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• When Josh Bernstein, at Revolver hit me up to do a poster for the 2nd Annual Golden Gods Awards I was stoked because I do not get approached by many Metal bands. (Nudgenudge out there to you Metal bands, hire my ass.) The project was simple – create a poster for an intimidating line up of musicians, don’t make it specific to any band, squeeze in a million logos, make sure to include Stonehenge somewhere, limit yourself to only four colors and don’t forget to photograph the whole process.


• The first step was to get inspired. I sat for a minute and thought about all the Metal bands I loved when I was a kid. Then I started thinking about some of the more memorable cover art - which was done by Ed Repka, for bands like: Megadeth, Nuclear Assault, Death…and so on. At the same time I was really into skateboarding and the artwork of Jim Phillips.  I used to buy every issue of Thrasher and cut out all of the artwork and hang it on my wall.

C’mon…Skatin’ and Satan go hand in hand.

• After looking at their art and drinking way too much coffee, some ideas came to mind and I decided I wanted to draw a Grim Reaper. I always draw my sketches in a black hardcover sketchbook. That way I won’t lose anything in my cluttered studio. I’ve been keeping a separate sketchbook for thumbnails and notes. Helps a lot cuz I can carry it anywhere and write ideas down before I forget them.

• Here's the first sketch for the poster. The idea was to make a younger version of  “Death”. So I ditched the robe and gave him a hoodie and thought it would be funny to give him a shirt with a ribcage screen printed on it. Happy accident since Affliction was the clothing sponsor.


I don't spend much time on sketches. Why? Because of deadlines and because I will have to redraw the final image anyway. The sketch should be simple. Don’t waste time drawing something that may or may not be used.


• Here’s sketch two.

Josh  wasn't feeling the "jazz hands". I argued that they weren't "jazz hands" they were "spirit fingers!"

• After sending the sketches to the Art Director - Josh, he sent back a jpeg suggesting that I draw the hand bigger and move it closer to the middle. Works for me.

A good Art Director will help push an idea further. You need to know when that's happening and not argue.

I was glad that I didn’t have to put the Golden Gods logo in the middle of the poster. Since it was an awards show I thought having “Death” presenting the award would help push that idea across.



Tools of the trade Left to Right:


Brush - for brushing away eraser bits

Staedtler Eraser - great for erasing the pencils and not the inks

Micron #5 pen - works best for my needs.

Col Erase non repro blue pencil - An animator buddy got me hooked on these. They're a bitch to erase.

Mechanical Pencil - Like the weight and the fact that pencil doesn't get smaller everytime you hafta sharpen the lead. I'm using HB lead

Brush - windsor newton series 7 #1

French Curves - makes life so much easier. I used these for the scythe.

Circle template - I used this for the eyes of the skull. Sometimes this comes in handy with tiny detailed curves.


Why don't I just draw directly onto the sheet of bristol?

Enlarging the sketch, printing it out and “light-boxing” it helps me look at it differently. I can spot parts that might be out of proportion, tangents, and any other thing I'll be regretting later.

This is just how I do it. Do what works for you.


• This is what I meant by having to redraw the sketch. After Josh and I worked out how the sketch will look I enlarged it and printed it out to fit an 11x17 sheet of 2-ply cold press bristol board. Even when I'm tracing or “light-boxing” the sketch to the sheet of bristol I don't waste a lot of time trying to recreate the sketch.


• Alrighty... the calm before the nerd storm. I drew borders on the drawing to let me know where the final will be cropped. At the bottom I drew more than I needed. Why? Cuz you never know when something might need to get cropped or a smaller version of the art might be needed and the text removed. I wanted to see the original art not cropped. I wanted to draw the pockets of the hoodie. It'll make sense if you’ve cropped your original only to later find out you needed to shrink something or repurpose the art. The little extra work saves you a lot of headache later on. But that's just me.


• I started on the skull first because everything else will be playing off it. If I screw up the focal point everything else will look weak. Paranoid? Maybe.

I didn't like the way the jaw was looking. So I erased it and redrew that area.


• Here I'm cleaning up the trophy that “Death” is presenting, by using

2-point perspective. It helps make the depth I'm creating more believable.


