This week I wanted to share the process for the Black Axe hardcover jacked art. The cover was first shown online last week by USA Today's website, but for my blog readers I wanted to go a step further and show what it took to get there. Doing wrap around covers is a trick. The front has to be interesting, the back has to be interesting enough to warrant it being a wrap around cover, the piece has to work as a whole, and the type on the front & spine need to be read clearly. Here's how I tried to tackle those challenges.
The concept: What to show on the cover was a harder decision to make than it would seem. Obviously Celanawe with the Axe was needed, but who else? Conrad? Em? The only time all three are together, Celanawe doesn't have the Axe. Julia thought the Ferret King Luthebon was an important enough element in this story arc that he needed to be on the cover as well. I had already done two cover-type images with Celanawe & Luthebon...one was the promo image I made for Black Axe back in 09(?) where I drew these character designs for the first time. The other was the cover to Black Axe issue 3. I didn't want to repeat those pieces, but keep in the spirit of them, and sum up the entire series without being a continuity slave. So in a slow moment at the Cinncinati Comic Expo, I doodled up this rough of where the major players should be placed.
I sketched out the characters separately in my sketchbook along with the scenery & Ildur Hall. I scanned those drawings and assembled them in Photoshop tinting each element a different color to make composing the layout easier. I manipulate the sketches independently because I find it easier to make adjustments if I can just move Conrad in a smidge to the right or Celanawe up a bit, or rotate Em so she's hunched over more. Also it makes it less of a headache to get everything just so while still paying attention to where all the type needs to fit and adjusting for it in necessary.
Once the layout is just as I want it, I print it out at full size. On Strathmore 300 series Bristol, I ink the piece. The printed out layout is taped onto the back on the bristol, and using a lighbox I'm able to see through the bristol and use the layout as a guide for the inks. As I showed in my Inking Grey blogpost, I saved a lot of the detail of texture and pattern for the inking stage. The briar was hardly roughed in on the layout, and for that work, I let the pen guide me to twist around the forms and making overlapping shapes and density of lines.
The scanned inkwork is then prepped for color. This work is called flatting because it is focused with blocking in shapes of flat color. In some instances, I purposely went with loud and clashing colors for the flats. To make sure the briar vines wove in and out of each other, I used colors that were not natural for the forms and were very different from one another. This helped me know that I had the same vine the same color after it went under an overlapping vine. It's the same technique I used when coloring pages to Issue 4 and I showcased on the blog in the past
The last step was the final coloring and rendering (shading and adding highlights using Photoshop's dodge & burn tools) as well as adding color holds to the scenery in the distance and some clothing details on Luthebon and Em. The Black Axe hardcover is slated to ship next Spring (and I'm working as hard as I can to make sure I hit that deadline!)
In case you missed last week's Watercolor Wednesday paintings, here's another look. First up is Blacksad & Weekly from the French Noir series Blacksad. I'd heard people rave about this series & recommend it to me for years, but I didn't listen fearing it was all hype or people wanting me to read it purely because it was another anthropomorphic book. Well, don't be like me, if you haven't read Blacksad and you enjoy classic cinematic noir detective stories and beautiful artwork, seek out the two volumes Dark Horse has released here in the US. This is my poor attempt to capture what Juanjo Guarnido does effortlessly.
Second up is the Mask. I discovered this Dark Horse series during it's second arc: The Mask Returns (which was before the Jim Carrey movie) This was the era of my high school comic reading where I started shifting away from mainstream superhero stories and over to things like Hellboy and the Mask. A few months ago I pulled out those issues of the original Mask run as well as Returns and re-read them. It still holds up and, while not as funny as the movie, has a depth and level of dark humor I appreciate more.
Tomorrow I'll post more original watercolor paintings for purchase in the online store.
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28
Thought Bubble: Nov 17-18
2013 Appearances: Emerald City: March 1-3
Fabletown Con: March 22-24
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*