A sneak preview of my commercial work

I made a breakthrough in coloring on Friday. Mostly it amounted to a simple set of steps that I could repeat over and over to do the rich coloring Jean Elmore used to do for me (and which I miss quite a bit.) I’m not using that process on Schlock Mercenary yet, because it’s too time-consuming, but as I refine it and improve my technique, you can bet we’ll see some neat new coloring in the Sunday strips.

Content issues aside, what do you think?

(The entire strip, with dialog, will be publicly viewable in a week or so. It’ll also be crassly commercial, and loaded with marketing innuendo. From a guy who created a strip called “Schlock Mercenary,” you should expect no less.)

Tickled as I am with how purty it is, I know full well that as I work on this particular project, my coloring is only going to get better. It’s going to get good enough, fast enough, that I’m going to look back at this in March and see that EVERY SINGLE THING I LIKE about it is something I didn’t do very well. So for now I’m going to bask in its shininess.


16 thoughts on “A sneak preview of my commercial work”

  1. Overall it’s great!

    The best parts are the armbands, chest, gloves, and the face.

    Your weakest point is the abs/lower torso. It’s too dark to have the higlighting get that bright, imho, and doesn’t blend with the subtler shading/coloring you did on the rest of the piece.

    Also, you could have shaded down the whole right side of the little dude’s shirt to make it look less like he has a bad case of the sweats going on. Unless he’s supposed to.

    1. Yeah, he’s supposed to look sweaty and splotchy. He’s been hiding insided a “fat african woman” disguise.” I didn’t want to overdo it, though. Mostly I just wanted to make sure everything had a bit more volume to it than my artwork usually has.


      1. Y’know, inside every fat woman is a skinny male crook striving to get out.

        Seriously, though, I didn’t get the disguise thing at all. Would that be in the missing context?

    1. Lessee, the how-to:

      1) set up your layers for coloring: The top layer is lines only — all fill areas must be transparent. The middle layer is for highlights/shadows. The bottom layer is for flood fills. Tips for doing this can be found all over the web.
      2) Flood fill the bottom layer.
      3) “magic wand” or “select by color” an area you want to touch up. Select the “Highlights” layer.
      4) Use a very soft brush, (0% hardness) and apply lighter or darker shades of the existing flood fill in the places you think they need to go.

      The trick here is in step 4. Picking those shades, and finding the places to put them is something you’ll have to work and work and work at.

      The thing that helped me most was the discovery that I could paint very sloppily, and as long as the selection into which I was painting was restrictive enough, I couldn’t paint outside the lines.

      The highlight on the left armband (our left, not his) is a good example. I painted that white highlight clear out into bicep country, using broad strokes, but all that shows up is the paint that lands in the selected area.


      1. This is with Photoshop then?
        hm, I’ll have to adapt this for use with Painter. I’m a big fan of layers already, I’ll have to start using masks as well….

        Thanks Howard.

      2. I made similarly large steps in my coloring style when I discovered the ease of shading/highlighting inside selections. My problem tended to be getting a smooth-looking gradient across the color – I actually use the airbrush tool for that sometimes.

        At which resolution do you do the highlighting/etc? I have a habit of working at (perhaps overly) high resolutions, so the smooth gradient across the edge of a softened brush tends not to be enough…

        1. This particular image was scanned at 300dpi, and most of the painting I did was done at 50% reduction. I varied the size and opacity of the brushes quite a bit in order to get the right effects.

      3. More photoshop tips

        If you’re enjoying the fun of selections for “masking” where you highlight, you may also want to play with the “lock transparency” option for layers (it’s the little checkerboard near the top of the Layers palette, though I think it’s a fairly recent addition).

        Basically it just freezes the transparency levels of the layer, so you can change the color of anything that’s already drawn, but you can’t go over empty pixels (it also preserves partially-transparent pixels, so you don’t get any nasty aliasing).

        It may not fit in with your current technique, but it’s useful so I thought I’d mention it…

      4. Scott Kellogg has a method where he sets the highlights/shadow layer to a particular level of transparency, if I recall aright. The idea is to set it so that you don’t need to pick shadow OR highlight colors based on the underlying color. Instead, you use your brush on the middle layer, and it automatically darkens or lightens the image below based on the color of the lower image.

        I’ve never used the technique myself, but it sounded like a huge timesaver, especially for an online cartoonist. You might want to ask him about it.

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