Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ye Old Lore of Yore Reading

 Back in 2005 Jeremy Bastian and I released a self-published anthology comic called 'Ye Old Lore of Yore'. It has long been out of print, but recently, Jeremy and I decided to share it with fans again by performing a dramatic reading of the five stories within––a Cursed Pirate Girl story, Two Fir Darrig tales, Sir Hannibal of Ash, and a collaboration between the two of us: Gilbert Luther. Enjoy!



Direct YouTube link:
https://youtu.be/Co4VAzcMick

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mouse Guard: Service Print Process

In January I was inspired to do a new Mouse Guard piece. I intended it just to be for fun and for my Twitch stream audience. I'll get into the inspiration points in this post but for today's blogpost I wanted to go through the process for creating the piece––which will also be a new 8" x 8" print for ONLINECON in March (24-28).

To the left you can see the finished colored artwork for the Mouse Guard 'Service' print. And below I'll explain the steps to create it.




The main inspiration point was Amanda Gorman's poem 'The Hill We Climb' which she performed at President Biden's inauguration. It got me thinking about ideas and ideals learned in my scouting days about being of service to others. Often times, fans can think of the Mouse Guard as a band of warrior mice, when they are really more of rangers, there to do work as helpers. Sure, they at times need to do battle, but more often than not they are avoiding conflict in duties that are of pure service to others. I found this Norman Rockwell cover to Boy's Life and used it as the visual jumping off point.


I also wanted there to be some kind of insect or bird in the image to help show the scale––of what it's like to be very small in a world that is much bigger than you are, and still forging ahead to serve. I landed on a monarch butterfly as a beautiful symbol for the theme. 

To draw a cluster of flying butterflies, I made a quick model by printing out the same photo twice (once mirrored) with a twist-tie inserted across the wings as they are glued together. This way I could fold the wings to several positions and photograph it from various angles. To the left is a photo I took with my phone in one of the positions.


I did a pencil drawing of a Guardmouse on copy paper to resemble the Scout's pose from Rockwell's cover. I thought including a book and pack were important to the image, and so was keeping the sword sheathed and adding a shield to the back (sword, book, and shield echoing the ideas in the guard emblem). The cloak was tied off in front like a Scout's neckerchief. With the pencil drawing done I scanned the art and did a quick digital composition (including adding in fast colors for the mouse) dropping in the Guard emblem from my Mouse Guard enamel pins as well as lots of overlapping photos of the butterfly model.
And then I added in the text 'Service: Greater Than Self And Sword' to get the point across of being a helper rather than a combatant. 

I printed out the above digital composition and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 bristol. On my A3 Huion Lightpad I was able to see through the surface of the bristol to the printout below, which I could use as a guide while I inked. 

I used Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.7 and 0.3 nibs) to ink the piece. I think it's important to hand ink text like this when possible. I was able to get all the letterforms and spacing just as I wanted with the font, but the imperfections I can add in the inking make it look like it's part of the art instead of a digital effect. 


Once the inks were finished, I scanned them in to start the coloring process. That first step is called flatting, where I just color-in-the lines and establish where all the color areas are––which bits are which colors. At this stage I also establish color holds, areas where I want the inkwork to be a color other than black.

A lot of the color choices were already established in my layout stage, but I still had to rebalance those colors and values taking into account the sky color and the text box below.




The final piece can be seen below after I did all the rendering using the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop. This print will be on sale in my online store On March 24th when #ONLINECON starts on my Twitch channel

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Winged Hamhog

 Last Friday on my Twitch Stream, we did the second community draw-along event #DrawTheExtinct where I posted an image from an old block print I made with a few animal photo inspiration prompts and the idea to create an imaginary extinct animal. I worked on my piece live on my Twitch stream while viewers worked at home and then on Monday we shared our finished pieces. 

Here is my finished Winged Hamhog. And below are my steps to create it as well as the community submissions.


