More Cover Work

Posted in The Creepers on October 29, 2014 by normandixon

Recently I was asked to be a beta reader for an indie author. There were promises of military sci-fi and I had visions of Halo dancing through my head and I was really craving something along those lines. What I got was something even better. Now when I hear indie author beta read, I cringe because I’ve been down this road before. Just because someone got the idea that they can publish at will they think that makes them a writer. I’ve had more than my fair share of terrible prose. This was not the case here. Scott Whitmore’s Green Zulu 51 and Other Stories from the Vyptellian War was a fantastic read. So much so that I offered to do the cover for him. This book deserves readers because it’s an examination of prolonged war from those involved on every level of it. It’s grade A military sci-fi written by someone who understands that world. As the son of a veteran scarred by war I found the book sobering and compelling.

This wasn’t going to be an ordinary cover. There were time constraints and reservations on Scott’s part. I mean, as I told him in him our correspondence, at the end of the day I’m just some dude on the internet offering to do a cover. I have some artwork up here and I’ve done covers, including my own, over the past few years but I don’t exactly have a long track record of works for people other than myself. So I understood those reservations and I wanted to reassure him that I would deliver on a cover for a story that I loved.

On a tight budget and time crunch Scott picked this stock photo and asked me to make it fit the work. Having read it that was easy, in my head at least.

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Pretty good layout but too much lens flare, J.J would be proud, but for the sake of a good cover it needed to die a quick and rather painful death.

GZcover

Added the text and got that lens flare gone. I stared messing with ships. Alexnegrea put some awesome brushes up for free use on Deviant Art. Check out his page for some really cool art. I needed the brushes because of the time crunch I’m a cartoonist at heart not a tech designer. Given time I could’ve made some ships from scratch but that was a luxury we didn’t have. The brushes were great sillhouettes but the ships were flat so they needed depth.

GZcovermoreships

The ships in the foreground came out great and really fit with the drones in the story. I started messing with making the space station busy and gave Scott a few options as we bounced emails back and forth. After many tweaks, which thanks to Photoshop took very little time at all, we settled on the final cover.

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It came out pretty awesome. Love the depth I was able to add to the original brushes. This cover making thing is starting to get fun. I’ve got a few lined up in the near future but would love to do more. So indie authors, publishers, I’m here to make that that happen. Contact me if you need cover work. Turnarounds on photo manipulations like Scott’s cover are fairly quick. Something like Amanda’s Grim Tidings cover would take more time as it was 100% drawn and painted from scratch and given that I have a day job took a few weeks.

Here is the link to pre-order the book which I highly recommend. Green Zulu 51 and Other Stories from the Vyptellian War

Norm

 

Give Away Time

Posted in The Creepers on October 23, 2014 by normandixon

So in an effort to relaunch the blog and get this damn book out there. We’re doing a little promo and The Creepers will be .99c for today and tomorrow. Grab a copy now! Leave a review, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook, or just make some random comment and you can have one of five sketched in books and some nifty swag to go with it. I’ve been digging through old sketch books for inspiration lately so who knows what will make it to the empty spaces in the book. I’ve been known to draw comics in the margins of books, murdering stick figure men and all sorts of unrestrained ideas. Sometimes it’s just shapes, doodles, occasionally dicks, but that’s the beauty of sketches. I’ll start posting pictures to this post as soon as I start dumping my brain out.

Even if you already have a copy leave a review, let me know about your favorite moment or character and a hard copy can be yours. Have a sketch request? Throw that in there to. Interpretations can be a beautiful thing.

Swag:

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And a taste of what might grace the pages of these wonderful print books:

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Cover work

Posted in The Creepers on August 28, 2014 by normandixon

In a few hours my first children’s book should go live on Amazon. It was originally intended as a way to get me to learn Photoshop after fighting it for so long. I’ve spent almost my entire life working traditionally. Sure I dabbled in digital colors but I never painted or even really stayed long enough to truly learn how to color digitally. That all changed after working on my daughter’s book. Things that would have normally taken me so long to change, mistakes that needed correcting, all of that could now be done in a flash and my turnaround time is ridiculous. I know all of you seasoned Photoshop vets are like you’re an idiot for not getting on board sooner. Old habits die hard, but that’s not entirely true. I’m still working traditionally but now I have more of a hybrid approach to things. 

