Saturday, 31 December 2011

Goodbye 2011

I figured I would jump on the bandwagon and post the obligatory review of the year.

Seeing my work in print is always a joy and 2011 has been a bumper year for that. Dwarf King's Hold 2 by Mantic, the beta of Sedition Wars: Battle for Alabaster from Studio McVey and of course Cutlass! by Black Scorpion have all featured my art. I have also continued to work with other existing clients on game projects while picking up new business and new friends in the gaming industry. I would like to give a big shout out to all my colleagues and thank them for supporting me to do what I love doing.

On the wider creative and social fronts its been a great year too. I have had some wonderful trips about the UK - to Derbyshire, Bristol, Nottingham and Canterbury. I have taken some great photos while on these jaunts and I feel I have really honed my photographic style. I very much enjoyed the IMVNDA project I launched later in the year, and have even found time to paint some minis (including my beloved Eldar). I finished the 1950s dress I had been making, like, forever and now have plans for some bonkers Russian-style harem pants. Added to all of this has been a good year of reenactment, which has seen the Ancient Greeks strut our stuff at Bushey, Broadlands and Detling (I also went to War and Peace as a punter, which was equally great).

Most of all I would like to thank all of you readers out there. There's now a hefty cohort of 87 of you and I am flattered that you'd want to hear my ramblings. I love chatting to you all and sharing wonderful things with you. I also appreciate all the feedback I get on my work.

Thank you all and here's to 2012!!!


(Copyright) Apocalypse: The work of John Martin

The other day I visited the excellent exhibition of paintings by John Martin at the Tate Britain. I have been a fan of Martin's work since my teens, but despite some cursory reading knew little of his background or career. Although the epic biblical scenes for which he is most famous drew accusations of bombastic popularism in his time, they are truly stunning. The canvasses themselves are huge (often ten or twelve feet across) and inspire the intended awe. He was trained as a craftsman and spent his early years painting decorative scenes on ceramics. Although this served admirably as training for his later work as a grand salon painter, it also hampered his progress. The particular techniques he developed for ceramics were not regarded as 'painterly' enough by the establishment and so the approval and election to the the Royal Academy eluded him.

I was surprised to learn that Martin's work suffered from the very modern issue of copyright even during his lifetime. Several of his paintings proved so popular after Martin had sold them (and the subsequent owners had made large sums promoting the pictures at salon exhibitions) he painted a second version so he could tour them himself and receive the profits. His patrons not unreasonably cried foul and there were legal wranglings. This fact might account for the way the subsequent copies Martin crafted often differed from the originals in aspect ratio, which strikes the viewer as quite strange when one sees both versions hanging side-by-side.

Martin is also famous for his wonderful mezzotint engravings, particularly of Paradise Lost and the Bible. He tried with varying success to make money from these but copyright and copying dogged this endeavour too. He strived to make quality prints but when this floundered he sold the plates and it was actually the cheaper versions produced by subsequent publishers which sold better. Also, other engravers copied his work and so a black market of sorts eroded his sales.

Martin's reputation as a painter diminished in the early 20th century to the extent that when The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum was badly damaged by a (aptly epic) flood in 1928 it was not repaired. Tate conservationists have done a wonderful job of restoring the canvas and even reconstructing a large missing portion. They were able to do this because, ironically, good photographic records existed of the work pre-flood. Thus the phenomena of the copy (in this case photographic) which was so much a part of Martin's career has helped save one of his best works.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Tessa Farmer at Viktor Wynd's Little Shop of Horrors

Viktor Wynd is a man of many talents - he runs very successful parties, a salon hosting talks on esoteric subjects and, most notably a veritable kuntskammer of a shop. His Little Shop of Horrors sells everything weird and wonderful from real human skulls to pictures painted by Britain's most notorious prisoner, Charles Bronson. This astounding collection happens to be just around the corner from me and I took a trip there just before Christmas to see the latest exhibit.

Tessa Farmer rose to prominence on the UK fine art scene a couple of years ago. She is most famous for her microscopic sculptures featuring tiny skeletons (often alongside insects - which just goes to show how small they are). She had installed a piece, titled The Coming of the Fairies, in TLSoH which is a veritable riot of talent. A long glass case (see the bottom photo) hosted an aerial battle between insects piloted by her trademark tiny cadavers. Suspended from nylon, the creatures career about the space and skirmish over a floating battlefield of detritus. There is something epic and heroic about the tiny warriors. The effect is quite dizzying and takes on a magnitude far greater than its real-life scale.

