Art: Book cover in oils, step by step

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  1. #1
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    Book cover in oils, step by step

    This is the cover for a YA novel from Random House about a teenage girl who is a war chief in Arthurian (5th century) Britain. Oil over acrylic on illustration board, 12"x16".
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    I've been posting here for over a year and a half without showing much work, so I thought I'd make up for it by doing a step by step run through of my process.

    This was actually the sequal to a book I did the cover for a few years ago.
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    The art director wanted a similar image, but they requested more color and action this time, and a different weapon. After reading through the manuscript I did a bunch of quick sketches. This is the one they picked.
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    I'd talked to the AD about what I was planning in terms of color, but just to be safe I did a color sketch in gouache and sent it to him for final approval before I went ahead.
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    Once I got an OK, the next step was getting reference. For figures, I like to have my shots done by a photographer in New York who specializes in reference photography for illustrators. He's got tons of costumes and props, and can get anything he doesn't have on hand. He shot about four rolls of film while I "directed". These are the two shots I ended up working from the most, the left for the head, the right for the arm and body.
    Name:  CA_Ilena_reference.jpg
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    To be continued...
    Next time: I actually get down to painting.

    Last edited by Elwell; August 7th, 2007 at 03:17 AM.

    Tristan Elwell
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  4. #2
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    This is gonna be cool to watch

    :: Spartan ::
    www.chrisbourassa.com
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    This is great!
    Finally, someone's using oils instead of digital. (jk, I love digital too.) How long did you have to paint this. It seems as though not many illustrators use oils now adays, cuz it takes too long to dry. Do you always work your illus. with oils?

    When you do your color comps, do you always do them in gouache? Which do you prefer and why, gouache or acrylic? Ive worked with acrylic and I sorta like it, but ive just recently started working with gouache and like it much more, but Ive heard that it's difficult to get saturated colors. Is this true? (sorry for the barrage of questions)

    Can't wait to see the wip!
    Btw, I love the design of your shapes and values.Simple and not too flashy, but effective.

    -iwasink

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    DS Illustration
    "Get reference.
    There is nothing wrong with using a photo to help you see things.
    No one complains about life drawing,
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    its easy, and will improve your piece greatly."
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    It's great seeing your process, reminds me that I should plan more for my own paintings, which I tend to rush into blindfolded.

    Your paintings are very good and I really like how you've painted the hair all dark. The horse looks a little "boring" tho, it could need something to make it pop a bit. But then again, I guess that would detract from the focus of the illustration.

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    OK, I'm back. I'll answer some of i.w.i's questions, then on to the WIP shots.

    I actually had over a month from the time this was assigned until I turned it in, but the actual painting took five days. Figure in time for reading the manuscript, research, sketches, and the photo shoot, and we're probably talking a week's work total. It's hard to say exactly, though, because I'm usually working on a bunch of projects at one time.

    Drying time isn't really an issue. There are all sorts of tricks you can use to pretty much get oils to dry as fast or slowly as you want. I paint thinly and use Liquin, so the paint dries overnight. Any faster than that and you loose one of the chief advantages of oils, the ability of the wet paint to be blended and manipulated over an extended period of time.

    Most of the time when I do a color rough I'll actually do it in oils too, and it will be even smaller and looser than this one. But it's pretty easy to go back and forth between oil and qouache, they have much more in common with each other than either does with acrylics. The color and value range of guache is more limited, because the pigment particles aren't suspended in a transparent vehicle (it has to do with refractive indices and all sorts of other esoteric stuff).


    Tristan Elwell
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    Day One: Compositing the reference and underpainting

    After the photo shoot I got the film processed at a one-hour photo place. I get 4x5 prints plus a cd of each roll. It's much easier to spread out and compare a bunch of prints, but with the cd I don't have to deal with scanning. The film scans also contain more information than the prints.

    I use Photoshop the same way I used to use a Xerox machine and Scotch tape. I took the head from the first shot and put it on the body from the second, rotating and scaling it so that it fit. I also angled her arm up a bit more. Using Curves, I flattened out the mid tones and brough the highlights out. This did funny things to the color (although if I had remembered to convert to LAB it wouldn't have), but since I wasn't relying on the photo's color anyway I just desaturated it so it wouldn't be distracting. Finally, I extracted the figure from the background. I enlarged my pencil sketch to the size of the painting (12"x16"), dropped the figure from the photos in, and played around with the scaling and placement til it looked right.
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    For my painting surface I really like Strathmore illustration board. Unlike most brands it's white paper all the way through, so its absorbs the water from acrylics or gesso more evenly and stays smoother. For strength, I attach it to a piece of 3/8" foam core cut to the same size by binding the edges with white artist's tape. I toned the board a maroonish color with a few thin layers of acrylic, building it up in washes until I was happy with the tone. Then I printed out my combined sketch/reference, traced out the landmarks, and tranferred it to the board with Saral graphite paper. The drawing was tightened up and then I started in with paint. The lights and darks were developed with washes of acrylic, using gesso for white and ivory black with a little purple mixed in. Finally, the whole thing was given a thin coat of matte medium to make sure the board was thoroughly sealed from the oil paint that was to follow.
    Name:  CA_Ilena_underpainting.jpg
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    Last edited by Elwell; August 7th, 2007 at 04:09 AM.

