Exalted: Flamey Shoutyman

The first from the next round of ‘Exalted’ RPG illustrations I did for The Oynx Path publishing house – who you may also know from their ‘White Wolf’ name – when I say ‘RPG’, I mean the offline, analogue kind of Role-Playing-Game that springs out of a printed book near some paper character sheets filled-in with pencils and dice clattering around, with graphics provided by our ape brains.

Exalted RPG Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Glory' Illustration

You want to see the shouty flames bigger? Click if you can stand the heat…

Or in this case, a visual from my ape brain. So this is a ‘Solar’(fine, upstanding) ‘Exalt’(person with special powers) projecting his ‘Anima Banner’(special power lightshow aura) at the viewer. He might have just defeated one or both of those armies in the background.

Exalted Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Gory'

Doodlin’ with noodlin’s! This was fairly simple as far as briefs go, but I still wanted to nail it if I could…

Exalted Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Gory'

First attempt at a rough to show was a bit too close-up (the top one) so I started again. Exalted fans will also see that I started off with the wrong Exalt ‘caste-mark’ on the guy’s forehead. Exalts’ caste-marks also glow when they fire up their Anima banners.


The same pencil rough with some colour slapped over the top (and a tiny bit of repainting on the face) to make a colour-rough to show.


The linework that started off the finished thing! It was pointless drawing the flames of the Anima banner because they’d be ‘additive’ – rendered with light – during the digi-painting process, drawing them with the dark ‘contour-lines’ of a pencil would be silly.
Although most of the detail was going to be lost, I still had fun coming up with blazing sun motifs on the guys armour and detailing smashed-up siege engines and fallen troops.

Exalted RPG Anima Banner artwork process - pencil linework in Photoshop

A closeup of the linework before the colour palette gets unleashed…


Colour flats! About as soon as I did these, I realised that I didn’t really need them on this piece. Still, having the blocks down to pull selections out of later on is always handy.
Once again I took to isolating the colours from the colour rough and using them as a kind of under-painting to get the brushstrokes going. The worse thing is a blank canvas, as the saying goes.


A bit of the rough, soft painting on some of the lower layers from the piece. (Generally there are ’nuff layers going on. I discovered colour-coding the label layers in Photoshop on this series of images.)


A quick snap from while I was painting. The goal is to pretty much obliterate the pencil lines by painting over them and turning the piece into a proper painting as a result. This guy’s face was looking a bit too manic, so I made him assume a more determined look as I went on (check the final image for the difference) this should be someone that we feel some kind of connection with – even if it’s a small one because he’s flaming us – not a gibbering maniac who looks like he’s gonna incinerate us.

Exalted RPG Anima Banner digi-paint progress - character's face

Further to my previous waffle, here’s the guy’s face changing brushstroke by brushstroke…His hair was better here, but his face was still a little too drawn (oho) and eyes too buggy. More about the firey bit in a second!


Some of the detail going into the armour and the rest of yer man here. The gaps in here are for…


The firey flames of fire! (The fine checkered backdrop here means it’s transparent in a series of layers.) These came from all over the place.


Always eager to get a bit of our reckless industrial past into the drorin’s, this lot is mostly from photographs of welding sparks.


But before you’re thinking ‘Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century’ ending sequence, this is a similar thing but trying to get a bit of manga speedlines style rushing motion into it…
(Oh and the blue lines are guides for the dimensions of the final piece.)

Exalted RPG Third Edition EX3 Solar Exalt Anima Banner 'Divine Glory' Illustration

Last shout: here he is again, just in case you needed reminding. Click for a bigger shout…

Next up: soothing, darkened rooms!

The Burning Sands of Exalted

A piece of art for the 3rd Edition of the ‘Exalted’ Role-Palying Game from Oynx Path – formerly White Wolf – this is one of five environment pieces that each focus on a different ‘continent’ (it’s not that simple in Exalted’s world) that spread across the bottom half of two pages of the book as it falls open.

Exalted RPG 3rd Edition 'The South' setting illustration

You want the big? You click. You not click? You use finger. Wiseguy.

Exalted is a game that deliberately casts its main characters as ludicrously powerful semi-divine heroes that could step out of a colourful anime, manga with lots of speedlines or kung-fu film with flurries of fists, magic, legendary swords, explosions, dust clouds and other shiny derring-do that’s fairly unique to the setting, so it’s all loads of fun to draw.

