Com­pose a cover with a nar­ra­tive

Wylie Beck­ert builds a cap­ti­vat­ing fan­tasy cover.

ImagineFX - - Contents -

i’ve al­ways been a re­luc­tant dig­i­tal pain­ter – it’s tough for me to build a sat­is­fy­ing im­age through dig­i­tal means alone, and hours in front of a screen never slip away as eas­ily as those spent hunched over a draw­ing ta­ble. Still, it’s hard to re­sist the al­lure of dig­i­tal art-mak­ing: ap­ply­ing smooth washes of colour with just a click of the mouse and bring­ing my en­tire work­shop with me in a lap­top case beats wait­ing around for paint to dry any day. Com­bin­ing pas­sion with prac­ti­cal­ity, my work ex­ists in the limbo be­tween tra­di­tional and dig­i­tal – my pen­cils, erasers and pads of paper are as dear to me as my tablet and copy of Pho­to­shop, and both sets of me­dia are cru­cial to the look and feel of my il­lus­tra­tions.

In this work­shop, I’ll be de­tail­ing some of the quirks of my hy­brid process as I build this month’s cover il­lus­tra­tion from the ground up. I’ll take you through the stages of turn­ing an art brief into a de­tailed pen­cil draw­ing, and ex­plain how I bridge the di­vide be­tween tra­di­tional draw­ing and dig­i­tal paint­ing with my colour­ing process.

I’ll also be delv­ing into some of the prep work I do to help me de­velop a strong il­lus­tra­tion be­fore the pen­cil hits the paper: brain­storm­ing a co­her­ent nar­ra­tive, us­ing ref­er­ence im­ages ef­fec­tively and ap­proach­ing re­vi­sions with a plan – all of which can be used to give your work added im­pact in any medium.

1 What an­gle to take?

I want my im­age to be more than just a fig­ure – I want it to tell a story. Of­ten the project I’m il­lus­trat­ing will dic­tate that story for me, but in this case the brief is open-ended, call­ing for a girl sur­rounded by a swirl of sea crea­tures. I come up with a few an­gles: our pro­tag­o­nist could be sum­mon­ing the crea­tures, of­fer­ing some­thing to them, or she could be fight­ing them off.

2 Quick thumb­nails

I de­velop these con­cepts into one­sen­tence sto­ries – for ex­am­ple: “girl of­fers the soul of her dead fight­ing fish to its war­rior gods” – and then be­gin trans­lat­ing them into thumb­nails. I fo­cus on com­po­si­tion and value struc­ture, mak­ing sure there’s a strong fo­cal point in each im­age – my thumb­nails should read in­stantly, even at a small size.

3 Ref­er­ence ma­te­rial

Since my style isn’t photo-real­is­tic, I’ll be us­ing photo ref­er­ence loosely. I don’t need my ref­er­ence ma­te­rial to be pretty – the aim is to get a bet­ter han­dle on pose, light­ing and cam­era an­gle. I also nail de­tails like hands and drap­ery, which can be tough to por­tray con­vinc­ingly from imag­i­na­tion. Ref­er­enc­ing de­tails of ar­chi­tec­ture, cloth­ing and other ob­jects en­sures my il­lus­trated world will be full of spe­cific, be­liev­able de­tails.

4 Tight sketch

I sketch dig­i­tally with my An­gled Pen­cil Brush tool over a scaled-up copy of the thumb­nail. I stay close to my orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion, but make ad­just­ments to the char­ac­ter with an eye on my ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als. I avoid trac­ing un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary – trans­lat­ing a pose with ges­ture and styli­sa­tion in mind usu­ally re­sults in a more in­ter­est­ing fig­ure. Re­vis­it­ing my story helps guide the de­tails and gen­er­ate new ideas.

5 Get out the light­box

Once I’m happy with my sketch, I print it out at full size – about 25 per cent larger than my fin­ished paint­ing. Cre­at­ing it on a larger scale will help cam­ou­flage im­per­fec­tions and give the fi­nal a more pol­ished look. I use a light­box to trans­fer it to Bris­tol paper, start­ing with a light hand and trac­ing loosely to pre­serve the en­ergy of the sketch. Ex­act de­tails are copied only in cru­cial ar­eas.

6 Start the ren­der

For the fi­nal pen­cil draw­ing, I use a com­bi­na­tion of pen­cils and pow­dered graphite (ap­plied spar­ingly with a brush and blended well with a paper towel). To blend tones fur­ther and soften the lines, I rub the page with a paper towel. This helps es­tab­lish a slightly grey base value, which I can then pick out with a kneaded eraser and sharp­ened eraser pen­cils to es­tab­lish light­ing and cre­ate dra­matic high­lights. Then I scan the art in at 600PPI.

7 Get or­gan­ised

I tweak the im­age us­ing Lev­els, Curves and Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion to achieve a clean, high-con­trast im­age. In ad­di­tion to my Pen­cils lay­ers, I’ll be work­ing with Base Colours (grouped with or placed be­low the pen­cils) and Ac­cent Colours (placed above the pen­cils).

8 Mask­ing it off

I then cre­ate a mask layer for each ma­jor shape to give my­self a sim­ple means of se­lect­ing a com­plex shape quickly and eas­ily. I give the lay­ers de­scrip­tive names, group them, and turn the vis­i­bil­ity off.

9 Val­ues first

A strong value struc­ture will give my il­lus­tra­tion im­pact, so I ap­ply a monochro­matic un­der­paint­ing to nail the val­ues early. I set my Ad­justed Pen­cils layer to Mul­ti­ply, drop a layer of mid-grey un­der­neath, and start rough­ing in the lights and darks. I use the Magic Wand to se­lect shapes from my hid­den mask lay­ers, then ap­ply tones with the Gra­di­ent tool for large ar­eas, and paint smaller de­tails with the An­gled Pen­cil brush.

10 Base colours

I add colour in trans­par­ent lay­ers above the Val­ues and Pen­cils lay­ers. Al­though I es­tab­lish most of my rough colours on a Soft Light layer, I also ap­ply tints in Darken, Over­lay and Screen lay­ers. My val­ues are be­com­ing ob­scured, so I start paint­ing them back in (this time keep­ing my de­vel­op­ing colour scheme in mind) in a new Nor­mal layer at the very top of the Base Colour group.

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