Happy Holidays Everyone! Be it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Festivus, Mid-Winter, or Yulefrost, may it be a merry time for you and yours full of live, love, and gratitude for each other.
I was asked by my publisher BOOM!/Archaia to do the artwork for their Holiday card this year. In this blogpost, I walk through the steps to creating the final image you see to the left.
I was worried about too much open sky or falling snow on a Mouse Guard Yule Frost type image. I knew I was going to have mice around a candle-lit pinecone, but felt like I needed something more formal to make it interesting and read as a card-front. I found a piece of a gothic arch in a google image search that was part of a church's woodwork. It was much taller than what I needed, so using Photoshop, I distorted it to suit my needs format-wise. I then used a printout of that to lightbox a clean pencil version with all the specific iconography removed in favor of holly, berries, and a Mouse Guard crest (Swords, Strongholds, and Diplomacy: the three main tenants of the Guard).
The other elements: each mouse & the pinecone were also drawn separately on copy paper, and then scanned in and assembled in Photoshop with the clean arch drawing to come up with this layout. The tinted colors of each element make it easier for me as I ink.
I then printed out the above layout, taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol, and on a light pad started inking. Using a light pad allows me to see through the surface of the bristol to the printout underneath.
Copic Multiliners (the refillable SP variety with 0.7 & 0.3 nibs) are my inking pen of choice.
Inking this was a bit tricky because of how tight and light all the arch linework was in my rough. With every stroke, I felt like I may be ruining it, or being too heavy-handed at the least. To combat this mentally, I reminded myself that the piece was going to be reduced (shrunk) in scale to fit on the face of the card, so the bolder the lines, the better they'd hold up.
After the inks were completed I scanned them into Photoshop and started the process of coloring known as 'flatting'. This is where you establish the areas differentiated by flat colors: The fur color is different than the cloak color, is different from the pinecone, is different from the arch, etc. Sometimes I use crazy jarring colors to do this because it helps me see mistakes if I've colored outside the lines.
Here though, I stuck with colors pretty close to the final concept and relied on tried and true fur/cloak color combinations. The pendant banners were in the red family just to warm up the background of the blue-violet sky.
Once everything was flatted, I was able to render the piece. This means adding in all the shading and highlights and texture. With everything as flat colors first, it's easy to isolate an area, say the front mouse's fur, and render that independently of the cloak or inner ears or background.
For Photoshop using people, I use the dodge and burn tools with a textured brush for most of my rendering. I also use a freehand lasso with a slight feather on it to select areas and color shift them with the color balance tool to get those rosey noses and warm glows.
I added the snow digitally using a Wacom Tablet to draw in the flakes. This is different than the harder-edged and more process intensive way I did in the Winter series, and probably how I'll proceed in the future with any snow in Mouse Guard.
So, again, I wish everyone who reads this blog and all of your extended families & friends a Happy Holiday season with blessings of health, prosperity, joy, wisdom, and togetherness for us all.
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