For a better set of photos, check out this guys blog.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Music: Give the Drummer Some by the Ultramagnetic MCs

Famous for a) featuring Kool Keith (of Dr. Octagon fame) and b) for being sampled mercilessly by The Prodigy.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

New work: Graphics test

And now for something completely different. I have been messing about with the 'sketch and toon' module in Cinema 4D and knocked up this little test. It's heavily influenced by the amazing Kilian Eng and the sources he draws upon (70s sci-fi animations, early video games and M├ętal Hurlant).

I am tempted to take this further as I have all sorts of ideas for a comic strip... Ah, if only I had more time.

Music: Blue Flowers by Dr. Octagon

From the Wiki: Dr. Octagon is described as having yellow eyes, green skin, and a pink-and-white Afro.Further tracks detail a list of services offered by Octagon, who claims to treat chimpanzee acne and moosebumps, and relocate saliva glands. Octagon is described as being incompetent, as many of his surgery patients die as he conducts his rounds. Octagon also pretends to be a gynecologist and often engages in sexual intercourse with female patients and nurses. Octagon's uncle, Mr. Gerbik, is described as being half shark, having the skin of an alligator, and is 208 years old.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas & Gimme Bar

A short post to first of all say a big Merry Christmas to you all - I do hope you have a lovely festive break and new year. I am going to take a break from posting over the next few days, and will begin again some time after the 27th. Stay tuned for more awesome Tears of Envy content!

Second, I want to let you in on my latest discovery which is the awesomeness that is Gimme Bar. The add-on allows you to save images and web content by dragging them to your personal stash. The files are stored remotely and they can subsequently by synched to your Dropbox account so you get copies on your local drive. This tool is proving a must for image-junkies like myself, as it makes grabbing stuff soooooo much easier.

Above: Just some of the bad-assery I have been grabbing to my Gimme Bar account of late.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Prometheus trailer

Today has been pretty exciting. The fact this AWESOME new trailer is one of the LEAST exciting things to have happened hopefully goes some way to explaining how exicing my day has been. Anyway, we've been waiting a while and this looks like it's not going to disappoint...

Music: The Funeral of Queen Mary by Purcell

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Pentel Aquash brush

OMG! I have just discovered these awesome sketching tools via the amazing Parka Blogs. The Pentel Aquash brush is a really simple idea - sketchers need water for their brushes while on the move. Instead of them having to carry pots of liquid, why not just build a brush with a reservoir in the handle? Boom!

I have just received a set of three (s, m & l) through the post and tested the biggest. I have to say it seems to work pretty well. The water is drawn into a clear nylon brush tip. Clearly this arrangement is never going to be as accurate as a sable brush, but it seems to do a good enough job. I have just tried it in combination with my water colour pencils and new Moleskine watercolour sketch book and the combo works a treat!

The things are fairly cheap - one will cost about £4, while a pack of three with the various sized brushes set me back about £10. Their build quality isn't great, but I guess at that price they are disposable items anyway. I am mildly worried about how leak-proof the things are, so I'll be keeping mine separate from anything I don't want to get soggy until it proves itself trustworthy. There seem to be more robust versions made by other companies out there, but the Pentel version will do me for the time being.

Hobbit trailer


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas at chez Tears of Envy

I dislike the idea of buying Christmas decorations and prefer to make my own. Regular readers may recall my efforts last year. This season I brought the spirit into my flat with a little vignette involving some branches, various bits of jewellery and the candelabra I bought for my Ghost of Christmas Past outfit.

I put the piece together without much conscious thought. In retrospect I would like to imagine it embodies the transition from the nature-worship of native British culture to Christianity. The branches are representative of the outside world and elemental forces creeping into my flat. I love the way the candle light plays off the reflective surfaces, and in particular the gold thread of the ecclesiastical charm.

I like to theme my Christmases and indulge in whatever culture or period I have chosen during the festive break. Previous years have seen me explore Vikings and Paganism in this way. This year I think it'll be the Crusades.


Monday, 19 December 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011

New work from John Blanche #9

J.B. has kindly sent me another image to share with you all.