We started with the prompts of my original linocut print from a piece titled 'Extinct' as well as a hamster, a wild hog or boar, and a bat. I named the creature 'The Winged Hamhog'. I told the viewers that they could use any combination of the inspiration prompts––they could make their version as cute and cuddly as a pocket pet stray kitten, as monstrous and deadly as a giant kaiju destroying cities, or anything in between. I also wanted this to be an excuse to get their pencils moving. I invited all skill levels, because I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't have to be good at something or pursuing mastery of it to just simply enjoy the act of it...and art is no exception.

On the Friday stream I started with mechanical pencil on a sheet of copy paper. The image here is after I'd scanned my pencils, resized the image, and made some adjustments to some of the anatomy in Photoshop.

I started with the spade shape of the hog nose and decided that his overall body shape should echo that...which also is respectful of the original linoleum block print design.



With the pencils scanned and adjusted, I printed out the image and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. Using a lightpad, I was able to see through the surface of the bristol as I inked the Hamhog. I used a Copic Multiliner 0.7 SP pen to ink the art. 

Most of the inking was pretty straight forward other than the texture on the wings. I'd penciled a sample of the inking technique, but when I inked it that way, I found it needed more tone and hatching to look right.



On the first #DrawTheExtint stream, I stopped at the finished inks, but I'd gotten more done in the time allotment on this one, so I scanned the inks and proceeded to the color flats.

The color selections were pretty straight forward, it was jsut a matter of using different layers to establish where those color areas started and stopped: The main fur vs the belly fur, the wing structure vs the wing flaps etc.

Below you can again see the final rendered colors with a border and type applied.




But, as this is a community event, I wanted to share all the other entries posted in the Discord (some are works-in-progress I've been told). I awarded a prize and we voted together on a few more (prize winners marked with *) on Monday's Twitch stream and we all enjoyed seeing what each other had done. I hope we get even more participants next month (first Friday!)

AU Tiger


Redlynx



Jesse Glenn


VernNYC



Cortrah


Wicked Goblin King *


Capt. Nemo


Cheryl



Nate Pride *


RedJarOJam


Valkien



Dark*



Serarel *


The Illustrator * 


Tyrie


Apaulo


Bunce



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Yarrow Limited Print Process

Each Year I create a new limited edition signed and numbered 11" x 11" print. The tradition started many years ago when Julia urged me to create a new print for a convention or event that was 'just pretty'. She thought that we had plenty of images of mice wielding swords and threatening snakes and owls––that the audience, especially women, appreciated when I just drew tender moments, or nature, or flowers.  I followed her advice, and for years now fans have proven her right by anticipating and purchasing the new square print I offer.

This year the piece is titled 'Yarrow' for the flower shown in the image.
Below I'll show the step-by-step of creating the art.


For the pencil drawings, they are all 0.5 mechanical HB pencil on regular copy paper. I started with the drawing of the mouse playing the harp (I'd drawn her before in a few Mouse Guard pieces), and then didn't know what to pair her with...would she just be surrounded by flowers? berries? another animal, insect, or bird? So I tried in Photoshop to place a few photos of those things next to her––a butterfly or swarm of butterflies almost won-out, but I really liked images I found of a Tufted Titmouse. On my lightpad I was able to draw the bird on another sheet of paper while lining it up with the existing drawing of the mouse. 

I'd also found images of the yarrow flower, and drew in heaps of those on the bird drawing too. And so it felt more like Mouse Guard, I also drew a spear that I could play with  placing in the next step.

I scanned in those pencil drawing into photoshop and assembled them into a composition. This included doing a rough coloring job to help block in the forms. This helped me in terms of the masses for composition (in fact I digitally added in a few more flowers, leaves, and stems where I felt they were needed) but the coloring work at this stage also helps me on the next step when I'm inking so I can see clearly what everything is, so that I ink the contour and texture of a flower petal differently than a leaf or cloth or animal.




Then I print out the above composition. Because of it's size I have to print it in two parts and then tape them together. That whole printout is then taped to the backside of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my Huion lightpad I can ink the piece on the surface of the bristol while still seeing my 'pencil' lines on the printout below.

There was a lot of repetitive forms in the flowers, and I tried to focus on making the space in between them dark so they receded away, and much of the character space is open without a lot of texture or rendering to help give the eye a break in that sea of tight flower inks.

