Finally, some color! I was getting so antsy to start adding color to this piece. So antsy, in fact, that I didn't finish the grey toned art before I started coloring. I'm usually pretty linear in my work process but I'm never a hard-fast anything. "Don't confine me, man."
The entire illustration was created using Photoshop CS4 and then CS5 (upgrade time!).
My process here is pretty simple: I lay in flat colors to start with, just like when coloring a comic book page. The flat colors, like one flesh color to fill all of a person's flesh tones, allows me to go back later and select it easily with the magic wand tool. Looking at the first image here, however, I'm already not doing what I'm talking about, hahaha. Sometimes I jump ahead and finish off certain elements, like the yellow ribbon.
Just goes to show that no rules are ever iron clad. I usually like to keep my color layers to a minimum but I wanted to keep some editability on this one so I colored each object on its own layer (and/or layers). Yes, I think "editability" is a made up word, but I like it. Having the ribbon colors on its own layer allows me to go ahead and add my shadows/highlights now since all I have to do to "grab" it later is go to its layer.
After putting so much time and effort into the grey toned drawing, I want to keep the colors simple. When this is the goal I usually tend to get all my shadows done quickly by adding gradients. I will use a slightly darker version of the main color of the item and a nice shadow color, often in the purples or blues. I use the gradient tool, switching between multiply and color burn to slowly build the darks. In my mind highlights are what really make things 'pop' on an illustration, so that's where I want to concentrate my efforts. The darkest darks are often next to the lightest lights so I tend to lay in my shadow gradients originating from where I know the strongest highlights are going to be.
Shadows in place (and greatly defined by the original grey toned work), I go back in with the main color (the yellow of the ribbon in this case) and bring certain areas back to the original yellow and then beyond that into highlights. I use brushes for all of this, either ones I've made or ones I've found, all doing their best to replicate the look and feel of traditional brushes/mediums. Like the gradients, I build up the highlights slowly, keeping my brush on a low opacity - usually between 5 percent and 30 percent.
Now, back to the bigger picture. In the beginning I mainly want to get the basic "normal" colors for things in place. I can adjust the colors once they're all down. I know on this poster that I want that desert tan to dominate the palette. You can see on the American flag that it shows through, or tints the colors of the flag. This will carry through with the rest of the piece.
So after a full day's worth of work I've got the basic tan in place, the flag and ribbon finished, and flats in place for the 747 and departing soldiers, the F-16, the Apache, the gas masks, the destroyer, the camels, and the burning oil wells.
Another day finishes off the F-16 and the Apache, adds more detail to the burning wells, and adds flats to the couple hugging. I'm totally not flatting like I said I would. I think I'm so curious to see how some of it's going to turn out that I can't stop myself from jumping ahead.
I finally get smart and get my buddy Rob to help me 'flat' a few of the elements while I move ahead and finish off the couple hugging and the soldiers getting on the plane. Rob flats the map, the combat scene, and the parade. I also get the basics down for the explosion. I'm making a conscious choice to keep as many of the colors as possible in the warm range - reds, oranges, yellows and browns. Cooler tones are kept low key and largely desaturated; they will also be tweaked later to add some warmth to them.
It's worth noting that at any point during the process I may see something in an element I've already finished and go back to work on it some more. The changes to any one element will be continuous throughout the entire coloring process. Here's a shot of the F-16 at 100 percent (full sized):
Day the next: I add some elements to the explosion, color the missile and it's smoke plume, finish off the tank (I obviously flatted it some time early and forgot to mention it), finish off the camels, and spend the rest of the day coloring the destroyer (my favorite part of the piece).
By this time in the process I'm getting loopy from lack of sleep. To be honest and forthright, this poster took twice as long as I anticipated. Because of that I felt a lot of stress for the three weeks that I was over my original deadline. I failed to anticipate the amount of extra time that would be needed for working on something this large. Had the finished piece been something like 9x12 inches (say a magazine page) it would have gone quicker, but the extra size exponentially increased the detail (at least it seemed like it to me). Lesson learned. I kept many late hours in an effort to get it done as quickly as I could and it really kicked me in the rear once it was all said and done. I need a nap just thinking about it.
So, a few hours of sleep later, I'm back on the job, finishing off the gas masks, the parade scene and the combat scene. I've also started tweaking colors to add the warmth I mentioned. I also add a color layer over the entire piece to not only add more warmth but to add a sense of cohesiveness to it all. We're getting close.
And finally I'm caught up to that last missing element: the local Kuwaiti people that the poster needs. It may seem like a small element; it's certainly not one of the more glamorous elements, but I think they're vitally important because these are the people who were directly affected by Operation Desert Storm. Never mind politics; any time your home is a stage for battle your life cannot help but be profoundly impacted. I also added the text that will eventually be on the piece. It's not the final location; I was just throwing ideas around at this point.
Here's a random close up of the medic in the combat scene:
And the finished poster. The last significant change was to add the Kuwaiti flag over Kuwait on the map. I would have preferred to keep it orange but can understand the client's desire to have Kuwaiti's colors represented.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the greatest challenge of the illustration was to design it so it would work 'as is' or with an optional portrait added, allowing a veteran who buys it to personalize it. Did I succeed? I still don't really know. I'm happy enough with it. I think it looks really cool with the portrait added but I like seeing the American flag when it's absent. Whatever the case, it is what it is. I'm really proud of the finished product and happy beyond belief to be done with it, hahaha. For the record, the optional portrait is not my art. It is to be done (or has been done in this case) by someone else.
Now back to comics...