In the August 2020 Onlinecon, I had Archaia founder Mark Smylie on to go through his Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard story: 'Crown of Silver, Crown of Gold.' We talk about his role in Mouse Guard and Legends getting started, and go page by page of his story to get his thoughts and process. Enjoy!
Most of the pieces in that sketchbook were my opportunity to play with lighting effects in different times of day––and while I did little light play here, there is a start-of-morning feeling in this piece I'm happy with. In this blogpost, I'll walk through the various steps to create the artwork.
The starting point for this one was to find a use for a piece of model architecture I built while doing an instructional demo at a workshop last year. The point of that session was not just to show the attendees that models are useful (because I assume every artist understands how valuable any reference is), but that it's not terribly difficult or expensive to build something––you don't need fancy tools, materials, or training, just scrap materials, printed paper, some hobby wood, and glue. At the end of the session, I photographed the model for my own future use, and then gave it to one of the other instructor's kids. So, with these model photos in hand, I started on my composition.
On copy paper, I traced over a printed photo of the model to interpret those shapes into my linework––something clearly represented in line that simplifies some of the details, while elaborating on other areas. I then drew a mouse and a bluejay on another sheet of paper. I scanned those drawings and assembled them into a photoshop file, adding some color to help me define the bulk shapes (the mouse, house, and jay). With each drawing scanned separately, I could move them around, make subtle size changes until I had a layout I liked. Lastly, I quickly digitally dashed in some branches and berries to fill in where the image needed some help.
With the last step done, I printed out my digitally composited layout and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series Bristol Board. Using a Huion lightpad, I could see through the bristol surface to the printout to use as a guide as I inked. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs). I tried to give myself some space around the lines that represented snow (you can see this especially around the shingles and the snow piled up on the roof) to help make the color flatting step easier when I needed to isolate those lines when I digitally colored the piece.
I scanned the original inked piece into Photoshop and started the coloring process. This first step is called 'flatting' where the goal is just to establish what base color everything is––no lighting, no textures. In this step, I also isolate areas called 'color holds'––areas where I want the inked lineart to be a color other than black--and in this case, that meant all of the snow lines.
Some of the color choices were easy on this piece because of nature---but I did have to play with the various tones for the wood, stone, shingle, and tilework on the little house (as well as the mouse and his details).
The last step was to render the color, add lighting, texture, and details. For almost all of my rendering, I use the Dodge and Burn tools with a stock textured brush in Photoshop. I also went in and selected individual roof tiles and bricks to highlight or tint so that they read as having natural slight variations.
The latest episode of The Plotmasters Project went up on the site today. It was an episode Jesse and I recorded LIVE on my Twitch stream for ONLINECON titled: Psycho-Mantis! To the left you can see my finished art for my Plotmasters update of the character. Below in this blogpost I go through the process of creating that piece.
If you haven't seen the episode, I've posted the video at the bottom of the blogpost, or you can link to it directly on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/FEkO8FXYrDI
Because Jesse's original character had a strong connection to the 90's era Wildstorm artists like Jim Lee, J. Scott Campbell and especially Brett Booth, I originally thought my re-design would be a homage to that style––but as I drew this design, I realized he was too stiff, that I didn't have the chops to draw in that Image style and get the movement and fluidity a character like Psycho-Mantis should have.
So, I started over. But I did keep the headgear that I added to this design--the idea that Psycho-Mantis uses some tech strapped around his head that allows him to use his powers. This had the added bonus of giving the look of eyes sticking off the side of his head like a preying mantis.
While looking for the right kind of pose via Google Image searches--I found this artwork of a character named Vane from the Granblue Fantasy game. Jesse was certainly also inspired by anime and manga art of the early 90's when he created Psycho Mantis--so referencing this artwork felt like a good way to get the movement and life into the character while also infusing a different influence into the artwork.
I'll admit--I straight up drew over top of the Vane artwork on a light pad to get the pose for Psycho-Mantis.
I did have to do a lot of work to make the pose work with a newly designed costume though--and somewhere in that redrawing, I managed to draw Psycho-Mantis with two right feet. Instead of a typical super hero tights style costume, I wanted this to feel more like martial arts clothing--where the stripes and color changes are actually different pieces of gear. The science tech that he wears on his head made it through from the previous design--but were this time based on the look of a pair of ear buds.
In Photoshop I combined the drawing of Psycho-Mantis with a drawing of a Japanese temple--where I removed all the paper windows with open cosmic space. I also did a quick flat color job to help me 'see' all the elements and shapes as I worked towards the final art.
With a printout of the above layout, I started inking. The printout was taped to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol and then on a light pad I could ink the piece using the printout below the bristol surface as a guide. I used Copic Multiliner pens (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs) to ink with.
Where Psycho-Mantis' power is around his hands, I used a lighter touch with the pens to reinforce the lighting effects I'd be adding in later steps.
To ink those powers, I flipped the bristol sheet over and inked them on the backside of the artwork. Using a light pad, I was able to make sure I was keeping the effects inks in registration with the rest of the art.
I've used photoshop here to show what it looked like as I inked the power effects around Psycho-Mantis' hands on the light pad. Once all the inks were finished, I scanned them into Photoshop and combined them (the special effects inks going on a different layer than the rest of the inks).
Then came the coloring first step known as flatting--where I paint in flat colors without worrying about any rendering, lighting or texture. Just establishing what areas are what colors (which I'd mostly established when planning my pencils/layout of the piece).
The other big task at this step was to paint in all the color holds (areas where I want the linework to be a color other than black). I put color holds on his hands where his powers are being used, as well as the entire background.
The last part of the work for my Plotmasters update was to render the final colors and add a logo. I used the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop with a textured brush to do most of the rendering. I also used my tablet (something I don't normally do) to add in some color line texture on the main costume as well as a galaxy of stars in the background.
The logo was just a fun exercise in playing with fonts and spacing while also adding in Jesse's signature symbol for Psycho-Mantis, the crazy smily face.
In 2017 I did a drawing-a-day for Gnomevember. I've shared these pieces inked and a few in color in the past--but here for the first time, are all 30 pieces in color. I've edited them together with some music by Kevin MacLeod. Below you can watch the video and further down this blogpost see all 30 individual colored pieces. Happy Gnomevember!
I have also made most of these pieces available as prints, mugs, greeting cards, stickers, clocks, coasters, bedding, curtains, towels, phone-cases, tote bags, credenzas, and much more through my Society6 Gnomevember page: society6.com/davidpetersen/