The Return of Sunday Night Sketch-a-Thon

I could barely believe it, but it’s been one and a half years since the last one. I do them for practice, challenging myself, to get the engines running after long periods of not drawing (which I have been in for the past few months). Only managed three of the ten or so prompts received on facebook and twitter, but I’m happy with all three of them.

First request came in on twitter. I can always count on @koquettish for properly weird ones.

Hairbeast sketch by Vishal K Bharadwaj |

I’d been talking about ‘Allo ‘Allo with friends, so someone on facebook asked for a Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies. I had to oblige, with a twist, of course.

Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies sketch by Vishal K Bharadwaj |

Finally, a drawing of White Phoenix (or maybe it’s Dark Phoenix? Who can tell in black & white?) for @jayesh on twitter. Really happy pushing the foreshortening on this one, something I rarely do because I’m too scared.

White Phoenix of the Crown sketch by Vishal K Bharadwaj |

There were some more sketch topics, but only time & laziness will tell if I get around to them. :)


One Logo (With a Ring) To Rule Them All

AAlgar Productions logo by Vishal K Bharadwaj

Here’s a logo I recently did for longtime friend, collaborator & all-round neer-do-well Ron ‘AAlgar’ Watt, in order to unify his many creative activities such as podcasts & humorous cartoon reviews under one identifiable branding roof.

Coming up with a logo to act as an umbrella brand is a unique design challenge. You need to stay true to the existing brands (in this case, the Sarcastic Voyage, Post Atomic Horror & More Bits) while simultaneously keeping the branding open enough that it will fit well next to future, as yet unknown projects.

Since I’d already designed three logos of his podcasts, you’d think that would have given me an advantage, and it did: but only in that I had worked with the client enough over the years to know fairly well what he’d be looking for. But due diligence in the design field means, in some ways, throwing all that you know out the window and starting from scratch, even if the directions you go in don’t end up in the final branding.

AAlgar Productions Sketches by Vishal K Bharadwaj

Or do they? Here’s a page of idle doodles & sketches from this project. Now, it seems like none of this made it into the final. After all, here are many symbolic or literal representations of an elf holding a spear (a quick online search says “algar” means ‘elf spear’). It was certainly a direction to explore, as a nice strong symbol like a man with a spear has worked hundreds of times for many brands throughout history. It was worth the hours put in, but it also shouldn’t have made it to the final logo in this form, for two reasons:

1) It was not in keeping with the client’s needs & tastes. As a designer you should, whenever possible, look to further that (taste is hard to define but is as much a part of what makes a designer as any technical skill), to move people slightly out of their comfort zone, but not so far that the branding doesn’t feel like ‘them’ to them. AAlgar is a connoisseur of many geeky things, but as far as I know traditional high fantasy is not one of them. None of the podcasts feature elfs, save for the Vulcans in Star Trek featured in Post Atomic Horror. Nor does an elf with a spear scream ‘sketch comedy’ to anyone, even if his eye is being poked out.

And think about it from the perspective of the audience; What would you think if you saw one of the above symbols in the corner of a podcast? Probably not what AAlgar Productions actually offers.

2) It would not be a good graphic. It’s very important to consider where a logo will mostly be seen. In this case, most people will see it in the corner of a podcast cover to Sarcastic Voyage of Post Atomic Horror. In both cases it will sit in close proximity to those logos, and cover art illustrations. Compositional clarity is the issue here; you want something that reads clearly (which the final logo, a clear typographic wordmark, does), but does not compete with either the other logo or the cover artwork for attention. It’s the cherry, not the ice-cream.

As an extreme example, consider this joke logo:
AAlgar's Own Quality Earworms logo by Vishal K Bharadwaj

Sure, this would look good on a bottle of dressing. But you can’t put it in the corner of a podcast thumbnail; it would look like garbage, it would detract from the artwork, and you’d never be able to read it at most sizes it’s presented at anyway.

So instead, I went for primarily a readable wordmark, that is styled to convey the double-a in “AAlgar” even at tiny sizes. But a wordmark alone, while perfectly fine for many a brand, is not enough. In a logo I like to build a small ecosystem of symbols and motifs. Even a story, if possible.

AAlgar Productions logo motifs by Vishal K Bharadwaj

Remember when I said that all that elf spear doodling was not in vain? It’s still here, it’s just in the subtle triangle that sits above the AA. Sure, only I know about it (and now you do), but it adds a certain layer to the logo without screaming it. Also, one of the motifs of the Post Atomic Horror logo was atoms and orbits and space ships, which I brought back here as the two triangles—as abstract a spaceship as possible—and the circle is their orbit. And finally, since AAlgar productions is (for now at least) primarily involved in the creation of audio-based entertainment, the circle with it’s ‘play’ button also symbolises a tape reel or loop of audio.

So, this seemingly simple logo contains a spear, an atomic orbit, two space ships, and an audio reel. Is some of this bullshit that no person seeing it is ever going to notice or care about? Sure. But it’s all there if you want it. And it reads well on a page. And its elements help tie all the sub-brands together.

