I get a lot of questions about my process so I thought it’d be cool to break down and talk about some of my steps for illustrating covers! I hope this is helpful or interesting, it’s not quite a tutorial but perhaps it’s a glimpse into my thought process.
Step 1 | Thumbnail. The point here is to do several very fast, small, drawings, so you can’t get hung up on details. Here I’m thinking most about composition and subject. I had four originally and this one was picked to get finished.
Step 2 | Sketch. I draw on top of my thumbnail, nailing down more of the actual details. I fix any proportion isssues but I still try not to waste too much time making final lines, the sketch will go away in the end, so it just needs to be good enough for me.
Step 3 | Background Painting. A lot of lightning and mood is set by the environment, so I start with determining their background. I browse through lots of inspirational paintings and photographs during this stage, and try to get a palette in my head for the overall piece. I use the lasso tool to fill in their silhouettes with black and lock the layer transparency. The silhouette is very important for readability, so I make sure even without colors the shapes are distinct.
Step 4 | Rough Color Blocking. I block in base colors and basic lighting under the sketch layer, blocking in the different materials and colors.
Step 5 | The Fun Part. Here’s where I just get to zone out and paint. I flatten the sketch onto the color blocked layer (if you’re nervous, you can always duplicate these layers and tuck them into another folder before you flatten and commit) and finally get to painting. The sketch eventually gets entirely painted over. Things I’m thinking about during this stage: different materials, changes in planes, drawing from the background colors.
Stage 6 | Details. I use the lasso tool and fill to do very tiny details like scratches, small specular highlights, etc. I add some wear and tear and knock out a bit of Fulcrum’s teeth. (huhuhu)
Stage 7 | MOAR BLOOD. At this point I decided there wasn’t enough energon dripping off of Tarn and I added more on a new layer. Again, grabbing areas with the lasso tool, filling, and erasing parts of it to make it appear transparent.
Stage 8 | Lighting Effects. I add some soft glows to Tarn’s lights, but keep his forehead light the brightest. I want it to be the main source of light in the scene so I don’t want to distract. Light is bouncing through the pink energon, so I made the light falling on Tarn’s face more pink.
Stage 9 | Final Lights. I add a harsh white rim light to both of the figures, really pulling them away from the background to finalize the painting.