The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle – Part 3

Let’s take our mind off all those horrible murders and do some… Wrestling! Fun play-fighting!
Err, well, the very polite diplomat from the plains-dwelling Kirin clan ends up laying the smack-down on the effete Crane Clan artisan.

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle - Part 3 - All-in Wrestling!

I should say, once I start throwing around ridiculous terms like ‘Kirin Clan’ and ‘Crane Clan’, you could do a lot worse than looking at the ridiculously exhaustive ‘L5R Wikia’ – the fan-maintained wiki of the Legend of the Five Rings setting that these table-top role-playing game sessions I’m running – and drawing – are set in. Although I then start stroking my beard and then say that I’m running it completely differently to the canon setting. Mynah.)

So these pieces have been coming fairly thick and fast recently because I’ve been catching up. That’s done now, the next one should be in about a week. It’s good to do regular pieces because it lets my experiment a bit. Case in point, I couldn’t quite get the colours and the light-dark balance to work in this one… I knew I wanted a strong background for a change though, going against the pieces I’d done in the same series up to this point.

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle - Part 3 - Colour flat.

I reckon this simple colour flat has a certain something to it that you just don’t get in the finished piece…

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle - Part 3 - quick snap of original artwork.

And here’s a quick snap of the original. I keep on going over the sketchbook page with these ones…

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle – Part 2

Endo the Mantis Clan merchant is questioned by a magistrate about all the bodies outside...

So there’s been a lethal fracas in the castle gardens late at night and Endo the merchant faces some hard questions from the high-ranking magistrate visiting the castle. Afterwards, the verdict doesn’t go down well with all concerned and there is a call for a duel. That doesn’t end well either.

I think I probably threw a bit too much at this one… I had a composition in my head but in practice it’s didn’t quite fit the format of the frame for this one. I’m still enjoying these though and I think this one’s a bit more nuanced in execution, even if the design isn’t quite as strong as the first one.

Endo is from the Mantis Clan of the Legend of the Five Rings setting, they’re a minor clan of pirates and rufty-tufty up-jumped upward to Great Clan status, where they get to rub shoulders (and peasant weapons) with all sorts of hoity-toity, fancy samurai. The fourth edition book of this RPG system was the first proper RPG book I ever bought (If you’re wondering about getting into RPGs or not, don’t wonder… Do!) and the Mantis Clan were one of my favourite things about the game from the very first reading. Salt of the earth, salt-sea types who’re all about the common people. Equality through fantasy informed by history (and lots of latter 20th century fiction tropes!)

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle – Part 1

The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle, part 1

So I’m going to have a go at trying something new: regular, small pieces of new art.
Something all the way scratch to finish…
Because it’s good to actually finish things.
I’m writing a graphic novel script right now, which is taking a while and doesn’t have any visual excitement about it… Yet.

(It occurred to me that this might seem like some kind of New Year Resolution, but it’s actually just complete coincidence.)

Full disclosure: I’m going to base these on the role-playing game I’m running right now, because it doesn’t just come out of my head, but the heads of the people around me too. Group exercise!
The game is AEG’s Samurai-themed RPG ‘The Legend of the Five Rings’ RPG, Fourth Edition. (The Fifth Edition of the “L5R” RPG has just come out from Fantasy Flight Games, but the game started just before the print versions were available, so we skipped it for now.)
By default, the game happens in a Fantasy / Far-Eastern fiction trope mishmash, but I’m running it in a more grounded way, leaning a bit more towards a historical bent with no big magical spells, people transcending to godhood all the time and anything like that.
The system is great at fielding all kinds of different player characters and one thing that really sets it apart is that players can choose to be ‘Courtier’ characters, so all of their skills are to do with influencing other high-ranking nobility, politicking, intrigue, one-upmanship in the social order and chicanery. No other game the vintage of “L5R” gets this kind of role-playing, character development and plot-focused storytelling running quite so quickly and easily.

The working title of this little series is ‘The Samurai Tragedy of Bayushi Castle’. Here’s the first one.

The Chronicles of Deva: Allen Lawrence

Here’s some more character art from Susan Ruth‘s ‘Chronicles of Deva‘ series of novels.

