Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Digital art of a newly-hatched monarch butterfly caterpillar crawling out of its shell for the first time. The shell is translucent, covered with dimples and ridges, with a slight sheen on top. It has a huge ripped hole in one side where the caterpillar exited. The caterpillar is a pale peach color with lines of black spines running down its body. Its legs and face are black as well. It crawls over an extrem closeup view of leaf fuzz, from a milkweed leaf. Where is our little friend headed? Text in the corner is a watermark: http://hmcgill.art

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March Summary
This week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing down — not because I had a lot of work left to do, but because I had so little work to do. I really, really was enjoying working on Warlock’d in earnest, in spite of the ups and downs.

 

 

Cocoon Week 9

I started bringing in my character profiles to the pitch packet. I have one page devoted to Cleric Stone, then one page devoted to demons, a page for supporting cast/murder mystery subjects, a page for a special character and twist in the story, and a page full of props because everyone who likes medieval stuff likes props, too.

I checked out a book on slavery which was…not exactly fun reading, but necessary. Lebeau’s backstory needed fleshing out. I’ve chosen to make them into a serf pursuing the life of a freeman. Paris was a place where people could expand their social boundaries and change their status in the world, as evidenced by the rise of a merchant class. To do this I figured I should look into how serfdom actually worked.

I read the overview of Slavery after Rome: 500-1100 (Alice Rio) and got through the first chapter on how people were made into slaves in the first place. What was most interesting to me was that, after being impoverished by slave traders, the typical thing a group of people would do is then turn on some other group of people and enslave them. It’s an evil that seems to spread that way. It’s also hard to describe people as ‘slaves vs. free’. My plan to incorporate the muddiness of being free or not is to reference it in Warlock’d as something an individual character goes through. After all, North/Western Europeans were supposedly against slavery, and yet serfdom was totally okay? Hmm. Really makes a person think.

The book itself is really clear and direct, much more so than many books on medieval history. I may have to type up a Goodreads review for it, in case anyone else needs a good resource on how this stuff worked back then. The parts that got to me emotionally were the aspects of women as slaves, the ancillae. This is a little dark for where I want to go with my caterpillar-themed comics blogging here but I did swear not to turn away from the honestly awful aspects of medieval life. There were terrible things going on! Just not the way pop culture tends to simplify and frame it!

Anyway I left most of the book unread after struggling through a little bit of it.

In terms of artwork, I moved in on the flatted colors and added shading here and there. I find that comics are easy to overwork. Not everything needs shading and highlights. Sometimes a character reads better when left flat. I really wrestled with the opening Hell page because my first attempt to shade it made in incomprehensible.

I also found myself bemoaning my overuse of purple in the middle pages. Purple is my Problem Color. I always want to use it, but I never use it well.

Cocoon Week 10

This week I returned to a portion of the process that I’m more comfortable doing: Book cover and lockup design! The following is not all of the work that I completed during this one week, but all of the versions of this cover leading up to the one I’ve decided will be in the final pitch packet. To everyone who ever nagged me about never including enough revisions in my blog: Can you just look at these, I’m doing it right here, stop making me anxious, thank you!

First version of a cover mockup for Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love. It's sedate with paper texture all over. Red bands cross it along the top and the bottom.A mass of wings spiral around the title lockup, blue like a barn swallow's but not arranged like the wings of any known bird. The feathers are shaded in the style of a medieval manuscript egg tempera painting. In the bottom band, rigid drawings of birdlike demon legs stamp across the ground, lending an Egyptian tone to the whole affair. Text at the bottom reads:

The very first attempt at making a cover design. I wanted to reference the Egyptian mythos that Christianity pulls from, as well as bring in multi-winged cosmic horror. Because…who doesn’t love multi-winged cosmic horrors? However the tone of this is all wrong. People might expect some paranormal romance and they might not be aware that this is a graphic novel, instead of a prose novel.