The main point of this blog is to talk about getting back on track and showing off some work. The Creepers is now finally out and I’ve finished and submitted books 2 and 3. So I needed a break from the dark and dismal. My wife suggested I do a book for our daughter and I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to do it so I just started working on it. As I worked on it I updated Facebook with my progress and was surprised by the responses I was getting. I’ve always been so overly critical of my work to a great fault. Even now I always see things that could be better. Anyhow before derailing this blog let me get to the point of it. Through these children’s book posts I opened up a new avenue of my creative business. 

Snarky mystery writer Amanda M. Lee was in the market for an artist to do the cover for her new series. Had I not been working on Olive’s Adventures I doubt I would have ever offered to do the cover. But something happened. Maybe it’s having kids now that has given me a different perspective, or finally, after so long, being validated by a publisher, maybe both. Those confidence boosters opened a door for me and I’m glad I walked through it. She doesn’t know this, but I credit Amanda with a lot of The Creepers success. She reviewed it early on for her blog The World According to Mandy and after that review the story started to spread. With that I felt like I really had to deliver on this cover. Not only did I have to deliver but I had to do this one all in Photoshop. No brushes, no inks, no pencils beyond a few thumbnails to get my self going. This was going to be all digital and it had to be something really special. 

Did I mention aside from coloring I had never attempted to work like this before? And here I was taking on a commission. So it started with some roughs. Same process as traditional only on the computer. I use an Intuos 4 medium tablet. So that means I’m drawing while not looking at my hand. Since I first picked up a crayon around 2 I’ve been drawing while looking at what my hand was doing. Fast Forward 33 years and now I’m drawing while looking at a screen and trying to finesse lines. I wanted to fucking dropkick my computer. The pressure to line ration wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right. I can’t do this. WTF was I thinking. All these things flashed through my head. A few deep breaths and muttered curses and I was back on track though. 

GrimTidings Cover

This is where I started. I did a simple layout and blue tone to roughed in an idea. Nothing different about the process except I wasn’t looking at my hand. And you know what? It didn’t look at all bad. I was starting to get somewhere. If I was going to paint this sucker it needed to be cleaner. I’m a classically trained cartoonist not a painter. So my foundation is in lines and using them to detect weights and shadow. It still had a long way to go at this point. Which leads me to this:

GrimTidings Coverlines

 

Cleaned up but still has minor issues but something I can work with. I got lazy and used a picture I took from a Savannah graveyard of a dead tree and dropped that in the background. Gotta stay true to those cartooning roots. I just selected the lights with the magic wand and filled them black and drag-dropped it in. This Photoshop thing was really starting to grow on me. The bench at this point is a place holder. It has no dimension really and the back is flat. Time to start painting and I had to start with the moon. I originally planned on this being a black/blue toned piece but after looking at moon reference I came across a really bad ass blood moon and that led me to this:

GrimTidings Covercolors

A lot of color layering but very few actual Photoshop layers at this point. I just used a mix of hi-res water color brushes, the blur tool and color theory. Now I was getting somewhere. I sent the image to Amanda and she loved it. Everyone else I showed it to loved it. Confidence is the key to everything. 

GrimTidings Covercolorssalvage

Now I started to add more atmosphere and bring the image together. The bench was still an issue but the image was starting to come together. A few days later and I had this:

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A pretty fucking cool cover. I know you’re asking yourself how I got here. A lot of tinkering. Just download any youtube speed paint video and you’ll see. A lot of the in between stuff is quite boring. A good foundation is key. Once you have one down you can tweak and work color until you get what you want. I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver this one and I think I did. What say you tiny internet audience?

 

Back from the Dead

Posted in The Creepers on August 21, 2014 by normandixon

I’ve been away for a bit. I tried so hard not to be that guy that blogs occasionally and then forgets about it entirely. But life got in the way. Prior promises of blog commitments aside I will try to do better and stick to two a month. More if I can keep up. That being said I am proud to announce that The Creepers is now out via Permuted Press and can be purchased pretty much wherever books are sold. 

It’s here. It’s finally here.

