Friday, March 12, 2010

Coffee goes in, Illustrations come out.

I have been pretty busy lately doing a pile of illustrations. I have a list of about 200. On a good day, if I am really cooking, I can do 3 or 4- but that is without doing much of anything else, except getting up to stretch, eat and drink tons of coffee.
Despite this oppressively large list, I have been having fun, and I think these newest illustrations have been some of my best. I do mostly pen and ink drawings for various medieval role-playing games. It is a very different process from that of painting in my studio where I work directly from life. If you have a question about how something should look, you can just ask, " Does 'this' look like 'that'?" Of course it is a bit more complicated, but essentially that is how a painting happens. Visual observation and asking intelligent questions. Working from life, you paint until the effect you are seeing in nature happens on the canvas.
Illustration is often done partly from the imagination, directed through a story or description provided by the person that has commissioned the work. I read it and attempt to come up with a visual interpretation of the text. I do research, looking for relevant images or information online and at the library. Often I will pose for the characters myself, and work from tons of photo references.
I thought I would show an example of how something like this happens.

Recently I had to draw a big prehistoric creature based on a real world, long extinct bird. After reading the article I did a bit of research on terror birds, and then did a few rough sketches. It is for a fantasy game and not a scientific paper, so I can invent and play with the design, pretty much inventing whatever I want as long as it fits the description. I decided to draw an action shot of sorts. I find it more interesting to show the moment right before or right after a moment of violence. So this is the bird after killing a goblin. It would help show how dangerous this creature is in addition to providing something to show scale.
Here is the sketch done in photoshop on top of the article, making sure it fits in the space. If at any stage in the process I have questions I may send the sketch to the writer or the company to make sure I am on track.

It is a bit cartoony looking, but I went through a few more attempts till I decided upon a good composition.
I assembled some images from the web and various books to help me determine the look of my creature.

I Taught I Taw a Puddy Tat!
This one ended up not being very useful.

I then had my favorite and most handsome model pose for the dead goblin. I am quite the actor don't you think? My wife takes some wonderfully blurry photos. I need to get her a tripod.

All of that info gets assembled and I do a final sketch in pencil. I then ink it in. I use Micron Pigma pens. They are great pens that give a nice consistent line if that is what you are looking for. I like a line with some variety and as they break down you can control the line weight a bit more. So I am pretty rough on these pens, usually pushing hard to bend the felt tip getting a rougher line. They come in various sizes, but I mostly use the 005 and 01. Sometimes the 005 is not small enough and I will cut it with a razor to get an even smaller line. The felt tip gives a nice variety of line.
All the pencil lines are erased and it’s scanned into photoshop for some tweaking and any adjustments. I have a nice tablet that makes any drawing on the computer a breeze. I have tried to draw completely on the computer, but I have to admit I like the feel, and look of actual pen on paper. The drawing is cleaned up digitally, the contrast is adjusted and it's saved as a high resolution image. I email the image on to the person laying out the article for final publication. It is nice that I get to keep all the originals.
Here is the final terror bird. The article about birds will be released in the next few months through Columbia Games.

I took some liberties from the research, giving the creature much more powerful legs, that are more dinosaur like. I was pretty happy with the final bird. though I think the feathers of the tail and the wing look a bit weird and saw-tooth looking and I may have to go back in and group those into a more interesting shape.
Can you imagine the mess this bird would make on your car window if you parked under it's nest?