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Monthly Archives: July 2016

patrickmoore-2EA little inspiration is a beautiful thing. With many fellow bloggers filling my Reader with glorious day and night skyscapes over the past couple of weeks, this celestial chap sprung into the mind. I’ve been trying to draw him all week, and I think this is the best of the bunch. (Note the newly-constructed, extra-textured brush which was, hmm, interesting!)

Sir Patrick Moore hosted the BBC’s captivating astronomy feature The Sky at Night from 1957 right up to his death in December 2012 – fifty-five years, a record stint for any television presenter – and only missed a single edition in that time. Though merely an amateur astronomer, his professorial, eccentric but far from buffoonish delivery made his learnedness clear and communication the envy of those more seasoned than he; a highly complex subject was made accessible and intriguing thanks to him. He penned countless books on the subject.

He was also really rather good a xylophonist.

For me, however – and doubtless a generation of others – Sir Patrick will be just as fondly remembered as the titular character in Channel 4’s rebel hit GamesMaster, which ran from 1992 to 1998. A supreme and deliciously left-field coup for a cheap kids gaming show, Moore’s orderly, watchful grace proved a neat foil to the cocky teenage gamers and the equally cocky innuendos that were the penchant of host Dominik Diamond – their collective sharpness was a combination no copycat show could match or get away with, and unquestionably the key to its success.

“Hello, Gamesmastah…”

Appearing in CGI inserts, awkwardly keyed into distorted, primitive renders, those in search of tips and cheats would amble before the piercing presence in the Consoletation Zone – see what they did there? – and ask The Gamesmaster for help. Though later admitting he hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about, he remains curiously believable as the 8/16-bit oracle, such that it’s now impossible to imagine anybody else pulling it off with as much gusto. An inspired choice.

scaryspice-2As I’m sure has become clear, this blog has morphed into one big nostalgia trip. In the pursuit of completion, we can’t really go without giving The Spice Girls a mention, especially as it’s now twenty years since Wannabe was released and GIRLLLL POWWWER! became a thing.

Yo I’ll tell ya what I want what I really really want / SO TELL ME WHAT YA WANT WHAT YA REALLY REALLY WANT!

Twenty years – how can it be? This makes me feel old. I was four at the time and found the song inexplicably wonderful – well, perhaps in hindsight it could be explained! – and also quite hilarious. I danced to it and knew all the words, much to my grandparents’ horror; indeed, summer car journeys were a whole new level of testing with my sisters and I singing this on a loop. Well, at least it wasn’t Oasis. As for my favourite, it was always a toss-up between Scary and Baby Spice, though to be honest I think I just found Scary’s big hair amusing, such was (still is) the simplicity of my mind. It was that which convinced me to draw her, and accidentally make Mel B look not so much ‘Scary’ as ‘Ruddy Terrifying’. It was fun to be so liberal with bold colours, though.

I confess that, on revisiting Spice Girls tracks as research for this blog post, I actually knew the complete lyrics to almost every find. I knew I loved this song, but had no idea I was quite so obsessed. It’s amazing how much the tracks of our youth stick in the mind. Alas, as times change, so do tastes; I’d like to think that this brief return was more than enough to keep me going for the next couple of decades.

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Badum-tish! In not really knowing what to make or draw over the past few days, I thought I’d try something that looked quite simple – a drum kit. I’d been meaning to have a go at one for some time now, anyway. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realised that any impression of simplicity was hugely deceptive, but perhaps with the intention of sparking productivity this wasn’t such a bad thing.

Well, really it was more long-winded than particularly challenging, but of course with my attention span that can be an obstacle of its own! The most trouble I had was the texturing. Perhaps it was foolish to make all the textures from scratch when the pre-sets I’m sure could have covered the tasks for me, but I wanted to give this a go. Apart from the cymbals, which didn’t work out too happily at all, I feel it went okay. The nickel drums themselves could perhaps be a bit sparklier – the lighting may actually hold some responsibility here, as the drums are very bumpy, noisy and reflective and probably should sparkle…

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Naturally and as I’d hope is clear, I went for Karen Carpenter’s Ludwig set from the very early days of The Carpenters. I’ve always thought these supremely cool – I mean, who wouldn’t love a set of drums with their name on? Indeed, I’d quite like a drum kit and now I’d be sure to get out a marker pen and scribble my name on the bass to mimick Karen. I’m not sure I’d be any good but it’d be fun to have a go, I’m sure. Another thing for the ever-growing ‘rich list’!

