May contain spoilers

February 6, 2018

The process from scrawled notes to finished product ...



This is where it begins. 

Initial ideas, notes on those ideas, follow-up ideas, follow-up notes on the follow-up ideas ..


Because I don’t regard the finished illustration as a single image, but, rather, a collection of different scenes that just happen to be going on at the same time, I allow myself a bit of latitude with regards to the realism of composition.

In practical terms, that means I can have an oversized moon and an oversized Mars right next to each other in the sky. It might not happen in real life ... but that’s OK, what I am constructing here is not real life.


The only requisite is that the illustration is absolutely crammed with details, clues, and references, so it becomes ( as somebody once described ) a visual scavenger hunt.


That said, I do try to make all the components appear as if they are all coexisting in the same world, which does mean planning.


I’ll roughly sketch out some initial layout ideas, along with some more detailed sketches of specific details / elements -



Yes, it’s an apparently random jumble of vaguely recognisable things ( which is kind of how my brain works ), but Rush fans will be able to pick out some of what is going on here ( I hope ) - Air cars, one-lane bridges, the Necromancer’s tower, priests of the Temple of Syrinx - the kind of stuff that is total gibberish to anyone who isn’t a Prog devotee.


And this is how it looks in the finished work, though I use the word ‘finished’ with caution, as I am prone to keep adding and changing things. 


Mostly because I suddenly come up with a new idea of how ( element a ) could work with ( element b ), or I’ll think of something completely new, and be mildly annoyed I didn’t think of it earlier.


What’s a 99.9% certainty is that the absolutely totally finished piece will look ‘busier’ than the above piccy. 


To get to this ‘finished’ stage I will use my sketches, and take clues from the appropriate lyrics.

In this case, I have a rough idea of what an ‘Air-car’ is - in my mind it’s a futuristic hovering car - like something from Bladerunner.


But the words to ‘Red Barchetta’ tell me more - So, now I know it is ‘two lanes wide’ and made of ‘gleaming alloy’. 

That gives me something to work with  - they’re big, and probably fast, and they’re shiny ... and futuristic looking.


And while it’s highly unlikely that creating a visual interpretation of something unseen is going to completely conform to another person’s notion of the same - after all, these are ideas created solely inside my head - I hope that I can stay true to the spirit of the songs - just enough at least - so that what is there in the final piece is recognisable, and ideologically acceptable.


I’ve reached the stage now where the finished elements are starting to pull together and make sense on the screen. It’s a reassuring moment when I can finally get an idea of how everything will look. And that the amount of rehashing might not be too extreme.


There’s always rehashing - There’s something that doesn’t quite fit ... oh, and there’s something in the foreground obscuring something in the background ...


That’s why I have learned - mostly through bitter experience - to keep every single element as a separate Photoshop layer, which is part of the ‘planning process’ too.


In case of emergency just drag the offending layer a little bit to the left ... or to the right. Or to wherever.


The background is almost complete - just a few elements to add, then I can start working forward onto what I call the ‘character’ layer - front and centre, occupied by the main characters. I don’t want to give too much away ... but, think on this - if there’s a Necromancer’s tower in the background, surely there must be a Necromancer !? Oh, and there will be rabbits. Lots of rabbits.


After that it’s all the small stuff - the incidentals that litter the image, and generally account for 90% of the visual clutter.


I’m about 30% done, subject to an average level of rehashing.


Onwards ...


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Mark Andrews 2018

MDA Illustration, PO Box 6506, Coventry, CV3 9PG, UK