Friday, August 31, 2012

Boston 2012 Commissions — Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom. 2012. Watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

This week marked Jack Kirby's 95th birthday, so I thought I'd share a few Kirby-inspired portraits. The Hulk was for the Hero Initiative's Wake Up and Draw event (I'll announce it on my blog when it's available for auction). I'll be teaming with them again for the The Walking Dead 100 Covers Project. Time to get my zombie on.

September starts tomorrow, which means the Baltimore Comic Con is just one week away. Time to prepare. In the meantime, have a great weekend and watch out for cosmic rays.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 190

Mythos: Captain America, Page 2. 2007. Acyla Gouache on bristol board, 11 x 17".
Original Art

The railing for this stoop is based on the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which was a major source of reference for Cap's origin story. You can see more reference for this page (and process pics) here and here.

We're just 10 weeks away from Wacky Reference Wednesday No. 200, so be sure to get your entries in for the contest.

Mythos: Captain America. 2008. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 11 × 17″.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Museum Reitberg Sketches

I had the chance to sketch quite a bit while I was in Zurich. These are some ink drawings I did while visiting Museum Reitberg, a 15-minute walk from my hotel. I started with my trusty pencil, but quickly got bored, so I switched to a Pentel brush pen I picked up recently. (The label says it's gray ink, but even when watered down, it still looks fairly black).

Masks. 2012. Ink and pencil on paper, 10.5 × 8.25″.

Masks are one of my favorite things to draw in museums; they provide the rendering challenge of any 3D object while adding an exaggerated personality to every mark. They're also a great source of inspiration when designing your own characters. I plan on stealing as much as I can from these.

Masks. 2012. Ink on paper, 10.5 × 8.25″.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Amazing Spider-Man #698 Cover

Amazing Spider-Man #698. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Gross! I've been drawing a lot of Doc Ock lately, so you can expect at least 3 tentacle-laden covers from me in the coming months. Otherwise, I've been keeping very busy with a lot of covers, Baltimore commissions, writing my sci-fi story, and putting my perspective grid together for wide release (though I still won't venture to say when that will be done).

I'll leave you with some old Doc Ock character studies for the Ultimate Spider-Man TV show. Have a swell weekend!

Doc Ock. 2010. Pencil on bristol board, 11 × 17″. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 189

Daredevil #10, Page 15. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Aside from the usual wacky photo reference, this page benefitted from my Sculptris maquette of the Mole Man. I started doing all my layouts digitally this year, so it wasn't a huge leap to just copy and paste my maquettes right into the page. I draw most of my layouts in "airbrush" to keep things from getting too tight or detailed before I print it out in blue-line and pencil over it. With faces, however, I'll take all the detail I can get.

Just a reminder: the Wacky Reference Wednesday No. 200 contest deadline is only 2 months away. I'm looking forward to seeing your entries.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Painting Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider Studies. 2006. Acryla Gouache  on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors—An Illustration Collective.

After painting Mythos: Hulk completely in grayscale, I felt the urge to return to color for my next project, Mythos: Ghost Rider. I had gotten fairly comfortable with Acryla Gouache on board, so when I saw the full-spectrum set of 12 colors at Pearl Paint in Chinatown, I couldn't resist. You've all had that feeling: if you just got this set of paints, or that brush, your mad skills will have the chance to truly shine.

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 23. 2006. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

For once, it was sort of true. My approach to oil was mostly opaque, meaning that nearly every color that appeared in the final painting had to be painstakingly mixed prior to application. Working semi-transparently meant I had more freedom to modulate color on the fly, adding more or less water to achieve a wide array of value and saturation with just one pigment. Because this sped up the process, my mark-making become a little more natural and confident.

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 21. 2006. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

I struck gold once again, this time at the Dick Blick in SoHo. The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette had always called to me from the aisles, but I finally had a good excuse to give it a try now that I was a dedicated acrylic painter (Acryla Gouache is an acrylic that dries to a matte finish). I now own 3 of the palettes, one of each size. The key to the system is a wet sponge that rests below a sheet of semi-permeable paper. This, coupled with the lid, can keep paint fresh for days, even weeks. I had long ago rigged a somewhat similar contraption that involved wet paper towels and a Ziploc bag, but having a mixing surface that stands up to a palette knife makes all the difference.


But aside from the shift in accessories, I had undergone a mental shift as well. By this time, I had built up a side gig doing watercolor commissions at comic conventions. This side-income had the side-benefit of reintroducing me to transparent color mixing. At this stage in my career as a comic book painter, one of my primary concerns was how to distinguish myself from Alex Ross, who was (and is) a huge influence on me. You've probably heard of him. He works in watercolor and gouache, laying transparent color over a monochromatic underpainting. I get this process — it's how my brain first learned (circa high school) to achieve the desired results.

