This was a piece I finished this past weekend, and I've had a few people ask me about some process stuff about it. So I thought this would be a good time to put down all my thoughts on paper and show how I went about it. It's nothing fancy, but maybe someone will get something out of it.
Often when I'm trying to think of new ideas, I'll write something down or doodle out a small bit of it and let it stew in my brain for as long as needed. It's not a perfect system, since I tend to lose some ideas that I think were quite good, but what it does allow is time for my mind to turn it over and over, strengthening the concept and vision of the art.
Fortunately for this one, the idea leapt out readily while I was driving home one evening. Usually my initial thumbnail to cement it doesn't reflect what I eventually finish out, but in this case it stayed pretty true throughout, besides a few proportion adjustments here and there.
The thumbnail itself was about 2" high and done in my sketchbook with just a mechanical pencil (I use a very fat mechanical pencil to prevent hand strain, and a .09 mm lead because I like the chunkiness of the line now and then.) Scanned it in at 400 dpi, then upped the size to around 8 inches high or so and brought it down to 200 DPI.
At this point I lower the opacity of the the scanned image and create a new layer on top of it. This is when I actually start to try and make sense of the scribbling I did in my sketchbook and turn it into a proper drawing. I'm using a basic brush, opacity and size set to pen pressure, and a dark grey (not black) color is used. Nothing fancy, yet.
My main goals during this is to establish forms and figure out some of the dicier things, like anatomy, perspective, overlapping forms and whatnot. I really try and restrain myself from detail at this point, since I'll be inking it later and I'd rather not retread the same ground, but I do sometimes go back and add some here and there just to solidify some ideas in my head on what things should look like. I'm also using reference photos at this point, namely ones of me looking upwards to get the undershot of the nose right, my hand gripping a dowel rod, and armor reference from one of the many books I have.
I also at this time did a color rough, just to work out the ideas I had for the scheme in my head. I wanted the transformation to be pretty psychedelic, while the rest of it was grounded in more real colors, with a backlight. Stark white background to make it pop.
Right, so the pencil drawing is done. Turn it into a monochromatic light red color so when it prints out it's like I used a col-erase to draw it all. I have a piece of 13x17 bristol board that I print the pencils out on at 12x16. It seems whenever I thumbnail I automatically do something pretty close to comic page dimensions (some habits die hard.)
Step away from the computer and move over to drafting desk. I ink primarily with a Winsor & Newton Series 7 sable round, size 2. Back when I started to learn how to ink I used a much smaller size, and honestly I think that kept me away from a long while. If I just stopped complaining and buckled down on the 2 I probably would have come back to inking with a brush much, MUCH sooner than I have.
Spot blacks that I know for sure are going to exist in the piece are put in first with a flat 1/2" brush. This is used just for coverage sake, it'd wreck a round brush to do all that otherwise. Once I have those in place, I start work with the round.
I don't really have advice for this, since I'm just now getting back into it, but I have noticed that really good inkers don't necessarily ink fast to get those energy-filled lines. It's more deliberate, and a more careful consideration of how to balance the thick and thin, where and when to snap the brush, etc. That's something I'm trying to consciously think about now, with the hope that it eventually becomes gut instinct. I'll also sometimes go back with a micron pen here and there to add a bit more, but I try to be restrained about it since it can lead to unnecessary noodling.
With all the major linework out of the way, it's time for spattering and ink washes. I cut out masks using cheap printer paper, and tape them down to cover up areas I don't want, and go to town my cheap ass korean brush I got from michaels or wal-mart for like a dollar. It has bristles that don't even qualify as synthetic, I think they're made from recycled plastic cup or something equally awful, so it's only standout is that the ink flies from it brilliantly when you whack it against a chopstick.
I build up slowly, putting in a lighter spray, before I go back in with a more condensed spray. Doesn't take too long, and it's amazing the world of difference it makes. Lastly, if I haven't done so yet, I'll add in white highlights here and there.
My goal during this phase is turn out a piece of work that can stand on its own uncolored. That way I have the colored, finished illustration, and a nice hard copy of the art as well that won't just be thoughtlessly thrown away.
Inking is done, time for painting. I have a normal sized scanner (ever since my large format Mustek died on me,) so I scan it in as 4 separate pieces at 600 DPI each, then use Photoshop's automerge function to stitch them together without fuss. From there I remove the red line from the art work, and bump the contrast to make it more absolute black and white, then I move all the black line work to a new layer, leaving anything that was white as transparent (this makes it terrifically easy to do colorholds later.)
Painting time! Even though in my color rough I have a white background, I hate doing any sort of color work on a pure white ground. It makes it insanely hard for me to compare color accurately and screws with my values. So I tone it all in a brownish hue, and add some variation on top of it so it's not a single flat color. It won't necessarily show up in the end, but it's good to do anyway.
