A new Mouse Guard tee-shirt for 2018! I've taken the inkwork for The Black Axe Black and White Edition cover and used it for the tee-art. Celanawe, Em, Conrad, & King Luthebon are in black as the briar wreath is in dark slate blue. The art is printed on a Heather Indigo Gildan softstyle unisex tee.
Look for this shirt at my 2018 convention appearances as well as eventually in my online store.
Conrad, the salty old peg-legged Guardmouse from Fall 1152 and The Black Axe, is the subject of a new 5X7 print (matted to 8" x 10") I'll be offering at conventions and in my online store. Conrad joins a portrait series that also includes: Saxon, Sadie, Gwendolyn, Kenzie, Rand, and Lieam.
To the left you can see the final artwork for the print, but below I walk through the process for creating this piece (which I also streamed LIVE several portions of on Twitch).
I started with a sketch of Conrad and a photo referenced location. The sketch is all in pencil on copy paper. I like to use copy paper because I don't feel precious about it, there is less at stake and so I'll feel more free to dig in to the drawing and worry less about mistakes. This isn't the final drawing and putting pencil on copy paper reinforces that in my head as I draw. I didn't put the XXX jug into the composition because I had the feeling I was going to move it around once I had everything in the size of the mat. The beach photo is one I took, setting the camera very low to get a mouse-eye-view at the beach in Ludington, Michigan.
I scanned the sketch into Photoshop and moved the jug into place. I also placed the photo behind it. Zooming in and shifting around, I was able to find a composition that I liked, where the horizon line felt right where the breaking wave had the most impact. I drew over the photo at this scale (printed out for reference) on copy paper on a light pad to define the shape of the breaking splash of the wave and the shape and placement of the rocks. Lining that drawing (tinted blue) with the Conrad sketch I had my final layout. Since the background photo was providing some color tone, I spotted in some flat colors for Conrad and the fish to help me visualize the finished piece as I worked.
A printed version of the above digital layout was taped to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On a light pad, I was able to see the printout as a guide and ink the lines confidently with Copic Multiliners (I think I only used the 0.7 nib here). Notice I didn't ink the water marks coming into contact with Conrad. That's in part to visually push the background back, but it's also so that on the next step my life is a bit easier...
That step is called 'flatting'. It's about establishing what areas are what colors, including the color holds (areas where I want the inkwork to be a color other than black).
There no worry about rendering here. Just flat color space. in this screenshot I've included my layer menu to show how I break down what colors go on what layers and where they fall in order above or below the inks layer (note the color holds are all above the inks and the image colors all are below).
I find that being able to click between layers to select what part of the piece you want to effect as you render is quicker than having the flats on one layer and using the magic-wand tool (a more common and popular method). To render this piece I used the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop and a stock textured brush.
Celanawe's distant kin, caller to action, and companion on the quest of the Black Axe (not to mention ancestor of Farrer, forger of the Black Axe itself) Em of Appleloft is the subject of a new 5X7 print (matted to 8" x 10") I'll be offering at conventions and in my online store. Em joins a portrait series that also includes: Saxon, Sadie, Gwendolyn, Kenzie, Rand, Lieam, and Conrad.
To the left you can see the final artwork for the print, but below I walk through the process for creating this piece (which I also streamed LIVE several portions of on Twitch).
The first sketch of Em, I didn't care for so much (top left sketch). Nothing major was off, just lots of little somethings. On a lightbox, I redrew her, tweaking things as I went, adjusting her head angle and drape of her dress (bottom right). As she's from Appleloft, I decided to have her amongst the namesake fruit of that village. The stock photo reference was gathered (top right), cropped and amended, and then drawn onto copy paper on a light pad (bottom left).
Th emain motifs for Em was to make her wise and studious, carrying her notes and illuminations concerning the Black Axe history and lore while holding a feather quill to associate in her connection to birds.
The various drawings above were scanned in and assembled into a finished layout. The figure drawing scan is all tinted warm and the background cool. This helped me to make sense of the lines not only as I assembled this, but in the next step as I inked, helping me distinguish forms from one another. For similar reasons, I added in the color tones for the whole piece to help me start to solve any tangents or light on light or dark on dark areas that may not help the figure to separate from the background.
