Power up your su­per­hero art

shares the de­tails of his four-step process for paint­ing cover art, as he turns an orig­i­nal comic character into a su­per­hero!

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents - Stan­ley Lau

Stan­ley Lau shares his four-step process.

Claire Howlett con­tacted me re­cently about work­ing on a cover for a comic is­sue of Imag­ineFX. After a few rounds of dis­cus­sion we de­cide to keep things sim­ple by turn­ing my orig­i­nal character, Pep­per, into a su­per­hero. I know I’m in for some fun!

When it comes to mak­ing dig­i­tal art comic cov­ers, I reg­u­larly use a process which seems to be popular with most of my comic-re­lated clients. It has four stages: sketch, lines, flats and colours.

First, I make lots of men­tal sketches, then choose the best one to sketch dig­i­tally. I have 70 per cent of the im­age in mind, leav­ing 30 per cent for sur­prises. Next, I do clean and pre­cise line work, cre­at­ing smooth and con­tin­u­ous lines by vi­su­al­is­ing the start and end point of each, and the path to con­nect them, then draw it on the can­vas.

For flat­ting, I cre­ate a new layer and use the Magic Wand to se­lect the line work layer, ex­pand the se­lec­tion by a few pix­els and fill it with the lo­cal colours.

For the colour­ing stage I use the New Sim­ple Wa­ter brush in Painter. As I paint, it’s cru­cial to keep check of the light­ing scheme and stick to it.

I use long, smooth strokes and vary the pres­sure to pro­duce sub­tle value changes in one con­tin­u­ous move­ment. I call this stroke econ­omy – us­ing the fewest strokes to achieve the most def­i­ni­tion.

I bring the im­age back and forth be­tween Pho­to­shop (colour tweak­ing and tex­tur­ing) and Painter (ren­der­ing). After colour­ing I add at­mo­spheric ef­fects and tex­tures in Pho­to­shop, and test var­i­ous colour treat­ments un­til the im­age matches what I had en­vi­sioned.

Many of my comic cov­ers and character pin-ups are done with this same method. I hope you en­joy it.

1 Do a rough sketch

I make a rough sketch in Painter 9.5 (my favourite ver­sion due to its speed and simplicity), us­ing the de­fault Grainy Cover Pen­cil, be­cause it’s slightly tex­tured and re­sem­bles real pen­cil well. For the Su­per­hero theme I choose a cos­tume de­sign with an em­blem on her chest, a cape, body-wrap­ping at­tire, her sig­na­ture head­phones, and set her in a clas­sic fly­ing pose.

2 Lay down the line-work

Once the sketch is ap­proved, I cre­ate clean line-work on top of the sketch layer in Painter, us­ing the same Pen­cil brush. For this par­tic­u­lar paint­ing process, I need to make sure all of the lines are closed for easy flat­ting later. Many of the de­tails not present in the sketch are added in this lin­ing stage, and her anatomy is cor­rected. The line-work takes me an hour.

3 Flat­ting in Pho­to­shop

I se­lect the ar­eas that share the same lo­cal colour, ex­pand the se­lec­tion by three or four pix­els, then fill in the colours. I fill the fig­ure with a base colour be­fore flat­ting in­di­vid­ual ar­eas, to pre­vent gaps be­tween filled ar­eas. I ap­ply a muted colour to the back­ground, in­stead of white, be­cause it af­fects how you per­ceive the tonal val­ues dur­ing paint­ing.

4 Es­tab­lish the light­ing scheme

I du­pli­cate that layer for paint­ing, keep­ing the orig­i­nal flat layer locked to avoid ac­ci­dents. Pep­per has a weaker stu­dio spot­light in front and strong sun­light from the left (out of frame) be­hind her. I ren­der her skin first, so I can use it as a light­ing ref­er­ence point for other ar­eas. I tint the lines to medium brown and set the Layer mode to Mul­ti­ply.

5 Ren­der­ing Pep­per’s cos­tume

I move on to ren­der her cos­tume here. To make the fab­ric slightly more in­ter­est­ing to look at, I de­cide to ren­der it so that it has a slightly silky fin­ish. It’s im­por­tant to keep the light­ing scheme in mind and place the spec­u­lar high­lights care­fully, so that the vol­ume and ma­te­ri­als can be de­picted in a more con­vinc­ing man­ner.

6 De­pict­ing the hair

I con­tinue with her hair and head­phones. For a silky-look­ing ren­der­ing, pay at­ten­tion to the spec­u­lar light’s place­ment and size – they should be con­trasted and small. I don't ren­der ev­ery sin­gle strand of hair, but break it into groups and flow co­he­sively, oth­er­wise her hair may look too fizzy. I take note of how the shiny head­phones re­flects the sur­round­ings.

7 Ad­di­tional cos­met­ics

I con­tinue paint­ing the re­main­ing el­e­ments, adding gra­di­ents to the back­ground as a base for a cloud­scape later. I ap­ply Pep­per’s makeup in Pho­to­shop and a ran­dom speckle brush helps her chest em­blem glitter a lit­tle. The line-work layer’s trans­parency is locked and tinted with the re­spec­tive lo­cal colours to make it blend bet­ter with the colour­ing layer.

8 Adding clouds

Next I paint in some rough clouds, with sun­light be­hind them, us­ing the colours found on Pep­per’s body. At this stage I keep the ob­jects loose and I plan them care­fully so that they support the character vis­ually, but with­out in­ter­fer­ing or dis­tract­ing from her too much.

9 Greater def­i­ni­tion

I’m happy with where I’m go­ing with the cloud plan­ning, so I give them bet­ter def­i­ni­tion, us­ing the Loaded Pal­ette Knife tool in Painter. Then I use the Pal­ette Knife, as a blend­ing tool, to in­tro­duce some sense of move­ment to the clouds, ac­cord­ing to the fly­ing di­rec­tion of Su­per Pep­per. Talk­ing of which, our new su­per­hero is pretty much ready!

10 Fi­nal colour ed­its and a sense of speed

Of course, noth­ing is re­ally done with­out the bless­ing of the Imag­ineFX team. Daniel Vincent, the mag­a­zine’s art ed­i­tor, sug­gests some colour ed­its on Pep­per’s cos­tume and the clouds. I’ve also thrown in some speed lines to ac­cen­tu­ate a comic su­per­hero’s sense of speed. Now I’m re­ally happy with the im­age. It’s al­ways a joy work­ing with the Imag­ineFX team!

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