The Creepers: Born in Winter

 

I spent a lot of time trying to get my work published. I always thought this moment would feel different, feel bigger somehow, but it doesn’t. Not even a little. I rarely allow myself the pleasure of victory. I constantly bog myself down with what comes next. Never satisfied, never finished. Not sure why this feeling of just another day surprises me so much. Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I thought it would be this grandiose process, but it’s not even close. It’s really just the very foundation of a very long and drawn out process. Writing and life go hand in hand like that. And while the book was being released my creative brain decided to go and lay tons of material on me. I’ve been trying hard to keep up. On top of that I illustrated and wrote a children’s book for my daughter and got up the guts to put another series out to some beta readers. Things have been far from mundane even though they feel that way for me. 

It’s that pressing ahead, forging ahead that won’t let me see the glow until it’s tail lights in the distance. Creativity is such a dark and lonely highway at times. If I spoke about the thoughts as they drifted into being I would’ve been in the nut house long ago. The characters, their moments come and go and sometimes they compete like mad uncles fighting at the end of a family gathering. So much to do.

More coming very soon.

 

Back From The Dead

Posted in Indie stuffs on June 3, 2014 by normandixon

Over a year since my last post. Time flies when one is over occupied with the business of art, work, and being a dad. I’ve been cranking away words and art but I have not been in touch with my digital self much. Now that’s about to change. The Creepers book one will be officially released from Permuted Press in late July. I will update with a specific date as soon as we have a solid one. I do not have a timeline for books two and three yet. However, I can tell you the cover art and the books themselves are complete and in very capable hands. I can’t wait to see what the non-indie cover spreads look like. I can paint a great picture but fonts and print layout are not my thing.

If I’ve learned anything over the last year it’s confidence in myself and in my craft. For far too long I’ve been reluctant to share and never wanted to put myself out there. Those days are gone and good riddance. I am going to share with you all a short story I wrote for Lovecraft anthology. The story did not get chosen and at the time I was crushed. I thought in a moment of brilliance, I cranked this thing out one night and submitted it the next morning, that I had spun a really good yarn. I didn’t dwell on it for too long because as a freelancer/indie author rejection is part of the game. You let it sting long enough to motivate you to move on. I went back to it when I started to think about what I was going to put up for my return blog.

Turns out I wrote a really good fucking story. And it got me thinking. I’ve read plenty of works from indie authors and a fair amount are really well done. If I can impart any kind of wisdom from my experiences its that your story doesn’t suck the person reading it has terrible taste. After all people like Twilight and there are a lot of them, a fuckton if you will. At the same time a percentage will truly suck or be such terrible rehash the agent/publisher/editor will simply move on. Take that with a grain of salt, but keep the unstoppable mindset because if you don’t, and you let the doubt in you will sink into a period of locking your stuff away. This is a mistake and you should avoid it at all costs.

I think I’ll leave off here for now, but expect me again. I’m going to bury my head in a children’s book I’ve been working on for my daughter. I have to teach myself how to truly paint in Photoshop. These Creepers covers were just the tip of the iceberg. Below is my rejected story I AM Nothing raw and edited to best of my ability. Hit me up on    https://www.facebook.com/NormanDixonJr or on Twitter @normandixonjr

I AM Nothing

By: Norman Dixon Jr.

 

“For the man who has everything, has seen everything, do you consider yourself lucky?”

I ease the ship out of fold space before answering. To be honest I haven’t been paying much attention to Landon. I’ve been auto-piloting my responses based solely on what’s expected of me. The star of this solar system smears across the monitors, a mix of purple and several hundred other spectrums of light my human eyes cannot see.

“No, I crawled out of the same cesspool as a lot of other people. I simply chose not to accept the life laid out for me. There were opportunities to be had and . . . well, Landon, I had them.”

I drop the computer assisted controls and ease the ship towards Su. How magnificent, in all her brilliant blue-gray beauty, a clouded diamond shimmering in the darkness of space. She orbits a single star very reminiscent of Earth’s, but I’m the only one who knows of her existence. My best kept secret.

“People call you the pioneer of the stars. Others call you God. What do you call yourself?”

