Behind the scenes: A Shiny cover

Photo of the pencil sketches of the Book 4 cover with Yùzǐ and the Book 5 cover with Shiny, side by side

This post highlights a bit of the process behind the Book 5 cover featuring Shiny. I actually worked on the Book 4 and 5 covers pretty much in tandem, but I didn’t take a lot of photos of the Book 4 cover (Yùzǐ), as most of the illustration relies on the ink work and I already knew I wanted the colour palette to be quite restrained/limited. Book 5, however, was going to need a lot of layers of colour, and sometimes I have a really hard time knowing when to stop before overworking something beyond return. Taking photos helps me manage that at a mental level. More on that in a bit.

Rough pencil and ink sketches of Book 4 and 6 cover ideas from my sketchbook

Rough pencil and ink sketches of more refined versions of the Book 4 and 6 covers from my sketchbook, as well as inside front page ideas

Here we start with sketches from my sketchbook. On the left are my initial ideas, and some time later (weeks? months?) I came back to work on the cover, realized I had no better ideas, and basically redrew my sketches to confirm how I felt about it and also extend the ideas to the inside front pages. Each book has an interior cover illustration featuring a scene we logically know happens due to the events or comments in the main narrative, but doesn’t actually appear in detail in the story itself. 

After figuring things out to my satisfaction/impatience, I start blocking out my sheet of paper and the actual pencil art! All Now Recharging pages are about 1.5x the actual final print size (A5), so I rough out where the bleeds and the logo would appear. (If you look carefully at the sketchbook page above right, you can see some of my pencil notations of scaled measurements to use when blocking those sections out on the page.)

After sketching, I ink! Inking usually takes me the longest time. I tend to get very worked about about it especially when inking comic pages. For illustrations, it’s a bit less nerve-wracking, perhaps because I can get a little more abstract since not everything has to be completely logical for moving stuff along in a cohesive story. Brush pen inking also helps a lot because it’s so much more organic and less meticulous than fixed-width inking, where every line is the same thickness. My hands are not very steady, so I’m always super impressed by people who ink with such consistent lines!

Photo of Book 5 cover featuring Shiny tilting his head back up into branches of weeping plum blossoms. The inks are done, and there are pale washes of colour
Photo of Book 5 cover work-in-progress. Shiny's hair is painted, the shapes of the plum blossoms are more defined, and some of them splash onto his cloak.
Photo of Book 5 cover work-in-progress. More colours have been extended to the background, and on his robes, with hints of a plum blossom pattern on the fabric

After inking I move onto base watercolours, blocking out areas and blending. I drown the paper a lot, especially as I build up layers and shapes. On the last photo on the right, you can see Shiny’s robes are starting to pill a bit because of all the paint and water I concentrated on them. It was a sign to stop and let the paper dry before continuing. To help cover up some of the pilling, I ended up added more strokes to create a bit of an embroidered texture on the back of his robes, which you’ll see in the final version.

When I work, I take photos as kind of mental safety guard. It reassures me that, in the event I horribly mess everything up beyond repair, I have something I can reference for recreating it. To be perfectly honest, I’ve rarely ever actually needed to use the reference photos after the fact. But simply knowing that I have them helps me be less anxious about “messing up”.  It’s also fun, and honestly kind of empowering, to go back and see the image being built up over time. Not-so-secret secret: a lot of times things look really crappy before they start looking decent. Having process images like this help remind me for the next time I start a picture and find myself hating everything and questioning my competence – it gives me a reality check that things worked out before when I felt this way, so they likely will again.

You can see the final versions of all the covers here!

The SpiderForest Webcomic Collective I’m a member of is attending SPX (Small Press Expo) in Washington, DC from September 17-18, 2022! We’ll be at Table E07. I won’t be physically there, but a few copies of Now Recharging print books 1 and 2 will be available, and you can be sure to find a lot of other wonderful stories and creators there too!

♥ Maiji (September 12, 2022)

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