Friday, October 23, 2009

Nativity (Full Process)

JAMES - I was contacted by the Orange Peel to do a poster for their Halloween show, featuring NC metal band Between the Buried and Me. Halloween + Metal = a happy James Flames. I know I usually detail most of the steps of my poster-making processes, but I thought that this time I would get a little more extensive. So let's start from the beginning.

First is sketching in my book, thinking about concepts, composition, colors, etc. I knew this poster was going to be reproduced digitally (as opposed to my screenprinted posters), so the amount of colors I could use was essentially limitless. That's kind of important, because it generally defines the way I'll start my sketching. If I'm doing a screenprint and I can only use 2, 3, or 4 colors, I generally like to do sketching directly in Photoshop because the colors dictate the other aspects of the illustration. But in cases like this one where my colors are unlimited (or if there are none at all, like when I do Black&White posters), it's easier for me to just draw it out in my sketchbook, allowing the lines and composition to dictate the rest.

So I started real loose with the sketching. In a very roundabout way, I knew what I wanted to see in the end: some kind of skeleton creature, a bunch of dead bodies, and some ooze. Most of the time my final sketches are a little more well defined, but the above sketch was all I needed as a groundwork this time. It was a general outline, and the rest of the details were very clear in my head already, so no need to waste time.

Sometimes, in the cases where I do more detailed sketches, I'll scan them into the computer and blow them up to full-size, then I'll print it out and trace over it onto a fresh sheet of paper - it's a good time-saver. But this case was different, considering that the sketch is pretty abstract. So I started with Bristol paper, and I measured out all my margins and crops. Then started drawing - over and over and over. This particular sheet was pretty messy - all the little details in the creature were drawn over many times, so to clear it up i went over the important lines with a marker, and erased the messy pencils.

Once I had everything pretty much where I wanted it, I got another clean sheet of Bristol paper, measured out the same margins and crops, and put it over the previous sheet. Using my light table, I traced it pretty lightly with pencil (I use Derwent "B" pencils - they're my favorites). Sometimes this extra step isn't necessary - but in this case, the previous sheet was so abused that the final illustration would have been very dirty and mangled. Of course it's all easily fixed in Photoshop, but I really like the final work to be clean and "presentable".

This is my last chance for any adjustments before going to my brush and ink, and you can see some subtle changes since last time. Once it's all how I want it, it's time for ink. I originally thought I would use a nib pen to do most of the detail, but quickly realized I felt way more comfortable with the brush on this one. I switched between my Rosemary & Co. #2 and #0 brushes to get all the major work done. I used a thin marker for some of the tiny little details, as well as for the outline of the dead skeletons surrounding the creature - I wanted to exaggerate the difference in line weights between them and the creature. Finally I used a big ol' #6 brush to fill in the big spots. I didn't need a drop of white-out on this at all.

And then as is customary, I slept on it. When time allows (which it doesn't always), I like seeing it with fresh eyes the next day - I feel like it gives me a chance to see things I may have missed. I fine-tuned some of my line weights on some parts, and also fine-tuned the minor shadows cast on parts of the creature (like the horns on his head). Once I was happy, I scanned it all in. My scanner is regular size, so I had to scan this in three pieces and then assemble it all together in Photoshop.

Next is coloring, which in this case was done all in Photoshop. The one draw-back to not doing any sketching in Photoshop (back in Step 1) is that I don't have any color studies to draw reference from. Honestly, when drawing this, I loved it so much as just a Black&White, and I almost couldn't see it as color. But they were expecting color, so I had to really find the right palette to create the perfect mood for this.

In the image above, you'll see the 6 stages of coloring this went through. The Orange & Cyan colors from the first try were really disappointing me - it made the poster seem almost happy and cartoony, and that's not what I was going for. Back and forth, back and forth between every color I could think of, and still frustrated. So, when in doubt, I go look at some other artists' work that I admire and use it as reference. In this case I checked out some of Darwyn Cooke's "Spirit" comics, as his palette in those was always murky and dark mixed with hits of really bright and well announced color choices. I felt like I had a better handle on what I wanted, and by the 6th frame of the image you can see I finally came to the final.

Also you may notice the evolution of the "eye smoke". When I first drew it on the original drawing/sketch (it's got a red-marker outline), it was a little more zig-zaggy. But I didn't include it on the final inks because I always intended to draw it directly in the computer using vector. The vector would give me the silky smooth lines I was looking for. When I got to the coloring stage, I needed a placeholder for the smoke, so I just scribbled something loose (which you see in the first few color steps). Well, throughout coloring, I got so comfortable with the loosely drawn smoke that when I finally did add the originally intended zig-zaggy smoke (which you'll see in step 5), I was very disappointed. So I just went back to the scribbly style, turned it into vector and refined it a little bit, and I was very happy with the shapes it made. I love when spontaneous things like that happen - I could have never planned it that way, it just happened.

Here's a final detail shot. These are hanging all over town, and they look pretty cool, if I do say so. Final size 11"x17".


alex fine illustration said...

At the risk of sounding all art school, I really like the composition. The shapes being made in the background really make this an eye catching poster. That and the awesome skeleton.

thomas pitilli said...

Great run through of yr process. I love seeing how something so slick started out as a rough scribbly idea. This poster is sick. You really made the color work in adding to the mood and completing the composition(there's that word again).

james flames said...

thanks so much guys - and i love the word 'composition', haha.

Mark Bernal said...

Thanks for posting your process james! Its nice to learn what you were thinking while creating this illustration. Nice work!

Nate Mulliken said...

i would be tempted to go straight to the computer to clean up the sketch, gotta respect the fact that you re-inked it for a clean "real" piece of work.