Process for MARENKA, pt 1 of 2
Deep Map Pilots is a five-part science fiction vignette series in collaboration with Warren Ellis. Ellis writes; Gauger illustrates.
This is possibly the most ambitious illustration I have ever attempted. I am not unhappy with how it turned out, but it has a lot of problems.
(I want to especially thank SWEATSHOP for hanging around while I was painting this, especially during that one marathon session. Lily, Dovy (writing in the fog!), Nicolae, Cosmic Tuesdays, Anne the Cat Detective, Jaicey (tights!), Warpy, and others who choose to waste their nights making fart jokes in my chat room.)
1. Rough thumbnail sketches. Every professional I’ve ever met has done a series of roughs to start a piece. Sometimes you end up going back to the first thing you drew because it turns out to be the best idea, but even when that happens, you need to have done the other versions just to know you shouldn’t use them. In concepting this piece, I knew I wanted to balance a sense of tension with the constant freefall of a zero-gee environment. Space is all about brutal contrasts-it’s boiling on one side, freezing on the other. You’re stuck in a vessel the size of a bathroom stall but you’re swimming in the vastiest deeps possible. You’re floating in a diamond-dusted ocean of heavy jewels, but you can’t fart without smelling it for the next three weeks. You would have to be a special kind of crazy to love that sort of thing, and that’s exactly what this project is about, and I like to fantasize that it’s exactly the kind of crazy I am. So I needed the pose and the composition to show that conflict, but I wanted to stay in the realm of comics and pop art, where both Warren and I spend most of our time.
This first sketch was too placid, so I did another one.
2. Second sketch was a little closer to what I wanted, but the similar angles in all the limbs really made it look like she was pooping. No good. But you can see even in these earliest thumbnails that I’m putting hints in to keep me on track: the angle of the toes, details of the costume, and so on.
3. Third sketch ended up being pretty close to the final design. I was fighting myself through the whole project because I picked a series of conditions designed to make me frustrated, and it shows. I fudged the perspective, anatomy, and especially the geometry of the spaceship itself. I should have built a quick 3d model in Google Sketchup to get the angles right, but I didn’t, and it shows in the final piece.
In this sketch I started to get into the details quite a bit. The legwarmers, ripped tights, and overall “ballet warmup” theme of her costume comes out here. As well as being a failed ballerina and a fan of the whole ballet “look”, I figured leotards, tight stretchy knitwear, and clothing otherwise designed to keep you both warm and ventilated would probably be the right choice for long term space travel. And as a seriously disgusting person, I know you can basically live in a unitard for a week without too much issue, as long as it’s cotton and you don’t wipe too much Dorito dust on it. I also knew from the beginning that bare feet were a must. When humans start spending extended periods of time in zero gee, we’re going to rediscover what our toes arefor. It’s pointless to wear shoes or even socks when you need all the anchor points, digits, and friction-generating surfaces as you can get. I suspect most deep space pilots will actually be naked most of the time, but I hate having to artfully arrange flying hair and objects to cover genitalia so fuck it. There’s clearly a condensation problem, and I’m guessing flying sweat droplets would present a problem in a cockpit.
I figured out my repeating patterns here: the control knobs (designed for use with hands or feet or whatever) mimicking the lollipop, the loose tied-back bun implying “ballet” along with the clothes, exposed rivets, the crash couch and straps that look more like a dubious amusement park ride than a spaceship, the curving cockpit window, etc.
I also figured out that I wanted this piece, moreso that usual, to work from any angle. The sense of freefall would have to come from a potential future art buyer being able to hang this on their wall at literally any angle, and have it still “look right”. Despite the best efforts of Star Trek and Star Wars, the fact of the matter is that there is not and never will be any “up” or “down” in space. And with a zero-gee environment, there won’t even be any up or down on your own ship.
4. I scanned the sketch and, frustrated and not sure what I was trying to do, started fucking with the composition a bit. Digital drawing is great for this because it’s impossible to “ruin” your work.
5. I started inking with my CanSecWest t-shirt design still in mind. I was influenced strongly by Ashley Wood’s inking style, and tried to use it to get away from my usual heavy-handed, semi-classical style. My favorite inking brush is called the Sumi, and I have a couple variants (called “ashley wood wannabe” and “gibson wannabe” respectively) that are less rough than the default Sumi. Download the Sumi tool preset here.
6. The sense of tension was carried over into the color choices. You start by thinking about the things in the image you can’t change, and go from there. What aspect of this color scheme would be determined by the text? Neptune, of course, is blue. Note the little photograph of the planet itself in the upper left. Reference is important. Neptune is big, and blue, and represents the “other” in this piece, so that determined the color of Marenka: I finished inking in black, then made a copy of the ink lines layer, and turned it orange (Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation). Orange and blue are contrasting colors. Putting them next to each other adds brightness, contrast, and excitement. I’ve also blocked in the skin here on a separate layer so it can easily be selected (Ctrl-clicking on a layer will select everything in that layer.) and used as a mask later on. You can also see the little spatter of color swatches I generated randomly to help a bit.
I tilted the horizon of Neptune to be in conflict with the curve of Marenka’s ship, hopefully adding to the feeling of tension.
The composition at this stage was bugging the shit out of me. Something was wrong with it. So…
7. Cropping. When in doubt, cut off huge pieces of your picture until it looks better. Also started adding the glow from the control panel. I didn’t plan the lighting scheme at all, until I got to the coloring stage. Which probably isn’t the best way to work. I made a screentoning brush by editing a big soft airbrush to have texture.
8. Coloring and tones and light. The knobs on the control sticks are all translucent, because I’m a sucker for translucent materials. Faked up some jewel-like refractions from both the control panel glow (light source #1) and Neptune (light source #2). Also added the visor (same hue as the tights) color, and the first round of Neptune glow on interior surfaces. Used a gradient dump to do the whole interior lighting in one go. This is a good cheap trick. Gradients rule.
Also I started characterizing the windshield, which I knew I wanted to cover in reflections from stars, but wasn’t really satisfied with.
9. Color. Reds really “pop” so it’s important to use them sparingly in big, dark, blue pictures. It’s also important to balance them. Three is a good number to use when thinking about where to put things, and how many times.
10. There are three main red areas in this picture now (the two control knobs, and the lollipop), and they form a triangle which adds a little stability to their wildness. Instead of drawing each photograph frame by hand, I drew one, then define the drawing as a brush, then adjusted Scattering and Shape Dynamics in the brush menu to jigger the orientation, angle, and size, then stroked them onto the image, then filled their borders with dark grey (mimicking the black border of the actual illustration…get it???? HEE HEE IT’S LIKE INCEPTION)…
(continued in Part 2)