Friday, August 01, 2014

Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug Spread Progress

After many months of anticipation, the time has finally come when I can show you guys the process work for my spread in Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug, published by Perfect Square!  I've been sitting on these photos since December, eagerly awaiting when I could share them with you guys.

The Bravest Warriors spread was a HUGE opportunity for me to really break away from my comfort zone while still working in watercolor.  When I was approached with this project, I knew I wanted to do something cute and brightly colored, rather than rely on the subdued hues I use in 7" Kara.


I knew from the get-go that I wanted my spread to involve candy and sweets if possible.  Bravest Warriors, the animated series, features bright, bold colors with a distinctive art style, and this was something I wanted to carry into the spread as well.  Bold, bright, and intense colors can sometimes be difficult to achieve with traditional pigmented watercolors, so I knew I'd be integrating dye based liquid watercolors as well.  

The first thing I needed for this project was a concept, and I made lists of possible ideas that all involved candy in some form.  My favorite was a giant picnic planet inhabited by friendly ants and bees- it offered cute storytelling opportunities without becoming too saccharine.

After I decided on a basic concept, it was time to knock out some thumbnails.


I noodled around with a few different compositions and layouts, trying to find something that felt like it'd fit the needs of the book.  I ended up ordering a couple used Where's Waldo and I Spy books off Amazon for reference and inspiration, and decided I wanted the spread to be pulled out and very visually stimulating, with lots to look at.  I knew that adding more detail would make it harder for the reader to find Catbug, but still keep the reader's interest.
Even when I knew what I wanted for a basic layout, it still took some doodling and noodling around to really land on something that worked for me.

When I felt like I had a decent concept, I made a thumbnail template layout sheet, and produced a clean thumbnail to send to the editor in charge of the project, Joel Enos.

Once this thumbnail was approved, I blew it up to fit 2 sheets of 8.5X11 paper, and printed the bluelines.

Even in this tight thumbnail, you can see I had several 'zones'.  The foreground, which had a cupcake village next to ants sharing a picnic blanket.  Slightly past that was the hot chocolate river with a candy bridge, and a path flanked with gumdrops leads to the gelatin 'city.  In the background, a forest of ice pops and a mountain of ice cream with a hot fudge waterfall into the cocoa river.  Further back, fluffy clouds of cotton candy pile up against an otherwise clear sky.

Rough Sketch

Of course, these bluelines had a LONG way to go- I needed to add in a lot more action and storytelling.  Being primarily a comics storyteller, I found this an interesting challenge.  A Seek and Find is meant to deceive the eye away from the central character (the one you're trying to find), and to do that, I needed to have many focal points on the page, rather than just one.  To do this, I opted to tell several mini stories throughout the page, using the Bravest Warriors characters and the ants as actors.

At this stage, I added in a LOT of detail and tightened up the looseness of the thumbnail.

The finished and scanned rough.  This was emailed to Joel for approval before starting the next step- pencils on watercolor paper.

Pencils on Watercolor Paper

One of my favorite steps, since all the hard work is done!  When I do watercolors, the tight pencils are my equivalent of inks.  This is my opportunity to push lineweights a little bit, fill in areas of black, and generally tighten up the sketch into something that approaches the finished product.

This spread was done on Canson Montval paper, the same paper I use when working on 7" Kara.  This paper is cold pressed, and 140lb, so while I probably don't HAVE to stretch it, I still do.  Since the pad is tape bound on one end, I can easily remove sheets and run them through my printer.  Once I stretch the paper, those bluelines wash away, since my inkjet isn't waterproof.  I used H lead in a .7 mechanical pencil, my go to for pencilling watercolors.

Although its not shown, I rest my hand on a sheet of paper on top of the pencils to prevent smearing the graphite or getting excess oils onto the paper.

Stretching The Spread

My Bravest Warriors progress was interrupted by a (very much planned) trip back to Louisiana to see my family.  I did my pencilling in Nashville, then packed everything I'd need and flew back to La.  Something I didn't count on was how awful the lighting at my mom's house was- I've gotten used to working under natural light lamps in my studio.  This made color selection a bit more difficult, which was compounded by the fact that I wanted to use concentrated liquid watercolors for this piece- synthetic dyes that react differently than the natural pigments I'm used to.

Applying Watercolor

My painting conditions while in Luling were much different from those in Nashville.  For awhile, I worked on the floor, but since my mom has wood floors and I have carpet, this was killer on my back.  I also wanted to make sure my palette stayed consistent, so I ended up buying little sealable containers for my paint mixtures rather than using a palette.  It took me awhile to find a painting groove, but once my mom volunteered her kitchen table as my permanent (while there) work station, it was a lot easier to get work done.

When working on watercolor spreads, I try to have the two halves of the spread as close as possible on the stretcher board.  Since doing this spread, I've switched to stretching my watercolors on gatorboard (a corrugated plastic board that political signs are often printed on) which is lighter, cheaper, and produces better results, but for this spread, I ended up borrowing my younger brother Devin's large drawing board.

Since I was working outside my narrow Kara comfortzone, I applied initial washes to everything to get an idea of the actual working palette.

Finally, a shot of my workspace!  Personally, I'm not really hot on using little sealable containers for watercolors in general, but it really saved my bacon on this project.

And a shot of the spread after I started layering washes.

As you can see, I really use my stretching tape as a sub palette and swatch area.  It's pretty handy, as long as you don't run your hand in wet paint.

Finally reached a point where I could utilize my regular palettes.  The concentrated watercolors were really troublesome- they gave me hues I couldn't otherwise achieve, but were so fugitive!  I couldn't apply layered washes, because it'd reactivate the original color, making the wash muddy.

Removing The Spread from the Stretcher Board

Doing the translucent stuff was a lot of fun!  I used concentrated watercolors for the gelatin city in the background and regular watercolors for the food cube igloo.

Applying Pencil Color Accents

Final Assembled Watercolor 

After I finished applying pencil color and watercolor pencil details, I needed to scan this piece.  Scanning watercolors can be challenging, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I honed while working on 7" Kara.  One of my little tricks is to scan with a decent scanner- I used a Canoscan 8800 F, and scanned each page in two parts.  I then used Photoshop's photomerge to stitch the two halves of each page together, and manually stitched the spread together utilizing the clone tool to erase the dividing line between the two halves of the spread.

Before Fixing

After Fixing

If you guys enjoyed this post, and want to see more, you should definitely consider buying a copy of Bravest Warriors: The Search for Catbug yourself!  It was announced at SDCC, and it's a beautiful, full color, large format hardbound book.  You can request it at your favorite bookstore, or order it online through Amazon.  It's full of beautiful spreads and fantastic artists, although I'm a little pleased to be the only watercolor artist in there.

Working on this project was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work on a professionally published property, especially one that's so cute. I watched a LOT of Bravest Warriors on Cartoon Hangover while working on various stages of this spread, and I highly recommend this web series/comic series (KaBoom! produces it) to anyone who enjoys shows like Adventure Time, or remembers Cartoon Network's Cartoon Cartoon lineup fondly.  I hope in the future I'll get to do more work like this!

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