Thursday 29 November 2012

The Other Half of the Sky

I've been really looking forward to sharing the cover I made for The Other Half of the Sky, to be published by Candlemark & Gleam in April 2013.

The Other Half of the Sky is an anthology of science fiction stories with women protagonists, a theme that could hardly be closer to my heart. In science fiction female characters are often on the sidelines, passive and flat; I suppose because of a widespread belief that women are uninterested in the whole space idea. This collection of stories turns this stereotype down a notch, so I was understandably very happy to make the cover for it.

Athena Andreadis, the editor of the anthology, was particularly helpful throughout the process of making this image. She had a clear vision of what she wanted the cover to look like, and was precise in communicating it.

The character is not chosen specifically from one story of the lot; I made her generic enough so that she could fit any of the protagonists. It was important to set the tone through her expression and stance rather than any particulars of her appearance.

On a technical level, this was mostly straightforward. I set up a model in Poser to help me with the odd lighting and angle (not pretty, but it did its job). I tried out a couple different colour schemes, and even one lighter version, with a planet instead of nebula in the background. The eventual nebula background has a composite of various nebulae images (thanks, NASA!) as a basis, further rendered with watercolour-like brushes alongside with the plain old round brush.

I got the idea of the twisting spires from the Dynamic Tower concept, though I tried to make them look a little more organic (likely at the expense of structural integrity!).

For the character's outfit, I had initially thought of something more armour-like, but that would put too much military emphasis. In looking for inspiration and reference, I kept stumbling upon the extremely bulky EVA space suits currently in use, but then I came across the Bio-Suit concept, and took it from there. Its decorative elements were inspired by a lovely gif circulating tumblr.

Once I had put everything together in satisfactory detail, I extended the image so that it could make a full wraparound cover. (Already a large file, the full wraparound was over 12000 pixels wide, some 1,5GB in size, and working with it turned much, m u c h  s l o w e r.)

The text treatment had its challenge, too. Diehl Deco was chosen as a typeface for all capitals, and Pyke's Peak Zero for lowercase. The two were a good match, but Pyke's Peak is really a display font, so I took it to an editor and changed a few glyphs to increase legibility. The version on the cover has slight changes in the letters s, v, w and q compared to the original. This was a new one for me, but I had much fun with it.

Lastly, the cover without the text:

Saturday 22 September 2012


A painting for the cover of the autumn issue of The Colored Lens (available on Amazon now).

The image's progress, for anyone who's interested:

I started by trying to make an interesting-looking background. The ghostly figure emerged soon afterwards, and from then onwards it was just a matter of refining. Step #7 was in Painter, which I use for its interesting textures, all the rest in Photoshop.

And here it is with the lettering on the actual cover:

Tuesday 18 September 2012


An illustration for Jude-Marie Green’s short story Sisters, published in the summer issue of The Colored Lens (also available on Amazon).

Keep an eye out for The Colored Lens’ autumn issue: I’ve made art for the cover. :)

Original sketch: on

Saturday 8 September 2012

Forest Road

Remember this piece (image #3) from nearly a year back? It was almost done then, but for some reason I had left it unfinished. Today I was thinking about a friend's story-in-the-works, and what I've read of it so far from it has created some pretty intense synaesthesia: the taste of wet ground and leaves in the air, somewhat musty, fragrant with things alive and dead. It reminded me of this scene, so I went back to it for those few final touches.

Meanwhile, I'm working on these. I think there's some promise there!

Friday 31 August 2012

Zeitgeist: Cauldron-Born

 Two more illustrations for Zeitgeist #5, Cauldron Born.

A toast to peace 

'King Aodhan and "Minister of Outsiders" Lya Jierre -- warily raise wine glasses to each other.'
These were existing characters - the king's appearance is loosely based on the actor Clark Peters, and Lya is based on Carrie Fisher. 

Colossus Under Construction

A 300-ft. tall metal construct is being built in an underground shaft. The idea was to make it look more human/statue-like than robot, and to show its scale. If you can see some inspiration from Prometheus' poster - it's because it's definitely there. :)

Monday 2 July 2012


A portrait of Stephanie Gutowski. I had an eye on that photo of hers for a while. :)

Fun fact: Some time back I had dreamt that I had painted her and was very pleased with the result; woke up to find out I hadn’t, much to my disgruntlement. I consider this amended now, though as usually, in my dreams my work is infinitely better! :}

Photoshop, a couple of hours on and off. Reference courtesy of Steph.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

On the Hill of Roses

Click for larger image

Dust jacket cover I made for On the Hill of Roses, a short story collection by Stefan Grabinski (translated from Polish by Miroslaw Lipinski), to be published by Hieroglyphic Press this summer.

