Illustrating a character for a children’s story using Corel Painter

I love Corel Painter. The version that I use is Corel Painter X3 on iMac.

One of my on-going projects just now is a story about a young boy and his dog lost in a magical realm. It’s an adventure story for children aged 6 – 9 years. I’ve been writing it for a little while and have tried numerous art styles to bring it to life with pictures.

I’m currently angling toward using Painter for all of the artwork. Here’s a snapshot of my process.


Rough outline sketch using a Soft 6B Pencil on a textured canvas

I always start with a good sized canvas. This sketch was started on a canvas 5″x7″x300dpi.

To start with I’m using a Soft 6B Pencil to pick out the form and the composition. In the story the kid and his dog are stepping across a lava pool using tiny stepping stones. The dog, as always, is pretty fearless. But the kid is extremely cautious.
So I have two things that I need to show; trepidation and bubbling lava.

The pencil is a wonderful way of quickly laying down some form. I particularly love using it against a heavy canvas. You can see the texture that it presents, below. For me this is pretty vital. I really like to enjoy every aspect of the sketching and producing these marks on the canvas is extremely appealing.


Detail of 6B pencil on textured canvas

For the outline I use the Flat Color pen set to black. This is a common theme in my work. I just love the variation in its stroke. With little pressure – a barely visible hairline. With more pressure – a wonderfully satisfying thickness.

Something that I never do is pause for any length of time before starting the inking process. I like to dive right in. It’s far easier to adjust an image once the marks are down. I do find that if I stare at the canvas for too long I can become quite precious about the lines that I make.


Applying an ink outlined with the Flat Color pen

I build the composition around the pencil sketch and add a little texture with the ink. Notably around the hair and some of the clothing. I also like to add the darker areas with a thicker ink stroke. It’s important not to overdo it and this stage takes a fair bit of zooming out and looking at the image from a distance to gauge the balance of the strokes.


Detail of the Flat Color pen’s varied line strength

You can see just how much more interesting the lines are when you zoom in a little. That variation in the line strength adds some interest to the final image and helps to prevent it looking like a vectored / computer generated piece.

For the colour I work on the lowest layer with a Fine Tip Water brush from the Digital Watercolor collection.

I deliberately set the Diffusion level to 0. This provides a satisfying fringe to each stroke that I think works quite well. Any setting above 0 would produce a level of Diffusion that I think takes something away from the final piece.

As with the ink work I’m not overly precious about the colouring. I certainly don’t worry about being tight to the black ink lines. For me it’s more interesting an image where there are areas left blank.
That said I am conscious that the best effects would be to have the lighter areas on one side of the image.


Detail of ink and colour applied with the Fine Tip Water brush (Digital Watercolor)

As with the 6B pencil, the texture that the heavy canvas provides for the digital watercolour is very satisfying.

You can see from the detail above that the canvas clearly shows through. I have the Grain setting on the brush set to around 70-80%.

To help get a feel for how the image may appear in a book I mocked up a paperback presentation in Photoshop and placed the image in amongst some text.


Mock up of the final image in a paperback presentation

The layers were merged and set to Luminosity in the layer blending drop down.

And that’s pretty much it!
You can see a short video of me producing this work on YouTube via the link below.




While on holiday in France a number of years back I picked up a hardover comic book called Le Petit Spirou. I’d never heard of it before but fell in love with the art.


A Janry character

So much about this little character inspired me and still inspires me.

The solidity of the character combined with the beautiful pen strokes really appeal to my artist’s mind. There’s so much fun and energy in it.

I particularly like the way the artist places those thicker strokes as shadow. Something that I’ve copied a great deal myself.

The artist in question is Janry (or Jean-Richard Geurts). Wikipedia info.
I’ve no doubt that he is familiar to many cartoonists but for those to whom he isn’t, I heartily recommend you check his work.

For my most recent video I wanted to attempt his ink style.


I sketched this dancing girl in Mischief. The black strokes were achieved with a flat marker pen. I wasn’t too confident in producing the lines so zoomed in a little to ensure that I got the desired effects.

You can see a video of me producing this piece on YouTube. Please forgive the anatomical inaccuracies !!


Clean up technique with Mischief

My cartoon style varies depending on the job in hand but I will always start with a rough sketch to depict form. I try not to add too much detail to the sketch as it can have a pretty negative effect on the final piece.

cartoon sketch

Sketch of a cartoon character in Mischief

Once the sketch is complete and I’m happy with the form and composition of the character, I dive straight into the clean up.

For me there’s nothing worse than ‘perfection’ in art. In fine art I love to see the brush strokes or the effect of the canvas through the acrylic or oil. In fact, in animation, I often prefer the roughs to the final piece.
Milt Kahl’s character sketches were beautiful and didn’t necessarily gain anything from going through the clean up process. In some respects I’d love to see Madame Medusa in action purely from the roughs.

Madame Medusa by Milt Kahl

Madame Medusa by Milt Kahl

I use Mischief to create most of my cartoon work and I always start with a modified pencil to create the rough outlines.

When I ‘ink’ the work I use a straightforward pen with the colour set to black. At this point I’m thinking more about the colouring than I am about the quality of the inked stroke. I want to create something that lends itself to good colour but also something that has imperfections. For me this is far more interesting to look at.

I see some wonderful art around the web that is most likely created professionally using Manga Studio or Photoshop. These images can look stunning but just a little too perfect. The lines are pixel perfect where they join. The variation in the line is minimal and the edges can be just too smooth for my tastes.

blog_spacehero3I like to adopt a ‘sketching style’ with my ink pen that is precise but not pixel perfect.

When the ink work is complete I sit back and look at it in terms of my colour ideas. It often helps me to but a strong background colour in place. Normally a deep blue. I generally think that most images look fantastic against blue.


As I’m colouring I’m really just concerned with filling the shapes with solid colour. The texture is in the outlines so I’m happy just to use this flat coloured approach.


I also add some coloured tone and I usually like to have my light sourced from the right. i.e. shadow falls to the left.
I also employ thicker ink lines where body parts are pretty tight, such as under the arm or the neck.

To set the image from the background I add a white fringe. The finished piece is enormously satisfying to me as it honours my love of strong colour and an interesting line.


You can see this in action on YouTube.