Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

Full-color digital artwork of 250+ creatures of the Carboniferous period. A graphic of the world in the upper left corner encourages viewers to 'spot 'em all!'. The Carboniferous lasted from 359.2-299 mya. There are too many creatures in the graphic to name, but there are sharks, nautiloids, ammonites, fish, amphibians, arachnids, insects, and even a couple of edaphosaurs (mammalian reptiles) present in this period. They're scattered all around the continents before they were even Pangea. Plenty of plants dot the landscape in between, including plants still extant today such as ginkgo.

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11×14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn’t realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages for their favorite animals throughout natural history, and maybe discover new favorites. The final book would contain a spread for every geologic time period in the history of Earth, and perhaps feature subsections of those time periods. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull something this complicated off, but I’ve established a workflow for making more of these illustrations when I move forward with this project.

Sketch of the layout of continents during the Carboniferous period.

1. Sketch
First, I made a best-guess sketch of what continents looked like during the Carboniferous, cross-referencing maps. Ideally I would be able to trace a Creative Commons or open-source map, but there were none to be found. Above graphic is an approximation of what the first sketch looked like, before I went back and refined it again. I have either deleted or lost the original map I drew in the list of 800 or so layers used producing this image. (whoops!)

Example of what a layered folder looks like when the visual reference is visible, plus sketch and lineart layers. This one contains the shrimp-like organism, Malacostracan.

Screenshot of a layer group containing reference, sketch, and lineart for the shrimp-like organism, Malacostracan.

2. Research
Each organism is contained in a named layer folder. The folder contains visual reference first, then will eventually hold the sketch and the final lineart.

It’s best if I do all of the research in one go, rather than switching from research to drawing intermittently. I trawled Wikipedia mostly, as the site requires citations and sources, plus it offers plenty of open-source visual resources. I also look at paleontology fansites and wikis where possible, because there is an enthusiastic fanbase of people devoted to compiling and sharing updated natural history research. Ideally I would want a consultant with more of a research and natural history background to help me with this, but for the time being, it’s just me, doing what I can with the resources I can access.

3. Sketch, again
After drawing the landmasses and using them to place organisms in spots where they mostly made sense, I studied each bit of visual research I can find. I used the name of the organism to search for additional reference if necessary, so naming my layers was extremely important here. I’m mostly looking at pose and size of each organism as I sketch. If there were ways to make the creatures interact with environments or with each other, I incorporated that too, for variety. A lot of this is speculative but I based it off of things I’ve seen real animals do today.

[image of tangent, or viewer flow through the piece]

4. Tweak composition
Once everything’s sketched, I bonk critters around to avoid the dreaded tangent. There’s a lot of organisms so they either need to be crossing over each other clearly or placed far enough apart that they’re not interacting. Typically the viewer needs to be able to see the head and tail tip of each creature to be able to tell what it is.
Something I have on the docket to try is compiling creature silhouettes as a check-off list and see if kids can look at the silhouettes, then find the creature depicted on the page. My goal is for the reader’s eye to travel all around the page, through all the creatures, without running into blocks or walls.

Two-page digital art spread, lines only and no color, depicting as many organisms of the Carboniferous as I can fit into two pages. A placard of the Earth with a ribbon states:

5. Lines
Each creature gets its design tightened up with clean lines in rich black at 5px on 1200dpi, prepped for coloring. I keep an older version of the completed lines, then merge all the lines into one layer on a new version of the layered photoshop file.

Color palette for Carboniferous Spread

5. Colors
I generated a palette containing two warm colors (orange and yellow), an intermediary color (green) and a cool color (blue). The blue and the intermediary green were used to create a background that would remain behind the critters and pop them out more. Sea creatures were given mostly cool colors, and land creatures were given the warmest colors. I want viewers to perceive both individual animals on a small level, but also the entire map of the earth of this time period (Carboniferous) because it’s so different from modern times.

The carboniferous spread with 250 organisms, now with flat colors for easier coloring!

Next, I flatted all the colors on one layer under the lineart. This keeps the filesize somewhat manageable and makes it easier to select blocks of color for detailing.

