Hello my lovelies! So glad to sit in front of a keyboard and talk to you all again, because wow — it has been a while!
Since we last talked, I moved to a different city and settled in at my new house. It took some effort to get my drawing battlestation up and working again, but now I am back, more rested than ever, stylus poised and ready!
Let's do this!
I immediately sprung back into action when my old pal David Cummings of the NoSleep Podcast asked me to illustrate the cover art for the season finale of season 12 of the show.
As I mentioned before, I consider drawing the finale artworks a very special honor that I was lucky enough to have done multiple times in the past (The Public Domain, When the Stars Go Out and The Hidden Webpage).
The script for this episode, entitled Whitefall, came from C.K. Walker and really took me on a fantastic and intruiging journey.
The story's main protagonist, Kris Stykes has a fight with his girlfriend and sets out on a very long bus journey across the US. As usual, I'm trying to keep this mostly spoiler free, so I won't tell you where the good guy ends up, but I think I won't give away anything when I say that what looks like a bad situation quickly becomes a bad, bad situation.
Kris spends the first few scenes of the story carefully rationing out his remaining cigarettes, so the image of him lighting a smoke was the first idea that popped into my head. Even if the protagonist quits his addiction later on in the story, he ponders some really deep questions while smoking, which was exactly the light I wanted to portray him in.
Since a lonely figure standing in the foreground would make for a pretty dull picture, I wanted to incorporate other important facts from the story as well. My first idea, as you can see in this sketch, was having the objects - including a poptart and a payphone - fade into the cigarette's smoke in the background.
While I was still tinkering around with the arrangement of the different objects, my girlfriend just happened to walk past my art tablet and asked: "Why don't you just use the smoke to draw the other stuff?"
And - of course - that's exactly what I did!
Painting smoke, whether from cigarettes or campfires, is actually one of my favorite things to do! I started out with a technique similar to this Photoshop tutorial, relying heavily on Photoshop's Liquify filter, which helps you "smudge" around shapes and can achieve some stunning results if done right!
It worked well for a while, but the fading of the Liquify filter caused the image to get a little "cluttered" after a while. Especially when you're trying to build something the viewer can recognize from the chaotic lines, you need some more clarity.
So I decided to just have parts of the smoke be this playful and chaotic (as you can mainly see in front of Kris' face), but paint the other parts with a soft brush and a lot of patience.
After I sent the image off to the NoSleep team, David asked me if I could include a snow storm effect into the painting to hint at the fact that most of the story takes place in a blizzard. I achieved this by:
- building a brush in Photoshop which paints pseudo-random dots
- altering those dots by hand so they seemed more natural
- using a combination of gaussian blur and motion blur to give it the illusion of motion
- doing multiple layers of this so it actually looks like the snow is wafting around Kris
I'm pleased as punch with how the final illustration came out. I think the central focus on Kris and one of his last cigarettes works well, and the smoky figures in the background hint at different parts of the story, without giving too much away.
I hope you enjoy the illustration as much as I enjoyed making it.
All the best,