A Fossil Returns to Life

A Fossil Returns to Life

Digital art of a very fancy tea part being raided by three small yellow pterosaurs. One is coming in for a landing over the manicured lawn. Another is fishing the tea bags out of the teapot with its beak. The third has adopted an overturned teacup as its home, where it can secret stolen sugar cubes. There's a rainbow over the scene. The tea party was shaping up to be pretty good before the pterosaurs arrived: A petit four, cupcake, donut, and fancy cutlery lie askew on a patterned tablecloth.

What Do We Do with Old Art that People Really Liked?
I’ve been doing conventions for awhile now and find them very personally fulfilling. I have so much fun setting up my display, rehearsing my sales strategies, and figuring out which things sell and why. Of course, my favorite thing to do is make merchandise in the first place. When I was starting out, I learned quickly that fancy prints are good for attracting people over to my table. I learned which paper and which printer to use to get the best-quality prints. There’s just something very nice about making a piece of artwork and then packaging it up to go to someone’s home.

Earlier version of the digital art featured in this blog post. It is much simpler: Just a teapot, the three pterosaurs, and one sugar spoon on a blue handkerchief. This is all on a plain white background.

The original Ptempest in a Pteacup, circa 2013.
I did this in Adobe Illustrator with vector shapes because…I enjoyed pain.

Of all my prints that I’ve ever made, I’ve sold the most copies of Ptempest in a Pteacup. As much complex analysis of this piece as I want to do, the general consensus when I ask is that it’s ‘cute’ and ‘like nothing I’ve ever seen before’. I think the fantasy of owning a small prehistoric creature is a common one, or at least one that can be tapped into easily when observed for the first time. I think people liked the clear silhouette and ability to make out what was going on, and the weird/shiny surfaces.

It hurt to retire this print. It also hurt to sell more of them.

Why did I stop selling it? Well, it’s a very slow style rendered in vector graphics. I can’t easily or quickly replicate this style. The underdrawing also isn’t something I particularly adore. It looks kind of lumpy. That may have been part of its charm, but I’m not that artist anymore. I’m a different artist now! Finally, the size wasn’t large enough to fetch the higher prices I could see it selling for. This was an 8.5 by 11 print and the maximum I feel comfortable charging for that is $25. I wanted to make it an 11 x 17 so I could charge $40 per print. Most home printers can’t do 11 x 17 so I want the novelty of a larger print to factor into its appeal.

On the docket: A size update, and a style update. How do I do that while preserving the magic of the original? Do I truly understand what people liked about my own work? I’m going to ask this question over and over again. What do people like? How do I update something people like, but still have it reflect the original work?

Digital sketch of the final art. It's more or less what we see in the final, but scribbled in and not colored in yet.

My 2nd or 3rd attempt at a sketch. Not sure where the earlier ones went, but this is where I landed.

My goals with this sketch were to fill out more of the page, make it more of a full illustration instead of a spot graphic, really justify the scene by printing full-bleed. I also wanted to make the perspective on the teacups and teapot cleaner, and just in general make the designs more elegant. I’m not the greatest at paleontological reconstruction but I felt like the pterosaurs deserved more care in their construction and posing. One of the pterosaurs was moved into the sky so that the viewer can see a whole body and how it flies. This should make it easier to imagine the rest of the other pterosaurs whose forms are hidden.

Some very rough color studies, one with a sunny day and one with a rainy day.Color studies. Sunny day and rainy day.

I only did a couple of color studies here. I knew I wanted to keep the pterosaurs yellow so that they’d jump out at the viewer as ‘odd’ when passed by. Purples and blues were there to support the yellow. I messed with the idea of a rainy background but sunny foreground, a fox’s wedding effect. Ultimately that felt a bit convoluted for this piece and so I moved on and vowed to keep it simple. The rainbow was a joke but of course that’s the thing about jokes…Perhaps my friends who join my drawing livestream dared me to leave it in!

Digital lineart of the pterosaurs attacking the tea party. It's blank and ready to color.First iteration of lines. Available to freely color under a CC-BY-NC 3.0 License

This, I felt, was pretty good. I’ve been getting faster and more confident in my lines. It’s approaching the balance I want between polished lines and getting the lines done at all. Right now I’m really enjoying the monowidth look done with Pencil tool. Maybe I’ll expand it with thinner lines on some of the surfaces in the future, but for now, I let colors do most of that work.

