Early morning warm up sketches

For me there can be little better than grabbing some coffee and sitting in the early Summer sunshine with an ink pen and notebook. Those first few moments after sleep where your brain is still just a little bit in dream land are superb for playing with ideas.

If it’s not so Summery outside (as it was this morning) I’ll sit at the Mac and fire up a drawing app. My first choice drawing app is Corel Painter but I’ll also use Mischief. Both are superb for sketching in though Painter is, of course, a much more heavyweight application than just a sketching tool.

This morning I’d woken thinking about chess! Not sure why. But I instantly thought of the agony and the ecstasy of the outcome of a chess match. So I sketched it :)

chessvictoryFor this I used a Sketching Pencil in Painter to quickly establish the lines. I wasn’t at all concerned with detail, far more important to develop the characters with as few strokes as possible.

The chap on the left is the victor and clearly elated.
The chap on the right is the exact opposite.


What I like about Painter is the texture that the strokes provide. With this detail image (above) you can see how the marker pen reacts to the paper. Such wonderful texture that helps to enhance the experience of digital sketching.

From concept to publication – creating a children’s picture book with digital tools

I recently completed my first children’s picture book and wanted to share an overview of the process involved in taking the story from an initial idea to publication.
I double as an author and an illustrator. The book was created 100% digitally.

I use mobile tools and the internet to enable me to reflect my thoughts and inspiration “on the go”. I haven’t used a sketchbook for months. There’s really no need anymore. Far easier to walk around with an iPad and stylus for capturing story notes and character ideas.

The process goes something like this…

Story development 
Writebox (Chrome on PC Desktop)
iA Writer (iPad / iPhone / Mac)

I like to have all bases covered so that an idea can be scribbled down no matter where I am.
Both the above apps sync with Dropbox which is of course vital to remaining consistent.
The writing process for a 32 page picture book can take me anywhere from 1 to 3 days. Any longer than that and I tend to think I’m getting something very wrong or the idea simply stinks!

Facebook / review
Yep, I reach out to a small group of friends on social media to gather some feedback for my early drafts.
I enjoy this and it is often extremely rewarding. Generally those that read my early work have young children so they are well positioned to offer some relevant comments.
There is of course a fine balance to be struck in taking on the advice and criticism and retaining my own “voice” in my writing.

Art – concept and early development
I generally have my best ideas when I’m completely switched off.
This can be last thing at night, first thing as I wake, watching TV or sat having lunch in a café. In each case I am equipped with my iPad Air and Wacom stylus.
I use Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus on the go and Savage Interactive’s superb Procreate app.
(I know I’ve mentioned all of this before but it’s worth repeating as a key part of the creative process)

The process of sketching out character ideas and determining colour requirements is more than ably met by these two. It’s vital for me to be able to work as fast as I think. Launching heavy weight programs on a PC can severly impede this but the iPad Air just motors along comfortably. An incredible toolset for the “on the go” artist.

Art production
Once I have my character’s defined and loosly sketched out I identify the images that need to be produced to illustrate the story. At this stage I don’t change the story. I’m happy with the text and it’s now all about the art.
By this point I also have a firm idea for the style in mind. e.g. clean pen lines and solid colour or perhaps 2B pencil with pastel colour. I occasionally like to employ watercolour and ink or pencil over the top.
The sketches are uploaded from Procreate to Dropbox (Dropbox is central to all of my work. An incredibly powerful solution) and simultaneously stored on my Mac’s AirPort storage in a PSD format.
I work with layers in Procreate and these are exportable to Photoshop’s native PSD format.

From there I launch Painter X3 on the Mac and fire up the Wacom Cintiq. This really is an incredible tool and one of the finest investments I ever made as an artist. The combination of Wacom and Corel’s Painter for production use has to be the ultimate in digital raster-based art.

I launch the images from Dropbox and save them out to Painter’s native RIFF format.
From here it’s a case of sketching out the final line art for each image.
I like to use the “Real 2B Pencil” here from the Painter X3 brush palette. It’s beautifully expressive and a real pleasure to watch as you sweep your stylus across the screen.

I guess this is the stage that really starts to feel like “work”.
To this point I’ve had fun with concepts and rough drafts. I’m now working with what will ultimately be production quality work.

Once I’m happy with the art work (my last book contained 30 colour images and took about a week to complete) I mock up the book using some hand crafted HTML (I knew all those years of web development would pay off!) that essentially allows me to provide a handy reference when I’m sharing the ideas with my friends. I also use this when I’m constructing the book as a reference for layout. Once I’m using InDesign I really don’t want to be thinking about what goes where. It’s assembly line grunt work.

Book construction
I self publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace service. For this I upload 2 separate PDF files. The first is the book itself and the second represents the cover artwork.
Constructing double page spreads to meet CreateSpace’s publishing requirements can be tricky so I use Adobe’s InDesign to do all of this leg work for me.

InDesign allows me to construct a book and work on each page at a time.
CreateSpace demands that I leave the first and last page blank. All other pages include information such as Copyright, credits, acknowledgments and of course the story itself.
InDesign presents the pages to me as double page spreads.

I save the illustrations out from Painter in TIFF format. These are naturally large files – typically 20cm x 20cm at 300dpi.
I generally work with a page colour set to white and leave the bottom “canvas” layer intact with its white background. In other words I don’t bother too much with transparency.

Assembling the book can take some time but InDesign is a dream when it comes to layout. Images and text objects snap in to position and can be centered with ease.
I create my first text object in the font style that I will use throughout the book and then Copy and Paste it on to every page. This is just a quick way for me to ensure some consistency in my type settings.

Once I’m happy with the layout and content I can use Cmd + W to preview the book with InDesign.
After some fine tuning (which can sometimes mean a trip back to Painter if I’m not happy) I finally have a production file that I save out in InDesign’s native format .INDD. As you can imagine this can be HUGE!

I export from InDesign in PDF format and upload in to CreateSpace.
CreateSpace imports the file and parses the content for page layout. Once you submit the book for review (which can take up to 24 hours) you can complete all the other information. If your book meets CreateSpace’s printing requirements you’re good to progress and upload a cover.
I use InDesign again to create the book’s cover and export to PDF.
There are some strict requirements here as well that take in to account a set margin, the width of your book and the number of pages therein (this determines the width of your book’s spine). CreateSpace has a handy tool available for working this out for you.

The completion of this process is hugely rewarding and I was thrilled to be able to share a link to the book on Amazon with my friends.

This is very much an overview of the process.
When I get more time I will describe each step in more detail.

I hope it was useful reading for you.

You can see my first book A Frog named Bob at Amazon.

Feng Zhu on building conceptual compositions with Photoshop and photo textures

I’ve always admired talented concept artists. Especially those that work in contemporary video games and movies.
Feng Zhu stands out from the crowd.
I recently watched an hour long video of his Let’s Draw series in which he masterfully assembles a few scenes with some crude painting, photo textures and some clever light balancing.
In fact there’s much more than that going on. Check it out.

What I find fascinating about this video is that the artist doesn’t care too much about wasting time on drawing every detail such as rock textures. Pretty insightful stuff.

Feng’s Facebook page is pretty useful – https://www.facebook.com/FengZhuZhu