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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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Bulmers & Big Noise // Summer Jams & Samurai Graffiti // Lessons In Freehand Painting

Another busy few months recently, so I haven’t had too much time to post updates on my projects. I’ll be steadily updating this site once the summer’s quietened down, so expect a torrent of new work! In the meantime, here’s a run down of a few things I’ve been working on and some of the processes I’ve put myself through towards being able to paint more of my work freehand. I’ve levelled up a few times during the course of the last few commissions, by no means where I see myself needing to be, but it’s fulfilling to see some real progression after all these years. I’ve got the paint bug back in a big way and I’m really looking forward to throwing up some of the designs I’ve been working on recently! So, where to start …

The first notable step forward came after receiving a commission for Bulmers at The Junction pub in Harrow, London. I’d wondered into a small gallery in Moseley, Birmingham, and got talking to the artist [Ian Muir]. I mentioned that I did some artwork myself and he said he was looking for someone to do a photo-realistic commission, but I politely refused as it’s wasn’t something I considered myself able to do. I gave him a link to this site and thought nothing of it. A week or so later I received a phone call asking if I wanted the commission. I had a gig coming up in London for the UK Glitch Hop Awards in Finsbury Park that week, so it seemed fateful.

Harrow.shed.panel
Bulmers Live Colourful – Draft Artwork

Initially, I was terrified about the prospect of painting the image I was given, but I’ve been trying to push myself out of my comfort zone recently, and from past experience, it’s at times like this that I make huge leaps forward in both skill and confidence. They’d given me a rough idea of what they wanted, I was ok to play around with the background a little, so long as there was a photo-realistic style bottle as the main focus of the piece. I’ve never painted anything like this, it’s my first professional painting commission, plus it was in a public space again where it would be seen, often. I was super nervous about taking this on, but the money was good, and sometimes you just have to jump and hope that you land well.

I had no choice but to go freehand for the background and the block coloured areas of the bottle, then to stencil in some of the text details. I figured no matter how bad my freehand work was, so long as the bottle proportions were ok, the stencils would sharpen up the image. This painting was a real challenge for me, but I’ve realised that so long as I spend a bit of time breaking down how I’m going to put things together, I don’t really struggle any more. I work best when I’m feeling confident, and this confidence often comes from planning ahead, so I now develop what I call retreat points. I plan for a point at which I can abandon the painting where both myself and the client will be happy. Anything past this point I consider to be extra detail and tidying up, a process that can be as long as a piece of string. In this case, I knew I only had to make the letters on the bottle stand out and I would be fine.

The only real problem I had was that the surface I had to paint was uneven and caused a few issues creating straight lines. Also, on the upstrokes I kept hitting my index finder which was really painful. I got around this by painting into the side of a piece of card to straighten up my lines in some places. It’s a technique I use quite a bit now, both for touching up and for creating super thin lines and details. Even though I had used some stencils for the text, due to the surface I ended up having to paint a fair bit of the detail by hand with a paintbrush and with some Posca’s. Obviously it’ not a carbon copy of the image I was given, but it was never going to be. For my first commission of this kind, I’m pretty pleased with it.

The next notable painting I did was for Big Noise Festival in London working with The Big Issue Foundation, where I was commissioned to paint a giant Kaishaku piece live at the event. I also played a Glitch Hop set later in the evening alongside a host of other incredible artists and acts. At this point I guess it’s a good time to explain a little more about why I’m painting samurai heads.

Void One - Kaishaku 2
2014 © Void One – Kaishaku 2

This first Kaishaku piece originated from my design for City Of Colours last September. I’m fascinated by the concept of honour, what it means to live honourably, and the similarities in perception that different warrior cultures have about respect. In Japanese culture, a Kaishakunin is an appointed executioner, or second, whose duty it is to behead a samurai who has committed seppuku, or ritualised suicide. Samurai would be given the opportunity to commit seppuku to preserve their honour if they had been considered to have disgraced themselves or in circumstances where defeat was certain. The role played by the Kaishakunin is known as Kaishaku.  During battle, samurai would also collect the heads of their slain enemies as trophies and as a means to prove who they had killed so that they could reap the rewards of their victories from their lord.

This idea is still not yet a fully formed concept in my mind. What started out as a random scribbling in a sketchbook is slowly becoming something much bigger and I’m loving exploring this idea. For now though, it’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue, you know what you are trying to say, but lack the words to fully describe it. As such, I’m not going to explicate the idea fully here as I want to wait until I have a larger body of work to underpin the concept before I go into too much detail. Moving into my new studio means I can now think about painting the series of images I have planned at a decent size with a view to trying for an exhibition early next year. Ultimately, I’m going to sever the heads of my enemies through my art. Some will be given an honourable death, others will face my Shinobi Oniwaban…

Whilst I still used a couple of stencils for this painting, much of the work was undertaken freehand. I’m feeling loads more confident with my scale, proportion and line work these days, though I find that there’s a bit of an internal struggle going on between the graffiti and street artist in me. As a graffer and a bit of a purest, I find myself demanding I paint everything freehand, yet the street artist in me is a bit more liberal and considers it of no concern how an image is thrown up, so long as the final image is a good representation of the original concept. I think I’m resigned to still using stencils as and when the circumstances dictate it, but moving toward a more loose freehand style is something I’m determined to master.

