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.

 

Writing Bundles Kickstarter – enriching and (possibly) career-changing writing book bundles!

Indie Publishing Friends, Recommended Reading, Writing

Please check out:

Writing Bundles

A Kickstarter Campaign Creating Five Writing and Publishing Bundles that Include 17 Writing Books.

Normally I’m not one to signal boost Kickstarters, but this one’s well worth a look. Veteran writers Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kris Rusch have a Kickstarter going now where if you pledge $10, you can pick from one of five bundles of books on different writing topics. Pay a little more, you can get them in paper…get lectures…etc.

Here’s why this is exciting to me: Smith’s Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing blog posts (two sets of which are compiled in two of the books in the “Industry” bundle) literally changed the course of my writing career. At the end of 2016, I’d just finished the manuscript for Steel City, Veiled Kingdom (SCVK) and was feeling pretty down. It was a ginormous novel and I knew novels that big rarely do well with literary agents. It’d take years to shop around, and after that, they’d probably want me to change it, if anybody accepted it at all (which was a long shot).

Then I stumbled upon those posts and realized…yeah, I had ALL the skills to self-publish it. And no need for an agent at all. Three-ish years later, SCVK is out in ebook, soon to be in paperback, and in the meantime, I’ve got, like, a dozen shorts and a few other novels available on Amazon, BN, and libraries (among other digital storefronts) and more fiction on the way.

NONE of that would have happened without Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing–and in this Kickstarter, you can get it plus three other ebooks in the “Industry” bundle for just $10. And there’s, like I said, five total bundles on different topics.

It’s good stuff, folks.

If they make it to $9,000 before April 30th, 2020, everyone who pledged $5 or more will get access to SIX workshops on topics like Writing Sci/Fi, Writing Thrillers, Writing Time Travel, etc. I’ve done some of their free courses and have LOVED them so this is a great goal to aim for. Even if that doesn’t come true, the info in these bundles is invaluable–it was career-changing for me!

So please, check out this Writing Bundles Kickstarter. They’re covering topics I bet you never even thought about. 🙂

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!

eBook Sale – LOVE POTION COMMOTION!

News from Pixelvania Publishing, Writing

Winking French BulldogDid you know I wrote a feel-good Valentine’s Day book? Don’t worry, it’s not too mushy. It’s called LOVE POTION COMMOTION and it’s got talking French Bulldogs. If you’re still jonesin’ for Hallmark movies, you’ll probably get a kick out of this. It’s normally $4.99 but it’s on discount for $1.99 ’til the 19th. Get it at: http://books2read.com/frenchies1

Sale price is active at Amazon right now, but the other stores are soon to follow!

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!

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.

Author Dean Wesley Smith was talking about Heinlein’s Rules on his blog last year. I can’t recall the exact post, but the more I read this quote, the more I realize it’s not just great creativity advice, but great LIFE advice:

“You won’t be able to stay on [Heinlein’s  Rules] for too long, but just keep climbing back on when you realize you have fallen off and you will make it.”

Of course, you can substitute “Heinlein’s Rules” with any practice you’re trying to grow in. The Gospel of Christ, healthy eating, exercise…the list is endless! I love this quote.

Never give up!

Creativity Lessons from 2018: Falling off, but getting back on again

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Creativity Lessons from 2018: Learning from Your Betters

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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

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