Saturday, January 31, 2009

Creature Feature #2: Wayne Barlowe

When I was a young child, about seven or eight, I came across Wayne Barlowe's Expedition in the sci-fi section of Barnes & Noble. While it would be a bit overdramatic to say that it was a life-changing event, since I was already very interested in creature design, it certainly was a formative moment for me, as I understand it was for a great many artists. Wayne Barlowe is the most influential creature designer of our time. The publishing of his books such as Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials and Expedition are perhaps the closest thing to events in the history of the admittedly small field of creature design.

But let's go back a few years first. According to his biography, Barlowe's parents were well-known natural history illustrators, so he had both nature and nurture on his side. He attended the Art Student's League of New York and The Cooper Union in New York City, while at the same time working at the American Museum of Natural History and collaborating with his parents in book projects. This solid background in fine art principles an natural history is readily apparent in his work.

While starting out as an illustrator, Barlowe worked on a number of book covers. Many of these can be seen in The Alien Life of Wayne Barlowe. The example above left shows Barlowe's rendition of a Yilane, an intelligent mosasaur from Harry Harrison's Eden novels. Barlowe's breakthrough, though, came with the publishing of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. In this book, he painted many of the most well-known creatures in science fiction, forever influencing how fans would imagine them. The book won many awards and was nominated for many more. Though Barlowe's painting style was not as well-developed as in later books, he nonetheless painted the creatures with a great sense of naturalism and creativity, and forever influenced how those creatures would be imagined by science fiction fans. The above right image shows Barlowe's version of the Puppeteer from Larry Niven's Known Space universe (I apologize for the poor quality of this image; Google did not have a good selection to choose from).

Ten years and hundreds of book cover illustrations later, Barlowe published his second book, Expedition. As I have already said, it was a watershed event in the field of creature design. With the vivid, bizarre, extraordinarily well-realized creatures in this book, Barlowe reinvented what it meant to be alien. It had such a huge influence, in fact, that nowadays it seems that you cannot draw a strange alien creature without someone saying that it reminds them of Barlowe, even if there really is no resemblance. Wayne Barlowe and very non-Earthly aliens have become synonymous in the public consciousness.
The images above, from Barlowe's Expedition, clearly show his natural history background, as well as his understanding of fine art techniques. As stated in The Alien Life of Wayne Barlowe, he is a firm believer in the importance of composition. Notice his use of color, value, and horizontal and diagonal lines in these images.

Barlowe published a number of other books after Expedition. An Alphabet of Dinosaurs is obviously a children's alphabet book, but nonetheless contains many unique and interesting depictions of dinosaurs. The upper leftmost image shows another dinosaur painting by Barlowe; he has done many. The Alien Life of Wayne Barlowe is something of an autobiography, showing many of Barlowe's other book illustrations, and snippets of unpublished projects. Barlowe has written a few paragraphs to go along with each painting, describing the process of creating each work. It's quite fascinating, and I of course highly recommend it. Barlowe's Guide to Fantasy is a sequel of sorts to his Guide to Extraterrestrials, though this book obviously deals with creatures and characters from fantasy novels rather than science-fiction. Though it contains many interesting designs, such as the Gug pictured above, Clive Barker's Gek-a-Gek, and Gene Wolfe's Alzabo, it also contains a disappointing amount of very ordinary and uninteresting designs. Still worth a look, though.

In recent years, Barlowe has turned his considerable talents to reimagining Hell. His vision of Hell is the most fascinating I've ever scene. In Barlowe's Hell, every tool and implement is made of a damned soul. Those mounts that you see the demons riding are souls. Siege engines and the very bricks of buildings are made of souls. His demons are horrifying combinations of biological, abstract, and artificial features. Barlowe has even imagined the indigenous fauna of Hell, which evolved their naturally before the demons came. That's probably the most original and fascinating Hell-related idea I've ever come across.
Barlowe has three books related to Hell: Barlowe's Inferno, Brushfire: Illuminations from the Inferno, and God's Demon. God's Demon is a novel, and from what I hear it's very good. He is still pumping out new Hell work, so look forward to more books in the future.