Clip of the whole piece, featuring many amphibians, a prehistoric spider, a whip scorpion, and various carboniferous plants. Each animal has some sort of highlight or special detail applied.

Organisms had highlights and detailing applied based on what aspect of them I wanted viewers to spot first. Mostly this was facial features, but some organisms have cool weird bits to them that we don’t see in the modern day. The colors are extremely speculative for lack of scientific evidence otherwise, and for this audience I leaned colorful/patterned rather than restraining myself.

Carboniferous spread with gradients applied for extra depth

6. Gradient overlay
My initial colors were fine but a little flat-looking. In order to add depth without overwhelming the viewer with detail, I added gradients set to Overlay on the background only. Now the bottom of the page looks like it’s angling closer to the viewer, because I used yellow there, and blue on the background.

Hue/Saturation layer from Photoshop, as a screenshot.

7. Hue/postproduction tinkering
Finally, there was a little bit of this, which Photoshop does well. I amped up the vibrancy to make the page feel like it’s bursting out of its bounds.

 

What’s next?
Are you interested in advising me on natural history, and/or picking up this kidlit midgrade picture book concept for publication? Let me know. The workflow is in place, ready to go.

Comics Tip

Color Theory: Warm Temperature Colors
When thinking about how to evoke ‘colorful’, many aspiring colorists throw every hue they can think of onto a scene, resulting in chaos. A seasoned colorist knows it’s not about how many colors used in a piece, but how the selected colors relate to each other. One aspect that helped me grasp this concept was color ‘temperature’, particularly with warm colors.

Six rainbow colors arranged in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple colors.

Reds, oranges, and yellows are typically the warmest colors in a piece, with yellow being the warmest of all. These warm colors tend to occupy the foreground.

Now let’s remove some of these colors and see how they read.

Yellow is the warmest possible color. The human eye typically loses sight of yellow at the furthest possible distance. Yellow is used to create warning signs that can be easily perceived at a distance on the road for this reason. It’s a color that jumps to the foreground. How the blue and green look in comparison to the yellow…They function as ‘cooler’ colors. Arranging them in stacks alters the viewer’s perception of distance.

Green, blue, and yellow boxes arranged in different combinations next to each other.

Which of these seems like it’s in order from back to front? Front to back? Out-of-order? The temperatures of a color correspond to the space it occupies in a composition, whether that’s the foreground, background, or midground.

Green, blue, and purple boxes lined up next to each other.

To look at slightly different color scheme, this contains green, blue, and purple. Without yellow, can we still tell which is the ‘warmest’ hue? Compared to blue, which is the coolest temperature color, or purple, which is also a very cool color, green pops out the most.

This is because green is the closest color to yellow within the context of restricting ourselves to these three colors. When there is no yellow present, green takes over the role as ‘warmest’ color and jumps to the foreground. To compare, here is a yellow-green-blue composition next to a green-blue-purple composition.

Blue green yellow composition vs a purple blue green composition

Two-page digital art spread, lines only and no color, depicting as many organisms of the Carboniferous as I can fit into two pages. A placard of the Earth with a ribbon states:

Maybe one of these color schemes suits you for tackling this big CC BY-NC 3.0 coloring page, or maybe you want to invent your own for the page while thinking about color temperature!

Care to read more?

Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11x14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn't realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers...

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Is this Paleoart with some Folklore, or Folklore with some Paleoart?I explored the intertwining concepts of misinformation and natural history in this piece. The story in my head recalled not only mythological hearsay, but also the idea of cryptids. What is Big Foot...

Want to chat about this?

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Digital artwork of an elasmotheirum depicted as being unicorn-like in a field of interlocking flowers. The 'unicorn' has clearly stomped its way into a small fenced paddock, leaving ruin in its wake. The pomegranate tree from which the unicorn snacked is falling over. Regardless, the unicorn wears a beautiful blue collar studded with gems as well as a gold chain twining around the tree. It's a pastiche of the classical medieval tapestry 'The Unicorn in Captivity.'