This poor soul crouches by a dismal pool while a throng of penitents winds their way through the dank landscape. His wizened body has been mutilated almost beyond recognition. Like Lavinia in Titus Andronicus, he has had his hands cut off (and quite feasibly his tongue cut out as well). However, in a Blanche-ian twist electro-lashes have been grafted on to his otherwise useless stumps. There is something child-like about his posture, with his knees drawn up to his chest in a foetal manner. He is a kind of Benjamin Button from a dark, forbidding future, inspiring both sympathy and horror. He sits with his relique-eyes watching the turgid decay around him. The dripping ground is at once mechanical, charnel and arboreal.

Even though it retains Blanche’s trademark ink draftsmanship, in its rendering this piece is somewhat more painterly. Little of his stipple or scribble shading is discernible while the ink shading models the forms with a relative smoothness. The white acrylic highlights on the creature’s skin are carefully placed to give it a thin, papery quality, while the occasional plumes of smoke are liquid in their application.

Stay tuned for more Blanche goodness very soon!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Brom’s Dark Sun

Brom holds a special place in my heart as his work is synonymous with my first encounters with AD&D. While I exclusively read White Dwarf for a period (because it’s content, but more importantly its artwork was better) I later discovered Dragon magazine. This was around the time that TSR published their Dark Sun module for AD&D. I remember being blown away by Brom’s paintings of the arid dunes of Athas and their twisted denizens.

As a fantasy world, Athas is not unique in being a harsh desert (I’m looking at you here, Arrakis). However, the stroke of genius that makes the AD&D environment stand out is its lack of metal. Ore is rare on Athas and as such wood, stone and obsidian are used by the population for all tools and artifacts. Warriors are covered in bone and hide armour and carry sharpened horn weapons. What’s more, the planet’s sky ranges from a visceral red to garish green, giving a weird cast to the barren landscape.

These rather unique facets in themselves would have made for an interesting world. However, when put into the hands of the artist Brom they turned into something quite special. He depicted the gritty, weather-beaten and often in-human inhabitants with enormous flair. Not only does he capture the beauty of the natural textures (often decaying to the point of falling apart), he imbues the bodies of his subjects with the unforgiving nature of the world around them. The characters’ muscles are ‘ripped’, their flesh tanned to a deep orange and they are often covered with scars and tattoos. This is most noticeable on the females, who look rather like body-builders who were lost in the desert.

Below are some of my favorite images which Brom did for the project. I highly recommend you check out his book Darkwerks for more, and the 1991 TSR Dark Sun boxed-set books (which also contain beautiful b/w line drawings by him too).

Music: Paper Planes by M.I.A.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

I told you so...

Early this year I wrote a post which sparked some interesting debate. It was a set of predictions about how the hobby world might pan out over the next few years. Amongst them was the notion that 3D printing would become easier and cheaper and folk would start to use the tool for tabletop games.

Well, an exciting post has showed up at The Back 40K profiling just that. Home-brew 40K models made using 3D printing.

I know they infringe GW copyright. My feeling is that this is a bad thing, for both moral and legal reasons. I know some of you out there are going to want to talk about that until the cows come home. However, for the purposes of this post I want to restrict comments to the positive impact this technology could have on the hobby. Print-on-demand miniatures from companies? With the ability to specify colour? And choose what components are sculpted without having a frame of options? Count me in!

I have seen the future and it's looking awesome!!!

All photos grabbed from The Back 40K.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Dunwich Horror

I was excited when I learned a theatre company, Ororo Productions, was dramatising Lovecraft's classic tale The Dunwich Horror. I went to see it some weeks ago and watched the actors struggling against the terrifying spawn of The Old Ones and, unfortunately, a really dire script.

The play follows the plot of the 1929 story very closely. I am going to leave the plot out of this post as the Wiki does a good job of summarising it.

Much of the script is directly lifted from Lovecraft’s turgid text and puts the words into the mouths of the characters and a narrator. This is a massive problem for two reasons. As much as I love Mr 'Craft his prose is so purple that it is hard to read at times, let alone recite. It is no surprise, therefore, that the actors struggle with the cumbersome lines. In addition the language is utterly at odds with the supposedly rural low-brow country-bumpkin nature of the characters. The script makes the farmers and housewives, who are the focus of much of the tale, sound like the obscure 18th century poets which HP loved so much.

Dunwich is an odd choice of story to dramatise. It's cinematic and apocalyptic in scope, set in various locations and over a long period of time. A literal translation combined with no-budget (the set consisted of two stools and a podium and there was no sound or music) means that much of the action is simply reported to the audience. Such reporting is problematic in a play where character interaction is not the driving force (many are two dimensional) and events are the focus. The effect is both dull and silly. Given the lack of budget a more intimate story, of which there is no shortage in the Lovecraft catalogue, would have been better. Something more localised like The Colour Out of Space would have made a good choice.

