Dan Johnson

My illustration work from 2015

As I was working on current projects, I was thinking about the illustrations I did last year. I did a good bit of other work like animation, design, and page layout, but as this is an illustration blog, that’s what I will concentrate on. As usual, some of the images here are favorites of mine, and some I’m not so happy with. That’s just how it goes in the world of commercial art.
This was a pretty major illustration, painted quite large for an exhibit background. It took a lot of work and is actually one of my favorite pieces now. I’m especially pleased with the pipe threader (that’s the thing on the left side). It was almost my best piece of the year, completed quite early on.
My illustration work from 2015

Here’s one that’s not quite an illustration. It’s more of a logo that I had to design, but with Photoshop I was able to make it look a bit more dimensional and give it some texture.

My illustration work from 2015
This one was kind of interesting: realistic but a bit conceptual as well. I’ve been working on mimicking photographic techniques, so I tried a bit of depth of field here by making the background out of focus. I also got to paint some figures, so that’s always fun. After completing the illustration, I also did the final ad layout and design.
My illustration work from 2015
If you’ve been following my work, you may recognize this one. I did an illustration of a nice, completed shower installation. For this image, the client wanted the same layout, but a before image, showing old, ugly, and broken tile as a contrast. Sadly, I used my own shower as an inspiration for this illustration.
My illustration work from 2015
Here’s one that never really worked, but I just had to get through it. The background elements were taken from older illustrations and incorporated into this image to save me some time. I was not able to fit all the elements in to my liking, but it fit the requirements for this job.
My illustration work from 2015
Another one based on a previous illustration. For this one, I had to extend the bottom and add the bridge damage and work scene around it, so the bottom quarter is new. It started out as a 3D scene, but for the addition, I just extended the canvas in Photoshop and painted in 2D elements.
My illustration work from 2015
Because of the complexity of something like this, I built it as a 3D model first. I also textured, lit, and rendered it, so there wasn’t much more to do in Photoshop, except paint the background.
My illustration work from 2015
This isn’t much, but it’s just a small image I had to whip out quickly. With Photoshop’s layer effects and vector shapes, it’s pretty easy to do something like this without putting too much time into it.
My illustration work from 2015
Back to my usual painting of construction scenes. New client and equipment to render. It’s okay, I suppose. The main thing is that the client liked it.
My illustration work from 2015
More construction stuff. This image went back and forth until I finally figured out what the client wanted. Again 3D made this relatively easy. The water was built from photos, based on techniques I’ve shared previously in this blog. A bit of final Photoshop painting, and it was done.
My illustration work from 2015
Now this one took some time, but I really like how it turned out. It was quite challenging and I tried some new techniques to represent artificial illumination at night, which ended up pretty successful. My initial inclination is to get by with as little work as I can and my client kept wanting more elements added. But as much as I hate to admit it, they helped the final image. I liked the final result so much that I kept on working after it was complete and approved, adding details on the far left span of the bridge, like the truck and streetlights. Anyway, this ended up being on of my favorites.
My illustration work from 2015
Another quick project. Intended for a large exhibit background, it was really just a simple 3D scene textured and rendered. I also did the text and layout and it ended up doing what it needed to.

My illustration work from 2015

Another calendar header image. This one worked out okay, but I had hoped it would have been a bit better. Still, it’s pretty good I guess.

My illustration work from 2015

My illustration work from 2015

My illustration work from 2015

This is a series I got through my rep. It was a pretty cool job, but the images were very large and required a lot of work. Much of the detail gets lost in these small images, but they should give you an idea of what went into the final images. The first two are panoramic images from a coal plant and the third was a cutaway view of one of the interior turbines in the plant.

My illustration work from 2015

This last one is really a photo editing project instead of an illustration. The background was quite complex and required a lot of hand painting to mask it out. There is some concept going on here, but it might be hard to make out.

3D construction images

Back to bridge illustrations for me. These may look nice, but there’s not that much to them, at least in the way of digital painting. For images like these with critical relationships of structures to each other, it’s easiest to build them as 3D models. As usual, I worked in Cinema 4D. Making something like a bridge can be a bit tricky, as I had no definite schematics to work from, just low quality photos and conceptual artwork done by someone else. But I made it work. The final result may not be perfectly accurate from an architectural point of view, but it works for my purposes.
3D construction images

I did do a bit of texturing for the geometry and rendered with Ambient Occlusion and Global Illumination to get realistic highlights and shadows. the renders were done as multi-pass so that I could take them into Photoshop and separate out the parts I needed. There was some background painting and touch up here and there to band things up and add a bit more realism and get away from that sterile look so common in many 3D renders. Overall, I think they look okay. On the bottom cofferdam image, the water isn’t a photo, but I started with water photos to pull selections out of to make the final layers. For detailed waves and ripples, I’ve found that this technique is much more efficient than painting water from scratch. I used the same steps for the water in a previous illustration. You can check out my tutorial on how to do it here.

