Cover work

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:


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?



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