Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Usagi Yojimbo: Ice & Snow #4 Cover

For the Ice & Snow Usagi Yojimbo series now being published at Dark Horse I was asked by Stan Sakai to contribute two covers. To the left you can see my final cover art for issue #4.

This cover was new territory for me. In the past my Usagi covers have either been for classic reprints where the entire arc was finished and ready to read, or the Usagi/TMNT crossovers where I completed once piece to sum up the entire series based on some amound of completed material. But, for Ice & Snow, we were working far enough in advance that I didn't have any of Stan's pages for the issue, just an outline & description.

Below I'll go through the steps of creating the piece.

I was given a PDF of inked pages from issues 1 & 2 showing Usagi and Yukichi in the snowy mountaintops of Northern Japan. And Stan let me know that the climax to issue 4 is a fight between Usagi and his old enemy Jei on a frozen lake.

I'd never drawn Jei professionally (only a commission for a fan), and I wanted to push in close on a duel between the two. I started drawing the characters separately on copy paper. To make sure they were both going to fit while fighting, I had to make use of the vertical nature of a cover and have Jei leaping/thrusting down with his weapon as Usagi takes a near miss over his shoulder. 

I scanned in the drawings of the two figures, digitally blocked in their forms with some color, and painted a simple background idea so I could send it off for approval.

When the pencils were approved, I printed out the layout/pencils and taped them to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol with some painter's tape. On my Huion lightpad I can see through the surface of the bristol to the layout and use it as a guide to ink from. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.3 & 0.7 nibs) as I inked the piece.

I had to build up several different dark areas (Usagi's pants, Jei's clothes, and Jei's hair) and tried to give them all a slightly different density and in the case of Jei's hair a different line quality. I also left a gap between the characters and any of the ink lines for the background. This is partly to make the coloring easier, but also just to separate them and push an idea of distance before color is even added.

Stan & Co. approved the inks and I was able to scan them and begin the coloring process. That first step in coloring is known as 'flatting' which is a professional version of coloring-in-the-lines with flat color (no texture, no shading).

Some of the color choices were roughed in for the layout, but still needed to be adjusted for value, hue, and saturation to go with the more stark inks.

At this stage I also established the color holds (areas where I want the lineart to be a color other than black) for the ice cracks, trees, and Usagi's scar.

The last step to coloring (seen below) is the rendering. I used the dodge and burn tools along with a stock textured brush to add shadows and highlights. I then also painted in the falling snow on a new layer.

Usagi Yojimbo Ice & Snow #4
will be in stores January 10th, 2024!

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Animal Pound Variant Cover

Tomorrow a new comic from BOOM! comes out called 'Animal Pound' by Tom King & Peter Gross. It's a re-imagining of Orwell's Animal Farm, but with a uniquely American frame of reference. 

I was asked to contribute a retailer exclusive variant cover for Cards, Comics, & Collectibles in Baltimore, which is the only location that will be selling it (though also through their online store I believe).

To the left you can see my finished cover artwork, but below I'll go through the steps to creating the artwork.

I started with lots of reference materials from BOOM! with series summaries, character descriptions and reference, & images of all the covers created so-far. The deadline for this was a quick one, and I had some travel that cut down the working time even shorter.

My focus for the art was a dog and a cat looking in opposite directions (A local vet has a sign that looks like this and it came to mind) with the shadows of the pound's bars like flag stripes across their bodies and a tally of voting behind them on the wall. 

I used some reference of a cat I found online and a photo of my sister's dog (RIP Angus) that had the perfect side eye...

Unfortunately I didn't check to make sure using a dog not featured in the reference packet from BOOM! so visually closely tied to the voting didn't work for the editors and I was asked to change the dog to the Doberman/Pit mix character from the series.

I had to find some reference of that breed and do my best to get the expression back in there. In some ways, I think the untrustworthy glance is better in this drawing than my original.

The voting and the scale of the dog icons to the cat icons does play into the story too. All of the drawings were done on copy paper, scanned into Photoshop, and then assembled together with some color blocking added to help explain light/dark forms.

When the second rough was approved, I was able to move on to inks. I printed the layout out onto copy paper (fir across two sheets and then taped together) and taped it with painters tape to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my Huion lightpad I'm able to see the prinout and then ink on the clean bristol surface (needing no pencils erasing).

Getting the character's linework clean and with some nice lineweights was my main goal, and then to make sure as I hand inked each 'vote' they all had individual flaws. On the back of the bristol (not pictured) I drew and inked the lines for the bar shadows.
When the inks were done I scanned them into Photoshop and started the coloring process. My first step after cleaning up and level adjusting the scan was to establish all the color holds (areas where I want the inks to be a color other than black) on the votes, the grid, and the bricks as well as bring the bar shadow inks from the back around to the front and color hold them as well (along with an effect to make them semi transparent).

When all of that was done I could start flatting in the base colors for the wall, dog, and cat. Most of those color decisions were already made in my rough layout, but I did need to alter them a bit.
The last step was to do the final colors. I use the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop to add highlights and shadows to all the base colors, and I use a stock textured brush so it has some life to it.

