Firstly a sort of general comment about me and my digital output. The reason I ‘keep my hand in’ digital-wise is that just occasionally I get a commission from a publisher – as opposed to the majority of my work..which is traditional painting for myself (for potential sale to the collector market) or as a direct commission from a private collector. The sad truth is that I haven’t received a major commission from a big publisher for several years now. The ones I do get are from Small Press publishers…which I’m very happy to do because therein resides the spirit of what publishing is all about in my mind..in particular with the bringing on of new, and often very interesting young talent. The guys who run these small press outfits are usually highly literate lovers of the written word, eager to spread the word of excellent, often niche writing to book lovers…as opposed to simply trying for vast high street profitability. So this is the zone my digital output is usually aimed at. Unfortunately, hand in hand with that comes the inevitable fact..that of the ‘limited budget’!! So in order to produce the piece as quickly as possible..whilst at the same time being true to the book and hopefully not short-changing the client..I turn to the Mac. I have to say – I do very much like working on the Mac as a sort of extra tool in the armoury..and to be honest – painting big canvases is really quite fatiguing..so a time spent in front of my big monitor – or more recently my Wacom Cintiq (I did a deal with Fred Gambino on his old one!) is often really quite pleasurable and indeed, exciting – creatively speaking.
But my digital techniques are limited essentially to Photoshop. I never got round to learning Painter..even less am I interested in any 3d software. Far too old to learn THAT stuff now.
Q: So I presume you read the Black Ship from Biblia Longcrofta and Simon Marshall-Jones’ words inspired an idea?
I did indeed read the story! As always with me a story unfolds like a movie in my mind’s eye. Sometimes a moment clearly ‘freeze-frames’ in my imagination, other times a mélange of elements combine to form a mental image. The story is quite short and has a kind of alternate universe exoticism about it..which appeals to me very much. That collision of the familiar with the strange.. For me it was clear that the Black Ship of the title had to feature prominently..and that was my jumping off point.
Q: Was the boat painted by you, a stock pic or a mish-mash of several pics skilfully blended together.
It’s a mixture of stuff really. I’ll quickly add here that the modus operandi varies from image to image. Some are heavily ‘painted’ in Photoshop…others I may well drop in some found textures that I think will work as a building blocks. Where I can I use my own photography….a growing resource but still short on lots of stuff. I have a fairly clear impression in my mind of how this vessel might look. I get an immediate sense of something that is a sort of fusion of Brunel’s ‘Great Eastern’, a current day bulk carrier of some sort and elements of old dreadnought style superstructure. So I check out my own photo reference stash for all things nautical..and whilst I have a lot of material on old wooden vessels and cruise ships..I’m short on the appropriate material for the Black Ship as I’m imagining it. So over to the internet..Google the appropriate imagery and start to sketch digitally a rough form that draws on these vessels for inspiration. I find an old rusting hulk shot which is great for the hull surface textures. The near-the-waterline ‘flange’ I invent and by using selection/pen tools I create the shape of that flange and then shade/highlight realistically. The same is true of the bow indentation, groove whatever it is! It has no function…I just think it looks sort of cool and pulls the vessel away from ships as we know them…sufficiently different to give a sense of alienness or strangeness at least (We don’t get from this one story quite what the nature of the mariners aboard it is…presumably it gets more revealed in other tales?). The bulge at the bow waterline derives from an image of a big tanker in dry dock. The bulging rear upper main hull with the row of portholes is created by using the warp tool mainly. I like to push and pull shapes around. The whole hull shape gets this treatment until I’m happy with its proportions. All of the superstructure is painted without any dropped in elements from photos. But I had on screen at the same time the amazing superstructure formation of WW2 Japanese Battleships..the Yamato..but in particular the Nagato…which is wondrously complex. Mine is simpler but I just wanted some of that sense of bulk and arcane functioning.
Q: How many components/layers are in the finished piece?