When the inks were done, I scanned those back into photoshop to start the coloring. The first part of that is called 'flatting' where I establish what color everything is and where those areas end with flat un-textured colors. Like, professional coloring-in-the-lines. I also established a few color-holds, areas where I want the ink work to be a color other than black (here I did it on the dress embroidery pattern, the background foliage, and on the harp strings (which were inked on the back side of the bristol on a lightpad so I could isolate those lines very easily.

I'd made most of my color choices when I was compositing the pencil drawings, so this step was rather procedural.

The last part was to render the color––to add light, shadow, and texture. I do this in Photoshop mostly with the Dodge and Burn tools and a stock textured brush.

'Yarrow' will be released and made available for purchase in my online store at the start of my March ONLINECON event (Mar. 24-28––more info coming soon)

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Science of Mouse Guard Video

Last year during my August ONLINECON, I invited Kishore Hari to come and do a presentation called 'The Science of Mouse Guard'. Kishore is a great science communicator who will break down the science in movies, not to discredit the film or bash the filmakers, but to look at the possibilities of what is possible or ways that the fictional science could be on the horizon. Kishore's gave the same treatment to my world of medieval mouse society and got into the relative strength of mice, their lifespans, the scaling of metallurgy, and much more. You can now watch his presentation on my Youtube channel or below on this post:


 The Science of Mouse Guard––with Kishore Hari:
Or Watch on YouTube:
https://youtu.be/wF_PFon_I-A

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

2021 Bookplate Process

Every year since 2012 I've been creating a new Mouse Guard bookplate as a special item for fans. The idea is that, with these signed by me, even if you can't bring me your physical copy of a Mouse Guard book, this bookplate can be glued in making your copy signed.

I'll be releasing this year's new bookplate in my online store in March when I'm hosting my during the  #ONLINECON event on my Twitch channel. Currently you can buy several bookplates from past years (and see blogposts for those bookplates at the bottom of this post). For this Blogpost I wanted to share the process for creating the art for the bookplate this year.


I knew that I wanted to do an image that had a woodblock feel to it. My degree is in printmaking, so I was also drawn to the idea of actually carving a block (or perhaps a few blocks) for the process instead of digitally faking it (I split the difference on that––I'll talk more about the digital fakery later). For inspiration I was looking at blockprints from Japan as well as the Arts & Crafts movement landscape prints from California. A fan of mine suggested I check out the work of David Lance Goines for inspiration, and I found this poster he did for the Berkley Horticultural Nursery...it became the starting point. I knew I wasn't going to do all the hexagon background pattern, but I could incorporate the pose, the sunburst-halo, and the gathering of flora.


I usually don't draw digitally, but in this case, I did an entirely digital layout for the art. I changed the flowers to some type of grain being harvested, which is also why I decided to add the scythe. Having carved lots of blocks for printing before, I kept that experience in mind as I made my lines...not to make shapes that would be too difficult to carve around, lines that would be bold and could be easily formed with knives.

As for the colors, I got a little ambitious. Each color should mean a separately carved block––and it was at this point where, liking the look of the colors, I decided to compromise. I'd carve the darkest linework as a traditional print, and get all the color through digital trickery.


When I was in school, the technique for transferring an image from paper over to a wood block (or in this case, linoleum) I'd use graphite paper or rub pencil on the back of the paper and then retrace my drawing. But I found a tutorial online for transferring an inkjet printout to linoleum that seemed much easier. First I gently roughed up the lino surface with some fine grit sandpaper, and then painted it with a slightly thinned out wood glue.

I ended up doing this process twice because I screwed up the first time and thinned the glue out too much.

While the glue is getting tacky, I placed the printout of my linework onto the linoleum. I smoothed out the paper with a rubber brayer. This made sure the paper was really in good enough contact with the glue to bond properly. 

Then I had to wait. Wait for the glue to really dry. Not just a little, but truly dry (this may have also contributed to my first attempt failing and me needing to redo the process). I used a hair dryer for a bit to help with the process--but I still waited hours before attempting the next step.



