BREAK INTO BOOK IL­LUS­TRA­TION

How to add drama to your book art PLUS Be­come a chil­dren's il­lus­tra­tor

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Front Page - Tommy Arnold re­veals how he paints a story

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!

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