Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Usagi Yojimbo Dragon Bellow Cover 1 Process

I was fortunate enough to be asked by IDW and Stan Sakai to do a run of covers on the new Usagi Yojimbo reprints of 'The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy'. I'll be doing six in total, and for this blogpost I'll be sharing my process for the creation of the cover art.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code APR210683. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The final order cutoff is June 7th, and the issue comes out June 30th.

To the left you can see the finished colored cover, but below I'll go through the steps.

For this first cover, I had a dilemma. Usagi doesn't do much in the issue (spoiler alert) and the longer tale is being set up by other characters. I talked with my editor about that and he told me to feel free to deviate from the issue's story to do a more arc-wide style cover with the samurai rabbit. I drew Usagi on one sheet of copy paper, and the dragon on another, and on a third sheet I used photo reference of Nagoya Castle to draw the architecture. I scanned these elements into Photoshop and tinted each drawing a different color to help me see each form clearer. I made a few digital tweaks to each drawing with scale, rotation, even some quick digital paint-overs. Then at the last minute I decided to add the swirling ginko leaves to suggest the wind picking up for the storm that continues through the story.

When the above layout was approved by the editor and Stan, I started the inks. First step was to print the layout file onto copy paper (over two sheets that had to be taped together at the seam) and tape that to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 bristol. On my Huion lightpad I was able to ink the cover art using the printout as my pencils lines. This way in the end the inked artwork is very crisp and clean with no need to erase pencils lines. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens to ink the art (the 0.7 and 0.3 nibs).

I tried to make sure I was breaking up the forms with different tones of grey by inking different textures and patterns (stippling, tick marks, vertical lines, hatching, etc.)

Color Flats:
The inks were approved and I scanned them in to Photoshop to start the coloring process. This first part of coloring digitally is called 'flatting' and is a professional version of coloring inside the lines. Establishing what each area's color is and where it ends. This not only is a color base for the image, but also allows a quick flat color area to be able to quickly isolate to render or make adjustments on. 

In this step I also established all my color holds (areas where I want the black inkwork to be a color other than black). And this cover has several: The architecture, the dragon, the dragon's eyes, Usagi's scar, and the pattern in the sky.

Final Colors:
Here again is the finished art (this time sans-logo). To render all of the color I mostly used the Dodge and Burn tools (Photoshop tools based on real photography techniques for purposely over or under exposing film as it develops). Burn is do darken and Dodge is to lighten. I use a stock Photoshop textured brush as I add shadows and highlights with these tools so the work looks a little more organic and less digital.

It's an honor to be asked by Stan to do these covers and to get his approvals as I work through each cover. 

Usagi Yojimbo: The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy is out in stores June 30th

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