawl. It also took a lot of time, but I just worked on it when I was in that technical state of mind. The final rendering took all night and half of the next day! After the rendering was in the bag, I started working on it in Photoshop. That's where I painted in the clothes and features of the people and worked on thousands of little details that give an image life. 3d programs a good and getting better every year, but I find they lack control to really bring out what I want in an image. ( or I may not have enough skill & patience! ). After fussing with this thing for almost a month on and off, I presented it to the client, - who wanted changes! This is one of the most frustrating aspects of being an illustrator. Changes.
The client doesn't know or care how much work you've put in, they just want it to say what they want and in this case it had to do with showing the misery of the children more clearly. A rare case where the client actually makes the image better! I worked on it for another week, drawing peolpe freehand and emphasizing the brutish manager and the suffering Dickensian children, while adding more grime. The final result reads like a story more than my initial sketch. I believe looking at it now, that the actual scene was probably much grittier, darker and filthy, the story much more tragic.
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