Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Mouse Guard Creator Commentary: Gene Ha

Back in the March 2021 Onlinecon, I invited comic artist and creator of 'Mae' Gene Ha on to go through his Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard story: 'Worley & The Mink' with Lowell Francis from volume 1.

Together Gene and I go page by page of his story to get his thoughts and process. Enjoy!

Watch on YouTube:

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Usagi Yojimbo: Lone Goat & Kid #1

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 short story issues that will be collectively called 'Lone Goat and Kid'. I'll be doing six in total, and for this blogpost I'll be sharing my process for the creation of the cover art for issue #1.

This issue is currently up for pre-order through Diamond with the code NOV210415. Just ask your local comic shop to order it for you, or order it though an online retailer. The issue will be in shops Jan 26, 2022

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

This issue's story has to do with Usagi being sent to a village to retrieve an heirloom sword of a deceased Lord and finding the situation to be a moral quandary. So, I chose the moment where Usagi has found the location of the sword and has to choose if he's willing to use force to get it back. It's always nice on an issue one to have the main character in a heroic pose large in the layout. The woman in front of him is a character specific to this issue, and not Tomoe (as some fans thought when I was working on this piece on my Twitch stream).

I penciled each character and the background separately on copy paper and then scanned and assembled them into a composition I liked. I tend to go overboard on this stage roughing in color too, this helps me and the editor to really understand the goal of the final look of the piece without problems to solve in the coming stages.

When the 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).

Most of the inks were straight forward, but I did spend some extra time trying to do some rendering on Usagi's hat.

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.

Most of the color choices had been made in the layout stage, but I made changes to the value structure as I worked. In this step I also added color holds (areas where I want the lineart to be a color other than black) to the woman's dress pattern, here eyes, and Usagi's scar, as well as a slight fade to the inkwork of the background near the bottom.

Final Colors:
Here again is the finished art (this time sans-logo). I made significant changes to the tones from the flats by adjusting color balance, brightness, & contrast. 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.

Usagi Yojimbo: Lone Goat & Kid #1 is out in stores Jan 26, 2022

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Fall Harvest Redux

For a Mouse Guard Calendar and perhaps a 9x12 print down the road, I decided to redraw a Fall Harvest celebration based on a print for the German edition of Fall from 2007.

Jeremy Bastian and I were talking the other day about the fun and challenge of redoing old work. We both recognize that it's a slippery slope where it's all too easy to want to redo everything and remain stagnant instead of producing new pieces build of the lessons learned from the mistakes of old pieces. But, as this was just a single print image and for a specific purpose, I went forward.

To the left you can see the finished piece and below I'll break down my process to get there.

Here's the original piece I inked and colored for the German release of Fall. They wanted a piece of art they could use as a special print for advanced orders. They eventually also reused the artwork for a big poster for a signing tour I did way back when, and again more recently for a jigsaw puzzle. 

There are lots of issues of scale in the piece, and it might not have enough compositional focus--not to mention I can draw, ink and color better than I could back then.

So I started by sketching out a layout on copy paper and then adding in more figures on separate sheets of paper. I wanted to get a better sense of depth so the figures in the front are considerably larger and the scale recedes as the depth increases. I moved around the characters within the piece, removed a few mice, decided against all the lanterns, and to show more of the harvest foods. All of my various pieces of paper were then assembled in Photoshop and I did a quick blocking in of color to help me see the forms.

My original goal (and hopefully repeated here) was to show some kind of rustic & homey party akin to Bilbo's Birthday. There's a casual familiarity with the mice and the surroundings that their guard is down, they are relaxed and just enjoying the simple pleasures of ale, cider, fruits, veggies, and nuts.

When the layout was done to my satisfaction, I printed it out at about 11x15 (on two sheets of paper I taped together after they printed). I taped that to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series smooth bristol and on my Huion lightpad started inking in the lines and details with my Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs). 

I inked most of this piece on my Twitch stream while I chatted with the audience and answered their questions.

When the inks were done, I scanned them and started the coloring process in Photoshop. In this process the goal is to color in all the color spaces with flat colors, no rendering, no texture, no lighting effects. This is so it's easy to grab any of these colors later on as you render them.

