Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Cordwainer of Scarletwell Street (Episode 2)

Brief: The Cordwainer of Scarletwell Street (episode 2) in… The Stride of a Green Metal Man
A short story written by Justin Neal and illustrated by John Welding.

New shoes for The Green Metal Man

Ah, here we go then. There was no official brief but more of a conversation among friends that if it had to be written down would look or sound something like… ‘Produce three colour drawings, one of which is to be used as a poster image, to illustrate the text of the short story… and make it look AWESOME my good fellow!’

Blurry desk shot trying to show some of the materials used.

When I started doing these drawings for Episode 2 (Episode 1 can be seen here) I was in digital drawing and colouring mode, having last year invested in a copy of Photoshop CS5 and a Wacom Intuos 4 drawing tablet I thought it time they earned their way in my world. I was even writing and drawing notes digitally.

Character concepts for the Green Metal Man.

Justin's got a plan and a story arc and had a definitive idea of how the characters should look, so I spent some time exploring the characters especially that of the ‘Redman’ who Justin had hinted may be a recurring character in further Cordwainer stories.

Character concept for the 'Little Red Faced Man'.

A great time was had sketching away digitally, refining the Wacom pen away from its default settings to get a fluid sketchy line using the Transfer dialogue box and switching on pen pressure there in. This gives the pen a pencil/brush wash quality that is very nice for drawing. After drawing tiny sketches it was time to do the real thing and this is where I fell to pieces and found myself struggling.

Composition and Reference
What seemed easy in smaller self-contained sketches became messy and uncontrollable in larger and more detailed pieces. Working detail in to every nook and cranny of the image killed the drawing process for me. I started to use photo reference for hands and street furniture and this increased the time I was spending on the image and I hadn’t even thought about colouring them yet which is even more a time consuming chore.

Original first attempt at illustration in Photoshop.

Changing my working method I decided to use pencil with Photoshop colouring over the top which has worked for me on comic and illustrations in the past. My first attempt (below) felt very heavy. Taking into account that the printed size of these images will be a few inches on a page, adding in too much detail was just confusing. Again, I liked the original  composition and made the characters a bit more dynamic.

Pencil drawing and corrected pencil drawing using the Liquefy Filter.

Corrected my bad drawing by scanning it into Photoshop and using the Liquify Filter to correct the Redmans left leg and the leaning wall at the top of the drawing. I love the atmosphere and the texture in this image but it seemed to be destined as a one off. I couldn’t for the life of me replicate the technique in the next image and returned back to the drawing board.


Going back to my sketchbook and redrawing. Drawing in my Moleskine and this time working on the other drawings in the series at the same time, to keep continuity. I have to add that I had just been introduced to the fantastic work of Italian illustrator Sergio Toppi, by Warwick Johnson-Cadwell via a Twitter link, and was inspired by Toppi’s composition, his texturing and his ‘patterns within drawing’ approach.

Photoshop Flats

I use Flats to control areas of colour in Photoshop, they give a defining edge and clarity to a coloured drawing, especially if that drawing is going to be printed small. Flats are also a time consuming nightmare to do right. What the computer saves you with one thing; it then creates ten times that hassle with trying to do something else. If I was more professional I would have a way of doing this quickly and without angst. Most of my illustration work is different from brief to brief; last month I was using vector graphics on an eight metre diameter inflatable structure, next month I am doing personal and intimate sketches of Wakefield for an exhibition. I am usually finding out how things work as I go along and I am of an age where I don’t want to be too technically proficient, I have done that. I want to be creating drawings that have life and a little bit of art about them.

This colouring worked okay and would look fantastic as a large print, subtle pencil shading and textures aplenty but again, something did not feel right as a short story illustration…

Pencil and Inking
Looking at a 24 inch HD monitor for long periods of time was/is making my eyes go blurry and tired so I made yet another 180 degree decision to start making the illustrations again and ink and colour them, this time by hand. Something I have not done for years and felt all nostalgic about. When the artwork exists physically there is very little tinkering you can do afterwards, which for me is a good thing.

I printed off the Moleskine drawings in blue scale on card and used these as ‘pencils’ to ink and watercolour over the top of. Much quicker than all the other processes involved with computer colouring and it keeps a spontaneity to the drawing that I like. I scanned in the drawings and made a few colour tweaks with Curves and there suddenly finished, three illustrations for the story.

The Green Metal Man dressed up for a night out is my favourite and will be the poster image on the reverse of the story sheet.

Episode 1 can be seen here and here.