Second version of the cover to Warlock'd. It features a bright red border sparingly dotted with floral-ish golden symbols. Interior borders bear paper texture and a gold foil version of 'Warlock'd: To Hell with Love' lockup. A moth perches over the 'lock'd'. Another moth perches on the border. Margo perches at the bottom of the border, chomping a third moth. Behind her, in the snow, Paris burns all over. 'H. McGill' is written on the bottom of the layout under a small red flower.

To help my book look more like a graphic novel, I pulled in a character and glimpses of the setting. I’ve heard that red books sell better but who knows if that’s marketing superstition. It fits the color scheme of the comics. This red is its identity color and around which all color schemes revolve. It’s based off the feathers on Margo’s face. However, there’s not much storytelling going on…I guess there’s a bird who’s eating a moth. It’s not totally important to the story that she eats bugs. I have also greatly simplified my coloring process since I made this version of the cover so all that texturing isn’t going to be present in the comic pages.

Third version of the Warlock'd cover. This one has the same layout as the second version, but the grays have been turned into bright blues and the reds are punched up a lot. Margo is no longer perching but flying, with a devilish grin in her beak, down to Hell. Flames curl all around her and continue to Paris behind her. A golden flower rests over the 'lock'd' in the gold foil 'Warlock'd: To Hell, with Love' lockup.

After rewriting my synopsis a few times I had a better grip on Margo’s character, anyway. She is as proactive as a demon can be. I call this ‘action Margo’. I wanted to make it look like she actively had something to do with the fires in Paris, because she does! I also punched up the blues in the snow and I think it’s a much livelier color scheme. Many graphic novels sit back on their colors and I want Warlock’d to leap out. I left a lot of the framing elements intact for this one but as I was working on sample pages, I discovered that I was rendering fire completely differently than as depicted here.

My latest version of the book cover graphic. It's a digital illustration of a bright red, abstract frame around the image of a city (Paris) cloaked in snowy blue light. The city is on fire. In the foreground is Cleric Stone astride Margo the demonic barn swallow, riding her like a horse with reins made out of oversized wool thread. Margo grips a threadwinder in her claws. She is on fire and bringing the flames from the background to the foreground, where they flicker and grow. The text lockup overhead reads, in gold: 'Warlock'd', and an incomplete daisy wheel arcs over the 'lock'd'. The subtitle is in black: To Hell, with Love. Finally at the bottom, under a very small and complete daisy wheel, is 'H. McGill.'

Here is my final cover mockup, for now at least. Cleric Stone is a main character so he should be on the cover too. This is from a part of the story that many of my beta readers have felt is the most exciting part. I also re-did the lines on Margo with a higher dpi so that she would look as delicate as she does in the comic sample pages. I finally got rid of the fake gold foil effect because I would never want something like that illustrated on a cover, and even if this got printed and published I would not be guaranteed to get gold foil. Finally, I ditched Cloudsplitter for the title typography and replaced it with my favorite serif, Alegreya. This is as best as I can do for now so I’m going to use this in the pitch packet.

Okay. This packet’s getting too real now. The pages are all wrapped up. I should feel happy and proud, and I do, when I look at them. But, I don’t like stepping away and doing other things.

The coloring process went well. I marked three different color schemes throughout the twelve sample pages. I gave myself time to figure out each color scheme. One scheme is very dramatic and wild compared to the other two schemes. I’m not sure how jarring it will be to an outside viewer. I checked on the wild color scheme by itself and it works… but that’s the thing. When inside of the packet as a whole, will it clash with the more natural/understated color schemes I selected for other settings? Or will it show that the colors can expand in a really inventive way?

Client work has gotten vmore tedious than I’d like it to be. I was using Warlock’d as my ‘carrot’ to get through client work. I don’t know what I will fill the space with afterwards. I applied to a comics anthology with some thoughts on the history of locksmiths and prisons. But, I’m not sure how ‘fun’ that will be. I really did want to wholly work on Warlock’d and Warlock’d only through this year. I am dreading letting go of it, even if only for a little bit.