This is Doctor Allen Lawrence. He’s a nice fellow and he tries to help out the people he knows. And the people he doesn’t know too. A charitable sort, you might think he goes back home to his wife, kids, pipe and slippers and a roaring fire of an evening, but… The poor guy’s got an empty nest. His wife and child went missing in the civil war that tore through the British Isles in the ‘Deva story.

Here’s some character development, right from scratch:

The series has an alternate 1920’s setting, but it’s possible they guy’s design comes from a slightly more Victorian angle…

He’s becoming a bit more ruddy and rounded-out here…

Rough for the character portrait above, in which the artist plays with visual signifiers. Again. Give it a go sometime kids, it’s fun.

And that was then worked up into this rough , which the final pencils were worked from (after it was enlarged and printed out at A3 size and slapped on a lightbox).

Ink linework. drawn with a dip-pen for old-timey goodness.

And then if you thought that was restrained, here’s several palette-loads of black and  grey watercolour paint to pull it into more of a composition.

I did computer colouring for this series over the organic textures already in the watercolouring. The photoshop colours for this one are pretty simple:

Yeah, he looks like someone’s half-finished Andy Pandy or something. Check those cheeks out.

And here’s the finished thing again:

Looking back on this, I really should have done something a bit different with the steps…

Anyway, as an aside… Ah, updating the ol’ blog… How hard can it be? Hmm, quite hard, if my entry tally of late is anything to go by. Apologies, readers. I’m writing this over an-already-existant draft from… Well, I don’t even wanna say how long ago, because it’s a bit embarrassing. Is blogging still the Hot New Thing..? Not really. Do I still have a soft spot for it? Yes. Does being a dad (wee Seb’s two now) and a person with a mortgage (the place still isn’t fully painted yet) get in the way of updates..? They can do.
I’m just trying to throw another update out before the end of the year, so at least it’s not going to be a Christmas card update year with nothing else to show for it.

Behind the scenes: final graphic novel scripts are being slowly written and mini comics are planned out (two keep both ends of the size-of-job spectrum covered, just need to have more content for the ol’ infinite scroll of content providers that is the internet. Or do they just call it ‘your phone’ now..? ‘Devices’ seems to be a parlance. Hope your devices are happy. I have more things to show and more work in progresses to throw out there.


Happy Holidays 2017

Wishing you and yours the very happiest of holidays and all the best for the coming year!

After all the turkeys voted for Brexit, Highly Questionable Santa had to go further afield to find a strong and stable coalition…

To see some other Santas, head here:

And as is tradition, the annual apology: sorry.

All the very best from Lee, Bex and Seb’.
P.S. Apologies for the lack of updates, I would blog about how I’ve been doing our house up over the last few months but that would be borrrrrrrrriiiiiiing. That’s mostly the creative outlet these days, for shame. That and a bit of graphic novel script writing. Some entries have been drafted out but never posted… Meanwhile, my (and everybody else’s photo hosting going down doesn’t make for the most attractive reading experience. ANYWAY, will get back on the blog horse soon. Thank you my lovelies.

Happy Holidays 2016

Happy Holidays 2016 with Highly Questionable Santa!

Hello poppets, thanks for reading this year. (And any other year too.) Hope you had a good 2016 and even if you didn’t, that 2017 will be better. Becky and I’s year was basically the best ever yet (ignoring world events for a sec) because our first child, Sebastian was born. He’s like, really cool!

Check out my previous Bad Santas right here. He’s now turned ten years old. Ten flippin’ years! And yes, I really do need to get these printed up into a range of Christmas cards. Maybe next year…

Now for the yearly apology for releasing this image into an already-suffering world: sorry.
Looking at it you might think it’s some kind of Donald Trump swipe. While there’s a crossover of an ageing, unsavoury character and something to do with military hardware, it’s ‘Brexit’ that’s really got my gears grinding and this image simmering away behind my knitted brow. Grr. Sigh. Grr.

As with all fading attention-seekers, our Christmas card anti-hero has made a lurch into the world of politics. But with the spectre of nuclear war’s ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ looming large, the question is:
could this be the end for Highly Questionable Santa..?

