Thursday, March 15, 2012

Matthew Cody's The Dead Gentleman Illustration, Stage Four: Finishing This Thing

This should finally wrap up my Dead Gentleman draw-without-a-plan experiment. In this fourth and final stage I'll be turning that original doodle into some kind of book cover design because, well, why not? If you want to see the run-up to this, check out Steps One, Two and Three.

So when last we left Tommy and Jezebel, they were stuck in some creepy basement somewhere. It's dark down there so I have to paint in the flashlight beam. I used a soft-edged airbrush tool for that. Of course, with a new light source in the composition, there will be some shadows under the kids. This is where working backwards presents a problem that needs fixing: the room is a dark, blue cavern but the kids were colored like they're standing outside in the broad daylight. Gotta remedy that.

So I go back onto the layer where I painted the kids and do a little color adjustment. I darken them up a bit and shift their shadows toward blue. Not a bad start, but I still have to paint in a good deal of blue shadows by hand to make it feel real. Now that the kids look more grounded in that shadowy environment, I can flood the corners of the image with some darkness. Evil, threatening darkness.

What creeps around in that darkness? Attercops, of course -- hideous, spider-beasts with four multi-faceted eyes and venomous fangs. I thought adding big hairy spiders to the piece might be overkill, so I strung some of their webs around the basement as an indication of what lurks in the shadows. And what would The Dead Gentleman book cover be without some visual reference to the title character? The Dead Gentleman is a mysterious and powerful individual who terrorizes Tommy and Jezebel in his quest for world domination. Such a larger-than-life character needed more than just a literal representation. So I painted a scary, grinning skull and blended him right into the wall that's surrounding the adventurers.

Now that I've gone this far, I might as well throw on some title text to complete the book cover idea. The Dead Gentleman has a definite steampunk vibe to the gadgetry and vehicles, so I found a vaguely-steampunk typeface on my hard drive and dropped it in. Then, just for giggles, I threw it on a photo of the book to see how it would look in context. Not too bad. Not too bad at all. For a fake cover.

Just for comparison's sake, I'm posting the very cool, original cover by Odessa Sawyer next to the Vince Dorse, off-the-cuff, begin-at-the-end experimental cover. Two very different images but they both echo some very memorable elements in Cody's book. It's interesting to see how the same idea can be handled by two different illustrators who have vastly different styles and, I'm guessing, different artistic influences. Of course, unlike the original illustrator, I was working completely free of the constraints of any art direction from Knopf. And that's really a double-edged sword: you can draw whatever you want, but you don't get the feedback that can be essential to a good illustration. Feel free to read the book and decide whether or not I managed to hit the mark. -v

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