It's been a while since Barlowe published an illustrated book, but you've probably still been seeing his work, whether you realize it or not. He's been working as a concept artist, most notably for Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy movies.

Visit the following links to learn and see more.
Wayne Barlowe's website:
Video of Wayne Barlowe sketching (notice how he holds the pencil):
Interview on CG Channel:
An extensive gallery of his work from some random spot on the internet:
Search results for Wayne Barlowe on (buy his books!):

All images in this post are (c) Wayne Barlowe.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Figure drawing 2009, episode 3

Here's some more stuff from my figure drawing class. The second image is a self portrait.

This last image was very informative. I achieved a very nice level of contrast with the rightmost figure. I'll have to keep that level of light and shadow in mind in the future.

This week I also went to a figure drawing group with the lovely (but blogless) BUOW. Fantastic model. She really knew how to make her feet into attractive shapes.


This creature is simultaneously very strange and very typical. Typical in that its proportions, posture, and some of its features--the fleshy tail tip, and the tendon-membranes on the inside of the elbow--are fairly standard for killer videogame type creatures. Unusual in that I made a conscious effort to give it some strange features that I'd never seen before. Its iliac crests and especially its pubis on its pelvis are hypertrophied; it has only a single bent-backwards toe on each hind foot; it has an enormous underbite. Most notably, its hands and forearms are perpetually in a supinated position. That is, its palms are facing up/forwards, whereas in most animals the palms usually face back/downwards. These features give the creature interest, but they also mean that I have no idea what this creature does, biologically. Those are some very strange adaptations.

Pisodactyl means "backward hand" in Greek. Obviously very much a WIP. The messiness in the background will eventually give way to plant forms.

Monday, January 26, 2009


This is done. I named the creature Xenosimias, which is scientese for "strange monkey."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New Creature Feature Series

I'm starting a new weekly series of posts called "Creature Feature" (unless I think of a more original name), in which I show the work of creature designers that I admire.
The first post is down below, dated Monday, January 12. I wrote that post a few weeks ago, but I was waiting until I had the artist's permission before actually publishing the post. That's why it's way down there, instead of up here at the top of the blog.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Figure Drawing 2009, episode 2

My computer and digital camera have decided to cooperate again, so I uploaded another batch of figure drawings. Fun stuff. The last one is a work in progress; I still have to do some work to emphasize his musculature. His leg is also at least half a head too long, but my classmates and I agreed to blame that on foreshortening.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Shadow

These three creatures are part of a little painting experiment I did today. I wanted to paint a very simple, silhouette-based creature using only two colors (and some slight variations). The first creature was mostly improvised. While painting, I decided to paint a few "upgrade versions" of it as well.
Nothing too special. It was quite fun, though. As I say so often, check out my Deviantart if you want to read more about this creature: link.

Spidermonkey WIP, v3

Yet more work on this. I'm pleased with the sense of light and form that I'm getting. I need to move its right eye down a bit, though. I've been thinking that something was off in its face for a while, so I finally rotated the whole image so I could see where the asymmetry was.
The orifice at the base of its tail is a marsupial pouch, not its butt.

Belated Christmas

As mentioned before, my dad has a thing for sharks. So, here's a Christmas card for him. Yes, that cloud is behind the moon.
Here's an earlier birthday card I did for him: link.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Narakan Snapper Field Sketches

Here are some more sketches of the group of alien creatures I call Arthrognathans ("jointed jaws"). This shows various species, as well as parts of the Arthrognathan mating ritual and life cycle.
To read more in depth about these creatures, go here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Figure drawing 2009, episode 1

Here's my first batch of photographed drawings from my new figure drawing class. It looks to be a fun and informative semester.