Thursday, August 31, 2023

Sketch a Day


Back in May I talked about finishing a sketchbook, and how it was very rare for me to sketch at all. In fact, during June and July I didn't sketch at all, despite buying myself a very handsome new sketchbook, and being inspired by the fact that I had finished my old one. This would be the year that I started sketching for real! I was going to commit to it! And then I was busy reading another Gene Wolfe book, and busy playing lots of live music, and busy working on games. It's a classic tale. But it feels bad, and I felt frustrated with it, and I like to conduct little experiments on myself to try and build habits, develop practices, maintain little rituals in my day, and so I made a decision to try and do at least one sketchbook page per day for all of August.

August is a particularly good month to try this sort of thing - the weather is perfect for getting out and about in, there are usually very few music gigs for me to play, and there's the whole 'starting fresh' vibe that comes with the end of winter and start of spring that makes one want to turn over a new leaf. So I sharpened up my 6B pencil, and I started doing sketches.

Specifically, I started sketching character heads. One thing that frustrates me is that I'm not particularly good at just sketching out a character that I like in pencil on paper from imagination. I thought that if I could somehow develop a process for doing this, then the month would be a success. So I split my time between trying to do quick photo studies, quick sketches just constructing a head from scratch without reference and working out where to lay everything out, and trying to draw some actually interesting characters with expressions and props and identifying features. And it was good. Some of them came out very bad, both on the first day and on the very last day and plenty of times in between. On some of them I could feel myself working things out as I made particular choices, gaining small pieces of insight about what works well and what doesn't just by consistently making the same sort of marks every day, and discovering what I liked and didn't along the way.

I also got to break my tether to my PC and go and draw outside, which was most revitalizing. I spend so much of my creative time at the same desk, which is well set up for my needs, but gosh it's good to get out and about a bit, and draw amongst the flowers and trees and the singing birds.

In the end, I think what I mostly gained from the experience was some better confidence with my workflow for drawing with pencil (something that I had very little of before), a better approach to drawing character heads from a structural basis, and some confidence in my ability to use a sketchbook habitually. I also got a little more 'fit' for drawing on paper. Making marks is a physical activity, and the more one makes marks, the more experience one has to inform and guide all future mark making. I also had fun - some days I'd do multiple pages just because I felt like sketching some more, I was eager to try out new ideas. That feels great. I'll leave you with a photo of a few fun fantasy style characters I sketched out, completely free from any reference, and completely away from my desk, along with the stub of one of the pencils I was using on this project and the assurance that I plan to keep sketching much more regularly from now on.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

A new milestone

Today I painted the last backdrop for Nighthawks. This milestone has been a long time coming - largely due to the fact that I have been working quite busily on Old Skies while Richard finished putting the actual game together - but it still feels good to reach this point. I still have a few touch-ups, and map screens, and vignettes and things, but every milestone reached in a game's development always feels like a nice accomplishment.

This has been a fascinating project to paint for, quite different to what I'm familiar with and filled with the normal education that such a project brings. I think both Richard and I would do everything completely differently if we had our times again, but that's true of every project. I think his very polite feedback helped me to gather some semblance of cohesion in background styles, despite my approaches varying an impossible amount, and I think my focus on painting atmospheric scenes with moody lighting suits his approach to this world pretty well. I could easily spend another year cleaning up and polishing up the scenes in this game, but I would find that very boring, nobody would want to pay me for that, and it honestly wouldn't change how the scenes work in game that much at all.

I used a lot of coloured lighting, thick atmosphere and the idea of texture to try and sell our vision of the city. Many of the scenes have quite large amounts of both pure black and pure white. There are areas of the game with more magenta than anybody has probably ever seen me paint. It's been fun, while also being the normal amount of hard work, and anxious uncertainty, and "Gosh, why can't we make a smaller game" and "Why can't I make all of the scenes look as good as the good scenes?"

I'm posting a few of the scenes that I still enjoy looking at here. I've shown them off before, but not much on this blog, so now you can see some of the scenes I like to go back and look at without all of the text and portraits that normally bring them to life.

