Back to School Process

This image was a takeoff from an image I had created previously, which included a teddy bear in place of the little girl. I decided to change out the characters to give myself some practice with children. In the process pictures below you can see that the sky, bus, and tree are all already complete; only the girl and a bit of background are changed in the final updated version above.

Watch the Process Video

Ahoy! Process

Hello friends! Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about how I created this piece that I’m calling “Ahoy!”. The idea for this piece comes from an idea I’ve had for many years about octopuses who leave the safety of the ocean and explore the big wide world. I also like pirates.

I started with the octopus character because I had a pretty clear idea of how I wanted him to look. I added a little monkey friend because 1) I love monkeys and 2) there should be other crew members represented in the piece. I thought about putting more in the background, but in the end decided that I wanted to keep this piece on the simpler side. I may some time go back and add more pirates on the lower deck, but for now it’s a basic ship. Then I worked on the wheel, and finally the ship itself. Each of the three main pieces ended up on their own layer. I didn’t use any photo references for this piece; it’s entirely from my imagination, so there was a bit of compositional twiddling to be done as I drew in the various main parts.

Once I had the fairly detailed drawing completed, I fixed up the lines and started trying to figure out the palette. I knew the ship was made of wood, so it had to be brown. You never see a colorful pirate ship! I started making the whole ship the same brown, then decided the two parts of the deck – the foreground and the lower deck – needed to be different browns to help differentiate them. The ship wheel had to be the richest brown since that’s part of the main focus. I also added some gold accents to the wheel because I think it ought to be a bit fancy.

Next I decided that the little monkey should be the same brown as the ship wheel, and then picked an aqua color for the octopus. That color was really jarring with the rest of the ship, so I played with some colors for a while. Finally, I settled on a yellow/gold color that was similar to the accents on the ship wheel, which was much more harmonious. I added some red accents for his bandana and the telescope.

I used the soft airbrush to add in the shadows and highlights to the ship, wheel, and octopus, then moved onto the horizon, which was the last piece I had to finish. I had thrown in a light blue as a placeholder, but the original drawing had a sun on the horizon. A large decision I had to make was whether the sun was a sunset or a sunrise. I decided sunset and added some colors based on what I think a sunset includes. It looked horrible. I went to bed and decided to think on it.

In the morning I perused some photos to find a better color combo for the sky and water. I decided a dark blue with basic white and yellow was the best choice.

Far more harmonious, don’t you think? I sat on this for a while and kept thinking that it needed something. After a bit I realized that the dark blue would reflect a bit and add some blue to the shadows. So I color sampled the darkest blue and added some of that lightly into the shadows, which added a lot of depth and made the piece feel much more complete.

Also during the final shadow phase the wheel’s support piece kept bugging me. The perspective was off somehow and it didn’t look like it was anchored correctly on the ship deck. I made a few adjustments and added another bolt to it to make it more “secured” to the wheel.

So that’s the process! I hope you enjoyed getting a sneak peek into this piece, and I’ll be sure to share more in the future.

Watch the Full Process

Gnome Home Process

Hello once again everyone! After a month or so of hunkering down and creating work, I thought you might be interested in having a peek into my process on another fun piece that I’ve created. I bring you: Gnome Home!

For this piece I didn’t do any thumbnails; it sprang into my head pretty much fully formed while perusing a new book I had gotten on fantasy creatures. The book took a look at drawing gnomes, but my brain went off on a tangent of what their homes might look like. I came up with the idea of a mushroom, which I had previously painted a bit last year. I wanted the piece to have an atmospheric feel, as the mushroom should be small(ish) and hidden in the tall grasses. Details, such as the doormat, acorns, and wheelbarrow, came to me as I worked through the main parts of the piece.

I put quite a bit more detail into this sketch than I generally do in my initial sketches because I was enjoying the process, and it helped lead into the details. There were a few things that I had to make decisions on beyond my initial idea of the mushroom in the tall grasses. I decided to add the acorns because I like squirrels, and I could see squirrels hanging out with gnomes. I added the wheelbarrow with an acorn in it because, well, what else do gnomes do all day? Perhaps they’re helping the squirrels out. Or maybe they’re also saving acorns for the winter. I mean, who really knows what gnomes eat? And finally, what room would be through the window? I thought about making it a kitchen, but kitchens are generally on the first floor, and this window is high enough to be on a second floor. A bedroom seemed a bit too much for a children’s illustration, so I decided a study would be a good pick. And I love books.

