Character design challenge

Personal practice, Reflection
Burlesque - Photoshop painting

Burlesque – Photoshop

A while ago, I talked about contributing to the Daily Spitpaint forum on Facebook, as a way of improving my personal practice and having a little fun along the way. There’s also another artistic forum I like to contribute to on occasion, called “Character Design Challenge”. This forum doesn’t place a time limit on the work, so the artist can take as long as he/she likes to complete a piece. The rules are one full size (i.e. head to toe) image for each entry. Apart from that, you’re free to create the design in any style.

Along with a busy schedule, I think it is important to keep up with some regular exercises with different outcomes. The good thing about this one is that you get some exposure… If people like it, they press the “like”button, and if not the image disapears quickly, and you can try again the following month. Failure is part of the process of learning and the more you do it the more you learn!

The theme for this month (November 2017) was “Burlesque”. I’ve  recorded the process and commented it:







Pen and Ink 1

Personal practice


Wherever I go, I try to carry a sketchbook and a couple of pens. Pen and ink is probably the most convenient medium to use, aside from pencils on paper maybe, and an endless source of experimentation and happiness!

My personal take on this is to use the combination of a fountain pen and a Japanese brushpen. The fountain pen is used for fine lines and the brushpen allows me to tacle bigger black surfaces. I carry a little metal box with extra ink cartridges as well. I don’t do any pencil sketching beforehand, though often I will do a little preparatory sketch on a teared-up page.

Sometimes I draw when I watch a movie. Other times I get inspired by a photo. I never really copy photos however, I just  look at the proportions of, for example an animal, or the design of a costume or an actor’s face and so on….
My brain often reverts to high fantasy themes: dinosaurs, barbarians, cow-boys, people with swords etc…





My favourite sketchbook size is A5. They fit in my jacket inside pocket along with the two pens and the extra ink cartridge.


More images on my art blog:




Eros and power

Art Theory, Personal practice, Reflection

Demon Girl  Photoshop

I’m a figurative artist who draws the human form, and part of being that kind of artist is to have an unapologetic approach to observing human bodies. This includes male bodies, female bodies, and everything in between! But I’m not going to pretend that my interest is purely technical, or that I don’t have a preference in what I like to view. I tend to get the most joy out of observing and drawing youthful, athletic female figures. There’s a definite erotic element to my artwork. If I’m honest, I haven’t examined this tendency in myself up to now – if there’s something I like, I draw it. I find it powerful and beautiful.

Powerful and beautiful. OK. I realise that’s just me. Someone else viewing one of my barbarian ladies in fur bikinis wielding swords might say, “Oh God, here comes yet another stupid straight male fantasy.” But… I truly believe there’s more to it than that.

What is power? Where does it come from? And why shouldn’t eroticism and fantasy be part of it? I’m definitely not the first person to ask these questions. In fact, I found some interesting answers in a feminist academic paper dating from 1978, by Audre Lorde. In The Erotic as Power, Lorde writes:
“The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives.”

Lorde goes on to argue for the conscious celebration of the erotic in our work and lives – not as a tool for abuse or deception, but as a vital element that connects us to our true selves. Finding the erotic enjoyment in everything we do makes us complete human beings. This is very different from treating other people like objects and using them for our own pleasure: “When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd.” (Lorde, 1978)

So basically… celebrate the erotic. But don’t look at people as if they were merely props for your gratification. I think?


Lorde, Audre (1978) The Erotic as Power. Online link:
Levinson, Jerrold (2006)  Contemplating Art: Essays in Aesthetics. Clarendon Press, Oxford, U.K.


Frank Frazetta

This was painted as a book cover for one of Robert.E Howard "Conan" adventure stories. Probably the first image of Frazetta's I ever saw. I particularly like the use of the low sunlight contrasting with the purple shadows. This image has everything I admire: movement, action, storytelling, great colours...

Snow Giants- oil on academy board

This was painted as a book cover for one of Robert.E Howard ‘Conan’ adventure stories. It was probably the first image of Frazetta’s I ever saw. I particularly like the use of the low sunlight contrasting with the purple shadows. This image has everything that I admire in a work of art: movement, action, storytelling, great colours…

OK, so I love Frank Frazetta. Sometimes an artist just speaks to you, and Frazetta’s work – both the style and the subject matter – have always spoken to me personally. He allows himself complete freedom to explore the weird and wonderful, but does it with great technical accomplishment and a real respect for his medium. Working almost exclusively with pop cultural themes, doing comics, book illustration, posters and concept design for films, he managed to create an original pop art style many others have imitated since.

