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Steps to Creating a Book Cover Illustration (Collie Ranch)

September 13, 2010

Hi, I want to walk you through the steps I took  illustrating This Young Reader book cover.

Step 1 was getting a description from the author. this came in the form of a medium length paragraph describing the characters and setting. ( i’ll spare you the details here)- and of course the size (6×9)

Step 2:

I did a layout drawing. Sometimes this is also called a thumbnail, but for me a thumbnail drawing is a small drawing and this one wasn’t small. Instead i just loosly drew it on tracing paper. tracing paper is handy for sketching, you can easily cut things and move them, flip them, or thow on a second layer and tighten up your drawing. with tracing paper and a copy machine you can do lots of quick editing, that you might get bogged down in the computer. (the copy machine, can enlarge or reduce quickly, which is really handy)

I also included some copy(text) to help decide how to lay out the image. (in this case making some extra sky and flower area to go behind the words.

Step 3:

Tight Drawing. She approved the layout with the instructions to make the characters more in the foreground. so i made the girl and dog bigger and the barn smaller ( I did that in the computer you can do that sort of thing in a photo program like photoshop, Gimp(free version) or in a vector program like illustrator, inkscape(free version). the nice thing about doing your revisions in the computer is that you can copy the caracters and paste them into a new layer above the origional image. you can then scale and rotate that second layer to your hearts content. you can also see before after by hiding the new layer. i did the same trick for the barn, then added one more layer on top of the origional clean up any extra lines. i like to preserve my origional on the bottom layer and lock that layer.

After i was happy with the revised layout I used my monitor as a light table. Disclaimer( i don’t think this hurts my screen, but try it at your own risk) i open the drawing in a photo program and scale it up. I made it about 10″ tall on the screen, then i taped a piece of tracing paper to the screen at all four corners(i used regular scotch tape,but removable scotch tape would probably be better) the key here is not to move that window or scale the image again till you finish the drawing. i kept the image over on the right side of the screen(right handed part(i did the layout and painting left handed, but that’s a whole other story). this leaves some open screen on the left where i can bring up reference. So i tighten up the drawing, add detail, work out the perspective of the barn ( did this with a #2 pencil. for some reason i like the round ones better than the cheepo hexigon yellow school pencils) you could use whatever weight pencil you like though. i had to sharpen often.

Step 3B:

Revisions, Revisions: The client was very pleased overall, but wanted some changes to the dog to make it more like a champion Scotch collie. Again i did these revisions in photoshop. I was able to take the whole muzzle and taper it with a distort/transform. which let me quickly make a major change without redrawing, yea. i did do some drawing right in photoshop with a wacom pen pen and pad.(bamboo fun-pretty cheap) i wouldn’t recomend doing drawing touchups with a mouse. After a few back and forths it was ready to start painting.

Step 4:

Color Study. I actually did this before i had the final tight drawing. It’s rough color, so it doesn’t if some of the details change a bit it doesn’t matter. it was mainly to make sure i and the author were on the same page. i stuck close to her descriptions, but changed the color of her shirt. the author called for blue, but i thought it would look nicer as purple. I did this in Photoshop on a multiply layer above the art. (which was locked- i mention this again, because i hate it when i get on my origional art layer and don’t realize it. very annoying. if it’s locked it’s safe.similar to spray-fixing your drawing in real life).

*note( i only put the text in for layout purposes, so i didn’t waste time coloring it or making it wonderful) The publisher was handling that part.

Step 5:

I did the painting. This is my favorite part. I did this one in watercolor. I looked into several transfer methods so that i wouldn’t have to redraw the whole thing onto watercolor paper, none of them worked to my satisfaction, so i ended up working off my inkjet print. water color on an inkjet print sounds like a bad idea doesn’t it? well first i mounted the image to an illustration board(got a big board for like 6 bucks at a framing shop, wasn’t a real illustration board, but it was thick(1/8th inch) and pretty ridgid. you need the board for 2 reasons, one to keep the drawing flat, it’s going to want to roll and buckle, and also for the water to have something to soak into. this makes drying faster. I used a spray adhesive and squeegeed it down with a credit card. i like to have my board bigger than the illustration. at least an inch or two. (that gives you space to finish off brush strokes or blot your brush if it’s too wet. Here’s the real trick though. i used spray fix to seal the drawing, if you don’t use it your ink jet print will bleed out, if you use too much the water color won’t want to soak into the paper. i experimented on an extra copy first. of course if you are using a laser print or laser copy of your print, you shouldn’t have to worry about that.

I tried a new technique on this piece for the fur and grass (rake brush) in the past i had done hair one at a time with a small brush. (boring and slow) with a square rake brush(a frush with much fewer bristles so that is seperates into multiple points when using wet paint) i could add fur/grass texture quickly to large areas. i looooved it!  Now when i finished the painting i took a picture( i use a digital camera ours is 6 meag pixel i think) of it outside in the shade of our house. i have a stucco wall with a ledge about 3 foot from the ground i like to set the image on that and try to square up to it as much as possibe. the resulting picture looks like this.

Step 6:

Finishing touches: from here i remove the distortion in photoshop. you can see where the edges of the paper are. if you use a polygon select tool and set those corners, you can make a copy and paste it to a new layer, the make a rectangular selection to the proportions of 8.5 by 11. and set guide lines to those sides. now you can distort transform your page to fit the guidelines, turn  off snap by the way. this will take out the distortion from the camera. now i like to make my color corrections as adjustment layers in photoshop, that way you don’t loose any of the color or detail from the origional trying to make it better. I use levels to bring up the white balance, black balance and mid range. a brightness contrast layer to add about 10% contrast. a Curves layer to pump up the saturation a bit. a hue layer to shift the colors if they are off, which they usually are.  Then i go in and check some of the detail areas like the faces and hands. I make these changes with a new top layer and the clone stamp tool(set to use all layers) and clone areas with the color i want to fill in holes or correct small mistakes.

Notice how i have “extra image” in step 5 i like to create a cropping layer on the very top. you select the area you are cropping to then reverse the selection and fill with white. It is very nice to have this extra inch or more around your illustration. now if i want to move the crop, change the scale or format a bit i have extra! it doesn’t take much extra effort to paint a little more. notice i didn’t bother rendering the hind foot on the dog, but i do have the whole dog! so i needed it later i could just render that foot.( i could probably just clone some area from the front paw to finish it up.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2010 12:31 pm

    nice blog 🙂 good job on simple steps on drawing covers!


  2. Steven permalink
    September 13, 2010 1:34 pm

    Thanks Gregor,

    I really like your stuff.



  3. September 13, 2010 3:21 pm

    heh thanx will do that (the header text change) Slovenia is in Europe, just next to Italy, it’s a very small country (population cca 2mil), but it’s a beautiful country (we have mountains-Alps, we have the seaside… everything!) hehe, it’s worth checking out :p


    • Steven permalink
      September 13, 2010 5:46 pm

      Sounds nice. i’d like to visit the other side of the pond some day.


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