The Chronicles of Deva: Revel

The year’s racing to an end and I haven’t even shown you all of The Chronicles of Deva characters I drew for Susan Ruth‘s series of prose novels, so let’s get right down to it.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

This is Revel. He’s a wayfarer. A wanderer. He lives outside and avoids people for the most part. Let’s not call him a tramp because that wouldn’t have any romance in it. An anyway, he’s ever so pretty. In a damp hedgerow kind of way.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

I had loads of fun with this, making him look a bit appealing, but still functional. (I enjoy solving problems about costume and possessions in character design, they’re problems I’m interested in that can easily be solved…) He also had to look a bit battered and run-down from all the sunlight. cold nights and dewy mornings.
Note the little drawing in the bottom left where I own up to this guy basically being my take on Snuffkin from the Moomins. Because I’d love to be Snuffkin from the Moomins. Who wouldn’t?

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: RevelCertain things set down or being refined; how he wears his gear and in what order and layers.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: RevelAnother stage of refining. I think the feedback was to not make him quite so weathered. (artists love drawing weathered and worn things, get them to draw something fresh or pristine and we struggle…) It might not be so obvious from the roughs but the cape is made of piece-meal bits of sackcloth.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

First rough for final image. Standing stones close in.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Second rough for the final image composition, bit more space and the viewpoint slightly higher up.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

A scan of the lineart drawn with a dip-pen (Tachikawa G nib like those ‘mangaka’, nib fans) and ink over pencil lines. You can see the carvings on the standing stones a bit better here than on the final image.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Watercolour greyscale texture painted on. Still imperfections in that and the linework at this stage before they got tweaked out in Photoshop. Not that any of them were huge and glaring at all, I just knew they were there, was all.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

Quick grab of the colours going behind the art in Photoshop. I’ve had to make these darker to show, as the way they’re done translucently (I’m surprised the dictionary on my web browser has that as a word, I’m possibly even more impressed that it’s a word at all) in Photoshop means it hard to show them without them looking odd.

Chronicles of Deva character roughs: Revel

The final again, just in case you’d forgotten what it looked like. The colour approach was – as with all the other images in this series – ‘limited palette’, which might make them look like a little bit of a non-event in the world of computer colouring where amazing levels of saturation abound, but the idea was to go for a more vintage look, with more restrained use of colour.

Next: the healer!

The Chronicles of Deva: Fafnir

So here’s some milestones. The first is that my partner Becky and I now have a beautiful baby son – called Sebastian – who’s about a month old and he’s amazing. He’s everything we could have wished for and more. We’re so happy.

The second milestone is nowhere quite so monumental. Case in point, it actually passed me by for a while until I twigged recently: I’ve been keeping a blog for ten years now.

Ten flipping years!

Sporadically occassionally for sure (hello, deadlines!), but the averages work out to fairly regular updates, which ain’t so bad. Blogging wasn’t exactly a brand new thing when I started back in 2006, these days it seems a little bit too… Static, in these days of multiple feeds on mobile devices. But oh well.
Everything is content and we’re all content providers now compared to a decade ago. Most of all; all content can be Shared and linked to.

So let me show you something: here’s another character portrait from Susan Ruth‘s ‘The Chronicles of Deva‘ prose novel series. This is Lukas Fafnir, debonair young gent about town. (The town in question being Chester in Chestershire, in an alternate 1920s…)

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

Fafnir might be a bit of a peacock but he’s quite the bird of prey underneath all those fancy feathers too, he was a soldier in the civil war that ripped apart the setting of The Chronicles of Deva. He’s done some horrible things and sometimes no amount of preening can hide it.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

He’s got dependencies. Drink, drugs. Excess. And he even has an eye for one of the main characters of Deva, Felix Skryker.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

It’s one of those things that appeals to us as human beings for some reason; that the very beautiful is also somehow very broken. (Wether this is because we’re simply jealous or because we know that to project such beauty takes its toll is another matter entirely.)

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

Here’s “morning after Fafnir”, hung over and coming down, groping about his suite wrapped in a gown.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

The rough for the finished portrait, in which we needed to see him looking a bit mean. He’s just arrived at some gathering of the rich and powerful (by post-war standards) and might even be looking slightly rough around the very edges… But he could still casually put down his drink and wring someone’s neck.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

The linework, drawn with a dip pen and ink and then grey-toned with watercolour paints.

Chronicles of Deva character: Fafnir

And the finished thing again.

I wonder if I’ll still be blogging in another ten years. Maybe… Blogs might have gone the way of newspapers or magazines by then. What I do know for sure is that our son Sebastian is going to be ten years old by then, so we’ll see what he thinks.