I didn’t feel very inspired to draw my caterpillar graphic this week. I keep putting it off. If I don’t have Warlock’d to work on, I may not need the caterpillars anymore since the art can be freely shared, and it’s easier to crop that for feature graphics on my blog.

I drew up a ‘props’ page featuring different items from Warlock’d’s story. As I was resizing them to look like they all belonged together, I discovered spaces to slip surprises for whomever browses my packet. Hopefully someday I can share this page publicly.

I have come to the philosophical conclusion that, even if I can’t share everything right now, I have this giant stock of images to share later if I need them. This is regardless of rejections or acceptances from agents and publishers.

Do I want to share my packet with trusted friends? Of course. But I am still afraid that I will get feedback that pulls one string to unravel the whole packet. I want to know if there are problems but I don’t want it to be a problem that destroys all of my progress.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Complete addenda in character packet, particularly character art.
  2. Export character art and write descriptions.
  3. Edit query letters and figure out who to query first (Probably the editor?)
  4. Perhaps ask for a lookover by editor and writer friends?
  5. Grieve the end of the project, for now.
  6. Draw a little wrinkly caterpillar to put on this blog post (which may already be complete at the time of posting this)

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Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Cocoon Year: Weeks 1 & 2

Digital artwork of a monarch butterfly perched upside-down on a decorative seafoam-green leaf. The butterfly has bright orange wings with stark black outlines. White spots line the edges of the wings. The butterfly's body is covered with black fur that also has white spots. It has laid approximately one little pale green egg. The leaves form stylized curlicues.</p>
<p>Text on image reads as follows:</p>
<p>'Me' over a black arrow pointing directly at the egg, referring to me being 'born' or getting laid, perhaps? Not in the naughty sense, I'm literally being laid in this picture, inside of an egg.</p>
<p>'My Creative Impulses' is over a black arrow pointing at the butterfly, implying that I am a creation of my own desire to make graphic novels.</p>
<p>'http://hmcgill.art' is on the bottom of the image as a watermark to go to my website.

Cocoon Year: Week 1 & 2 Recap
For those who weren’t in the know, this year is what I am going to call my ‘Cocoon Year’, where I establish my creative process by tracking and describing it. Seeing as social media is not extremely helpful for literally anything I’m doing, I’m cutting out small, social-media-friendly pieces in favor of developing larger projects. Chief among these projects is Warlock’d: To Hell, With Love.

Some of my friends have reached out to me about Warlock’d, concerned about its progress. I’m concerned too. I’ve had iterations of this cozy mystery graphic novel in various stages but never feel happy with the writing.

Progress is slow without feedback. Feedback is difficult to get. Either people don’t understand the project, won’t talk technical tips in an attempt to be encouraging, bash it subjectively, aren’t familiar with my target audience, or don’t understand that I’m deconstructing medieval pop culture stereotypes.

By the same token, at best I am an amateur historian, just like how, with RAWR! Dinosaur Friends, I was an armchair paleontologist. I’m making do with the information I have available to me. It’s not always the most up-to-date, largely text-based, and I do not fully understand the most complex parts of this time period. I fear sharing much for this reason.

Demons are difficult to talk about. For some people, demons are very real, present-day entities, for good or for evil or for silly. Demons are part of religious history, so religious and spiritual discussion inevitably crops up. From an art historian perspective, many demons are racist caricatures. None of these are safe subjects to talk about on a whim.

I have some friends that I would love to share Warlock’d with, but I fear wasting their time if the writing is not quite good enough. Luckily, I’ve been working really hard and this is getting easier. I often feel bad for wasting people’s time. If I get better at writing then it’s less of a waste for them.

