this northern boy

Have pen, will doodle

The Mechs of Mars

Sometimes, when I post my droid pictures on my Tumblr blog, I write a little accompanying text. Sometimes this is just a quick one line description of the droid, or how I’ve drawn it, but sometimes I write a description that hints at a future history of these droids.

Air Defence Drone

Air Defence Drone

Air Defence Drone.
Designed and built in ‘74 by Kinetic Energy Systems Inc., the A.D.D. first saw use in the defence of the Olbers way station on Ceres. Shipping with both an Atlas-class Railgun and a Sigma-rated Plasma Cannon, the A.D.D. is a very capable weapon. With an onboard A.I. of .08 Human Analog, the drones can be deployed and then forgotten on the battlefield as they calculate the best way to achieve their orders. Currently the onboard A.I.s have recorded only one psychotic failure [see History of Belt-Mars Conflict: Vol VI: Ch 8.1 Brodsky].

Or…

Heavy Compliance Unit.
Built by Hurricane Industries for Law Enforcement, Riot Control, Crowd Suppression and Compliance. Strong and agile, with a high category A.I., the H.C.U. is equipped with both lethal and non-lethal tactical weapons, including: Low Velocity Kinetics, Tasers, Sonic Cannon, Microwave Lasers and standard MKIV mobile Rail Gun.

And…

Martian Eddie.
Eddie was built as a general purpose droid in late ‘78 and was shipped to Mars that same year to work for the Terraforming Committee. After 8 years of hard work, Eddie was sold to the owner of an algae farm in the new northern ocean. The algae farmer didn’t see robot rights as important and didn’t treat Eddie with much care or attention. In early ‘90 tax officials visiting the farm found no trace of its original owner, discovering Eddie in charge of operations. The ensuing legal case saw Eddie evicted and from that point on his antipathy to human kind was fixed. During the next decade Eddie could be found at most of the major flare-ups between humans and robots. The last anyone saw of Eddie was during the Tharsis Rebellion of ‘08 where he was seen at the heart of the robot offensive, brandishing his favoured plasma cannon as the Phobos Space Elevator came crashing down.
Rumours of Eddie’s survival have persisted, even though it’s now nearly 30 years seen he was seen. These rumours have been strenuously denied by the Human government of Mars.

I love the vague, hinted at history of far future conflicts hinted at in these descriptions. I don’t think I’ll ever write all the connecting information, better to allow people to fill in the gaps themselves. I do have a rough framework of a timeline in my head, although I’m scared to write it down in case it ties me down to a particular set of events.

I like to draw the droid, and then just see what suggests itself. That way I can be surprised too.

Mountains, moors and make-believe

There is something magical about creating a place or a world that previously only existed inside your own head. It’s impossible to draw (at least it is for me) an imaginary landscape without wondering about the people who inhabit it, or the history of it, or the flora and fauna that fill it.

Some of my landscapes are very much rooted in the real world, the lake district is never far from the tip of my pen, while some have only the loosest foundations here on earth.

Only one of my landscapes exists as is, Slater’s Bridge in Little Langdale in the Lake District. I really must get back there with a sketchbook. It’s an amazingly beautiful place.

Slater's Bridge

Slater’s Bridge

People are very rare in my drawings, partly because I’m pretty terrible at drawing them, but partly because I want to be the person in the picture. I don’t want to share these places with anyone else. Extreme escapism for me would be stepping into one of my illustrations and exploring what’s beyond the edge of the page.

The Inspirational Art of Ian McQue

I don’t often write blog posts about the work that inspires me, I may occasionally mention an artist, book or film, but rarely more than that. Ian McQue‘s work deserves a post all of its own.

I’ve been drawing again, after that inexplicable 20 year hiatus, for about 18 months now, and my Droid a Day project is now into its eighth month. Throughout all of that time I can safely say that Ian’s work has been the art I keep coming back to.

Ian is a concept designer by trade, working at Rockstar North – home of Grand Theft Auto, but it’s the work he does in his spare time that really gets my attention.

Ian has crafted a world, or worlds of stunning detail and variety, populated by flying ships, floating dockyards, weary looking soldiers and by ramshackle robots. I’ve no idea if all these creations have a place in a single narrative that Ian has conjured up, if they do, he’s keeping that close to his chest, or if they just exist alone. Regardless, they are stunning illustrations, beautifully drawn, intricately detailed, and despite their obvious fantasy or science fiction foundations, they all seem utterly believable.

Have a look at some of Ian’s work below, look at the worker in ‘Lunch Break’, could just be a guy working in a Glasgow ship yard. Look at the tangled mess of cables and rigs on ‘Jetty 15, Port Royal Docks’. Look at the battered heavy machinery of ‘Workhorse’. All utterly fantastic, but completely believable.