I had a helpful and poetic description from the publisher: '[...] a landscape at dusk, a rose garden with the bloody reds of the bushes merging with the dying sunset shades. The ground might be a dark, almost black green with hint of the sinister in the deepening shadows.' They specifically wanted something in the style and mood of Eventide, loose and impressionistic. So I set out to put my new watercolour skills into preliminary sketches.

Well, 'watercolour skills' might be a bit overrated. But these colour blobs were just what I needed, so I scanned them in and threw more values in PS.

Then I took the two and merged them into a larger, wider piece. I threw in more golden tones because I felt the pinks and lilacs were too subdued, and because the title story is a psychological horror piece taking place in midsummer, so I wanted a small taste of it to seep into this image.

Not forgetting that the right side of the image would be the front cover, I flipped it soon after, so that the focus would be on the right and that it would still work as a whole.

I also added some guidelines to keep my composition together and flowing, and was switching them on and off right until the end.

From then on it was just a matter of rendering. This is frequently the part I have most difficulty with. I tend to overwork my images and they lose the freshness and dynamic their earlier versions have. A lot of the time, I'm just going back and forth between different saves of an image. I was more careful with what details I added and where with this one, so maybe that's why it proved to be a more straightforward process than usual.

It also turned out to be a true digital/watercolour hybrid: in order to preserve the watercolour textures, I kept laying down shapes in watercolour, then scanning them and adding them to my main image:

(All this from my 'upgraded' workspace, no less)

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Sketches March & April

After what I now realised to be a rather long hiatus, prepare to be swamped with recent work! For now, just some sketches. I have fallen behind with both sketching and scanning (lately I am so tired in the mornings or after work that taking out pen and paper in the metro seems too daunting).

The overwhelming majority of these are from the time I spent at a hospital looking after a family member. Long hours with nothing much to do - good for drawing. When sleep deprivation kicked in, less so - but still. :)

Then I realised I had also scanned another batch from March - I just never got round to posting it.

Monday 30 April 2012

Zeitgeist: Always On Time

Further interior illustrations I made for the Zeitgeist adventure path (see previous batch here). These are for the fourth chapter, Always On Time.

 Screaming Malice: Imagine a black oily swamp reared up
and towered over you like a giant with tendrils that end in screaming,
fanged mouths. When a group of bandits try to ambush and rob the train, they
provoke this monster to attack as a distraction.

Ashima-Shimtu: One of the train's stops is near a
cursed island, with a prison for a millennia-old demon

Haunted island: At night the fogs or
rain roll in, and if anyone living is still on the island, all the dead who
drowned or crashed on the rocks around its shore shamble onto the island to
kill them. 

To be honest, I'm not quite as pleased with these three as I was with the ones for the previous adventure. I was under a lot of stress lately (work and family matters) and I think the work suffered from it. Some changes were needed, too. Ashima-Shimtu was initially a scene that included the demon, but it had to be cropped so that the focus would be on the character:

Likewise, the malice image was a problematic (though I'm partially fond of its rough look). The train in particular was a mess; for the revised version, I finally got round to learn how to use Google SketchUp. It saved my ass, and I'll be definitely coming back to it for future works.

Friday 24 February 2012


A semi-quick piece: some 20' for the first rough sketch (see below), then a couple hours this evening.

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Acrylic tinies

To my surprise, my old tubes of acrylic paint (bought in 2003!) are still alive. They are big plastic ones and could surely last for a few more paintings. I had a couple smaller metallic tubes, too, but those are bone-dry.

I tried them yesterday evening on these itty bitty (9x6cm) pieces of canvas. Fun times! I'm a lot more comfortable with acrylics' drying times as opposed to oils'. I still attacked the first two with a hair dryer, though.

I'm also realising that my scanner is not handling reds very well. I always have to colour-correct my scans, and it's always the reds that are most skewed.

Edit: here they are, sitting snugly on my desk shelf! :)

Saturday 4 February 2012


I had aimed to make this a very quick sketch, to force myself to put in only what was necessary and keep my forms simple - that took some 20', with relative success.

A little while later I gave in to temptation and spent another 20' adding a bit of texture, though. :)

Reference from Elandria.

Sunday 15 January 2012

2012 meagre beginnings

I suppose something is better than nothing!

Two VERY quick pieces I did this morning. Aisling, from The Secret of Kells (a fantastic animated film, I highly recommend it. It's a visual treat), and the Arishok from Dragon Age 2. I've been running a fever, and it was hard to focus (coughing and blowing one's nose while at it doesn't help, either). So I painted semi-blindly, and on the whole both these came out very spontaneously in subject as well as execution. 

I came across this while rummaging in my 'Quick' folder. A few touches and I suppose that's it. Wild red-haired girl holding something that tries to look like a Kalashnikov - I can't draw weapons to save my life. :p

Finally, some figure practice from earlier this week. Reference from M. J. Ranum's stock account. The skinny girl was interesting (read: difficult) to draw. The one with the wide hips (which I made even wider) - simply delightful! ;)