The above layout was printed out on copy paper and then taped to a back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On a light pad, I can see through the bristol to the printout and use it as a guide as I ink. For pens, I use Copic Multiliner SPs. The SP version has replaceable nibs and ink cartridges. I used the 0.7 nib for this exclusively I believe.
Knowing tone & value information from the layout, I was careful about where and how much texture I put into things like the leaves and branches.
When the inks were scanned, I flatted the colors in preparation for the final colors. This process is like a coloring book for professionals: 'stay inside the lines'. Here I'm putting in flat color where it belongs, establishing that her dress color is different than her hood or her fur, or her inner ear. I've also established some color-holds (areas where I want the ink lines as a color rather than black): her dress & sash pattern, the book cover details, and the spots on the apples.
The final step is the color rendering. I use the dodge and burn tools with a stock textured brush to do all the shading and highlighting. There are a few settings in Photoshop for dodge and burn to take note of for how I get the colors the way I want them, most importantly the 'range', which not only controls what values are effected the quickest/most by the tool, but also if it saturates or desaturates to get there.
I've made a Creator Commentary video for the third issue/chapter of Mouse Guard Fall 1152: Shadows Within. For this issue and the remaining issues in Fall 1152, I’ll be doing the commentary as audio-only. But please feel free to follow along in your copy of the story in either issue form of from the hardcover as I talk about the behind the scenes details, art notes, and my head-space as I go page by page and panel by panel. Enjoy!
In Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 the mice first travel to the city of Sprucetuck, a hidden away vertical settlement inside of the trunk of a spruce tree. To help me design & draw the location for the comic, I built a model of cardboard & bristolboard...which unfortunately no longer exists....but...
Below you can watch a video where I talk about this model:
New for 2018 I have created designs for seven (7!) new enamel Mouse Guard pins: Celanawe, Midnight, Piper, Gwendolyn, mouse skull & crossbones, a fall leaf, and a winter snowflake.
These pins will be released at conventions this year that BOOM! and I are attending. A few weeks after each pin is released at a convention, that pin will then be available in BOOM!s online store: https://shop.boom-studios.com/merchandise
A few of these will be making a debut at Wondercon this weekend...
Since 2012 I've been creating a new signed Mouse Guard bookplate each year (at the bottom of the post you can see other past year's bookplates and links to blogposts about them). The idea is that, with these signed by me, even if you can't bring me your physical copy of a Mouse Guard book, this bookplate can be glued in making your copy signed.
I'll have the bookplate at my 2018 conventions and in my online store. For this blogpost, I wanted to go through the process to create the bookplate image.
I try to emphasize process with each bookplate. In the past I've done or emulated wood-cut, stained glass, embroidery, mosaic, etc. This year I did a painted wood carving. First, my source of inspiration. I did a quick google image search for 'medieval art' just to get a wide variety and see what kind of imagery/technique spoke to me this year. I found this piece from a Book of Hours titled 'The Visitation'. I loved the pattern in the background, and how, even though this is on parchment, the black spaces between the grid squares looks like carved relief. This, and the idea of gilded halos was my jumping off point.
In Photoshop I recreated the grid pattern. Then I drew (on copy paper) a mouse with a hooded robe in profile. The sketch was scanned and added to the grid along with some digitally added circles, 7-pointed stars, and a photo of a lantern I thought would look good on the end of the mouse's staff. Because there is no holy religion in Mouse Guard, I couldn't have the halo around the mouse's head, but I could get the same feel by having it around the light-source of the lantern.
I printed out the digital composition on copy paper and taped it to a piece of cedar shake.
I had left over pieces of cedar shake from a crafts project from Christmas 2016 and almost threw out all the scraps last fall. Luckily, cedar has a nice color, grain, and is soft enough for my needs...but more on that in later steps.
To transfer the image onto the cedar, I coated the back with graphite (by scribbling over it with a soft-lead pencil).
