A Cover in Six Steps

Once again, this cover was painted digitally. I swear I am not making a habit of this. I will soon draw some clean lines again, probably for my very next cover. It won't be an American Virgin cover (this is my last) but whatever it is, I'm going to keep it clean. I miss me.

The first image is what I submitted to my editors for approval. They decided they'd like a shot a little closer on Adam, the lead character of the series, even if it meant cropping out the girl's legs. Even though the girl added a somewhat provocative angle to the image, I found a crop that I was happy with, shown in the second image. I decided I would paint out the leg completely to avoid any confusion. Knowing what the sinking guy is really looking up at will be my own private joy.

In the third image, I have begun to lay down some color on the cropped layout in Painter. I have a fairly solid idea of where I want to go with it, which I never really got to in the end, but that is how it goes sometimes.

Next, I started to work out the features. Fortunately, I have a little mirror and a fairly focused light source available at my coloring desk, which I glanced up at occasionally.

After some serious doodling and layering of colors and brush types, all in Painter, I am starting to get somewhere.

After finishing off the hand, I opened the image in Photoshop and went to work on the bubbles. I actually spent hours painstakingly rendering hundreds of them by hand (no joke- I used some old airbrush technique on individual selections, adding shadows and highlights to each bubble) but came to the conclusion that my super-rendered bubbles looked like Adam was drowning in soap, so I ditched all but a few, instead keeping only the outlines. I think it looks a little more graphic and better compliments the abstract swirling water lines. I went back to Painter to paint in some image distortion (Painter has some useful distortion brushes) to further enhance the underwater feel. Finally, back in Photoshop, I adjusted the overall levels to increase the contrast and saturation just a little.

And that's it for now. My eyes are tired, so I am putting it away. If I decide to keep tweaking, I will post an update.


Scott Forbes said...

This is great J! I just finished (working for a long period of time), a commission that was of a girl underwater... I would like to say that it turned out well, but I don't think so. It isn't done though, I saw a few techniques in your piece and may use it!


I really like the tone of the image... I cannot say this is one of your best covers, but I do enjoy it. Even though it seems roughly painted (good thing) you still seem to add every little detail, ie. his necklace.

... and I am glad you are not going to make this a habit. I do like it, but those sweet, clean lines that you did on New Mutants Covers and NYX need to come back (and I guess the other AV covers too!)

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!


Dominic Bugatto said...

Really nicely done.

On a technical note, what size an resolution are you working in when you're in Painter? Depending on which brushes I use , there's always some 'lag' time in the rendering dispite the fact that I have a pretty fast machine (G5). Just curious.

Thanks for sharing your insightful process.

Cheers, Dom

Joshua Middleton said...

Hey Dominic,

Yes, Painter can really drag even with a powerful computer. It has improved, but some brushes are still tough, especially if you size them up too much.

The good news is, unless you are working with something that has clean lines, there is no harm in working at a relatively low resolution and then raising it up for the final touches before it goes to print. Only if you have sharp edges will you really notice any major degradation.

Since this cover (and a couple others before it) are really rough, I really wanted to work fast, so I cut the resolution in half for the working file, somewhere around 200-300DPI at a print size of 7"x10.5". My final files to the publisher are usually 400-600DPI, with DC usually getting 600DPI files, which is overkill for comics, but helps when they want to use the occasional image for posters and the like.

When I am working on fine line stuff (which you will see soon, Scott, I swear!) I work at full resolution, or occasionally, I will create a separate lower-res file to color, raising the resolution at the end and pasting in the saved high-res line art file.

Even though I often color at a fairly high resolution, I don't experience too much lag because I tend to use very simple brushes and try to stay away from heavy image processing. If I try to run a filter or something that tests my patience, I'll just cancel it and decide that it wasn't needed anyway and move on.

For the record, I've been coloring on my PowerBook G4 laptop, which I use as a desktop hooked up to an Apple Studio Display, for the last year or two, having largely retired my PowerMac G4 tower. Now that I am working on some processor-intensive projects like animation (more on that later), I'll probably step up to a beefy G5 in the near future.

Hope all of that helps,


Brian said...

Amazing what one can do on computers these days.

As for the image, I liked your original idea to have the legs in the image, but what are you going to do.

Speaking of which, what's next after your run on American Virgin covers?

MELLON said...

if you answer that with anything but "sky between branches"...

i don't know what'll happen, but it won't be pretty.


great stuff as always, josh. you stumbling around makes the rest of us who try to walk in a straight line look drunk.


Amanda Grazini said...

You line work and colors is fantastic!

I've been following your work a little while now, and I am so happy that you have a blog so that I can see how is your work process!

See ya!

LauraBraga said...

Hi Josh.
Very interesting your answer to Dominic. I never used Painter (i usually use Photoshop CS). There's difference? Painter is a program i'd like to use some day.

My complimets (as usual) to this illustration.


Dominic Bugatto said...

Thanks for the info, it's appreciated.

Cheers, Dom

LeSean Thomas said...

great to see your steps bro... really impressed that you did so much with so little...keep inspiring...

waiting for SBTB graphic novel , :)

happy new year


Scott Forbes said...

Hmmm did I see animation up there?! eek!

James Cordeiro said...

Hey buddy, how are you doing?! Happy new year!!!

Maleficium said...

This is just amazing! Great work...thanks for sharing.


Jim Di Bartolo said...

Thanks for all of the images and insight into your beautiful work!

All the best,

Kristian Antonelli said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alina Chau said...

great illo, awesome presentation of various development step too!

Joshua Middleton said...

Thanks everyone, and welcome to the folks who have recently found their way here.

I've been away on a little rambling road trip, but I have returned inspired and ready to work, so look forward to some new stuff soon.


Michael Dooney said...

great to see your work in progress, thanks

sho said...

Thank u 4 sharing these :)
great step by step and awesome results !
Really looks like he's in cold green water , and has a lot of emotion !

joonasjoonas said...

This is truly amazing. It's really nice from you to explain the steps! Wonderful!

Eric Vanic said...

holy shit....ur crazy man

i was DINOSAURS said...

by far my favorite issue so far.

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