Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Texture nation

Finished up on this illo after it taking a while longer than expected! I have to say I'm really happy with the outcome - especially in contrast to the mammoth Trumpeters project. I think the simplicity is really successful & the textures are just about right. I'm reckoning that this only took 2 hours to sketch and then redraw in illustrator and then perhaps 6-8 hours of finishing (!) in Photoshop.

I've had quite a few questions from people about the texturing and how it's achieved so I thought I'd share a more detailed process description to clarify things in the hope that it helps some fellow arty types out :)

Step 1 - Composition

As covered in a previous post, this is how I'll be starting almost every piece from now on, start with small thumbnails to get the composition exactly right. It gives you more confidence in the piece from the start!

Step 2 - Into Illustrator

Pull in the scanned thumbnail and start tracing! In my case, I like to keep most of the shapes on separate layers to keep things flexible. I really like using the Blob brush in CS4 but for this illo I wanted more angular shapes so I stuck more to the Pen tool... Once the shapes are pretty much 'right' I export the document to a Photoshop PSD to retain the layers. I pop back to illustrator when I need more shapes but now it's time for a lot of Photoshop work. You can see that the colours are already pretty close to the final image but I'm not really worrying about that at this point.

Step 4 - Photoshop texturing and finishing

Personally, I'm not keen on how clean the finish is with vector images so I know the major work is going to happen in Photoshop.

Firstly, I want to break up the shape edges to make them look as natural as possible. It's quite laborious but I like to do this by 'hand drawing' ALL of the shape edges with a Wacom and Photoshops brilliant brushes...

Generally, I like colours to stay solid - so I have the brushes set so that the Wacom pressure only effects the 'width' of the stroke - NOT opacity or other stuff.

I start with a good natural finish brush. I then play with the parameters in the Brushes palette... As mentioned, set the Shape Dynamics to "pen pressure" to get the variation you want with the Wacom. I also like to add a little bit of 'Size Jitter' to add random bits outside of my control and I tend to make it a bit more haphazard by adding a fair amount of 'Scatter' here too - The beauty of this palette is that you can just PLAY and see a preview of what you're going to get.

I add on a 'Texture' ... I'm not sure exactly what can be achieved with these yet but they help get the feel I want.

The final parameter I rely on is 'Dual Brush'... It lets you add another brush to the one you're using to get really good natural effects. PLAY with this :)

Actually, what I'm doing is trying to take away a lot of the 'accuracy' that makes digital work so obvious.

Once I'm happy with the brush effect I simply trace over the edges of shapes I've imported from Illustrator. This may seem like a long-winded way of doing things - Ai custom brushes can do this at the click of a button! - but the finish is so much more 'natural' like this.

On this piece there are some subtle shading lines within the shapes too - I use the brushes here too - simply select the shape, pick a slightly darker hue than the one being painted on, create a new layer on top of it and set to about 20% opacity... and paint away...

Now, the final 'environmental' finishing textures. This stuff is made up of lots of scanned textures, overlayed, coloured, with different layer effects (mutiply, screen, opacities). It's a good idea to have a library of your own scanned textures - they're quite fun to make too... I used 5 or 6 different scans like this on the final illo:

It's a good idea to have these in simple black and white, it makes them easier to colour up properly inside your document.

Then it's all about adjusting colours, hand finishing/erasing textures and burning stuff in.

And that's about it! I hope that makes some sort of sense... apologies for the HUGE post, I didn't expect it to be that long :D

Feel free to drop me a line if I haven't covered something you wanted to know...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


Just a few sketches I squeezed out yesterday. I'm unsure what to work on at the moment, I might do some more sketches? I think I'm a bit intimidated by how long the last one took to do so I'm finding difficult to pick one to do...

This last "Fries attacked by mayo" one is the most fully formed - I've had this idea for ages but it's still leaving me unsatisfied... Anyway, I'll see what the evening brings :)

Process - The Happy Trumpeters

I thought I should document the process for the Happy Trumpeters piece - my memory isn't what it used to be so this might prove useful to look back on to see how not to do it!

As posted previously, using 2x3" thumbnails to get the composition totally right was a revelation. I did a couple more after those in the previous post, making the the changes I'd noted and finally settled on the one shown above.

The next stage was drawing/tracing out the main shapes in Illustrator with the Wacom... I must admit, this part of the process is the most soul destroying - mainly because its kinda taking me away from the actual feel I had from the sketch and where I want it to end up! I think, if I use this process in future, I need to keep in mind that this is purely about making shapes at this stage... not to get bogged down with if I'll be able to wrestle it back to where I want to go....