Exalted 3rd Edition EX3 Logo

The book – thanks to the very sucessful Kickstarter campaign that spawned its printing will be an amazing thing in itself too; hard-backed, special endpapers, embossing on leather binding, metallic edging and metallic alternative covers… The list goes on, so once it’s out and in the hot little hands of role-players around the world (along with clutches of ten-sided dice, no doubt) it’s going to be a very lovely thing indeed.

(Talking of role-playing, I flippin’ love role-playing. I was introduced to it as an adult by some friends and I think it’s an amazing way to spend your time; collaborative, imaginative, story-telling with no need for any expensive or exclusive paraphernalia to get in the way of enjoying spending time with your friends. I love board and card games but it’s role-playing that puts you straight into the brains and personalities of the other people sitting around the table with you. Anyway, I’ve digressed far too much.)
Let’s talk about pretty pictures!

The piece was to not only show off the desert setting, but also to include pre-existing character. (This is one of the fun bits of being Work-For-Hire) Admiral Sand. So off I went to find reference for him. I also learned a lot about the setting. And what a Lunar Exalt is. There’s a lot to it. Lunar exalts are a bit feral-looking or were-wolf-y, it turns out. I did have some fun making up some caravan guards though. Notice me using what I thought was the ‘Exalted style’…

Exalted Environment

So the piece needed to have some draw but also pull the viewer in with a bit of human drama, so I started trying to figure out how to balance these in up with thumbnails in my sketchbook.

Exalted Environment

So this was the final rough thumbnail sketch from my sketchbook adventures – focus in on the Admiral (on the left) and the lead attacker of the tribe of Lunar Exalted (on the right). The Admiral’s trade caravan and the tribe of bandits serve as the setting.

Exalted Environment

This is the colour rough (with copious notes!) that I sent of to the Art and Creative Directors. There’s a few things to pick on here too, like how I didn’t want anything to disappear down between the centre page spine too much.

Exalted Environment

Next: scaling this up and producing some linework. I printed out the above rough and lightboxed off this linework with an automatic pencil, to get that kind of anime styling a lot of Exalted art has. If I ended up going over this later on with paint, that was fine. I just needed the shapes in there.

Exalted Environment

Next: I needed a quick source of some kind of underpainting to start off the piece and then work over the top of to give it some depth, so I knocked out some of the layers to just get this rough backdrop. It looks crap at this stage, but the worst thing with any kind of painting (digital or analogue) is blank canvas.

Exalted Environment

Next, I flatted in some colours of the characters just so they didn’t get lost. Note the note reminding myself about drawing on the blue-haired bandit leader’s luminous tattoos later on.

Exalted Environment

Knocking the linework back a bit, I got more into highlights and shading… I had started to paint in the harsh sunlight and shadows (complete with shadows being cast in the dust swirling in the air) that were in the rough, but… I just couldn’t make it work. It was too much. Just slapped down in a rough it worked okay, but when it came to the finished thing it was too much and it ruined the look of everything in the picture. So I opted for a bright, slightly washed out approach with bright colours reflecting the sunlight.

Exalted Environment

Next: one of the perils of going at it hell-for-leather towards a deadline: not having all of the information. It turns out that in the world of Creation in Exalted doesn’t use cool-looking elephants as beasts of burden – camels are okay though – they use an original animal called a ‘Yeddim‘! Here’s one being painted over an existing elephant:

Exalted Environment

So they’re big, shaggy, blunt-snouted quadrapeds. Kind of like wooly mammoths with no trunk or ears and wide mouths. Meanwhile, the entire piece was being worked into. Background colours were being put in.

Exalted Environment

Getting around to putting the odd detail in. I should have said before, this piece has loads of ‘bleed’ – spare space – around the edge so the layout artists could be a bit versatile with it. Also some of it could be lost as part of the printing process. So the ferocious guy in the top-right corner wouldn’t look quite so much like a disembodied head and pointy-stick in the final print.

Exalted Environment

Talking stuff through with the editors, two things came up about the leader of the bandits; one, she looked like Sonic the Hedgehog, Two, her face should actually be pointing towards the guy she was supposed to be fighting. At least someone was paying attention. I was probably getting too comsumed with trying to draw her face to look anime style. Anyway, here’s the old face:

Exalted Environment

And here’s the new one, which actually obeys the laws of psychics and perspective, and lifts the whole character, I think.

Exalted Environment

Getting there now, the lines were still getting knocked further and further back, and now everything was in place I was trying to establish more of a feeling of depth by hazing out the more distant characters.