A view over the city's rooftops

Inside Cygnus Rare Books

The queue outside Nighthawks

Bikers hanging out at their local bar

A magic shop in the Lapis district

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The last page of a sketchbook

I usually don't sketch very much. Don't get me wrong, I do plenty of rough passes for characters, locations & animations. It's just that I don't sketch much for sketching's sake. I don't make a point of "keeping fit", as it were. I draw a lot, but almost all of it is for a particular purpose. Almost everything I illustrate or animate is an 'asset', something that is designed to go into a game, a poster, something of that nature.

As a result of this, I haven't used a sketchbook very much. For me a sketchbook is a place in which I can solve problems, try ideas, or draw something for my own interest, and I really don't draw enough things for my own pleasure or education. But that's because I only ever started drawing in order to create games. That's where my interest in drawing began in general, so it makes sense that my drawing energy largely goes towards my work.

That being said, I have one blank page left in my current sketchbook, and looking back over the pages of this sketchbook has been quite a satisfying experience. The fact is that this book has lasted me for several years, and as a result of that I can see my interests over those years memorialized in these pages. Here's where I started trying to learn how to shade with hatching. Here's some preliminary sketches for Old Skies, for Nighthawks. Here's where I was teaching myself how to do nice lettering so that I could do nice signs in locations without having to rely on fonts. Here's a page of just shoes. Some pages were torn out and stuck inside letters to friends. Some pages have random notes written on them, or just a few scribbled tests of a new pen or pencil.

I'm currently working my way up to drawing the last few characters for Nighthawks as that project moves into the later stages of production, and as I have not drawn portraits in a very long time, I have been doing a few pencil studies in my sketchbook to get over the intimidation of such a task, and as a result have just about finished this sketchbook off. And having not drawn much at all for my own education, interest, or practice in a matter of months, I have to say that it's quite nice. I think it would be quite empowering to form a habit of doing this more often, just basic practice of basic skills that I know are a weakness of mine, or studies of artists whose style I admire very much, or just... drawing for the sake of it. I've been good at forming habits this year - I bake bread weekly now, and keep a daily journal, and generally have been pretty good at being quite diligent in many other areas. With that in mind, and my enjoyment of sketching as re-discovered in the past few days, I've ordered myself a nice new sketchbook, in the hopes that I can make regular sketching in it a routine part of my daily life.

No doubt we'll all share a chuckle about these aspirations when I'm blowing dust off it in four months time. Here's a few fun images taken from the various pages of my almost-complete sketchbook for you to enjoy. Meanwhile, I've got one last page to go and fill.

Thursday, May 4, 2023



Today I completed the design for Fia's seventh outfit in Old Skies. Having this many variations for a fully animated game character has been quite a bit of extra work, but it's quite satisfying to see them all lined up together. In a month's time, I will have been working quite steadily on this project for a couple of years, and it's hit that point where the work is quite routine now. Much of the thrill and excitement of the project has worn off, as is usual for big projects, but also so has much of the intimidation and fear. This will be a nice looking game, and I am confident in my ability to make it happen now.

I can see many of the issues with the visual style much more clearly now, I know what I'd do differently, and I know exactly what I'd change if I had the energy and time budget to do so - but I'm also pretty satisfied that it's a pretty nice leap forward from what Unavowed looked like to what I want the next Wadjet Eye adventure game to look like. Some folks like the new look, others prefer the old look. I totally understand in both cases.

I do miss working on the short terms projects a little - both Technobabylon and Shardlight were under a year's work for me - and I also would like to do more projects in the 640x360 resolution of Unavowed. I think anybody looking at my re-imagined projects can see that I still have ideas for refining that look (and I do hope to get around to doing some more of those at some point!)

But for now, it's a very fine thing to say that I'm content with our project, and proud of how it's shaping up, and it's nice to mark down yet another milestone in the process of making a game for you all.