Both this piece and the Bulmers commission are the biggest paintings I’ve ever undertaken and it’s taught me to be a little more free with my lines and has meant a much more pleasurable experience painting. I’m so used to making every line perfectly straight and precise from working with pen and paper that in many ways it has held me back. Painting big means you need to stand back more, and the kind of attention to detail my OCD’s require isn’t necessary at these scales. Below is a little video of the event where I make a little cameo at the beginning, but it really doesn’t reflect how epic this party was! So many good people lurking about showcasing their various talents for a very worthy cause. Respect to everyone involved! #tbnf15

Now that I’ve painted this character a few times it is becoming much easier, so I decided when I was asked to paint for City Of Colours at the Bromsgrove Summer Jam, that I would take a risk and go fully freehand. Like I said, it’s something I consider both challenging for myself and makes painting feel much more free. This wasn’t the only obstacle for the day though. I find it difficult to paint an image within a restricted space as it becomes much more difficult to get the scale right. For this event I would be painting the side of a skate ramp and this meant I would only be able to paint a small section of the face. I decided to make things a little easier for myself by photoshopping the samurai onto the image I’d been sent of the ramp I was going to paint. In this way I’d find it much easier to get the scale right. Well, that was the plan anyway!

What I learned from this experiment in freehand, was that getting the first outline correct before you start painting is critical. It’s worth spending extra time getting this right in the first place and taking your time, rather than rushing into the painting because people are watching and you feel you need to be making progress quickly. Almost every painting I’ve done over the last year has been in a live environment and at times the pressure of feeling like I’m being watched can cause me to panic and start making mistakes. What I find really helps in this respect is to listen to some music! It’s easy to escape into my own world listening to some beats and it definitely helps the painting flow, it’s loads more fun this way too. Somehow listening to old school Hip Hop albums and painting pictures just feels right! Admittedly I couldn’t paint as much of the face as I wanted onto the ramp, but I think it still came out well. I had to make the face a little bigger in the end as the ramp was much smaller than I had expected and I’m still working on getting those elusive thin lines. One detail that annoyed me was missing out part of the helmet, but the rain on the day meant we kept stopping and starting for hours, so I’m going to forgive myself this time as I doubt anyone else would have noticed.

This blog post is about documenting my first attempts at freestyle painting since my early 20’s. In that respect, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t try out some graffiti. I’ve decided I don’t just want to do characters, I want to try to incorporate some of my old graffiti designs into my work somehow. So, as a little practice I hooked up with a few friends for a paint in Digbeth, Birmingham. This is the final piece of the jigsaw for me. If I can start to competently throw this piece up, I can start to hit some of the more complex designs I’ve been working on recently. The plan is to create bio-mechanoid samurai graffiti on a huge scale, where the abstract letter forms become part of the character. I’m still a long way off where I see this all going, but with each painting I’m pushing myself and learning fast with every outing.

2015 © Void One
2015 © Void One – Infinite Void

I tried to keep this piece quite simple as I didn’t want to go crazy on the first attempt. The lines are fairly clean, but I’ll be looking to include a bunch of robot elements, like pipes and vents etc, to add more detail. One thing I know I definitely need to work on is my use of colours and how to fill in my letters, but I think adding the mech parts will sort that out. Like I say, there’s still a long way to go, but having a destination in mind has pushed me forward in leaps and bounds this past 10 months. There are so many more projects I want to talk about, but that’s for another time.

Void One_

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City Of Colours Winter Showcase // The Revolution Will Be Merchandised

I’ve been saving this post for a while now as this project has really grown in scale and I’m pleased to see that the concept has evolved and developed as far as it has. This project is now going to become a model for my future escapades as it encompasses everything I’m trying to achieve with my work.

This design was initially created as an avatar for my musical exploits under the alias Terrorbyte, but was switched up to become the inspiration behind a print for, and what I wanted to paint at, the City Of Colours Winter Showcase on December 6th last year.

void one - facebook teaser mechanized

I’ve been researching war propaganda posters from the first and second world wars for a series of satirical posters using the tag line ‘The Revolution Will Be Mechanized’. I love the track by Gil Scott Heron called ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, especially line about there ‘being no re-runs brother, the revolution will be live’.

In Gil’s lyrics, the revolution will not be brought to you by xerox, or taste better with coke, you will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. For me, the heart of Gil’s message is that true social revolution comes from inside the individual, it’s down to you to manifest the changes you want to see in the world. The revolution isn’t out there waiting to happen, it’s your responsibility to mobilise yourself to live a more conscious existence. It’s not something you can capture on film or sell as a commodity, it’s a thought process, and it’s only when enough people embody such a paradigm shift that revolution in a more broad context can occur. It’s small changes in the way you lead your life at grass roots level that make the most difference to local communities and the world at large.

