Wednesday 12 December 2012

Mark Harrison - Rat's Entertainment!

Yes!!! I've been dying to get my hands on this one! Mark Harrison's brilliant Ratfink cover to Megazine 330. Mark always gives good value in his commentaries, with this entry racking up an amazing 22 images, a plethora of tips and even some photoshop brushes, wow!

So, strap yourselves in while I hand you over to Mark! The images are numbered to help with the commentary...

"01: Running dry of the essential lube, I tapped Tharg for a much needed cover piece and he provided me with this meg cover to do. The only problem was, the script hadn't been completed yet! (Covers are usually the last thing to be done- not the first). Given a brief outline of the scene; Dredd facing rats, I delved into my almost memory to recall a film I hadn't seen but had a memorable photo of in my big book of horror movies from my childhood. The film is "Willard" (not the remake)  a scene that features Earnest Borgnine being set upon by rats. It's got great lighting and I thought i could use it as the basis of the Dredd cover."

01:  Yuck! No wonder Rita Tushingham didn't get on with him...

"02: I scribbled out a rough sketch in the computer for size, Dredd to be lying on the floor, Lawgiver drawn. (The blue pencil line look is a Photoshop  action (more on those later)  I got from  a Freddie E Williams guide book to "Digitally Drawing Comics" (buy it here, listen to a podcast about it here!) which has some very useful tips to black and white line art drawing, especially at the sketching stage. Highly recommended to aspiring and long in the tooth comic artists."

02: The initial Lawgiver sketch...

"03: Fleshing out Dredd wear, I lost the gun in favor of the boot knife. We have loads of "Dredd with gun" covers but Dredd with a knife is more intimate and up close  personal. "Boot Knife!"

03: "Bootknife!"

04: I wanted to frame Dredd at the centre of shattered flooring, like he had fallen down into a rat infested basement. Ahh... that taken me back to reading the just released James Herbert's  "The Rats" which formed part of my teen literature. Great book. Terrible film.

I planned to have out-of-focus rats silhouettes in the peripheral  foreground with a carpet of rats attacking from all directions in the low angle lit basement (The shattered floor framing also helped having not to draw/paint loads of rats)

04: A carpet of rats!

"05: I always try to give old green bonce the illusion of choice and that I'm doing hard work so I did another sketch that was pure Dredd humour in my opinion. "You Dirty Rat" was the absurd idea of holding (literally) a rat to book. A sort of "come along quietly" moment, Dredd pressing the Law even to the rodents of Mega City One. But I didn't push this image too hard as I couldn't shake off the niggling fear that this had been done before. I'm sure some fan can prove this one way or the other bit it just felt "familiar".  (Occupational hazard doing a Dredd cover; am I subconsciously copying someone else?)"

Hmmmm, none spring to mind, the closest I can think of is Cam Kennedy's classic "You're Jaywalking Citizen!" from the 1986 2000AD annual, however that certainly wasn't to a rat! - Pete.

 05: Dirty, yellow-bellied rat!

"06: Talking of copying someone else, I had in mind a painting style I wanted to do; more comic book than previously. To that end I referenced these two analogue covers of Dredd by Jock and Simon Bisley. I love the looseness of Jock's painting (he doesn't do enough color work) and the distressed texture background and Simon's colorful dynamic shot of Dredd and  great composition/negative space. I wanted that punchy comic book colouring."

06: Jock and Bisley, truly inspirational!

"07a, b:  I already knew I wanted to have a go at trying to replicate entirely digitally the painting style I used back in ye olden days (early 1990's). In truth I've already been doing this, but this time I wanted to build the image up from the canvas up and use as many sampled real world tools and techniques as possible.  The best way to achieve that is to scan in some actual old painted art and build the digital brushes to replicate the real world painting. The scanned art shows you line width, the roughness of the painting, the spatter droplet size, etc, that can be difficult to accurately gauge when the computer can get you "too close" to the art sometimes. Part of my process is defeating the "perfectness" of computer art and build in predictably randomness. If that sounds like a contradiction, what I mean is achieve a "digital" noise in the digital toolset that best describes the factors that affect drawing on paper such as texture of the paper itself, angle of the pen etc.  Stuff that outside the computer years of practice gets you used to. Like those of so lovely issues we had to deal with.  (Pen snag! Clogged airbrush! White out!)  Now I want the look without the hassle.