Some of my color choices were pre-determined by the quick color blocking I did in the layout stage. At this point I also added color holds (areas where I want the inkwork to be a color other than black) to the leaf veins, apple spots, lute strings, and pottery decoration. I also made a new brush to emulate my thumbprints for the pipe smoke, and painted in a nice little trail of puff.

Lastly I rendered the piece. This is where, with the dodge and burn tools and a stock texture brush in Photoshop, I add light, shadow, and texture to make the forms seem round and full. I rendered most of the background off stream, but rendered all the characters and their accessories on Twitch.

I'm pleased with the results, and as we head into Thanksgiving, let me say that I hope all of you have as warm and comfortable a harvest with friends and family as these mice are. I'm thankful for you fans who allow me to make this work as my job.

The Harvest piece will be featured in a new Calendar that I'll be opening up for pre-order tomorrow in my online store: https://mouseguard.bigcartel.com/. It's a 10"x7" desk calendar where as each month is torn away, you can also use the perforated line so that the art on the left becomes a framable 5" x 7" art print 

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Red Bullrat

Last Friday on my Twitch Stream, we did the tenth community draw-along event #DrawTheExtinct where I posted an image from an old block print I made with a few animal photo inspiration prompts and 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 Red Bullrat. And below are my steps to create it as well as the community submissions.

We started with the prompts of my original 2000's era linocut print titled 'Extinct' as well as a Bull Terrier, a Muskrat, and a Red Panda.

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 started drawing with mechanical pencil on a sheet of copy paper to try and reimagine the beast.  Proportion-wise I went with a Muskrat body & legs, Bull Terrier head, and Red Panda tail and markings. I wanted him holding something, so I added a clam to his paws. To the left you can see my finished pencils scanned into Photoshop with minor adjustments made & tinted to easily see the breaks in forms.

After I was happy enough with my above design, I printed that piece out on copy paper and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. Using a lightpad, I was able to see through the surface of the bristol as I inked the Red Bullrat. I used a Copic Multiliner 0.7 SP pen to ink the art. Most of the work was in building up that repetitive fur texture. I worried I wasn't going to be able to finish the drawing by the end of the stream, but somehow I pulled it off just in the nick of time and signed off of Twitch and wished everyone luck with their pieces.. 

After the stream ended (and I had a break for dinner) I scanned the inks Friday was Julia's Birthday, so I didn't spend more time of the piece until Saturday night when I flatted the colors. I went with the Red Panda palate for the creature. I added only one color hold (areas where I want the ink to be a color other than black) to the water dripping out of the clam.

For these Draw The Extinct pieces I have a  template with background and border already established, so it makes some of this color prep work all the easier. And on Sunday evening, I used the dodge and burn tools (with a stock photoshop texture brush) to render the piece.

Below you can again see the final rendered colors with a border and type applied in this final version. 

But, as this is a community event, I wanted to share all the other entries posted in the Discord. 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!)

Capt. Nemo

Amy LeBaron

88UncleErnie *



Doombot 2015



MississippiWoodNymph *

Nate Pride *

PaperbackRhino * 


Skeletortise *

Sleepless Ninja


Tyrie *




Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Otter Printmaker Commission/Sketchbook Piece 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 sea otter as a renaissance printmaker. While I'm happy to do this kind of subject, I didn't know if it would fit into a Mouse Guard sketchbook––but as I worked on it, I enjoyed the piece so much, that it's going in even if this isn't how I'd depict otters in my books.

I drew different elements on sheets of copy paper and then assembled them in Photoshop. Besides drawing an otter holding paper, I wanted to ficus on giving him an appropriate renaissance flourish to his clothes--specifically his hat and getting a historically accurate printing press. To bedazzle the hat, I just added a crab instead of a feather plume, and for the press I referenced the Rembrandt Press in Amsterdam.

With the pencil drawings assembled with a bit of digital assistance into a layout I liked, I printed out the above image onto copy paper. I then taped that copy paper onto 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 tried to use a lot of hatch marks to define the greytones in the piece--which ties into my own experience when getting my degree in Printmaking.

The original artwork was then packed up carefully and shipped off to the owner. But before it left, I got a proper high-res scan so that I could include it in the next Mouse Guard sketchbook. 

First step to coloring is called 'flatting'. It's basically a professional version of coloring-in-the-lines and establishing what color area each thing in the piece is. The final colors can be altered, but because they are easy to grab flat tones, I can render each color area separately from the other.

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

Blog Archive