This message could not be more relevant than in today’s climate of shallow, catchphrase, PR politics from millionaire career politicians who are scandalously out of touch with the general public. Advertisements abound with platitudes from companies and governments promising to make your life better, to solve the most inane of first world dilemmas with a value system that is preoccupied with possessions and the social status they project. I’m not railing against people having nice things, but the best things in life aren’t things and it’s important to keep that in focus.

The revolution will be mechanized is meant to satirise the notion that we are now slaves to our devices and that our devices have come to define us. It represents a dystopian vision in which humans have become mindless automata under the governance of an oppressive system, one that has coerced us to embrace technology as a means of liberating ourselves, whilst actually placing us in perpetual slavery to our upgrades and the debt that results from our misplaced desire to own the latest models.

It is with this concept in mind that I produced the above prints for City Of Colours. The robot head was coloured and I added a few simple shapes to make it look almost like a badge or medal. The triangle design is my new logo, I’m thinking of using it like an abstract signature for my work in general. Now I just had to paint it.

Once again, I was lacking any meaningful amount of sleep due to all the last minute tweaking and preparation. I don’t know what it is, but I never finish a project with any real time in advance. I need the pressure of an impending deadline to motivate me to make often hard or drastic decisions about where something might be heading. I never miss my deadlines, and sometimes it annoys me in retrospect that I could have spent more time on finer details, but I find that so long as I have a solid concept before I start, such pressure often leads to moments of frenzied production and moments of inspiration, circumstantial happenstance, or unplanned yet happy accidents.

So, I arrived bright and early. If I remember correctly, I had spent my last £20 on paint and had no cash for emulsion for the background. I thought the black sprays I had would cover the boards I was painting with some to spare, but this was yet another schoolboy error I should have learned at the main festival a few months earlier. They did just about cover the background, but it was by no means a solid colour and I think it really let the piece down. Again I went with using a mixture of stencils, masking off areas with tape, and hand drawn / sprayed details to throw up the image. I worked much more quickly this time for two reasons. Firstly, there wasn’t a bar right next to me and far less people knocking about to distract me. Secondly, because I had given myself a real headache as far as how much work was really involved and how much could be done in the dimming winter light. The plan was to get the main image up and then spend any spare time working on tightening it up and maybe do some sort of border to frame the image. In hindsight, I think I was lucky to have enough light to get as far as I did!

It was a little while later that I revisited this . Before even thinking about the print I had created a few simple logo designs featuring the mech head artwork. It was from these initial ideas that the print had evolved. I tried a few designs on T-shirts to see what they would look like and decided the ones below looked the sharpest. At the time I didn’t really have any plans to move forward with production, it was still very much wishful thinking, but I went with three really simple visualisations.

I posted them to my Facebook page to see what the response was and the whole thing just blew up! It was clear from that point that this was something people would wear. In an ironic twist the revolution will be merchandised too, and this sits nicely with the whole theme. After seeing a few other crowd funded projects cross the line recently and some friends recommending Kickstarter as something to look into, I decided to give it a try. I had nothing to lose! The general response was that the red triangle artwork was the strongest, and after pricing up the order, I was confident it would be successful. So, I ran a campaign to print the artwork on some T-shirts & hoods. I couldn’t believe it, the project was funded within a couple of hours! Thank’s to everyone for backing the campaign! Everyone wins really as the artwork will look sweet.  I’m loving the concept of crowd funding, as it demonstrates there’s backing for projects before you waste your time and money.

Mech Tee FINAL resize red

Something I really like, and hope to expand on more, is how this process gives me the capacity to custom tailor people’s orders, colour combinations etc. I’m definitely going to be running more of these campaigns. The reward system is perfect for offering different products and a really easy way to update people about the process. I like being able to show a few designs to people and see what works best before committing to anything. I’ve decided on a policy of only running one campaign at a time, as I want the quality to be high and I don’t want to bombard people with too many products all at once. The T-shirts will be ready and shipped out next week. I have been able to press up a couple of spares but they are virtually gone. I did 30 in total, so that’s been a great success in my mind! I’ll update this site to include some pics in due course, but these are some of the other visualisations.

Check out the campaign page @ https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/609532185/void-one-classic-tee-shirts-hooded-sweaters

So, more Tee’s  once I’ve shipped this project off and I’m thinking about a three colour stencil from the layered artwork I used for the T-shirt screens. I want to throw loads of these around, maybe some stickers. I want to try to keep re using all the bits of work I’m producing and test out a few different mediums, in the same way I have been doing with my Tetsuo work previously. The summer is fast approaching and I’m booked for a few paint jams, including this years City Of Colours and Big Noise. Good to be able to sign off another chapter for this piece though. Shadow Work is finished and will be coming soon, one of my most challenging works to date.

Void One_