Steampunk Caterpillar

The ‘Steampunk Caterpillar’ is a one of those unusual items which anyone could find in an antique shop if they looked hard enough. Your gran probably has one in the a box of old junk in her back room, and every flea market has a couple of em hidden under the old clothes and broken Playstations. You’ll not really *completely* know how it works just by looking, but you’ll still kinda have a sense of what it is by its weight, by its wear and tear, by the smell of it. I mean, it must do SOMETHING, because if it was purely decorative it wouldnt have bits that look like they come apart, right? I wonder where it came from originally…

Set myself an art test yesterday. Hit the jump for process and some scathing self-assessment!

Its dawned on me that I’ve not really been paying close attention to process lately, I’ve been leaping about and missing steps, so this ‘test’ was a bit of a..return-to-formality kinda thing, while paying close attention to what I need to improve on…

Step 01: Idea Generation

I started with a spider chart and a keyword. I went for ‘ Steampunk Caterpillar’ because  I had a picture in my head of a curled up caterpillar with butterfly-like smoke billowing from its head, which would make for a kinda elegant metaphor. Some obvious (but not directly intentional ) Alice in Wonderland associations going on there too :p.

I’ve kinda got into the habit of skipping this step recently because I wouldn’t use it properly, It’d be too rigid and I’d sap the fun out of creating. I would end up taking it too far and thinking of how it would fit in a game, and then what the game would be, and then what the mechanics could be ( and they’re always inevitably really weird ). This time i kept it loose, and it was actually pretty useful in setting a direction to shoot for.

Step 02: Research

Next I gathered a bunch of images to inspire me, and to see if there are any crazy shapes I could use. While looking at pipes I found a crazy glass snake pipe that was pretty inspiring ( and looked like a caterpillar!) so I bore in mind that glass could be a pretty cool material to play with alongside the usual brass and wood we usually see with steampunk.

Step 03: Analysis?

If this were a big project, like Tweetlord or Ice Pirates before it was interrupted, I would analyse my research and so some sketches to get to know how a pipe worked, what bits did what etc..pipes arent really as complex as medieval armour or galleons, and I didnt want to dwell, so there wasnt much analysis here. Ideally I would have liked to get more familiar with the indian carving side of things, but for a one off prop on a 24-hour-art-test it wasnt worth it. I did learn how bongs and hookahs work and why they have water in em thanks to wikipedia though….which is probably the squarest possible way to learn about drugs. I’m hardcore.

Step 04: Thumbnails/Iteraion

This is always a bit of a stumbler. Do I shoot for defining one really good one first, then iterate using that as a base, or do I do a huge bunch of random squiggly ones, then bring some through to a more polished state?

On Tweetlord, I filled a whole sheet of A4 with silhouettes for each bird, then defined the ‘naked base’ from that as a tight ‘final’. Then I moved to doing costumes, setting myself a limit/goal of 4 per stage, no more, no less. This forced a conciseness of decision making and a tight approach . I tried to force that here, but I cant say it really worked, I could have done with more exploration.

05: Definition

This is where I started to lose my way a bit.  I started to render way too early here. I was planning on doing a loose greyscale pass over each of the 4, to make em less flat and suggest materials, but instead I got caught in the detail of this one. I suppose one way of seeing that would be..I made a decision, this was the one which I was most interested in exploring further, but my actual approach was more ‘*ZOOM* oh this is fun lets experiment whee’. There are times where I resist the temptation to go in and noodle too much..this was not one of them. Clearly an area where I still really need self-discipline.

06: Surface

Once the base was set, Albiet already irritatingly overworked, It was time to dirty things up. And aha! Iterate. I didnt really know how to approach the little caterpillar dude, or what he was for, so that was my next focus.

Here he is kinda woody I guess, I didnt like it at the time because the caterpillar is so simple and borderline cartoony  compared to the rest, but there’s something earthy about it that draws me to it. I think I even like it more than the ‘final’, which says a lot about when one should take a break and look at what one has so far before pushing to the next step.

Ideally I’d have liked to play with that surface pattern more, perhaps try a more indian or deco variation, but it was kinda hard to erase the thing the way my layers were set up. Again, a sign that this was overworked to hell and back, because flexible layers are usually something I pay very close heed to. This had quite interesting surface results though, theres a cool dream-like smokeyness to the gold of the bottom-left version.

Stage 07 ‘Final’:

This stage is the one I trip on the most. By the time it gets to picking a final, and making it head is sometimes so in the art clouds that I cant really see whats going on, and that can mean a rush to ‘final’ and fiddle something to death. This is less of a problem with cartoon work, because I have stronger opinions on whats good or bad. I dont know if this one is a ‘final’, like the best of them or something, I think I’d have to come back to em all with a disconnected point of view.

Stage 08 Final evaluation?

I got sucked into detail too soon and tried to push away from my usual meta-loose painting style at the exact time when I needed it. What should have been a one-day exercise ( which admittedly was interrupted by unforseen and frustratingly time-wasting family-PC-virus shenanigans) stretched into two, so I’m not really 100% pleased with the results.  Not so much artistically displeased as time-wastingly displeased,  mind, I’m fine with my iterations as far as representing a weird mystery object is concerned…ok, I still want to go and tweak forever, but I always want to tweak forever .

The exercise did do its job in terms of pointing out a whole buncha weeds which have sprouted up while I’ve been away from a rigidly structured process, so hopefully the next idea I approach wont be as drawn out or prematurely fiddly..


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