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:

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:


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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Brockball Bruin

Last Friday (New Year's Day) I started a monthly community draw-along event called #DrawTheExtinct where I posted an image from an old block print I made with a few animal photo inspiration prompts with 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 Brockball Bruin. 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 brown bear cub, a badger, and a pangolin. I named the creature 'The Brockball Bruin'. 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 drew out my pencil sketch on a sheet of regular copy paper with a mechanical pencil and a HB lead. I tried to get some of that rolly-polly feel of a Pangolin, but without really using the armor so it still had the badger and bear fur, but in tufts that echoed scales. 

Once the pencils were done, I scanned the drawing as a back-up. I also tinted the drawing red, and I enlarged it a bit bigger when I printed it out to help on the next step.

Still on the Friday stream I inked the beast. I taped the above printout of my pencil drawing and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 bristol. On my Huion lightpad, I was able to ink the piece on the bristol while still able to see the printout below to use as a guide. There were some dark areas I didn't know how I was going to ink from the pencils––to fill them in, do hatching, some texture, or leave them open for a dark color tone...the eye mask area is where this came into play the most. I ended up just inking it fairly dark only leaving some thin open areas for color and texture.

After the stream ended I scanned the inks and started prepping the piece for final colors over the weekend. I have a stock parchment that I'll use for this series' background. So, it was just about adding flat colors to the Brockball Bruin before starting the final rendering. I originally thought I'd use this warm brown/cream palate for the fur and underbelly and slightly desaturated and muted colors for the paw-pads and nose. When I got to rendering it I switched to cooler fur and warmer skin.

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!)



Bunce *


The Illustrator


Au Tiger *





Sarah Crumb

Nate Pride


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