Job done, I’d say.


The Subspace Cellist

Chief O'Brien of Star Trek holding a cello
Trying to be a good boy and posting these here on the blog more often. This is the latest cover for the Post Atomic Horror Podcast’s Supplemental episode.

Post Atomic Horror Podcast Supplemental 20 sketch
I don’t always use references, but I’ll often do a blind sketch keeping a picture of a subject on the screen, without actually aiming for accuracy. More the impression of what the person gives. Helps to identify prominent features for later…

Post Atomic Horror Podcast Supplemental 20 inks
…Because when later does come, and you’ve made a faithful-enough likeness, you do end up using what you learned in the sketch to add line weights to specific areas, such as here in the jaw and extra detail in the hair (Gotta love 90s hair).

Post Atomic Horror Podcast Supplemental 20 magazine cover

Here’s the final in-joke heavy ‘magazine cover’ that these have now always ended up being. Coloured in inkscape. GIMP may be a little faster if I bothered to learn it, but the way I work, the way I constantly tweak colours, I find the vector colour process suits my needs better.


Lady with a Space Ermine

Lady with a Space Ermine by Vishal K Bharadwaj, header

The other day I was looking for any excuse, as usual, to not do any work. I needed to try out some techniques on some new illustrations I’m working on, original pen & ink art that will be for sale, in fact (stay tuned for news on those!). As I was arranging my art supplies my gaze fell upon a lightly-sketched eye on piece of paper peeking from under a pile.

Lady with a Space Ermine by Vishal K Bharadwaj, process 1

It was a half-finished sketch I’d done as warm up, months ago. I’d forgotten about it. But if even in such a crude form it caught my eye, I thought I should finish it, and to use some of the techniques I’d been considering for the upcoming original art.

Lady with a Space Ermine by Vishal K Bharadwaj, process 2

I managed to work it up into a finished sketch easily enough — the foundation was solid — and while not exactly revolutionary it was enough to get my hand moving. However, this was a portrait, and I didn’t have any idea what to do with the lower half. Then I remembered one of my favourite paintings!

Lady with a Space Ermine by Vishal K Bharadwaj, process 3

Lady with an Ermine was painted by Leonardo da Vinci around 1489. It has always remained in my memory for both its simplicity & masterful technique. At 3 am when you have nothing else to fill the bottom of a page, you can do far worse than copying from the old master.

With a few tweaks, of course.

Lady with a Space Ermine by Vishal K Bharadwaj, process 4

I considered just leaving it at linework, but decided to be bold and ink it all in by hand. This took a lot of time and finally extinguished a number of nearly-done-with black markers. I don’t mind. Any excuse to buy new black markers. I even tried to ink sections with brush, but didn’t have a proper inkwell (fountain pen ink is not for this task). Must track some of that down. Brush is a lot faster than markers at getting large sections down.

Pen & Ink Portrait of woman inspired by Da Vinci & Retro Science Fiction, space suits, alien fauna, rockets

Furthermore, I wanted to experiment with adding highlights & textures using some gold markers & metallic paints I had around. Here is the finished piece, with most of the blue pencil work erased on the computer. I’m happier with it than I expected to be, so let this be the lesson: always finish sketches that show some potential, even if it’s months or even years later.

Will announce the original art stuff as soon as I can get it done — all the supplies have been procured including the shipping tubes (harder to find than I thought!), so now all that remains is to draw the things. We all know how expedient I am at that.

For now, I leave you with a nice long image with details, for pinterest posterity:

Pen & Ink Portrait of woman inspired by Da Vinci & Retro Science Fiction, space suits, alien fauna, rockets

Love & Space Pets,

The Birth of Ziggy StarDax

Ziggy Stardax - header -

I mentioned in a previous post about how I should be cataloging my process, if not for pure posterity & narcissism, then at least as a counter to my own spotty memory. I’ve often hesitated to put a lot of this ‘junk’ on my blog, considering starting separate blogs or repositories for such things (on tumblr and whatnot), but especially over the last five years my online presence has become fragmented over half a dozen social networks. It makes sense for all of this — the good, the bad, the junk — to be available together somewhere, and one’s own blog must now be that place. For a more curated, fat-free (and, admittedly, dry) view of my work, there’s always the Portfolio.

With this illustration I made a point of not only being patient with the work itself (a skill I have yet to learn fully that always pays dividends) but to try and catalog the process in as unobtrusive a way as I could. Too much, and I’d spend more time curating than creating. Too little, and I wouldn’t have anything to show but the finished piece.

Post Atomic Horror Podcast Supplemental 16 Cover | Square Version by Vishal K Bharadwaj |

So, Ziggy StarDax, as I took to calling her. I knew that eventually when The Post Atomic Horror Podcast would get around to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that I would be doing a supplemental cover featuring Dax. She’s one of my favourite characters in all Trek. Now I just had to make sure I wouldn’t mess it up.

practice 28 march 2014 | Vishal K Bharadwaj |

You’ve seen this one before; it was a warm-up sketch from a reference shot of Terry Farrell. Looks nothing like her, of course, but this step is vital to ‘learning’ somebody’s face. The more inaccurate it is, the more you learn about what makes that face unique, identifiable. I’ve probably spoken before about how terrible I am at likenesses, and I can admit that correcting that is one of the goals I’ve set myself this year. A practice sketch like this is vital to that process, and I think I’m firmly on that journey with work like this.

