In this week's blogpost I'm sharing the cover to Legends of the Guard Vol.3 #3 and the process I used to do the artwork for the cover. With the covers in this series being legends themselves, they give me a chance to explore imagery I wouldn't normally do in the Mouse Guard books. In this case: an under-sea mouse...
I'd done a commission for a fan a while back who originally wanted "Aquaman as a mouse", but that was at the time I'd stopped doing commissions of mice as things outside of how they would appear in my comics (no more mouse Batman or Boba Fett). I drew that commission in the spirit of an Aquaman type character, but as they would appear in a Mouse Guard legend. I went back to that piece for inspiration while sketching out the elements of this cover. The seahorse, coral crown, seaweed cape, and trident stayed, but I wanted to do more with the mouse's costume and also add some menace with the eel.
Putting the patchwork of sketches together into a viable layout that works with where the cover fold is as well as the book's logo is a job to be done in Photoshop. I tinted the various sketches to help make it easier to see them as separate elements. I mirrored the mouse & seahorse to fit around the logo, I also had to cut apart and distort the seahorse to get the posture right. The image shown is a printout of my digital layout, but all the undersea landscape you see I roughed in in pencil on the printout itself.
I taped the printout (with drawn landscape elements) to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. Then using a lightbox, I can see through the bristol to the printout and use it as my 'pencils' to ink from on the bristol surface. Texture & pattern became a big part of this piece. I looked at photos of real seahorses & eels as well as lots of coral formations and sea floors to get inspired about the types of lines & marks I'd use and how dense to pack them.
After scanning the inked piece, the longest part of setting up the color file was establishing the color holds (areas inked black I want to be a color instead). There were a lot of them on this cover: the bubbles, the fish, the eel dots, the seahorse pattern/dots, and the coral. The rest of the setup is laying in flat un-rendered colors (which may or may not be my final color choices) The goal is to establish the various color areas, that the eel's eye is different color than his body, that the one type of coral will be a color other than the coral piece next to it, etc.
The last step is to render the image and add shading, texture, highlights and special lighting effects. I use the dodge (lighten) and burn (darken) tools to get most of the work done, though I did use a paint brush and isolated areas with the lasso to give some subtle color shifts on things like the eel's body. The colors are muted a bit compared to my initial color flats, but this is a case where I was pretty close with my gut instincts.
Legends of the Guard Vol.3 #3 will have the full "legend" of this cover on the inside front cover, and will feature stories by: Mark A. Nelson, Ramon Perez, and Jake Parker
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