It's still scarily digital here - this shot is practically as far as I took it in Illustrator before the major work being applied in Photoshop. There was some more important development in the Ai work though - I worked on getting the arm shapes & developed the hair... Once into Photoshop, I did pop back to Ai from time to time to draw out things like hair details & taches :)

I really wanted the piece to avoid looking too digital - So once in Photoshop I practically retraced the entire image with the Wacom... The major find how flexible the brushes are in PS.

Just playing around with brush parameters - texture, scattering & combining to make dual brushes (cool!) I managed to get some real 'non-digital' marks - It's definitely going to be at the forefront of my image finishing from now on...

I added a lot of hand drawn & scanned textures and some royalty free illos for texture - a la Alberto Cerreteno... Spent ages adding extra hand drawn details because the artwork was made at A2 and I figured there'd be a lot more to see when printed!

Although it was a mammoth task, I definitely picked up a few things that'll stand me in good stead for future work... I'm thinking of trying to reduce the vector work as much as I can but it was vital to certain elements. I'll keep doing the thumbnail thing & photoshop brushes are immense and although it took upwards of 40 hours, I think it was worth it... I'm pretty happy with the result, it's definitely one of my better pieces :)

There are a few more detail shots over on Flickr photostream & of course you can also buy the print over at http://www.society6.com/studio/uberkraaft/The_Happy_Trumpeters

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Chickery Tip

I decided to go for the happy trumpeters image to work up. The original sketch (previous post) was drawn at A3 size and was basically getting the idea down to test if it would work but the composition was a bit wonky & unbalanced...

I've realised that perhaps this is part of the reason that I find it hard to jump in and develop a piece - that I tend to start from a shaky foundation, a sketch or idea that I haven't nailed down before I start the piece... so how can this be remedied?!

Fortunately, I work just 10 feet from Showchicken - Nick Sheehy, who gave me a plan that's really going to help me build a solid foundation for my pieces - Thanks chicken! :)

To get the composition absolutely right, Nick suggested drawing out the piece as tiny thumbnails (about 3" tall) ...  it reduces a lot of fiddling with details and other distractions and really helps get the shapes exactly right in the working space. I guess this is old news for trained illustrators & such like ... but for me I can only describe it as a revelation! Nick has his own technique of blowing up the compositionally correct thumbnail for the final piece - I'll be blowing up & using a lightbox to transfer I think, once the piece is sound.

In little over an hour I tried a few things & developed the idea (see above) - I haven't finalised the final composition yet but I'm much more confident to move forward with the piece & happy with the direction it's taking.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Horny illos

It's been a while since I last posted... I've been fully immersed in getting the replacement screenprint artwork coloured up & finished. It was a real pain in the arse - I really wanted to push ahead with new stuff but I was stuck working on an old piece.... but it's finally finished done... http://www.flickr.com/photos/uberkraaft/4456682023/

I've lost a bit of focus on the new style - feeling like I'm at a bit of a crossroads - been spending too much time looking at other peoples works & tying myself up in knots of self doubt... I guess it's all part of the game?!

I have managed a couple of sketches (above) that might have potential but I'm struggling decide which to go for next... any thoughts appreciated. I'm veering towards the trumpeters - I need to sort it out compositionally... it could make for a nice piece?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Moving swiftly on

What a saga! Given the style experiment and timing I can't say I'm surprised.

So, this illustration has been one of the most involved & time consuming pieces I've made to date, what with the false starts and process experiments and figuring out the best way to work to end up with something that would work as a screenprint...

I finally got her finished today, at a point where I felt happy with the feel & that it would work as an ace screen print. I sent it off to the guys who wanted the screen print... Half hour later I read the email containing the line 'expecting a doodle piece' !! Ouch that hurt... but to be honest they were brilliant about it... just crossed wires/bad communication. I guess it's my fault, I should have known that's what they were expecting... I was just hoping they'd love this too!

After all of that work it won't now be printed - realistically though I've learnt loads trying to get this ready, so it's not all baaaad... :)

The piece itself I'm really happy with. I ended up compositing loads of hand drawn linework scans in photoshop and added some Wacom stuff drawn straight in. The colour palette was a happy accident - I was playing with channels and happened to turn of the Cyan channel and it gave me something like the final colours... Ding! "I'll keep that" :) The other thing is, I'm now pretty confident that I can set up stuff properly for screenprinting, so a whole new world might open up... onwards.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Only 24 hours in a day

The screenprint I've been working on has turned in to a bit of an epic saga!- More details to follow - Basically, I've had to find a whole new technique for getting from sketch to finished piece & lets just say, its been 'laborious'!

