Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Clematis Print Process

Each Year I create a new limited edition signed and numbered 11" x 11" print. The tradition started many years ago when Julia urged me to create a new print for a convention or event that was 'just pretty'. She thought that we had plenty of images of mice wielding swords and threatening snakes and owls––that the audience, especially women, appreciated when I just drew tender moments, or nature, or flowers.  I followed her advice, and for years now fans have proven her right by anticipating and purchasing the new square print I offer.

This year the piece is titled 'Clematis'. Below I'll show the step-by-step of creating the art.

We have a large clematis growing up our non-functioning lamppost in the front yard. Each year huge violet blooms cover the leafy tangle of fines for a few weeks. I took a photo of them last summer and had it sitting on my phone to use as reference for this year's print.

I drew the mouse (the first Matriarch to tame bees to bring to Lockhaven) on copy paper, then on different sheets of paper drew the smoking censer and the woven shield (inspired from medieval beekeeper masks). The background and bees were all drawn from reference photos. I assembled all the drawings in Photoshop, and then gave it a quick flat color pass so I could more easily see the forms (what was bee wing and what was leaf, or pedal)

When I liked the above layout, I printed it out on copy paper and taped it to the back of a sheet of 12" x 12" Strathmore bristol. On my A3 Huion lightpad, I was able to see through the surface of the bristol down to the printout and use it as a guide to ink from.

I used Copic multiliner SP pens (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs) to ink the piece. I did most of this inking on my Twitch stream.

I scanned the inks and began the coloring process with painting in flat colors to establish what areas are what colors––this process is called 'flatting'. I had most of my color palette already established from my layout (and that I had a reference of this mouse from the stained glass version of here in Black Axe, as well as the real-word colors for the bees and flowers).

In this step I also established color holds (areas where I want the inks to be a color other than black) on the lines behind the mouse, the bee's wings, and her tabard embroidery.

Here again are the final colors. I rendered them using the dodge and burn tools with a stock textured brush in Photoshop. I also would lasso areas and adjust the color balance to make subtle shifts to colors (like the bee's butts and the flower pedals). I used a brush made from a thumbprint scan to paint in the smoke emanating from the censer. 

The final print is available for purchase in my online store


Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Ancient Storm Stag Dragon

Last Friday on my Twitch Stream, we did the #DiscoveringDragons Community-Draw-Along! Normally it happens on the first friday of the month, but because I was at Emerald City Comic Con on the first friday, we postponed it until the second friday for this month. It's a fun event where I welcome all skill levels to push their pencils (or whatever tools they use to make art). I worked on my piece live on my Twitch stream while viewers worked at home and then on Monday we shared our finished pieces.

Here is my finished colored Dragon. And below are my steps to create it as well as the community submissions.

For #DiscoveringDragons, I post two or three prompt words for everyone to make into a dragon. It's a nice framework for artists of any skill level to focus some time on an 'assignment' to shake the rust off or get the pencil moving again––all while also being loose enough that there's plenty of room for individual expression and interpretation.

This month the prompt words were Ancient, Storm, and Stag. I opened a few tabs of google image searches of those words & one for 'dragons'. 

I knew going into this dragon that I wanted to push a sense of scale more than my previous pieces.

I started with a pencil drawing on copy paper of an elk head and then a separate drawing of the body shape & pose. I used a kneaded eraser to lighten the elk feature enough that I could draw more dragon-ish features that happen to be in the shape of an elk's head. I assembled those drawings in Photoshop and added a photo of a stag's antlers. In this step I was able to make adjustments, resize, reposition, and refine the rough shapes.

I then printed it out so I could do the tighter pencil drawing you see to the left on top of it on a light pad.

After I was happy with my above design, I printed that piece out on copy paper and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. Using a lightpad, I was able to see through the surface of the bristol as I inked the dragon. I used Copic Multiliner 0.7 & 0.3 SP pens to ink the art. I started with the head, but them moved down to the body. I hesitated on the antler-like spines down the neck and tail, so I postponed on those, moved on to the antlers before needing to end the Twitch stream for time concerns. After I had some dinner, I came back and redrew the antler spines and inked them in off stream.

At the end of my stream I'd wished the viewers all luck with their pieces and told them we'd take a look at everyone's work on Monday. After I finished the inks, I also wanted to draw some weather effects to get 'storm' in the piece more. So I inked a separate cloud on a piece of scrap, and the lightning on the back of the dragon art. 

I scanned them all, assembled them and started the coloring process. That first step is to flat in the colors––basically professional coloring-in-the-lines.

 For the final colors and all the highlights, shading, and texture I used the dodge and burn tools with a stock photoshop texture brush. I also did a little bit of painting with a brush on the cloud effect. Below you can again see the final rendered dragon.