Simple flat coloring on the lines of the pterodactyl artwork. It looks very dull because no shading or highlights have been added.Without much of a variety of color studies, I explored my way through this scheme.

Some color schemes can be explored through. I would never do this with a client, but in this case I needed to do it for myself. For fun. Because that’s all art really is, right? I also started plotting where the highlights would go. Highlights function to draw attention to key parts of a piece.

Closeup of a sketch depicting a Victorian manor reflected in the surface of a teapot, warping and gleaming included.I also had a small adventure figuring out the landscape around the picnic.

What was I doing here? I was figuring out what would reflect on the teapot, and where. I think porcelain’s reflectivity is not too high so I felt comfortable blotting in colors and leaving it at that. One feedback I got on the original pterosaur piece was that the ‘shiny teapot’ was very desirable. I didn’t like how artificially shiny it was and so I sought a more sophisticated effect here. Which leads to designing a small Victorian garden that most people won’t see. That’s life. And art.

Digital art that is the same as the first image in this post, but there's one thing missing...I sat on this for a couple of days.

And so, many layers of shading, rainbow gleams, research into confections, spot black applciation, and a custom repeating pattern for the table cloth later, this is what came out. Something still bothered me about this piece. I think it was the proportion of subject matter. The teaset seemed to be the main part of the piece. I wrestled with what to do. I didn’t want to add another whole pterosaur, because that would be too much pterosaur. It was like measuring out milk and sugar. The tea flavor still needs to come through.

Closeup of the pterosaur hunkering down in an overturned teacup.Hang on. This one’s looking a little cramped there. Where’s the wing going?

Same screenshot as above, only this one has been edited so that the pterosaur's wings are free of the pteacup and spread widely outward.Boop! Wings. Done. 🙂

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Amphiox Monthly Challenge: Complete, but Not Finished

Digital artwork of a cow mascot over a colored-in balloon letter word of 'SAWGUST'

I Completed a Monthly Challenge!
For the month of August, I pledged to ‘rough’ 48 pages. Roughing a comic means to start drawing in the figures and backgrounds of each panel. Roughs are typically more polished than thumbnails, but they aren’t necessarily polished. As I went, I colored in typography supplied by Sally Charette, one block for each day I completed. The cow mascot, SAWgustus, was created and drawn by Adrean Clark. I even won an ‘Auggie’ – a casual award for participating.

How Many Comic Roughs Can I Get Done in a Month?
As it turns out, 48 individual roughed pages in 24 spreads is a reasonable first benchmark for me. These aren’t ready to ship at all, by any means, but I have a solid start to a zine I might be able to sell at Geek Girl Con coming up in November. Probably not full-color or fully complete, but it’s exciting to think about having a short story available when normally all I sell are one-off illustrations and charms and things like that. Check out my progress below.

Digital artwork of a sketch of Lyrat, a bandit who wears a beanie and a jumpsuit.

I did some explorations of character designs as I went, but they needed adjustment within the story, so I’m glad I didn’t get too polished too quickly. I think I’ll leave my other character designs like this in the future. A little amorphous until they need to be solidified.

Digital artwork of various cover ideas, including some typographical explorations, some character art, the Amphiox monster, eggs, and random junk in the ocean.

I even had some time to experiment with cover designs.

Now what I’m sitting on is a base for the rest of the comic. I don’t think I can get a full-color comic inked and printed by November, but a black and white one would be possible. I definitely want to take an appropriate amount of time with inking so that I don’t have to re-do that. I also don’t want to commit to color too early and use a color-key to help me make good decisions as I polish off the rest of this comic before the year ends.

Many thanks to the SAW community for the great space to post rough progress and catalogue my thoughts as I was creating this!

What’s Next?
I have the following steps to get through as I continue honing this project and turning it into a little comic for my portfolio.

  1. Test Reading: Two readers have tested my comic and written a short story summarizing what they think the story is about. I’ll be reviewing their thoughts and incorporating changes to the story and characters based on what they thought. Some of the comic is still too ambiguous at this stage.
  2. Rough Revisions: I’ve shuffled the spreads into an order from least-favorite spread to most-favorite spread. I’ll be revising them with fresh rough artwork
  3. Value Studies R2: Roughs are a great spot to pause and see if my values have changed from my initial studies. They also inform whether my compositions are still working or not.
  4. Color Studies: Roughs are also a great spot to try out color schemes and see what will fit for the entire story, or if I need to adjust particular compositions.
  5. Inking: This will likely happen in a few steps but I haven’t thought through them fully enough to deliberate what those steps are.
  6. Coloring: This, too, will have its own series of steps in a process. Probably something similar to how I color smaller artwork.

