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Shadow Work // Rise Of The Oniwaban Elite Ninja Death Squad

It’s fair to say I’ve been sitting on this project for what feels like an eternity! I’ve dropped a couple of hints via some of my other blog posts, but it’s finally been unleashed. Many moons ago I was commissioned by Shamanic Technology to produce some album artwork for a project he was working on. I had already previously worked with him via my exploits with UK Glitch Hop and had released one of his tracks on Beta Test Record‘s debut vinyl ‘Chemical Coercion’, so it was nice to produce something for him in return. There was no real brief per-se, but the title of the album was ‘Shadow Work’, and as such, my mind was immediately drawn to Ninja. Evidently, I am that predictable, but it was a no brainer as far as I was concerned!

I like to extensively research my subject matter, especially if I have an excuse to sit and watch low rate ninja films & documentaries! As I trawled through Japanese history, I came across a fascinating tale of the Oniwaban, or garden keepers, an elite group of undercover agents established by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684–1751). I loved the idea of these ninja hiding in plain sight whilst guarding the Shogun, and so I decided to take the oni, or demon, mask from my samurai character and adapt it for this project.

I had been asked to produce an image that would cover the inlay of a CD sleeve which is 12 x 24cm. Due to the awkward shape of the image, I decided to produce a short comic that would show the Oniwaban executing his duties in a storyboard of crimson! I’m a big fan of hiding details within my work that may often be overlooked. As such, I thought it would be a nice touch to incorporate a short haiku, each cell representing one line of a three line stanza.

It took me a good week to finalise the haiku and accompanying imagery. Once the idea had properly set in my mind, I went to work on the first, largest of the three, and what would become the most challenging drawing I have produced to date. This cell was to represent the Oniwaban lurking in the shadows awaiting the opportunity to enact his swift, merciless reckoning.

I had originally intended to go with my usual process of producing an outline, then colouring it, either by hand or on Photoshop, but this time I wanted to challenge myself and attempt to dot shade and keep the drawing black on white. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but I seem to always add these extra obstacles during projects for other people, when time is a factor, and in situations where there is little room for error. It took me weeks of dot shading to produce the first image!!

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban 3

It was good to see a black and white drawing to completion and it’s something I’m trying to do much more of late. I really want to enter Secret Walls at some point, so working in black on white is something I’m keen to master, if not within a much shorter time frame! Having said that, I recently performed some live drawing at what was The Bulls Head pub in Moseley, Birmingham, for Canvas. I recklessly decided to try drawing this character live and was surprised by the result. It still took me a good 4 / 5 hours to complete, but being in a packed bar is hardly helpful when trying to be productive!  I wish I’d added some details in the background, but all things considered, I count this as a win. I’ve had to add my name as this image was cropped for Instagram and I can’t find the original. Incidentally, I’m now on Instagram! Just search for voidoneuk.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Live at Canvas

Anyway, we digress. I decided to edit the the main cell in Photoshop by changing the spiked hand claws to look a little more brutal and to make the oni mask red so it looked more demonic. I used speed lines to accentuate the face, like a kind of halo, and added some glow to the moon. For some reason I had given the character massive gums, so I decided to clear this up too.

Void One - Shinobi Oniwaban Master

I realised there was no way I could produce the other two images in the style of the first cell as I’d still be producing the artwork now, so I adopted a more familiar technique for the final two cells and just stuck to simple outlines and colouring on Photoshop. One cell was to represent the Oniwaban murking his prey, unseen apart from a trail full of blood splats. The final cell would represent the victims soul transcending this world and returning to the infinite void, staring into the abyss that is death. I had originally intended the victims head to be flying off with blood pissing into a vortex to hell, but it proved a little difficult to realise and was apparently too gory, so I kept it simple and stuck with a spiral. It was a really nice compliment that one of the tracks was renamed ‘Return To The Void’ in homage to the artwork.

I’m loving the noire feel to the work and the contrast between the black & white with the red blood splatters is really effective at creating movement in the images. Something I’ve also learned, especially in creating comic style imagery, is the use of speed lines. Really simple to create, speed lines almost instantly make the image jump out of the page and are great for filling up backgrounds, especially for action scenes. In the end, I took out the majority of them whilst I was experimenting, but I fully realise their potential for the future.

Void One - Shadow Work Final Small

So, the final work, including the haiku [Click on the image to enlarge]. It’s odd looking at the image now, as I can see so many ways that I would improve it. It would have been nice to keep the smoke emanating eerily from the blade, and also to have maybe worked more on the flowers to be perhaps falling from a cherry blossom tree, or something of that ilk. It was really challenging to fit everything in such an awkward space, but it just means I’ll have to revisit this piece to incorporate all the crazy ideas I came up with. Having said that, I’m really pleased with how this turned out! This project has both given me a new character to explore in the future, and also shown me a glimpse of the possibilities that may be achieved through dot shading.

That’s only my contribution to this project, but there is so much more to be found over at Shamanic Technology’s Indiegogo campaign page!! As well as a double LP of some seriously fresh neuro inspired Electronica, there are also the artistic stylings of fellow Brummie Cujo Cussler, plus Mantis Mash, “Hare” Krishna Malla, Sponge & Ben Leonard. The campaign only has a few days left to run, so please check out the links below and help materialise this epic collaboration.

Shamanic Technology – Shadow Work Indiegogo Campaign

Void One_

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