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.



Here's another quick experiment. I pilfered a piece of an older sketch for the background. The girl is Hana from my 'Sky between Branches'.




This little guy has just gotten done killing some folks. I doodled this last night after working on another image that was leaning towards a far too realistic style. Good cartoony stuff is far more difficult to do than anything realistic. If anyone tells you different, they are an ignoramus. And probably an art teacher. Or critic.

Today, I had some new art materials to test out, so Mr. Barbarian was the perfect foundation for some color scribbling. Needless to say, I couldn't help a little digital tweaking after scanning. Not going to win any awards, but he doesn't give a damn.



What's Old is Old

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful comments. Although I may not always be happy with the results of all the experimentation I have been doing lately, I couldn't be happier with the experience and the knowledge I gain by pushing myself. I have been meaning to try many things for a very long time, and I am not getting any younger, so I figure it is about time to figure a few things out. It isn't really a conscious overhaul of my style, it is more an organic approach to expanding my range with the goal of refining my vision and hopefully ending up with more compelling imagery.

I've said before that I tend to be an all or none person, and that can be a real crutch when it comes to expanding my horizons or just getting things done. As an illustrator with an all or none attitude, it is sometimes difficult to push into new techniques when most of what I do is published, which doesn't always allow me the private time to fully develop some new tricks. The subconscious fear of failing in the public eye sometimes encourages us to play it safe.

But now, instead of worrying so much about keeping the curtain drawn, I feel like I am just working out the magic act right in front of the audience. The big reveal (or "the prestige", for all you magic fans) may not be quite as wondrous after witnessing all of the fumbling, but the goal is to ultimately do away with all the smoke and mirrors, anyway.

I've finally started painting (with paint!) and am somewhat surprised at how much all of my computer experience has informed my color sense. Mixing colors in Photoshop is mighty forgiving, and far less expensive than turning vibrant paints into mud, but not being afraid to fail and burning through some actual paint is rewarding and I am sure it will impact my approach to computer color.

I have a long way to go, but I am pleased to have at least begun to tear down the walls between all of the different disciplines and mediums to find the heart of my style. I more than likely will circle back to where I started, but I imagine I will be better equipped to make the most of if it all the next time around. Or at least I will have had a good time getting my hands dirty, which is a bigger deal than you might think for a guy who will wash his hands if the air feels tacky.

The art above is a very old (6 years?) Sky between Branches spread I intended to use as a title page in issue 1, which I never published (see above "all or none" passage). I never finished the color, and I don't think I ever will, so I might as well share it as is. This might be the only place this particular abandoned art will ever be seen.



Beauty Queen

Here is the cover for issue 13 of Vertigo's 'American Virgin' series. It is a departure from the usual because of its finish style and because it was created digitally from start to finish. I kept putting off the work until I was up against the deadline, so I sent in a rough idea drawn in Painter and Photoshop, which to my surprise was approved. I fully intended to draw the piece properly, but again I couldn't quite find the inspiration to drive me to the drawing board.

With two days to go before the deadline, I sat down at the computer to re-examine my sketch. I then decided to just go for it digitally, which was really an attempt to fool myself into working. I opened up the original sketch in Painter 9.5, dug up some reference where needed, and went to town. Eventually, I wound up with what we have here. I don't love the style and it needs further refining, but that is all she wrote for this one. I would have posted the original layout, but in my usual gung-ho style of eliminating unwanted art from my hard drive, I threw away my only copy and painted over the original file.

I've decided that I will retire from covers on American Virgin with issue 14. I'm tired of my whining.




I almost completely forgot about this stuff. I was organizing some shelves and stumbled onto the place I had buried all of this. For a few weeks last year, I worked on a piece of...cinematic history known as 'Zoom'. My job was to create some fake comics featuring the lead character in his heyday. I was hired by a nice fellow by the name of Barry Chusid, who also happened to be the production designer on Serenity, which I worked on previously. Barry has hosted myself and some friends on the sets several times, which I greatly appreciate. For this job, I had to keep the style appropriate for the era in which the comics were meant to have been printed, which turned out to be fun. I even went so far as to print the prop comics myself on newsprint complete with old advertisements and filler pages from the quarter bin at my local comic shop. I haven't seen the film, so I have no idea if anything I did made it in, but from what I understand, it might be one of the worst-reviewed films in history, so I don't know that I'd be all choked-up if nothing made the cut. Because I was really under the gun with lots of other work, I ended up enlisting a fellow artist by the name of Dan Panosian to contribute a sizable portion of the job, but here is some of what I came up with. The inimitable Dexter Vines inked the interiors. I only ended up coloring four of the six interior pages, but I have posted all of the line art. I also have some conceptual stuff that I will share once I get around to scanning it.


A Plague of Batmen

I was fortunate enough to be asked to draw some more covers for the DC Universe, focusing primarily on the "Big Guns" like Superman, Batman, etc., so I figured I'd start with Batman like anybody else. The difficulty is that I am meant to draw covers for no issue in particular, so the imagery can't be story-specific. Instead, I am to go for iconic shots that could be used anywhere.

"No problem", I replied hastily as I accepted the job from my editor, and then proceeded to draw strikingly original images of Batman perched on gargoyles, hunching and moping, or flinging a Batarang. I'm told it is my take on the tired themes that will make it unique, but I am starting to think this tune can be played out sans my solo. Or maybe if I jam a little more I will stumble on a new riff. What note hasn't been played? I'm running out of blue pencil.