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

Art

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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjscqHhoEOA

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHFTZQ_QG2w

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) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcc1gSFQhnM

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: https://www.mclelun.com/2015/10/anime-tree-tutorial.html 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 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKaCwqTVLus

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 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyYY0FGR6Z0

(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.

 

New Dark Fantasy Short Story Release: HELLO, WIZARD

Art, New from Pixelvania Publishing, Writing

Hello, wizard.

You know what I need to hear.

I’m listening.

Cover for HELLO, WIZARD. Eerie glowing text pops off a wrinkled piece of paper against a stone background.

Deep in a sunless dungeon, a father struggles to hold onto hope.

Then the glowing notes arrive. They offer freedom—for a very simple price.

But some things should never be for sale, even in the darkest places…

HELLO, WIZARD is a tense dark fantasy of integrity and temptation.

Read an excerpt over at Pixelvania Publishing.


This story may be short, but it packs quite a punch!

New fiction releases + status update!

Art, News from Pixelvania Publishing, Site Updates, Writing

Hi everyone! I aten’t dead, I just switched to Linux and have been busy writing and arting away! (If not always scanning, d’oh!)

I’m rethinking the kinds of things I want to feature on PIXELVANIA STUDIOS. But in the meantime, I wanted to let show you the covers totwo new stories I released: THE WITCHING LICENSE and DEBUTS AND DRAGONS.

Cover for THE WITCHING LICENSE: A green hand grabs a purple witch's hat trailing stars against a magical glowing blue moonMavis Burnsides is on her deathbed when her best friend brings her a Witching License. Now she’s got magical powers—and one last night to make up for a lifetime of regrets.

By turns sassy and touching, The Witching License is a gentle tale of regret, romance, and righting wrongs.

Read an excerpt at Pixelvania Publishing!


Cover for DEBUTS AND DRAGONS, featuring a green dragon wearing sunglasses, earrings, and a necklace

Though she’s not much to look at, dragon Sellafield Terrormouth never worried about snagging a mate for herself. But now that her little sister is about to debut in dragon society, Sella’s got one night to go from drab to fab. If she fails, she’ll lose her entire dowry—and quite possibly doom herself to eternal spinsterhood!

Can this plain dragon get herself a date, or is her future about to go up in flames?

Contemporary fantasy fans won’t want to miss this lighthearted (and scaly) look at love, friendship, and inner beauty.

Excerpt here at Pixelvania Publishing.


Both books are available in LARGE PRINT format, which is a thing I guess I’m doing now! They make great stocking stuffers, too! *eyebrow waggle*

Finally, y’all need to watch KLAUS if you haven’t already. Here’s why.

New Scifi Short Story: DAY OF SILENCE, DAY OF SOUND

News from Pixelvania Publishing, Writing

Cover for DAY OF SILENCE, DAY OF SOUND: An old-fashioned radio sits alone on a vintage chair in a blurry field of tall grasses, in hues of white and icy blue.

Johanna Reinhardt is alone at the outpost when it happens. The Machines have shut down, her husband is gone, and—imperceptibly, but surely—sound is disappearing from the world.

What might disappear next?

A dreamlike tale from the post-apocalypse.


An oldie-but-goodie short story to celebrate the new year.

Read an excerpt here at this book’s Pixelvania Publishing page.

Buy the eBook from your favorite retailer here (includes Amazon).

Happy reading!

New short story collection! MIDWINTER MAGIC

Art, New from Pixelvania Publishing, Writing

Cover for MIDWINTER MAGIC: A stylized glowing reindeer leaps against the blue Northern Lights

Once upon a time, magic left the world for a night. It sighed back in through the scullery door in the morning with the cat, but by then, the Queen of the Northern Elves had fallen into a deep sleep, and, greatly diminished, the returned magic could not wake her.

From the author who brought you The Purrfect Christmas and A Gingersnap Cat Christmas comes an enchanting collection of three original yuletide fairy tales, written in the tradition of Jane Yolen and Ursula Vernon.


A little Christmas present from me to you. If you like reindeer, Santa Claus, elves, and mythic origin stories, you’re probably gonna dig this.

Buy from your favorite eBook retailer here (includes Amazon)

More info and excerpt here on MIDWINTER MAGIC’s Pixelvania Publishing page.

Book Covers Behind-the-Scenes: The Making of MIDWINTER MAGIC

Art

Hi so I spent over two hours today painting a decent-looking stylized reindeer for my latest eBook Midwinter Magic (and that was just on one file, and doesn’t count all my OTHER painting and sketching and thumbnailing time) (honestly, it felt like 5 hours on just that last file, though), but I can’t reveal the cover yet so you’re going to now suffer through my thumbnail sketches and WIPs.

sufferrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

j/k I hope you enjoy!

More cover design thumbnails for MIDWINTER MAGIC in Crayola Marker (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)The ones above were done after researching what other fairy tale collections were doing. Blue was a very popular color, as was sticking huge typography in the center of a rectangle. I first did these in pencil and came back after the next batch of thumbs and colored ’em.

I did not have a title at this time.

 

Cover design thumbnails for MIDWINTER MAGIC, done in Crayola Marker (Book Cover Behind the Scenes) Still no title I liked. Playing with the idea of folk art patterns and reindeer. Attempts at folk art style reindeer and flowers (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)Trying my hand at Scandinavian folk art patterns (there’s multiple schools of Scandinavian folk art with cool fancy names but I’ve forgotten them all). Of course this was after some research, but I don’t think any of these were direct copies, just me fooling around on watercolor paper with markers.

Cute li'l folk art flower (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)

Oh, right, it’s called “Rosemaling”! I remember because I invented my first Krita brush to try and emulate the single-stroke style color changes and stuff for this fnower. You can totally YouTube it! There’s guilds and everything!Tiling folk art flower, doodads, and pine tree (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)

Messing around with Krita’s tiling function got me this fun little tiling pattern. Penciled thumbnail designs for MIDWINTER MAGIC's cover(Book Covers Behind the Scenes)

I fell ill in the middle of this project (both the writing and the drawing). By the time I got some energy back I felt like I was running late. I got my act together and came up with a title that didn’t embarrass my ancestors, then came back to thumbnailing. My default book cover solution is “slap an animal on it” but at least this time it wouldn’t be a cat.Reindeer sihouettes in blue marker (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)Marker attempts at reindeer/caribou, done with reference, but still trying to keep a stylized feel. The top left one was used in a few mockups I won’t show here.

Armed with a title, I went into Inkscape and chose fonts I thought would work. Then, for good measure, I grabbed some reindeer product silhouettes and slapped ’em on in some sort of artistic way (thanks, Trace Bitmap tool!!)

MIDWINTER MAGIC mockup - dark blue bg, reindeer sihouettes, and typography (Book Cover Behind the Scenes)

I liked these poses, but…other than that….this was bad. Really bad. I wound up going back to my thumbnails page, picking one I liked, and just elaborating on it in Krita.

I thought the final image would be, like, folk art flower patterns on a blue background, with a reindeer shape cut out in the middle, revealing some cool winter snowflakey pattern beneath (very hand-drawn-looking, in other words), but, uh, I traced a deer in one of the thumbnails, slapped a background from Unsplash.com behind it, went, OH! and went in a totally different direction.

How’d it turn out? Stay tuned for the cover reveal tomorrow morning!

New Horror Story: THE GIRLFRIEND WHO WASN’T FROM DELAWARE

Art, News from Pixelvania Publishing, Writing

Cover for THE GIRLFRIEND WHO WASN'T FROM DELAWARE - A giant hand made of blue static reaches down to pluck an apartment out of a building like a Jenga blockApartment walls are thin.

Reality may be thinner.

Ray Belga lives in the ugliest apartment building in town—but at least it’s quiet. Until a mystery neighbor’s fridge starts acting up.

At least…Ray thinks it’s a fridge. But he’ll soon learn you can’t trust everything you hear through apartment walls…


I hope you enjoy this (slightly twisted?) story about a guy with noisy neighbors. Just in time for Halloween!

Buy from your favorite eBook retailer here (includes Amazon)

More info and excerpt here on THE GIRLFRIEND’s Pixelvania Publishing page.