My comic strip The Thinking Man’s Idiocies has cartoonish characters inhabiting a cartoonish world. So why on earth would it matter so much to me, to design specific background or back story?

In a comic or comic strip, there’s an establishing image – so the reader knows where the story is about to take place, right? But in comics and comic strips, where there’s a lot of talking, dialogue bubbles take up space. So there’s no real need for background images. Most artists just fill it in with a gradient colour. Lately I’ve adopted the use of a black/grey ‘Watercolour Wash’ effect. It’s a whole other step in finishing/posting a comic strip, but I’m digging how it’s looks.

Example of Watercolour Wash effect

Motivation Much?

I’ve slipped through 3 days (I mean, I think) forgetting to eat or sleep. Well, eating and sleeping JUST ENOUGH to stay alive. Otherwise, how would I be writing this? Anyways…

I can’t remember the last time I was THIS motivated by something that’s not going to pay money, garner attention or have food at the end of it.

At first, it was absolutely good enough to work with just a hand drawn floor plan of where Chad, Bunny and Bob the Bottle live. One room’s orientation in relation to another was what started this …I want to say ‘project’. I also want to add, a self-isolationist method to survive a pandemical apocalypse was a major catalyst.

Fortunately, figuring out where rooms and things were in relation to each other (+ gathering reference images) seeded many good ideas for stories. I may explore a few of them with the strip later.

In an effort to hone the rough, hand drawn layout of my comic strip’s apartment, I needed to figure out more about the building it was in. I used a ton of reference material – even looked back at my own comic strips. In the past, I just made stuff up, willy-nilly and threw it into the background. Jerry the Belligerent Pencil appearances are a good example.

Jerry the Belligerent Pencil – 3rd appearance

The Building

So red brick, factory buildings, from 1900 to 1930, are most likely used
nowadays in commercial or residential capacities. There’s not many vacant buildings of that lineage anymore – in Western Canada anyways. I did what I could to use Canadian architecture – especially buildings primarily in Calgary and Vancouver. Huge cedar columns! (makes kissing sound) Magnifico!

Not being a real structure, one would think a design from real life references would be quick…. it was not. But walk around Calgary or Vancouver and you’ll see many, many similarities to what I FINALLY came up with. Being similar but unique was my whole point – my whole painfully, tedious point. Anyways…

Building Exterior Final Design

Software, Where?

I know there’s plenty of software out there that promise to ‘transform your 2D sketches into 3D rendered reality!’ I also wanted something to help negate hours/days/weeks or months of frustration, JUST LEARNING Blender, Maya …or what ever those CGI fondling youngsters are using nowadays.

Homestyler is astoundingly user friendly …and free. I didn’t have to download anything or start a free trial or give any information, besides name and email. I figured SOMEWHERE there would be a trade off, like any other free software I’ve used. To get started you need to provide more than just a name and email or there’s limited use, or a time limit, annoying watermarks right across the final images. But there none of that with Homestyler.

This is NOT an architectural software, so in some cases I improvised… my duct work in the Kitchen or the stairs in the Public Hallway are good examples! Also this NOT The Sims, so what there was to do or to choose in building, furniture and accessories was as is. I think there may be a way to customize. But… using Homestyler was supposed to keep me from that Blender/Maya frustration/never finishing scenario, right?

Now that I have finished, when I draw my strip, I’ll have a deeper, richer resource to reference. I have a better idea of where, “This room is in relation to that room – but also how daylight or interior lighting looks, in a photo realistic way.

For writers, sticking a mythos’ or very specific backgrounds can complicate or limit things later, I think. Being definite with anything ‘just made up’ may push future ‘just made up stuff’ in a difficult direction. But then, what’s stopping me from using a multi-verse scenario or a ‘snappy’ goo-gag, or a ‘Bobby Ewing Switcheroo’ if narrative direction gets out of hand? Anyways…

The Apartment

Original Drawing
Floor Plan – 3rd & 4th floors off by 10-11″. Good thing it isn’t going to be a REAL building.
Floor plan with Furniture, Lighting, Stairs, Accessories
3rd Floor Public Hallway – Nearly in tears when saw renders for 1st time
Apartment Door – Stairs landing? Actually 2 floating rugs with gap between
View from Stairs – Can you tell elevator was improvised?
POV from Entrance
Right of Entrance
Storage Room, left of entrance – Little window has a story
Living Room
Living Room – Wall opening into Studio
Living Room – Totally fake, I can’t afford THAT chair and ottoman in RL

Eames Lounge Chairs are a big deal ….aannnd expensive

Chad’s Studio – Approximately
Equipment Room – Down hallway from studio
Living Room/Hallway – Spiral Stairs edited: Showing 2nd flr access
Guest Washroom
Kitchen – I don’t have this much booze at home in RL
Kitchen – Like the duct work? Actually distorted cabinets. ILLUSION!
2nd Flr Stairs/Hallway – Old chimney with iron hatch. Haunted, probably
Hallway/Stairs – Stairs continue to roof top
Bob’s Bedroom – Almost lost myself in filling it with oddities
Bunny’s Bedroom – Rabbit Psychological & Sociological Accessorize much?
B & B’s Bathroom – Left door: Toilet, Right Door: Tub
B & B’s Bathroom – No… I don’t know if Bob poops
B & B’s Bathroom – Everything’s smaller, since both characters are under 4′
Chad’s Bedroom – Window edited: 2nd level large windows like THIS one
Laundry Room/Walk-In – 2 of 3 comic strip characters don’t wear clothes
Chad’s Bathroom – An apartment had once in RL, may have been this size

3D rendering this 2 floor apartment, in a very old 4 story renovated factory may not be 100% perfect, but I’d be splitting hairs about not having customization of more architectural aspects.

I can’t express how much joy these renders brought me personally. I now have photo realistic reference material at my disposal.

I’m not just over selling it when I say Homestyler is user friendly. If you ever enjoyed The Sims, you’ll find this ‘software cloud service’ weirdly similar. But unlike The Sims, the building you do end up with, looks ‘double-take’ realistic.

Now that I’ve finished and shared these renders, I’m going to have a glass of vanilla almond milk, eat a chocolate croissant and watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager. Then pass out on the couch (maybe… probably).

Thanks very much for reading all the way to THIS point. This post was about a personal project that was just for ME and MY reference images. But the results were so impressive …well, here we are, right? Thanks.