Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Black Axe #5 Cover Process:



A few weeks ago, I turned in the final files for Black Axe #5 to Archaia. While that is a great milestone, I know that it is much further behind schedule than everyone (Archaia, fans, & myself) would like. I'm moving ahead with Issue #6 and wanted to take this blogpost to share the cover art to #5 and my process behind it.

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HAVEN'T READ ISSUE 4?
READ NO FURTHER: SPOILERS ABOUND
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Em's death is explained and given meaning in issue 5, so I wanted the cover to feature her and show respect to the passing of the character. I showed a mouse funeral in Winter 1152, and for Black Axe, I wanted & needed to do something different with the ceremony. My two big visual cues came from various paintings (but mostly the one shown here) of Hamlet's Ophelia and Padme from Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Celanawe, a weathered & grizzled mouse, recieved a funeral by fire. Em's more gentle nature needed something more calming, a sea/river burial. The flowers from Padme's casket-sled translated directly to this cover and the scene in the book, they also gave the ever-important mouse-scale to the imagery.

I sketched a floating Em surrounded by flower pedals (based on a daisey native to Denmark...since Denmark was an influence on the creation of the isle of Ildur). Em is holding a crow's feather, and (this isn't a spoiler) I don't explain why when it's shown in the funeral scene.Her kinship with birds gives Celanawe & Conrad the idea to send her off with a feather Once I had a floating Em sketched, I didn't need to do much more drawing since most of the work of this cover was going to be in the trick of getting transparent water on the submerged items & making the surrounding water interesting.

I scanned the sketch, made some resizing adjustments and then printed it out in-scale with the final cover art dimensions. Using a lightbox to see my printout as a guide, I inked in the figure of Em and the flowers. There wasn't much need to shade or render anything on this cover, so it looks a bit stark in comparison to some of the past covers. To get some transparency for the water's flow I inked water-ripple lines on an overlay sheet (using the lighbox so I could keep the lines in registration with the cover art). The lines shown here are pink only for illustrative purposes for the blog, they are black on the real overlay sheet. Having them on separate paper makes it easier for me when coloring to isolate and manipulate those lines.

Last step was coloring. The color choice for the water was directly related to the color of Em's dress. I wanted to take advantage of a blue/orange contrast and used a muted blue green that still played off of Em's muted red-orange dress. I set the water overlay lines on a layer which has some transparency to it. This allows the ink and color work underneath those lines to be seen. To get the parts of Em, her dress, and the flowers that are submerged to look so, I made a photoshop layer to affect those areas and desaturate, tint, and darken them.

Fan Art:
This piece comes from Kal Siagian who writes:

I did this fanart to get a laugh out of my friends who play kendo (Japanese fencing)...Adapting the helmet to the mouse head shapes was surprisingly tricky, and there was so much going on behind the mice with tails and armor cords that the cloaks were just too much, so I moved the identifying cloak colors to the plate of their torso protectors.
I wrote Kal back saying that the attention to detail with the costume is much more interesting than a guard's standard cloak. Well done Kal!


2012 Appearances:
San Diego Comic Con: July 11-15
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept 8-9
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28
Thought Bubble: Nov 17-18

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rocket Raccoon:
I was asked by Jon Morris to contribute to his blog project: The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe REDUXE Edition. Jon has previously organized several projects with indy artists coming up with their own covers for an alternative DC New 52, for a re-imagined Marvel, for re-imagined comic covers in general, and for new corner logos for various comics. The idea of the REDUXE Ed. of the Marvel Handbook is to have current indy artists redraw all the character portraits from the handbook, but with the freedom to redesign/reinterpret the character as they go.


I went for Rocket Raccoon simply because, as an animal character, he was purely in my wheelhouse. I combined a few visual cues from several various incarnations of the character and filter that all through my inking sensibilities (and with some copper-ish steampunky guns). Below are the pencil sketch and inks.

My Grandparents:
Gilbert & Doris Petersen were a pretty big part of my life. We lived only a few miles from them, and I saw them at least once a week from my birth right up through when I left for college. Even though neither lived long enough to see Mouse Guard released on a national level, I have tried to put their presence in the books (Fall is dedicated in their memory, there are mouse cities in honor of them, and the whole matriarchal society is because of the strong woman my grandmother was.) I sculpted these mice for them as Christmas presents around 1998 (6 years before I drew issue 1). My grandmother was the best baker I'll ever know, & my grandfather was a bit of a cowboy, so their mice sculptures depicted that.