Friday, January 20, 2023


 One of my side projects in 2022 was experimenting with Camille C on various game ideas, more as experiments in visuals and feel than anything. I like the idea of trying to capture a mood, and her bright, vibrant style is much more exuberant and hopeful than a lot of the games I tend to work on. Quite an interesting experience trying to shift my familiar style into that kind of atmosphere.

This overhead map piece was probably the most enjoyable thing for me to paint in those tests - I was trying to create that essence of a downtown shopping district in the kind of game that might have been marketed at high school students in the 00s. The sort of affair where your activities might be shopping, hanging out with friends, doing homework, etc. I always thought that games like The Sims present an interesting and worthy alternative to the very dramatic and violent standard that we expect now, without shifting into the sort of look that might be used for a game aimed at children under 10 like Mario or Sonic.

For me, starting with a base of green, orange and purple made a lot of sense here. When doing Unavowed I started my tests with the “classic primary” colour palette of red, blue and yellow, and in my hands those colours tend to be very dramatic and sombre. Shifting into the “classic secondary” palette like this allowed me to get as far away from that as possible to help me kick things off in the right direction. I also like how this allowed me to bring in the teal and gold as really lively feature colours to help highlight things that I wanted people to look at, and working with clean, white outlines felt very vibrant and crisp to me, an attempt to match Camille’s very clean and punchy character style.

One element I did keep around was leaning into showing some brush strokes and not cleaning up too much. I do think that this kind of look gives so much texture and a sense of detail which bring a liveliness to a scene that very clean paint work cannot supply. This also highlights the sort of scene that I am very fortunate to be able to mockup in 3D and then paint over - I absolutely would not want to attempt this with a grid if on a time limit.

This is just a start, but I think it’s great to try and expand our styles. Every slightly new direction helps me flesh out my skill set! We plan to keep working on things in 2023, so expect to see more of this exuberant look!

Tuesday, January 3, 2023



Just a quick note to thank you all for reading along in 2022 and to welcome you all to check back in on this place in 2023 to see what I’m up to. I’ve got a few different artistic & creative goals lined up for the year - the smallest (but tastiest) of these being to learn how to bake bread. Here’s my second ever loaf, as it looked in the oven today. I’ve already eaten far too much of it. Let’s hope the rest of my attempts at learning things will be as successful and as delicious!

Friday, December 16, 2022

A Decade of This

I’m currently in New York City, and naturally met up with Mr Dave Gilbert for lunch, just to catch up and chat after over three years of not seeing each other in person. While we were chatting it occurred to me that it had been just over 10 years since Dave needed a new background artist for The Blackwell Epiphany, and asked if I’d be interested in the role. I’d done some animation work for Dave in the past, and some conceptual stuff, and I had reached a point doing low resolution adventure game graphics where I felt I could do a solid job of it. 

A little over a year later we had completed the game, finishing up the series, and I think we knew then that we shared a vision. While our tastes and our skills are quite different, they complement each other well, and we feed off each other’s creative energy well. Along the way Dave had promised that he’d have enough work to pay me a regular wage, and so I handed in my notice at my old job and have been drawing for him ever since.

A decade after that email asking whether I’d like to take a stab at the backgrounds, I’m still doing this, and it’s been a decade with many ups and downs, but it’s been a rich experience overall. Epiphany was an interesting game for both Dave and I, and I think that sense of a shared vision we established in making it is something that has endured.

For me the most intimidating aspect of the project at the very start was the question of whether I had an endurance to do all the backgrounds and animations for a game of such a size by myself. Looking back now, it’s funny that this was my main concern - that decade has, if nothing else, proved my endurance through a project to myself. As with all work I can’t help but feel that I’d change so many things were I do do this game over. I doubt that feeling will ever truly go away.

Regardless, there was a special moment when I had this first scene painted up, and characters in and animations playing - the falling snow, a taxi driving past in the background, and just the colours and lights all working together in the composition and I sat back and thought “Yes, this is going to be good.” It’s that sort of feeling that drives me, more than anything else, and after a decade of this, I’m still doing my best to bring that feeling to life with each scene, in each project, and that’s still the best part for me. I hope to keep doing it for a while still.