Commission: The Kosmokats Return!


Even though I’ve been a dog person all my life, I’ve always found cats to be beautiful and elegant creatures. Many of my friends are cat owners –or rather, cat servants, amirite?– including fellow Paramaniac Zach Pharr, who became one of my first patrons when he asked me to portray his two felines Hobie and Dinah in the style of vintage Cosmonaut posters. Like Zach, I also have something of a fetish for these old propaganda illustrations made in the Soviet regime –why is it that oppressive governments like the former USSR or North Korea manage to create such cool art? Is it perhaps because artists in those countries find no other outlet for their creative juices than promoting the lies spread by their governments? One thing is for sure, and that is authoritarian regimes have always recognized the power of images, which is the reason why Hitler always hated to be ridiculed in anti-Fascist caricatures (sounds familiar?)

These illustrations were made with my first Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2, which came with the Autodesk Sketchbook app pre-installed (actually it wasn’t the original Sketchbook but a Samsung version which had a few extra features that the mobile version didn’t include back then). It was with these commissions that I cut my teeth as a digital artist, trying to get the hang of the many controls and features while at the same time understanding how the digital medium greatly varies from traditional painting techniques.

Here it would be important to mention that I never really received a lot of formal painting lessons in my youth –I studied Design and not Art, and in Design the emphasis lies in creating renders for clients in the fastest way possible, which is why instead of oils and watercolors what you mainly used were markers, pastels and pencil colors. I only had one class with gouache painting and because the exercises left as homework were so boring, I ended up HATING it and relied instead on my proficiency with markers. Now I regret not taking better care of my brushes and not trying painting with gouache just for fun.

But getting back to the KosmoKats, a few months ago Zach contacted me because he wanted me to do a similar portrait of his new cat, Linus; a very handsome young cat who loves to wear a fancy blue bowtie around his neck.

Zach had already found an old Soviet poster that I could use as reference. I loved the ‘naive’ character of the illustration and thought it would be a fun departure from my other illustrations, which tend to be a bit more photorealistic in style.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity to try a new set of ‘acrylic brushes’ that you can download for free on the Autodesk Sketchbook website (if you’re using the desktop version). These are brushes that try to mimic the way real paint behaves on the canvas, and how it blends and mixes with other strokes already laid on the painting; the result is quite realistic, in the sense that to the untrained eye it can look like it was done with traditional mediums and not on a computer –especially if you tweak the brushes’ look with a ‘texture’ that simulates the surface of the canvas– but the downside is that these brushes are VERY difficult to manipulate, particularly if you’re planning to include a lot of tiny little details.

As you may appreciate in the final result, what I ended up with is not as ‘rough’ and naive-looking as the reference poster, but still I think I managed to include in it a lot of nice textures which makes it interesting to look at. I also chose to continue the ‘visual puns’ of the KosmoKat concept by playing with the buildings and the onion domes in the lower part.

So, as you can see, I’m still learning and experimenting. I also keep studying both the modern illustration made by digital artists, and the old illustrations made with traditional mediums like gouache, acrylic and watercolors, and I keep striving to find ways to simulate that ‘vitange’ look in my art. I feel part of the trick is trying NOT to be such a perfectionist when you blend the colors too smoothly; often when you’re doing a digital illustration you find yourself zooming in to a tiny portion of your canvas area, and you want everything to look perfect at that scale, but if you zoom in on those old illustrations you realize the artist didn’t do that; instead they messily applied thick layers of unblended color on top of each other and let the eye of the viewer to do the blending for them. They were also masters of contrast and volume.

Old Sci-Fi pulp illustration. Notice how the artist didn’t bother with making smooth transitions between the light and dark values of the figures, which adds a lot of ‘rough’ character that I find wonderful.

If you want your pet to boldly go where no pet has gone before –or to explore space for the glory of Mother Russia– leave me a comment below.

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