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Blimps, Cities, and Background Art (pt. I)


Yes I know the sketchbook is beat up and scratched, and that is just the way I like it!

Welcome to this edition of the Sketchbook; Part I of the Blimps, Cities, and Background Art thread. As with all sections in the Sketchbook, the title describes what this article is all about. For some background, before we delve into the nitty-gritty design stuff: My friend from college, Sophia, writes a webtoon called R.A.P.T.O.R.S. She came to me in June of this year in need of background artwork for some of her newest episodes. The toon is amazing and I can't wait for her new episodes to be released! So, it was my mission to give her the best work I could do.

The larger thumbnail style I toyed with for this work

As a concept artist, I find the easiest method to make the most satisfying background art for a comic, or any piece for that matter, is by dissecting it piece-by-piece and finding design elements that I think will work in the art. I started this project thinking that I could work from a large thumbnail style but that was quickly scrapped as I wanted to really flesh out the ideas of what the buildings and vehicles would look like first. That's where the quick ideation/iteration began.

The first few iterations were rough.

The first few attempts were mostly just to get my hand back into the rhythm of quick iteration. I think of it like riding a bike; when your hand starts to get warmed up, the flow of the pen or pencil on paper feels easier and it frees up your mind for the more difficult task of coming up with creative solutions to the problem at hand.


These designs were some of my favorites

When I finally started to hit my stride, I found some interesting forms that I really liked and some stylization that I thought would be cool to work with. The city is supposed to be somewhere between modern-day and futuristic, so I had quite a bit of leeway with the design elements I could use. I felt it was also important to add in some smaller details like flying/floating vehicles to complement the futuristic building designs. I used a watercolor marker to explore silhouettes, which gave the buildings more form and prominence. I found that each of these aspects came together to create some strong designs, especially once I reworked some of the strongest ones.

Some of the more futuristic/nontraditional blimps

When first talking with my friend about her ideas, she said that she was opposed to flying vehicles. Thinking this could prove to be a bit of fun I suggested instead of going with flying cars we could do something like billboard blimps, which would float in the background and allow me to work on the piece from a number of levels for the viewer. She agreed that it was a fun idea, so I began iterating the blimps! This was definitely one of the more rewarding sections of the work as I got to fool around with everything from very futuristic nontraditional-looking blimps, to very stylized old-fashioned blimps. I think that most of these images speak for themselves, showing all of the different varieties I worked on. I think my favorite style was a modification of the classic

A bit of an artsy shot of my page

Hindenburg blimp style blimp. There are some floating vehicles on these pages that feel too futuristic, but they were meant to be slow-moving, promotional vehicles rather than those that zoom through the air. Something else I had fun with in this design process, although it served no real purpose, was coming up with different ways to write 'blimp' on the "billboard/screen" that is attached to each blimp. It allowed me to explore how words and text might look on some of these futuristic vehicles.

More blimps and aircraft

Another fun experiment was using metallic Sharpies to add accents to different parts of the designs. Something as simple as a golden tailfin or other accent can really change how you look at the piece, while also adding some life to the page as a whole.

I plan to continue experimenting with this project long after the actual work for the webtoon is done. My biggest takeaways from this process were that it takes a little time to warm up but once you get going, it can be pretty easy to create more work. I find that sometimes it's even easy to just let the pen/pencil do the work and really just focus in on design (almost like letting my hand move in a trance). As long as there is an end goal in mind then there are limitless possibilities to get to the solution. As one of my closest friends always tells me: It's about the journey - not the destination!


I also had to keep reminding myself to keep working. Sometimes there are moments and days when the pen doesn't seem to want to work with you and you fight yourself to get the work done. Those days are important to push through. Make some crappy work. You will always learn from the mistakes. Be critical, but not harsh with yourself. By taking a critical eye instead of beating yourself up, you allow yourself to see the mistakes and you can better understand how you can improve upon those mistakes. My first pages of art for this project were crap (IMHO), but I pushed through and finished the pages. I learned that as I kept going and persevered, my ideas got better and my hand got more fluid with the designs. By the next page I was feeling better and understood what I went wrong with the first round of designs. It takes time, patience, and so. much. practice. Don't forget to keep working hard and remember, every mistake is a step in the right direction.

*** The pictures throughout this post were taken with my Fujifilm X-T3 camera with a XF 35mm 1:2 R WR Lens at a 2.0 aperture length. If you have questions about my editing process for the photos or how I take my pictures feel free to reach out. ***

***The pictures below are flats of the drawings from my sketchbook. I took these images with a document scanner on OneDrive and then edited them in Photoshop after the fact to remove the pages, artifacts, and to make them look clean on a white background. If you have questions about this process, don't hesitate to reach out (I don't bite)!***


**Blog edited by Kailee Robinson (she's the best)**


©2020 Steven Nicodemus | Concept Art | Game Development |

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