The play's one redeeming feature was the depiction of Wilber Whately, whose presence is satisfyingly powerful and horrifying thanks to the talents of Rosco Brittin. Fans of Lovecraft will know Wilbur dies mid-way through the tale, and with him departed all hope for this troubled production.

Music: Me and the Devil bu Gill Scott-Heron

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Movie review: The Thing (2011)

When I was younger I always regarded John Carpenter’s The Thing as Alien’s little, inferior brother. Comparisons between the two are justified – ancient gribblies found by a small, remote team run riot in cramped confines with bloody results. I think I was (not unreasonably) so blown away by Giger’s designs for Alien that Carpenter’s baby paled in comparison. Over the years though I have come to love the slow-building paranoia of Kurt Russell vehicle, the wonderful lighting and the wacky gross-out effects. In the current climate where everything 80s is being deep-core mined, it was no surprise that The Thing was slated for a prequel.

My sister and I braved the suitably Antarctic conditions last weekend to see the new film. We discovered that the title is a big clue – granted it’s a ‘prequel’ in terms of the fictional facts, but essentially it’s a remake of the 1982 movie. The plot, pacing and themes are pretty much identical. That this is a faithful homage is the film’s most endearing feature, and the reason it will surely be forgotten very quickly. It fails on any count of originality and will only satisfy viewers who love the original or have never seen it. Even the swapping of the main character to a woman does not really provide much novelty, as she is so like Ellen Ripley in many ways (pretty but not that pretty, stern and level-headed and ready to sacrifice herself).

There are a few redeeming features. The monster effects are now a very satisfying digital update of the original designs. The heated-wire ‘test’ has been re-thought quite effectively. We get to learn a bit more about the giant ship buried in the ice and this is the film’s most original and exciting sequence. I have always had a problem with alien technology being depicted as current earth technology with a few extra lights and some wacky-looking fonts (Kubrick admirably side-stepped this by revealing very little of the aliens and their kit in 2001). The Thing does a good job of showing us something which looks out-of-this-world, yet artificial and technical.

In the 29 years since the original no one seems to have learned the simple lesson: if you find something cool-looking that’s been dormant for a while, for God's sake don’t thaw it out! That goes for movies too.

Music: Rerezzed by Daft Punk & The Glitch Mob

You have to admit TRON: Leacy was not as good as the original. Best skip the movie proper and just enjoy the visuals with this banging remix!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Your Business Sucks

I have just come across the hilariously titled How Not to Run a Game Business; What's wrong with the industry in just thousands and thousands of words. It's a rant-ey sort of place run by a man called Gau who screams what are actually quite well-thought out criticisms at the gaming industry.

Gau's Stop. Making. Games. piece got me thinking (and that's a complement - any blog which can really make me think about something is, in my view, head-and-shoulders over most others out there). In the post he decries the sheer volume of products on the market and argues that this is actually bad for the customer (specifically the new customer). He also finds the glut of games irritating because, he argues, e-publishing has lowered the bar on quality.

I disagree with Gau on both counts. I think people these days are used to having a myriad of choice in any market for any product. This is a simple fact of the digital age where an internet connection lets you see the world and everything in it. Folk are now used to typing "[insert product here] review" into google to get a steer on what's out there. Newbie games are no exception and I think there being more choice for customers and not less is inherently better. A commentator on the post astutely notes that rather than ranting, we'd better serve the newbie community by posting constructively critical reviews of products.

As to Gau's second point about reduction in quality, I think this is a red herring. If we address the first point this one dissolves. A good bit of googling and a few constructive reviews will quickly alert the world to a poor product and it'll die a natural death. Also, junior game designers have to start somewhere and it would be wrong to stifle emerging talent (Mike Wolf's excellent Warrior, Rogue & Mage game springs to mind). That said, as a game graphic designer I do have sympathy for Gau on this issue!

I think Gau does have an extremely valid criticism on version updates. It is crushing the way our industry has become wedded to a business model relying on forced obsolescence. This, I wholly agree, is annoying, depressing and very bad for newbies. Publishers should concentrate on ensuring their products aren't broken when they're first released and then support them for a reasonable amount of time rather than plotting the launch date of the next version.