But, as this is a community event, I wanted to share all the other entries posted in the Discord.








Sarah Crumb

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Mike Davis' Wordless-Fill-In-Comics

Back in the early/mid 00's, my friend Mike Davis (Rand) and I had an idea for him to draw very quick simple comic strips that I would post (mainly on the CBR Hellboy Forums) for other folks to fill in their jokes. I colored most of these (and added a subtle color halftone to push the idea of them being newspaper comic strips.

We did a few as contests (I think I mailed a sketch to the person who's entry got the most fan votes), but I felt like this would have been a great publishable book (with more polish and production) where the pages are a glossy board book stock that colorform or post it style balloon shaped stickers could be placed on and easily removed. Anyhow, here is the full run of the wordless comics Mike drew and I posted over 20 years ago.

If you want to download any of these and try your hand at digitally adding in some balloons, text, and jokes, I'd be happy to do a follow-up post of everyone's efforts.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

TMNT/USAGI 5 Covers Process 3/3: Colors

 For the past two weeks I've been sharing the process for creating my 5 adjoining covers for the TMNT/Usagi WhereWhen crossover miniseries. I've covered the pencils/layouts and the inks. Today I'm sharing the coloring process. Above you can see the finished colored and assembled covers. Below I'll walk through a bit of the process.

With the inked covers all digitally reassembled, I started the first part of digital coloring called 'flatting' where you are adding flat colors to establish all the color areas in the piece.

This is a professional version of coloring-inside-the-lines to establish the colors for the piece, but also to make it easy to isolate and grab those color areas again and again as I do the rendering. At this step I also added in the color holds (areas where I wanted the line-art to be a color other than black) to Usagi's scar, Tomoe & WhereWhen's pupils, and all the sword blade lines, as well as some of the debris I decided was further back.

To start the final colors in Photoshop CS5, I needed to add shading, highlights, and texture. To do this, I rendered all the covers like one big piece using the Dodge and Burn tools while using a stock Photoshop Brush. Dodge and Burn are tools carried over from Photoshop being a photo retouching tool and are terms for purposefully over or under exposing areas of photographs in a dark room.

More simply Burn darkens whatever values/colors are there, and Dodge will lighten them. The textured brush adds in some random and natural variation as I render giving the piece a bit of texture so it doesn't look quite so 'digital'.
When I was working on the layout of the 5 adjoining covers, I had no idea what to do with the background. I even wondered if I should leave it white and make the piece a bit more graphic (I was thinking of a Joe Mad X-Men cover from the 90's). But as I was flatting the piece, I eyedroppered up the orange color I had as a placeholder for the robot debris and flooded the sky with it––and didn't hate it.

Adding in some gradients and color shifts so that it was brightest at Dr. WhereWhen and darkest at the edges made a difference and both felt like the fatigue of battle as well as reminded me of a Usagi group piece of Stan's.
Most of my color choices were made when I was doing the layouts for this piece and all based on how the characters are colored in the comic already. But, I already have some shifts in color I generally prefer, like warmer versions of cool colors, more muted yellow greens for the turtles, and a warmer creamier color for Usagi's fur. That being said, I had to make further alterations to the base colors once I had the orange background in. Color perception is influenced by the colors surrounding them, so I had to make subtle adjustments to make the piece cohesive.

I also had to lasso areas (with a many-pixeled feathered edge) on each character after rendering them to adjust the highlight colors to be warmer and more yellow/red/magenta to imply the lighting of the background was affecting the characters as well––and that effect needed to be more intense closer to the middle of the composition.

For all the clockwork robot debris, I started with them being a base color that was somewhere between grey/brown and orange. I then went through on two different layers just making some pieces base tones lighter (with a screen layer) or darker (with a multiply layer). I then rendered everything the same way as the figures, while trying to make sense of those heaps of parts, I also knew they needed to be background and not pull focus away from the characters.

So, the rendering detail isn't as deep––and I did very little to shift the colors of various parts to make them look different from one another, I only employed the same lasso color shift to correspond with the intensity of the background.
There were a few areas I did special effects-like tricks like a subtle yellow starburst in the background radiating out from the blast near WhereWhen's wrist. The eyes of Wherewhen and Tomoe got a little effect tweak because of the color hold and I could render in a more rounded shadow and highlight into the pupil. The biggest effect was the keypad on WhereWhen's forearm on cover 5. In the comic it glows a bit, so I added some color hold effects as well as a screen glowy layer and a subtle starburst radiating out from it.

I knew the schedule would be tight getting this piece done on time when I started the layout. The trouble with adjoining covers is that you kinda have to get them all done by the time just the first one is due (because the colors on the background and the overlapping characters need to flow together without seams).