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

My graphic novel characters from left to right: Pierre in his red robe and black cape with gold trim, Margo hovering as her barn swallow self near Canicula's nose, Canicula smacking his mace against one hand while decked out in sumptuous furs, and Lebeau, charging in from the right in their secondhand armor.

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v

Fox Dragon
Reynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don’t tell me you’re the harbinger of the Revelation. What would Ysengrim think?

 

 

Digital artwork of an emu-like dragon, with a sheep's head on a long neck attached to a blue body with white spots down its back. It has a furry tail. The legs are gray and stripy with fur covering the toes and heels. A little spig of flowers springs from the heel of the dragon.‘The Maastricht Hours’, Liège 14th century British Library, Stowe 17, fol. 182v

Sheep Dragon
Leg warmers were a thing 650 years ago, I swear.

 

 

Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340. British Library, Add 42130, fol. 178r

Lion Dragon
Look, sometimes an apex predator rocks the soft baby pinks and blues. There’s no reason to get mad about it. It’s almost like someone got the description of a lion spot-on right up to the shoulders and then gave up. Whatever — do you know how many people will leave the abbey to go look at a lion way down south in person? That’s right. Not many. So lions are pink and blue now, and they wear comfortable hats. Deal with it.

 

Re-draw of a medieval illustration of a long, snakey green dragon with red lion paws and pink wings with stripes. The dragon has antlers and flowers for a tail. On its head is an extremely phallic hat. There's no getting around it.pontifical, Avignon ca. 1330-1340
 Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. Diocèse 8, fol. 59r

Hat Dragon
I have so many questions about this dragon. One of those questions is not what the hat is supposed to be. I don’t want to know anything about this dragon’s hat. Instead, I will focus on this being the world’s tiniest dragon obsessing over its hoard of a single copper penny, which telekinetically floats nearby.

 

 

Digital artwork of a large, purple, four-legged dragon with human feet sharing an even purpler tongue with a yellow winged cat dragon. The purple dragon has six extra heads in its collar and they all look like they're whining. It's also wearing bunny slippers on its back feet. Its front feet have weird sandals that blend into its skin. The cat dragon, meanwhile, only has one extra head, which is on its long winding tail, and that head looks really annoyed.

Beatus of Liébana, Commentarius in Apocalypsin, Astorga 12th century
BnF, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1366, fol. 106v


What is Even Going on Here?!??

This must be the end of the world. That’s the only explanation I have. I didn’t feel like drawing the Schmooze in the corner there so this dragon gets a comfy pair of slippers.

Comics Tip

Designing a Dragon
Say you’ve got a story that calls for a dragon. The first thing to do is figure out what function that dragon serves in the story. Is it a pet? Is it a steed? Is it a friend? Is it a foe? Is it a wild beast? Is it bigger, or smaller, than a breadbox? Can it speak or coexist peacefully with humans? Does it represent something beyond being a mythical creature, such as the greed and cruelty of mankind, or the vengeance of the natural world?

Or do you just want a dragon that looks super cool*?

*Dragon ‘coolness’ as the result of this exercise may be subjective!

Digital artwork of three possible dragon silhouettes. The first is serpentine with bat wings and a snake tail, with little tiny paws and feet. The second is an upright armadillo with an ankylosaur tail. The third is some sort of bird with four wings and a feathery tail and frills on the head.

Step One: Silhouettes
Regardless of how big your dragon is, the first thing you’ll want is a Shape for it to fit into. Grab a marker and scratch down some rough poses and proportions for your dragon. Don’t worry about details at this point, just get a broad picture of its shape and size. Try to think about how the dragon would move. Maybe it’s very agile, or more of a tank. Can it fly? If not wings, include a visual of how it alights in the air. If it’s a more literal animal, it will look a bit different than if it’s the figment of a child’s imagination. Same for magical beasts having more leeway for fanciness and silliness than most real-animal analogues for dragons.

Digital artwork of three possible dragon heads, rendered as black scribbled silhouettes. The first is a smooth reptile. The second is more horselike with bumps and ears. The third is clearly a beaked creature with a feathered plume.

In addition tvo the overall body, it pays to figure out how the dragon’s head will look. Is it capable of expressing emotions, or does it need to express emotions within the story? Are its emotions clear or are they buried under the complexities of being a different species from humans? Explore that.

