It’s been over a year, but I’ve still got a soft spot for Crossing to the Cold Valley. With pressure on me to make the entire game in less than four weeks, the product I had to call ‘finished’ at the time was as polished as a lump of coal. I told myself I would really give it that spit-shine it needed over the summer, but other (maybe more serious) projects had to take priority. Many months later, I’m finally back with Cold Valley on the operating table. And what an insight it’s been forming into. We rarely have an opportunity to revisit and improve our old works, but I’ve had the space to really rework and reconstruct the game’s art and music to a level I hadn’t anticipated. I sat down with the original artwork of the bridge, prepared to just tweak it here and there, but concluded that a touch-up wouldn’t suffice. Primarily because I originally created the game at 720p – I can’t for the life of me think why I settled on that resolution at the time, even for most of today’s phone that’s low-grade. So I would go back into it using a 1080p resolution, but also the knowledge of drawing and the patience I’ve developed over the last 12 months.
And when you spend a long time on something you learn about the things you don’t know just as much as the things you do. With so much time, you get to spend longer getting frustrated at the imperfections, at the colours you just can’t ‘quite’ get right, at the shapes not feeling confident enough. I’m sure, even now, I could rip these up, start over, and create something better. But life’s too short, and you have to let that white whale go. These illustrations aren’t perfect, but hopefully they match the tone of the story well enough. Most importantly, however, is how much of an improvement they are over my last attempt, and how far I’ve come.
So, for the morbidly curious – I invite you to go back and compare.
Last week I was chosen to be the debut illustrator over at The Illustrated Singles Club – a new blog looking to find the visuals in new and upcoming music. The blog selects a new single and an illustrator and gives the illustrator freedom to interpret the song as they wish.
A week ago today I was given Tom Forest’s single ‘Summer’, which almost couldn’t have been more perfect a choice. The song is densely nostalgic – whimsical, but also completely sincere. Forest sings that, should he ever return to his days as a child, he will have ‘died and gone to heaven’. It’s poignant, while also being lifted by the rose-tinted childhood memories many of us can relate to. If there’s two themes I’ve ever loved exploring, it’s nostalgia and death.
I knew exactly what I wanted to draw by the end of the first chorus. The first few notes of the song immediately brought to mind a vast, baking desert with cracked earth – a single road running through. I soon knew I wanted that road to be lifting from the ground towards the sky, as it brings its travellers toward a ‘heaven’. The plodding bass at the beginning lent itself perfectly to a large, giant-like figure moving through this environment. Importantly, I wanted the sense of thick heat of the scene to lend it a feeling of hazy, drugged up magic – rather than something more apocalyptic.
Lastly is the queue of different characters climbing aboard the bus, mostly just everyday people, but toward the back some childlike fantasies and idols – maybe even human accomplishments – that eventually fade away much like we do.
With only a week to produce the piece, having smaller and less detailed features and characters worked in my favour. The piece was also a good excuse to get a firm understanding on Krita, an open source paint software I’m working towards transitioning to. I think it’s hugely important that artists feel as though they own the tools they use to create the work they do, and supporting open source where I can is an important part of that. There are still a few quirks I’m learning and things to iron out, and rendering feels a little slower than I’m used to (especially on Windows), but for every hurdle I’ve discovered something to keep me coming back, which is fantastic considering I haven’t paid a penny.
This was a brilliant project to get involved with, and a great excuse to produce something a bit more left of field than my illustration typically takes me. I hope I’ve done the blog proud.
Some character designs from about a month ago, submitted for Wildseed Studio’s ages 6-11 demographic. A set of characters that have been in my head for a good few years, the core concept being a Vampire that owns an ice cream stand, but due to his delicate skin complexion – can only open at night. A daft idea, enabled by the surge in popularity of absurdist cartoon shows – Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Regular Show. I wanted something a bit less cynical, a bit more funky.
I really feel as though my vector illustrations have hit their stride in only the last six months or so. I’ve begun to favour rich, contrasting colours that I might have normally avoided. You get some incredible tones when you begin playing around with how shadows and highlights are coloured. Perhaps more importantly is my approach to line drawing. It’s so important that when you draw a line that you mean it. So much life and foundation is formed when the lines that form the image have a real sense of confidence. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we can erase a line instantly and redraw it again and again until it feels just right. Sometimes its hard to make that judgement. On reflection, there’s some parts here that I would go back and give another shot, but life is only so short. They stand well next to each other, and I would love to see them come to life.
10th of May marked the very last day I would have to produce work as part of my University course. I had a verbal examination the following Friday, and am now a ‘free’ man. It’s been strange hearing all the different thoughts and feelings from my peers in the same shoes. It’s certainly a time of celebration and relaxation, at least for now. Some feel liberated, scared, excited. I think I just feel comfortable. I feel as though I’m where I always wanted to be. It’s been nice to not worry about deadlines or late deliveries, but at the same time there’s work I’m eager to start. I’ve told myself to take another week off before really settling into my planned projects – afterall, I still have my course’s publication launch event, and our degree show and graduation, that I need to attend and prepare for. So it’s not over yet, but the work is done.
And that work that was done was good, I hope. I felt confident handing it in, as my largest and most cohesive project I’ve made to date. It’s be a turbulent ride. ‘Kingdom Ka’, if you missed it, is still available to download and play for a few more weeks – completely free. I’m immensely proud of it, and will be pushing it forward alongside, Crossing to the Cold Valley, over the next few months.
There’s still books to read, films to see and people to catch up with. Not to mention people still to cheer on, as they finish their course later than mine. But yes, I feel comfortable.
Over the next six months, Carrot Cake will be my focus. I’m exciting to begin finally moving it away from a blog and portfolio, and into a brand and developer. This blog will become more of a scrapbook, development log type-deal as I take it forward. I hope you’ll stick with me. There have been many promises in the past about how I’ll be ‘relaunching’ and breathing new life into the blog. Promises are dangerous things to make, so don’t take this as one. But if there was ever a time that Carrot Cake would grow – it would be now.
For now, I’ll be giving things a bit of a sweep up around here, and update the portfolio page with everything I have.