Is this Paleoart with some Folklore, or Folklore with some Paleoart?
I explored the intertwining concepts of misinformation and natural history in this piece. The story in my head recalled not only mythological hearsay, but also the idea of cryptids. What is Big Foot but a leftover Gigantopithecus from the age where we were less alone, as primates? Weren’t we all charmed by the idea of one last plesiosaur hanging on in Loch Ness for hundreds of years? With that in mind, I wanted to go deeper than the simple unicorn = monoceros = rhinocerous concept. This unicorn isn’t a misplaced African animal. It’s a European animal that went hiding in the woods during the ice age and is only now, for mysterious reasons, showing itself: The elasmotherium.

Photograph of a 14th-century tapestry depicting a unicorn lying on a field of complex floral designs. The unicorn is contained by a small fence that it could easily jump over, but it chooses to chill with the pomegranate tree instead. The unicorn wears a very fancy lapis and gold collar.

Here is the original 14th century tapestry from which I drew inspiration. The original meaning of the tapestry itself has also been lost to time, although it possibly had something to do with marital loyalty and bliss and may have been a royal gift.

Comics Tip

Masters Studies
Say there is an artist you really admire, living or dead, and you want your work to look like theirs. Depending on your rendering skill level, you may want to do one of the following things to learn more about a pre-existing work:

  1. Trace it.
    While many artists (especially younger ones) exhibit rude behavior when they ‘catch’ someone tracing, this is a legitimate learning exercise when done privately. Whether you print out a copy of the artwork and tape tracing paper on top, or if you trace over it in a digital drawing program, tracing allows you to get the ‘feel’ of drawing something. If your motor skills haven’t sharpened up enough to eyeball it yet, tracing is a good way to warm up to that.
  2.  Eyeball it.
    Just like drawing from life, eyeballing works of art you enjoy is one of the best ways to guess at techniques, for lack of a teacher. This can be done at home from a computer or a book, and it can be done in front of art at museums and in public spaces. If you think an artist used shading in a particular area, or mixed particular colors together — give it a try, see if you uncover their technique!
  3. Eyedropper Colors.
    If you’ve got the image open on your computer, steal the colors! In photoshop, the Eyedropper tool is used to sample colors and see what they actually are…as opposed to how the human eyes perceive those colors.

Or if you just wanna chill out and color…I’m here for you! This coloring page is licensed under CC BY-NC 3.0. Have fun!

Care to read more?

Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11x14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn't realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers...

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Is this Paleoart with some Folklore, or Folklore with some Paleoart?I explored the intertwining concepts of misinformation and natural history in this piece. The story in my head recalled not only mythological hearsay, but also the idea of cryptids. What is Big Foot...

Want to chat about this?

Ivalice Zine Entry

Ivalice Zine Entry

Example of a zine illustration that spreads across two pages. It depicts a nu mou character from Final Fantasy in an item shop, accompanied by a moogle character eating a kupo nut.

This is the work I did for the (completely free!) Ivalice Zine organized by Ashley Cope, whose work on the webcomic Unsounded has inspired me for years. When I spotted the call for entries I jumped at the chance. It was curated so it was a little nerve-wracking, but I think my pitch of ‘I just want to throw down a nu mou’ worked out. The only additional requirement was that I put a moogle in, too, so of course that was acceptable to me!

Cover art by Ashley Cope. This 100+ page fanzine contains comics, stories, artwork, and more. There’s action, some pinups, and blood so fair warning.
It’s also completely free to download!

I had so much fun making the big splash illustration, I also created this spot graphic intending to be used in the table of contents. It’s based on the Final Fantasy Tactics character, Agrias, who has an ice-sword attack called Stasis Sword. I’ve always really loved her but didn’t quite have the time to render a human character, so this is my little nod to how awesome she is.

Comics Tip

Small Steps to a Career in Publishing
I joined a fan-zine to gain experience in collaboration and publishing. A fandom is a great way to connect with like-minded creators and produce something together. Some zines are curated, others are not. Sometimes they also fall apart, depending on organization and participation. Even so, a complete entry for a fan-zine, whether the zine releases or not, is a fine addition to a portfolio, depending on the job. I mean, don’t submit a comic to a legal firm asking for a graphic designer, you know? Fanfiction and fanart are often acceptable as examples of what creative professionals can do with established properties.