The ship bucks a bit as I begin descending through the clouds, but it doesn’t last long. I drop the shields and really get a look at her. An endless ocean pans out before me, so bright, I squint at the reflected light. I should be driven to tears by her majesty. I am not. I’ve seen what became of the Pillars of Creation. A small continent that reminded me of Orwell’s pink coral floats off the starboard side. I dip the nose towards it, remembering the men that died there. The men that died with my secret on their horrified lips. The men that were swept beneath the waves. And then I see it: what from satellite photos looks to be nothing more than terribly deep ocean, a blackness in all that blue.

“You’ve slept long and hard on these questions, Landon . . . aiming for the lead I see. Well, I’ve been through interviews a million times in my multi-millennial life. I’ve been called a lot of things and I’ve gone by many titles, but if I had to pick one word out of so many possible choices . . . I’d have to go with bored.”

“Bored?”

He’s a persistent shit, but I leave him hanging as I watch it move beneath the waves. I felt its presence the moment I dropped out of fold space. It’s curious. It rotates slowly. From this height it appears as nothing more than an enormous five-pointed star—the massive silhouette of a starfish the size of Africa on old Earth. “Yes, bored. Would you prefer I said asshole, or something as equally lewd?”

He completely brushes me off.

“What do you cherish the most?”

We conquered the stars. We became what we were always meant to be . . . Gods. Masters of everything we encountered. We ended disease. We ended Time’s erosion on the body. Gods in the truest sense of the word. And I thought this with such certainty until we found the thing living beneath Su’s ocean. Its older than the Earth. Its older than any point in the known universe I’ve been too. Su was supposed to be the epitome of old Earth beach vacations. A spot untouched by pollution. A place where the grandeur of an ocean environment could be appreciated. Everything from the initial probe painted a perfect picture.

At the time, only myself, and the six man crew ready to touchdown on her surface, knew about Su’s existence.

“Life,” I blatantly lie.

Their journey went much like my current one, smooth and utterly perfect. But once they landed, that changed. I bring up that ancient feed and watch those six eager faces safe behind their helmets. They were sane at that point, or appeared so to the untrained eye, but I’ve watched this play out too many times to count. I can see the subtle changes. The squinting, the fidgeting;it is more than nerves. I can hear the precursor of the madness to come in their voices, as they call out orders and procedures. The pink sands greet them with a light hiss against the hull. I do not get the same reception. The ship picks up trace amounts of radiation from the coral colored glass.

“So what’s left to do for the man that has done everything?”

“That’s simple, Landon.” And now to the moment I’ve been waiting for, the hook if you will. “All that’s left to do is die.” I cut the relay and leave Landon to ponder that back on Earth. The news feeds will be crawling with speculation. My own people will be looking for me, but they won’t find me. No one will find me. All that will remain is the video signal that will leave the moment its recorded. But Su is on the edge of oblivion and the signal will take a long time to get home.

I don’t bother with any protective equipment. My body augmentations will do their job on the radiation. I’ve waited a long time for this moment. I start transmitting the record of my death. I can feel it out there under the water, waiting, wondering just what I’m about. I hear the screams and explosions playing out on the feed behind me. I don’t look back.

My boots clink on the glass. Ahead on the horizon, I see the remnants of ancient castles. High twisting spires, strange carvings, angled windows, all encased beneath the glass, courtesy of the most powerful weapon in the known universe. A weapon that did not kill what lives out there. My eyes are drawn to the geometric patterns under my feet. I have not the time to begin to unlock them. I simply do not care. All I want to do is experience that which has eluded me . . . death.

My parting gift to the world: the death of the man that could not die. The death of a lie. The reality of our true place in the universe.

The readout on my handheld is giving a carbon dating number that doesn’t make sense. I shut it off. I can feel that amount of time and it scares me. I feel it as if it were an open tomb at my feet, the darkness of which stretches on endlessly.I begin to feel very cold. My fingers grow numb. Somewhere inside, faced with this unfathomable amount of time, I begin to scream. Much like they screamed as the waves started to rise, a horrific cord on the strings of existence.

I look out to the ocean. The waves roll towards me, tiny at first, then building, and building. Great spouts of water jettison into the sky, casting multi-hued rainbows across the horizon. It should be perceived as beautiful, but I’ve pissed myself in fright. The beast of eons. The black heart of creation begins to rise from below. This is the experience I’ve so craved. I’ve never felt so alive. So vulnerable. So not in control of my own life. It will end here. And in the face of all that terror, I smile.

