Right before the weekend I got an email from Charlie Deitch, Editor at the Pittsburgh City Paper. “I know it’s short notice, but do you have time to do a cover this week?” The answer to this, even if I don’t have time, is always yes. Yes, I do. Because money. And because I could use another portfolio piece. Not to mention the CP staff is great to work with. And, honestly, I kinda’ like the challenge of a rush job. So here’s a quick process breakdown.
Lisa, the art director, wasn’t in the office this week. But vacation be darned, she still managed to scribble her idea for the cover on the back of what looks like some humorous, cat-themed notepaper and get it to me. I hope she won’t mind my posting this, but I thought it’d be fun to show the process of building a cover from start to finish.
That first, rough drawing is really all about getting the idea across. And Lisa’s not the only one who scribbles out wonky doodles in a hurry. Here’s the one I sent Charlie for approval.Terrible, right? Still, it’s about getting the idea across. I thought it’d be fun to spin the angle a little and have the girl walking right out toward the viewer, but basically, everything Lisa mentioned in her scribbled notes is here. Approved! Next step, polished pencil sketch.
With these covers, I always begin with the file of the City Paper masthead that I keep handy. It helps me lay out the composition. Here are the polished pencils I sent in to Charlie, done in Clip Studio (Manga Studio) with a basic pencil tool. The brief didn’t indicate “Fall” but the first day of Autumn had just gone by and I thought it’d be appropriate to do a cover with a bunch of warm, Fall colors.
Initially, I was planning to ink over these pencils, like a traditional editorial or comic illustration. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt the image would work better as kind of a softer, storybook illustration. So I left the pencils in as my main lines and started in on the colors. Clock was ticking, too, so not inking over the pencils saved me a little time.
Clip Studio has dozens of brushes I like for this kind of work: chalk brushes, watercolor, airbrush, and plain old flat fill brushes. I used all of those (and more) to start laying in color under my pencils.
I think most of what you see in this detail was done by various chalk brushes, layered on a little at a time. I enjoyed figuring out different textures (like the hair and sweater), and I’d be lying if I said drawing a nutty squirrel didn’t make this job twice as appealing.
The water was done with a couple different airbrush tools in Clip Studio. I wanted the sidewalk to look a little wet and sparsely covered in fallen leaves, so I used a watercolor brush to get a bit of a wash effect on the colors.
The thing that took the longest was this tree. It was easy enough laying down colors in the trunk and then blending them, but those leaves! I know I could’ve gone with a red/orange/yellow watercolor wash. And I almost did, because I was under the gun. But once I started painting in the leaves (pencil tool) I really liked the look of them. So I just kept doing it until I was done. I turned in the illustration the next morning and it’s on the stands today! Here’s the finished illo without the cover text:This was a really fun job. I got to experiment with some brushes, made the folks at the City Paper happy, and added another amusing illustration to my portfolio. Wins all around! I hope the City Paper considers me for their next rush job. I’m up for it. -v