Renn and the Wyrms

Illustration is Hard!

The life stuff that’s been keeping me super busy is not over, but at least it’s taking up a lot less of my time/energy.  So hey look, another illustration. Finally! Right?


I just spent about six hours inking this beautiful thing, and I was going to post it with a short preview from my (as yet unpublished) novel, Proper Magic. Namely, with the scene it illustrates. But when I went to copy-paste that scene into this blog post, I realized that I had drawn my character Renn holding the wrong weapon. Renn was holding a knife in the first two drafts, but in the third, present draft I had switched that out with his trusty sword. And completely forgotten about that.

I try not to swear too much here, but there is only one proper expression for this:


So next chance I get I’ll be redoing this illustration. Which isn’t so terrible. Really, this was practice, getting back into the swing of things. I tried out some new techniques I learned from Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s illustration blog. I had to run to the art store halfway through because I lacked the right brush as well as the “white ink” I used to make those bubbles after salt and rubbing alcohol did not do at all what I wanted them to do. The pose could be tweaked a bit to make it look more active, and maybe more bubbles would add to that action-feeling.

Besides, odds are that IF my future publisher lets me illustrate my own work, they (specifically their art director) will make me redo everything because the aspect ratio is wrong, or I shouldn’t have used cold-press (slightly bumpy) paper (hey, it’s what I still have leftover from art school), or they don’t like some other detail. Heck, maybe I’m wrong in assuming they’ll prefer black and white ink drawings over full color. I love color, but I’m working black and white because it’s cheaper to print — something I assume a publisher will find attractive.

My point is that, just like writers, illustrators have to produce a lot of, “I’m never showing this to anyone, it’s awful!” before they become satisfied with their work — it takes practice, practice, practice. And even then, once they finally like what they are producing, they still work in drafts. And that “final” draft may not be so final after all once a publisher and their very specific expectations get into the mix.


If you’re interested, here’s a quick look at the process I used today:

Renn and the Wyrms Process
1 and 2 are preliminary sketches — the proportions on 1 turned out awful, so I did 2 to try and get them in hand. To be perfectly candid, this pose is a real stretch for me. I don’t usually draw two figures touching each other, let along wrapped around each other and underwater.

3 is a Photoshop composite of 1 and 2. Yay Photoshop! This is a trick that Law frequently uses. She then prints out her composites, and transfers the sketch onto an appropriate piece of paper or other ground. This way, she gets a nice, clean sketch without any extra pencil lines or eraser marks.

If she can cheat that way, so can I.

I used a simpler transfer method than she does — I rubbed graphite all over the back of my printed-out composite (4), then traced over my drawing (5) with a red pen so I could see what I was doing and make any minor corrections I wanted to (proportions are still off, as you can see).

6 and 7 are just shots of the work-in-progress taken with my smartphone. In 7, you can see the black blobs the rubbing alcohol and salt left behind. Sprinkling on salt or rubbing alcohol is supposed to be a good “resist” technique — they move pigment away from an area, leaving a white, aesthetically pleasing splotch in the middle of a dark field. But mine left black blobs in the middle of those resist areas.

Clearly I have something to learn about how to properly use these techniques still. But I was still able to turn them into pretty bubbles by painting over the dark blobs with “white ink”.  I then used some on Renn’s head, his knife, and a little on the wyrm trying to drown him.  Using a technique throughout a piece instead of in just one area makes it look more like it belongs, and less like a mistake.

Unfortunately, I can’t turn just that knife into a sword with liberal use of white ink because the sword in question is curved, like a saber or a katana.


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