Johnny Saturn Cover Production Part 3

by Scott Story

Hello! My name is Scott Story, and I’m an author and artist from the Midwest. I’m probably best known as the artist and co-writer of Johnny Saturn, but you might have seen my work in any number of indie comics over the years. In this installment, I am continuing my demonstration for how I created the cover for my third graphic novel, Johnny Saturn: Intelligent Redesign.

Cover Production III


There are lots of different ways to render digital art, and I’ve tried and used them all over time. It’s the nature of the medium to encourage experimentation, after all. For this piece, I worked dark to light. On each section I would lasso the area I wanted to light, and use the airbrush to spray into the middle or end of the “cut,” the end closer to the light source. This is a variation of the old “cut and grad” style of coloring.

Obligatory Note: I’m going to summarize what I do, because this isn’t the place for a full-on cut-and-grad demonstration. I wouldn’t mind doing one, but there are fellow creators out there who are far more accomplished at it than I am. I’ve colored well over a thousand pages for myself and for others in my career, but I still consider myself sort of a generalist when it comes to coloring.

As a general guideline, I would make one airbrush pass per selection, and I would make a point of letting the highlight gradate into the relative darkness of the color beneath it. My airbrush was set on the same color of the area I was rendering, and set at 30%. The highlights had their own layer set on “Dodge” mode, and the shadows had their own layer with mode set on “Color Burn.” I used separate layers so I could backtrack if things went wrong with the rendering. Once I was pleased with the result, I merged the flat layer, the color dodge layer, and the color burn layer into single layer. I kept an unmodified copy of my flat layer hand, in case I wanted to use it for further selections.

For strong highlights, I made a new layer, cut and grad styled my bright highlights with %50 gray, then turned that layer into a selection. On the the render layer we made previously, I used the selection and then toggled the brightness/contrast way up. This resulted in some very satisfying gleams.

I used the same method for the deep shadows, with the cut and grad grays, making layer into a selection, and following up brightness/contrast manipulation.

Compositing I

This is the stage where everything comes together! There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll break compositing into two parts.

This is where I combined all three characters into a single, cohesive, overlapped image, but not yet. First I had to finish each individual drawing. I haven’t added a background yet, either, but that’s coming! I know all these steps and stages seem pretty overwhelming, as if we are trying to assemble a huge puzzle, but that’s life as a digital artist and illustrator. I have no doubt that once you dig in and learn all this stuff, you’ll develop your own process as you figure out what does and does not work for you.

Color Holds are the areas where you want to change black lines into colored ones. This technique also gets called “knockouts.” You may even want to colorize all the ink on your pictures, but that’s not what we are going for here. You will see this technique most often used on skin, where the outline and interior details of faces are colored a darker version of the rendered art. For skin, this is usually some level of brown. It adds bit of warmth and life to your characters. Lips and eyes also really benefit from this technique.

In Clip Studio, the way to do this is put a new layer above your ink layer, “refer” the new layer to the lower one, and then color directly over you line art. The black art below is not damaged, merely covered. It is worth noting that to separate the black from the white art on the ink layer, you may need to get rid of the all white. In Clip Studio, that’s as simple as using the “Turn Brightness to Opacity” tool, a one-click solution for a lot of issues.

Textures are a great addition to your art. Pen and ink artists know it, as do 3D artists. You can render up a storm, and paint your own textures, sure, and I’ve taken that approach many times. I was on a schedule, however, so I decided that applying textures digitally was a better use of my time.

I laid my texture layers over top of the rendering layer, but under the inks. I used the flat layer I had saved to make an exact selection of the area that was getting textured, and used that selection to erase any texture that went outside the bounds of the area I was working on. Then, I turned the to texture layer mode to “overlay,” and turned that layer’s opacity down to %70. Voila! The image was beginning to look quite realistic!

You might wonder where to find textures, and which ones to use on your art. You can do a Google search, for example, and screen capture textures you need, but that falls into an ethically gray area and could be considered theft. What I do is use my camera phone and collect textures. I find them everywhere! At the Indiana State Museum, in the yard, in the dust on the mirror at a nearby store, everywhere! If I need tumbled rocks, or the patina of stained copper, or patches of rust, or grunge or grime, I have pictures that I have taken and collected for just these purposes. To date I’m the only person I know who collects textures, but I’m sure there must be more out there.

Next Time–Compositing II, Special Effects

Scott Story

Scott describes himself as an author, artist, medievalist, mentor, musician, publisher, introvert, and historian, not necessarily in that order. So far he has published dozens of comics, multiple graphic novels, and prose novels, and he has contributed art to scores of comic publishers and and multiple prose anthologies.