Some of Frazetta’s most recognizable work was created in oils, using classic oil painting techniques, though initially his publishers weren’t that keen on the medium. But Frazetta was a strong personality and did things his own way. His book covers and illustrations didn’t even necessarily reflect the reality of the story inside. Commenting on his work for Robert E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ fantasy series, he said: “I didn’t read any of it… I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it…” (Spectrum Fantastic Art, 2009)

A beautiful painting with a great mood and atmosphere. I really like the position of the girl, very nonchalant. The lighting is fantastic and really helps the composition, everything contributes to reading the girl's silhouette and even the gorilla almost appears to be part of the environment.

The moon rapture – Oil on Academy board

A beautiful painting with a great mood and atmosphere. I really like the position of the girl, very nonchalant. The lighting is fantastic and really helps the composition, everything contributes to reading the girl’s silhouette and even the gorilla almost appears to be part of the environment.

Frank Frazetta would often do sketches in watercolour before committing to the final oil painting. But even in his non-high fantasy images like this Masai warrior, he would transport you to an alternate universe where everything is epic.

Masai Warrior – watercolour

Frank Frazetta would often do sketches in watercolour before committing to the final oil painting. But even in his non-high fantasy images like this Masai warrior, he would transport you to an alternate universe where everything is epic.

He was also a master at pen and ink. His 'Lord of the Rings' illustrations are a great example of very fine line work and use of  black spaces. A lot of these black and white images make perfect use of negative space like the ground floor in this image.

Bilbo – Pen and ink

He was also a master at pen and ink. His ‘Lord of the Rings’ illustrations are a great example of very fine line work and use of  black spaces. A lot of these black and white images make perfect use of negative space like the ground floor in this image.


Frank Frazetta in his studio



Spectrum Fantastic Art (2009) Online link:

Fenner, Cathy and Fenner, Arnie Ed. (1998) Icon: A Retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art, Frank Frazetta. Underwood Books, Nevada City, CA., USA

Frazetta, Frank (1993) The Frazetta Pillow Book. Kitchen Sink Press, Northampton, MA., USA

A biography:

Some of his images:



Personal practice, Reflection

“Pauldron” a 30 minutes “Spitpaint”, photoshop

Often in the course of my career, whether as a concept artist or a teacher, I’ve found that my professional commitments left little time for personal artistic experimentation. The schedule I happened to be on would be all-consuming, leaving no room for other pastimes. But I knew artistic practice was absolutely necessary as a way of learning new ideas and techniques, pushing one’s personal skill set to the next level and giving oneself permission to try and fail. I had to find a way to paint and draw in the limited time available. Also, I just wanted to have some fun!

So I decided at a certain point to contribute to the ‘Daily Spitpaint’ forum on Facebook. The idea was to make quick, 30-minute digital sketches on a given theme using Photoshop, then post them to the forum and receive feedback. I found the process liberating as the tight deadline forced me to concentrate on essentials like composition, line and colour. I could also tap into a more instinctive approach to my practice. Afterwards, I could analyse where I went wrong, receive comments and improve my techniques. And yes, I had a lot of fun doing it!



Comic book archetypes in film

Art Theory

It surprises me sometimes when people dismiss comic books as a light-hearted or unimportant medium, meant only to entertain a young audience. Comics have had a huge influence on ‘higher’ more respected forms such as fine art and cinema, precisely because they communicate visual ideas so well. Part of the attraction is the use of recognizable archetypes. In a few strokes of a pen, a comic book artist can evoke a certain familiar set of traits, set up expectations in the mind of the reader and either reinforce or undermine them. Many American comics make extensive use of the ‘super hero’ trope – the strong heroic warrior type who takes on monsters or other warriors in epic battles that showcase physical strength and magical ability. Other archetypes also abound, including the ‘warrior woman’ (the female super hero), the ‘mentor’ who teaches the protagonist, the ‘ally’ or sidekick, the ‘trickster’ who cannot be trusted and of course the ‘super villain’, the hero’s evil counterpart. Most characters in modern comics are based on some version of the archetypes analyzed in Joseph Campbell’s seminal The Hero With A Thousand Faces, though their origins go back to myth and legend. (Campbell, 1949)

Increasingly, comic book archetypes have found their way into other areas of popular culture, too, sometimes transported wholesale. I’ve been reading and enjoying a collection of essays on this subject recently: Investigating Heroes: Essays on Truth, Justice and Quality TV, edited by David Simmons. The collection delves into the influence comic book themes and archetypes have had on popular culture in general, and film and TV in particular. Many of the essays focus on the super hero archetype which has come to completely dominate American comics culture over the past eighty-odd years, from the golden age of comic books in the mid-twentieth century to the contemporary fad for super hero-inspired TV shows. (Simmons 2011) Indeed, the super hero has so defined the idea of comics in America that the genre is practically synonymous with muscle-bound individuals in capes and tights, though European graphic novels, as well as manga in Japan don’t necessarily follow that rule.