Ziggy StarDax | Pencils | Vishal K Bharadwaj |

I recently switched to a good blue pencil (a Koh-i-noor Progresso) for my sketches. It means I can keep my pencils, not having to spend time carefully rubbing it away after inks, which tends to bruise the paper (and sometimes mess up the inks), or smear it with grey graphite streaks. The blue can easily be removed on the computer once scanned, and note that it is a much lighter shade in real life; I increased the contrast for presentation here.

This is the most crucial stage for me, the pencils. While I usually have some kind of vague concept to the illustration, by the time the pencils are down most of what defines your image must be set. In this case I wanted to represent the idea that Dax was not just the person we know on the show, Jadzia Dax, but being of a species with a sentient worm passed between hosts, she also had memories & characteristics of the previous people she was. I considered some kind of ‘shattered glass’ image, with each fragment showing a different host, but that would have had slightly negative connotations, and I have always liked how strong the character is. Besides, by this point in the series (Season 2) the only previous host the viewer really knew was the immediate predecessor, Curzon. A ‘half-and-half’ approach was another I considered, but that didn’t really sit well with me.

The Ziggy Stardust image came to me when I was considering having just a swatch of the face being Curzon. It had to contain one of his eyes, of course, and instead of an even slant, the lightning bolt being Curzon tied in well with several themes:
– Star Trek being a space show
– The concept of reinvention & rebirth in a new body
– Dax being a bit of a rock star personality in any body
– And finally as a reference to a real-life astronaut, Chris Hadfield, who had recently been on a cover in similar Ziggy make-up.

When coming up with these covers, humour is always a major consideration, and this solution fit all the criteria.

I’ve taken to instagramming works-in-progress now & then. It’s quick & fun to share things with friends, keeps my energy up. Above is an instagram of me starting to colour, setting up my document with the finished (inked) drawing and my colour & light/shadow references next to them. This is how I start most colour jobs in inkscape. There’s a more detailed account of how I set up my documents here.

Post Atomic Horror Podcast Supplemental 16 Cover | Magazine Version by Vishal K Bharadwaj |

And several hours later, I ended up with this. Depicting an accurate likeness is still not my strongest skill, but I think I did okay with this one. I can see a lot of the problems, but hopefully the average viewer won’t. Also, doing magazine cover typography at 5am leads to some irritating minor errors, but you learn to live with it.

Finally, here is an animated GIF of the entire process, from rough sketch to finished cover.



Practice 28 March 2014

practice 28 march 2014 | Vishal K Bharadwaj |

I need to start owning my process and acknowledging all the steps that it takes to get to a finished piece of work. So much of this gets lost in sketch books, and after a while you start to think you can do without it, much to your own peril. So now & then I’ll dump some sketchy work here under “practice” with a date, and probably little in the way of description. Oftentimes it will actually be pure practice, i.e. not for any finished project; drawing from reference, copying things to see how they work, etc.

Laws and sausages, really, but that’s what the internet is for.

(This image in particular is a warm-up sketch; the proportions are all off, so it looks nothing like the person intended despite working from a photograph. The final result turned out better, but I like this one on its own merit.)


Constantine, Morpheus, Jerusalem

John Constantine, Morpheus & Spider Jerusalem - by vishal k bharadwaj,
Sketchathon topics continue to be worked on. This was requested on facebook by brother-from-other-mother Jamie. Not great, but not terrible. I went through far too many drafts for this, most of which involved Spider behaving badly. I could do a whole series. Maybe even a mini comic. Night on the town stuff.


Woman by Window: A Study in Patterns

woman by window - face detail - by vishal k bharadwaj,

It’s been a long time since I drew something entirely for myself. Not for clients or Today’s Doodle or even just for practice. Those are all things I should also be doing more of, often the best learning experiences come from setting yourself the goal of creating something finished. So a couple of days ago I set out with no agenda, and this is the result.

woman by window - by vishal k bharadwaj,

Now, there are a lot of problems with this, and also a lot of solutions. You may see neither of these things, but if you’re a fellow illustrator you probably have some idea what I’m talking about. The problems are issues with composition, line quality, anatomy, shading, that I have to work on. The solutions are goals that I set myself as the drawing started to form in my head. Pretty early on I knew I wanted to tackle patterns, a subject I have very little experience creating or incorporating into drawings. This is why there’s too many patterns in this. Could I figure out how to draw some, make them repeatable & interesting, make them work when placed next to each other, make them work on non-flat surfaces like clothing…

I did okay with the patterns. I learnt a lot about them you can’t quite figure out from tutorials and whatnot. Ultimately it’s your own hand that has to do the work, that has its own quirks of how to do things, and you need to learn that only by doing.

I should do more of these.


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