I recently finished a commission for a dad wanting to gift a poster to his three kids of them as superheroes. This was a fun project and wanted to share my process with you here with his permission.
When I was contacted my client previously had his kids drawn as superheroes with fully developed identities they had created so I started with a lot of material from which to work. This kind of scenario sometimes is a curse in the sense that there’s not much maneuvering for the artist and consequently your just hired to rehearse the material over again. Fortunately, the previous work was finished a couple of years ago and the children were older and my client gave me creative license to update each heroes look and powers.
The following picture is the rough sketch he accepted for the “cover” of the Elementals premier issue.
The next step I took was to flesh out and update our heroes. The first one I work on was Fireboy. Originally, he was a fired based character much like the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, but with only his head ablaze. Complete with backstory, Fireboy and his siblings gained their powers through an incident involving a volcano so my client stated that perhaps he could now harden his skin into a protective armor. To me, that meant combining the Human Torch with his lovable tough-guy teammate–the Thing.
Next up, we have Diamond Crystal. She could throw shards of crystal she formed with different effects much like Green Arrow’s quivers or Big Hero 6’s Honey Lemon and her chem-balls. My update included the ability to form crystals around her for protective and equipment purposes. Need some stalagmites as ramparts or a giant crystalline fist to smack evil in the nose–Diamond Crystal is your gal.
Last, but certainly not least, is Super Ellie. She was a baby when her super counterpart was first conceived, so she had fairly typical superpowers. Flight, strength, and laser vision were part of the adorable package, but now dad relayed that force fields are now included.
The cover needed to highlight the three mini heroes as well as their powers in action. So I penciled out the composition as in the rough sketch but switched Fireboy and Diamond because their powers ended up blocking out each other and, substantially, Super Ellie. Also, the attacking robots are large–surrounding the kids to emphasize their mechanized menace–so to keep as many in the frame and imply that the viewer is just forward of the oncoming robots the switch became apparent.
Next, I really tried to nail down the children’s likeness before inking the piece. Fireboy is the most forgiving being that he’s covered in cooling volcanic rock with veins of liquid hot magma showing underneath. The two girls took me the longest to get right, but Super Ellie challenged me the most because of her head tilt.
Now I added color. I used Adobe Illustrator to lay down my flat colors, gradients, shades, and tints. As you see, the first pass with color changed considerably from this iteration to the final piece. Thank the very forgiving nature of digital work. Without that feature, working in a traditional medium, I would usually color thumbnail studies for the palette before moving into this step.
The final step, after re-coloring, and then re-coloring again, was to add the title and all the little textual bells and whistles to make it look like a vintage comic cover. I really didn’t stay true to any particular era of comic covers because I’d already fudged those lines with digital coloring. So, instead, I did a Google image search and recreated the elements I liked and wouldn’t obstruct the picture.
Until next time!