Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tree Library Process

Last year and earlier this year I did an online event called OnlineCon where I opened up a list for inked commissions. It's not often that I offer fully inked commissions like this any more, but I was open to the idea of making fans happy in troubled times, supplement my income with conventions responsibly canceled, and to generate material 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.

The request was a mouse library The fan knew I'd drawn several of them before and told me to do this piece however I wanted. And it's true, I've drawn formal libraries, ancient libraries, cozy libraries...and this time I wanted to draw something a bit more organic. So, I started drawing a library made of what looked like living trained tree/shrub branches & roots (augmented with shelves, rugs, and rope. The entire room was drawn on one sheet of copy paper, and I scribbled the mouse on another sheet (or off to the side) and merged them together in Photoshop. To help me see the masses and forms, I quickly painted in some color blocking.

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 wanted the depth & space to be more defined in the inks than the layout, so I added a density of hatching to the upper floor and more distant book shelves. But other than adding details to the books and rugs, the inks were very similar to the pencils.

When I had these inks finished, Julia shipped off the original art to the its new owner.

Before the art was shipped off though, I got a high-res scan of it so 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 books, branches, ropes, and rugs.

I also took this step to establish a color hold (an area where I want the black linework to be a color other than black) on all of the book spines & cover details and on the rug patterns

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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Happy Halloween: Baltimore Yearbook Piece Process

For almost a decade, the Baltimore Comic Con has released an art book called the 'Yearbook' with invited guest artists attending the show asked to contribute a piece for it. It's a fun way for attendees to walk around the convention and collect signatures and hopefully discover some artists' work they may not yet be familiar with. This year, instead of it featuring a specific creator-owned title or character, they are going with the theme of Halloween!

To the left you can see my finished piece that will be included in that book
Below I go into my thought process and art steps to get to the finished piece.

I knew I didn't want to do something too scary or gory––that's not really my nature as an artist. And I thought of trying to emulate the feel of an old halloween illustration with some classic icon style characters like a with, a devil, a ghost, a skelleton, a cat, a jack-o-lantern person...

So I went off in search of inspiration art. And I generated a folder with old illustrations and new work by modern artists who were getting the same mood I was going for (Mike Mignol, Tony DiTerlizzi, & Andrea De Luca).

When thinking of those classic characters I started liking the idea of merging them together in new ways––like a witch cat, or a pumpkin headed skeleton. And I wanted them to have the proportions of their heads being at least 1/3 of their overall height. So I started sketching ideas on copy paper. 

The Fiddle playing skeleton with the pumpkin head and then witch-cat came to me fast, but I had a hard time deciding how or what to merge the devil with, and I think I'd run out of steam when I drew the ghost with bat-wings. 

So I scanned these poor souls with no idea how I was going to make it all work as a composition...

The piece from my reference folder that had the big moon face and the type at the bottom with a little rhyme made an impact on me, so I played with some type options of my own for the 'Happy Halloween' and I plopped in a quick block of text for the poem (not the verse I later wrote that you see here) as I started positioning characters around a moon shape.

The Ghost with bat wings didn't make the cut...compositions with odd numbered groupings usually look better and as I was already struggling to assemble my three favorites without any bad coverups or awkward tangents, he had to haunt somewhere else. I blocked in some color to help me see the forms of each character (which was really helpful with all the overlapping characters & details.

This piece is rather large at 13" x 17", so I printed out the above layout on two sheets of legal paper and taped them together at the seam. I then taped that printout to the back of a sheet of 14" x 17" Strathmore 300 Bristol. And on my Huion lightpad, I inked the final art (which will be going up for auction at the convention).

I opted to not ink in the poem text as it was too small and felt like it would have too much imperfection in the letter forms from my untrained letterer's hand. 

Color Flats:
I scanned the inks, in two passes since it wouldn't fit on my scanner bed, and reassembled it in Photoshop. Then I started flatting the colors in for each character. Most of those colro choices were already established in my layout, but I had to make more decisions about the lightness/darkness of the sky as well as add in color holds (areas where I want the inkwork to be a color other than black) for the 'Happy Halloween' text, the glowing jack-o-lantern features, the devil's pipe, the witch's peacock feather, and the outline of the moon. 

Final Art:
Here again 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 be part of the Baltimore Comic Con 2021 Yearbook, and I will offer prints of it soon after!

18" x 24" Silkscreened Print:
I was so pleased with this pice that I wanted to also offer it as a large print. It's a 3 color Silkscreened print on 100 lbs French paper by Ocelot Print Shop in Detroit, MI. It's limited to an edition of 50 (signed and numbered). I'll have some with me at Baltimore Comic Con this weekend, and I still have some left in my online store:


Detail photos of the 3 color treatment below:

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Fan Art!

A great joy as a creator is to see fans drawing, sculpting, panting, modeling, cosplaying, inking, and expressing themselves by making artwork of Mouse Guard characters from the books and moments from their RPG campaigns. And so to celebrate that, here is a whole post of amazing Fan Art

(See past Fan Art Blogposts here)


Benny L Curwen

Brendan Murphy


Clare Nolan

Cosplay Fan


Ham on Rye

Hugo Gutierrez

Joseph Bralic

JP Sofia and Andres Wong

Little Warrior Shields

Lucas Paulino

Marcos Novalbos

Matthew Gill

Rasmus Wernersen



Ward Silverman

Wesley Quiles

Cecil Yeatts

Romain Houbert

The Mother of a Patron of Comickaze Comics in San Diego

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