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.

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