Process Example: Lucca at Bat

In 2017, I participated in the Reddit Secret Santa event. Along with a couple items purchased online, I also decided to make my gift recipient a custom illustration based on her favorite Chrono Trigger character, Lucca and her love of baseball. Because I haven’t done any full-fledged illustrations in while, I thought it might be fun to show my process for anyone out there looking for pointers.

This post was originally published on my Steemit blog back in 2017.

The biggest step that I totally skipped here is creating thumbnails. Thumbnails help you explore a variety of ideas and layouts through very small, very loosely sketched ideas. The idea was fairly simple, though, so I mostly just sketched a few images before creating the first rough draft of the piece.

While the quality of materials can help enhance your work, I like to keep these early stages easy and loose. In keeping with that mindset, I usually use simple tools available to me. The sketch was done on cheap printer paper using a mechanical pencil that’ll cost you less than $0.25 online. I utilize a mixture of digital tools and tracing, so the materials are not as important during these early steps.

After sketching out the rough draft, I scan the image into Photoshop. I transform and arrange pieces of the illustration until I find a layout that I like. I also flip the image horizontal to check for accuracy. This is how I catch a majority of issues with disproportionate body parts and facial features. Since this piece is so cartoony, I didn’t really feel that much editing was needed.

Tip: If you aren’t able to scan your art into a digital environment, you can simple hold it up to a window with the image facing away from you to mirror the image and check its proportions and accuracy.

Then I resize the image, turn down the opacity, and print it on a standard letter size sheet.

Continuing to use my cost effective supplies, I now flesh out more detail by drawing on top of the lightly printed image. With the larger image, I can tighten things up a bit and add more little intricacies. Once this second round of sketching is done, it’s time to scan again.

It was around this point that I started considering a background. Generally I try to avoid them whenever possible. In this case, however, I thought some scenery would be nice. In order to keep from messing up my clean sketch, I sketched the background layout using a second print of the original, rough sketch. My goal was to keep from going too crazy with detail here so that the background would not be competing with the subjects in the foreground.

So, with all the pieces in place, it’s time to start inking.

I’m a creature of habit and I learned to draw using traditional materials. While I use digital media to enhance my projects, I feel most comfortable putting my hand to actual paper when working with illustrations. For inking, I have a couple of goto instruments.

An illustration instructor introduced me to the Pentel Pocket Brush my Senior year in college. It works like a fountain pen in that it has replaceable ink cartridges. Instead of a metal nib however, the ink feeds into a brush tip made from actual bristle fibers. This allows a wide range of line weight and creates very expressive line work.

For hatching, however, I want even, light-weight lines. I also wanted to keep clean up to a minimum. So, for shading, I went with a personal favorite: the Sharpie Pens.

As for paper, since I’ll be tracing from a reprinted sketch, I need to keep the paper somewhat transparent. Smooth papers finishes work best with ink and I like to minimize bleeding through the paper. For all these reasons, I decided to use Canson Marker Paper. It has the transparent qualities of tracing paper, but with better durability, a smooth surface, and almost no bleeding.

Once I have collected all my supplies, I’m ready to start tracing. I don’t have a light table, but I DID accidentally get to work a few hours early the other day. Since no one else was around, I taped the printout and marker paper to the window and let the sun act as my light box.

I started by tracing the line work of the foreground subjects using the pocket brush. Honestly, I wish I would have been able to work on a larger scale as the brush can make very thick lines. So I had to work pretty carefully.

Once the line work was completed, I was able to take the image back to my desk and add the preplanned hatching lines. (No tracing necessary.)

After seeing the subjects alone, I confirmed that a background would help round out the image So, back to the tracing window, but this time with the background sketch and the Sharpie Pen. I trace this image on a separate piece of paper, scan both sheets to my computer, and use Photoshop layers to combine them into a single image.

No we’re ready for color!

Since there are a plethora of more in depth and informative tutorials out there on digital color, I will skim over my process. To keep it concise, let us resort to a numbered list:

Step 1: Apply flat color and adjust hue/cast/saturation as needed.

Step 2: Add shadows by using a dark blue fill layer over top, setting it to “Darken” and erasing all non-shadowed areas and make necessary color corrections.

Step 3: Add highlights by creating a third layer. Using a very light (almost white) yellow, draw areas of brighter light and set layer to ~30–50% opacity. (A lot of color adjustments were needed here to keep the highlights looking mostly realistic.)

Once these main steps are done, I will duplicate all the layers and flatten them. With this flattened layer, I will make final adjustments using levels, curves, and a variety of other filters in Photoshop to prep the image for print. At a minimum, since digital displays are much brighter than prints, I will always lighten and slightly desaturate color. It’s minimal, but it helps to keep prints from over-saturating and printing super dark.

So, if you’re still here, thanks for sticking it out. Like I said, I haven’t completed an illustration in a while, so my process is a little less honed than when I first graduated. Either way, please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and give me a like if you want to see more posts like this.

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L. Fox Illustration

L. Fox Illustration

Illustrator • Maker • Mom • Professional Procrastinator