I know I’m not alone in wanting to know more about this world of Ian McQue’s, and if you’re reading this Ian – a graphic novel please, or a series of them!

I said at the beginning of this post how Ian’s work inspires me, and I’m sure if you check back through previous posts you’ll find echoes of his creations there, and I’m sure some of the robots at A Droid A Day owe more than a little something to his work.

Huge thanks to Ian for letting me feature some of his work here. If you’d like to see more then follow Ian on Twitter, and check out his site. If you’d like to have a little piece of McQueWorld in your life, I can definitely recommend his sketchbook ‘Robots, Space Dudes, Flying Ships etc.’ – it’s absolutely chock full of fantastic drawings.

Jetty 15

Jetty 15

Lunch Break

Workhorse

Workhorse

All work featured here copyright Ian McQue.

Of Steel and Bone…

One of the many responses I had to my blog post A Crisis of Confidence was a very thoughtful one from Daniel Benneworth-Gray. One of Daniel’s many insightful points was that one way of getting over my frustration would be to invite people to tweet a micro-story for me to illustrate.

Obviously, the first person I asked was Daniel, and he didn’t disappoint…

Daniel's micro-story.

Daniel’s micro-story.

Working to someone else’s idea was liberating, and challenging. Luckily for me Mr Benneworth-Gray’s words are always damn fine and well considered, which made my job of illustrating so much easier.

As soon as I read the tweet I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do. I had the idea of a normal family staring up at a huge giant robot, that was, in turn, staring right back at them. There was a definite ‘The Iron Man’ thing going on here (the book, not the film or the superhero).

The result of Daniel's micro-story

The result of Daniel’s micro-story

The point Daniel made, about the fact that I hadn’t been illustrating – just drawing, was right. Interpreting somebody else’s words and ideas is a completely different challenge to just opening a sketchbook and making something up. It’s easier in some ways, and much harder in others. It is very worthwhile, and even if I don’t take this approach with all my future robots (110 to go), I’ll definitely give it a go from time to time, especially if I’m in a rut.

Huge thanks to Daniel for the idea, advice and encouragement. If you aren’t already following him on Twitter, or Instagram, I suggest you rectify that immediately. His blog is always a joy to read too.

The Tin Woodman…

Or the Tin Man according to the film. In the books, the Tin Woodman was originally a human called Nick Chopper. He was turned to tin by the Wicked Witch of the East to stop him from marrying his true love.

This is my take on the character from the 1939 film, I wanted to keep the face the same as Jack Haley’s, but give the rest a bit of a twist.

The Tin Woodman

The Tin Woodman

A Crisis of Confidence

I’m 239 days into my project to draw one robot every day for a year. Naively, I thought that by now I’d have transformed into a capable illustrator. The truth is a long way from that.

I’m really no better than when I started. Looking back at my last week or so’s drawings – there’s nothing I couldn’t have done eight months ago. In fact I’m not even sure I’m doing much that I couldn’t have done 20 years ago. It’s pretty tough realising that I’m such a long way from where I want to be, but… I think I just expected way too much.

I started the Droid A Day project to make sure I drew every day, and to try to become a better artist, or illustrator. For the previous 20 years I’d barely drawn anything, I don’t know why not, somehow I’d just stopped drawing. I’d gone from a kid who drew all the time, to a bloke who never picked up a pencil. If people had asked me during those 20 years what my hobbies were, I’d still have said drawing. It was like a blind spot. Now I’m here, trying to become an illustrator, hoping at some point to be good enough to be doing this for a living – and those 20 years weigh so heavily on my shoulders. 20 years of missed opportunity. 7,300 days of missed practice.

I think that 7,300 number is important. It’s a big number, and it’s an awful lot of drawing missed. It puts in perspective the 239 days I am into this project. I’m kidding myself if I think that doing a robot drawing every day for a few months is going to turn me into an illustrator. It’s definitely better than doing nothing, but it’s not the panacea I thought, and hoped, it might be.

What I need, I think, is more structure to my drawing. I think I need, in effect, to educate myself – to teach myself to draw. The difficulty will be in critiquing my own work, deciding where I need to change or improve, deciding when I’m deserving of a gold star, and when I need a detention.

There are a lot of resources out there for someone who wants to improve their drawing skills – YouTube videos, Tumblr feeds, art technique books, anatomy references… So I just need to make a start, decide what needs fixing first.

