Colour­ing book art

Kev Cross­ley shows how he pro­duces the de­tailed line art for a colour­ing book based on Alice’s Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land

ImagineFX - - Issue 141 December 2016 -

Kev Cross­ley’s de­tailed line art.

Much of the work I do as a pro­fes­sional il­lus­tra­tor is in colour, but my first love is pen­cil art, and inking over it is a close sec­ond. So in this work­shop I’ll show how I ap­proach the more com­pli­cated pieces I like to do.

In 2015 I was asked to il­lus­trate Jonathan Green’s ad­ven­ture game book Alice’s Night­mare In Won­der­land, which pre­sented a dark and twisted Won­der­land pop­u­lated by night­mar­ish ver­sions of Lewis Car­roll’s well-known char­ac­ters. We pro­duced a colour­ing-book com­pan­ion vol­ume, which was re­ceived so well, Jonathan de­cided to do a sec­ond vol­ume en­ti­tled Through the Look­ingGlass and the Hor­rors Alice Found There. Again, I was asked to il­lus­trate it.

Right away I knew I wanted to in­dulge in the de­tail I love so much. To do this for all 23 il­lus­tra­tions for the book would take far too long, so I picked out five draw­ings to be­come the stand-out pieces for the book and started to sketch out ideas for each of them.

Some colour­ing books are filled with fairly ba­sic line art, but I wanted these il­lus­tra­tions to be al­most as fully re­alised as any other com­mis­sion I’d done. So, although the fin­ished art had to be clean with lim­ited shad­ing (so it wouldn’t hin­der the colourer), the de­vel­op­ment process of the art would be busi­ness as usual for me. This in­volved thumb­nail doo­dles in my sketch­book, fol­lowed by pages and pages of ideas, lists of el­e­ments and char­ac­ters I wanted to use, and fur­ther rough sketches ex­plor­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing with lay­out options.

For this sort of il­lus­tra­tion, I fill page af­ter page with sketches, often far more than I’ll ac­tu­ally need, then I scan them all into my com­puter and dig­i­tally ad­just, ar­range, then re-ar­range them un­til I have a dig­i­tal com­pos­ite sketch that looks good. I then use this guide to build the fin­ished il­lus­tra­tion. I don’t al­ways work this way, but it is an ef­fi­cient, cre­atively re­ward­ing way to work and en­cap­su­lates what I love about the way that work­ing tra­di­tion­ally can be aug­mented dig­i­tally.

Af­ter 15 years de­sign­ing video games, Kev be­came a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor and writer. He pro­duced comics for 2000 AD, and text and art for nu­mer­ous art books. He’s writ­ten three books on fan­tasy art. See more of his art at www.kevcross­

1 Vi­su­al­is­ing my ideas in sketch form

I be­gin by fill­ing pages in my sketch­book with ideas. For an il­lus­tra­tion of this scope I’ll need as many ideas as I can muster, and not just char­ac­ters – in­ter­est­ing shapes, em­bry­onic lay­out el­e­ments and vari­a­tions are all sketched and gath­ered. At this stage I’m not cer­tain how things will go to­gether, but I have all the in­gre­di­ents I’ll need.

2 De­vel­op­ing a rough lay­out

Af­ter scan­ning my sketches into Pho­to­shop, the first thing I do is build up a well‑bal­anced lay­out. I chanced upon an in­ter­est­ing idea in one of the first thumb­nails I sketched, so I use this as my start­ing point, over­lay­ing other doo­dles and sketches to add def­i­ni­tion. I then build a clean, line skele­ton over the top of this com­pos­ite sketch.

3 Build­ing the com­po­si­tion

Next I add some char­ac­ters. Alice will sit in the cen­tral ‘heart’ shape, with the other char­ac­ters ar­ranged in the other four cir­cu­lar frames around the im­age. This is one of the parts of my process I en­joy the most, and any ver­sion of Pho­to­shop can be used to do this.