From here I created 5 layers: background, knight's face, armor, transformations, and sword. I paint on each layer the parts I tend to mask out (with the exception of the background…no need for that one to be masked,) then lock the transparency. I typically use outlandish colors so I can differentiate them, but once I have them all sorted I'll bring them back to the neutral colors I have on the ground already.
With that out of the way, I can knuckle down and get to work.
Most of my painting can be broken down to three or four guidelines I always adhere to:
-I work almost always with opacity pressure turned off. More often than not it works against me, and I'd rather have the mixing occur optically than be this mushy digital facsimile. My brushes can vary in shape in size, but they almost all use a texture of some sort set to "height", with THAT set to pen pressure. Adjusting the depth on that can make a brush give either a thick swab of color, or something that resembles dry brushing more.
-I use overlays occasionally, in the same way people would use glazing in traditional paint. Nothing fancy, it's mainly used if I need to shift colors darker or to a different hue or something like that. I'll also do the same thing with a normal layer, just crank the layer opacity down to low.
-I keep myself to a rule of "Lay the stroke in and leave it." If I keep petting an area with the pen, then it usually means I need to erase it and start over. Keep brush strokes to a minimum, and make them count.
-I bring stuff up in equal portions as much as I can, otherwise it gets too out of whack and you're comparing colors to colors that don't exist yet. So I'll bring the face up a little bit, bring the background up a bit, bring the armor up a bit, then the sword, then the transformations, then repeat. They don't necessarily get all the same love in one pass, but I need to do enough that I have a reasonable base to compare to.
So let's go through some typical painting, yeah?
First, I lay in the first pass of the white background - you'll notice it's not white yet. If I go white too early, it blows everything else out. It's really only about 70-80% grey at the moment, but as I progress I add lighter and lighter passes to it until it's damn near white.
The face started off with a dark purple-red glaze done with a normal layer cranked down to 30-40% opacity. From there, I used a rectangle shaped brush (with my brush settings I described earlier!) and started to block in my color. My lighting was coming from behind, so I made the shadows area saturated and deep in the red hues, with the intent of the lighter areas growing less saturated and more yellow.
I did a wash of color over the armor, sword, and monster bits too, just to start to bring in the colors of the piece. And that's when I hit a snag.
There's a few times where I have to start over or go back a major step (essentially scraping paint off the canvas.) Looking at the face, I don't like how it's turned out, too large of a shadow area and too orange in the light areas. Scrape it off, start over.
The armor will soon go through the same process, but for now I'm keeping close to what I had in my color rough. I bring the face up close to the finish I want before I raise the background value a little bit more, then move to redo the armor.
A note about the light areas here that I wanted to touch upon: Most of those are one, two strokes at the max. And it's very deliberate, careful use of the pressure to get that effect. It's a lot easier to control photoshop brushes going from light pressure to heavy than it is the other way around, so I drag the brush, increasing pressure until I hit the end point. It leaves a nice hard edge that works against the softer hue transitions within the shadows.
I attempt to salvage what I have, but in the end it's better to scrap it and start anew. Taking a cue from the colors I laid in the monster transformation layers, I use the radial gradient tool to throw a variety of colors onto the armor, things that remind me of metal. Blue greens, purples, warm greys, that sort of thing.
Using the rectangle brush from before, I add in the shadow edge of the metal to define the form more, and begin to build up areas with strokes. I add just enough to get rid of the artificial gradients, but I keep pretty close to the colors.
It's also at this time I do my initial color hold on the transformation bars. I know they aren't going to be black by the time I'm done, and if I leave them that way they'll mess with my perception for the rest of the piece. More psychedelic colors go by.
More work is done to the armor, darker saturated colors are added, as well as light passages (still saturated!). I begin to define the light better. I also hit up the sword a bit to bring it up with the rest.
I get to a point where it's good enough, so I give much needed love to the transformation layer. I keep to the bright blue and bright pink hues I picked out in the color rough, and begin to paint. I actually use a brush with the opacity sensitivity turned on, since I don't want texture to pop up as much in this as the rest of it. A lot of the ground color is left exposed, it looks nice.
It's also at this point that I realize the chest and the arm of the knight is too light, so I hit it with an overlay layer to darken it a bit. Perfect. Another pass on the background layer brings the white up to final value and color. Subtle texture left in it to look like it was brushed on instead of it being a flat color.
The last pass takes care of any other colorholds I wanted, as well as fixing the hair, and adding highlights to armor, sword, and anything else that needs it. Save it, and it's done.
And that's pretty much it! The piece was pretty simple, so I was able to knock it out in one sitting on a Sunday. With that, it's time to move onto the next piece.