The end is finally in sight and not before time... and I've learned just how frustrating it is to have to put other ideas on the back burner!! Plus I've had to keep the piece under wraps & couldn't really be posting here - so here is a sketch I made a little while back, that might end up as something in the near future :)

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Digital Fail

So I planned to work up the print with the wacom, directly in Illustrator and then add some analogue details. This is how far I got before realising it wasn't going to come together this way! The piece is going to be screen printed in 4 colours and probably fairly large but even printing this test out at A4 it was obvious that the linework via the wacom is just too obviously digital - lesson learned :)

Although it's early stages I'm happy with some of the progress made, I'm going to make some ink lines for this tomorrow and resort to Photoshop to retain the 'hand' feel I'm looking for..

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Forgotten Deadline Headline

I found out today that I'd missed a deadline on a project that I was really excited about!! Obviously I'd forgotten to add it to my calender... Luckily, they've allowed me a bit more time :) But yikes!

I'm not feeling particularly good about where I am with my illo's at the moment because of the new direction I'm desperately working on - I don't feel particularly well equipped for making 'proper' work but I guess this is an ideal opportunity to just try some stuff out.

I made a preliminary ink sketch last night that I'm going to work on - I think it's got a bit of potential?! I'll have a look at a few compositional options first then I'm planning on mixing up some direct illustrator stuff and hand draw line & detail.

Shaping up

Been spending a few hours striving to get ideas down on paper in a way that's meaningful - that contains the essence of the work that might get made from the ideas...

The stuff I'm digging at the moment is based around simple shapes & cutouts with scribbled/painterly detail added after the fact ... but I've been really struggling to 'sketch' my ideas out. Pretty much all of the line sketches have been missing - they're not matching with the ideas in my head, it's been driving me mad. I realised that I had to find a quick and easy way to play around with bold shapes but couldn't think how to approach it - get the paints out? paper cutouts & collage?....

Long story - short... I messed around with the Wacom again for an hour, working directly in Illustrator & potentially I think it might fit the bill... I'm just going to need to develop ways of making the marks I want to make but I'm pretty excited with how I can get experimental with shapes... If I can get that flowing, stuff should really start to happen. I'm congratulating myself for missing the obvious once again :)

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Just for the sake of posting :)

The 'best laid plans' and all that... Sure I've been super busy with the design work this week but   in all honesty it wouldn't have mattered if I'd had diddley to do! Inspiration hasn't been the problem, more the lack of focus - can't really settle on what to work on... and if I do settle on something, I'm fighting with how to tackle it - process!!

I made some bird type shapes direct with the wacom (above) just to do something... at the very least it was good not to rely on linework for a change?!

Friday, 26 February 2010

And so it begins...

Hmm... where to start?

When I think of the illustration work that I truly love, just before I fall asleep at night (I'm not the only one!), it's classic & retro-flavoured work that makes my brain smile - Stephan Britt, Marc Boutavant, Meg Hunt...

So it makes sense that as a starting point and I've made a couple of pieces in the past that hinted at that direction.

Merry merry

I've got a couple of ideas for full blown pieces but at the moment I'm focussing on trying drawing techniques that will convey the 'charm' I want to get into my work.

I spent half hour drawing with an ink pen just for fun - It ran out of ink but I really like the 'dry brush' effect on some of these bits.... hits & misses...gulp.

I think I like the snooty sister :)

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Illy Nilly - Ditching the doodles

Right, so... I'm embarking on a new direction.

I've been a serial 'doodler' for about a year now, over which time I've developed an effective process for off-the-cuff, freestyle doodles (which you can see here http://www.uberkraaft.co.uk ) The process is pretty simple, draw some thick lined shapes on a page, fill in with a finer line & some faces & hey presto! Sometimes they end up digitally coloured or manipulated in some way but the basic process remains the same.

The problem I've started to recognise is that I don't actually like the style or final result of these pieces very much and that perhaps the process is actually a lazy and ultimately ungratifying one. That's why I've taken the decision to stop the 'doodling' go back to the start and work towards making the kind of work I'd actually like to own & can be proud of.

I've decided to set up this little blog to document all of the trials and tribulations of developing a new style from scratch, learning to draw! and discovering new processes. I'll be using it to record all the stuff that doesn't work out and hopefully some that does... ie baring my illustrator soul.

While being quite a personal undertaking, I'm hoping there will be people who find it useful to see someone else struggling :) - or you can always stop by to have a laugh at the crappy bits.