At first I see only its sheer mass. Water cascades off its gigantic body in a thousand wayward waterfalls. The marrow of my bones vibrates from the sound of it. My eyes blur as the vitriol buzzes. The experience is enormously painful and I make that loud and clear for the viewing audience, but I never take my gaze off of it. A mountain rising from the sea doesn’t even being to describe its height. The thing continues to rise into the clouds. It passes before the sun an unthinkable enormity, dwarfing any known ranges. Yet, I know that somewhere beneath the turbulent water, an even greater mass awaits. This is but the head, a point of the star.

As my eyes adjust,the waves start to reach me, lapping at first then smashing into me. I fall back and look away. I begin to weep. Blood begins to run from my nose. I force myself to face this thing that should not be. I remember the men that tried to escape the blast. They made it to the shielded safety of their craft, and while it protected them from the radiation, it did not protect them from the obliteration of their minds. Their maddened cackles come back to me now. After all this time I finally understand. I finally understand what that darkness is when looking out into the night’s sky, when looking into the heart of space, it’s all there. And it shatters me.

It could snuff me out with a thought. It makes sure I know this, but it does not. It takes me to the brink of existence, and then it holds me enthralled. I start to laugh. I cry. I love. It plays all of my emotions with cruel fingers, a symphony of domination. It reminds me of my place in the universe. It is not a nice place. It is not a respected place. We know nothing.

In all of its darkness,things begin to take shape. The bow of an ancient ship pokes from its body. Pieces of Su’s architectural past, and pieces of our own. I see them all. Halls leading nowhere, fossils of things yet unimagined, and there are faces, screaming faces the size of interstellar carriers trapped there, still living, crying out, a loud series of moans like foghorns on a darkened harbor. It wants me to hear them. I feel its thoughts impeding my own. It wants me to think only what it wants me to think, ultimate and brutal submission, admission that I am but nothing in its thoughts. I am nothing…

Tentacles the length of continental seaboards writhe towards me. They are lined with mouths that snap and bite, razor-like teeth clacking inches from my face. The stench brings my insides up. Bile burns my mouth but I don’t notice. All I can feel is what it wants me to feel. I am nothing…

The tentacles draw me up from the glass. It gives me the chance to run. It lets me know this. My flight response is so strong but the realization of futility is stronger. I feel it laugh as it lets the thought sink into my mind. It raises me to impossible heights, to its source, so high into the thin air that crystals of ice begin to form on my wet body. It wants me to see something. To know something.

There are no eyes upon what I am allowed to perceive as the head. It does not need them. It is the very light itself. It is the darkness. The tentacle brings me within a few centimeters of six bulbous protrusions clustered in a circle. They are murky, filled with dirty sea water. I hear a frightening rumble, the sound of civilizations collapsing. The water begins to drain from the bulbs.

“No!” I scream,in complete control of my faculties again. They are not bulbs. They are helmets and the faces of six men I thought dead stare at me. Invertebrates yet to be catalogued scuttle from their screaming mouths. The water has warped their skin. Their eyes milky and searching, blinded by the years beneath the ocean. They are not dead. It lets this realization sink into me. It lets me know I will not have what I desire. It lets me perceive my own infinite doom.

I try to run but my foot won’t move. A slick gelatin-like substance holds me fast and before my very eyes,it begins to grow around my calves, moving up my thighs with great haste. I feel the sickly sensation wrap around my fingers. I feel it enter my screaming mouth, my nose. I feel it envelope me, a pervasive cold that shakes my beating heart. I am returned to the source.

The tentacles slip away. The ocean shimmers miles below and I am being pulled slowly towards it. It bends away from the rolling blue waves. It faces the blazing sun, faces the light, and it begins to sink painfully slow. I feel the water slip around me, over me. It is so cold, but I can still see that light. The endless blue gives way to dark greens and the sun of Su grows ever distant. The murk becomes an almost complete darkness. All that remains of the precious light is but a pinprick, and soon that too, is gone. I feel the crunch of the optics from the pressure. I should be dead at his depth.

But there is no beginning and no end. I understand that now. Time is endless and I am not dead. It lets me know this. It lets me understand that I am nothing.

