Choose Your Weapon Album Art

I’ve been waiting for a while now to share this with you, and since the producer has released the art I can show it now.  This was a great project to work on and it will be printed on limited edition 7″ vinyl no less! I was given the lyrics of the song and came up with some characters and symbolism.  There will also be art to see for the back sleeve and the inside vinyl label itself but those are yet to be released.  Here you can find DeFacto Entertainment and Raw Product.  Below is the final front cover and some work in progress, making of’s so you can see how the layout, the sketch and ink process.

6 Things to learn from the Book Proof

   The proof print for “The Island and the Plough” has officially arrived!  I must say, it is very exciting to see it in physical print.  Regardless of my thoughts on ebooks, and digital media, there is something really great about a book.  I am still sorting the official business with copyrights, and the ISBN registry, which will allow some time for the printers of the final version but it is so good to see this in near finished form.  I want to thank everyone who helped me along the way and have been so patient as well as those who follow and support the entire process.  I can’t wait for this to be a completed project, and then start the next!

  Here are six preview images of the book proof. I tried to choose six images that sort of represent something we can learn from this entire process.

1: First Impressions Are Important

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The front cover of “The Island and the Plough”:

First impressions certainly aren’t the be-all-end-all, but despite the old saying to not judge a book by its cover, people do.  I know I do, but more importantly than judging it is calling attention to and grabbing the eye.  Something catchy, simple, and strong is often a great idea for the front, cover, or introduction of any project. A book calls you by its cover.

2: Dot your Is and cross your Ts.

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Inner cover pages of “The Island and the Plough”:

The “legal/acknowledgments” section of any project is of the utmost importance.  Noting your sources and identifying yourself is crucial, even on a single image.  There is nothing I hate more than finding a great image or illustration on the web but there is no identifier as to where it came from, so I can never find more of that goodness!  Thank Google for the reverse image look up. Don’t forget to acknowledge those that may have helped. Be gracious, thank those that have honestly helped you, because no project is done alone (even those that physically are done alone, mental, emotional and inspiration support comes from everywhere).

3. Set yourself some rules.

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The children play but Papa warns them of the great white sea in “The Island and the Plough”

Like Papa warning the children of rules of the island, be sure to set yourself some basic ground rules.  Projects very easily get out of hand, grow larger than expected and veer off into unexpected territories.  Be clear with yourself about goals and expectations.  Most importantly make sure your project is manageable!  It is much easier to grow any project than to trim back an unwieldy beast.

4. Know your strengths and embrace weaknesses.

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Papa throws an apple down to Eli in “The Island and the Plough”

Papa has the wonderful idea to throw apples from the tree down to his son Eli who catches them.  This works well until he throws an apple too far, setting forth the entire story.  Know where your strengths will take you and what weaknesses you have that might hold you back.  Focus your strengths to really drive the project and carry the bulk of the work. You may even tailor a project (Like this project I focused on constrast with black and white) to your specific strengths. Work with weaknesses, not against them. Composition, for me, is tricky. To be frank, the children’s books out there have little of it (mostly just an image with text below); finding reference or examples was quite difficult. I needed to be creative and make composition a focus but not let it hold me back as I wanted a very graphic style and include dense typography to help tell the story.

5. Be willing to accept non-perfection.

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Mama consoles Papa in “The Island and the Plough”

There are many things, even in this final piece or a feature film I may have worked on of which I still want to change. The viewer almost never notices them, so learn when good is good for the sake of the project, time line, goals, and just over all sanity, to not obsess. Like Papa needing consolation from Mama, don’t be afraid to ask for help, critiques and comments. You are your own worst critic, so fresh eyes that aren’t directly attached to the project are best, but try to make it someone who will be constructive and give reasons to what they think rather than claiming something is not working.  Surely, too many comments can lead to a mess, but none is far more dangerous. I suggest getting feedback early on in the process, then work on it a bit for yourself, and then comments near the end (but not so far to the end you can’t take them into account). Try to ask someone other than your mother.

6. Just do what you want.

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The reverse/back cover of “The Island and the Plough”


Some of my story ideas are certainly a little “off the beaten path.”  An editor I once talked to said my work is wonderfully unique, but impossible to categorize (and therefore, market).  I was unsure if I should take that as a compliment or a critique. It may be true, and I might possibly only live in a niche market, but that is all I know; do what you know.  I write about what I think about, and things I would enjoy to read or illustrate.  Perhaps, this story is a little heavy for children and I wouldn’t even dare to call this book for children, rather an story for those who also like illustrations. If something is deemed “unmarketable,” I always go back to the fact that someone marketed and sells (a lot, mind you) rubber dog poop and plastic vomit.  Anything is marketable.

Tommy “Buttface” Jones : Process

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Here is a sneak peek into the process behind one of The Daily Mobster characters and a quick tutorial/explanation of how I work and how to design a character.

1. I, of course, start with a sketch which are usually smaller thumbnails on a scrap paper until I find an acceptable shape and basic look.  Because of the nature of mobster characters this often revolves around exaggerated features or an interesting shape.  This rule works pretty well for non mobsters as well.  If you can create a silhouette or a shape that is instantly recognizable to that character you are already on our way to great design.

2. Then I do the light  sketch with all the details fleshed out; this allows me to give a little extra focus to certain areas like hands, belts, buttons, or others that need extra attention. This is also the step where you can focus on contrast, as it is the first thing the human eye notices, it is important to decide where heavy blocks of color/black will be and where dense detail will be.  A general rule of thumb, when certain areas are very large in area (such as a belly or a chin) give them less detail as their size will attract attention, and when they are smaller or require extra focus fill in the detail (faces, hands, accessories of interest).   Use the lines and shapes to help direct attention as well, notice the tie points to the chin and continues the crevasse in his chin.