Perhaps there are bad habits I need to unlearn, maybe I don’t look closely enough, maybe I’m too impatient when I draw…

The Droid a Day project will continue. I’m not prepared to throw that away, so there’ll definitely be 126 more robots, but I’m going to have to supplement that with some other drawing. Exercises, life drawing, sketching, perspective work…

I made a mistake of thinking that because I was good at drawing as a kid, that I’d get really good again if I put a bit of effort in. Actually, I need to put a huge amount of effort in (and not just for 365 days) to make up for those lost 20 years.

I want to be an illustrator. Starting from now.

On loosening up, and the tools of the trade

I draw too tightly. Always have. Way too much consideration to making something that looks nice, rather than trying to capture a great idea. That’s why I’ve started drawing these little pen and pencil doodles lately, and it’s why I gave the Copic Markers another go.

Copic Marker Mechs

Copic Marker Mechs

Copic Marker Mechs II

Copic Marker Mechs II

Throwing in a really broad shape with the markers makes you forget about trying to create something beautiful, it’s about creating a cool shape, or an interesting form. Picking up a pigment liner and then trying to discover the shapes is great fun, and it’s a pretty quick way to work. Each mech takes between five and ten minutes.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

The photo above shows my mugs full of pens. Copic markers, and a few Sharpies in the first mug – along with a white gel pen, and a Pentel Pocket Brush. Sakura Pigma Microns, Staedtler Pigment Liners and a few Faber Castells in the second mug, and a bunch of pencils in the last – along with a brush for removing erasing bits, and a scalpel for sharpening. There are a few ellipse and circle guides behind, with a metal ruler and a few coloured pencils.

Weapons of Mass Creation

Weapons of Mass Creation

And that last picture? Well my OCD just shines through… Those are some of my most used bits and pieces.

Rotring Mechanical Pencil
Staedtler Classic Pencils (HB)
Swann Morton scalpel (with 10A blade)
Staedtler Pigment Liners – 0.05, 0.1, 0.3 and 0.5
Selwyn watercolour brush
Moleskine Sketchbook – A5
Moleskine Plain Journals – A6
Copic Markers – 100, C-7, C-5, C-3 and C-1
Staedtler Mars Plastic erasers
Staedtler Rasoplast eraser
A big ball of rubber bands
12″ Steel Ruler

.

Bicentennial Man

A pencil sketch of ‘Andrew Martin’, the robot hero of Isaac Asimov’s story “The Bicentennial Man”.

This was based on a small thumbnail I drew yesterday that I thought had an element of humanity about it.

Drawn with Faber Castell HB and 2B pencils on layout paper.

Bicentennial Man

Bicentennial Man

Size Matters

Bigger is better. Or so they say. Particularly in Texas I believe.

When it comes to my work, I’ve never been into ‘big’. My work tends to be small, tightly controlled, detailed – rather than expressive and sprawling. I’ve recently begun working much smaller though, as way of getting more ideas down on paper – rather than worrying too much about the finished product. Some of these little doodles will stay just that, but a few of them may become something else at a later date. Redrawn at a larger scale, details added, lines refined – all the while trying to keep the essence of what it was I liked about the doodle in the first place.

All the following drawings were done in pen, so no pencil or rubbing out, and were begun with almost no thought in mind as to what the aim was. In terms of scale, the largest of these little doodles is about 25mm high.

Mechs, probes, flyers…

Mechs, probes, flyers…

Flyers, skiffs, speeders…

Flyers, skiffs, speeders…

Low altitude flyers

Low altitude flyers

Multi-legged mechs

Multi-legged mechs

Some kind of hovering probe

Some kind of hovering probe

Three-legged mech and pilot

Three-legged mech and pilot

Heavy transport flyer

Heavy transport flyer

Stubby little speeder

Stubby little speeder

One-man flyer

One-man flyer

These were all drawn using a 0.1 or 0.2 Staedtler Pigment Liner, on bristol board.

It’s good fun drawing at this scale. There’s no room for obsessing over details, you just have to get in there and create some forms and hint at structure. They have bags of character at this scale too – the challenge will be to capture that if I work these up into full-scale illustrations.

Ghost in the Shell

The title of this post will mean next to nothing for almost everyone, unless you happen to be a fan of Japanese Manga/Anime.

As part of my Droid a Day project I’ve asked people to suggest a droid or robot from film or TV, my latest illustration – number 201 – is one of those.

This is Tachikoma…

Tachikoma - Ghost in the Shell

Tachikoma – Ghost in the Shell

He is a character from the Japanese series Ghost in the Shell, and was suggested by Michelle Aguilar – she’s quite a fan apparently.

He was fun, but hard work, to draw, and now I feel I need to watch some of the show.

If you have a droid you’d like to see me draw, feel free to comment.

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