Animal Pound #1 is out tomorrow in comic shops everywhere and my cover is available exclusively at Cards, Comics, & Collectibles in Baltimore.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Goose At Dawn Tavern

As part of the new illustrations for a 2024 Mouse Guard Calendar, I did this piece of a little mouse tavern called The 'Goose at Dawn' with a old rotting stone staircase.

Like last year's calendar, this new one will feature half of the months featuring new-for-this-project artwork, while the other months feature existing favorite illustrations.

Below in this blogpost I'll walk through the process of creating the artwork

I started with some reference photos of a little cottage and a stairway to nowhere crumbling in the woods. I redrew them and combined them in mouse-form, swapping the neat little tiles on the roof for pine needle thatch and pinecone shingles, making each sill and window more rustic, and wrapping that stairwell around the back (does it connect with the tavern? or does it end abruptly?)

The tavern and stairs were drawn on different sheet and assembled in Photoshop. I also made a little sign using clip art and a font. With the setting in place, I printed out copy of this and on my light pad I penciled in the mouse inhabitants of the illustration. When they were done, I inserted them in Photoshop and tinted them all different colors to make seeing them a little easier.

I printed the above digitally assembled layout onto two sheets of legal sized paper (taping them together so the image was 11" x 11") and then taped them with painter's tape onto the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series Bristol.

On my Huion Lightpapd I was able to see through the surface of the bristol down to the printout and use it as my 'pencils' as I worked. I used Copic Multiliner SP pens (the 0.3 & 0.7 nibs).

I inked this piece focused mainly on making very compact scene readable even without color by changing density and variety of textures.
With the inks finished, I scanned them into Photoshop and started the coloring process. That first step is known as 'Flatting' and essentially is professional coloring-inside-the-lines. None of the color palette was established, and I started with a pink sky––perhaps implying that it is dawn and the tavern is closing with these mice being the last patrons and workers to leave. Every other color choice was born from that one.

Here I also established color holds (areas where I want the ink lines to be a color other than black) the stairway as it bends around into the distance, the trees even further back, and the sign details.

The final step was to render the piece. I used the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop while using a stock textured brush.

This piece took a lot of playing back and forth with different values and intensities of light to get the final art to work. I'm still not convinced I got there in the end, but I'm happy enough with it to include it in the calendar for 2024.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Copper Frog Dragon

Last Friday on my Twitch Stream, we did the #DiscoveringDragons Community-Draw-Along! It's a fun event where I welcome all skill levels to push their pencils (or whatever tools they use to make art).

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 colored Dragon. And below are my steps to create it as well as the community submissions.

For #DiscoveringDragons, I post two or three prompt words for everyone to make into a dragon. It's a nice framework for artists of any skill level to focus some time on an 'assignment' to shake the rust off or get the pencil moving again––all while also being loose enough that there's plenty of room for individual expression and interpretation.

This month the prompt was two words: Frog & Copper.

I opened several tabs of google image searches of frogs, copper ore, dragon wings, and eventually frogspawn. 

I started my dragon with a frog head on copy paper. I'd planned to give it more of a dragon body proportions, but as I drew it kept coming back to be more frog-like. At one point I had the back legs much bigger, but knowing I needed room for the wings, I shortened them, which is where I think I lost any dragon-body sizing.

Because I'd run out of room on the copy paper for wings, I placed my original pencil drawing on a light pad and with a fresh piece of paper overtop of it, I drew the wing shapes. These were all then scanned into Photoshop and assembled with a quick blocking in of forms to help me see the silhouette of the character as well as the different parts (like the ing folds and hard scales vs the main body)

I printed out the above design and taped that onto 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 dragon. I used Copic Multiliner 0.7 and 0.5 SP pen to ink the art.

Before I started inking, I used a circle template on the printout to layout where I wanted eggs with little tadpole babies. The inking on this piece was about trying to use line wight to get the subtle wrinkles and hard textures without overwhelming the piece with too much texture.

In a last minute choice I also altered the tail a bit to make it more 3D and folding over on itself

I scanned the inks and established color holds (areas where I want the inks to be a color other than black––like the pupils, egg outlines and the tadpoles) as the stream was ending and I wished the viewers all luck with their pieces and told them we'd take a look at everyone's work on Monday.

Later that night I finished the color flatting process––basically professional coloring-in-the-lines. Some of this is just to make it easy to re-isolate various parts when doing later painting & rendering. So, I established the main skin color, something slightly darker for the spines, a dark color for the scales, a verdigris green for the belly & wing membranes, and lightest for the eyes, teeth, and eggs. 

For the final colors I did most of the highlights, shading, and texture with the dodge and burn tools and a stock photoshop texture brush. But, I did use the paintbrush to help add in some color variance as well as a 'tarnish' layer on top (set to mode 'color') to spread and erode the green across the whole dragon. Below you can again see the final..

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




Jonathan Towry

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