Karen was a fantastic drummer. Of course as the popularity of The Carpenters soared, her iconic voice took priority, and it seems that she was pulled away from them. A real shame that is, too – she always seems so much happier behind the drums.

steveblackman-lw5I should know better by now than to deprive myself opportunities of fresh fun – how many years was it before I finally put that Carpenters CD on? – but apparently, I don’t. It was seemingly about eighteen years (five months) ago now that I read of a fun alternative digital painting software, MyPaint, over at the excellent blog of photographer Nigel Borrington. Having tried to draw Steve Blackman many times recently, each time to little avail and much regret, I ventured over to the new software more in desperation than intrigue.

But the intrigue soon won over. I didn’t attempt stippling in my initial grapples, nor did I especially intend for it to happen here – MyPaint rather made the decision for me. Scrambling through the brushes – of which there are plenty, each loaded with intuitive and satisfying blending behaviours reminiscent of my brief affair with Corel Painter – I came across a ‘splatter’ brush which was weird in that I didn’t actually have to click to put a dot down, only glide the cursor across the canvas. Quite an unnerving experience to begin with, but ultimately less strenuous and a lot speedier! I could easily make a dotted brush like this in Photoshop, but the added urgency of automated dots made it curiously dangerous. This might be nowhere near to the degree of precision that Antoine de Caunes was afforded, but it did come much, much quicker; about three hours, while Antoine took as many days!

One other thing I have to say about MyPaint is just how smoothly it runs and without requiring nearly as much of the memory that others do. The only minor niggle I would have with performance is that it took a little while to save work – as someone who has long been in the habit of frequently hitting CTRL+S, these minute-long waits started to grate a bit. But that’s just me being hideously impatient, and could be down to my PC being from the dark ages and not the software itself.

I would recommend a look to anybody with an interest in digital art, especially those with a graphics tablet, as with the pen you’ll realise the full potential of the brushes. Its interface and some of the behaviours might take a bit of getting used to, but ultimately looks a productive tool that brushes away many of Photoshop’s distractions, focussing purely on the illustration aspect. I’ll certainly be giving it another look. Thank you, Nigel, for sharing it with us! Nice to have a new weapon at my disposal.

Did I mention that it’s free to download? See here: http://mypaint.org/

Below is the raw MyPaint splatter/stipple painting. Looking back at his awesome poses, I find it almost unforgivable that he ditched the alluring chest hair of his early days, so I’ve attempted to restore it here, in stipple form. The various dots surrounding Steve were not intentional; they were where I kept throwing the cursor out to think about what to do next, such was the frequency of these dots marking the page, before braving a return.

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“Lethal Weapon” Steve Blackman was incredible. One of the things I loved about him the most was that his character’s icy demeanour seemed perfectly pitched, and thus was almost too convincing. He didn’t appear to care for showiness – which in turn provided many a beautiful straight-man moment with some of the more ludicrous characters on the roster – and really did look like someone you’d rather not mess with, even before you get to his martial arts kicks, nunchucks, and very large kendo stick.

Though his notable reign in the WWF began in 1997, Blackman actually began wrestling for them almost a decade prior, in 1988. However, while performing in South Africa later that year, he became very ill, contracting malaria and dysentery which left him bedridden for over two years. After that he spent another four years in physical therapy to recover his impeccable conditioning, which is where he also accrued his martial arts smarts, becoming expertly educated in karate and jiu-jitsu, among others. This is a strong guy.

His time was spent mostly dominating the ‘hardcore’ division, mixing impressive skill with outright mayhem in bewitching fashion. But being apparently at home here meant that he was never really propelled to the main event scene before his retirement in 2002. Perhaps they didn’t feel he had the charisma, or similarly perhaps they thought a legitimately tough athlete had no place representing the WWF at the time. A shame though that might be, his work is looked back on with great fondness, seen a key part of that golden era. He was very refreshing.

After wrestling, he returned to martial arts for a short while, later running a number of schools dedicated to the cause. Now a family man, he apparently lives a somewhat less smash-mouth life these days. But I’d still prefer not to piss him off!

freddieforever-3After finding my Ultimate Warrior painting, I thought I’d go back in time and revisit the style, and naturally my first choice for experimentation was Freddie. I forget how long I spent on The Warrior, but I’m sure it was significantly longer than the round-about three hours of this exercise. It was much more fun than I remember it being, though I might just think that because I didn’t have to draw a face!

