Building a Book / A Peek At How I Think About It

Pulled scene: Ms. L + Homework – Mr. LYSM

This above color treatment and effects became too costly to accomplish within the time allowed so ultimately we settled on b/w-only. Honestly, it wasn’t until after this test that I realized just how many steps were involved. Sure, “Actions” within PS expedite the process -but still! Layers or not. Automation or no automation. It’s involved:


  1. Prepping grayscale, line art scan for coloring
    A 20 step, homemade Action which creates an “animation cel” style layering for quick color work.
  2. Coloring 
    Typically brush work. Depending on pace, layering is used to isolate objects (e.g. character from background, etc.). Understand that’s the ultra short version…as this part is 80% of the work.
  3. Inserting AI Assets 
    Concentric circles? Dashed lines? Call-outs? Instructions elements like these are created in Illustrator (over a screen capture of the scene) then copy ’n pasted into PS. “Smart Object” is selected after pasting and any adjustment to perspective or effects are made at this stage.
  4. Textures
    If necessary, textures are placed between the character(s) and the background to distress select areas. These subtlety distressed areas, from a psychologically stand point, are ignored by viewer . Meaning, yes, you can actually direct people’s attention without them consciously knowing it.
  5. Lighting + Color Timing
    I use “Lens Flare” within the “Render” menu on a Layer set to “Soft Light” + a 50% gray overlay to generate lighting effects. If I need to get nasty I’ll break out the “Lighting Effects” feature. Color timing is accomplished  through the use of a “Photo Filter” placed above all the Layers and set to either “Soft Light” or “Overlay.” It depends.
  6. Digital Photography Filters
    Once the above steps are complete I perform a “Save as…” and create a Flattened version. This version is run through a homemade, digital photography Action that flies through 32 steps and produces an 8 Layer document. From here I can dynamically adjust Levels, a “Glamour” blur layer for further DOP effects, plus an additional color overlay to help saturate colors further.
  7. Daubs (optional)
    Once the “Digital Photography Filter” step is complete, and flattened, I run “Paint Daubs” from the “Artistic” filter menu. For hi-res I often hit it with “Brush Size = 4,” “Sharpness = 2,” and “Brush Type = Simple.” Once it’s done I perform a “Fade Effect…” from the Edit menu and back the filter down to around 70%.
  8. LAB Sharpening
    At this point, if everything is solid, I’ll resize or crop the image and sharpen it via the “Unsharp Mask” feature against the “Lightness” channel within LAB mode. This is a 5 step Action.
  9. Shipping
    Now the final is either posted to a review area or shipped as a .tif (w/LZW compression) to the client.
  10. Chai
    Refill. Drink.

Pulled scene: “Rashel @ coffee shop”

Here’s a pulled scene from a recent project with a telecommunications client. It’s extremely rare for me to have a scene pulled once colored” but, alas, it happens. S’no biggie. And since this scene lacks any sensitive information, and the client said “yes” to a blog post, I’d like to point out a few things. Process stuff. First, this is what I call a “refined visual with high fidelity coloring.” “Refined visual…” means the lines are still rough pencil but not scribbly. “High Fidelity” refers to the coloring which includes shadows, highlights, textures, a “depth of field” (DOP) effect, plus other visual effects (vfx’s).

In short, the goal of this visual was to show how/when various app might be utilized by an advance user. To communicate this I drew the lead character in a setting that suggested “causal” (coffee, outside table, minimal street traffic, etc.), yet she’s in casual business attire, and obviously has a smart phone in-hand. The second device on the table belongs to her companion and was intentionally cropped to suggest either smart phone or tablet. Finally, to convey “any middle to upper class, urban setting in American” I added foliage, metal fencing, and a cross-over shaped vehicle. All heavily blurred though to keep the focus on the main character.

Honestly, I feel it’s easy to forget when looking at anyone’s art that every single line is a decision. One more time with that. Every single line is a decision. Whether well-placed or not. Every line has to be manually placed. Deadline aside, the process of illustrating anything demands your full attention. Sure, the mind can drift and easily process other matters as the hand guides the pencil along. But the creative juices are dramatically heightened when it’s time to render elements like hair, falling debris, water, etc. These complex forms are taxing and gradually exhaust you mentally. Forbid you have to refine, ink, and/or color them next. Depending on the scope and pace of a project you may not have the option of getting tired. And lets not even talk about how your mood can play a factor.

Moving along, I’d like to list some of the factors considered while creating this scene. Wait. Maybe “considered” isn’t the right word. How about “decisions.” I’d like to list some of the decisions that happened, in mere seconds, while developing this visual…