It’s also hard to share progress for a project that oscillates between being an indie webcomic and a published graphic novel. I can’t ever tell how much I should share, and if things I’ve shared publicly hurt my chances of getting published (or if I even want to be published…I literally have everything I need to do a webcomic!)

With all this in mind, I participated in #DVPit this year and got so much attention on Warlock’d that I feel it’s best to query, at least a little bit, before I settle in on this project as a webcomic. Having a very polished and workshopped pitch is also good for indie development. I feel like sharing my progress shouldn’t hurt my chances, as long as I talk about my trials with writing, revisions, and synopsis hell. I may keep my character and cover artwork close to my heart until I get rejections from querying.

I have never once actually queried Warlock’d. I have taken it to workshops and reviews. There’s been interest from agents but I suffer the curse of perfectionism, as well as not knowing whether this project is an indie webcomic or not.

I also have some very wonderful friends who have taken an increasing interest in reading my work…and are even willing to read revisions. Once problem I had in a past writing group was that revisions weren’t allowed! It was so hard to keep track of people’s progress beyond slapping down the first draft. To me, revisions are where writing gains depth and interest. It hurts to feel like my critique went nowhere.

Ideally I could have this book picked up by a publisher and share my process in great detail on my blog. I fear marketing mishaps if I retcon something I worked on in this blog but honestly, I don’t know of anyone who’s ever blogged their graphic novel creation process from pitch to finished book. There might be a reason for this, probably that graphic novels are soul-crushing work. It’s something that still feels very helpful to me. SAWgust was very good for tracking a shorter project. Having a whole year might be great for tracking a longer project.

Game development is also a recurring distraction…I’m currently working on a little physics-based platformer where players wreck our house with our cat. It’s nice to get away from comics every now and then, although game dev is its own challenge. Having to wrap my head around how sprite cat heads work on a rotating circle body was the most recent challenge.

Anyway. In the spirit of what I want to do with my blog, my comics career, and my website, here’s a breakdown of how my first three weeks in 2024 went:

 

Cocoon Week 1

I started out with an existing synopsis that I’d written in October 2023. Several people read it. It was deemed ‘fine’ but not amazing. A big problem was character motivation. The villain felt evil for no reason. I had a reworked synopsis that I shared with no one for fear of it being too long. I wrote a ‘shorter version’ that, of course, became much longer. However, I feel pretty good about this long “short” synopsis. It feels more focused.

I have a lot of questions about cozy mystery structure. Initial research tells me a cozy mystery-style murder ought to have been committed for a specific and clearly-defined reason…but a lot of Warlock’d’s emerging themes involve a chaotic reality under a spiritual ‘veil’ that appends meaning and order where otherwise there is none. I’m leaving a couple parts of the story as accidents, but they do feel like  temporary pins for the time being.

I also wrote a sample script to show off how Margo and Stone (formerly Pierre) interact. It’s pretty good and has been workshopped very intensely, but Stone’s motivation never feels strong enough via his dialogue. Maybe he’s too chill, or too masked. I wonder if I should lean into this and make it part of his devil-may-care attitude.

Margo, on the flip side, is the easiest dialogue in the world to write. She’s ranting in the same cadence as a barn swallow chirps. I find that the more I type freeform, run-on sentence, shitposty even, the more I hit Margo’s voice. She has been a fairly popular character in past versions of Warlock’d, so at least there’s some aspect of the project I understand.

 

Cocoon Week 2

I stalled out on remaking my sample pages. I had a version of the pitch in roughs/inking stage but the writing was too complex. This version tried to set up Tittivillus alongside Margo, and Stone’s character was just getting lost between them. As a result I was getting too precious about the art that was furthest along in the panels. Rewriting according to that art wasn’t producing a good set of sample pages. I’d also caught some illness in between starting and stopping the sample pages, and looking at it reminded me of feeling sick.