The way I used to work, and many other painting comic artists was putting down a dark foundation over line art. In my case I use to use permanent marker or biro, with colored ink washes and black acrylic making up the foundation. You can usually see this base in the shadows, in this example under the arm of he muscular guy (seen here 1:1 ). Then I'd paint the lighter tones and colors over this with opaque acrylic. To create texture I might spatter ink from a primed toothbrush into the shadow areas. I would use a held shaped cardboard mask and mask on the fly rather than use plastic film and any overspill I would repaint. Finally color  ink washes from an airbrush would be used to enhance colors. Repaint where necessary. All good, lung-healthy fun!"
 07a: Bloodrayn... I mean Durham Red!

 70b: Muscular guy!

"7c: To aid me in this digital art replicating of an old style I was using Photoshop CS2. It's my preferred app and the brushes, with a little hard work and experimentation can be tweaked to give a pretty good look. I use some of the photoshops default chalk/dry media brushes as pencils and dip pens such as the "WALT" brush/pen I built through a series of trial and errors.  I used this brush  to sketch draw and ink this cover.  (So named after "Walt Simonson; I credit all my brushes to the artists that inspire them and this pen came about after months of looking at Walt's line art for a personal project.)

Other brushes have been sampled from real world paint daubs, scanned and given certain parameters. Some brushes will provide straight lines, but have no character. Other provide character but can't be used to create point to point straight lines.  Some create the more authentic spatter of a slightly sputtery airbrush that you can see also adds texture in the painted work. Some brushes work best in a precise way with a certain tool such as the smudge or dodge tools whilst others create a general textural noise that needs to be painted out."

 7c: Meet Walt!

" 08: Whilst  looking for rat ref, I found a perfect Dredd chin on this guy. He should be in comics!  ;)"

08: All hail King Carlos!

"09: But  what to go with; expression-wise? Go with grim thin mouth of Dredd distain or the snarling sneer of a Dredd rebuke? It's these small details that an artist can agonize over, like colors that might seem irrelevant to the casual fan. But we CARE. ;)  (I took both to tonal completion before Tharg decided for me.)"

 09: An open snarl or thin and grim?

"10: I drew up the Dredd line art using the Walt brush that gives a sort of sketchy pencil. It's actually based on a biro brush I created so i could sign my contracts in the computer without having to print them out and scan them back in again. I'm such a cheapskate.

To get an ink pen look, I doubled up the art to make it darker, the ran a slight blur and levels on it to simulate the ink blobbing a bit. Once the overlay of colors goes on it, it darkens up quite nicely and I like the imperfections, as if the ink wasn't too pure or the scan not so perfect. Ironic I spend quite a lot of time trying to make it look "a bit crap" after seeking out the computer in the early days to make the job quicker and better! "

 10: Using Walt to get the biro look

"11: Here we see the art with a  gradient overlay in multiply layer  mode with the start of some highlighting to pick out a light source. I'm working with the art upside down to how it will be printed, Dredd hanging upside down so I have to remember light will be coming from below and just catching his chin. I have a few rat tails hanging up to suggest gravity but from what I've seen the little buggers seem to defy gravity."

 11 - Working upsidedown...

"12: I've added some black here. I'm just toggling between black and white, and layer masks at that (I'll cover layer masks in a moment). I know I'm on the right tracks here when it's looking this grubby and murky.  This is how my real world painting used to look like at this stage, without the messy fingers!"

 12 - Old Stony looking grubby and Murky!

"13: Painting some highlights back in and some mid tone. You can almost hear my sigh of relief I haven't cocked it all up. There is a plan of sorts although I do concede my art process can be considered "rescue art."  Twenty years I'm still learning but I love the process!"

 13: Rescue art???