  • Give her short hair to suggest she’s stylish/professional -yet desires something easy to care for.
  • Make her hairstyle something you could see anywhere -and non-West Michigan.
  • Give her earrings. It’s a nice touch -and so easily forgotten.
  • Nose. In my typical style. And obsure her actual eyes with her eyelashes to zero-out an emotional read from her.
  • Have the hair from the top of her scalp angle forward, to accentuate the sunglasses on her head, and direct the viewer’s eye forward.
  • Hide her ears behind a lock of hair. It suggests “depth.”
  • Give her a necklace and bracelets because she’s, again, stylish. But not showy.
  • Don’t go crazy on the chest cause you’ll hear about it later.
  • Add lots of wrinkles along her torso to suggest she’s trim. This trick is also the only sex appeal tactic I can comfortably use right now.
  • Don’t give her a watch. She has a smart phone.
  • Hide her legs. Keep the focus upward.
  • Go buy her a purse. She’d shop at “,” right? Here’s a “Presa ‘Kennington’.”
  • Go with a nondescript table and chair.
  • Switch to a dulled, clutch pencil to create the background. Detail isn’t necessary here as it’ll be heavily blurred later.
  • If I color her sunglasses silver or gold it’ll rob attention from her phone. Plus I don’t’ feel she’d work it like that between 9’n 5.
  • Blouse? Go with the light blue, “Maine-colored,” desaturated top you captured on your iPhone while in Aerie.
  • Add a pattern around the torso and “Liquify” it to match the contour of her body.
  • Hit the forehead, cheek one, chin, and top of arms with a highlight to convey healthy skin.
  • Black-out the skirt to suggest “business” while also forcing the viewer to ignore her shape.
  • Make her companion’s skin tone darker to communicate “diversity in friends” -but make her clothing orange so it doesn’t look like a business meeting.
  • Make the purse black. Even though I really wanna go with a color. Badly!
  • Hit the hair with highlights to suggest “healthy” again.
  • Screen capture your own iPhone’s “mail” screen, place and distort it into position, then run the “Paint Daubs” filter on it.
  • Turn the background into “Group,” then “Smart Object,” and Gaussian blur it followed by a reduction in opacity to wash everything out.
  • Place the visual in Illustrator, create the dotted lines, then copy ‘n paste each into PS as a “Smart Object.”
  • Set all the dotted lines to “Overlay” mode in layers, Layer Mask each to create the overlapping illusion, then use the radial gradient to fade the ends.
  • Add a cardboard texture over the blurred background to wash it out further and vignette the edges.
  • “Save as” ,” “Flatten” the visual, and process it using custom digital photography actions to help the colors pop.
  • “Save as” ,” “Flatten”, “Dodge” select areas with the brush set to “Dynamic” and “Pen Pressure.”
  • “Flatten..,” apply “Paint Daubs,” then perform a “Fade” “ effect from the “Edit” menu to back-off the filter by 60%.
  • Save a low-res version and post it to the review area.
  • Eat something…and maybe try ‘n walk around.

…because a number of questions surrounded this scene I initially asked the designer to describe what he saw in his head. Here’s the ultra rough created during that phone conversation…and long before the above. Enjoy.

Rage Abstract

An abstract from a personal project…


…with an in-progress capture here.

Building Jetty’s “La La Lu and the Lazy Moon”

I recently had the good fortune of working on some album art (and “insert”) for Jetty Rae. Here’s the process leading to final art for her latest release, which is a children’s album, called “La La Lu and the Lazy Moon.”

First, following a series of rough sketches we landed on this concept. Oh, keep in mind we had already defined the “chibi Jetty” style. Along with the type of hat the moon would wear, plus the look of other elements…well, long-story-short, we arrived at this…


A rough, chibi-style version of Jetty. With ears. On a moon. And that’s when a few mild revisions began…cause it jus’ wasn’t gel’n with our goal. But it was cute though.

ud_110506_02Next we removed both the ears from her head and hat from the moon. I have to confess, there was a cute “panda hat” design that was going to be implemented. But since this sketch had gained traction we decided to move forward. Plus I didn’t need anymore jokes about pandas from Paws.

ud_110506_03The above is a quick color test. Which simply helped in confirming placement of tones, gradients, and overall balance. Typography came next. Since I couldn’t settle on a font I decided to write-out everything using a Sharpies Chisel Tip on laser paper.

ud_110506_04Once the general direction was approved it was time to redraw and ink the original rough sketch…
…and here it is. Yes. Plain, flat, and filled with mistakes. Mistakes that were correctable digitally. And while I really dislike correcting pieces digitally it’s better than break’n out the white acrylic and having to re-ink.

ud_110506_06Next. Coloring. But before you can color ya have to establish a color library. In this case I decided to stick with Pantone (PMS) “Solid Coated.” The above is a type of “color forensics” of an image, namely Jetty performing, to uncover values comparable to PMS colors. By the end of this step I had every swatch necessary to move forward.


And this is where the first stage of color landed. Which I immediately didn’t like. The presence of the lines were too strong, the mixture of star styles were working against the piece, the pattern of the stars themselves weren’t convincing, etc. So. I made some alterations.

ud_110506_09Which lead to the above. Now, typography. After testing the previous layout I learned my “L’s” looked like “Z’s” to some. Meaning there was a strong chance viewers might say “Za Za Zu” as opposed to “La La Lu.” So I broke out the Sharpie agin, Tawny Port, a stake of paper…and the results were this…


Snippets of working type…23 pieces of paper later. Guess my penmanship failed me that night. D’know. So the above was “assembled” in PS and inserted into the layout.

ud_110506_10…and now…a look at some of the finer points of the above.

ud_110506_11Jetty is a “Capricorn.” So I added the “Capricorn” constellation behind the art. I tried looking for the exact pattern in the sky based on the time of her birth plus location…but I didn’t want to ask too many questions ‘n freak her out. So the above seemed fitting. And since illumination in a night sky reduces the visibility of stars I masked the ones within the middle to emulate this effect. Hence the vignetting. A subtle drop shadow was placed on the type to help it pop (aka “pop-pop!!”). The opacity of the lineart was dropped a bit along with a few other tricks. And finally, it was tested on the iPhone (and iPad) for placement issues…

ud_110506_12S’okay. Done. N’ shipped to Team Jetty. They dug it. I smiled big. And shortly after that it was released on iTunes…

ud_110506_13…which makes this my first piece to appear within iTunes. N’doubt.

But the job isn’t done. There’s a stack of Jetty art on my desk for the CD insert project….which I look forward to sharing soon. Meanwhile, enjoy the above along with this lil’ piece. It’s a deviation, created while generating other concepts, and kinda makes me smile…


practicing for an up-coming project, turning the sexual dial down to 0, while feeding requests for more process illustrations -which are sometimes personal, like a diary entry, and normally never posted. but, honestly, not like you can really discern a lot…so here ya go.


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