This piece is about two things: first, the egg creatures that emerged from my Random Quadrupeds daily art project in late 2021, and second, a breakthrough that has led to a major change in my digital art practice. There’s also a hint of the origin story of my Chonky Bug People series.
First, let’s talk about my creative process and the parameters around Random Quadrupeds. As with most of my artwork, each piece begins with freeform drawing. Then I interpret and respond to the marks on the page/screen to refine the rough marks into something a bit more cohesive. With most of my serial work I set some basic parameters about the piece, and it was no different with Random Quadrupeds. Although I didn’t formalize them, I had these relatively flexible guidelines in the back of my mind:
- a quadruped is a creature with four legs, arms, tentacles, appendages, etc
- I wasn’t strict about the number of appendages: it could have more than four, such as four legs and two arms
- generally one figure per composition
- environment and/or accessories optional
- make them in Adobe Illustrator (this wasn’t strict, but was the most sensible workflow)
- black line-art with colour and/or colour pattern fill
- try to make one per day
- post one to twitter each day (this public act was to help me stay disciplined)
- have fun (because part of the reason I had stopped making art was because at the time it no longer brought me joy)
On December 28, 2021, after two months of daily creatures, it should have surprised no-one when I added arms and legs to an ovoid blob and turned it into the first “egg quadruped”. It was quickly followed by another one—this time armless—the next day.
These seemingly straightforward characters became a turning point for my illustrative artwork because of one subtle change: the heads/faces are not attached to the bodies and instead “float” on top of them. Up until now, all the heads in my creatures have met one of two conditions:
- attached to the body, such as in my 2005-2006 Encounters series; or
- self-contained: a disembodied head like the ones in Incidentals (2007-2008), or a mask such as in earlier Random Quadrupeds (2021-2022)
I didn’t realize that this would be important until around the third egg quadruped, when it occurred to me that I could make multiple iterations from the same basic parts simply by moving the head and/or transforming the body: flipping, rotating, or otherwise adjusting it. This is probably obvious to anyone who has worked in animation or character design.
To be clear, the techniques of stacking/repositioning shapes as building blocks for a composition wasn’t new to me. I had done this as far back as MacDraw in the mid- to late 80s, and in Adobe Illustrator and QuarkXpress as a graphic designer in the 90s through mid-2000s. Adding and subtracting paths in Illustrator was also one of my tried and true techniques. But it was only with the first two egg people that I consciously realized I could apply those techniques to the heads. (As an aside, I also used the stacking techniques to create my very non-digital painted wood assemblages. I made those by laminating plywood shapes that I cut with a bandsaw or scroll saw, back in the days when home CNC was beyond my budget.)
Returning to my digital epiphany, I used this time-saving (i.e. lazy) approach for the next group of 4 eggs. They share the same basic body, with changes to head position, orientation, highlights, and shadows.
After the “sunny side up” eggs, I took inspiration from Chinese cuisine and made eight pieces based on the infamous century egg. They are composed of two groups of four, where the members of each quartet share the same basic body and head, with arms added or moved to suit the situation.
With these pieces, I had begun to play around a bit with making a minimal viable “scene”. There’s a hint of story as compared to simply floating a creature on a white background like I did with most of the Random Quadrupeds. The century eggs are, of course, frolicking in and around soy sauce while enjoying a light sprinkling of chopped green onions.
By this time I was also starting to think about releasing some sort of NFT collection. I was leaning towards doing something simple and quirky like Incidentals, and I’m sure that had some influence on me gravitating towards scenes and stories. I think that the fact that I was able to iterate these pieces quickly—creating variations on a theme—enabled me to give more thought to the situation of the pieces, rather than simply coming up with the subject.
Digression: the Random Quadrupeds pieces that included scenery had all started from sketches that included an environment. I made those sketches several years ago, and the parameters seem to have included a requirement to draw the environment.
While it was fairly quick to make each of the Random Quadrupeds, the latter quartet of sunny eggs were done much more quickly: in one evening sitting not a whole lot longer than it took me to make some of the more complex quadrupeds. As for the century eggs, after completing the first on Dec 30, I made the remaining seven in a couple of hours on Dec 31. While I’ve always worked quickly, this speed was surprising and reminded me a bit of Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic “God makes the snake”, only with much smaller ambitions:
During the brainstorming session where I thought of the century eggs, I came up with a few other ideas to expand the range of egg and other ovoid-shaped quadrupeds: simple things like eggplant & avocado, and more complex ones such ketchup-on-scrambled-eggs done up with a horror theme. But I haven’t worked up any of the other egg ideas yet, because the third iteration ultimately morphed into Chonky Bug People.
Here’s a Chonky Bug People teaser, a series that will require multiple write-ups. The image is a cropped screen shot of the initial work file where I made the concept drawings, and shows the original prototypes of the first four. This is before the antennae, before final colours, even before I had come anywhere close to realizing what I had gotten myself into. I was still thinking about them as an extension of the Egg People sub-series within Random Quadrupeds.
A final note on the separation of heads and bodies
Looking back, it turns out I had made a few pieces in the Incidentals series with independently-movable heads, but at the time it hadn’t occurred to me that I could use them for rapid iteration. I think the difference between Incidentals and Random Quadrupeds was that the former were created on an ad-hoc basis on the margins of whatever my primary practice was at the time, while the latter was the core of my practice and I had already been at it in a sustained way for two months. I suspect that this time around my subconscious optimizer grabbed on to something that my 13-years-prior self seems to have ignored.