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.

 

Creative Lessons from 2018: Quit Wasting So Much Time. Get an App Blocker

Art, everyday, Thoughts on Entertainment, Writing

I didn’t come to this conclusion instantly.

First, I watched this great video about quitting the internet for a month.

Two ideas hit me hard from this video: 1) you never run out of content on the internet. Compare this to reading a newspaper. That activity has a definite endpoint. The internet…just keeps going. There is always something there to consume. 2) A lot of what we consume as “news” isn’t news but peoples’ opinions of the news.

Some of the sites I was on were like that–it’d take me 3 minutes to read the article, then 20 minutes to read the comments for that article. And I’d want to read a dozen articles from a site.

That added up.

But one day, just being sick and tired of feeling sore and stiff after too much tablet reading, I decided to get an app blocker for my Android tablet.

I chose StayFocused, for Android.

WOW it opened my eyes. Even though I didn’t have a lot of apps (like Facebook, Instagram, etc.) on some days, I spent hours on one or two of my little games. And many, MANY hours were spent just reading sites on my browser. Pointless! And here I am wondering why I can’t get my art and scanning done!

So I used the app to restrict the amount of time I spend on certain apps on certain days. And like the Firefox/PaleMoon add-on Leechblock, it can also ban an app during certain hours of the day. Pretty flexible!

The free version of StayFocused only lets you block 4 or 5 apps, but since only 4 or 5 apps plague me, it works just perfect for me.

PS using an app like Habitica or TaskHero can help you start building systems that will help you use your time doing things YOU value. Leechblock is great for desktop to block time-sucker sites during certain hours, and Neil Cicierega’s WORK! program keeps you accountable in the programs you need to be working in!

And here are two highly relevant Mormonads to use for your lock screen:

A clock with different silhouetted items - like a girl kneeling in prayer, a man running, a globe, a temple, a book - is featured against a bright yellow background. Black text reads: Spend Time Wisely. "Choose to do many good things of your own free will" (For the Strengh of Youth [2011], 3)

A girl trying to hold on to the edges of a cellphone while apps around her blur like a vortex. Text reads: Don't get sucked in. Pay attention to your family and friends. Your status update can wait.

Creativity Lessons from 2018: Learning from Your Betters

Art, Writing

Writer Dean Wesley Smith wrote a post in late 2018 called Critical Voice Kills Everything. Apparently some people get so critical that they read to pick a book apart, even if it’s from an author who’s mega successful in their writing.

He recommended the following practice instead:

“Second, on a book you LOVED, ask yourself how an author did something in the book that you admire. A craft bit, a pacing, a dialogue scene, whatever. […]
If you liked the plot, outline the book to take that in more. […] You never tear apart someone else’s work, you study it for what they did right. A HUGE DIFFERENCE.”

I chewed on this for a while and later formed this reply:

Thinking back on [the above] part of your post this morning I realized this part fits in really well with how I try to improve as a visual artist. Find work/artists you love, study what they did and how they did it, and adopt the things you like into your own work through practice. You’d ***never*** study a master artist to nitpick him/her!
(And if artist X does feature Y really well or often, but not Z…then you find another artist who does Z well and adopt them, too! Choose from the whole buffet of artists!)


In related news, a fellow Mastodonner posted this great quote from the legendary Phil Tippet (pardon the language at the end)

 

Phil Tippet explains how special effects were done in his day--without so much nitpicking!

My increased writing output of the last couple of years is the result of by heeding advice like the above: don’t noodle something to death! Better to do the best you can at the time, get it out there, and start on the next fun project.

Super artist Noah Bradley once posted this on his Mastodon feed:

Sketches are a really important part of my process. Until you’ve done an actual sketch, there’s almost no way to tell if an idea is worth pursuing.

So sketches are a low-investment way to trial an idea. If one turns out particularly well, I can spend the 20-30 hours to finish it up.

I’m glad he posted this, because my reply helped me articulate a lesson I’d learned earlier in the year:

I’m finally waking up to this idea (esp in thumbnailing towards a specific end). Often I have a great idea in my head. While it’s up there, the ideal image is too amazing for me to even try and tackle. But if I start thumbnailing and playing, suddenly the abstract is concrete, and when it’s concrete, I can see what needs to be done to get the piece going where I want it. Thanks for your terrific reminder.

Noah’s reply:

Absolutely. It’s so easy to stay stuck in your own head and get so wrapped up in thinking an idea is perfect without actually making it.

Creativity Lessons from 2018: A Thumbnail a Day Keeps the Perfectionism Away

Art, Writing

It’s not perfect, but it does what I want.

I came across this quote on my Mastodon.art feed many months ago, attached to what I thought was a very cool picture. I boosted it, but also had the presence of mind to write it down on a Post-It note that I stuck above my computer*.