Even American comic book heroes don’t always possess extraordinary powers, though they do typically accomplish extraordinary acts and live out larger-than-life scenarios. In one of the essays in the collection, Naturalizing the Fantastic, Julia Round observes that Batman differs from many of his comic book colleagues as he is neither a super-powered alien, nor given special powers through some freak accident: “… Batman stands out in the super hero ranks: He has no apparent superpowers and instead uses extensive martial arts training, detective skill, intellect, technology, and psychological warfare to combat crime.” (Simmons 2011) Even so, Batman exhibits the classic super hero traits of moral rectitude and a strong if idiosyncratic personal ethical code.

The collection also explores relationship between classic or golden age comics and the film and television industries. Round and Simmons both discuss the Heroes television show, exploring how the well-known American TV series uses the super hero and super villain tropes to inspire and inform its story lines. Heroes was a TV series produced by NBC for four seasons from 2006-2010, in which show runners expressly used comic book archetypes to set up story arcs, making overt reference to the world of comics and comic book art throughout. All the characters discover that they have special powers that set them apart from most people, a common comic book trope. The story arcs in the series revolve around saving the world, learning to make moral choices and the development of the reluctant hero, a classic comic book theme that owes a huge amount to Stan Lee’s writing for Marvel in the 1960’s and 1970’s (Simmons 2011). The series also plays with the idea of visual art determining or prefiguring events in reality: Isaac Mendez and several of the other characters are capable of creating artwork that foretells future events.

Reading these essays set me thinking about how so many of my favourite films and TV shows draw on comic book influences. Aside from the obvious film adaptations of Marvel or DC intellectual property, comic book archetypes show up all over the place in Hollywood, from the rollicking adventures of Indiana Jones to the thrills and chills of the Alien franchise. In the latter, Ripley (the ‘warrior woman’) meets and defeats horrific aliens (the ‘villains’) in a series of larger-than-life adventures. Ripley is athletic, courageous and always up for a challenge, the classic Warrior Woman trope; like Batman, she may not have extraordinary abilities but she does accomplish extraordinary things. There’s a whole genre of Hollywood film that borrows from comic book aesthetics, too, like the overdone costumes and lighting featured in Sucker Punch (2011), or the over-the-top characters and saturated colour palette in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004), which is itself an adaptation of Mignola’s comic book series. Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013) also pays homage to the long tradition of Japanese manga and kaiju.

In another of my favourite movies, Unbreakable (2000) directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Bruce Willis plays a strong super hero type pitted against Samuel L. Jackson’s evil genius Mr Glass, an art collector whose obsession with comics leads him to commit acts of terror. The whole premise of the film is based around comic book ideas of good and evil, power and powerlessness. While the characters are intentionally archetypal, the action is filmed in a subtle and dreamy manner that seems to subvert the stock story line, so we’re never sure what to expect. The result is a beautiful, unsettling interplay between visual cues and story right up to the final, Shyamalan-style twist.

I really enjoyed discovering the connections the essay writers in Investigating Heroes made between one area I love – comic books – and another I enjoy – action and adventure movies. I’ve been lucky enough to work in both, on films like Tintin (2011) and Thor, The Dark World (2013). This collection of essays set me thinking about my own professional practice, and about how closely related the two fields of comic books and action films can be.


Simmons, David Ed. (2011) Investigating Heroes: Essays on Truth, Justice and Quality TV. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., USA and London, U.K.

Campbell, Joseph (first published 1949) The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Bollingen Foundation / Princeton University Press, New York, N.Y., USA

DiPaolo, Marc (2011) War, Politics and Superheroes: Ethics and Propaganda In Comics and Film. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., USA and London, U.K.

Wainer, Alex (2014) Soul of the Dark Knight: Batman As Mythic Figure in Comics and Film. McFarland & Co., Jefferson, N.C., USA and London, U.K.

