Sleeping Beauty tree technique for artists


Random shrubberies done in marker (plus a Moxie Kitten cameo!)

I caught this short video on the artist who contributed to the GORGEOUS backgrounds of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty called “Eyvind Earle – The backgrounds from Sleeping Beauty.” In it, he showed a quick technique–laying down a dark shape, then doing the leaf details in brighter colors. I thought I’d try to replicate it in marker (which means I had to reverse it, natch, since light marker doesn’t show up on dark), but even that turned out really good for little effort, I think!

Seven tips on painting a fantasy book cover in Krita (Making of THE CAPRAMANCER NEXT DOOR book cover)


For all you digital artists out there, here’s some tips plus a list of Krita tutorials that helped me paint my latest fantasy book cover. At the end you’ll see early WIPs, then the full wraparound cover and detail shots.

First, here’s the image we’re talking about:

Cover for THE CAPRAMANCER NEXT DOOR: A laughing woman wields a glowing shepherd's crook while a goat leaps through a portal overhead

1) Got a big project? Use Krita’s File Layers to work on elements separately before compositing them in the final piece.

I wanted to paint this much larger than the book size it would be printed at in case I wanted to do posters. With a 300DPI workfile at around 16 inches tall and 21 inches wide and a TON of elements planned, I knew it’d be huge and would make my rig chug. But I’d heard of Krita’s File Layers and thought maybe they could help me out…except I’d tried them out before and couldn’t figure out how they worked.

Then I watched GDQuest Krita tips: using the File Layer for game art mockups:

And realized what I’d been doing wrong the whole time: to resize File Layers, you have to apply a transform mask before using the transform tool.

File layers let me paint goat, details and all, in his own file, then add him (as a File Layer) to the main cover .kra file (with the full thumbnail as a guide). Adding a transform mask to the file layer helped me get him the right size before I moved him into position.

Using File Layers meant I could also flip back to the full composition and after I saved the changes to the goat. The cover file would update and show me if I was on the right path.

Note: for all of these but the paw I kept the values pretty form-based and plain–most the glowy lighting effects were added at the very end of the process.

2) Keep clean edges on painterly work by using Clipping Groups and making your base layer a plain silhouette.

I wanted this piece to have a look similar to the ARMELLO game promo art. Studying that art, I saw a lot of painterly details inside the characters, but the character edges were sharp. These hard edges meant I could reuse the character art for other promos, but how were they doing that?

Well, I started with a flat, single-color silhouette to define the character’s borders (and make a strong sihouette!). When I was happy with the shape, I locked the pixel transparency (in the layer stack, it’s the checkerboard to the right of the layer name), then hit CTR+ALT+G to make a Clipping Group. After clicking “lock Alpha transparency” in the new layer above the silhouette layer (within the group), I could then paint with soft edged brushes without overstepping the bounds of that silhouette.

Clipping Group – bottommost layer is a (mostly) one-color flat, hard-edged silhouette, with pixel transparency (the checkerboard) locked.

Same Clipping Group, but with the other layers visible. Note how they’re all above the bottommost silhouette layer and that their alpha transparency is locked (squiggle).

So: bottom layer in group: silhouette with pixel transparency locked. Any layers above that in group, normal painting layers with alpha transparency locked (looks like a weird “a” or squiggle). If you toggle the alpha transparency on and off, you’ll see all the coloring you did “outside the lines” of the silhouette.

The following tutorial got me started on the goat, helping me add textures and values without losing my mind: Paintable: Digital Painting Tips & Tricks: How to Achieve a Traditional Look With Texture Brushes

P.S. Digital Painting Academy is worth a subscription!

4) Another tutorial helped me add life to the skin tones, but I can’t find it, RRGH. 🙁 Can you help me?

This tutorial about skin tones had a male presenter, subject matter was like a bikini girl or girl in lingerie (lots of work on the tummy!) on a grey background. (If you find it please let me know and I’ll update this tutorial with a kudos to YOU!)

The artist recommended adding lots more warmth/red to the midtones on a layer above your (yellower) base tone and then erasing the midtone layer to get a glowy, creamy look…and you go more saturated…*squint*…I swear I took notes and everything but my Google-fu is failing me!

5) Need to do some buildings but hate straight lines and geometric shapes? Start with Inkscape, then pull it into Krita for painting.

Technique #3 served me well for the all the character elements in this cover. But on book covers, it’s important to have your character in a setting. My setting was a neighborhood and I am not confident drawing buildings yet. I needed help. Luckily, I had some experience in Inkscape and thought that could help–straight lines are that program’s bread and butter! In this case, I followed along with TJ Free: Inkscape | Draw Houses in Vector / SVG (Speed Art) –

And made basic houses in Inkscape. I exported one or two house shapes, pulled them into Krita, duplicated them to make more houses, then manipulated them with the Move and Transform tools before setting them into place. Once I was happy with their placement, was easy to modify colors with hue shift (CTRL+U) and paint over them to match the style better.

6) Trees are hard. This tutorial makes them easier.

Nuff said. Go to: for nice n’ easy trees. (I used them to cover up my dorky-looking houses, heh.)

7) Krita’s Layer Styles make painting magic sparklies and adding text effects nice and easy

When I switched to Krita, I really missed Photoshop’s layer styles (especially for adding effects to my book title text)…Well, it ends up Krita has Layer Styles, I just didn’t know where they were! Right-click on the layer in the stack. When the dropdown menu comes up, click on “Layer Styles” (near the top, under Properties).

This tutorial for Krita gave me good sparkly magic and a strategy for keeping the computer spry: David Revoy: Dark matter cloud particles effect –

This tutorial gave me ideas on making electricity effects–I just took the numbers from the Photoshop Layer Styles and tossed ’em in Krita, modifying where needed:

Photoshop Tutorials – Pst: How to Create Electricity Effect in photoshop – Photoshop Tutorials –

(PST’s tutorial with the jaguar breaking out of the TV also helped me do the light rays on the portals.)

Bonus tip: Thumbnails are your friend

Listen, I started with a super boring thumbnail. It looked like this:

Then I realized I hated it. Wasn’t dynamic. Didn’t really say “magical.” Didn’t say “adventure.” The characters were just standing there. No storytelling to speak of. And it felt crowded.

So I worked some more. And came up with this:

Second Capramancer thumbnail

Even in its rough form, this little composition looked exciting to me. Even more so with some color slapped on:

Second Capramancer thumbnail with color thrown on and some text

Having an exciting thumbnail made it easier for me to push through when the painting start looking ugly (they all look ugly in the middle, it’s OK), because I knew it would all turn out all right in the end…Strong thumbnail = strong foundation.

Here’s the full wraparound painting for the print versions (Click for larger version, probably?):Capramancer wraparound coverHere’s some detail shots:

Goat detailThat Paintable tutorial helped me get the texture on this goat easy. Paw detailI’m really proud of this paw, especially those claws!Houses detailYup, here are those Inkscape-made houses plonked down and painted over. Dig those trees, too!

Mage detailI really like the texture on her jeans. And thanks to File Layers, I have her full body to use for any future promo art!

As for the book itself–THE CAPRAMANCER NEXT DOOR is out now on Amazon and other digital retailers.


A treasure trove of art tutorials!


Looking for a tutorial on how to digitally paint trees for my book cover, I stumbled upon a collection of excellent digital painting tutorials that cover things a little off the beaten path–like painting over photos to make backgrounds and color grading. They’re by Mclelun and you can see some of them here:

Click on the “Tutorial” tag link on that page to see all the helpful tuts!