James Ng opens the lid for us on his Imperial Steamworks project

Artist James Ng (@jamesng) shared some images from his ongoing “Imperial Steamworks” project with us, which led me to inquire about his process. This, in turn, led to what is MyFantasyArt’s first official interview. See what James has to say about Chinese steampunk, wanting to work in film, and drinking on the job.

Was this project created for a client, or is it a personal piece?

This piece is from my personal project I have loosely named “Imperial Steamworks”.

How do you get concepts for paintings like this? Do you get guidelines from a client, or is there a certain level of trust established, based on your previous work?

The idea for the project stemmed from my own interest combined with my environment while growing up. I am very interested in the Chinese Qing Dynasty and the modernization of non-European countries. The Qing Dynasty is the last dynasty in Imperial China; it was during this period of time that China was invaded by other countries that had already gone through an industrial revolution. The foreign powers forced them to sign unfair trade treaties and to give up land to foreign rule. My home of Hong Kong was one of these lands. Since then, Western countries have set the bar of being “the modern city”. The standard of modernization is basically westernization – as China becomes more modern, it also becomes more like the West. I began to wonder…what if China was the first to modernize during the turn of the last century, if China was the standard that other countries had to work towards, what would things look like today? Perhaps China would still be in imperial rule? Maybe skyscrapers would look like Chinese temples? Cars would look like carriages? And maybe we would have fantastical machines that look both futuristic and historic.

The Key Keeper sketch by James Ng

What tools were used to create this painting?

I first sketched it with pencil and charcoal, then I scan it and clean the sketch on Photoshop. After that I would paint on top of it like a traditional painting using Corel Painter. I also collect a lot of reference to help me achieve a certain level of realism. 

What are some of your inspirations?

I draw inspirations from a lot of things, like history as I previously mentioned, movies, books, video games. I often look at work by other artists as well. There has never been a time when I ran out of ideas, so I haven’t really went on a “inspiration hunt” but I rather get inspired as I go on with my daily life, and keep myself interested in various things.

You list your title as Concept Artist & Illustrator. Are there other styles that you work in at times, that you wouldn’t place in your portfolio, but are simply done to meet a client’s needs?

I would consider most of my work as Illustration, since that is a really broad term, it just means a drawing that tells a story or convey an idea. I did some logo work and web layout in the beginning of my career, but I find that kind of work a bit dull compared to actually drawing figures and stories and lighting. 

The Key Keeper detail by James Ng

Have you applied your signature style to the worlds of comics or concepts for film and animation? If so, what projects can we expect to see with a James Ng influence?

Well I work in similar painting styles for most of my commission work, but I haven’t used my theme of Chinese steampunk that much in any commission. There was a project I did in collaboration with Ubi-Soft and their Assassin’s Creed franchise. I was asked to design an assassin using my own spin for a promotional artbook they are releasing in the near future. That’s probably the commission that has the heaviest personal influence so far. CLICK HERE to see the Assassin’s Creed painting.

With such a dynamic use of light, have you considered dabbling in other mediums, such as film?

Oh of course I have! I want to develop my personal project into a setting or a world. Then base comic books and stories off of it, with the ultimate goal being to have it made into a video game or even a film.

When working long hours, what’s your favorite snack food?

I drink red wine : )

What has been your most exciting project to work on thus far in your career?

I would say the Assassin’s Creed project has been one of the best. I also completed a project in Hong Kong where my artwork will be printed on the sides of 50 double-decker buses. Though I don’t think the artwork I did for that project is of my best quality, it would be interesting to see my work printed in such large dimensions.

Finally, I want to add that there is a huge risk being a professional artist. I knew there would be a chance I could fail and that nobody would like my art, or hire me to draw. But I think without the chance to fail, without taking risk, there is no room for success. After all, you can not win when there is no possibility of losing.

If anyone have any criticism or comments regarding my artwork, please drop me an email [or comment below]. I would love to hear what others think!

Here is the final version of The Key Keeper, part of the ongoing “Imperial Steamworks” project.

The Key Keeper by James Ng

Check out more detail views from The Key Keeper, plus other images from Imperial Steamworks, below.

See more of James Ng’s work at:

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