I worked on character designs instead. I’m not sure how many of these characters will fit into a pitch packet. They’re all mentioned in the synopsis, save for Tittivillus who goes into the story and then gets cut frequently. Poor guy. One cutesy idea I had was to format the characters like a suspect lineup, with lines behind their heads. I suppose I should do a pitch packet layout in InDesign. I want feedback on the text parts first.

I also stalled out on making a ‘cocoon year’ graphic for the blog, and thus postponed creating a blog entry for the week after. I think queueing content is a healthier thing to do than write up to the blog post deadline I set for myself. What I’d like to do is have 24 evolving ‘cocoon year’ graphics to show a caterpillar doing its thing, every other week until the end of the year when I see what the butterfly looks like. I really like Monarch butterflies so I’ll go with that.

 

To Do Next Week:

  1. Make Cocoon Year posts easy to update by prepping artwork.
  2. Slowly rebuild momentum on my pitch packet, especially the sample pages.

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Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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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 Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

An Illustration of Gastronomical Proportions
This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits. The meals involved as puns are all based on my own personal tastes and are in no way representative of all the great food out there. I should be ashamed of all these puns, but no, I’m going to include a chart so that you can track down each and every one of them. Many of the puns were contributed by regular viewers to my weekly livestream and no, I’m not sure whether I should thank or blame them.

Gastronomy labeled map - full details pending

Horoscopes
As a writing exercise, I wrote encouraging food-themed horoscopes for each zodiac sign.

Steak

Aries
“B-aries”

You are bold and swift. As you charge forth into your creative endeavors, remember that the things you are creating and offering to the world can also be things that you, yourself, enjoy.

Steak

Pisces
“Stargazy Pie”-sces

You’re looking at the stars all the time in search of inspiration. Don’t forget to glance in front of you every now and then. We wouldn’t want you to end up in someone else’s pie.

Steak

Aquarius
“Asparagus”

Today, you’re going to chop all the woody parts off your project. This will make it super soft, buttery, and crisp after it’s fried. Look to Taurus and pour a little red wine for a great pairing.

Steak

Saggitarius
Saggi-“Pear”-ius

Keep your eye on the prize, but — if you can load your arrow upfront, who would blame you? Maybe you have a secret resource that you’re not utilizing yet. No shame in using it.

Steak

Scorpio
Lobster Tail

You might be severely underrated. Even prisoners didn’t want to eat lobster in Victorian England. But look at this dish now — Golden, buttery, delicious…expensive. Boil your heart out.

Steak

Libra
Li-“Bread”

Your work is going to be a staple in someone’s life. Maybe not everyone likes raisins in their loaf, or rye, or sourdough, but trying different angles will show you the true grain eventually.

Steak

Virgo
Extra “Virgo” Olive Oil

Honey, you’re delicious, and you belong in every meal. Just remember to add yourself after the pan is heated so you don’t evaporate into smoke. Tonight: sit in a bowl with some oregano

Steak

Leo
Le-“Orange”

If your work isn’t quite complex enough to attract attention, utilize your sunny personality. Big, simple flavors are refreshing, especially if they’re offered by someone kind and friendly.

Steak

Cancer
Boiled Crab

You’ve got something really grand in the works, and you know it! The project may take awhile to get from one place to another, but once you have it, it’s yours to steam and butter.

Steak

Gemini
Ge-“Mint”-i

Have you shared your project with someone you trust? Not every pitch session has to be about critique. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to sit down with someone who only has praise for your work.

Steak

Taurus
T-bone Steak

Your stalwart nature will save the day. Flip your project and your finesse will result in a juicy, flavorful meal — and it’s also okay to use extra spices. A good sear is what locks the flavor in.

Comics Tip

Comparing Processes in Similar Projects
Lately I have been on what I could term an ‘Eye Spy’ kick, where I’m fascinated by broad, landscape compositions with lots to teeny, tiny intertwining scenes and characters. My previous work in this vein was this snapshot of the Carboniferous, featuring over 250 organisms from the time period.

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.

