I spent nearly every weekend in 2015 drawing and painting Retronauts episode covers, because once upon a time I was a pretty decent illustrator—check the earliest archives on this blog and you’ll see some quick, slapdash drawings that were much better than anything I can create now even with time and concentration. My skills weren’t nearly where I wanted them to be, though, so I gave it up, pretty much cold turkey. A decade later, I can’t figure out why I would have done that, and now I’m locked in a hopeless effort to get back to where I was.
After a year of this, I have created exactly three illustrations I’m proud of, all three of which were homages to someone else’s art. This is my life.
I’d like to get back from “functionally competent” to “legit good” this year. This may be an impossible dream, but it’s not like I have anything better to do with my time than smash my head against an immovable wall of futility, right?
I think it’s time to force myself to try some new things. This week, for tomorrow’s Parasite Eve episode, I decided to use different pen and watercolor techniques than usual. I wanted to create Parasite Eve images that were distinct from the official illustrations, because Tetsuya Nomura basically uses the games as an excuse to create cheesecake pinups of protagonist Aya Brea (which is not my style at all); and I wanted to focus on the duality of Aya and Eve, but the only Nomura illustration featuring the two characters together also has strong erotic overtones. Yet Aya spent most of the original game running around in jeans and a leather jacket fighting monsters, and her every encounter with Eve turned quickly into a spell-slinging shootout. Coming up with a more accurate representation of the game’s themes seems like a pretty low bar to clear, really.
Eventually I decided on a playing card theme. Not really the most original idea, but it would be something different for Retronauts, which was the idea.
Normally I draw with flexible brush pens for a varied, dynamic line weight, but playing cards tend to be more draftsmanlike in their style. So instead I switched to a hard, fine-point marker and drew nearly every line with a straightedge and French curves. I had never actually used a French curve before, and no one’s ever shown me how it’s supposed to be done, so I kind of guessed at the correct technique. It turned out OK-ish, guess. I can see lots of small messy spots, reinforced lines that didn’t shape up like I had wanted, but it’s not a complete embarrassment—which is the exacting minimum threshold I use for my artwork. “Will future generations look at this and spit in contempt? No? Good enough.”
For the coloring process, I wanted to try and capture the flat look of playing cards, which isn’t particularly easy with watercolors. So I settled for using wet shading techniques to create relatively smooth color transitions in areas that needed some depth, like Aya’s hair, instead of using my normal approach of letting the base color dry and adding a translucent shading color over top of that.
The finished cover looks… decent. I don’t think I’ll be deported or anything over it, at least. Although it bothers me that in trying to give Aya the aloof, vacant look of face card characters I ended up making her look kind of like one of Kate Beaton’s Strong Female Characters. Anyway, I’m trying to decide if I should create an entire deck of Retronauts cards in this style, or if that would be pushing my luck.