It’s thirty years since the fantastic Magic concerts at Wembley. I’m glad this opportunity came up as I was thinking earlier about doing something to recognise that. I had heard Queen surely before I was even born, but my first memory of seeing them, and Freddie, was on a video of one of these concerts. I was blown away, of course – and still am. No-one can touch Freddie.

uwarriorOh, the rough and tumble! In wrestling with a grappler today and and coming off far worse, I ventured into the archive and found a relevant relic. Here is Jim Hellwig, better known as The Ultimate Warrior, or alternatively THEE ULLLLLLLLLLTIMATE WARRRRRRRRRRRIORRRRRRRRR!!! Not exactly the biggest fan of his myself, I feel compelled to drop in that I painted this for a friend – it’s one of my better old pieces, I think. It was back in the days when I used to actually paint, rather than just sketch and optionally overlay with colour. I added the background today – I’m not sure it was entirely wise.

The Warrior debuted in the WWF in 1987 and within a couple of years found himself at the top of the industry, with hopes pinned on him becoming the next Hulk Hogan. It was really a confirmation of just how the industry had mutated in a few short years; The Warrior’s ethos wasn’t in the slightest about legitimate athleticism or gripping psychology – indeed, he barely knew one hold from another. It was all about the larger-than-life character and spectacle, ignited through his weird, often nonsensical interviews and a raucous, jet-propelled entrance. These parts often lasted far longer than his actual wrestling matches.

While unquestionably popular with the fans at the time, today one cannot hide the blemishes on his legacy; there are countless recollections of his poor backstage attitude, with many of his old-school colleagues feeling he never appreciated that astronomical push he was given. Not only that, but his demands for outrageous sums of money and no-showing events saw him hired and fired on several occasions, which I daresay eroded the relationship with many of his supporters, who turned their eyes to newer, more reliable heroes.

It all leaves me wondering whether he should ever have been a wrestler, really. He could captivate a large audience and make these people route for a creation (apparently) of his own, that much is clear – and I’m sure there are many who remember his inimitable on-screen presence with affection. You can’t write off his impact, which was very much the focus of my portrait. But it just seems as if he was conflicting with the business – and those in it – at every turn, making few allies. Fascinating, really, as it is wholly perplexing and quite sad. Perhaps the ascent was too brisk for him to handle – perhaps the fame went to his head? Who knows.

Fun painting, though.

ENT1C0004We’re being taken for a spin at the fairground, with another new ride rolling in. What enterprise this is, seeing all these scary new attractions rolling in. Did someone say enterprise?

Enterprise is indeed one heck of a spin. The circle of twenty pods begins to turn with gradually increasing speed, such that centrifugal force pins passengers to their chairs, which must really be quite some feeling. On this, the other eye-opener; there are no safety belts or bars, only the cage around the pod. You will stay in your seat. Hmm…!

ENT1C0006Once whirling at full pelt, the ominous looking arm beneath the wheel kicks into life, raising to a peak of eighty-seven degrees and, with that constant high speed, making the ride appear more stomach-turning than most others I can think of. I’m told it’s much more fun and not nearly so terrible as a passenger; I’m quite happy to take their word for it.

As you probably guessed, the name comes from Star Trek. For a contraption so ahead of its time – Enterprise first landed in theme parks in 1972 – perhaps such a connection wasn’t without merit. It still puts on quite the show.

ENT1C0001ENT1C0002Primary colours probably isn’t the pallette most synonymous with space nor Trekkies, but never mind – who wants to conform?

This process was something of a mish-mash of a couple of my previous rides, really. The wheel was reminiscent of the Rock-O-Plane – virtually identical, only slightly larger and with vastly more spokes to it; the pods themselves echoed the Dodgems, and the lessons learnt there in constructing the bumper car helped no end here – my Enterprise pod was rustled up in nowhere near the amount of time that took. The axis of the pod is set in correspondence with the circumference of the wheel, meaning the rotation can give the desired effect.

It was nice to do an exercise that built on some of the techniques learnt previously – good to flex those muscles again, I’m sure – use it or lose it, and all that!

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