Digital artwork of one of the dragon silhouettes, with the armadillo body and beak head as our go-to. The dragon has been rendered three times, sporting a horn and T. rex claws in the first, fins in the second, and lots of wings and feathers and raptor claws in the third.

If you have a head shape and a body shape that you like, explore spines, fins, fur, and hair. Maybe the dragon has many limbs, or an unusual tail.

Digital sketch, done very quickly, of a comic page containing a dragon. It has three panels: One with a dragon trotting through the forest. The second panel is a closeup of the dragon's eye spotting something. The third panel is a breakout panel of the dragon discovering a baby and picking up, so it's a good thing I designed it to have opposable thumbs.

Step Two: Try it Out
My controversial take is that it pays to see if the overall shape and size of the dragon works in terms of the comic prior to doing any detail work outside of the silhouette. Try drawing the silhouette version next to characters and in environments you have planned for your story. This is also why concept art sometimes looks different from the actual comic. I think it’s important to get a sense of how the big parts of the creature function in the story prior to working out the finer details.

 

Step Three: Integument Refinement
While still thinking about how your dragon works in your comic’s world, experiment with showing how it sees, smells, tastes, and touches the world. A zoo is an excellent place to scope animals and observe how they’re built and how they move through the world.

Various photos of different scales. A lizard, an armadillo, an eagle's claw, a grasshopper, a betta fish, and a pineapple are all examples of scales that would look interesting on a dragon.
For instance, a dragon is not limited to reptilian scales. Check out some mammalian, avian, insectlike, and fish coverings, too. Maybe even plants!

Photos of the following animal attributes: A big eagle's eye, a dog's paw in a human hand, a skull of a theropod dinosaur, and whiskers on a white kitten's face.
Can your dragon see in the dark? Its eye shape will be different depending on how it senses the world around it. Think about its other senses. How sensitive is its skin? A large nasal cavity means it might be able to sniff prey from a long way away. If it has whiskers, maybe it loses its balance from losing those whiskers, like a cat does.

Photos of an alligator's closed mouth with tons of teeth sticking out, as well as a bear's paw with long black claws poking out.
How does the dragon protect itself, and what does it eat? This will affect tooth and claw shape, and whether it can grasp things like humans can.

Photos of fire, a field of white flowers, a big towering cloud, and the purple reaches of outer space with tons of stars.
Is the dragon ethereal? Maybe it has primordial elements mixed in, such as fire, flowers, clouds, or stars. Each body part tells a story about the rest of the creature, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘realistic’. It’s a dragon, after all. Have some fun for once in your life, gosh.

Three possible color schemes for my dragon design. For my overall silhouette I chose an upright armadillo dragon with feathery wings, a hairy chest, feathers on its claws, a beaked face and horn on its nose. Color scheme one is monochromatic blues, number two is yellows, greens, and oranges, and the third one is a pale grey dragon with red eyes and black tongue.

Step Four: Color!
Depending on what the rest of your comic looks like, you will need to decide whether your dragon sticks out or blends into the background. Stories involving dragons as ‘alien’ or ‘other’ may opt for brightly-colored dragons. Sneaky dragons will need camouflage. Pet dragons might be more likely to have specific color morphs, like the ones seen in snake or pigeon enthusiast communities.

Step Five: Revision
At any point in the process, a change might need to be made to the dragon’s design. Most changes simplify a design so that it’s easier to draw and color over and over again. Better to do that early before the dragon exists in dozens, if not hundreds, of panels. I personally find it more difficult to edit a design the further along it is in development. That’s why having extra versions of the design lying around are so useful. Those can offer easier solutions to big problems that come from an extreme revision to the design at the end of a project.

So there you go! There’s really no wrong way to go with a magical dragon because it doesn’t exist in the first place!

Creative commons dragon reference photos generously provided by pixabay.com.

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: Weeks 21 & 22

Cocoon Year: A New StartI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 21 I wrote things. Mostly, I went...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: Weeks 19 & 20

Cocoon Year: May WoesI keep saying I'm not going to restart the outline, but I wasn't having any fun writing my rough draft and I think that's a sign. Re-simplifying the story should help get the finish line closer.   Cocoon Week 19 I wrote many scenes in Warlock’d...

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: 17 & 18

Cocoon Year: April into MayI re-did my outline and dismantled my trello, just to set it up again for more writing madness. I have a definitive list of 20 scenes that I’d like to have in my story and now I’m going to see how they look all fleshed out.   Cocoon Week 17...

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