I love to find out how things are made. I especially enjoy learning the processes that creative people use to get their work done. Even when someone works in a different medium than I do I often learn new approaches to my own work just by seeing the steps someone else goes through to bring a piece of art to completion.
I used to do occasional process posts on my blog, showing an illustration as it developed from a rough sketch to a finished piece. In this month’s newsletter I thought it would be fun to do the same with a commission I completed in September.
A client contacted me about creating a portrait of one of her cousins for his birthday. She knew my comic book work and, since her cousin was a fan of superhero comics, she thought it would be fun to have him portrayed as a superhero in the portrait. After a bit of discussion we also agreed that it would be fun to make the portrait the facsimile cover of a comic book. With that concept in mind, I started sketching ideas.
In our discussions, my client mentioned that her cousin was a big fan of Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby co-created Captain America and was one of the primary creators of the Marvel Comics line of superheroes in the early 1960s. Most of the characters in the recent Avengers movie originally came out of Kirby’s imagination. So, for this portrait I wanted to do a bombastic illustration similar in style to Kirby’s artwork and featuring some of Kirby’s creations in the background.
I did a few very rough preliminary sketches and my client picked the one of above as the one she thought would work best for the portrait. That decided, I set about creating a detailed pencil drawing. For me, a pencil drawing is the framework I use to build an illustration. I may use different techniques to arrive at a final illustration but I always use a pencil drawing to work out the details of illustration’s composition.
Because I wanted the final illustration to be a faux comic book cover I used bristol board with comic book guidelines already preprinted on it. I chose eight Kirby characters for the background. I could have easily drawn a hundred. Kirby had a huge imagination.
I left the top quarter of the image mostly empty in order to have space for the name of the comic book. The cousin’s name was Norman and the client agreed that it would be fun to use his name as the comic’s logo. Calling the comic NormanMan sounded like a lousy idea but my client liked the idea of using Norman’s initials as a acronym for … something. In the real world organizations name themselves something appropriate and then we get dull acronyms like FBI, IRS, IBM or SCOTUS. Bleah. In fiction, writers start out with words that sound cool (SPECTRE, SHIELD, UNCLE) and then figure out what the letters stand for.
Because Kirby did most of his work in the pre-computer days of comics I decided to hand draw the logo rather than manipulate a font. The final logo did involve using Photoshop for placement and sizing of elements but all those elements were first created with a pencil, ruler and pen on paper.
In order to be sure that my composition worked I created a mock-up of the cover using the pencil drawing, the logo and a corner box with issue information to make it look more like an actual comic cover.
The next step was to cover my pencil scan into bluelines, print them out and then ink them. This is a fairly recent technique for me. I used to just ink directly over my pencils but I’ve found that, if I ink a blueline printout, I don’t have to erase any pencils or do as much clean up on the final scan in Photoshop.
Turning the scanned pencils into bluelines basically involves colorizing them in Photoshop. I have a preset programmed for that in the Hue/Saturation function of the Adjustments menu.
I printed out the bluelines and then inked them using a variety of tools, mostly a Uniball Vision gell pen for the lines and a number 4 round brush for the shadows and blacks. For detail work I mainly used a Hi-Tec O5 ballpoint pen.
Once I’d inked all the figures I scanned in the art as 8 bit grayscale and then adjusted the levels until the blacks sharpened up and all the unwanted lines dropped out. I converted the image from grayscale to RGB color, created a color layer set to “multiply” and set to work coloring.
The first stage of coloring is to isolate the individual figures so it’s easier to color each one. At this stage I don’t worry about picking the “right” color. I just need to each color to be distinct and separate. In Photoshop it’s pretty easy to change one color to another. I also color some of the background because I have a short attention span and I like work all around an image rather than concentrate on just one spot.
You may notice that I’ve moved some of the background figures slightly. Specifically I’ve moved Orion higher on the page. In the original inks it looked sort of like he was standing on Captain Victory’s head.
Because N.O.R.M.A.N. is the focus of the illustration I finished his basic colors first. He needs to stand out from all of the elements on the page. I’ve also tried adding detail to the planets in the background. I put them in because Jack Kirby often included planetary objects in his cosmic scenes. In this illustration I don’t think they work. So I remove them.
I’ve added Noble Operative for Remarkable Missions of Advanced Necessity under the N.O.R.M.A.N. logo. Yes, it’s corny. And therefore appropriate.
The final illustration.
Actually, the final illustration is in my hands below. Since the illustration is intended to the cover of a comic I printed it out at the size of a regular comic. The pencils, inks and the framed copy of N.O.R.M.A.N. #1 got carefully packed up and mailed to my client’s cousin.