Jun 2011

From iPad to Easel

There is a new blog post over on my personal work website showing how I’ve taken an iPad sketch, previously posted here, and used it to generate the finished painting shown below. You can read all about it here: http://www.walkerbrushworks.com/page4/page4.html

Creating a Basic Brush Set

Sometimes I am asked, especially given all the options at our disposal these days, how I manage to decide what tools to use to create a particular image. It’s an understandable question given the dizzying array of devices, media and methods we are surrounded by as artists. The simplest answer is that over time, through trial, error and the creation of hundreds of images, illustrators develop not only an art style but a working style as well.

Obviously, if you paint using watercolor on paper, you naturally have a much different set of tools than if you are a scratchboard artist. This holds true whether you are working traditionally or digitally. The more we create, the more we refine a style, the more we find out what works best for us to achieve the look we’re after. You find out what works for you. Part of this is personal preference, part is driven by the clients we work for and their demands, usage, etc. Today’s tight deadlines and even tighter budgets have forced demands that may very well preclude the usage of formerly preferred methods.

This doesn’t mean we don’t step outside the predetermined, and I am in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t be constantly exploring the multitude of options we have. How do you know until you try? What I am saying is that as working professionals we develop, out of necessity if nothing else, a “system” for lack of a better term, of creating an image. Sometimes a working approach lasts for an entire carreer, sometimes a single project.

With nearly all of my illustration work currently being created with digital media, my working method has meant creating a simple set of “go to” brushes for digital painting. Again, this doesn’t mean they are the only brushes I use, but they are the mainstays, the ones that traditionally would sit front and center on my taboret were I working traditionally. Everyone who has followed my blog for any length of time, knows that I use Photoshop and Painter for virtually all of my digital work, so those are the two programs we’ll be dealing with.

In PS I use five basic brushes; two modified Spatter brushes, a modified Hard Round, and the Hard Round and Airbrush Soft brushes just as God, er, Adobe, made them. The Spatter brush #1 is adjusted to give me a better thin-thick stroke, #2 is the same with texture added. Toss in the textural version of the Hard Round and you have a nice set of brushes to create a naturalistic looking piece. The unmodified Hard Round is mostly used to tighten up edges, the Airbrush for broad color lay in or overglazing using a Multiply layer.

In Painter I tend to work a bit differently. The whole point of Painter’s existence is to create a natural media look. So the brushes I use here have a greater textural appearance baked in. I love the dry media brushes, especially the Square Chalk and Tapered Conté, first and second strokes above. The Square Chalk is dynamite as a lay in brush too. You get the size and speed of an airbrush with a textual aspect for good measure. I also use the Opaque Acrylic and Glazing Acrylic often. Again, the broad strokes of painter’s Digital Airbrush variant are great for speedy lay in. The only modification of sorts that I make regularly, is the paper used as a basis for the stroke’s texture. I typically keep the Papers pallet open and have a selection of about 30 chosen textures selected, although I have three or four go-to’s here as well.

The number of preset brushes in either program, multiplied by their respective settings, means that there is seemingly endless supply to choose from. The number can be staggering. But by playing around with the various choices and settings and then paring down that number to a group that you gravitate to most, you can create an easily navigated bunch for regular use.

New Book Illustrations pt2

A few more of the illustrations from the just completed three part, book, pop up and character design project, What God Wants For Christmas, a package for young children. Like the last post’s entries, these images too are taken from the included book and include the initial roughs, client approved pencils and final art.

These were done in a relatively simple vignette style in Painter. Painter works so well here because it allows me to capture a nice handcrafted and warm look. The background I worked over was treated with a layer of color set to multiply. By doing this I was able to get the look of an oil wash on illustration board. The completed art looks so much like the traditionally painted acrylic over oil wash technique that in many cases it becomes nearly impossible to tell the difference.

Rough of Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem.

Final pencil.

Final painting. This is a cropped version, this is actually a two page spread format.

Rough of the three wisemen observing the new star in the sky.

Approved pencil. The door to the right will be changed in the final art.

Final art.

Creation of the solar system rough. This piece was a late addition to the book. As such we went straight to finish.

Final Art. The landmasses on the earth were intentionally kept amorphous.

New Book Illustrations pt1

Over the past several weeks I have been working on an assignment for FamilyLife Publishing that required both product design and illustration. Geared for young children, the finished package titled, “What God Wants For Christmas,” contains a storybook, a pop up stable scene/backdrop and six figurines along with package art.

The product’s pieces are designed to interact together, so that as the reader progresses through the book, they are introduced to various characters and are prompted to open a numerically corresponding gift box containing that characters figurine. For example, when the child reads the spread about Mary, they open the proper gift box and find a figure of Mary. She can then be placed on the dimensional manger background in the stable.

The product will hit the shelves in late fall and I will post more information about the figure design then. In the meantime FamilyLife has graciously allowed me to show some of the book’s illustrations. I’ve included the original roughs, the approved pencils and the final art to show a little of the process involved. The sizes vary here because I have cropped the images. In reality all of the final art was painted in a vignette format, and nearly all were spread pieces with a rough brush edged design element. It was decided that the style should be kept simpler and a bit loose, with the color pallet picking up on an existing product. My illustration work was then incorporated into the client’s final design and some graphic elements, like a heart shape, color areas, etc. were added.

Final artwork was created almost exclusively in Painter with the exception of some early setup work and final adjustments in Photoshop. In all cases I used the technique of painting over a sepia toned line drawing, a technique I’ve described before.

Rough for the illustration of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary. The client requested that we not see Mary’s face at this point.

Final pencil.

Final art.

Mary and Friend rough.

Final pencil. Notice there is no indication of any market stalls. Those were added in the final art and kept light for possible over printing of design elements.

Mary and a friend chat in the market final art.

Rough of the angel Gabriel appearing to a shepherd boy. The emphasis was to be on the boy with the angel having a strong, solid presence.

Final pencil.

Final art. The bottom of Gabriel’s robe was shortened to match the look we had already established on the figurines, designed earlier. I also added a surprised sheep peeking out from behind the safety of the
shepherd’s robe.

Next time, a few more illustrations from this project.

IPad Paint App Roundup

I’ve posted a few blog entries with results of my forays into iPad sketching using different apps and there will be more to come. One walk through the App Store and you can find a pretty decent array of painting apps for the iPad. That can make choosing the right one difficult. Here is a link to a Macworld article, done in a slide show format, that has a nice overview of the most popular:


As usual, the important thing is finding the right tool for the job for you. That may mean the software that has a UI you find friendliest or it may mean an app with the “killer feature” you can’t live without. This app rundown may be just what you need to help declare a winner.