See that sheet of paper to the left? That helps me keep from getting oils and anything else smeared all over the drawing. I'm using an HB lead. It's not too hard or too soft. But the lead can smear all over the paper and make parts of the paper react to the ink differently. It's like it softens up or something. Bad news if you go over an area that has your oils or lead smeared all over with a brush or pen.



• Starting to “Spot Black” and I got some retarded idea of adding more work to the drawing. I figured a crow would look cool and balance out the design. I'm way too nice. Actually I kept picturing Josh screaming “Make it more METAL!” at me.


Spotting Black” is the process of choosing what areas in an illustration should be solid black it’ll give the piece depth, volume and can make or break the illustration.


• I'm making notes as to the direction I want to ink the shadows. I'll be “feathering” the lines to help develop the shape of the shadow and the fold.

I see a lot of bad digital and traditional inking where people throw a bunch of lines on their drawing and they don't make sense. Plan it out first. A bilion lines don’t make a believable (or appealing) drawing. Stop trying to be Rob Liefeld.


•Some more notes on how I want to ink the skull. I try to limit the detail in the line art when I know I still have other colors to work with and those colors will also help define the shape and the shadows of the skull.

I am a nerd.

• The pencils are almost done. Still fighting that urge to draw the bird.


Normally I don't bother filling in the areas with pencil that will be black. But for the tutorial (and my sanity) I did. There's a ton of detail in this drawing. If I didn't do that I'd probably get lost when I was inking.


• Drawing the zipper was key to get the point across that death is wearing a hoodie. I was not looking forward to inking it. The perfectionist in me kept wondering how can I ink each line evenly with a ruler?


• You have to take some creative license in order to make the hands work. I have a few anatomy books and they all illustrate the hands so differently. Seems like an area no one really covers. You’ve got hands…look at them. See how they bend and how each bone works with the other.


• See...I'm using the paper to keep from smearing the oils from my hand all over the drawing.


Birds are tough to draw. I did a lot of research on this damned thing. I “frankensteined” reference from 3 different sources to get something that worked.


If you don't know how to draw something then get some reference. Take some photos or cull the internet for images that will work.


• Don't grab someone else's drawing and repurpose it.

• Don't print out a photo and just trace it. Make it cohesive with the rest of the drawing.


You can always tell when someone traces a photo (or drawing) and puts it into their drawing. The lighting, proportion, and detail are usually wrong and obvious.


• I scanned the main drawing and the sketch of the crow and put them together quickly. From here I can place the original drawing on top and lightbox the crow with ease. Make sense? I can rotate, enlarge or reduce the sketch of the crow until it works proportionally with the drawing.


• Now that the drawing of the crow has been “light-boxed” I'll use the print out of the sketch as reference to tighten up the drawing.


• I'm starting to figure out how I want to light the bird. I gotta keep in mind that my light source is coming up from below. I added back-lighting as well, to help keep the figures from looking too flat.

The lines on the neck of the bird are guides for me to draw the feathers. I'm using the feathers to define the shape of the bird.


• Spotted all the black on the trophy. I went overboard with the detail and later realized I needed to simplify it. Was looking at too much Wally Wood.


• Erased all the detail and am approaching it differently. Trying to simplify for more impact.


• Pencils are pretty much done.



•Water - very necessary when inking. To keep your brushes lasting longer it's best to always keep them clean. In the cup is cold water with a few drops of dish detergent. The cold water keeps the glue holding the hairs of the brush from falling out. Which helps keep the pointed shape of the brush. The soap helps clean the ink from the brush.


DO NOT EVER let the brush sit in the cup. When cleaning the brush just swish it around and use the force to clean the brush. If you let the brush sit in the cup it will destroy the tip of the brush. I will personally come over to your house and slap you for doing that.


Try to make sure your inking and drinking cups don't look alike. I don't know how many times I've tried cleaning out my brush in a cup of coffee or drank my inking water. It did not taste like fun.


I also keep the paper towel underneath in case water splashes or spills down the cup. I don't want it getting the drawing wet.




• I've been using this thing for a decade.


• An inking stone isn't made of ink. You put a few drops of ink onto the stone instead of having an open bottle of ink. This makes your ink supply last longer and keep from thickening up. When your ink thickens it doesn't flow as well and you end up with sloppy lines.