 

 

 

How I Work Part Two

Posted in The Creepers on July 12, 2013 by normandixon

Didn’t think this one would take almost a month but I’ve been caught up in so much these past few weeks I haven’t had time to blog, but I did find time to finish the cover and begin editing book 2. I won’t be able to reveal the whole cover yet. That I’ll have to save for later. Enough of that, on to the meat. My next step in the process is taking the sketch and refining it in pencil form on 11 x 17 comic board.

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Here you have the pencils. The x’s are for ink fills. If I was passing this off to an inker I probably would’ve filled the space with pencil but to save time I just marked them with x’s. I like the way it looks overall but I’m not feeling the zombies on the horizon line. They look off and need to go, so after erasing them I decide on this.

20130711-221129.jpg

Now I feel I’ve made for a much tighter composition. Like I said previously art is all about refining. I bust out my old Windsor Newton #0 and begin inking away, starting with the edges. For tighter areas and more mechanical spots I use a series of Rapidographs but at this point I’m thinking edges only. And I end up with something like this.

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Pretty cool. So far though I’m not sold on a few things and in the final you’ll see I changed quite a bit with Moya’s leg and my highlights. Anyhow, after the edges comes the fills which I use a rather worn #2 round for. Nothing fancy just something wide enough to hold a good bit of ink without being sloppy.

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And there it is in all it’s inked glory. Pretty empty but remember I plan on doing a lot digitally. Much more than I ever have on any piece before. It’ll be the first time I use the computer to develop more than just color. As much as I said I can’t, I kept at it, and the cover came out quite amazing. I can give you a sample.

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Much different. Since I can’t show that final product I will show you a series of stages on the first Creepers cover. You’ll see I worked the same way and that I made several revisions to things. Again it was done on 11×17 comic board with digital colors.

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There you have it, a lot of layers like writing has stages. It’s a process and being mindful that you can always do better. That you can live with mistakes. That you can still make it work. It took me a long time work around mistakes and with them. Art and writing are mistakes. Once you get beyond the unattainable goal of perfection you can truly create.

Writers, keep writing. Creators, keep the dream alive.

Norm out.

How I Work Part One

Posted in The Creepers on June 16, 2013 by normandixon

As promised here is the first in this series. I’ll be giving you a glimpse into how I work. Which is pretty much like a traditional comic book artist. I know Photoshop and Manga Studio have made this type of work more streamlined but I only use Photoshop for coloring, though I have both programs, I work old school. No matter how hard I tried to be a convert, I just can’t make drawing on a digital tablet feel right to me. Even digital inking feels wrong. Maybe I’m too much of a dinosaur, but I love the feel of pen and brush in hand. I get a better sense of weight and depth and I work around mistakes instead of countless undo’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on that method of art, it’s just not me.

So, now that the first draft of book 2 is behind me, I started to think about the cover for it. Would it be Bobby, or Howard? Both share the protagonist role this time round. I did several Howard thumbnails but trashed them. Then it dawned on me, why not Moya, or at least a hint of Moya. You’ll find out who she is soon enough but a chance to have her as a teaser I couldn’t pass up. So after spending days pulling reference photos I started to work out the idea. As I just mentioned above that step is the thumbnail process. Quick, very loose sketches where I’m just testing layouts and ideas and positions. Here’s an example:

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They look a lot like blobs but look closer you can see a horse with a woman on it in various poses and there’s even a ruined cityscape. After much mental debate I settle on one and do a slightly more defined version with notes. In this next step I use a sharpie to spot blacks and test lighting angles. Here is that step:

20130615-205649.jpg

Now I have a better idea of where this cover is going. At this point I’m not settled on the position of the horde but I’m getting there. Ignore my random doodles sometimes my mind and hand wander off. My next step is to move into a slightly larger space and add more definition. Again I’m still not settled on the position of the zombies but I am settled on Moya. Check it out:

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Now it’s starting to look like a solid foundation which is what these steps are meant to be. Hand drawn animation is also done this way as is most digital work, but you get the idea. Constant refining and tweaking. No piece comes out of the box finished and ready to go. That goes for books as well as drawings. My next step is to lay down final pencils and again I’ll be moving to a larger space which instead of 8×11 printer paper will be 11×17 comic art board. I prefer one with a smooth finish for slick brushwork when I ink, but that’s another blog and it will be coming soon.

Keep creating.

Norm