Art Director Andrew Nilsen, of the SF Weekly, called with a dark and gritty assignment to illustrate a story about the ultra-violent, MS-13 gang, by Lauren Smiley. These true, noir stories are just the kind of thing I love to draw. As a kicker, the Art Director asked to film the entire process in my art studio/man cave.
Here is how the whole thing when down, in 10 (hard to follow) steps.
Step 1. Read the article while drinking coffee.
Step 2: Think about it.
Step 3: Draw a bunch of little squares in your sketchbook and fill them in with your ideas.
|sketch 1 front view|
|sketch 2 back view|
Step 6: The Art Director notices some good detail in the thumbnails that helps advance the story of the illustration, he asks to see this thumbnail worked up.
|sketch 3 gang sign and cuffs|
Sometime during the development of this drawing, I began to think I needed a tighter tie-in between the gang rat and the FBI. Something that denoted manipulation or control. The FBI logos on his shoulders were nice, but the piece needed more. That's when I added the FBI ear tag - like the kind researchers staple to their test subjects in the wild. That little detail added the extra layer of information that turned this from a drawing into a cover illustration.
If you look closely in the video, you'll see how an old school illustrator uses "cut and paste".
|cut and paste the old school way|
|The finished drawing by Graham Smith|
Above is the finished drawing. Normally, I would take this drawing, slap it on the light box and begin re-drawing the whole thing in ink to create the final product. This illustration however, called out for a gritty, grimy, raw treatment - so the pencil drawing itself was used directly on the cover.
Step 9: Get the drawing into the computer. Too big to scan, I photographed the drawing using a 50mm lens, f 11, at 1/4 second, with 600 watts of light in RAW format. I even used a tripod and remote shutter release.
Step 10: Experiment, add texture layers, resize and add color in Photoshop.
|Work in Progess: MS-13 Rat's Life. Graham Smith|
Always print the illustration at full size to check the color and readability. Here's the print proof next to the original drawing and the finished, uncropped illustration below.
|MS -13 "Rat's Life" illustration for SF Weekly: Graham Smith|
|Art Direction/Cover design: Andrew Nilsen. Illustration: Graham Smith|
Here's the old school tools I use to make the illustrations:
Generals 6B graphite stick - fill big areas quickly. Primsacolor Ebony pencil jet black, extra smooth - draw smaller detail with rich black. Dixon Ticonderoga, soft pencil - for drawing detail and building gradients. Mars Steadtler plastic eraser - for wholesale erasing. Tuff Stick eraser - for precision erasing. Kneaded eraser - for lifting graphite in a more delicate manner. Pencil sharpener - get a new one more often than you think. India ink, waterproof - draw and make textured backgounds. Big paint brush - for splattering paint like a wild man. Small round brush - must have rolled away while I was taking a photo!