Developing a piece of complex artwork, especially commisioned pieces, takes hours upon hours of careful work. Quite often the work is done in sections and layers, with feedback from editor or customer guiding the works progress.
The piece displayed here is pencil and ink done by our own Shane Hill who was kind enough to capture the development process…. a great learning tool for other budding artists.
Ken Haeser over at corpsecomic.com, co-creator of The Living Corpse asked if I would be interested in doing a pinup for his upcoming book. The only art direction I got from Ken was “Have fun, and put The Living Corpse in there somewhere.” With those rigid guidelines in place, I sat down and started sketching the one supernatural creature that I love even more than zombies… werewolves. What you see here is the first sketch I did and the one I eventually decided to use. The idea here is to just put the basic motion and shapes in there for me to draw over later. The Corpse is standing precariously on the edge of an open grave, which was later changed and the werewolf in the foreground is just a giant floating head.
Speaking of giant floating heads, I also did a concept sketch of my
version of The Living Corpse. Ken and Buz draw their character with a very cartoony dynamic, that I wanted to avoid in this piece. I have been doing very cartoony stuff for a few years now and really wanted a hardcore horror feeling in this pinup. I reduced the size of the bottom teeth and his giant bulging eye to more realistic proportions.
Seizing an opportunity I had Derek Whitson throw on my trench coat and hoodie to pose for a few reference photos. The difference in our general sizes made the trench and hoodie really loose on Derek, just as “found clothes” would fit on a decayed corpse. I used this reference mostly for lighting and wrinkling. Here I show a couple of the photos and the pencil sketch that I did using the reference. After I did the sketch I realized that the bent leg was too small and pushed too far in the background, and the front leg was waaaay too long… so I fixed them in Photoshop at the penciling stage.
After getting my sketch approved I went on a reference finding expedition; I Googled pinup girls in Safari. I wanted to get a classic looking damsel to put in distress, and I found this photo with similar outfit and basic position to what I wanted. My original sketch had the damsel hiding behind the Corpse when in all seriousness, she would probably be just as freaked out by him as the werewolves. I had to change the position of the arm in the foreground and slimmed her down a bit. During the sketching process I realized her head was too big, so I corrected that before tightening the pencils.
On my photo reference finding expedition I found this gem. I wanted the graveyard to have a really old feel to it…. in doing so I realized that the grave would probably not be open. I made the decision to have the Corpse standing on a pile of dirt covering up the grave (possibly after something had tried and failed to get out).
Found this painting of a werewolf and loved the look of it. I wanted my werewolves to have big heads and shaggy backs. I also really liked the bent legs in this photo, but was not completely sold on using that style myself.
I sketched out the werewolves 90% full. I wanted to do all the elements separate on this job, to allow me to go in to Photoshop and move around all the layers to come up with the ideal layout. I am probably my worst critic so this allows me to make multiple changes without ever affecting the other elements of the piece.
Here the Corpse and the Damsel are already on the final board. The rough sketch has been placed in the background for me to use as a road map. This first picture is actually the step before step #7; I roughly draw in the wolves right over my printed copy of the rough and then trace those to get step #7. Notice that I have actually cropped and placed the actual photo of that tombstone into the artwork as a place holder for the moment. Now I take the pencils from step #7 and place them on the digital artboard. I have also added a hand and arm to the foreground of the picture to eliminate the “floating head” I had in the sketch. The hand and arm also help to bring your eye back around to the Corpse and frames the terror on the Damsel’s face.
I sent a copy of the work in progress to my longtime artist friend Sung Kim for some honest criticism and advice. Sung calls me on the bullshit ways I try to cheat while doing my stuff. Being a great artist himself, he sees things that bother him and he suggests ways to fix them. What you are seeing here is Sung’s suggestions, digitally painted over my work. As you can see, I picked the second version to work with. The major changes involve the dog leg on the werewolf (that I originally liked in stage #6) and more importantly, he moved the hand and arm back to really have them draw the eye back to The Living Corpse. Great suggestions Sung, thanks.
It was at this point I found out that inker Jerry Lando was not going to be available due to other obligations. What you are seeing in the first image is exactly where I was at when I got that news. You can see that the background is not completely done and I have thrown in more photo reference (for the moon). I had penciled in a couple of headstones/tombstones. No sense in drawing something twice so I took the pencils and created a non-repro blue version. I blew this stuff up to 200% of the finished print size; I have not done any inking in years and this way I could ink bigger (thinking it wouldn’t demand as much control with my brush).
Here I am inking away on the werewolf and the Corpse. You can see off in the left hand corner, a bunch of weird ink dobs. This is me trying to get the right amount of ink on my brush, while at the same time trying to get the perfect point on a new Windsor Newton Sable #2… I HATE NEW BRUSHES!
During the inking stage the background headstone really started to bug me. First off, it was too obstructed and that made it hard to really make out what it was. Secondly, the more I looked at it the more it started looking like the top to a vinegar bottle from a restaurant and not something you would see in a graveyard… SO OUT IT GOES!
Here is the almost completed piece. I still had some work to do on the tree in the top left at this point. I have added a second headstone (behind the Damsel) because one headstone in a graveyard is just not enough. I added a third one up the hill in the background, but it competed with the foreground werewolf’s nose too much, so I took it out. The space behind the werewolf that had the “vinegar bottle” now seemed too empty and my fog effect looks too much like the texture of a really old vinyl record; I needed to put something in there to fill up space and help solidify the graveyard location because 2 headstones is not enough to sell the idea.
Back on Safari expedition in Google: I found this awesome looking Celtic cross tombstone… I figure that this would look great in the place of the “vinegar bottle tombstone” so I prepared an altered version of this.
I inked my Celtic cross tombstone sketch and scanned it in. I didn’t draw this out fully like I did with the other stuff because I knew at this point no other layers in the composition would be moving.
I placed the new tombstone into the piece just behind the werewolf which helped to create depth and reinforce the idea that they are in a graveyard. I also finished inking the tree and for kicks, left one leaf on an otherwise barren tree. I also added a separate layer with a rain effect on it. I supplied the colourist with photos of the type of moon and cloud cover I am looking for and what I am thinking the rain effect should look like. I put a name on the tombstone in the foreground as I felt it needed it to sell the idea that this was indeed somebody’s grave. Finally, I signed the job with my signature, which is supposed to be an S and an H, but really looks like 811. I also put a small note on the bottom saying “Thanks Joe!” as a small acknowledgement to my mentor Joe Kubert, who passed away 2 weeks before I finished this pinup. I have done work in comics before as a ghost artist, but I’ve never done anything that went to print that I got credit for… so… I wanted the first thing I got credit for to pass the credit along to the man that taught me soooo much.
Hope you enjoyed my long winded behind the scenes step-by-agonizing-step breakdown of my first Pinup. Thanks for checking it out and come visit us again in the future for more step-by-step breakdowns on upcoming comic book work in the near future!
Writer/Artist Undead State