For this complex Eye Spy page, I had each organism in its own named layer folder. The folder contained visual reference, a rough sketch, and lineart. I approached the composition by laying out all of the organisms as sketches first. Then I created their lineart. After that, I duplicated the lines and merged them so that they would be easier to color. I felt weird about having over a thousand layers in one document, but my computer was able to handle it.

For the Gastronomy concept, I wondered if simplifying the document might help complete it more quickly. Instead of compiling reference for everything, then sketching every character, and then drawing lineart for every character, I worked on the piece one constellation at a time. All the sketches are on one layer, and all the lineart is on one layer, and then all the stars are on one layer.

Which one works best for me?
The results were… drumroll please…Absolutely, 1000%, my process on the Carboniferous was better. Working on individual illustrations meant I was constantly switching between research, sketch, and lineart mode on Gastronomy. My Carboniferous creatures, as sketches, could be moved around more easily and tangents were solved. This was not the case with Gastronomy constellation characters and I fear the tangents in this piece.

For creating highly-detailed landscape compositions like this, I recommend:

  1. Organized, named layers, in folders per miniature that exists in the illustration. Don’t be afraid of a thousand layers in your document. Just save it as a .psb. It’s all good.

  2. Do visual research for ALL of the characters or mini-illustrations first.
  3. Sketch ALL of the characters across the whole composition before doing lineart.
  4. Give yourself a composition-editing phase between sketching and lineart. Easier to move, enlarge, shrink, and otherwise edit sketches than it is to edit lines, in my experience.
  5. Once the lineart is done, create two duplicate, flattened versions of all the lineart. One is to behave as lines, the other is to help with flatting. Keep at least one copy of the lineart with separate characters because they can be useful outside of the big composition as spot illustrations, or as easy selection areas for the magic wand tool.
  6. Chunk the whole composition into 9-12 squares for coloring flats, details, and doing small paintovers. Polishing a fraction of the larger illustration per day helps manage burnout and gives a series of smaller accomplishments to reach.
  7. Choose points of interest in the overall composition. Putting big highlights and shadows on everything can make it hard to focus (although sometimes that’s the point!). Selectively highlighting certain parts of a larger Eye Spy composition allows the other subjects to fall back and ‘hide’ a little, making it more fun to look through.

On a final note, there was also a small hiccup with Gastronomy where my reference star chart omitted around 40 additional southern constellations. The way I had constructed the illustration hampered my ability to add them in harmoniously.

This Gastronomy constellation food chart is available as a free coloring page under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 3.0.

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Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

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Beenix: A Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster

Beenix: A Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster

Digital artwork of a half bee, half phoenix fantasy creature perched in a cherry tree. The Beenix is about a foot and a half tall, with a bee's thorax and six chitinous legs. It has six bee wings. A feathery tail sprouts from its behind and its head has a beak. The beenix is eating a cherry and tilting its head at the viewer. It has feathers on its antennae. This is one half of a collaboration with Adam Ma.

The Creation of a Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster
When I first approached Adam Ma about designing mechanics for the Beenix Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) monster, I had artwork and a jumbled text document full of features that blended phoenixes and bees. It was ‘lore’ in the worst sense — me blathering about exploding bee trees and cherry honey, having all of one or two experiences as a DnD player and understanding that ‘numbers good’. Overall I did not have a concept of how the Beenix would fit into a tabletop rpg campaign. I passed a link to Adam and was unsure if I should take him up on his offer of collaboration since the beenix was such a mess! I’d honestly been intending to partake of his professional Dungeon Master (DM) services. The moment Adam heard that it was a homebrew monster design to be released freely to the masses, like Oprah would, he grabbed all my Beenix fragments and ran off with them.