I want to conclude this post with a hats-off to Gau. He's clearly an intelligent guy and, as I've said, his blog is extremely stimulating. I wholeheartedly suggest you delve into his posts as there's some excellent stuff there.

Music: God's Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Luca 'Kallamity' Zampriolo publishes ABAKAN 2288

Kallamity is the handle for the enormously talented Luca Zampriolo. He makes very beautiful (and very expensive) resin mecha kits. Not only does he sculpt these awesome and insanely detailed things, he's a cracking painter. IMHO his stuff is up there with Paolo Parente, threeA and Kow Yokoyama.

The great news is he's releasing a book, ABAKAN 2288. From the press release:

Kallamity poses the question, "As oil and gas are depleted in the future and inhabitants of Planet Earth continue to grow exponentially, how will a world based on the exploitation of these two natural resources maintain its current technological growth?" and then he precedes to present amazing visuals for the answer in the form of ABAKAN 2288.

In this Sci-fi tale, with oil resources tapped out and the ensuing crash of the world economy, the Weingart family holds a dictatorial monarchy over Earth as a result of their development of WEIN technology which allows for the fabrication of H.D.M.s as well as travel to other planets for more natural resources.

ABAKAN 2288 not only focuses on the images for the world that is yet to be but also on the creation of the Hard Doll Machine mecha designs. Kallamity designs the master patterns that are cast, assembles and creates machine dolls from these pieces of various sizes; ranging from a volleyball to the head of a pin. Being a worldwide success as a collectible sculptor of machine warrior dolls, readers will learn from one of the best in the industry how to conceptualize, fabricate and finish machine robots.

Kallamity combines mecha designs with the steampunk aesthetic to create the stunning yet depleted Sci-fi world of ABAKAN that we hope to not have to occupy someday, as visually captivating as it is!

Check out the book's blurb here and also this thread from where he talks about his work and methods.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Dwarf King's Hold 3 - interview with Jake Thornton

In this interview with Mantic Jake Thornton, the rulesmith behind the DHK, talks about the tiles in Ancient Grudge and says some very kind things about my artwork.

If you have not already done so do check out Jake's blog which has some fascinating insights into game design and very thoughtful reviews.

Looking different, but are comments working?

Hi All

You can see I've adjusted the look of the blog. I've deleted the code I borrowed for the previous look as I think it was the cause of the problem with the comments function.

Please can folk tell me if commenting is now easier?



PS Here's a random image to keep you occupied!

Tim Burton & Gotham City

I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Tim Burton's films. On the one hand I adore his preoccupation with the whimsical, his humour and the fact that he's essentially a niche genre auteur who has won over the Hollywood machine. Then there's his endearingly bonkers art direction - his bizarre and unique mixture of hokey Hallowe'en and German Expressionism all wrapped up in kitsch 50s Americana (yes, I know he's basically Edward Gorey with a Disney schooling, but he's still awesome). However, his films often seem rather hollow to me, and I get fatigued by what increasingly feel like his 'by-the-numbers' visuals.

I therefore approach his work with a bit of trepidation, both warmed and warned by the fact that I essentially know what I am going to get (and not get). I watched Batman Returns again the other day and was struck by how good the production design is on the film. On the Batman films Burton was clearly reigned-in by the studios. His trademarked quirkiness is more subtle and I find this quite satisfying. There's a whole other debate I could explore about the monumental shift he successfully implemented on the look of such an iconic hero, but I want instead to talk about his rendering of Gotham City.

The Wiki does a far better job of describing the origins and themes of the home of Bob Kane's hero. Under the talented hands of Anton Furst the first Batman movie showed us a towering Brutalist pre-war urban sprawn where industry and crime were unchecked by any civic planning. By the time the sequel went into production, Furst had died. Bo Welch replaced him and the success of the first movie meant the budget was significantly bigger. Welch not unreasonably wanted to explore his own vision of the city and the result is a delight. Under a crisp Christmas snowfall, a grander, more Stalinist metropolis emerges. The detail on the second film is quite stunning - frozen canals criss-cross the streets, the Penguin has made his lair in a fantastic decaying World's Fair-esque exhibition site and Catwoman lives in a cramped apartment made even more oppressive by the giant girder that stabs through it.

I agree Returns is not as good a film as the original, but if you've not seen it recently I emplore you to look at it again and enjoy the stunning prduction design. And if you want a Burton-related giggle, watch this video.