This is the first variant cover, with many more to come.
To the left you can see the finished variant for #1, but below I will walk you through the art process & creation of each step it took to get there.
I started with the concept of a Skeksis & urRu (Mystic) facing opposite, almost like a playing card deck's face cards...but without anything upside-down.
Throughout the film it's noted that the Skeksis & Mystics were once the same beings who split, and that they are each linked to a counterpart in the other species. I chose for this image to feature SkekZok the Ritual Master and his counterpart UrZah the Ritual Guardian. I luckilly have a lot of sources for reference with the World of the Dark Crystal book featuring Brian Froud's art, Behind the scenes photos from Henson of the puppets themselves, and the movie. Here are my sketches for SkekZok & UrZah each on different sheets of copy paper as well as a circle design of Froud's I copied for an element in the background.
Once scanned I can place the figures just right in relation to one another in Photoshop, even making some digital adjustments to proportions and rotations of heads and hands. Each element was tinted differently to help it read better in layout form. To see more of the background ring, I mirrored each figure so that the important parts of the design were visible. To add some more complexity and texture, I overlayed a subtle version of another of the cosmological magical symbols of Froud's over the entire piece.
This layout was then sent off to Archaia and Henson for approval before I could start the next step.
When the layout came back approved by both companies, I was able to get into the inks. I printed out the layout and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. I inked the piece on a light pad with Copic Miltiliner SPs (I think I used the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs here). On the light pad I can see through the suface of the bristol to see the printout and use it as a guide to ink from.
The real trick in inking this piece was how to get all the texture in without over-doing it and ruining any subtlety. The overlay pattern inks (not shown) were done separately to be added in at the end.
Once the inks were completed (and approved by Archaia and Henson) I started the coloring process by mapping out the flat colors. This is a process of establishing what areas are what colors in a way that when it's time to render them (shade/highlight/texture) I can isolate any different part at any time.
Very lucky to have access to all the reference because other than making adjustments for an overall color tone/gamut and value range, most of the work was dictated by photos, puppets, and art that already existed.
Knowing the circle pattern needed to be pushed back to the background I added a color-hold (area where I want the ink lines to be a color other than black) to all of its linework.
The last step was to render the piece. Adding in the right amount of highlights and shadow and texture to the piece without overworking it and fighting the linework was not easy.
I found that muting everything out and lightening it helped it to read better, got those lines speaking their share of the image.
The last step was to add in the pattern overlay and adjust the transparency on it so it was visible but not fighting with the finished piece.
This cover will also be included in the Dark Crystal Artist Tribute book which features illustrations and testimonials from Jae Lee, David Petersen, Mark Buckingham, Cory Godbey, Jeff Stokely, Benjamin Dewey, and the film’s original concept artist, Brian Froud.
Available from Archaia in June.
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7