The last thing you want to do is spill an open bottle of ink all over your drawing and desk. I use an old kneaded eraser to balance the stone out on my angled desk.


The Black Star ink is the best in my opinion. It goes down opaque and doesn’t fade as much when you erase the drawing. I usually thin it with a little water.


• This is a great way to practice. Use print outs of your pencils. It had been a while since I inked so I wanted to shake off the cobwebs with a practice run.


• Ain't no turning back now...

I pick the most solid black areas to practice my line and to sharpen the tip of the brush. You should fill in those areas last.

Also notice the sheet of paper under my hand. Huh..huh...told ya.


• Dirt and oil from your hands is unavoidable.

The bird was the most recent part of the drawing and I wanted to ink it already. See how I'm practicing and sharpening my brush in an area that will later be covered in black?


• Stepping back from the inking. I still haven't figured out how to light the side of the trophy that faces the viewer.


It's best to take a break from an area if you can't work through it. Instead of wasting hours erasing the same thing over and over - move on to a different area. After a while go back to that problem and you'll see it differently.


• Still working on the easy parts. Getting the confidence to work on the skull soon.

Using the sold black areas for inking practice.


• I kept thinking of Jim Phillips and how he would simplify detail. Do you see how I'm using the feathering/inking to define the shape and movement? That's what you need to keep in mind when inking.


• Cheaters do win.

Ain't no way I can ink a perfect curve. That's what french curves are for.


I needed to take a break from inking with the brush so my hand could rest a bit. Inking for hours can make your hand all gnarly.


I rotated the screws to mimick Eddie from all of the Iron Maiden covers that Derek Riggs painted.


• See how it works?

I used a micron #5 cuz it isn't too thin or too fat of a line.

On the handle there are some gaps I couldn't make cohesive with the pen so I will ink those spots with a brush to make them seamless.


Inking the lines to show movement and shape of the inside of the nose.


• Line weight is important with inking. Things in the foreground will have a thicker line than things in the background. Similar to what painters call aerial perspective.



• FUUUUUUUUUUDGE!!!!!! I felt like Ralphie in that movie “A Christmas Story.”

My brush jumped out of my hand. GAH!!!



• No problem. Just gonna erase it with an electric eraser.

The eraser has bits of grit in it to sand down a layer of the paper. The thinner the paper the less layers, so don't get too heavy-handed or you’ll erase a hole in the paper.

You can find one of these for $15 at any art supply store.

• Ya see how it works? When inking with a brush the ink sits on top of the paper. Inking with a pen or nib the ink is pushed into the paper. Making it more difficult to erase. Now I can go in and ink over the areas that were erased.


• Finishing up the details on the skull. I made sure I got all the practice I could get on the easier areas before I went for the gold. I also use the sheet of paper to keep the tip of my brush sharpened if I don't do it directly on the drawing. 



Stick a fork in me...I'm done…inking.


• Color Separations

There are a million ways to color a poster on the computer so I’m not going to go into that much detail. Plus the deadline was looming and I needed to power through the boring part. I can usually color a piece on little sleep and lots of caffeine.


I did all of the coloring in illustrator. I scan the original art at 600 dpi and save it as a bmp tif file. Most people stick with Photoshop but I find Illustrator easier for someone like me that makes a lot of mistakes. The file sizes are smaller so the computer doesn’t get bogged down and crash when it has to render the art at such a high resolution. The color management is also better. But hey, do whatever blows wind up your skirt.

Once the art is scanned and cleaned up I save it and then drop it into Illustrator. I’ll mess with the type and start laying in color. This part is really boring and Revolver doesn’t pay me by the word.


When all of the coloring is done, I’ll import the layers into photoshop. There I’ll create a spot channel for each color. This will be a four-color screen print. So there will be 4 channels –Silver, Orange, Gold and Black.


Here are some examples of what the color separations look like before I send them to the printer.

• WIthout the black (trapping)...


• Without gold and silver.

Without the silver. drawing and color seps are done. Now it's time to take the job to the printer.

Check out PART 2 HERE!

• Dark Horse published a book  showcasing the rock posters I’ve done over the past 10 years. Crack open that wallet and pick it up.