    Tristan Elwell
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    Day two: starting in with oil

    Now we can finally get to the fun stuff! With the basic value structure and drawing taken care of in the underpainting I can really concentrate on color and paint handling when I go in with oils. I started out with her face, because that was going to be the most important part and would probably require a couple of layers for refinement. Notice how I simplified the values from what was in the reference and brought the shadow from her brows over her eyes. I realized that the combination of the angle of her cape and the drawing of her jawline made it look like her head wasn't attached to her body, so I fixed that. While I had those colors mixed I went on to her arm. I then put in the sky. Normally I would have done that first, but I knew I was crunched for time and I needed to rest my hand on the sky area to paint the face. With some time left in the day I started to get some color on the tunic, bracer, and sword.
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    Last edited by Elwell; August 7th, 2007 at 04:11 AM.

    Tristan Elwell
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    I am REALLY excited about this thread because I am starting to do some traditional media in class...to be specific, Oils, and I also want to do Acrylics. I like digital, hell in too many cases it looks better than traditional...but traditional really gives a 'real' feel to it. That, and Painter does have oils and Acrylics in it, should learn the real thing before the digital probably

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    Day Three: Background and figure

    I started the day by reworking the sky slightly, then put in the background spears. I went back into her face and hand a little bit, and started developing her hair. Then I began to concentrate on her clothing, working on her cloak, tunic, belt, and bracer (which I made a little bigger). Started work on the horse's hindquarters, the saddle, and her leggings, then called it a day.
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    Last edited by Elwell; August 7th, 2007 at 04:14 AM.

    Tristan Elwell
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  16. #10
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    Day Four: Almost there...

    More small refinements to the face, background, and hair, then on to the clothing. I decided the color of the tunic wasn't quite right so I glazed it down slightly. Her lower leg is completely repainted, the sword blade is blocked in, then it's on to the horse and saddle. The horse's mane gets a lot of attention, and I realize I have to put her other arm in. The horse needs more structure than I've given it in the underpainting, so I spend my time blocking everything in loosely rather than focusing in on details. Hopefully I can finish off in one more day because it's DUE!
    Book cover in oils, step by step


    Tristan Elwell
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  18. #11
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    Day Five: Finishing up

    One more day before it has to get turned in and a near disaster strikes. When I try to paint the sword hilt I decide I hate Hate HATE the design (or lack thereof) and it has to be completely redrawn. This involves quite a bit of color matching to the background to accommodate the changed shape, but in the end it works out. Fortunately everything else goes smoothly. The scabbard is painted, the saddle finished up, and I spend the rest of the day concentrating on the horse, and even get some sleep.
    Book cover in oils, step by step


    Tristan Elwell
    **Finished Work Thread **Process Thread **Edges Tutorial

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    Oh thank you thank you thank you for this! It is so great to actually see the process it takes to achieve a traditional illustration. Great job man!

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    FINALLY! elwell, you have been one of ca's hidden gems. i knew it, but i dont think alot of peeps arond here actually realized that YOU ARE BADASS. So great to see the process. and the piece is awesome as usual. i hope you will post more of these. thanks so much.-c36

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    It was a joy to see your process. Great JOB!
    I hope you post some more of your work and especially the wips.

    -ink

    -http://iwasink.com/-
    DS Illustration
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    There is nothing wrong with using a photo to help you see things.
    No one complains about life drawing,
    so take a photo.
    its easy, and will improve your piece greatly."
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    you helped me out so much before on ca.org and now, THIS?!

    thank you Elwell


    it was a pleasure and joy to see the photo refs and the process of this atmospherical painting.

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    Hey man nice stuff. Love the ste by step process!!!!

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    wow your process of doing an oilpainting is soo meticulous and professional...and that you even use photoreference particularly made for your own personal reference 8) thanks for this tutorial very inspiring and nice

    look I dont know why I love you I just do
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    Fantastic post. I can't wait to see more of your work. Keep 'em coming, especially the wips.

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  27. #19
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    Thank you for sharing your process! I'm sure this was a great help to many of us.

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    Great stuff.
    thank you for this.

    www.chainandjane.com
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    I love seeing traditional processes, it helps so much to see how you approach each step. Great post, thanks.

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  30. #22
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    o wow very usefull, great work and process here.

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  31. #23
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    To all who commented, thank you.
    To all who thanked me, you're welcome.
    And to Coro, no, you are a badass!


    Tristan Elwell
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  33. #24
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    this is dope. I missed it originally because I moved. The WIP and the explainations are great. I'll be rereading this post for the next few days and just soaking......mmmmmm

    I self-published a book on the fundamentals of drawing from life.

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    I take my hat off for anyone that masters oil and acrylics like you do, man.

    A beautiful illustration! And a very insightful step by step. Hence, I rated this thread 5 stars.

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    wonderful detail! great work! no crits..

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    Great work!

    Sjajno!
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  37. #28
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    Very cool ! This gives inspiration to get back into painting.
    By the way, does the photographer you're dealing with has a website or something ?

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  38. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by egerie
    By the way, does the photographer you're dealing with has a website or something ?
    No, he's a real old-timer, doesn't even have e-mail. Part of why I like working with him is that he's been doing this forever, so he's a real link to history and traditions of the field.


    Tristan Elwell
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    Thanks again to everyone, especially for the stars.


    Tristan Elwell
    **Finished Work Thread **Process Thread **Edges Tutorial

    Crash Course for Artists, Illustrators, and Cartoonists, NYC, the 2013 Edition!

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