Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Parliament of Owls - Pt. 1: Thumbnails and Color Sketch

For the next several posts, I'll be documenting the creation of my latest illustration "A Parliament of Owls", a scene from C. S. Lewis' book The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair. This is a project I've wanted to attempt for some time. The goal is to create a finished illustration for each chapter in the book, along with various sketches and drawings which could potentially be used for interior illustrations. My "process" is constantly evolving, but I thought that all my kind readers would benefit from seeing how I work.

Of course, before I start drawing, I'm formulating ideas. This usually accumulates into lots of random doodles, lines and bad ideas on a piece of printer paper or my sketchbook. I read and reread passages of the book to make sure I'm thinking about the character & settings right. It's all about memorizing how I see the scene and getting something on the paper that starts to concrete ideas in my mind. Then to work out the composition of the piece, I do thumbnail sketches. And in this case I did... 3. You should do a lot more than this, just to work out the best ideas. Some people do hundreds. I say that's ridiculous. I did three. I'll probably regret it later, but there you go.

This is where a great tool comes into play...


I often use this tool for creating thumbnails for several reasons. They are as follows:

1. I'm lazy. Too lazy to draw thumbnails on paper (okay, that's not really a good reason)

2. You can add grayscale value to your thumbnails and thus do value studies at the same time.

3. You can use the Lasso tool to quickly select and resize elements of your thumbnail to experiment with various compositions. This is the best reason I use Photoshop for thumbnails, and it saves me from having to redraw stuff over and over.

Okay, so in the sketches above I have limited myself to roughly 3 values - a dark, light and middle tone. I'm sure you fine folks have heard enough else about composition, size, contrast, and all that jazz, so I won't bore you (but if you need help with this stuff, leave me a comment, I'll go over it with you). After establishing basic value relationships, I move on to the next step...

This is a new step for me, but one that I have seen used with a great deal of success from some of my favorite illustrators, and that is the color sketch. This is again an area where Photoshop excels. Color exploration is certainly one of Photoshop's strong points, and you can use it to quickly lay in color, and manipulate it in a myriad of ways. Here, I laid down a layer set to Multiply over a copy of the original thumbnail sketch (#1). Eustace and Jill are in a tower late at night, having just been carried there by Glimfeather, a giant owl, to confer with the rest of the Narnian owls about a secret quest.

Nighttime scenes are difficult because the colors become desaturated and slightly blue. One great way I've found to explore color options for a piece is to paint in a "wild" color that you might not think would go. Then find the colors that complement it - color wheels are a great way to figure this out (but don't use them like a crutch). In this case I painted the whole thing in a deep blue. I wasn't sure what color would work for Jill's cloak, but by working off the color wheel I found that a desaturated reddish brown provided the perfect contrast to make her and Eustace stand out from the dark and shadowy tower and the Parliament of Owls.

Well, I hope you enjoyed that quick overview of this part of the process. Maybe you learned something. Maybe you didn't. Maybe you're ready to go to YouTube and watch cute kitten videos (please don't, go draw something instead). But at any rate maybe this has gotten you started thinking about how you can improve your next painting or drawing. Thanks for reading!

Next time: Character & Finished Sketches!

1 comment:

Aedan Peterson said...

Awesome! It looks really cool so far. Great idea.