Commission: Blake’s Seven

You ever get the feeling of a little voice inside your head saying, “oh boy, how am I gonna be able to pull this off??”

Well, that’s the feeling I get. Every. Single. Time. That Andrew Mark Sewell requests a commission. The first one I ever did for him –featuring himself and his colleague Helen Quigley aboard the deck of USS Enterprise– I had to figure out how to include a whole bunch of tribbles without overwhelming the composition (also, fur is kinda hard to paint!). The second time things got even trickier when Andrew asked me to draw his beautiful wife Catrin, and their lovely daughter Amelia, as Wonder Women subduing their ‘archnemesis’ Ares. But when Andrew told me about this idea he had for a Xmas card he wanted to give to all the members of his B7 Media company as a present, I knew that the stakes had escalated to incredible heights.

B7 Media, as their website indicates, is a production company devoted to develop creative content in all sorts of media platforms –TV, cinema, radio, etc– and has amassed a multidisciplinary team of talented collaborators. The name of the company itself is inspired by this old British sci-fi show called Blake’s Seven, which was totally unfamiliar to me. Andrew, as always, provided a lot of links and reference images, but he was also patient enough to explain to me the gist of this TV series from the late 70’s, and why it has attained a cult following over the years.

Federation trooper

Basically, the world of Blake’s Seven is the complete opposite of the naïve optimism portrayed in Roddenberry’s Star Trek. This is a dark dystopia in which a totalitarian Federation crushes anyone who opposes them, and among the few who dare to do so are Blake and his ragtag band of scoundrels turned into freedom fighters due to pressing circumstances. I manage to view a few full episodes on Youtube and other online video services, and once again I was impressed with how British television managed to overcome severe budget limitations with engaging screenwriting.

The valiant crew of Blake’s Seven onboard their ship, the Liberator. Who would’ve thunk puffy shirts would become trendy in space?

Andrew had a very clear idea of how each of his colleagues had to be portrayed as a Blake’s Seven character: Himself as Blake, the leader (Duh); Helen Quigley as Jenna, the blonde bombshell; Alistair Lock as Avon, the antihero of the group (who eventually became the leader, as the series progressed); Bev Doyle as Gan, the muscle of the team (I think he only lasted one season); Colin Brake as Vila, the fearful comic relief; Imran Ahmad as Tarrant, the dashing younger addition to the group in later seasons; and finally, Richard Kurtis as Travis, one of the main villains in the story.

This little doohickey is the ORAC, the universe’s most powerful computer. Dear ORAC concept designer: LESS. IS. MORE!!
A very resourceful aid came when I came by a 3d model of the ORAC at the SketchUp library. SketchUP is a free modeling program which I’m familiar with at a very rudimentary level, but all I needed was to rotate the model and ‘take a picture’ so I could have a detailed reference, instead of drawing the bloody thing from scratch.

As you can already see, this commission proved more than daunting for several reasons: First of all, the NUMBER of characters I would have to add into the scene, which would therefore require a spacious background. Second, the SETTING –unlike the Enterprise the amount of decent-quality images from the Liberator one can find online is very limited, and if there is anything I hate the most as a former interior designer, is trying to guess the elements of a space due to lack of information.

And third: The DETAILS! I may not be the best digital artist out there, but one thing I do pride myself for, is providing to my clients the most ‘bang for their buck’ with regards with the detailing of an illustration. I try not to cut any corners, which to me meant rendering the interior of the Liberator as accurately as possible –and even going BEYOND accuracy, because it turns out the production designers never bothered to provide a proper ceiling for the set!

Digital illustration has several advantages over traditional art media. One of them being the ability to easily rearrange the elements of a composition to obtain different results. Since my original intention was to first render the whole background, and then paint all the separate characters as big as possible so all the details wouldn’t be blurred out, I suggested to my client that instead of just having one single illustration we could have multiple ‘scenes’ in which every character would be properly featured in the foreground, instead of just being relegated to the back. Andrew enthusiastically approved the idea, and after working for many MANY hours, all the work was completed.

I believe that all the members B7 Media were pleased with my Blake’s Seven parody –at least Andrew never mentioned any complains 😉. As for me, now that I’m taking another look at these images after I completed them some three months ago, as it is often the case I’m noticing things I could have done differently to improve my work. For starters, I realize I need to learn how to add a bit of more contrast on my human figures (especially the faces) and I’m fully aware I don’t do this out of a rookie fear of ruining the piece by ‘overworking’ it –and also because the deadline was upon me 😅. But the fact I am noticing this can hopefully mean I will do better next time.

So there you have it: A very challenging commission that I once again managed to pull off, despite the fears I had before I started it, and during the middle of the process when all the different elements weren’t fitting together until it was fully done. Last year I jokingly referred to it as my own personal Sistine Chapel, but now that title has been claimed by –you guessed it– a NEW commission requested by Andrew. Stay tuned!

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