Exalted Environment

Last leg now, final tweaks, desperately trying to get it to look more like painting than an illustration with linework and then colour afterwards.

Exalted Environment

Apart from knocking things even further back, I was now getting into highlighting everything to try and make the sun look more harsh. It also helped it look a bit more like it was lead by the brushstrokes. At this point, you usually lose objectivity completely and then that means you’re finished and it’s time to move on!

Exalted RPG 3rd Edition 'The South' setting illustration

You want the big again? You click again. You not click? You use finger again. You big wiseguy.

And then I was done. Phew. It was really good fun and I learned loads doing this piece.

Also, here’s a cropped version with just the main figures in, in case some of you are squinting too much at the previous pics:

I didn’t realise, but this piece was used as one of the rewards in the Kickstarter campaign for the book as one of a series of wallpapers. So that was cool.
You can check updates on the project on the update roll for the Kickstarter, or on the Facebook page for Exalted.

Local lads John Spelling and Dom Reardon did some pieces for the book too, so that was cool. John did most of the work that informed the final 3rd Edition logo above. It was nice that our remote little corner of the backwater island was well-represented in this world-wide project.

I did a few more pieces for the book of totally different things from the Exalted world and I’ll be sharing those soon. The other ones don’t involve quite so much sand in your pants, so check back for them sometime soon, Yeddim-herders.

Happy Holidays 2013

Highly Questionable Santa wishes you a Happy Holidays!

Wishing you and yours the very happiest of holidays, and all the best for 2014!

Could this be the end of Highly Questionable Santa..?

Enjoy, and – as always – sorry.

(And if you’re a glutton for punishment – even of the capital’ variety – and want to look at HQS’ previous yearly assaults against common decency, click his tag…)

Record Store Day 2013

April means it’s Record Store Day, and The Drift Record Shop in Totnes are doing something special: Gold Panda and Luke Abbott are playing gigs in the shop!
So the shop needed a poster to trumpet about getting some of the biggest acts yet to perform there, so I worked with Rupert at Drift to hammer something out…

The image needed to be fairly bold, with the act names popping out so people would notice, so I got into mixing up watery acrylic paint and writing out text with a rectangular foam brush on big sheets of newsprint paper over and over, trying to get it as bold and flowing as possible…

Texture, anybody?

You can see the water and the paint separating a bit here…

Record Store Day 2013 poster rough
Dropping the scans into Photoshop, I mocked this up…

Record Store Day 2013 poster rough

Record Store Day 2013 poster rough
If you seem into, you can see all the thresholded bristle texture and edging on here…

Record Store Day 2013 poster rough
Another mock-up. The texture wasn’t quite coming through on this one, although there were some nice bits.

Record Store Day 2013 poster rough
So it was time for a bit of a rethink, so we went for loose-based-on-formal, and it seemed to work. So it wasn’t long before Rupert did a bit of jiggery-pokery and had a poster!

Record Store Day 2013 Poster
The final Record Store Day 2013 Poster – click through to see larger!

The plan is to sell these on the day – the 20th of April – in the record shop, so anybody who comes to the gig can buy a poster too if they feel like it.
The posters on the shop counter.

xAnd some in the window! See you on the 20th!

Jeff Noon’s Microspores

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I got in touch with one of my heroes, the man like Jeff Noon. I’ll blog about what we got talking about first later on, but in the short term Jeff invited me to contribute to what ended up becoming his ‘Microspores’ project. As the fellow who’d probably been helping out Noonism on the web for a good few years by having his old Vurt Comic Remix hanging about online, I thought it was only right I got involved.

Jeff’s been writing ‘micro-fictions’ on his Twitter – little blips of writing that only last for one hundred and forty characters at the most. A collection of them is going to be published as an ebook at some point, and meanwhile a group of them are being used as the basis of a communal multi-discpline art project: ‘Microspores’.

So here are the handful out of the fifty plus that I thought I’d add something to…

Imagined Pixelation Syndrome: believing that your face is fragmenting into tiny squares, and that people can no longer recognise you.

Jeff Noon Microspores

I was drawn to this one because there’s a story in Jeff’s Pixel Juice collection along a similar line, about people’s faces being disguised for broadcast on television.

The building grows itself over time from biomorphic materials. It has one secret: a room without doors or windows where a woman sleeps, dreaming of a house that grows around her.

