BREAK INTO BOOK ILLUSTRATION
How to add drama to your book art PLUS Become a children's illustrator
There are so many images in our day-to-day world, all competing for our attention. As artists, we tend to think that sheer beauty through rendering is the key to getting attention, but the average viewer can’t tell the difference between something immaculately painted and something painted just well enough to do the trick.
You should certainly try to paint well, but you need to remember that your target audience is actually non-artists – and that’s the vast majority of people. As a cover artist, my job is to make someone who wouldn’t have picked up a book or magazine stop, take notice, and pick it up. After that, my job is done.
This simple little interaction happens at something near the speed of light, and the time it would take for a potential buyer to “appreciate” an image doesn’t even come into play before they’ve made up their mind.
How can I make up their mind for them? I can simplify and organise my image in ways that make the image easy to look at and understand. I can make sure my cover is unlike the other images next to it on the shelf. I can make sure my image reads well from a distance as well as up close. I can ask the potential buyer questions in the form of an unresolved narrative, or try to bring my image to life by giving it a sense of movement. In every cover that I create, I try to use all these strategies and more if possible, because the battle for their attention is all-out war, and no one’s taking prisoners.
1 Sketching the idea
This is where illustration really happens; everything after this point will be academic. I know we want the figure interacting with the ImagineFX logo so I start there, sketching variations of falling, climbing and rappelling poses using only a hard Round brush with Pressure Sensitivity turned on. Once I have a pose I like, I try to complement it with environment and props that flesh out the narrative and the design.
2 Shooting reference material
Realism in illustration is a matter of reference; I wish that someone had told me that when I was starting out. Illustrators have been using reference since the inception of the industry and all the very best still do. I pay for models and costumes and organise photo shoots where I work from my sketch to try and get the information I’ll need to draw from. This part of the creative process is actually really fun!
3 Producing a tight drawing
In Photoshop, I assemble the relevant reference photography and drop a white layer over it on a low Opacity. I transfer my reference lightbox-style to start, and then make the white layer fully opaque so all I see is my drawing. I then modify and redraw from there to figure out every bit of form before I start slinging paint around. I take my time on this stage.
4 Colourising the lines
I duplicate my line work and on that new layer, I press Ctrl+U to open the Hue/Saturation adjustment panel. I check the Colorize box and slide the saturation up until my lines turn red. After applying the change, I erase the red lines anywhere where there isn’t flesh. The red lines will integrate with the piece as it develops, giving the skin a luminous quality.
5 Introducing flat colours
Under my line work, I paint in major areas of colour with a flat Round brush. Each distinct colour is on its own layer, and I try to paint each area as the average mid-tone colour I want there. This enables me to see major colour relationships early, and I can adjust each spot colour individually until I’m happy. I make selections out of each layer before moving on.
6 Diving straight into the painting process
Now I flatten the image and begin working on top of it. Layers breed complication so I always work upwards. I choose an area – in this instance I select the skin and musculature, which is something I love to paint – and just get down to painting right away. I have an excellent roadmap laid out for how the piece should proceed, so now all I have to do is follow it.
7 Take time over the face
The face is the most time-consuming part of any image. Commit to it, and be okay with however long it takes. Even up to 50 per cent of the full painting time is an acceptable amount. Seriously. Look closely at your reference and use any tools at your disposal to get this right. One of the few things any person on earth can see is if you’ve got the face wrong.
8 Capturing the look of the trousers
I can relax a bit now because the trousers, compared to the face, are easy. I look carefully at what surface effects are portrayed in my reference; I really want that shine of leather and the matte, military finish on the holster. I paint using a combination of transparent and opaque layers, flattening often as I go and continuing to work upwards.
9 Turning back to the face
Throughout the painting I keep coming back to the face as I notice tiny new details and deficiencies that I’d like to amend. Never let a painting be done until you’re satisfied with it. Put in the time. I keep my reference on a layer over my painting and flick it on and off to help myself see even the tiniest inaccuracies in my work.
10 Hands, arms and smudging
Whew! Another break from the face. Take a look at your reference and paint what you see. Good painting is seeing well. Focus on separating light from shadow, and on the relative hardness and softness of edges to accurately portray forms. As I continually flatten, I use the Smudge brush to adjust paint and remove the line work that’s lingering in the figure.
11 Depicting the character’s tools of her trade
In a piece where there’s no environment to speak of, only the flat white of the page, everything in the image needs to be painted superbly. Taking close stock of my reference, I set about painting the falling pickaxe and hammer. I’m careful to obey the perspective lines that govern their forms, and not to make them so highcontrast that they distract from the main subject, the figure.
12 Perfecting the character’s face
I’ve been working almost like a printer, moving through the image methodically and finishing one area at a time. The immense amount of pre-planning makes this possible, but some areas still present challenges. Many aspects of the face are invented (my reference in this area isn’t particularly great), and that demands that I go back to it one last time and not stop until I’m satisfied.
13 Looking out for all those rocks
With the focal foreground areas complete, and all line work eradicated from the piece, I take some large, highly textured brushes and work on the carved rocks falling all around our main figure. Big, simple forms like this are much easier to invent than specific human anatomy and tools, but I still make sure to obey the lighting scheme established in my reference.
14 Ramping up the sense of action
I add some more floating debris, bits of leaves, particles of falling rock, and anything else I can think of to add mayhem and activity to this scene. I smudge a few edges to soften them so that everything isn’t crystal-clear (this is an action scene after all), and I’m done!