Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2018 Mouse Guard Bookplate Process

Since 2012 I've been creating a new signed Mouse Guard bookplate each year (at the bottom of the post you can see other past year's bookplates and links to blogposts about them). 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 have the bookplate at my 2018 conventions and in my online store. For this blogpost, I wanted to go through the process to create the bookplate image.

I try to emphasize process with each bookplate. In the past I've done or emulated wood-cut, stained glass, embroidery, mosaic, etc. This year I did a painted wood carving. First, my source of inspiration. I did a quick google image search for 'medieval art' just to get a wide variety and see what kind of imagery/technique spoke to me this year. I found this piece from a Book of Hours titled 'The Visitation'. I loved the pattern in the background, and how, even though this is on parchment, the black spaces between the grid squares looks like carved relief. This, and the idea of gilded halos was my jumping off point.

In Photoshop I recreated the grid pattern. Then I drew (on copy paper) a mouse with a hooded robe in profile. The sketch was scanned and added to the grid along with some digitally added circles, 7-pointed stars, and a photo of a lantern I thought would look good on the end of the mouse's staff. Because there is no holy religion in Mouse Guard, I couldn't have the halo around the mouse's head, but I could get the same feel by having it around the light-source of the lantern.

I printed out the digital composition on copy paper and taped it to a piece of cedar shake.

I had left over pieces of cedar shake from a crafts project from Christmas 2016 and almost threw out all the scraps last fall. Luckily, cedar has a nice color, grain, and is soft enough for my needs...but more on that in later steps.

To transfer the image onto the cedar, I coated the back with graphite (by scribbling over it with a soft-lead pencil).

Carefully tracing over the design on the front of the paper with a ball-point pen, I was able to get the image onto the cedar. Wherever I applied pressure from the pen as I traced, the graphite on the back of the paper left a mark on the cedar. This is the technique I've used for my Heroes Con large auction pieces when I have a detailed drawing I need transferred onto a large sheet of matboard.

The next step was to 'carve' the cedar. Remember I said cedar was soft enough for my needs? Well, it's soft enough a wood that I could draw into it with a black roller-ball pen and leave an indentation. Going over and over the same line made it deeper. It also made all the carved lines black, which helped for readability.

I did a few tests of how to apply the pressure on some of the scrap pieces of cedar I still had. Finding out if lighter pressure or harder pressure was a boon for going with or against the grain, how to get a wider line, and how to kill a few roller-ball pens in the process.

After an evening of what felt like artistic desk-graffiti, I had the entire image's linework carved into the cedar.

It took time and patience, and while the 'carving' was very easy compared to real wood carving (trust me, I know), I still had to nurse my hand and wrist for a few days following.

Last step at this stage was to very lightly sand the surface with a fine grit sand paper. The cedar was a bit rough to start with, but this also helped get rid of any splintery burrs that poped up in the 'carving'.

To color the piece, I used some copic markers and a metallic silver marker. For the lantern parts, I didn't have a gold pen (or paint) so I used a selection of acrylic bronze/copper tones I had in a drawer of miniature model paints.

I was getting nervous about the piece here, because if the colors were wrong, there was no way to undo the process...sanding deep enough to get the penetrated marker stain out would also start to obliterate the linework. In the end, I didn't hate the colors, but felt something was still off....

detail photo of the colored cedar

The last step was to take a good photo of the piece and digitally tweak it. Normally the tweaks are limited to resizing it, adjusting some levels, and adding in the elements for it to be a bookplate, but this time I did more. The colors were still off. So I also added in a transparent photo over the silver bits of gold leaf. 

Here is the finished bookplate which will be available at my 2018 convention appearances as well as in my online store

Past year's bookplates & process blogposts:







2018 Appearances:
Emerald City Comic Con: Mar. 1-4
WonderCon: Mar. 23-25
C2E2: April 6-8
Heroes Con: June 15-17
San Diego Comic Con: July 18-22
Baltimore Comic Con: Sept. 28-30
New York Comic Con: Oct. 4-7

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