Carefully tracing over the design on the front of the paper with a ball-point pen, I was able to get the image onto the cedar. Wherever I applied pressure from the pen as I traced, the graphite on the back of the paper left a mark on the cedar. This is the technique I've used for my Heroes Con large auction pieces when I have a detailed drawing I need transferred onto a large sheet of matboard.
The next step was to 'carve' the cedar. Remember I said cedar was soft enough for my needs? Well, it's soft enough a wood that I could draw into it with a black roller-ball pen and leave an indentation. Going over and over the same line made it deeper. It also made all the carved lines black, which helped for readability.
I did a few tests of how to apply the pressure on some of the scrap pieces of cedar I still had. Finding out if lighter pressure or harder pressure was a boon for going with or against the grain, how to get a wider line, and how to kill a few roller-ball pens in the process.
After an evening of what felt like artistic desk-graffiti, I had the entire image's linework carved into the cedar.
It took time and patience, and while the 'carving' was very easy compared to real wood carving (trust me, I know), I still had to nurse my hand and wrist for a few days following.
Last step at this stage was to very lightly sand the surface with a fine grit sand paper. The cedar was a bit rough to start with, but this also helped get rid of any splintery burrs that poped up in the 'carving'.
To color the piece, I used some copic markers and a metallic silver marker. For the lantern parts, I didn't have a gold pen (or paint) so I used a selection of acrylic bronze/copper tones I had in a drawer of miniature model paints.
I was getting nervous about the piece here, because if the colors were wrong, there was no way to undo the process...sanding deep enough to get the penetrated marker stain out would also start to obliterate the linework. In the end, I didn't hate the colors, but felt something was still off....
detail photo of the colored cedar
The last step was to take a good photo of the piece and digitally tweak it. Normally the tweaks are limited to resizing it, adjusting some levels, and adding in the elements for it to be a bookplate, but this time I did more. The colors were still off. So I also added in a transparent photo over the silver bits of gold leaf.
Here is the finished bookplate which will be available at my 2018 convention appearances as well as in my online store
I've made a Creator Commentary video for the second issue/chapter of Mouse Guard Fall 1152: Shadows Within. For this issue and the remaining issues in Fall 1152, I’ll be doing the commentary as audio-only. But please feel free to follow along in your copy of the story in either issue form of from the hardcover as I talk about the behind the scenes details, art notes, and my head-space as I go page by page and panel by panel. Enjoy!
I was asked by Archaia to do a variant cover for the first issue in the new Labyrinth comic series: Coronation. Here's the info about the series:
"Simon Spurrier and Daniel Bayliss present a magical look into the world of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Before Sarah braved the Labyrinth to save her brother, another young woman sought to save a young boy named Jareth from the clutches of the Goblins. Set in 18th-century Venice, Italy, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth is a striking look into the history of the Labyrinth itself, and what happens to the little boys who don’t get rescued. This is the untold history of the Goblin King."
For this blogpost I'll run through the process for creating the cover.
My editor Cameron suggested since I'm not one to tend to drawn pretty Human's that I draw Jareth in owl-form rather than glam David Bowie. We agreed that the 13 hour clock would also be something that would fit my aesthetic...and then I suggested a map of the Venice canals made to be a Labyrinth that the owl and clock stand on/above. Well, 2 outa 3 ain't bad. I messed around with 3D modeling programs, image searches for Venice from above and more before I gave up on the Canal-Labyrinth-Venice and opted for just a nice shot of Rialto Bridge (I found a painting from the 1900's as reference) The owl was drawn separately on copy paper. And for the clock I drew just one of the ornamental shapes for the numbers and then in Photoshop copied them out the the proper measurement for the 13 hours to be equidistant. Once this was all cobbled together digitally with some tone and a circular maze added in for good measure, I sent it off for approval from Archaia and Henson.
The approval came back and I started the process of inking. First I printed out the above layout onto copy paper (it's too big for 1 sheet, so I print it on 2 pieces and tape them together) and then tape that to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my light pad I can see through the bristol to the printout and treat them like my pencils as I ink on the surface of the bristol. For pens I use Copic Multiliners SP (The SP are the refillable/nib-replaceable versions and not the disposables) with the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs.