With a damp towel, I rubbed the paper until the paper started to peel into little nubbins. It was important to to get the paper too wet––it can reactivate the glue, but just to get the paper to disintegrate into little balls of pulp, while leaving the ink bonded to the linoleum block. This was the step where I failed the first time, and I think the glue was too thinned out and wasn't dry enough, so everything washed away down to bare linoleum. There was still some paper material in areas that looked like fog over the design, but it was clear enough to see to carve.


I streamed the carving process on my Twitch channel. I used the same carving knives I had in college––which frankly were too big for this project, but I still managed.

The basic idea of relief printing is that you want to carve away any part you don't want to print––so you leave the parts you want to print standing. It's about working in the negative space.


With the same brayer (roller) from earlier, I inked up the surface of the block and pulled a few prints of the linework once the block was carved. I also took an uncarved block and printed a few full squares. I didn't pull perfect prints of these, the goal wasn't a solid color, but a subtle texture with imperfections. These were to use for the digital trickery step--I could use the texture of them for the color areas.



With the all the bits scanned, I could start the digital trickery step. You can see in the layer menu that I have a layer for each color (each tinted to match the color scheme from my rough version) and then masked out (the black icon next to each layer) so that the color shows though only where I want it to. I still had to make makes that would look and feel like block printed shapes as I made the digital masks for where each color would show



Overall, I'm very pleased with the results. I think it looks like a block print, it looks like Mouse Guard, I got the satisfaction of doing some traditional printmaking again, but I didn't have to go through the headache of carving seven blocks and try to register them all to line up properly. The last step of the bookplate process was to add the 'This Book Belongs To:' text and the lines for a name and the edition numbering. I used parts of the border to copy and create those lines so they looked cohesive.

I hope you enjoy this new bookplate when it's released in March...and below you can look back at the past bookplates and the blogposts about them:



Blogposts:
















Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Rand Commission Art Process

Earlier this year I took on some inked commissions (something I rarely do anymore) as part of my August 2020 OnlineCon. One fan requested the Guardmouse Rand around the era of the Weasel War. In addition to inking the piece and sending it off to the commissioner, I've been coloring these pieces with the idea that they will eventually end up in a sketchbook or something similar. 

To the left you can see the finished colored piece, but below I'll run through the art process for creating it.


I started with a drawing of Rand, the Guardmouse with the copper shield, that I did on copy paper. All I was after was a cool pose. Then I decided that to signify this being around the time of the Weasel War, I should add a dead weasel for timeline-reference...but a weasel skeleton was something I thought looked infinitely cooler than just a deceased mustelid. I drew the weasel bones with the armor and clothes on a separate sheet of copy paper and after scanning both drawings and adding some quick digital color to block in shapes I was able to cobble together a composition. I have a visual association of Rand and dandelions, so those became a very easy and quick background element.


I printed out the above layout composition and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my Huion lightpad I was able to see through the surface of the bristol to use the printout as a guide to ink by. I used Copic Miltiliner SP pens (primarily the 0.7 nib) to ink in the lines. It's in this step that I'm concerned with line weights, textures, spot of black and detail that isn't in the pencils. If memory serves, I inked this all on my Twitch stream as fans watched and asked questions. The inked art was then carefully packaged and shipped to its new owner.


But before the piece was shipped off, I got a high quality scan of it so I could use the art for my own purposes down the line––sketchbook or something. The coloring process starts with painting in all the areas with basic flat colors, establishing what parts are which colors. It's not necessary that everything be the same color as what will appear in the final, but just making the different color areas very easy to re-isolate during the final rendering process. At this step I also painted in a color hold (an area where I want the inkwork be be a color other than black) on the background and the pattern on Rand's shield. 

The last step is to render all the color––to add highlight, shadow, and texture. I do this mostly using the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop while using a stock textured brush. 

In my most recent sketchbook, Dawn, Daye, & Dusk I played a lot with lighting effects for different times of day––and I think it carried over into this new piece where I have more sun and lighting effects than I have in the past.








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