What I learned from working on the Ivalice Zine is that the creators I look up to are people, too, and appreciate help with for-fun projects. I also learned that it’s a blast collaborate with a writer. These graphics based on the Final Fantasy Tactics cursor design were made to mark each ‘chapter’ of a four-part story they wrote. The story focuses on four characters and aligns with earth/spring, fire/summer, air/fall, and water/winter. I really enjoyed helping CorpseBrigadier polish their vision and I hope they liked how it turned out, too! I had so much fun, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for my next opportunity to collaborate with a writer.

Digital lineart of a nu mou in a fantasy shop overstuffed with otherworldly objects. A moogle sits on one of the shelves and eats a kupo nut. The nu mou is like a large upright rabbit-person, and the moogle is a small batlike person with large ears.

In the meantime, if you’re up for a random collaboration with me, here’s some lineart to color.

Care to read more?

Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11x14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn't realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers...

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Is this Paleoart with some Folklore, or Folklore with some Paleoart?I explored the intertwining concepts of misinformation and natural history in this piece. The story in my head recalled not only mythological hearsay, but also the idea of cryptids. What is Big Foot...

Want to chat about this?

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary Illustration

Vegetable Lamb of Tartary Illustration

This is the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, otherwise known as the Barometz plant. It is an outstanding example of how information warps when delivered in unreliable ways, resulting in a medieval-ish cryptid. This creature was inspired by two real plants, the first* of which was:

Cotton (Gossypium)

The plant was said to sprout lambs as though they were fruits. The lambs were connected to the plant by an umbilical-cord like stem, and could only eat the surrounding vegetation. After it ate everything it could reach, the lamb-fruit would die. I will also point out that medieval bestiary designers would often include cryptids in their books as religious metaphors, rather than strictly accurate scientific observations.

Even after Europeans became clearly aware of cotton, they still heard tales of a plant that sprouted from the body of a lamb. The second* plant to be mixed into this cryptid’s lore was the Woolly Fern. The rhizome that allows this fern to grow looks vaguely like a sheep, I suppose. I could imagine a situation where a European traveler in Central Asia would be taken aside by a friendly stranger and showed a funny little sheep doll, this Barometz, which would sprout into:

Wooly Fern (Cibotium barometz)
See the ‘wool’ between the stems?

Depending on who spoke of the legend, where, and when, the plant either fruited with sheep, or it grew out of a sheep-fruit. That inspired my composition to show a sheep fruiting itself from…itself! The legend fed into itself that way. Sometimes a creature is most real via hearsay, and that’s where it exists forever.

*’First’ and ‘second’ do not refer to anything chronological in terms of the legends surrounding this cryptic. I only used them within the context of presenting one plant at a time as a blog post.Comics Tip

Preserving Textures in Photoshop with Masking
Say you want to forego the tedious experience of manually applying gold leaf to a page, or painting it on. Digital art is great for this and using Masking in Photoshop lowers the stakes even more.

To get started, bring a gold leaf texture into Photoshop on its own layer. This texture’s from pixabay.com, a great Creative Commons resource for art assets. Make sure the layer is selected, then look at the bottom of your Layers menu.

 

 

The buttons at the bottom of your menu look like this.
Click this button while your texture layer is selected.

 

The button applies a ‘mask’ to the layer, represented by the white box. The corner reticules mean all drawing will be done on the mask, rather than the texture underneath the mask.

While your Masking layer is selected, the colors on your Brush palette will change to black and white.

Black acts like an ‘eraser’ on the Masking layer. But, it’s not exactly the same as the Eraser tool, because the texture underneath the Masking layer is preserved, just hidden.

White ‘restores’ whatever you masked with black!

If you select your texture, your color palette goes back to whatever it was prior to selecting the masking layer. You can then manipulate the texture under the mask.

Try it out!

You can apply a texture of your own and mask it onto this coloring page that I’m providing under Attribution Noncommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0).

Care to read more?

Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11x14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn't realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers...

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Of Pomegranates and Unicorns

Is this Paleoart with some Folklore, or Folklore with some Paleoart?I explored the intertwining concepts of misinformation and natural history in this piece. The story in my head recalled not only mythological hearsay, but also the idea of cryptids. What is Big Foot...

Want to chat about this?