Monthly Archives: April 2013

Francis Tsai

Character sketch in marker by Francis Tsai

Character by Francis Tsai

Character sketch in marker by Francis Tsai

Characters by Francis Tsai

Francis Tsai is a comic book artist and concept designer whose clients include Marvel and DC Comics, Warner Brothers and Wizards of the Coast. He has also been featured in several Spectrum editions.

Environment concept sketches in marker by Francis Tsai

Environment concepts by Francis Tsai

I discovered Tsai’s work sometime in 2006, and was thrilled in 2007 when he was featured in imagineFX, in an article that showed some of his excellent marker sketches.

Environment concept sketches in marker by Francis Tsai

Marker sketch by Francis Tsai

He also used pens as a foundation for digital work in a very sexy way, and his character poses are uber dynamic.

Comic concept sketch in markers by Francis Tsai

Comic concept sketch by Francis Tsai

In 2010 Francis was diagnosed with ALS, which naturally is a big blow to anyone who uses the fine motor skills of their hands and fingers to produce illustrations.

But there is a thing about doing what you love – it’s really hard to stop. So Francis has, as his ability to use ink and Wacom pens diminishes, picked up eye scanning software called Tobii to maintain his ability to make art, and his work continues to be stunning.

Digital art made with eye-scanning software and Photoshop by Francis Tsai

Digital, made with eye-scanning software and Photoshop by Francis Tsai

So do me, and yourself, a favour – whenever you feel you should draw, but just don’t feel like it – remember that nothing, and at the very least (especially?) yourself, should be able to stop you.

I think that’s a thing to remember – don’t worry about those days where you don’t feel like drawing. If you love what you’re doing, you’ll keep it up. You don’t really want to stop.

And please head over to Francis’ blog or Facebook page to check out his great work!

DNA sketches

A while back I was asked to quickly help out with a research illustration. It was a relatively simple vector illustration but I nevertheless wanted to come up with something on paper.

As I did these, I learnt quite a bit about the structure of DNA, so prepare for some trivia.  One of my first attempts was symmetrical about the helixes’ axes, and showed a pretty arbitrary amount of base pairs.

DNA sketch ojkielland

DNA sketch

This proved to be wrong, and while most illustrations of DNA are some sort of symbolic representation (The actual molecules probably look more like this.) there is a difference in the spacing between the two helixes (the backbone strands, made of phosphates and sugars)

These spaces are called the major and minor groove, and they serve a function. The base pairs in the major groove are more accessible than the ones in the minor, which results in some proteins binding only to bases exposed in the major, for example.

The distribution of base pairs is also specific, it turns out to be approximately 10.4 base pairs per turn of the helix. I think I rounded that down to 10 for simplification in the final illustration.

Another interesting exercise was to turn 2 helixes around a sphere or cylinder (which represent another molecule) – I ended up studying an old phone cord to wrap my head around it.  While the final illustration was in no means real world accurate, at least it was better than my first attempt!

Terryl Whitlatch

Terryl Whitlatch is a creature designer and nature illustrator whose 25+ year career has seen her work on films like Star Wars, Brother Bear, John Carter of Mars and Brave.

Creature design by Terryl Whitlatch Creature design by Terryl Whitlatch

She combines an incredible attention to, and knowledge of anatomy and structure with a rich imagination and storytelling, producing animal and creature designs that seem real and fantastical at the same time.

Creature design by Terryl Whitlatch Creature design by Terryl Whitlatch

Her marker work is light, smooth and loose, with pen lines thin and tight.  I love how she describes form with such little light/dark contrast.

Visit for more of her work, or pick up one of her awesome books on Amazon:

Animals Real and Imagined

The Science of Creature Design

Happy sketching!
Creature design by Terryl Whitlatch

Rolleicord TLR camera

Marker sketch of Twin Lens Reflex camera

TLR camera sketch by me

The Rolleicord was a Twin Lens Reflex camera series by German manufacturers Franke & Heidecke from  1933 to 1976.

The sketch above is based on my own K3D model from ’53 – ’54, given to me by my father-in-law.  It still shoots amazing quality photographs, and luckily 120 film isn’t as hard to come by as I had feared.

For some reason I gave the sketch a “Rolleyflap” label.

Airplane sketch

Marker sketch of a B13 Vultee airplane

BT-13 Vultee sketch by me

The BT-13 Vultee Valiant was a training aircraft flown by American pilots during WWII.   Made by Vultee Aircraft , the first one flew in 1939.

With all variants of this included, some 10,000 – 13,000 were produced during the war.

Later, they were sold cheap as surplus, some of which were to appear in the 1969 film “Tora! Tora! Tora!”


Two wonderful things…

lazybot sketch by me

lazybot sketch by me

…are coffee and drawing.

Add a robot, and things are just peachy.  I remember quite well when and where I sketched this, at a newly opened cafe in Brisbane while I was studying there.

I suspect I should have been working on something terribly boring related to a report, but instead I ran off, had a coffee and externalised my procrastination into this.  It’s not me being lazy you see, it’s this robot.

Vehicle sketches from the legend Syd Mead

Syd Mead – the legendary concept artist and futurist behind the visual style of, among other things, the movie classic Bladerunner.

These sketches are from his 2001 book Syd Mead’s Sentury, which I am lucky enough to own a first edition copy of.

Rover down final

Syd Mead – Rover for Mission to Mars

Mead’s sketches (and other works, including acrylic and gouache and even some digital work) vary quite a bit in style.

These examples show a range from the already tightly designed Mars rover, shown with well-planned crisp lines and high contrast shading (against a loose, indicative marker background that is somewhat of a Mead trademark) to the Omni Comix vehicle that lets the viewer interpret most of the detail.

Rover at dome final

Syd Mead – Rover for Mission to Mars

Syd Mead vehicle

Syd Mead – vehicle for Omni Comix

Syd Mead’s work is so excellent and plentiful that he is bound to be an inspiration  source to come back to –  for industrial designers, concept designers and graphic designers for sure, but most likely for later blog posts here as well.