Thursday, March 15, 2012


For my most recent Week cover illustration, I've 'retconned' the illustration process for people to see how I work on these things. The subject was our new Foreign Minister Bob Carr returning after retiring from politics to 'save the day' for Labor, after some internal pie fighting in Australian politics.
Bob Carr's got a caricaturist's dream head to draw. I haven't drawn him that often and I won't claim my version of him in this illustration is as good as it could be by any means- there are better caricaturists out there! Stylistically speaking, I tend to push more for a distorted realism than outright caricature. An approach probably better suited to the editorial team + readership of the magazine than not (a point that's certainly up for debate).

1) First off, the pencil sketch! The illustration goes no further if this isn't approved first. You'll notice I add a generous guide to the bleed area and header space for where the caption will go- this gives me and the editor and designer an idea of how much space we all have to play with.
Sometimes, if I'm just not getting a subject right, then I'll draw up a straight portrait first to get a feel for the shape of their head and features etc. This can sometimes give me clues to facial expressions in the caricature yet to be drawn.
Carr is all cheekbones and sunken cheeks, prominent mouth and lips, and thankfully(!) glasses. The rest are secondary points, like shape of his head, shapes of his eyes, nose and like most elderly men, the ears. Anything after that is detail that you only really see if you look for it, but you might notice if it wasn't there. Carr's getting on a bit, so he's got some fantastic lived-in lines in his face. Beautiful stuff to draw! So much character!
I draw straight into Photoshop, which means I can easily duplicate the pencil sketch layer and then cut up and move around the features in the sketch until I'm happy with size ratios, positioning etc. Sometimes I end up with 4 or 5 versions of the head in sketch form, each one subtly showcasing a more prominent feature than the last one. This happens a lot if I'm trying to create a facial pose for which there is absolutely NO photographic reference for on the internet and I end up trying to feel my way around their face. (heh, heh, heehhh....) I then choose the one that's closest in resemblance and captures the energy of the piece best.


2) Now I start filling in solid blobs of base colour- usually a mid tone that will let me add shadows and highlights later.

 I put each blob of colour in a separate layer and name them appropriately: SKIN; BODY COSTUME; CAPE FG; CAPE BG; RED BITS; BELT; HAIR; EYES etc etc... I then lock each layer so I can't draw on it outside of that shape.


3) Now I work in the shadows on the face. In a layer (set to Multiply) above the SKIN layer, I use a brush straight from the brush palette that has soft edges, I soften it a bit more, then start working into it. Notice I colour up underneath the pencil sketch at this point (which is itself about 30% opacity and multiplied). I select the blob shape of the SKIN layer first, so that I don't paint beyond the edges of this shadow layer's working space. This helps give the edges a crispness, and I don't have to worry about tidying up afterwards. Oftentimes I refer back to the pencil sketch, toggling it off and on, as well as the source reference photos, to make sure I keep as close to the lighting and shapes as much as possible, but still exaggerated of course.

The reason I keep ALL my shadows and highlights in separate layers, is for those last minute edits that ALWAYS happen in illustration. Clients come back asking to change a colour here and there, or what have you, so being able to click on the mid tone and change that, usually does the trick and without headache. If I'd painted all the shadows and highlights into the one layer or even painted the whole illustration in one layer and then needed to change colours...  I'd punch the nearest person, probably me. HARD.

4) Continuing darkening the skin shadows up, adding the eyes behind the SKIN layer, adding a bit of rouge around the nose, mouth and cheek area (a couple of slaps usually does it).


5) I add his hair details and glasses and feel his head is about right to leave alone for now.
Now for the cape- again, I make the CAPE SHADOW a separate layer for Mr Justin Case. Again, I selected the blob shape of the CAPE layer underneath so my working area in the CAPE SHADOW layer above it matches perfectly and I don't need to erase any overlaps afterwards. This shadow layer is set on multiply and whatever opacity I think works best.


6) Now for some body shadows using the exact methodology of before.


7) I add the belt and boots shadows, and he's pretty well coming together as a unit. From here on in I'll just be darkening areas and adding highlights, and then seesawing between the two until I settle on the best of both.


8) Darkening areas to push and pull the FG (Foreground) and BG (Background) elements.


9) Finally! Some highlights! I sometimes end up with 2 layers of highlights- one is the big broad stuff, which may well be jiggled opacity-wise and set to 'screen', and then another on top, which has the hero highlights- like on his nose, eyes, lips etc.. the little details of PURE WHITE that sing- all other highlights I try to NOT be pure white at all. OK, so then I add the suit highlights and logo, and feeling he's pretty well close to being there, so now I put in the background....


10)  The city scape I cannibalised from a previous job I'd done and could use again easily enough, the flag from Parliament House in Canberra was also from a previous Week cover I'd done, so I just lifted that off and motion blurred it, and the sky was from a royalty free website. At this stage, seeing him on the background, I can immediately see little details I need to add to make him sit well.


11) ....Things like a glow behind him to push him closer to the eye and push the background away, and some indication of flight- hence the red streak of his cape. Still not happy, though...


11)... So I darken the top half of the sky, and add some secondary underlighting on his cape, costume and legs for that extra dimensional touch! But wait- just one last thing to add...


12) The noise over the top of the illustration to get that retro textured feel to it.
Now this baby's done. Just add the well hidden signature, and I'm done!


13) And here's the artwork in situ! Job done, happy days, I can now collapse. The turnaround for the Week covers is 'about' 26 hours- I get the brief on Tuesday around 11am, and then have to send back the final artwork by 1pm on Wednesday. Not always a smooth process- sometimes getting that pencil sketch right can take several permutations and not get approved until 5 or 6pm! But I always enjoy doing these covers- it's a great chance to stretch my talents and skills.

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No-- it's a Carr!
Just to note- I made sure to apologise to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster on the inside cover :)

1 comment:

Simon Scales said...

Hey Dave, looks great man....nice job!!