Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Recent Toned Commissions

Here are some Toned Commissions from the start of the year and Emerald City Comic Con

A Mouse with an axe

A Guardmouse with a sword

Sadie in a leaf boat

aA Blacksmith mouse


Mirren from the Western Deep game 

Paul Atreides

A Squirrel in armor with family specific heraldry

Ghost Rider

Mabel Heir to Cragflame


A Mouse Musketeer

Happy Usagi


Tuesday, April 23, 2024

1149 Shield Heraldry

Long before Mouse Guard was Mouse Guard––before it even had mice as characters, it was a project called 1149. To quickly recap, it was a fantasy adventure comic I started in high school with animal characters more akin to Disney's Robin Hood than what we know Mouse Guard to be. And I created a group, like a D&D party, with a duck fighter, a fox ranger, an opossum mage, a tiger monk, and a ferret thief.

Well recently on a whim an idea came to me to create heraldry for each one that I could eventually use in Mouse Guard some day. To the left you can see the final art for those heraldic shields, and below I'll go into the creation of the art. 

I started with some stock shield designs I found online and then in Photoshop I added penciled heads, arms, and tails (and in a few cases the interior symbology). Yes, there is also a Rabbit in this mix––there were a few side characters like a rabbit and a bear who were townsfolk who'd help the 1149 adventurers, and to round out the illustration I added the hare.

The hare was a farmer, so I gave him wheat and a scythe. The duck had been a butcher turned fighter, and he used his cleavers. The fox, while a ranger, was in many more ways a bard/thief who would steal from royalty he duped into believing he was a dignitary from another land, the opossum got a book with stars to represent magic. The tiger had a spiked mace and I made the background stripes to echo the tiger's fur. And the ferret used daggers, so I filled his shield with small but deadly weapons.  

When the roughs were done the way I liked, they were printed out onto copy paper and taped to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. I inked them all with Copic Multiliner SP pens. Because these were simplified heraldry designs, I tried to keep the linework very simple and not add much texture.

I have an idea for how to incorporate these designs as well as the spirit of the original characters into a real Mouse Guard story...
With the inks scanned, I started the coloring process. The flat color stage is about as far as I really needed to go with this (though the final art did get some light texture added). I also established color holds (areas where I want the linework to be a color other than black) like on all the lineart, and then on specific design elements like the checkerboard, the wheat, the starburst, and the book.

The color choices were mostly all determined from the characters original designs from high-school.

Here again are the final colors.

Even though these are just simplified heraldic designs, re-drawing these characters I made up over 30 years ago was an instant time travel device that took me back to my earliest comic characters and the ideas Jesse Glenn, Mike Davis, Nick Kowalcyk and I were coming up with (stuff we'd later categorize as 'Plotmasters')

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Pirate, Spaceman, Cowboy, Knight

A Pirate, a Spaceman, a Cowboy, and a Knight all walk into a bar...or into some new designs. In a Plotmasters type exercise, I took an old drawing and tried to improve on both the artwork & the concept as a whole. I have no intention of developing this beyond a nostalgia trip and re-design exercise. You can see the results to the left, but in this post I'll explore where they came from and the process in revamping them.

In 1999 or 2000 I drew the piece on the right as well as a list of characters for the idea. In true Plotmasters fashion, the characters were clearly myself, Jesse Glenn, and the others would be based on the usual friends of mine that provided inspiration. I was clearly in my 'emulate Mignola' phase when I drew the Pirate and the Spaceman.

The overall idea was for a group of mis-matched characters to go on adventures together––and when I say mismatched, I mean in the same way a kid might team up action figures and toys from very different toy lines and in very different genres and scales. 

Sound Familiar? Toy Story, right? Well––it does match that franchise, and I did draw the original two as well as my list well after the first movie was out. But, instead I was influenced by an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" where archetypal characters are stuck in a cylinder with no memory of how they got there only to find out they are toys in a Christmas donation barrel. And instead of a Soldier, a Hobo, a Bagpiper, a Clown, and a Dancer, I went with toy genres that were popular when I was a kid, but also seemed timeless.

