Alright, that title was the only joke, and not much of one at that. Unless you consider me or this site a joke (or the fact that I first posted this blog post in the gallery instead of on my blog…)…but at least you’re here…

Anywhat, I thought the tail end of 2016 was crazy, project-wise, but the start of 2017 is looking even more packed, with some actual paid illustration work mixed in there! As far as the last projects of last year, I’ll be posting about each of them in the coming weeks (that’t the plan, anyway), but they were mostly xmas gift related. There’s still one more to finish, the gift for my wrangler/IT department/research department: my wife. That particular project is one I have struggled with. I have the general idea of what I wanted to do, but have had a hard time getting the specifics of it. I’m getting closer to crystallizing my idea, but I still have a lot of uncertainty. The scope of it has grown over the weeks, too, so it’s going to take me quite a bit of time to pull off. It will be late, but it will be before xmas 2017, I promise! It’s going to have to wait a bit longer for the attention it deserves because I’ve got a hard deadline approaching for some more work for L.S. Gagnon. She needs another book cover for the Little Witch Series, plus some illustrations highlighting key moments from the original Witch Series to help attract interest at an upcoming book convention. She’d like all of that in just over a month! I’m going to be buys!

Before I tackle that, though, I need to share the most recent cover I did:


Thea: The Little Witch-Thea Goes to School

This book is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, my sons are characters in it, which they are super excited about. Once they found out, they could barely wait for this book to come out. They promptly each read their copies in a single day and have been anxiously awaiting book 4.

Secondly, I tried out a new approach after watching some comic book coloring tutorials. I came up with a composite of photos to set the scene, then roughed out the cover. Once that was approved, I worked up a detailed drawing, focusing on the important elements of this composition: the stone wall, the tree and Thea’s “gear”, the 3 boys, and the school house. Pretty much everything else I left to be painted without the linework. The next step was a process I’ve sort of tinkered with before, but after the comic book coloring tutorials, I’m really starting to explore the possibilities of it: flatting. This is where I’ll create a selection of an object (under the linework, if there is any) and fill it with a solid chunk of it’s local color (for example, green for the trees). Once the whole image is “flatted”, I copy it and work on the copy. This allows me to go back to that flats layer and make precise selections quickly using those chunks of color. On the copy, I’ll add slight color variations, since that’s the way things look in the real world. Normally I’d next add a Multiply layer and paint in shadows with a neutral bluish color, but this time I tried something a little different. I made use of one of Photoshop’s many non-destructive adjustment layer features: solid color. This adds a customized color layer that always extends to the borders (useful if I were to change the canvas size midway), as well as provides a layer mask. What this allows me to do is more carefully paint in where I want shadows on the layer mask, but very easily remove them if I screw up or want to change something. It also keeps the shadow color consistent in case I forget to save a color swatch of my shadow color. It proved to be a pretty good way to work, especially with the selections I could make from my flats layer. I did the same thing with a highlight color.

The third interesting factoid about this cover? It originally looked like this:


Wrong time of year, Toby. Wrong time of year…

Oops. There was a slight mis-communication and I missed that the story takes place in the winter. I think partly it was because my kids had somewhat recently gone back to school and I had watched some tutorials on how to make custom grass and leaf brushes that look a bit more random (and therefore more organic/natural/realistic) than the ones prepackaged with Photoshop. I made said brushes, which was fun and which worked well, though could use some more tweaking. Thankfully, because of my set up/workflow, it wasn’t too hard to turn around and make it snow. That flats layer really saved me.

There you have it. I’ll be refining this process shortly, when I start working on the cover for book 4, as well as the book illustrations. Hopefully I will be able to work efficiently so I’ll still have time to post about some of those other recent projects I mentioned. There’s still a ton of other personal projects I want to get to, Lee’s gift being the one at the top of the list. I need to make time to work on IPMDT again, it’s been too long already. I’m also hopefully I’ll finally get my butt in gear, momentarily overcome my phone phobia, and take the next steps to getting the much-talked-about Etsy tshirt shop open. I need to choose a piece or two to submit to Spectrum soon, too…and and and…