The work was going along smoothly as we neared Christmas, and I even made sure I'd have some down-time over the Holiday before this was due. Unfortunately, I got COVID (exposed on the 24th, symptomatic on the 26th, tested positive on the 27th). I was down for over a week, which really cut into this schedule. Once I was able to sit up without coughing or aching too badly, I just focused on coloring for as long as I could before needing to lay down again. The art was due on the 10th of January (only for cover #1––but as I said, I had to have the whole thing done because of choosing to do adjoining covers). I was up until 4AM on the 9th (technically the 10th by that point) when I finished uploading the completed files. All done, on time, while recovering from COVID.

The TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo WhereWhen five issue mini series starts April 12th. My covers are called 'Retailer Incentive' covers and will arrive in a 1/50 ratio for retailers.

I'll be selling all my inked covers together in my online store the same day the first issue goes on-sale in stores: mouseguard.bigcartel.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

TMNT/USAGI 5 Covers Process 2/3: Inks

Last week I showed my Pencils/Layout stage for my TMNT/Usagi 5 issue adjoining covers. This week I'm going through the inking process for this massive piece. Above you can see a photo of the inked covers all lined up on a table in my studio before I scanned them.

I printed out the enormous layout for all five covers which was 4 feet long when everything was taped together. On a Huion A3 Lightpad, I taped a piece of bristol over the printed layout and started inking each cover seprately.

The trick was that covers 2, 3, & 4 were all narrower since the 'bleed' (the extra area of safety art for when the printed comic is cut to size) was just a bit of the covers adjacent to them––and figuring all that out as well as doing the math and making sure it all went together was a little stressful.

As I finished a cover, I'd tape the next piece of bristol onto the previous cover and continue inking any forms that carried over (Usagi's leg, Leo's sword, clockwork parts, WhereWhen's arm, etc.), then I'd carefully tape the newly started cover to the prinout, and carefully untape the previous cover from everything and carry on.

To ink this piece I use Copic Multiliner SP pens. These are technical nylon nibbed pens similar to Microns, but I prefer  Copic's version. The SP's are an aluminum bodied pen with the option to swap out worn nibs and empty ink cartridges (though I almost never need to replace nibs––one of the reasons I prefer these over Microns)

There was a lot of detail and texture across these 5 covers, and with a composition having this many characters and details I like using line weight and density/design of texture to help visually break up the space and describe different objects.

Most of this is done with the 0.7 nib, and I just feather my pressure or go back over areas as I ink to get the desired line weight and sensitivity. The 0.3 nib is usually only brought in for fine facial details like eyes, noses and mouths where a slight error in thickness or contour can spoil the entire piece.

Some of the textures I already had a mental catalog of from my past TMNT covers such as their back shells, belts, and elbow/knee pads. But I then had to play with other densities of line and pattern to help differentiate the parts of the Usagi crew's Samurai armor.

Dr. WhereWhen had unique textures all his own, much different from the more organic forms I usually focus on in my work. Still, I managed to make sure he was battle worn, dented, damaged, and textured so he didn't artistically look out of place with the rest of the piece.

For the clockwork robot debris, I really had to play with scale of form as well as density of line & shadow to help make sure that while it looked like the chaos of battle, it didn't look like static on a TV with no discernible forms or places for the eye to rest––a lesson I learned when doing a similar junk pile for the Plotmasters Revisit episode of R-Wars 

When all the covers were inked and scanned, I used little crop and calibration marks (not seen in these single cover inks, but can be spotted in the photo of all the covers at the top of this blogpost) to reassemble them all.

This was a step I dreaded, because I knew that even with my taking time to do the math for the layout, and carefully aligning each sheet of bristol with the layout crop and/or bleed lines, there was always a chance I wouldn't be able to get all the pieces back together again without some hassle and/or gaps.

There were a few minor gaps and adjustments to make. I made a new layer in photoshop to digitally ink over any gaps in the seams, so that the line of one form smoothly flowed over to the next cover. All-in-all, this process that I dreaded as a potential nightmare took less than 15 minutes. 

Below are detail images of the inks for each character:







Dr. WhereWhen

Dr. WhereWhen & clockwork robot debris



Below is the full spread of all 5 covers scanned and assembled with gap corrections (as well as the layout grid for cops and bleed for each cover.

The TMNT/Usagi Yojimbo WhereWhen five issue mini series starts April 12th. My covers are called 'Retailer Incentive' covers and will arrive in a 1/50 ratio for retailers.

I'll be selling all my inked covers together in my online store the same day the first issue goes on-sale in stores: mouseguard.bigcartel.com

Next week I'll cover the colors for the 5 adjoining covers!

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