Todd Lock­wood

Paint mag­i­cal book cover art with the D&D artist

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The truth is, I have no set way of work­ing. What I do can be at odds with what I teach. The fi­nal im­age is al­ways in the fore­front of my mind how­ever, and the im­age al­ways be­gins with the nar­ra­tive. In this case the client has a solid idea of what he wants to see. The book’s ti­tle is Un­bound, from Grim Oak Press, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries with no over­all theme. The sim­ple idea is that a wiz­ard causes the pages of a book to be­come lit­er­ally un­bound. As I be­gin the task, the thumb­nail is only in my head. I’ve bro­ken rule num­ber one. How­ever, I know that I want a for­mal com­po­si­tion, with the fig­ure fac­ing the viewer and the book – which should look like a magic tome – hov­er­ing mag­i­cally front and cen­tre. With such a straight­for­ward ap­proach, it’ll be more about the en­ergy and the de­tails. The ma­gi­cian will at­tract the eye first, so I in­tend to put as much em­pha­sis on the book as I can. The star of this paint­ing is the thing that’s hap­pen­ing, so the tome is im­por­tant. By keep­ing th­ese two prom­i­nent el­e­ments close to­gether, I en­hance that nar­ra­tive.

I want this piece to look like it was done in wa­ter­colours, so I stick pri­mar­ily with Painter’s Dig­i­tal Wa­ter set of brushes. They re­quire a lit­tle more plan­ning to take best ad­van­tage of their spe­cial qual­i­ties. By ad­just­ing cer­tain set­tings, and then work­ing me­thod­i­cally, they cap­ture the essence of wet-into-wet and the soft­ness of wa­ter­colour pa­per.

Pa­ram­e­ters set, I be­gin…

1 Be­gin­ning sketch

With my thumb­nail in my head, I start sketch­ing. I be­gin with the en­ergy: loose swirling lines that more or less de­scribe the paths of the pages or the flow of the char­ac­ter and his gar­ments. Then I lay el­e­ments in along those lines.

2 Proof of con­cept

In rel­a­tively lit­tle time, I de­cide that I don’t want the char­ac­ter to be a male wiz­ard but rather a fe­male sor­cer­ess, which gives a softer im­pres­sion. I don’t want this piece to look vi­o­lent, but con­tem­pla­tive. Achiev­ing the right mood and light will be as im­por­tant as the move­ment in the scene. Com­po­si­tion is go­ing to be key.

3 Ref­er­ence is im­por­tant

I pho­to­graph my as­sis­tant Sta­cie Pitt for the sor­cer­ess, un­der ap­pro­pri­ate light­ing. Then I gather what I call ‘swipe’ from all over the in­ter­net to get a feel for fly­ing pa­per, swirling fab­ric and old, ca­bal­is­tic texts. I ar­range the best on my left mon­i­tor, take a screen snap, then stack those snaps for quick vis­i­bil­ity.

4 The draw­ing be­gins

With my proof of con­cept sketch and my Sta­cie Franken­stein on their own lay­ers, ghosted back to serve as guide­lines, I be­gin my draw­ing. The client is af­ter a spe­cific look, so I use im­ages from the in­ter­net to al­ter Sta­cie’s fea­tures to my needs. Sorry, Sta­cie!

5 De­pict­ing flow and move­ment

Sat­is­fied with the fig­ure and the place­ment of the tome, I be­gin the most ex­act­ing part of this paint­ing: work­ing out the flow and move­ment of all the fly­ing pages. I keep my tones light, be­cause I want to pre­serve the tex­ture of the dig­i­tal pa­per for the next stages.

6 Painted into a cor­ner

The paint­ing looks flat and life­less to me. I re­alise that I’ve lost my move­ment as I worked on my pa­per shapes. To re­solve this, I cre­ate some new lines of move­ment to build on. They’ll be­come the prom­i­nent edges of sheets, the cen­tre lines of mov­ing masses, or the flow of fab­ric.

7 Re­fin­ing el­e­ments of the im­age

I work out the flow and move­ment, de­sign­ing the com­po­si­tion to high­light the star. I want the most con­trast to be within the fo­cal point: con­trast not just of value, but also of tex­ture, light, colour, mo­tion, de­tail, fo­cus, an­gle… in­deed, any­thing that sep­a­rates it from the rest of the paint­ing and makes it stand for­ward. I con­cen­trate on making sure that I main­tain the over­all tex­ture of wa­ter­colour pa­per.

8 The colour un­der­paint­ing

Us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of Color Bal­ance, the Gra­da­tion and/or Bucket tool set in Color mode (in Pho­to­shop), I ap­ply warm tones to the cen­tre of the paint­ing and cooler tones to the bor­ders, then pick out some spe­cific ar­eas for spot colours, such as cool flesh shad­ows and pink nose or lips with a brush that’s also set in Color Mode.

9 Wash­ing in tone

I was in­spired by the art of Eric For­tune to build this piece slowly and care­fully, us­ing washes of colour in Dig­i­tal Wa­ter that pre­serve the pa­per tex­ture and ex­ploit the strengths of this par­tic­u­larly won­der­ful brush set in Painter to cre­ate wet mar­gins and soft tran­si­tions.

10 In­tro­duc­ing de­tails

I be­gin with the de­tails of the tome, us­ing art­work that Sta­cie cre­ated for the in­te­rior of Un­bound (you can see her art at www.sta­ Her lock medal­lion is the per­fect cen­tre­piece for the front cover. I warp it into the proper per­spec­tive in Pho­to­shop and drop it down where I can paint over it, then cre­ate cor­ner guards and a hasp in a sim­i­lar style.

11 Tackle the con­tents of each page

Now I start dec­o­rat­ing the many fly­ing pages. At first I use copyright-free im­ages from an­cient books, em­ploy­ing Pup­pet Warp in Pho­to­shop. It works, but it’s te­dious and awk­ward. I give up on it af­ter a few pages – I scarcely had enough swipe for ev­ery page in any case.

12 Go­ing old school

If dig­i­tal paint can be ‘old school’, that is! I de­cide to paint the pages by hand. The chal­lenge is to find sim­ple ways to greek in the text and im­ages with­out get­ting bogged down in minu­tia. The Dig­i­tal Wa­ter serves me well, us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of the Round Wa­ter Blen­der and the Spat­ter brush.

13 Into the fi­nal stages

I bal­ance my val­ues, shad­ing the sor­cer­ess down so that the pages leav­ing the book are the bright­est thing, fine tune my shadow edges and add warmth to the tran­si­tions be­tween light and shadow. And that’s my art­work fin­ished.

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