Jeff Noon - Microspores

Michael Jackson wakes to find his lonely soul trapped inside Celebrity Ghost War 4. Marilyn Monroe strides towards him, screaming, machete in hand. She spits blood.

Jeff Noon - MicrosporesMy god, looking at Michael Jackson to reference this drawing was a terrifying experience.

And here are the (fairly big for a change) first sketch versions of each ‘spore…
Jeff Noon's Microspores - Roughs


And while I’m on, I’ll be at the Exeter Comic Expo on Sunday the 19th of February. The con’s part of the annual city-wide animation festival, Animated Exeter.

Exeter Comic Expo

Also in attendance will be cheeky South-Western chappies Dom Reardon, Jock, Henry Flint, Lee Garbett, John Spelling, Rob Williams and Ron Tiner to name but a few!

High Fantasy

Bill Eaton, the Gamesmaster (no not that kind silly), of our role-playing game group – referred to as ‘Geek Club‘ by all and sundry – has been slaving away over a hot Obsidian Portal ‘campaign wiki’ (will webby wonders never cease? I remember attempting to affect a similar thing a few years ago by trying to get the Wikipedia engine running on my web domain, to track all of the characters, locations and evidence in the Call of Cthulhu RPG ‘Masks of Nyarlathotep‘ campaign.) In the face of such community-spirited narrative-bolstering, I just had to do my thing and add a bit of art to the general flurry of activity.

Talak the male Tiefling Bard from Dungeons and Dragons

So this is me at Geek Club. I’m a member of a race called the Tieflings, and get your spare change out, because I’m a Bard. You’ve got to love a bard.

I came to paper-and-pencil, ‘table-top’ role-playing games as an adult. I’d spent much of my teenage years doing all kinds of reprehensible nerdy things, but never role-playing proper. Which is a shame, because it might have actually given me some much-needed social skills. But back to the present, Geek Club has played ‘WHFRP‘, Dark Heresy, Cyberpunk 2020, Savage Worlds: Pirates of the Spanish Main and (probably my favourite) Call of Cthulhu. It’s now that we’re finally truly living up to our name and having a go at most Geeks’ proto-game of choice, one ‘Dungeons and Dragons‘.
Now, ‘D&D’ is big thing. It introduced roleplaying games to the world, and it was what most people cut their teeth on at an impressionable age.

Not me though, I never had anything to do with it.

So the more I look into it, the more I’m stunned at how much of a… Lifestyle choice it seems to be. It’s a true multi-media global franchise. With games, board-games, card games, miniature games, novels, merchandise, video games, apps, and even a feature film. And as I put up this coloured sketch, I realise everybody else on the interweb knows the same badly-kept-secret nerd handshake and has been drawing their and their friends’ characters too. Which is an interesting kind of collective – and yet personal – fantasy, now I come to think of it…

So here’s a link to Bill’s wiki, any embarrassment I might suffer in people reading the earnest character fluff I put up on there is over-ridden by just how very good Bill’s adventure log of our half-arsed fantasy doings is.
If you’re after another good Obsidian Portal site, have a look at the lovely Kieron Gillen and Quins from Shut Up and Sit Down‘s wiki for their WHFRP campaign, the magnificently-titled ‘Brash Young Fools‘.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode

Toply-talented art pal Felipe Sobreiro got in touch last month, he was casting about his little black book of artists and asking them if they wanted to do a pin-up for the Image Comics series he’s colouring. I did! The Strange Talent of Luther Strode is a body horror mini-series written by Justin Jordan and pencilled and inked by Tradd Moore.

The Strange Talent of Luther Strode

No it’s not a blonde version of me. It felt like it had been ages since I’d done some colour work so I wanted to colour the piece myself. I’ve been noodling about in the monochrome world of the Evil Star pencils for a long old time, so it was time to crowbar open the boarded-up doorway to Colour Theory in my brains again. I set about throwing down some incredibly over-saturated, positively lurid colours without further ado. Jaundiced yellow! Overbearing forest green! Putrid electric pink! This is living! Thank criminy that an alarm doesn’t sound in Photoshop when it doesn’t like the colour choices you’re making…

Here’s the inks as they hit the unforgiving flatbed of the scanner.

And finally some of the roughs and sketches I jotted down before embarking on the board for the pencils and inks.

Here’s a photo that Felipe sent through of the piece in print! It’s in Issue #2 of the series. If it’s not in your friendly local comic shop, you can buy it online from Image Comics here.