When Adam returned, he had a gorgeous pdf containing everything a DM needs to incorporate the Beenix into a DnD campaign. My intent was a creature that is suitable for low-level adventurers to encounter, but could scale up to a mid-level encounter. Not necessarily a hostile entity, but alien and requiring some patience when encountered. Adam translated my ideas into DnD concepts such as ‘swarming’ for multiple monsters. He gave the Beenix better DnD-specific context by ascribing them to an existing setting: the Faewilds. Adam also pushed the concept of the Beenix queen into not just an entity, but as a whole setting unto herself.

Digital black and white artwork of a giant, twisting tree, most like an oak in shape. It towers over mountains, the ruins of a village, and a pair of tiny horses.
Guess what? Beenixes turn into GIANT! TREES!

Adam ran the design through some balancing checks and now here it is, a free, cute, weird addition to any Faewild adventure that could use a little more glitter. I highly recommend developing adventures with Adam Ma. I had so much fun and I’m grateful he took my concept and ran this hard with it!

Click here to download the Beenix PDF

The PDF contains stats, lore, and artwork for the Beenix, and is licensed for non-profit DnD campaigns under CC-BY-NC 3.0.

Comics Tip

How to Digitally Color Diaphanous Insect Wings
Whether it’s a bee or a dragonfly, or a house fly, insect wings can be tricky to figure out because they are shiny, delicate, and transparent, all at the same time. To begin, we should look at a reference photo, courtesy of Pixabay.

Photo of a bee with the wings displayed clearly.

What we learn from this photo is that an insect wing has opaque parts with shiny transparent stuff in between those parts. How do we mimic this in a digital drawing? We’ll use masking and some hand-painting to nail the delicate insect wing look.

Digital artwork of the beenix wing with a 50% dark brown opacity fillThe opaque veins of the wing are filled with 100% opacity dark brown. A bee’s wing has an underlying dark sheen on the transparent cells. I’ve chosen to fill the cells with a dark brown set to 50% Multiply. This is still too dark and opaque, but it’s a good starting point.

Digital artwork of the semi-opaque dark brown layer with masking to provide an insect wing texture.
I set up a masking layer on the membrane which I’ve filled. A quick swipe with a soft brush set to black on the masking layer makes this look more like the light is passing through the wing in a more interesting way. I use a hard brush to define some sharp mid-tone highlights in the end of the wing.

Digital artwork of the bee's wing with a 100% white layer fill.
I set up another layer on top of my brown layer, this time filled with 100% opacity white on normal. It will look like the white has obliterated the underlying brown layer, but that layer is intact underneath.

Digital artwork of the bee's wing with the layer masking on top of the white layer, with various parts of the white masked to provide a texture that looks a lot like an insect wing.
A masking layer and some swipes with a 100% opacity black soft brush, then a 50% gray soft brush first soften the look into a gradient…and then I can pick out brighter mid-tone highlights with a sharp brush. For a final touch, I speckle the edge of the wing with sharp 100% pure white highlights, but only on the wing I really want to shine and shimmer.

Digital art of the beenix perched in the tree. It's lines only and ready to color!

Want to customize your Beenix? Here’s a CC-BY-NC 3.0 coloring page that is free to use for personal, non-profit DnD campaigns, as well as just relaxing with a half-bee, half-phoenix monstrosity.

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Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Week: 13 & 14

Cocoon Year: March and April SummaryThere was some meandering and then I came to a conclusion by the second week. I will continue treating Warlock'd like it is a webcomic that I am developing in spite of being out on pitch. It's a risk but I will be fine.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: Weeks 11 & 12

Cocoon Year: 2nd Half of March SummaryThis is the week I completed all of the art and writing for my pitch packet…at least, completed it enough to send it out. In that sense I’m emerging from my little microscopic shell, and now I have to focus on eating it.    ...

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: Weeks 9 & 10

Cocoon Year: 2nd half of February, and a Bit of March SummaryThis week became complex for me. I zoomed through my client work and started approaching the end of the pitch packet. As always happens when I have a complex project close to completion, I started slowing...

Want to chat about this?