And I have to admit, even in the re-designs, I couldn't get away from Toy Story, and so I leaned into it. My first step for the re-design was to draw the characters that had already been visualized, but this time to play with proportions to make them more stylized and toy-like.

I pushed the horizontal of the Pirate, making him low and squat, with the only vertical height being given by the ostentatiousness of his feather and sword. The Spaceman I wanted to push into a shape beyond what a human could wear as a costume and embrace a design of something more futuristic...though I think the design borrows a lot from Lego Space sets and Gizmo Duck.

To keep this exercise simple, I opted to ink them large and with a brush pen––focusing on the overall shapes and concepts and not on details and textures. This was inked on a 12" x 12" piece of Strathmore Bristol.

I remember being torn at this point in the process about the characters as toys vs characters inspired by toys Toy Story/Twilight Zone issue. And I wish I'd included a base plate (like on plastic army men) on the Pirate's foot & peg to make him much more obviously a toy.

I then scanned the inks and colored them in Photoshop. Rather than my normal Mouse Guard style of coloring, I went back to a technique I did on a Plotmasters episode for 'Hero Squad'. 

For this process each character is colored with flat base colors. Then a layer is placed above that set to 'multiply' and a pale purple is used to paint in flat shadows––same process but a layer set to 'screen' to create highlights. The last steps were to add color holds to the Spaceman's logo and face and a crinkled paper background to the duo to project the feel of this being part of a kid's imagination.

Written on the original drawing were two additional characters (I'm sure I was even considering more, but stopped at 4 in total): Cowboy & Knight. The trick with doing a modern drawing of a friendly toy cowboy is how to avoid Woody from Toy Story. I really leaned in to the toy-object idea and made his head and body wood block, his arms and legs rope and his hair and mustache yarn. 

The Knight I decided could be a material opposite to armor and made him a knitted plush. The cowboy design is based on my college friend Seyth––the Knight I don't know––perhaps Nick (see Cats TrioDragons, or R-Wars).

Like the others, I inked these on 12' x 12" Strathmore bristol with a brush pen. I like how they tall gangly Cowboy and short squat Knight shapes echo the first two re-designs of the Pirate and Spaceman.

I did worry that I was going to have to do more detail on these compared to the others just to get the materials of the yarn & rope across. Being aware of that helped me me better about not going down a rabbit hole of texture and detail and to just limit it to define basic forms and imply materials.

I think it's fun to imagine that while the previous two characters were store bought, these two toys were hand-made for the child, or that the cowboy especially was an older broken toy with knotted rope used to replace missing pieces.

The coloring process was the same as before, but this time I had a harder time choosing the base colors. There's a long tradition of me-characters being red and Jesse characters being blue. 

I know Seyth's favorite color is green, but how to make that work as Cowboy attire (when I so dearly wanted that bandanna to be red) took some subtle adjustments until I got something that worked. For the knight I just used Yellow & Orange to round out a Primary + Green scheme. I like that it makes the Knight look even a little more cautious and timid rather than the association of bravery with a knight.

Here again are the quartet together––just drawn for fun as an exercise. 

Where I think this idea could still work and differentiate itself from something like Toy Story or the Twilight Zone episode is for the characters-as-characters to exist only in the imagination of the child. Unlike Toy Story where the toys really are alive, these would be inanimate toys, but ones where the child living through some kind of distress (anything ranging from detention or being grounded to dealing with a terminal illness or an abusive parent) uses the toys as talismans and imagines the things they do that help the child navigate emotionally through the situation.