Once the drawing was to a far enough state that I knew exactly how everything would appear, I started coloring in the base layers.

This phase basically consists of deciding the color palette and ensuring that all areas are covered in preparation for the shading and detailing. That dark blue color behind all the leaves, for example, I ended up changing many times trying to get the best base for the piece. In the end it ended up as a practically black green. Also, I wasn’t quite happy with that bright green I used for the foreground, but I decided it was something I could fiddle more with in the next phase.

In the final phase, I began by adding shading to the mushroom and worked my way around the piece. I tightened up a few things, such as the smaller multicolored grass, which I thought looked more like worms than grass in the previous phase. I ended up changing a bit of the wheelbarrow because the initial rendering had a weird perspective on the front wheel. I also adjusted the door frame and added of a round window to add more interest. The biggest change, however, was to enlarge the foreground objects to fill more of the frame and allow for more detail in the study, where I ended up removing the light fixture on the ceiling to allow for more breathing room.

The last step (which I honestly completed before I was done with the base colors) was to add a transparent blue overlay over most of the image, leaving a hole where the lights shine through. Over the windows I added a transparent yellow glow to help make those areas pop and draw the eye.

Overall, I found it to be a really fun piece that felt easy and natural compared to other pieces I’ve made. Clearly I was inspired. I believe this may be one of my more complex pieces and shows a sophistication many of my pieces have been lacking. So for now, I’m really happy with it.

What do you think?

Watch the Full Process

Morty’s Monsters Process


Recently I’ve been trolling bookstores and libraries checking out children’s books and discovered lots of wonderful books full of weird and wacky monsters, so I thought I’d try my hand at something in that vein. I decided to go with cute monsters in a world where you can keep them as pets. Since this piece is a lot more complex than my normal daily pieces, I thought I’d take you through how I put this together. Buckle up! Here we go!

My first step in creating some monsters was to brainstorm. I came up with lots of different ideas for monsters, but I needed a setting. Another idea that I had been playing with was the interior of a pet store with lots of animals. After more thinking I decided to combine monsters and the pet store idea.

My next step was to create some thumbnail drawings to get some sort of idea what the layout and perspective should be. As you can see from the thumbnails, I started with interior shots, and then finally decided that a view from the outside would be the way to go.



I originally liked the vertical layout the best (the first image on the second line) so I did a few studies of it to get an idea of what direction I wanted to go with it.


First I did a value study.



Then I did a color study to figure out what the palette should be.



Then it sat for a couple of days. I wasn’t thrilled with how it looked and I felt a bit stuck with the whole process. So I read a bit about other artist’s workflows. It was during this time that I decided I wanted to use it on a postcard, which meant the image needed to be horizontal instead of vertical. The last two thumbnails were created then to accommodate the horizontal layout.


Once I settled on the basic horizontal layout with various monsters and characters, I actually refined the thumbnail a lot more than is generally recommended for a thumbnail. I wanted to be sure it was the direction I wanted to go and I wanted to have fewer unanswered questions later. When I finally felt confident with it, I copied the thumbnail and pasted it into a new A4 document in Procreate, then blew it up to fit the space.



I began by coloring in the base colors. I actually started that process several times. The work I had done with the vertical version to develop the palette didn’t really translate in the way that I wanted, so there was some trial and error in deciding on the final palette.


During this time I found a really great technique for developing shadows using Procreate in the June issue of ImagineFX magazine which I decided to try. It basically consists of duplicating the color layer, changing it to blue, reducing the opacity, and erasing the blue layer where I don’t want the shadows. I did a few experiments, liked the results, and decided to incorporate the technique into the piece. This technique also made it easier to figure out where light and shadows should fall; if I didn’t like it, I could delete the shadow layer and start again. Since I hadn’t done any studies for this before I started, there was a lot of trial and error on this as well, especially for where the line should fall on the back wall. I finally settled on the following lighting.



There were a few bits that weren’t complete at this point, such as the older woman and the awning, but after getting some feedback I decided to change out the older woman and the large dinosaur monster.



A little more feedback, and I adjusted the size of the woman and the positioning of the monster in the doorway.


All that’s left to complete on this piece is to add my contact info at the bottom as it is in the sketch; I’m also planning on having another monster on the front of the postcard that connects to the woman’s leash – but I’ll leave that a surprise!

