Which of your series was the hardest to realize?
The Hobbit. My god, The Hobbit. I’m pretty sure I had to be talked out of jabbing myself in the eye with my stylus about a hundred times while doing those.
Why were they so difficult?
Because of the level of detail in their hairstyles and clothing, there were literally hundreds of individual layers and masks on a couple of them. Sourcing photos and textures was a challenge too. In most ways, digital is much more forgiving than paper, lots of undos and whatnot. But in one specific way, it’s much more of a challenge. It’s impossible to get one layer to go both over and under another. You can weave two pieces of paper through each other, but you have to fake it with digital. So a lot of the details on their clothes got very finicky.
Your textures are extremely varied. For Thorin, you have what looks like cloth and fur and geometric patterns.
I wanted to try to do the costumes justice. They’re so lavish.
They really are, but how do you start?
Generally, how I start is laying out one layer for each “part”, in flat solid colours. I draw them with a tablet, usually using the pen tool to get sharp curves and slices. So like, for Thorin as an example, the skin is one layer (I made these before I started consistently making the head and neck two separate layers.) Then there’s the under-shirt, then the solid grey over shirt, the leather bits, the decorative plate, the fur, the beard, the hair, the braids, and the little metal clip on the braid. Each one of those is an individual layer. Then I go in and tweak and adjust them, make sure they’re in the right order.
Do you always start with the head/neck?
Usually, yeah. Not for any specific reason, just habit I guess? It’s usually the best point of reference, since I want the heads to be close to the middle of the frame. Once I’ve got all the layers blocked out and drop-shadowed, that’s usually when I go hunting for textures. I’ve got huge stocks of high-resolution scans of things. Different types of paper, fabric, metal, etc. I used to try to only use paper, so like wrapping paper, Japanese washi, etc. But I figured I had the freedom to use other things, I may as well run with it. Like, Thorin’s hair is actually a photo of tortoiseshell. I play around with the textures, rotate and scale them and play with blending modes to see how they look best. luGher Texture, Free Stock Textures and Lost & Taken are a godsend.
Do you find that your process is becoming more complex over time? Or are you streamlining it?
Definitely streamlining it. I look back on the older ones and cringe a bit, seeing things I could have done more efficiently (and prettier) now. Maybe one day I’ll re-do some of the older ones. Probably not though.
So how long did the Hobbit series take?
Oh god, I’m not sure. I had to step away a lot. It took me about a month, possibly more? But I couldn’t tell you how many actual hours. So many damn dwarves… I mean, there weren’t really that many more than the Doctors, but there’s just a lot more detail, and I did them in a shorter clump.
Your Sailor Moon series feels similar in the level of detail.
It sort of was, but it also sort of wasn’t, because their uniforms are so… ahah… uniform. Once I had one done, doing the rest flowed pretty smoothly.
They have more of a cloth texture to them.
I used rag paper textures for a lot of them, so that’s likely why. I figured because they’re not “real”, I got away with pushing the envelope a little more. I wanted to reinforce them looking more cartoon-like.
Did you start with the intent to push the envelope or was it something that developed during the process of creation?
That one I actually intended. I knew the end results were going to look more uniform and formulaic than the ones based off real people, so I sort of ran with it. The texture opacities are higher, more dramatic in some cases, like the water marbled book end paper for Neptune’s hair. The tiaras are all actual gold leaf.
At what point do you decide on the background image?
I mean, in many ways that has a huge effect on the piece. Usually that’s one of the last things I do. It can be hard finding something that unifies a series without being distracting, so usually I just do the tonal variations on a repeating pattern. Or like, in the Holmes and Watson ones, I kept the colour the same but changed the patterns slightly. So they still feel related, but not super matchy-matchy. I guess it depends on what aspect of the pattern is visible, since that one’s a fairly large repeat. Different segments of it will look completely different. I think it only really works because they’re nearly monochrome.