In the illustration field like in the video game field, sometimes you work on something and then you just can’t show it to anyone. And then when you CAN show it, it feels like what you are doing now is completely different. This happened with this cover. It’s not that old, I only did it in September/October 2013, but I feel that I already work differently now.
Solaris is the oldest French language genre fiction magazine in existence. I was commissioned to do a cover by Joël Champetier, the editor in chief. His direction was basically: “We like both your digital and traditional stuff, pitch us something that doesn’t have tentacles.” Yep, that open ended. So I did tons of thumbnails in my sketchbook and I picked 6 of them to clean up and send. 3 that I would paint digitally and 3 that I would paint in acrylics.
Joël picked the guy with the jet pack. He said that in all of Solaris’ years, he didn’t think they ever had a jet pack on the cover, as cliché as they can be. With that, I started working on cool jet pack and outfit designs. I was going for a diesel punk look, but I didn’t want him to look too much like the Rocketeer, he was from the same era, but he was a different guy from a grittier world.
Armed with my approved thumbnail and my jet pack and outfit design, I asked my friend Matthieu Legault to model for the character. Matthieu is a writer with 7 published novels under his belt but I think it’s the first time he’s on the cover of one. He had a sweater that somewhat looked like the jacket in my outfit and I had a big packpack, goggles and goth boots so that’s the extend of his costume. We tried all kinds of poses, in my yard and in my kitchen, but in the end, the stool was the best way to make him look like he’s flying. Otherwise he just looked like a guy standing on one foot. I also modeled the basic jet pack shapes and stucked them on a mannequin to get the angles of the wings and rockets right on Matthieu and the shadows.
I choose amongst the pictures the ones that were the most dynamic and looked the most like someone flying. It’s not exactly like the thumb, but it’s an improvement. I went through several rounds of refining the drawing and several possible designs for the contrail. The line art with the smoke swirls is what I sent the client for approval.
When it was approved, I rendered the values in Photoshop so that I wouldn’t have to make decision in paint. I didn’t render the birds because the plan was to have them just be silhouettes in varnish on unvarnished MDF. They would be very subtle and translucent to make them look far away.
I printed my line art in 3 different parts that I assembled and then rubbed the back of the drawing with Conté crayon, white for the smoke and sienna for the character and birds. I then clipped/tapped it to the board and traced all the line. The result is a bit messy and dark but I wipe it lightly with a dry paint rag and it gets much better.
Some people are surprised to learn that the painting stage is often shorter than the design stages. All the hard decisions have been made and all I have to do now is slap paint around and not screw up. The new screwing up part might be easier if I worked in oil. It’s in my plans, but right now I still work in acrylics. For this painting I used only two colors, raw umber and unbleached titanium. I am a very big fan of unbleached titanium, it’s quite light, but not dead or blinding like white. It fits well with the sepia style I’m going for at the moment. I the past, I have painted plenty of pieces on raw unprimed and unvarnished masonite and MDF but this was a different type of MDF that I had gotten at the hardware store, not at the art supply store and it was soft, like suede and the paint didn’t glide so well on it. I had bought a big piece and had it cut into several panels, so for my following pieces, I gave a few coats of gloss medium on the MDF before transferring the drawing. It works much better for me.
When I was done, I varnished the piece, only on the the already painted parts so the rest is raw and matte. Then I took a good picture and sent it to Joël. He wanted the contrail to end closer to the rocket, so I changed that in Photoshop and did some other touch ups. Then I sent him the high-resolution file.
And that is how that piece was done.