Some things that I learned through this process – aside from the new technique for creating cool shadows – is that it would be really helpful to do a few more studies once I have the composition down. Doing another full lighting study would have helped quite a bit in the shadow phase and made that process go smoother. Getting some feedback earlier in the process might have also prevented the changeout of the woman and monsters in the end.

I hope you enjoyed the process as much as I did and I’d love to know if it was helpful for you.

Watch the Full Process

My Process in Practice

As you may know, I use Procreate to create all of my artwork these days. It’s an intuitive program which, when coupled with my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, feels almost exactly like creating work traditionally. The bonus of working digitally like this is that Procreate automatically records my work so I can replay it, which is sometimes as interesting for me as it is for others to see.

In the last few months I’ve received some comments about this process in the Procreate replays (which I post nearly daily on my YouTube channel), so I thought I’d talk a little more about it here in my blog. I definitely have a step-by-step procedure that I follow to come up with my simple daily drawings like the one below.


I welcome questions and comments, so let me know what you think!

  1. Idea generation. This is probably the hardest part for me, though I’ve amassed a huge assortment of prompts. I use Trello to collect ideas and I have several boards dedicated to different topics, which are loosely organized. The board that I end up looking at the most is my Drawing Ideas board, which seems to be the most versatile because many of the ideas are a bit more abstract than the other boards. Occasionally I’ll also think of a great idea in the shower or see other people’s work on Pinterest that intrigues me that I can spin off into my own work. I personally like cute things, so I often end up making cute things.
  2. Initial sketch. After I have the idea generally in my head, I pull out my iPad, open up Procreate, and start making some marks on the “paper”. When I sketch I use the standard Technical Pencil brush with the pure black color, which to me feels and looks the most like a real pencil as I lay down the idea. I could really make it any color; that doesn’t matter. But I like black. I also don’t get too detailed at this stage, and depending on the image I don’t necessarily make sure it’s pristine; it’s ok to leave a messy under drawing as long as I know where the primary lines are. I generally start with basic shapes and then do a lot of erasing and refining during this stage. If I don’t get the sketch the way it want it, it won’t look right when it’s finished, so it pays to take time to get it just right.
  3. Base color. Once my sketch is where I want it, I start laying in my base colors on layers underneath the sketch layer.

    I’ve been asked how I decide what’s on a layer. I start from back to front, so anything that will be in the back goes first. For example, on the penguin in the example, the right foot and arm will be on a lower layer than the body of the penguin. And because they are different colors, I tend to keep them on separate layers as well, though they certainly don’t have to be in this case. I generally keep different colors on separate layers unless it’s a huge file and I need to speed up the load/render time and reduce crashing (yes, huge files can make the app crash).

    As for brushes, up until a month ago I used the Nikko Rull brush to put in the base colors. This was problematic because this brush has texture in it – which is why it’s my favorite brush in the app – but it required that I had to go through a cleanup phase for edges and missing spots of color in the body of the shape. I seem to remember that I had tried other brushes for this phase, but there were issues with each of them that I didn’t like. Last month, however, I was setting up a smaller iPad Pro to be more portable – zoo trips! – and I found more brushes. Now I’m using one simply called “Pencil” that is part of Nikko’s brush pack. It’s completely opaque and tends to require little to no cleanup for edges and missed spots, making this phase a lot faster.

  4. Shadows. Over the base colors I add shadows (on the same colored layers, not new ones) to create forms. I always alpha lock the layer to ensure that I don’t go outside of the shape. During this phase I’m turning the initial sketch layer on for reference and then back off to make sure that the shadows are effective at differentiating the forms. I generally do a slightly darker color than the base for the initial shadow, then follow that up with an even darker color for deep shadows.
  5. Highlights. My next step is to add highlights to the forms to add a little more dimension to the drawing.

    Note: The final number of colors I’m using for every layer is 4 – the base color, a slightly darker shadow, an even darker shadow, and a highlight color, each of which is added to the base color layer so there aren’t 4 layers for each part of the drawing.

  6. Grounding and signature. The final step for every drawing is to add some sort of shadow below the drawing to make it feel like it’s sitting on the ground instead of floating on it. A few months ago I used to do a scribble to make the shadow look more organic, but I’ve since started to use a dark circle shape, then change it to an ellipse and I place it at the bottom of the layers. And of course, I add my signature somewhere near the bottom of the piece on a separate layer above the shadow.

Once the piece is finished I schedule it for publishing on my social networks and start working on the next piece!