Fan Art:
This piece of Saxon, Kenzie, & Lieam was painted by Andrew Bayliss. I really like the sense of scale and imminent danger. Great job Andrew!

2012 Appearances:
Heroes: June 22-24
San Diego Comic Con: July 11-15
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept 8-9
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28
Thought Bubble: Nov 17-18

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mouse Development:


Mouse Development:
While organizing things in the studio, I found a few older drawings of the mice I thought I'd share. They show a progression of how I didn't know what to do with my mouse concept for many years and eventually came to the ink work you recognize in Mouse guard today. If you are not a regular reader of the blog, you can look back at a few past posts about the origins of Mouse Guard and my drawing style before reading on:
Pre-Mouse Guard~1149
Drawing Like Yourself
The Old Guard

In 1996, after the initial drawing of Saxon, Kenzie, and Rand, I painted this on a wide scrap piece of mat board. I remember wanting to show the three as wilderness wanderers and adventurers without them being knights or warriors. It's interesting to me now that the wide horizontal composition, something I pushed for with Mouse Guard by making it a square book, was at the root of one of the earliest pieces I did of the mice. I was still heavily referencing Tom Pohrt's mice & backgrounds for this painting.

By 1997 I hadn't separated the mice out of the larger story concept of my "1149" animal world. While attending community college in Flint, MI, I started writing the animal tales as a chapter book (with the  plan for spot illustrations) I was also taking printmaking at the time, and generated a few etchings of the mice. The first one of the mouse trio (left) was a foundation level assignment where we were only allowed to use one type of ground (acid resist) to make the image.

The second I did as a mock book cover. While writing the first few chapters (which at that time had goats, a tiger, a fox and many other species) I was finding how compelling the mice were to write for. The concepts for their culture were solidifying from a vague altruistic-boy-scout-D&D-ranger to what has since become the inner workings of the Guard on display in my books and the roleplaying game. Using them as the focus of this mock cover not only was the shift for making the stories mostly about mice, but also for this importance of a major winter conflict with weasels.

Over the course of college I was jumping around between tools & techniques I could use to make images. And in the same way, I didn't know what would be the best way to tell my mouse story and jumped between options there as well. As a comic? as a chapter book? as a children's book? This drawing with watercolor wash was done when I was still in chapter book mode. The heavily photo referenced drawing taught me how I would need to draw my main characters without looking up photos of mice on every illustration. The facing page in my sketchbook has the note "the mice rarely trusted weasels, but in this case, they made an exception. Rand walked along ahead to warn of any dangers, Kenzie fashioned a clever saddle pouch from the weasel's bag and belt, and Saxon refused to be out of a sword-swing of the ferret's head in case the new partner was not to be trusted"

By 1998 or so though I had started to cool on seriously doing a mouse story. I was introduced to the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and saw how someone else was already telling this genre of story with words far better that I could have hoped to. And though I was in school for art, I wasn't confident with my chops as an artist to tell a story mostly with pictures. The characters refused to die in my mind though. So for several years i would just draw the mice, even creating new characters, though I had no serious intent on moving forward with a way to tell their tales. But this causal hobby was allowing me to draw the mice in my own way ...no longer looking at how other artists drew mice or digging up endless photo reference.

After I graduated college in 2000, I had the itch to try telling a story with comics again (something I hadn't had enough time to try while earning a degree). Among other story concepts I considered to play with was Mouse Guard. The rendered pencil work seen above was too time consuming to draw panel after panel of, so I tried drawing the characters with just contour lines. I found the drawing too bland, it needed tone. So I added watercolor (which I overworked and subsequently made the drawing worse by adding). The watercolor went on quicker than fully rendering a pencil drawing, but it was less forgiving. (as a side note, I liked this composition so much I redrew it and used it on the ├╝ber-rare 2004 MG sketchbook)


It was at a family BBQ where I tried drawing the mice in ink where I found my happy place for the art-style. I had enough experience drawing the mouse characters, I could do it without reference and still make them look like semi-real mice, and I could use cross-hatching and stippling to get all the tone I wanted out of them. With the ink I also got a look of polished-finish that my pencil and water color work always seemed to lack.This drawing (supposed to be me as a mouse) was from that drawing session at the outdoor BBQ. I was calling back my printmaking experience with etchings and woodcuts for "how to make grey tones from black lines" and it just felt right.