4 In­tro­duc­ing more el­e­ments

I con­tinue adding el­e­ments from my sketch­books. Some parts are de­rived from draw­ings I did for the pre­vi­ous book, such as the clock from the Hare’s stom­ach, and the Cheshire Cat. The lat­ter I copied, flipped, then flat­tened to cre­ate this sym­met­ri­cal por­trait. It looks clumsy and ob­vi­ous but like the rest of the im­age it’s only for ref­er­ence.

5 Main­tain­ing bal­ance as the com­po­si­tion be­comes more com­plex

Among the sketches I was par­tic­u­larly happy with were mush­rooms with books be­neath the caps, but they were tricky to place in the im­age. Even­tu­ally I chose to ob­scure the right side of the “heart”, but this was bal­anced by the curv­ing book-strip I po­si­tioned on the op­po­site side. I also add white fill into the bor­der lines.

6 The fin­ished dig­i­tal lay­out

When I feel that the lay­out is com­plete, I de­sat­u­rate each layer to re­move any colour, turn­ing the whole thing into a greyscale im­age. I ad­just the val­ues of each el­e­ment (darker el­e­ments are light­ened and lighter ones made darker), bal­anc­ing the im­age. Fi­nally I flat­ten the im­age and turn it blue. It’s al­most ready to print!

7 Tweak­ing the lay­out for print­ing

The fan­tas­tic ver­sa­til­ity of work­ing dig­i­tally means changes can be made at any stage. Be­fore print­ing the dig­i­tal lay­out out on A4 Bris­tol art board, I change the po­si­tions of the cat and the hare and re­place the dor­mouse head with a new ver­sion, it­self cob­bled to­gether from two dig­i­tal sketches. Now it feels ready for the next stage.

8 Pen­cilling over the dig­i­tal lay­out

Although I could ink di­rectly over the dig­i­tal rough, pro­duc­ing a new pen­cil draw­ing first is a valu­able way of ho­mogenis­ing the var­i­ous com­pos­ite parts that went into build­ing the lay­out. It be­comes a sin­gle whole piece rather than a col­lec­tion of parts; de­tails can be added and re­fined too. The cat, for ex­am­ple, no longer looks so sym­met­ri­cal.

9 The fin­ished pen­cils

While the dig­i­tal lay­out was a hodge-podge of dif­fer­ent parts, this new pen­cil draw­ing pulls ev­ery­thing to­gether: the bor­ders and lines flow into the il­lus­tra­tive el­e­ments, and any­thing that might have looked dis­cor­dant in the dig­i­tal com­pos­ite is now solved. I usu­ally send the client a greyscale ver­sion to re­view be­fore I start inking.

10 Pre­par­ing the art­work, ready to inking

And so the fi­nal stage be­gins! I print out a light blue ver­sion of the im­age on to smooth art board. (I’ve in­cluded the ac­tual “blue-print” file in the re­sources.) When inking, once again I al­ways do this tra­di­tion­ally. Many peo­ple choose to ink dig­i­tally, but I still en­joy the process of work­ing on a phys­i­cal piece of pa­per with wet ink.

11 Inking over the pen­cil

I use what­ever pens come to hand when I ink. Although I some­times use brushes when I’m in a painterly mood, for this il­lus­tra­tion I mainly em­ploy the sorts of pens you can buy in­ex­pen­sively from any sta­tionery store. That said, I did use my re­fill­able Rotring pens for some of the finer line work. They are awe­some tools!

12 The fin­ished inked il­lus­tra­tion

Af­ter around 20 hours, per­haps more, I de­cide the inking is com­plete. The line work needs to be clean with min­i­mal shad­ing so there is still pa­per vis­i­ble for colour­ing pen­cils to cling to, but I don’t want to keep the fi­nal im­age free of such de­tail en­tirely. There­fore I al­low a lit­tle ex­tra line def­i­ni­tion here and there.

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