Double-take by design

Artist Ian Wilding talks optical tricks and Minecraft tees

Ian Wilding is good at finding patterns. It’s a rare talent even among illustrators - being able to locate lucky similarities between distinct things, and pulling them together, visually and thematically, into a single striking image. At first glance you see the terrifying face of a ghast, looming from the centre-space of a t-shirt in vivid reds and oranges. Look again and you’ll see its features are constructed from the burning underworld of the Nether, shattered walkways describing the Ghast’s trailing tendrils, a portal shaping its gaping mouth, and cascades of lava tracing the creature’s familiar tears.

The images work as visual puns - blending together the recognisable emblems of the game, with the more intimate ways you encounter or use them: what at first sight appears to be a torch, is a the opening in a rockface, through which Steve emerges towards a rolling landscape, lit by the rays of lowering sun. A shovel cleverly reveals its blade to be the facade of a prim little house, the shaft a descending tunnel, in which a player can be seen, industriously excavating the handle.

Surprisingly, for someone with an obvious visual gift, Ian’s background is not in the arts.

“It started off as a hobby at university,” he says. “I was working on a physics degree at the time. At the end of it, I realised I wanted to go in a different direction and I’d always followed a lot of video game artists and illustrators and I just decided that I wanted to give that a try. I just start doing it for fun and it kind of just evolved into being a career, I guess.”

But perhaps physics and Ian’s particular style of illustration draw from more similar talents than you might first assume:

“I think working with physics and the kind of art that I’m into comes from a similar abstract place,” says Ian. “I’m often trying to combine two different things that don’t seem like they should go at first but you kind of hope that it works. Usually I start with trying to play the game for as long as possible, figuring out what my experience with the game is and what I latch onto from my play experience. From there I start to work out the broad images and their context - the main characters, the main areas that you explore or interact with.”

"Working with physics and the kind of art that I’m into comes from a similar abstract place."

As Ian goes, he’s constantly logging comparable details - shapes that match or tesselate, relationships that can be drawn together. Sometimes it can be a single thing that Ian finds which acts as a starting point for the rest of the image.

“With the ghast image, it was the portal. It’s mostly the same shape as the ghast’s mouth - so I started from there and built a scene around that nugget. And I branch out from there, finding a scene or an angle that works.”

“Sometimes it’s hard work and sometimes you just get really lucky!” says Ian. “You just happen upon something and you know that that’s the right thing. Other times, I just need to think about it for a while - it’s hard to force it. Recently I did a design using the Creeper’s face - it kind of just clicked and I found something that worked and I really liked. I’d been thinking about that one for two years!”

Olly Moss has been a big inspiration in Ian’s work, and you can definitely see many of the same obsessions, finding those serendipitous similarities to construct emblematic shapes from the elements of a more detailed scene. “When he first started doing t-shirts, he used to post them on the Penny Arcade forums and I lurked there for years and years. I just kind of started following him from there, branching off from what he does to similar artists. Right now I’m into Nico Delort - he does really intricate detailed black and white scratchboard pieces. And Michael Kagan - he does these similarly very intricate paintings, mostly of spacesuits. I’ll often find someone whose work just burrows into my brain and I deep dive into everything they’ve ever done.”

Ian picks the design he did incorporating the diamond pickaxe as one of his favourites, though not for especially elaborate reasons: “I just like turquoise shirts - that’s probably just my favourite shirt colour. Often I look back on illustrations and think, yeah, I don’t know if that worked. But that remains one of my favourites. It just sits well with me.”

It sits rather well on a t-shirt, too! You can see Ian’s many designs for Minecraft and other games at his site or follow him on Twitter here. If you fancy equipping some of his fine work into your chest armour slot, click the links in the carousel above, or head over to our store for more top Minecraft loot!

Written by
Marsh Davies