When I look at concept artist Ian McQue’s marvelously impossible flying ships, I swear I can hear them—creaking and clanking as they sway on unseen currents, cables banging against their sides, hull plates protesting against the rough bolts of makeshift patches and engines turning over with muffled thudding, tended to by sweaty mates hard-pressed to keep them running.
Visual texture is what does it; McQue has rendered his imaginary flotillas with wonderfully textural details—bolts and plates, rudders and fins, stacks and masts, and apparently cobbled-together superstructures are coated with rust and grime, patchworks of repairs, and mismatched bits of paint. Their rough shapes and scored hulls look as though they have been patched and repaired with bailing wire and scrapyard parts so often they likely no longer resemble whatever form they may have originally had.
It also helps that McQue has set his floating vessels in a similarly textural world, awash with atmosphere and clouds, tiled roofed towns and the billowing smokestacks of industrial activity.
The ships, complete with bumpers of old tires and often accompanied by gulls waiting for whatever scraps may fall from the galley, are most definitely seagoing ships, but they somehow look completely natural floating in the sky—in spite of the absolute defiance of gravity presented by their lumbering bulk.
The ships are a sideline for McQue, something he plays with when not involved in his work as an illustrator, visual development artist, and art director working in the gaming industry. His credits at Rockstar North in Scotland include all of the Grand Theft Auto titles since the first, as well as titles like Manhunt, Bully and Body Harvest.
I asked McQue about the origin of the ships series, and he described a number of elements, including location drawings he did of some of some fishing boats at dry dock that looked like they were hovering above the ground, combined with a longtime affection for the work of Jean “Moebius” Giraud—who loved to throw his own kind of ships into the sky—and interestingly, a simple desire on McQue’s part to see some concept art with blue skies as a change from the drab grey and brown palettes so common in the industry.
As in his professional work, McQue renders his personal images as digital paintings, though he often works up his ideas in loose, gestural pencil sketches first, scanning the ones he likes to be worked over in Photoshop. His techniques have been featured in ImagineFX magazine, and his work has been featured in Blast, Nuthin’ But Mech volumes 1 and 2, and Digital Painting Techniques Volume 3.
Some of McQue’s improbable ships of the air have been made into scale model kits through Industrial Mechanika, detailed right down to the bolts in the hull plates.
I asked him if there was a backstory or narrative to the ships series, to which he replied that one is in the works in the form of a book he is working on. Until then, we can look through his images and use our imaginations to see—or hear—our own stories.