Caddy, Becca for Gizmodo magazine, 2016. Online link:

Research techniques for artists

Personal practice, Reflection

As a concept artist or a creator of graphic novels, the first step in preparing for any project is research. Imagine for example that you’re designing a range of armour and weaponry for a fictional race of beings. This involves researching existing examples of arms and armour in order to understand how design issues have been solved by different cultures in the past. Researching other people’s concept designs also allows you see how they have approached the problem. Research inspires us, allows us to learn from more experienced artists and helps us evolve new hybrid ideas.

The internet and printed books certainly help with this process. But there’s nothing quite like physically inspecting an item at close quarters to understand how a design works. With this idea in mind, I visited the Wallace Collection in London earlier this month to look at displays of weapons and armour.

Wallace Collection visit, 11/11/17


This is an example of 16th century armour made for the Duke of Brunswick. I like the complex and elegant lines. You feel like this armour is both functional and decorative.


It’s always interesting with swords to look at the ratio between the blade and the hilt. There is also a design relationship between the style of the blade and the style of the cross guard.


I love this helmet design with its elegant back curve and neck guard. I’m reminded of the helmets worn by the workers on the Death Star in Star Wars.


The mattock is interesting as a weapon because it is multi-functional. There is a spike, a hammer head and a curved hook which serves to disarm opponents.

They had a couple of helmets available for people to try on. This allowed me to experience first hand the weight and limitation of my visual field. And also… goof off!


The Wallace Collection:

Li Xiongcai master of brushes



When creating artwork with physical media such as pen and inks, one thing that has always fascinated me is the importance of the brush stroke.

Each brush stroke must be done with intent. The stroke itself tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. That story describes form or colour, or conversely allows the negative space in.

How the stroke is placed on the page will have a great impact on the result. What is the speed of execution? Is it slow? Is it fast? Does the artist hold the brush lightly or press down hard? Is there a combination of effects? All these things radically change the line quality and even the emotional content of the image.

I’ve been looking at Chinese Artists like Li Xiongcai (1910-2002) to inspire me in this area. After studying art in Japan, Li Xongcai lived and worked in the People’s Republic of China. He produced extraordinary pen and ink drawings in a traditional Chinese style. In his manual, Li Xongcai’s Landscape Painting Manual, he wrote: “You should practice not only with your hands but also your brain.” (Xiongcai, 1984) Every stroke on the page carries intent.


Objects and things can be described in themselves, as a shape, or using atmosphere and texture. The use of negative space, for example the waterfall above, allows the artist to describe a form by the absence of pen strokes.

Li_Xiongcai_001 (1)

The depth of field in this image is very effective. Li Xongcai effortlessly conveys the poetry and majesty of the place through the use of ink wash. This is a masterful example of the use of atmospherics to define form and depth.



Xiongcai, Li (1984). Li Xiongcai’s Landscape Painting Manual. Lingnan Art Publishing House, Joint Publishing Co: Hong Kong.


Dino Battaglia



Of the many artists that have influenced me over the years, Battaglia is one of my favourites. His early comics had a classic panel framing, but were already showing his sense of style and strong evocative images. Minimal backgrounds and elegant line work were already his trademark.


An example of his earlier work. The structure of the page is still very classic, each panel clearly defined by a border traced with a ruler. The dialogue doesn’t go outside the bubbles.

His later style however was really unique. As his career progressed he used more and more grainy and scratchy textures and at the same time started removing parts of the drawings and even [cut parts of] the frames to allow the for the imagination of the viewer to fill in the blanks. His artwork became more and more evocative and daring: abstract elements, stylised faces, high contrast lighting, and systematic use of negative space were his hallmarks.


An example of his later work. Many panels are open and the white of the page is participate in the full experience of the story.

The idea of “less is more” is something I am personally very attracted to. To quote Bertrand Tavernier, the French film director: “Art is a series of subtractions”.

In my personal career I’ve had to produce very detailed illustrations and pieces of concept art for the film industry. The detailing was very important as it would condition the building of sets, props, creatures and costumes. At the other end of the spectrum stands Dino Battaglia. Evocative and emotional images that let you fill in the blanks and invite you in.

Battaglia passed away in 1983 yet the graphic novel pages he has produced have transcended time and fashion.



Some of his images on Pinterest: Dino Battaglia

Dino Battaglia’s biography: Dino Battaglia on Lambiek (anthology of comic book artists)