"14. What a difference a dropped on background makes. This would be the equivalent of painting around the figure to hide all the overspill and mistakes that artists would do. It's looking clearer and the tone has had a little texture applied courtesy of a my spatter airbrush."

 14: A handy, dropped on background.

"15: The addition of colour!  (Seen here without the tonal layer, just the colour overlays.)"

15: Beautiful!

"16: For this and recent Dredd strip I used an approach I used for my textures, namely creating a separate file ("color package") made of individual colour layers in a group folder with layer masks I could drop onto tonal art work. I could then just quickly reveal the overlaying color by painting into its mask with white, correcting quickly if I strayed over the lines by painting black. Saves all that changing colours, plus the files allows for repeatable colours and predictable results. You can see the masks in action here.  I added a slight tonal offset; a watercolour wash texture to replicate inks drying in different concentrations in the wash. It sounds all very complicated, and it was. I dropped the process after a couple of strips as not really saving me much time."

16: Behold, Mark's textures!

"17: Like the colour package, I have a more successful package of texture layers in various layer modes as seen here. This replicates the texture "noise" artists sometimes give their work to make it less soft and flat. I based this particular collection on the work of Drew Struzan. Once again, it's all preset stuff that can be revealed or hidden with the layer masks to see what works. There's also  a levels and hues package that i no longer use that I had for improving contrast and tweaking the final look of the art."

17: The Drew Struzan collection!

"18: This shows just the textures that went over the art. I use a gradient tool on the layer mask. You can see some almost sponge-stamped flecks of green have appeared on the yellow areas on the final art.  The background has a sewer grill shadow pattern to back and centre Dredd in a vague frame. Bit too colourful at this point."

18:  Mark sneezed into a hanky while working...

"19: In fact aside from a black and white background  version (my favorite)  I did several versions of the background with different values and saturation. Over thinking it again?

Here is a rare glimpse into the secret world of Mark's Actions... (!)  I mean of course Photoshop actions, those wonderful time saving scripts of commands that can help on repetitive tasks. I use them so much I worry I might loose years of experimentation so I'm  constantly back them up.  Here you can see the "Walt refine fine line" that makes  sketchy art look like pen art. (I have one that turns line art drawn with the line tool look like it was drawn) The open action is to correct for 2000 AD's printers habit of darkening all my art, boosting the values in the shadows only."

 19: Action-packed image!

"20: The finished art I preferred:"

20: Black and White delight! 

"21: The Gallery of Inconsequential Agony: Cover variants I tried out for clarity and effect. Someone somewhere is screaming "WHY!"

21: The Gallery of Inconsequential Agony!

"22: The final piece. and what you finally got, which I think works just as well if a little more obvious. 90% of my preferred choices never make it to print because I'm too cutting edge and radical. (LOL!)

I wondered about the red lips sneer but I wanted more of a Clint reference to be there. It could be blood.  Also that light catching the chin. I like the pads. And the eagle tuned out better than expected.

Does it look like it was painted outside of the computer though?"    

22: Phew! The Final Image.

Mark has been kind enough to include his Walt brushes for aspiring artists to play with. You can grab 'em from here:

He says "Here are some bonus materials. "WaltBrush.abr" For any artists out there who want to have a go with the "Walt brush" (maybe I shouldn't name these brushes- guns yes- brushes no) here it is a freebie download. If you have a version of photoshop CS2 or later simply drop it in your brushes presets for your application and then load from the brushes drop down menu in Photoshop. Will work in PC and Mac versions of Photoshop. Some talent  maybe required."

Mark has also been kind enough to share his favourite hot tip, too - "Tired of your tablet pen skating around your tablet? Miss the drag of REAL paper but are too cheap to pay for overpriced nibs that simulate real pens? Then try the Harrison technique of taping a piece of paper to your tablet!  Pause mid stroke and not have the pen slip and stutter! It only took me 20 years to figure that out!  :)"

Wow, now there's a brilliant post! Thank you so, so much to Mr Harrison, I'm sure many will be inspired by the fantastic hints, tips and processes in this commentary! Look out for Mark's dazzling work in the prog soon...

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