To help the shapes stand out, I gave the owl and the clock a heavier outline. I also made sure the ink lines for the owl and the maze never touch the lines of Venice, partly that's to give them each some space, but it's also so the next step with coloring is a bit easier.
Like most of my covers, this piece has color holds (areas where I isolate the linework and paint them a color instead of black)...Unlike most of my covers, this one has every inkline held with a color instead of black. The Owl lines are one tone (that shifts lighter as it nears Venice), the clock's lines a second, the maze is a third tone (that also shifts in value and hue as it nears Venice), and fourth Venice is all in a cool blue-grey.
The shading and texture were all done with the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop using a textured brush.
Jim Henson's Labyrinth: Coronation #1 is slated to hit comic shops on February 28 My cover was the ComicsPro exclusive.
For the last six years I have released a limited edition 11" x 11" signed and numbered print. (At the bottom of this post are all my past prints & links to blogposts about them). They are supposed to show the "prettier" side of Mouse Guard (per a request from Julia) and are often named for the flora seen in the background.
This year's print "Elderberry" was released at Emerald City Comic Con and will be available at my convention appearance throughout 2018 (and also in my online store). For this blogpost, I'll run through the steps to create the print.
I started by picking a mouse character (this happens to be Bronwyn, the Matriarch at the time of the Black Axe volume and seen in 2 panels in that book) and some type of pretty plant: Elderberry. I sketched out Bronwyn on copy paper in the hammock. On a separate sheet I drew a section of the flowers and leaves, and on another I drew the ladybug (an afterthought). I then assembled these scans in Photoshop, tinting the linework of each to help me see through the tangle of lines. I did rough flat colors to also help me visualize what was negative space, what was flower, what was leaf, and what was mouse. The berries I added in digitally and I populated the blooms by copying and rotating/mirroring the one section I drew.
The next step was to ink the piece. I printed out the above layout on copy paper and taped it to the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. On my light pad, I was able to see through the surface of the bristol to the printout so I could use it as a guide to ink from.
I tightened up the details of the flowers, and got into a rhythm with their shape & textures. Obviously, this made the background much darker in the inked piece than my rough. One of the ways I approached resolving that comes later, but the other was to make sure the berries read as 'very dark', making the flower mass lighter by comparison.
After the inks were completed, I started flatting the color for the piece in Photoshop. The colors for Bronwyn were already set a bit from her appearance in The Black Axe, but they still needed some adjustment, and I could also call from my rough layout flat colors for help.
The purpose here isn't so much to worry about the final colors though as much as it is about coloring in the lines and establishing the areas, that her fur color is something different than the leaves above her head, of that the cloak has a different color edge trim.
In the final color rendering is where I not only shade and highlight (using the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop) but also making color balance adjustments to warm or cool areas that I may not have quite right in the flat color choices.
To help lighten up the background and make those Elderberry flower as delicate as I could, I added a color-hold on their linework. A color-hold is where I digitally paint over the ink lines so that they aren't black, but a color, or even painted and rendered color.
The finished Elderberry prints are numbered and limited to 300 copies and signed by me.
Happy Valentine's Day Tomorrow! I wanted to re-share the information about my Valentine's Day themed Children's Book: Snowy Valentine from Harper Collins. It's a story about Jasper Bunny as he awakes on Valentine's morning realizing he doesn't have anything for his bride, and that he's unlikely to find the special something she deserves when the land is blanketed in snow.
I chronicled the development of this book in 3 parts ad have included the links to those blogposts below:
Snowy Valentine can be ordered from your local book store or from Amazon.com
PS: I have commissioned the talented puppet builder James Wojtal Jr. to build a puppet version of Jasper Bunny that I can use for library/school readings as well as to pitch to Harper Collins for the possibility of doing a small stage show of the book.
PPS: Recently I also Uberdoodled some copies and put them in my online store for sale: