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.

 

Write Down Everything That Shows Up

Muse at 11, Writing

This advice may seem contrary to what I just posted (“Trim fat, add muscle“). But when you’re in the moment writing (not editing!), if something random comes up, don’t immediately scream ‘THAT’S NOT RELEVANT’ and move on. This is especially important in your first draft.

If you exclude absolutely everything not related to the plot, your story’s flavor will suffer. If my character decides in the middle of a scene that he’d like to talk about his mom now (or more specifically, about these pills his mom takes), I let him. Sometimes what he says shows up later in a MUCH more dramatic way!

(At the same time, though, if you have a pet subject that shows up in your story and you go on and on about it like it’s the natural history of whales, that may be a natural outgrowth of your enthusiasm–not a natural outgrowth of the story.)

Follow the story. When you’re writing down something new, write down everything that shows up–in the editing stage, it’s much easier to trim and rearrange than it is to write something that’ll fit in the empty yawning hole you avoided writing in the first place. (Trust me, I had to do it in Out Where the Sun Always Shines. It worked, but writing it in the middle editing felt really awkward).

“Pay very close attention to the first three concepts that come out–they are usually the most fresh and unhindered.”

–Luc Mayrand, The Imagineering Way

Create Inspirational Mood Boards for Your Writing Project with OneNote

Writing

Guess what, fellow writers? I’ve found a use for Microsoft OneNote.

While I don’t like it as a wiki, it’s perfect for making mood boards!

Mood boards are used by some visual artists to help them visualize a project. You collect images that evoke the mood you want for your piece, then pin the whole collection up where you can see and refer back to it while you work.

In OneNote, collecting pics is as easy as dragging images from the web (or your harddrive) into a file for your novel. I’ve been using it to collect pictures for different locales, characters, and fashions in my sci-fi world, and it’s much tidier than having the images scattered among my harddrive folders!

* * *

Another fun thing I’ve been doing in Microsoft OneNote is collecting photos of actors who remind me of my characters.

While I’m a have the ability to draw my characters if I want, my mental image of a character is fairly fluid–so why not grab some real life influences?

Here’s a few scientists my protagonist runs around with:

I was thrilled when I saw the trailer to MoneyballJonah Hill‘s character really struck me as a solid reference for my protaganist’s archrival-slash-boss, Vincent Harper.

I’ve always seen my protag’s weasely coworker Timothy Wallman as Steve Buscemi, but I didn’t realize why it was so easy to imagine Steve-o in a labcoat until I found this image of his from Spy Kids!

One of his other coworkers, Vanessa Chak, seemed to arrive as a crankier version of King of the Hill’s Minh Souphanousinphone, though when I drew Chak from imagination, I came up with this:

Have you ever used mood boards before in your writing? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

Making Smart Decisions Stupidly!

Writing

As an author, your job is to ruin complicate fictional lives. This is a way to do it.

In writing a scene recently, I saw 2 choices my character could make. The first one was The Smart Choice (don’t give your blood to untrustworthy magical lady X). The Wrong Choice (give your blood to untrustworthy magical lady X so she can create a magical entity that should kill off untrustworthy magical lady Y! Also untrustworthy magical lady X HAS YOUR BLOOD ON-HAND should she ever need it in the future for her own diabolical purposes!) was a choice that would introduce a lot of fun story mayhem and be very interesting to write !

Now, I’m a firm believer in allowing your character to make stupid mistakes, wrong choices, misunderstand others, etc., because perfect characters who never make mistakes are boring.

So I was a little nervous when I wrote the scene and saw the character taking The Smart Choice. when I tried to visualize the character taking The Wrong Choice, it wouldn’t flow–it was too out-of-character for him.

BUT THEN something else fun introduced itself. When my lead character made the smart choice, he did it in such a spazzy way that he alarmed and alienated all his colleagues and he made his boss extra suspicious of him!

The moral of this story? When your character won’t make a stupid decision, it’s OK for him to make a smart decision in an incredibly stupid way.

 

On polishing

Writing

I think I’m finally in the home stretch of edits for my latest short story, “Out Where the Sun Always Shines”.

What I’ve been doing is highlighting the bumpy passages in red (using Word), then retyping, retyping, and retyping until I get something I don’t hate. I leave it there for a night, then re-read the next day. If I’m going, “Why the heck is this red? This is fine!” I change the color back to black and forget about it. (In some cases, I even Frankenstein

But in this final run, I’ve noticed I’m dead-ending on a few passages– even though I’ve run through them a few times, they’re just not working for me. So what I did yesterday was grab some 8.5×11″ scratch paper. Then I visited each highlighted section in the story. Instead of typing, I as many variations as I could by hand, just free-writing, almost as if I was writing it brand new. At one point, I filled 3 pages with different variations on a single sentence.

Tedious? …Actually, no. Tedious to me is doing the same thing over and over and over again with no visible result or change at the end. When I polish, I’m attacking the problem phrase or paragraph from as many different angles I can think of (cerebral! creative!), and when it’s done, I can see the improvement. Hard work, yes. Repetitive and boring? Nein.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m at the “ARE WE THERE YET?” stage. I’m ready to be done with the story. But I’m thrilled to discover that editing is just as satisfying as writing.