As far as I’m concerned, it deserves to be listed alongside the greatest art quotes of all time.

I come back to frequently. Because as a perfectionist-in-recovery it’s so easy to want to noodle and noodle (or sometimes NOT EVEN START) on a piece until you feel it is “perfect.”

But “perfect” isn’t the point, not to the viewer. The point is to evoke something.

Lots of things I enjoy evoke joy or laughter or awe or mystery without being absolutely flawless. (And sometimes, the flaws even add to my reaction!).

This quote’s helped me say, “You know what? I could noodle/add/whatever a ton more on this, but at this point, IT’S DOING WHAT I WANT. So even though it’s not technically perfect, I can be satisfied with it.”

And then I get to move on to the next thing!

*I didn’t write down the original speaker, though! If you’re the originator of this quote, I’d be delighted to credit you!

 

 

 

 

Creativity Lessons from 2018: The best quote for artists and creators suffering from perfectionism

Art, Writing

More Creative Energy Considerations: is it procrastination, or gestating?

Thoughts on Entertainment, Writing

Another great post from Seth Godin:

Low & Slow (vs. fear)

My sourdough rye bread failed. For the first time since I’ve been baking from this starter, this weekend’s batch didn’t work.

I know why.

I rushed it.

I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.

Of course, the analogy is obvious. Much of the work we do as creators, as leaders, as people seeking to make change–it needs to ferment, to create character and tension and impact. And if we rush it, we get nothing worth very much.

There’s a flipside.

Sometimes, we mistakenly believe that we’re building something that takes time, but what we’re actually doing is hiding. We stall and digress and cause distractions, not because the work needs us to, but because we’re afraid to ship.

Impatience can be a virtue if it causes us to leap through the fear that holds us back.

This is something I am often conflicted about. On the one hand, I do believe the creative well can be overfished, and some stories need time in the unconscious to develop (or gestate, as the book Movies in the Mind calls it)…but I also believe if you just sit down, the story shows up–and I’ve had the latter happen to me a bunch of times, even during times of great stress!

But I feel the temptation towards for procrastination when a novel or story leaves the first section (introducing the character in a setting with a problem). I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT COMES NEXT but usually the solution is to sit down and just have fun with whatever shows up next. Beat the fear by being willing to try.

But sometimes I’m genuinely tired and need a break, time to rest up and watch Star Trek and doodle aimlessly.

You have to show up. But also…

Animated Toy Story 2 GIF: YOU CAN'T RUSH ART says Geri the toy repairer.I’m just not sure which I believe more strongly! What do you think?

More Creative Energy Considerations

Thoughts on Entertainment

This thought’s from Seth Godin:

Your kitchen table

You open the door and the vacuum cleaner salesperson comes in, and dumps a bag of trash in your living room.

Or a neighbor sneaks in the back door and uses a knife to put gouges on the kitchen table.

Or, through the window, someone starts spraying acid all over your bookshelf…

Why are you letting these folks into your house?

Your laptop and your phone work the same way. The reviews and the comments and the breaking news and the texts that you read are all coming directly into the place you live. If they’re not making things better, why let them in?

No need to do it to yourself, no need to let others do it either.

While I believe in being somewhat current with the news, I think taking (or replacing) time- and energy-sucking sites off your “speed dial” pages is helpful. Those pages will still exist if you want to go back to them, but why make it easy?

To that end, I’ve removed some movie review and game review sites off my speed dial and replaced them with some positive Instagrams and the Good News Network. They tend to update only once a day (if that) and every update brings me positive thoughts and encouragement for my day and my creative work.

Nothing wrong with movies and games, but I was checking these pages multiple times a day and getting lost on them. You can’t get that time back.

 

Creativity and Time Management Considerations

Thoughts on Entertainment

(Reposting from my Mastodon account, because I think peeps will find it useful)

Upon reading about the way loot boxes mimic gambling I stumbled upon gamequitters.com/
Since them, I’ve been musing about how much compy/tablet time I’m using when I could be producing or practicing something lasting.

My argument for playing single-player games is that everything I take in is grist for the mill (inspiration for art or writing). I feel like if I stop, I could overfish my creative well. But I also don’t want to waste my time as a watcher and not a doer. And sometimes social media and seeing everyone’s art saps energy.
The most MP game I play is Armello, but I think I’ll delete it [EDIT: since this post, I did that and deleted a few card games that I was spending too much time on].

I think Game Quitters is very savvy though–that factors that make people turn to gaming (or other not-so-productive behaviors) are:

  • sociality
  • challenge
  • a steady sense of progress
  • (and my husband added) validation.
  • And I’d add fear.

I could use more of IRL sociality. I feel like writing and art give me plenty of challenge and a sense of progress but other psychological things make me feel like I’M NEVER GOOD ENOUGH so there’s that, too.