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 4. 2006. Gouache and acrylic on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

Now that I wasn't worried about aping his style, I felt free to employ his transparent layering process, adding opaque notes where I saw fit. As time went on, my paint application would become increasingly transparent, especially as, years later, I moved on to traditional gouache with just hints of watercolor and acrylic. Having used all 3 media extensively, I'm familiar with the strengths of each, and use them accordingly, sometimes mixing them on the palette as well as the painting.

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 4. 2006. Acryla Gouache on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

That being said, Acryla Gouache has a couple of unique advantages. It's particularly well-suited for complicated subjects, such as architectural details and cluttered spaces. It has great covering power and, when dry, can even be glazed. For the same reasons, it's great for lettering and graphic elements, an essential component to any comic. I've never lettered any of my own work, but I've always tried to do my own sound effects. (I even use it as white out for my inked work.)

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 1. 2006. Acryla Gouache on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

As always, my creative approach is a very structured process that involves a gradual refining of ideas and subject. This is the result of years of deadlines, coupled with editorial review, but it works well and I haven't found a better way of gettings things done in a timely manner. Since I can paint directly over the white surface of my drawing, no transferring or projection is required.

Paints and Pencils

I prefer to leave the underlying drawing unfixed so that paint can seep into the bristol board and take hold. One of the reasons I eventually switched to straight gouache (as opposed to Acryla Gouache) was because the acrylic seals the paper after several passes, even when watered down. I prefer to have the surface act as a sponge, soaking up each stroke as it's applied. This has resulted in many of my originals being mistaken as prints.

Digital Color Study and Pencil Layout

This particular scene is based on a famous biker bar in Daytona Beach called the Boot Hill Saloon. That's my Dad at the bar, always willing to help me with research. The bras hanging from the ceiling were also inspired by reality. You can't really tell here, but the floor is covered in peanut shells.

Mythos: Ghost Rider, Page 5. 2006. Acryla Gouache on bristol board, 8.5 × 12″.

In addition to reference photos, I also made 3 maquettes for the main characters (they're a fantastic way to procrastinate while still getting something done). For Ghost Rider, I even made a little hinge for the jaw to move. I still make maquettes for myself, but now they're mostly digital. If there's one piece of advice I have for aspiring comic book artists, it's that you must sculpt. There's no faster way to learn anatomy.

There's plenty more Ghost Rider at my blog:
Videos of me painting page 10
Page 5 Step-by-Step Cover Step-by-Step 
Skull Maquette
Roxanne Maquette
Johnny Blaze Maquette

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Daredevil #20 Cover

Here's the latest Daredevil cover, the 3rd of 4 in the "Coyote" arc. This one took the longest, but that's what happens when you've got a lot of little details. Most of the weapons and ammo were based on my personal arsenal, albeit at 1:6 scale. Despite not having any architecture or background, I still used a perspective grid to keep all the elements aligned. I'll go into further detail when the issue hits stands.

Speaking of which, be sure to check out Mike and Laura Allred's Daredevil #17. They're a power couple if I've ever seen one, and the issue is not to be missed. I know this is old news, but Mark Waid continues to impress.

In other news, I've got a very (very) brief interview at One Two One Two Microphone Check that discusses deep issues that affect the entire world.

For those of you interested in the original artwork to Daredevil #20, please contact Mark Hay at Splash Page Comic Art. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 188

Daredevil #10, Page 3. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera)
with digital color (by Javier Rodriguez) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Inks and Blue-Line Print

Pencils and Digital Layout

Baltimore and Thought Bubble

Mary Jane Watson. 2012. Watercolor on paper, 9 × 12″.

My Dad and I will be making our first ever appearance at the Baltimore Comic-Con next month. Because the show is just 2 days, September 8-9, I will be accepting commissions ahead of time via email: This is on a first-come, first-served basis, so an email does not guarantee a spot, but I'll get as many done as I possibly can. If this works well, I may use this system again in the future. For prices and options, please read my commissions policy.

In November, I will be heading to Leeds for the Thought Bubble Festival. To get on that commissions list, email me at and I'll give you the full details. If accepted, you must pay in advance via Paypal. Thanks!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Joe Kubert (1926-2012)

The man could draw the way some people can talk—without effort, with no hesitations, pauses, or filler. Couple that with a lifetime of masterpieces, goodwill, and teaching and you have the makings of a legend.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wacky Reference Wednesday, No. 187

Daredevil #10, Page 4. 2012. Ink(ed by Joe Rivera) on Marvel board, 11 × 17.25″.

Sometimes you have to make your own reference. The Mole Man's throne room had to serve as a setting for at least 2 scenes, including a drawn-out staff fight, so everything had to make some sort of sense. In order to organize the props and general action, I drew a rough plan of the room in Photoshop.