Next: The great outdoors!

The Chronicles of Deva: Xanthe

Running through more of the characters from Susan Ruth‘s ‘The Chronicles of Deva‘ prose novel series and the visualisation and portraits I did of them.

Here’s our keystone character; she holds everything else together and all the other characters revolve around her: Miss Xanthe Chance.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

She’s grown up in imposed exile, in hiding, so she has a very developed mind thanks to being cooped up all the time.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

The rest of her family seem to have been wiped out thanks to their position in the civil war that the United Kingdom went through (the ‘Deva stories are set in an alternate 1920s) they were all far too brilliant for their own good.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Figuring out some costumes for Xanthe, her almost-prisoner scavenged garb and then the highfaluting frocks she gets put in when she’s introduced into high society.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Copious note-taker. Polymath Xanthe’s many pursuits include astronomy and star-gazing. A good starting point for a portrait:

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

Here’s Xanthe still in the cell of the tower she’s practically imprisoned in, looking out of the high window with eyes on the stars and a heart fulla yearning.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

…Worked up into a pen and ink drawing with black watercolour paint wash.

Deva character: Xanthe Chance

…And scanned in and colour-tinted with Photoshop. Officially this is ‘limited palate’ colour (though I might have gone overboard with the dark grey-blues) to give these pieces an old-timey, vintage (1920s) feel and I think it works.
You might have noticed her face has changed a bit in the last picture, the worry was that our girl genius – while she is supposed to be stunningly beautiful – was looking like a little bit of a bimbo with all that moony face-pulling when she should instead be set with steely intellectual resolve.

Next: More of that High Society! (A little bit too much, in fact…)

The Chronicles of Deva: Skryker

It’s high time to talk about ‘The Chronicles of Deva’ series of prose novels by author Susan Ruth. Susan brought me in to do some covers and other arty bits (more on those later) for her series of books and I drew and painted some portraits of the characters too. The series has the fantastic setting of an 1920’s North-West England in the aftermath of a civil war between the North and South of the country (how very North American, or erm, Korean. Or Irish, even. Ahh, the list goes on) and focuses on the fragile group of characters who make up the ranks of the fragile acting government, beset from dangers without and within.

First up, let’s start on the safe ground of the main male protagonist: Stryker… Felix Stryker.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Stryker is a minister (the civil kind, not the religious kind) and maintains a security force and espionage network…

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

He has a touch of a young Abraham Lincoln or slightly-older Mr Darcy about him. Very well-dressed, maybe even on purpose to avoid suspicion and always seems to be about to receive a phone call or be called away to some kind of derring-do(!)

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Messing around with exact facial features. Getting everything down the same in every expression or quick drawing and then repeating it at-will is something that takes lots of work.
Oh and just in case you were wondering; yes, it’s possible that ‘Skryker’ could be a pseudonym. You’ll have to keep reading the books to find out though.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

So here’s a rough for the portrait; Skryker at night, shadowed, tucked away in a cobbled side-street near his ministry, partially lit by ornate lamps while the fog and mist of ‘Deva’ (the city of Chester no less, going by its Roman name) rolls in and around, concealing things and then offering fleeting reveals in the faltering light… This is what he’s all about. Oh and he also looks like Cary Grant a bit for some reason. That guy!

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

I decided to retire the lamplight halos, they were clobbering the whole ‘some things are hidden’ thread too strongly straight into the reader’s eyes. This is our clean-cut hero, after all.

Unfortunately I don’t have any in-progress images of the pencilling or inking of this character portrait image, so we go straight to finished linework with grey tone wash. Susan wanted these pieces of artwork to have a classic feel, like, say, book illustration around about the 20’s, when the books are set. Drawing linework with a dip-pen and ink and then putting in tone with watercolour paints on a real piece of paper definitely helped get this.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

The analogue bit finished and ready to be scanned:

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

And then here’s the scan tidied up.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

For all of my talk about classic feel, it now now time to, arm, unleash Photoshop. Just for limited colour values though! We had all of our informative parts off the piece down by hand, this was the last boot into legibility and the finish line:

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

And here’s your finished thing. The tower in the background actually had its angle straightened up thanks to the magic of Photoshop.

Chronicles of Deva: Felix Skryker character roughs

Sauve fella.

Next: Skryker’s weakness!