Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Mouse Guard Commission: Beetle/Badger Canoe Explorer

During OnlineCon last year and this year, I took on several inked commissions that I'd also plan to color for an upcoming Mouse Guard sketchbook.

To the left you can see one of those pieces finished and colored ready for a page in that sketchbook––and in this blogpost I'll break down the process to get there. This piece belongs to the same fan who commissioned the piece I shared the process of last week with a mouse explorer and his badger companion. And the same species swap happened on this piece too.

Let's start with inspiration. The request was for the same mouse from the last piece canoeing with their spirit animal badger ward. So, I did some google searches for images of people canoeing. I was after photos really, but found several painted pieces used for early/mid 1900's sporting magazines including this piece by Philip R. Goodwin. I liked the composition and figured I could use it even if I placed the figures facing towards us. 

For the canoe reference I did another search and came across a 3D render of a birch bak canoe by Faveral 3D.

My drawing for this piece started with drawing the canoe and then on a lightpad and another sheet of paper overtop the canoe drawing to get the pose and positioning of the mouse and badger correct. Once I had those the way I liked I scanned them each into photoshop and put them together in a square template the right size for the final piece. That way I could resize and reposition this main focus of the piece before worrying about a background. The cross-hair marks are used to help me register the pieces in photoshop so they line up properly. With the figures were I wanted them I drew the landscape over another printout of the characters. Having each of these pencil drawing separate meant I could tint them different colors in Photoshop to help me see where bits of the drawings started and stopped.

I printed out the above layout on copy paper and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my Huion lightpad I can see through the surface of the bristol down to the printout to use as a guide as I ink. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs). 

I added a lot of the texture and details of the surrounding landscape as I inked, especially in the fallen logs. With these inks done, the piece was sent off to it's owner.

And like last time, I'd told the commissioner that I'd be replacing the badger for something more Mouse Guard appropriate for my sketchbook version. 
Using a scan of the piece, I drew a replacement for the tiny badger and on a new clean sheet of bristol inked a Rhino Beetle (I also swapped out the Everquest mace handle with something more innocuous. In this image I've digitally superimposed the two inked versions to simulate working on the lightpad over a scan of the original. In addition to inking the beetle, I also needed to ink in any ground cover or canoe where the badger originally was.

In addition to getting the new inked beetle piece scanned an registered properly, I had to mask out the linework of the badger so it didn't show through anywhere––especially in the open white areas where it would be very obvious if I missed cleaning it up.

And here are the finished inks for the piece––well. I thought I was...

The fan who commissioned the piece reached out to me. They had watched me work on the piece on my Twitch stream, and something seemed off to them––the position of the mouse's grip on the paddle was wrong. It would be nearly impossible to pull a stroke in that arm position and to their eye, the paddle looked like it would have to go through the canoe to reach water.

So, I had them ship back the piece. I did a digital drawing to figure out how to correct it and then used ink and white correction fluid on the piece to get it to look like this digitally corrected version.

Once I had the final clean inks (including my beetle swap), I could start the coloring process for this piece. That first step is called 'flatting' which is basically a professional task of coloring-in-the-lines and establishing what color area each thing in the piece is. The final colors can be altered, but it's good to establish the distinction between the water and the plants or the canoe and the beetle.

I also took this step to establish color holds (an area where I want the black linework to be a color other than black) on the two depths of background, the water,  and a little detail color hold on the canoe's decoration to make it look painted on.

Here are the final colors all rendered and textured. I do most of this work only using two tools in Photoshop: Dodge and Burn. These are tools that date back to when Photoshop was a photo retouching tool and emulate part of the development process to over and under expose areas––ie: make areas darker and lighter. So with a stock textured brush I add shadows and highlights.

This piece will eventually be collected with many more in an upcoming sketchbook I plan to release in early/mid 2022.

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