I did, of course, have other reference to help me with the interior design, namely Orientalist paintings of Harems. My Dad, who inked this page, later told me that while watching Hellboy II: The Golden Army on TV, he recognized many similar elements in one of the fight scenes. While I had seen the movie, that certainly didn't cross my mind, but I wouldn't be surprised if the concept artists were looking at the same source material as I was.

This is Auto-Paolo blogging from the past. I should be back to posting on Monday.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Painting the Hulk

Mythos: Hulk Cover. 2005. Oil on masonite, 16 × 24″.

This is a cross-post with Muddy Colors—An Illustration Collective.

After painting the X-Men, my next challenge was Mythos: Hulk, a rage-filed retelling of the Jade Giant's origin, written by Paul Jenkins and updated for modern audiences. I began much the same way, painting the cover in oil, and taking it one page at a time. At some point while I was glazing the first page — I remember I was listening to David McCoullough's 1776 — I had had just about enough. Excited as I was to have my dream job, it was simply taking too much time. I knew something had to give. Joe Quesada, then editor-in-chief of Marvel, had recommended going all-digital as means of speeding up, so I gave it a shot. I scanned my pencils and painted over them in Photoshop using my Wacom tablet (with some experimentation in Painter as well). While the results were passable, I didn't care for the style. More importantly, I didn't feel as though I saved any time.

Mythos: Hulk Studies. 2006. Acryla Gouache on bristol board, 8 × 10″.

Eventually, I settled on painting in grayscale with Acryla Gouache, an acrylic with a matte finish, and adding color digitally in Photoshop. The results were close enough in style to my oil work, but the added bonus was how easily I could scan the pages which, at 8 × 12″, were small enough to fit on my letter-sized scanner. (I have since upgraded.) That meant no more stitching together scans, and because of the matte finish, no more glare to contend with. Having only 2 colors to choose from — and less surface area to cover — the issue took me less than 6 months, as opposed to the 10 that X-Men required.

Published page 1 vs. Digitally Painted Experiment

In the end, I painted the first page 3 times in 3 different media: oil, digital, and grayscale acrylic. Aside from those experiments, the basic process was the same for me, starting each page with a pencil layout, followed by a digital color study, and then a more refined pencil drawing. (Later pages included a grayscale study as well.)

Pencil on paper, 4 × 6″, and the overlaying digital color study

Since I was using acrylic, I could paint directly on the bristol board, eliminating the need to transfer my drawing. I've been using the same surface since: Strathmore 500 series, vellum, 3-ply. I purchase large sheets and cut them down, though I've since gotten away with the semi-smooth, pre-cut 2-ply for commissions.

Pencil on bristol board, 8 × 12″, followed by Acryla Gouache

As for the digital color component, the technique changed from page to page, but the basic approach was to use the grayscale painting as the background, covering it with a layer set to "Color" mode. This meant that any color applied to this layer would adjust the hue and saturation without modifying the underlying value (or brightness, in other words). Now that process wasn't always easy. Some colors — red is a good example — can appear much brighter if the saturation is high. That being the case, my grayscale base layer often had to be adjusted in order to achieve the desired result. Each panel required a separate "curves" layer to bring everything together.

1. Grayscale Painting  2. Published Panel  3. Isolated Color Layer

If you look at the color layer above on the right, you'll see various stray marks across the panel. (Here's a better look at that panel, along with some sky/cloud reference.) Since the value is determined by the underlying layer, those marks had no influence, so long as the hue and saturation were the same.  At first, I colored very loosely, filling in details as I saw fit. As time went on, however, I began to select my actual paint strokes from the background layer, using that as a mask with which to paint. My hope was to create a more natural feel, as if each stroke was individually mixed and applied.

Of course, if I went to that much trouble, why didn't I just paint in color? Ultimately, that's exactly what I did, which you'll see in my next post on Mythos: Ghost Rider. In the meantime, you can see more Hulk work on my blog, including sketches, another step-by-step page, and even some wacky reference. There is also a gallery of pages from the issue at Splash Page Comic Art. I should be in Zurich for the next week, but I'll be happy to answer any questions upon my return.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Another Vacation?

Society of Illustrators: Sketch Night. 2012.
Pencil and watercolor on paper, 10.5 × 8.5″

So I'm leaving again next week, this time to Zurich. This will be my second trip to Europe, so I'm pretty excited . I've never been to Switzerland before, but I did a report on it in 6th grade, so I think I'm pretty much set. Do I have any fans in Zurich? They speak English there, right? I'll still have a Muddy Colors post on Monday, and a new Wacky Reference Wednesday, of course, but otherwise I'll be incommunicado. Have a great week!