Gosh…tricky to answer that! During its creation there are dozens of layers…but I reckon that essentially as I arrived at the end and it’s time to flatten everything – maybe between 12 and 15? With these digital pieces I often find myself with maybe 30 or more layers but I try to merge as I go along to keep things moderately under control!
Q: How many of them are what I would call hard components like the rocks and the ship and not brightness/blur/hue etc
This is very hard to answer ‘after the event’!! I jump about a lot between hard elements and effects/filters etc. The degree of say, blurring and mist and so on and so forth is part of the ongoing process. So whilst a ‘hard’ element can be dropped into the composition at any time..it will almost certainly immediately become the subject of much tweaking and incorporating through filters, blurring and also the standard Photoshop painting tools – into the overall image in order to maintain a sense of integrity and natural blending. Much of the time if foreground elements are completed early on, the layer will be turned off whilst I then work on backgrounds. A back to front approach I know…which often results in wasted time as stuff then gets obliterated by the foreground elements when the layer is made visible again!
Q: Which parts of the piece are original and which are from digital stock or a combination of several pictures?
By original…you mean that they have been ‘painted’ using the painting tools? Well in this one there isn’t a huge amount of ‘painting from scratch’ as such (Other digital pieces may be approached differently…with a lot more painting). The superstructure is all painted. A large part of the misty skyline of half suggested buildings ended up being painted or perhaps being cut from those painted bits and distorted and pasted back in somewhere else…but with much addition and subtraction using brushes, erasers, smudge tools and layer transforming etc. But as I recall the initial bit of skyline was a bit of reference I had of some old European city skyline..clock towers etc..which I made ‘ethereal’ and ‘lost in the miasma’ Simon refers to as part of the mystery the Black Ship brings with it.
Q: Is the figure your son and where was the pic taken. Was he actually standing on those rocks?
It is indeed my son Joe! I said to him ‘I need a reference shot for a character on a book jacket..so give us a hand here’. I made him stand on a big old pile of paving slabs I have in the garden and took some shots. We have an old guitar – but it was in my wife’s studio – which is some miles away at her workplace..so as I needed to press on I pulled one off the internet. It’s only a tiny element! The rocks themselves are from my own library of shots..in this case shots of rocks taken down on the Devon coast. They are much cut about to give them a more jagged look. The green algae look was added by me. There is a lot of processing going on in the rocks. The water is from that same bit of coastline, taken as it crashed interestingly between rocks on the shoreline.
Q: The cranes in the background, were they shot by you or were they a stock image?
A bit is from my own library of images..something I took on the Clyde when I went up to a Glasgow Worldcon some years ago..and the others are pulled off the good old internet of dockyard shots etc.
Q: Was this image done in Photoshop, if not which program (s) did you use?
Q: Which filters did you use to get that misty but crisp look?
Well no filters as such with the mist. The sky is from my one of my own ‘sky reference’ shots taken in my back garden. I’ve then duplicated the layer and moved it around a bit and then changed its style to maybe ‘overlay’ or ‘soft light’…something like that. I build backgrounds up a lot like this. I’ve then used a chunk of that same sky to develop the misty, miasma effect. It’s all done a bit sort of ‘off the cuff’…and I don’t actually recall the exact sequence.
Q: The fossils were they photo-shopped into the rocks or did you find an amazingly old rocky outcrop somewhere?
Reference material of ammonites shot during a trip to Lyme Regis years ago! – plucked out of their original rock backgrounds, dropped in and scaled up. ‘Colour Dodge’ used here if I remember correctly. Anyway..convincingly enough dropped on to the rocks I had already placed.
Q: How many hours, roughly did it take you to do?
I would estimate maybe 20 hours…something of that order
Q: Where did the tree come from?
I have quite a lot of my own tree ref shots. My favorite is a huge old Beech in a graveyard in Frome which I use for all sorts. But this is a dead tree from a different set…
You can pre-order Simon Marshall-Jones’ Biblia Longcrofta on the Tickety Boo Website. It’s released at the end of the month.