Latest work and other details

Well, after a long time of waiting, I have finally found out that I won’t be teaching in Arkansas after all. It took a while, but they apparently chose someone else for the instructor position. I’m disappointed, but in a way, relieved. However, I have been looking at other similar positions. Most require a Masters degree, so that leaves me out for the moment.
In other big news, I finally upgraded my computer. I’m now on a fairly new Macbook Pro with retina display. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the new display, since it means that things like RAM and the battery are a permanent part of the hardware and not replaceable. Being so new, it’s also missing a Superdrive, so I needed an external one. Generic models can be quite economical, but beware the kinds that read but do not write DVDs, as I have found out, much to my dismay. 
To save some money, I bought a refurbished model directly from Apple. It had 8 Gb of RAM. But when it arrived, I saw that they had a version with 16 Gb available that wasn’t there before, and I was immediately hit with buyer’s remorse. Remembering a Jewish proverb that says something like, “Spend more the first time and cry only once,” I returned it and ordered the one with more RAM. I hope it was worth it.
In work news, I have finally finished the 3-painting project that I’ve been off and on for a few months. It’s moved along a bit slowly, but getting approvals on various stages of the work has not been too fast. I’ve also been doing matte painting projects for ESPN promos, featuring trailers from current movies. The latest one I just finished was done without a finished trailer to work from, so I had to create the entire painting on my own. You can see it below.

Current freelance project

I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, and one is a 3-part project for a coal plant. It’s a pretty big one; each image will be printed at 4×3 feet. I was trying to do it quickly, but there was so much there in the source material, that it soon got very detailed. I finally tried to tone it down a bit, but if you know anything about my work, you know that I just can’ keep away from this kind of approach for too long. I’m still on it, but here is a small section of one of the images, showing just how much is going into this illustration. I eventually had to leave out a lot of the smaller doo-dads, just to get it finished.

Doing something unusual this week…

Just a quick little post from Arkansas. That’s right; I’m in Arkansas. I’m visiting Southern Arkansas University to interview, teach a class, and give a lecture. They are considering me for a position as Assistant Professor of Art and Design. I’ve been trying for something like this since last year, so we will see what happens. If it does, I have to consider whether I want to make a major move to the South. More to come.

The final image

The pipe threader is done, with a background that is a bit looser. But you may notice the right side looks kind of empty. The plan was to put an element there. I wasn’t really pleased with the concept and layout, but the client is always right. Right? I was provided an image of a drilling rig truck, drilling with segments of pipe. I had to make some changes to the view and color. I also simplified it a bit, since there was a lot of detail and not much time to do it. Also, the source photo wasn’t that large and clear, so working at a very large size, I had to make up a lot of it. The result was that it didn’t quite have as polished a look as the threader, but it couldn’t be helped. Sized down enough to put on the web, you probably won’t notice. Overall, I liked it and it’s a pretty good illustration. The final exhibit version had text, a logo, and other info in the top right corner, but that covered up some of the image.

Finished background

Finally, it’s done. Well, this part anyway. The background is painted it. I decided to just suggest the details on top of the vector elements. They were painted on three layers: one in Multiply mode for dark areas and shadows, one in Color Dodge mode for specular highlights, then another one in Multiply for overall shadows. These layers were then taken down in opacity until I got the look I wanted. Because I wasn’t putting in as much fine detail as in the foreground element, I wanted to knock it back a bit so it wouldn’t compete. I also wanted to make it stylistically a bit different so that the pipe and threader would stand out. If you think the right side looks a bit empty, you are right. Another element needs to go there, which is another reason to keep it simple.

Putting in the background

Now it’s time to work on the background. This threader is in a sort of chamber with metal walls and grooves, covered by specks, grit, and so on. I’m not sure how much detail I want on it, but as usual, I’m starting with vector shapes and layer effects to get the general shapes in. It looks pretty basic compared with the details of the foreground element, but that’s okay at this point. Actually, it looks pretty good as it is. I’m using layer masks to fade away various layers as they move toward the right side of the image. With everything blocked in and placed correctly, now I can start painting and figure out how much detail and texture will go into the background.

A bit more

This part of the image is about done. The side, or drum, of the whole contraption has been finished. As with the other parts, it is a vector shape layer with painting on top of it. I also used a scatter brush to paint in metallic specks covering most surfaces. I guess this if from the metal shavings that come off the pipe as the threads are cut. At first, I wasn’t sure about them, but now I think I like them and they certainly add a more complete look to the surface. Oddly enough, this piece is turning out much better than I had expected and it might end up being one of my best pieces ever. 

Further progress

Here’s a bit more on this image. I’ve been going at it pretty hard this week. At this point, you can see that I have finished painting in the textures on two of the three prongs that hold the pipe in the middle. The bottom one is still blank; all you see on it is the layer effects. As I mentioned previously, just using them accomplishes quite a lot. For the large and small bolt holes on them, I made a smart object, then duplicated it for each one. That way, a fix to one will apply to all. The threads are based on a selection made from the pipe opening. They are actually just a series of curves spaced out evenly, not a true spiral, but I think the effect works.