3. Then I simply start inking over the pencil.  Sometimes I ink over the entire drawing with a single width then fill the blacks and weight the lines afterwards and other times I do the complete process little chunks at a time (as seen here) moving across the drawing.  The contrast between full black, white with hatching/textures, and full white is very important in a black and white illustration; luckily suits play a big part in the mobster world.  If the background is dark, realize that a heavy black suit will act as a subtle part of the character and his face will stand out.  If the character has dark skin, often you want to put him in lighter color costumes, unless his environment will be mostly light.   I usually try to balance out the black and the white to create a focal points.

4.  Once completed, I erase the pencil lines that poke out.

5.  The final step is to bring the scan into the computer.  Since the original ink is fairly clean there isn’t really any digital treatment of the character itself other than to overlay it on one of my backgrounds and apply some simple shadowing/lighting effects behind him.  I hand draw the background designs as well (I may post a tutorial about how to make repeating wallpapers from drawings like this) in line format, then scan them in, convert them to white and overlay them on grey repeatedly.  Tommy will be posted on Thursday, so be sure to check out The Daily Mobster and read his story.

40 Mobsters for The Daily Mobster

Who knew I could make it this far with just a silly mobster theme?  I have to admit that I worried, I cried, I even confessed to “Mad Ma” Johnson that early on,  I would run out of ideas and she might have to break my knuckles.  But, I am quickly finding out that just about anything can be turned into a goofy character; I mean, there is a character based entirely off of neckties, and looks like a necktie!   The Daily Mobster has just reached 40 mobsters and is quickly nearly the 50 mark!  I have a special announcement to make when we reach 50 so make sure to stay tuned, and share with a friend.  New readers are always welcome and if you have ideas, thoughts or comments, share them!  Thank you all for the following and support.

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Finishing One and Starting Another

The Island and the Plough book page preview mockup layout design

While I sort out the ISBN registries for “The Island and the Plough”, and navigate the intricacies of publishing a picture heavy book to the many eBook formats that are out there, I am busily working on writing and roughing the designs for my next project which I will begin to post about very soon.   I am super excited about my next book, as the story is really getting to me.   Everything is falling together pretty well.  Interestingly, it certainly has, unintentionally, some of the same themes as “The Island and the Plough” but in a very different way.  I have a pretty strong outline completed, promising concept sketches, and a few ideas for page spreads that I think will look really great.    I have yet to find a title that suits it but I am sure that will come along in time, but for posting purposes I will refer to it as “Salvador.”

The basic concept is a story of a fishing boat captain and his young ship mate, Skip.  The two are amidst a sleepy fishing village perched at the rocky cliff’s edge where the land meets the ocean. Their ship is but a small, single sail boat that barely seats two, not to speak of nets full of fish.  The captain also has an old tugboat, in severe disrepair, that he wishes to fix up and use because it is larger and could get them to deeper waters and carry more fish.  The naysayer villagers laugh at his inability to catch fish as well as his dream of using the tugboat for fishing.  Whilst readying themselves to push out one morning, a very unlikely new friend washes ashore.  The story unravels into three parts as the Captain and Skip adventure out to include high sea sailing, wrangling/wrestling with nature, and a hunt for an unusual treasure which can only be had with the help of their newly found friend, all while the cynical villagers laugh from afar.

Until then, I leave you with this book page layout-mock up of “The Island and the Plough” until I bring more news of a release date.

The Daily Mobster Process : “Prepare”

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   Several have asked to see and learn more about the way I work and how I prepare for drawings;  I hope to post additional drawing processes in the future.  Here is an example from The Daily Mobster in which I prepare a concept which is usually a character name or an exaggerated feature I want to focus on and begin generating the look.  I can usually come up with a name, but I also wrote a little script that will generate random names and nicknames for me if I get stumped.  Some occasions produce the drawing first and the name afterward, but that is usually an exception.

   I begin with a flurry of rough shapes and mood arc lines; in this case the mood line was straight as this guy is pretty somber and straight-edged.  When dealing with exaggerated characters, especially ones that will only be seen in black and white and have no obvious color to define them from the others, shape is very important.  It is the second thing our eyes process after contrasts.  I play around, drawing and sketching various shapes, silhouettes and sizes until I find one that captures the personality and allows for the details I want to include.

   Once I choose a sketch concept that seems fitting, I may do a quick study of a specific spot or detail that needs further revision or attention.  In this case it was the hand holding the scissors.  Then I draw the to-scale underlining sketch.  I will ink directly on my sketch, so this is drawn very lightly and somewhat loose as I already have the thumbnail to guide me.  The first line of ink goes on, directly over the pencil, which defines all the major lines and I do the small detail accent lines with a different weight ink pen. Then I block in the blacks with a heavy pen or ink brush (if I am at work or traveling, ink brush is a little too messy).  After all the blacks are filled, then I do the line weighting and the line shading/hatching.  I prefer to control the line weight by simply inking in more lines next to the originals rather than using a brush pen with pressure or a heavier pen, which would be faster, but I feel I need more control over the exact thickness.  Finally I fill in the hatching for the fine details or denote key shadows that help to give depth or define shape.

   The last step is to do a quick composite on the official mobster background and paint in some shadows on the wall.  Preparation in any project is important.  Sure there have been several drawings that are really just sketches and turn out great, but as soon as something expands to more than that or has an ultimate goal preparation helps a lot, thumbs and rough ideas are always the way to go.

Linked to Illustration Friday’s “Prepare”