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.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

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.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

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.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Ode to Titivillus, Patron Demon of Typos

Digital artwork of the tiny blue demon, Titivillus. It is the size of the brass inkwell on which it perches. It's blue, covered with fur, with long ears, little horns, a long nose, and a devilish grin. Its wings are white with blue edges and red pinions. It wears a red kilt with a bit of paper tucked inside. It holds a feather quill that is taller than itself in its claws. Text on a ribbon swirling through his pose: To err is human and I'll hlep [sic]". Books are stacked behind him, but they are tiny books. Demon's books.

“I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivillus. I must each day bring my master a thousand pockets full of failings, and of negligences in syllables and words.”
-Adapted from Myroure of Oure Ladye

I’ve been charmed by the idea of a patron demon of typos for quite some time. From the way Titivillus is referenced, I can’t help but feel there may have been some cheeky humor or warmth involved when invoking its mischief. “Drat! I wrote an ‘e’ instead of an ‘a'” seems more in-character than screaming and damning this little demon outright. The kind of curse you’d throw at a cat or other pet known for treading through wet ink before the words are set. This is only conjecture on my part, of course: The culture, opinions, and thoughts of a monk would be difficult to pin down unless they directly wrote them out.

Photograph of an aged fresco of Titivillus tormenting gossiping women and recording their words on a long parchment. This fresco is found in the St. Michael and Mary's church in Melbourne, England.

When I decided to do an homage to this paranormal frequenter of my own work, the above rendition popped out to me as ideal for adapting into a cartoon portrait. My interests skew towards 12th and 13th century and this immediately seemed more in-line with my personal aesthetic studies. In general, I can vaguely guess at an image’s age based on a few interesting features.

The feet
Byzantine demons are typically drawn with bird’s feet. The hoofed feet seem to be a conflation with the fauns, satyrs, and Bacchanalia-influenced renditions of demons from later centuries.

The teeth
Demons from this time period are typically drawn grinning. Americans may mistake these grins as friendly, or cheerful. They are not! They are hungry grins, angry and ferocious grins. Medieval Europeans didn’t bare their teeth like this to smile.

The line quality
12th and 13th century images typically have thick, lyrical lines composing their characters. Perspective and other underdrawing construction techniques are largely ignored. If I had to guess, this would be to accommodate art direction that could be applied easily by artisanal guilds, such as bookmakers, fresco painters, and weavers. Some artists did have individualized careers and specific styles to their work, but many were working with guilds overseeing them. This is just my guess, though.

The work shows the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, together with the Virgin of Mercy and the following characters: Prince Juan de Aragón (1478-1497), the first-born son of the Catholic Monarchs. Infanta Isabel de Aragón (1470-1498), sister of the previous one and queen consort of Portugal. Infanta Juana (1479-1555), who would come to reign in Castile and Aragon as Juana I. Cardinal Pedro González de Mendoza (1428-1495), Archbishop of Toledo and Major Chancellor of Castile. On the right are six nuns dressed in the Cistercian habit and praying. And next to her appears an abbess with her crosier who has been identified with the sister of the said cardinal, Leonor de Mendoza, who was abbess of the monastery of Las Huelgas de Burgos between 1486 and 1499.

My other option was the rendition of Titivillus up in the right corner of this much later fresco circa 1485. Interesting here is that the demons still have bird feet, but the line quality and underdrawings are quite different from 12th and 13th century art. Still not much perspective going on. But, you can see the attempt at making more lifelike shadows and textures on the figures. I wasn’t enamored with this rendition of Titivillus (the skin tone is a bit problematic) but I did enjoy its stylish shorts. The bundle of books tied to its back also appealed to me, so that’s why a bundle of books appears in the background of my image.

Comics Tip

The Devil in the Details

While researching 12th and early 13th century artifacts I fell in love with this inkwell attributed to somewhere in Iran. I could easily imagine a European writer purchasing something like this in a marketplace and cherishing the zodiac-inspired designs. The glaring problem for me, as the artist: How do I replicate the incredible design work I see here, without pledging myself to its embellishment for weeks and weeks?

The solution is…to zoom out. The human eye wouldn’t perceive the designs on the inkwell at this distance anyway. Problem solved!

Tiny digital cartoon of a little Titivillus doodle perched on top of a decidedly plain-looking inkwell.

…What? That’s not what my illustration looks like? Okay. Fine. The original graphic is quite zoomed in, so the detail on the inkwell would be visible. I want the contrast of the fiddly details compared to the simpler design of the character, so what I do is…

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays layer settings described below.

I set up a new layer, and I turn the ‘fill’ to 0%. I set up a ‘stroke’ style to this layer at the same size I use for the rest of my artwork.

Screenshot of the Layer Style menu. It has a 'stroke' effect applied at 5px. The position is inside, blend mode is normal, and color is black. Opacity is set to 100%.

The lack of antialiasing can look a rough up close, but it prints perfectly clean. These are also starter settings, so mess around with them until you find something that fits you or the artwork you’re detailing.

Screen shot of the Layers panel. It portrays Outer Glow effects designed to look like uniform outlines on a layer set to 0% fill.

Depending on the dpi and width of your linework, you may want to use ‘outer glow’ for your outline instead. Here are some starter settings for some sweet outlines with anti-aliasing to smooth them out a bit more. Mess with them until they suit your project.

Blank inkwell lines for decoration. It has a fancy domed lid and perches on little nubbly metal feet.

Time for some ink-on-inkwell action. What would you like this inkwell to look like? Detail it!

Digital lineart of Titivillus. Titivillus perches on an inkwell while holding a quill as big as they are. The ribbon twining around Titivillus's form is blank, ready for any sort of motto a colorist might like to apply to it.

Or, if you only feel like coloring, here’s the free-to-color lines including Titivillus (Via CC BY-NC 3.0 license). Put whatever slogan you like on the ribbon.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

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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?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?