Another idea of how to use these characters/designs would be in a co-operative video game set in a house (bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, etc) where each player can control one of the toys. They can pair up to accomplish special moves (the pirate can be hooked on to the cowboy's lasso and be thrown up to a higher location, the knight can ride the spaceman to joust objects out of the way, etc) each character would have their own pros and cons (the pirate walks slow, but has good reach with the sword, the spaceman is fast but makes the most noise, the knight is squishy and can fall without taking damage, etc.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Cosmic Jellyfish Dragon

Earlier this month 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). It takes place on the first Friday of the month.

I worked on my piece live on my Twitch stream while viewers worked at home and then on the following 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: Cosmic & Jellyfish

I opened several tabs of google image searches of Jellyfish, the Cosmos, and a few images drawn by Nate Pride: Blight Drone 001 & 'The Darkness Consumes All'

I started on copy paper with the head and a basic idea for the overall shape, but then quickly scanned it and built up most of the body, horns, and tendrils digitally. 

I printed it out to start inking but realized I didn't have the Jellyfish Bell drawn well enough and I thought my digital tendrils were too wispy. 

So, I did a lighbox draw over on a clean sheet of copy paper to formalize those elements (seen here after scanning in a purple/magenta tone).

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 pen to ink the art.

The inking on this piece was all about managing those black areas that make the creature look transparent while also conveying that it is made up of galaxies. The Jellyfish bell and tendrils were something I tried to use a different texture for and practice more restraint with. I was unable to finish the inks on-stream, but returned to them later that night off-stream.

The next day, I scanned the inks to I could start the coloring process. After prepping the digital scan of the inks, I established color holds (areas where I want the inks to be a color other than black––on the overall lines to a dark blue, a purple for the Jellyfish bell, and a magenta on the tendrils

Then it was time to start 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. I went with a medium blue (darker than in my rough) for the base body, and a similar purple for the Bell & tendrils. For the spots on the bell, I used a very pale yellow as a contrast to the violets.

For the final colors I used a paintbrush to give some subtle color transitions in the body before using the dodge and burn tools to create the highlights and shadows. Each little star and planet and moon had to be carefully gone over with the dodge tool to make it brighter and a appear to shine inside this dragon's body. To make the bell seem more cosmic I painted white stipples all over it like a field of stars.

Below you can again see the final Dragon...

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

88 Uncle Ernie

Capt. Nemo




Jonathan Towry


Kyle Gerbrandt

Nate Pride



Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Grandparent Mice

Before Mouse Guard was a comic, when I was still in college, I made some mouse-versions of my Paternal Grandparents as Christmas gifts. I remember sculpting them in my workspace in my Dad's basement when home from school on Christmas break. These were made with Sculpey, an oven baked polimer clay. The eyes are bicycle ball bearings.

Unfortunately, these did not stand the test of time and I'd repaired them so many times with super glue and epoxy that they were a mess and still crumbling apart. I took a few photos of them before they fell to ruin.

My Grandmother was the prototypical grandmother, she was kind, loving, and a consummate cook & baker. 

As fans of Mouse Guard know, I based the very idea of having the Guard run by a Matriarch on my Grandmother's role in our family. More recently, I've made her part of the Mouse Guard with a Matriarch named Dorys who is depicted in the stained glass of the Matriarch Chamber as well as a piece in the 2024 Callendar: https://davidpetersen.blogspot.com/2023/09/dorys-matriarch-cook.html

I sculpted the head for this mouse separately, and then later sculpted a body/dress––which is pretty out of proportion or capable of containing legs, and then attached them with a dowel. She's wearing oven mitts and presenting one of her famous pies.

My Grandfather fashioned himself a bit of a cowboy––and for good reason, he did have a natural way with horses. Though most of his life was lived in the city of Flint, he grew up on farms. In their senior years my grandparents wintered in Arizona, where my grandfather would drive a team of horses in the Tucson Rodeo Parade.

He wore a lot of Western style shirts and belts, so his mouse has cowboy boots and a neckerchief bandanna while riding a hobby horse. 

His mouse was the more crumbly of the two sculptures and lost most of an ear to dust before the end.

Gilbert & Doris Petersen on Lake Michigan


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