There was still a part of me that questioned if I could pull off doing a Mouse Guard story in a medieval setting though. Redwall wasn't only a popular book series, but had an animated series on PBS by this time, and I feared the comparisons. So briefly I toyed with the concept of a rather steam-punk-London-airships Mouse Guard. This character was to be one of our heroes who patrolled a war torn city from mouse spies, running up tall structures to leap into scheduled passing airships. Like James Bond, I wanted him to have a number for a code name, one that suggested there were others like him. This concept wasn't developed more than that, but I do remember while doing this drawing feeling I had a better handle on inking textures and making shapes out of inked negative space.

This last drawing (which butt ends the artwork from the Drawing like Yourself post from last February) was a carry over from the steam-punk idea where I tried to design an Ewok-esque flying rig for the medieval mice. Not only is the rig silly, but I opted to have mice ride birds in Mouse Guard to show the sense of wilderness, setting, and scale.


2012 Appearances:
Heroes: June 22-24
San Diego Comic Con: July 11-15
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept 8-9
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Iron Pinup process:


Shane-Michael Vidaurri and I met several years ago at the New York Comic con. He was an illustrator who was starting to dabble in sequential storytelling. I really liked what he was doing with watercolor washes and subtle pacing. We have since stayed in touch and his first book is due out from Archaia this summer: Iron, or the War After. Shane asked me to do a pinup for the collection.

Shane contributed a pinup to Mouse Guard (which will be seen in Black Axe #5) and this piece was to balance the exchange. I like how he frequently uses inset panels, open space, and muted colors. So I intended to emulate these methods into my piece for him. He specifically asked for the Officer Tiger character, Engel. Using the first chapter's imagery, I honed in on one page from the book showing Engel in his office, uniform jacket removed, suspenders showing, with his important documents and intercom-radio on his desk.

I started with a sketch or two in my sketchbook (the tiger's head was drawn on a different page and at a different scale while looking at photo reference). The sketches were assembled and adjusted in photoshop. Some of the details didn't fit into the frame (like the radio or the desk papers) the way I originally drew it, so I sliced up the image and moved bits where they needed to be for this final composition. The inset panel was saved for me to draw a tree branch in ink, and the wall paper pattern was pasted together off of a sampling of a pattern from a historic wallpaper company.

Using a printed version of the digitally adjusted layout above, I inked the final art on bristol board using a light box to see my layout as a guide. Instead of just digitally inserting the wallpaper texture, I wanted to hand ink every little bit of the pattern. This allowed me to make subtle wear marks or differences between them so that in the end, the image doesn't look hand drawn with a computer generated/pasted pattern laying on top of it. The hand inking makes it all cohesive.

Scanning the image I layed in my flat colors. This is where I establish the color areas: his face & arms being a different color from his shirt, also different from the pants, and the wall...and where all those colors start and stop. I forgot to mention above that the pocket watch was something I added to give the character an interesting pose and also to suggest something about his character...a man who believes in rules and following them. Turns out Shane liked this character detail and incorporated it into the later chapters of the book.

After my flats were established (and we took time for the pocket watch segue) I rendered the image. To add the highlights and shadows I use the dodge (lightens) & burn (darkens) tools in photoshop. The color holds on the wallpaper and the tree branch were color tweaked and rendered as well. It was a pleasure to do this pinup, not only because of knowing shane, and it being for our mutual publisher, but also because it's an interesting animal story, where the animal species are cues to the reader about what type of personality that character has, and I would love to read more stories like that.

S.M. Viduarri's Mouse Guard pinup
2012 Appearances:
Heroes: June 22-24
San Diego Comic Con: July 11-15
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept 8-9
New York Comic Con: Oct 11-14
Detroit Fanfare: Oct 26-28

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