This is a commission I completed in February of this year: The client (Yoshi Matsumoto) had written a novel he was selling through Amazon’s Kindle store, but he felt the artwork in the cover wasn’t interesting enough (Below is the original book cover). What Yoshi had in mind for the illustration was his main protagonist (Wayln, a raccoon monk who is a martial arts expert and fights with a metallic telescopic stick) gazing upon a futuristic city full of light and with lots of Southeast Asian visual elements –like a SCI-FI version of Shanghai or Hongkong).
The concept appealed to me, but I wanted to know more about the story. WHO is Wayln, and why is he visiting this city? Yoshi responded to my questions via Twitter DMs so I could get the general run-down of his novel, and he was also kind enough to share with me the first chapter of the book in PDF format. I must confess I wasn’t expecting the novel to be particularly interesting, but I was wrong! Yoshi can not only write fast-pacing action sequences, but in other parts of the text he dared to touch upon very deep philosophical subjects. I was not motivated enough to do my best to create a decent scene that would hopefully motivate Amazon clients to download a copy of this book.
Art and Design are all about first times attempting to do something. As you might know, my career as a digital artist has been rather brief, and hence this would be the first time I would try to paint a whole city. I studied a lot of visual references (real photos of cities and fantasy illustrations) so I could get a sense of the type of visual cues would need to add to convey the idea of an ultra-modern city; at the same time this futuristic urban center still needed to retain a few traditional elements that would ‘set the stage’ for the type of the fantasy world portrayed in Yoshi’s story –a kind of ‘Kung fu Panda meets Blade Runner’ situation– and, if that wasn’t complicated enough, I needed to approach the project in a sensible manner (If I tried to make an ultra-realistic render of a complete city, it might take me MONTHS to complete, and that was something totally impractical). I paid a lot of attention to the ‘economy of elements’ employed by the artists who produced the backgrounds for Batman: The Animated Series, and although that style wouldn’t exactly help me, since their Gotham city is composed primarily of stacked boxes, it was nevertheless helpful.
Original digital sketch sent to the client for approval. As you can see, I wanted to make every building unique in shape and style, while at the same time trying to decide where to put each element in order to ‘fill’ the space in such a way that it would convey the idea of a full city, and not just a small town.
As I said before, I may not have a lot of experience as a digital artist, but that doesn’t mean I have PLENTY of experience dealing with architectural renderings. For years I worked with AutoCAD and 3DsMax in order to create virtual representations of houses, interiors, and sometimes even full buildings. With the latter, one of the hardest things is try to ‘fill’ in the empty space around your building so it doesn’t look like it’s standing in the middle of nowhere, so you need to add enough ‘props’ like cars, streets, trees and even people in order to ‘sell’ your image to a client.
In school I learned all about drawing in perspective, but because of CAD programs nobody drafts ‘by hand’ anymore. Still, one never forgets how to sketch perspective-like in such a way to make your drawings look convincing enough, and that experience coupled with Sketchbook’s perspective tools came in very handy when drawing Wayln’s futuristic city.
The other thing that was very helpful was Sketchbook’s different blending modes, especially for all the neon signs and lights incorporated to the geometry of the buildings. Experimenting with all the different options and evaluating how ‘soft glow’ may give you a different result than, say, ‘hard light’. Sometimes you even need to combine different blending modes in order to achieve the result you want. As always, having in mind your real-life visual references is very important.
Another cool thing about this project was adding a few flying vehicles in the background. Again, I would have loved to add so many of those, like in Star Wars’ Coruscant, but again I needed to be mindful about the time spent in each one of those, and trying to get a proper balance (I think the only ‘cheat’ I made was when I duplicated the ‘rocket trail’ of one of the ships into the other.
The other thing I did was adding a couple of ‘Easter eggs’ in the piece. One of them is how I decided to add my ‘pill’ signature without making it too conspicuous. And the other is the Moon: if you take a good look, you can see I shaped the shadows of the Moon to make them look like a Chinese dragon in a very subtle way.
Once that all that was taken care of (for some reason I always prefer to start working the background first, and to leave the main figures for last) I began to work on Wayln, the raccoon monk. The pose I chose came vary naturally and almost without any difficulty, and I’m particularly fond of the fact that you cannot really take a good luck to the expression in his face, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own imagination –is he sad, afraid or resolved? that’s for you to decide.
Yoshi, I’m happy to report, was very happy with the end result, and I do hope it proved effective in attracting the attention of more potential readers looking for something interesting to add to their digital library. And, mind you, this is Book 1 of 2, so let’s see what I come up with for the next chapter of Wayln’s adventures!
If you would like to contact me to discuss a commission or cover design, you can drop me an email at absurdbydesign[at]gmail.com or leaving a comment.