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How I Letter My Comic Book

how to letter comics with InDesign

How I Letter My Comic Book

I’ve been making comic books since I was around 10 or 11 years old. Somewhere in my studio, I have old examples of comic books I made. I drew on both blank typewriter paper and pre-ruled, three-hole punched binder paper. Back then, there was no graphic design software and computers where one could easily letter comic books. In those early years as a youngster, I lettered all of my comics by hand. I cringe with embarrassment when I look at them today and I’ll only show these if anyone is actually reading this post and requests it. So there, I’m game if you’re game!

Fast forward many years later to around the late 90s to early 2000s when I began work in a commercial print shop. It was there that I was first introduced to the software that is still used today for many a varied graphic arts application: Adobe Illustrator. Personally, the first copy of Illustrator I bought was still on CD. It was version 10. Back then, I worked on a PC and I taught myself how to use Illustrator. Coupled with my day job working in the prepress department of the print shop and learning Illustrator on my own after hours and on weekends, I became adept at using this vector-based graphics program. Because of my job at the time, I also learned Adobe Photoshop along with QuarkXpress.

QuarkXpress was the 800-pound gorilla of desktop publishing layout software back when I started in digital prepress. It eventually gave way to Adobe InDesign. InDesign soon became the program of choice when it came to page layout software. Adobe InDesign is not like Illustrator or Photoshop. Illustrator is used for mainly creating vector based artwork. Photohop is an image editing program. InDesign is where you would place Illustrator and Photoshop files into to create compositions. Compositions such as posters, flyers, brochures, and…books. Like comic books.

In the video posted here, I go into more detail why I prefer using InDesign to letter my comics. I even show you how I actually do it, using the tools within InDesign. But, in a nutshell, I like using InDesign for my lettering because my approach to lettering is one of creating a finished publication. You see, as I letter, I am able to review all of my pages at the same time. That’s because with InDesign, I can have all the pages of my comic book assembled in one place and I can literally scroll up and down from page to page, reviewing each one. If I were lettering in Illustrator, I’d have to work off each individual Illustrator file. Or, have an Illustrator file with multiple artboards. That’s too time consuming and the latter would create a file way too large to work with.

In addition to that, I’m able to create a document within InDesign that is essentially my comic book set up to spec. My Realm Ethereal comic book currently has a page size set up for 8.5″ x 11″. It’s not the normal comic book size and that’s intentional. But with InDesign, I can start lettering and laying out my pages so that I’m building the actual print file at the same time.

Now, I’m a totally independent creator/publisher/writer/artist/website designer/marketer who is totally in charge of all my own art production, wearing all of those hats. And I freakin’ LOVE it. I can’t think of anything that more accurately describes “indie creator”, right?  I understand my method of lettering might not pertain to someone who is part of the production chain. So, I can see how a letterer who is only doing lettering would probably work just within Illustrator. She or he would letter the pages as they receive them, then pass them along down the production line. And that’s cool. Since I’m doing all of my own production work, it makes sense for me to tidy up my process and make it as streamlined as possible. I try to practice a “touch it only once” method in my process. If I can do in one program what others might do in three programs, I see a huge time saver.

I hope you like the video. If you find InDesign works for your lettering needs, awesome. If not, there’s always more than one way to cat a skin. Cheers!

 

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The Realm Ethereal 2018-2019 Character Timeline

The Realm Ethereal created by Rene Arreola

The Realm Ethereal 2018-2019 Character Timeline

The Realm Ethereal has been a project where my main intent was to create all new, all original characters. I knew one thing for sure when I started working on this project back in 2018: just keep doing it. I am and always will be first and foremost, a comic book creator. I was inspired to draw because of the comic books I first got my hands on when I was in the fourth grade. I’ve never really stepped fully away from comic books. Even now as I am creating digital paintings, I still have an eye with creating my own new comic book series based on these Realm Ethereal characters.

In order to create comic books, you need three things really: a story, art, and characters. Many times before, I would start in on the story and I always had characters. But, with The Realm Ethereal, I actually put the design of the characters and world building aspects before I wrote and drew any comic book stories. I basically took my typical approach to making comic books (as a solo creator/writer/artist) and turned it upside down.

Instead of launching into drawing comic book pages and before even trying to write a story, I started creating and designing these characters. I would put myself through an exercise of creating and also thinking about who these characters were. I tried to envision what kind of worlds they inhabited, what they wore, what their physical appearances looked like. The only thing I had were names I came up with. And, in the case of the Ethereals, symbols. Other than that, I tried not to overthink the process. My approach was to let these characters tell me what the story is.

I didn’t really know what this approach would yield. The only thing I did and focused on was: just keep doing it. And today, as I type this blog post, I am sitting with 24 different illustrations of characters I have been slowly, but surely, stocking in my stable of character designs for future stories. If this is any kind a metric, I like the fact that having these many fleshed-out character designs gives me multiple avenues for telling stories. And that excites me!

As for this character creation time line, I created this as a way to really gather my thoughts and impressions as I look back on these characters I’ve been steadily creating over the last two years. I would equate this to some kind of abbreviated, on the spot diary summing up the last two years of my work in this Realm Ethereal.

This character creation time line is also another way for me to further lay down some ideas of who these characters are and where I could potentially go with them. The process of writing about these characters, in any way, shape, or form is an important step as I plan comic book stories going forward. My plan is to expand this colorful mix of characters into a magical fantasy realm where I can tell entertaining stories. The character creation time line below gives insight into my journey working on this series thus far. My goal one year from today: to have at least two original printed collections of my art and comic book stories. I know it will happen, I just need to keep telling myself: just keep doing it. I’m excited, I can’t wait to see where I’m at in a year. 

The Realm Ethereal Character Creation Time Line

Casia (February 2018)

Casia Minohr was the first character I created for The Realm Ethereal. This painting really began my exploration into this new world I was just dipping my toes into. I knew I wanted to create new worlds and characters and so this was my freshman effort. This was also the very first, full blown painting I created on my iPad Pro.

Kiana (March 2018)

Kiana was a concept that started out by introducing elements (water in this case) into my concept phase. Kiana was initially called my “blue” piece. Looking back at the previous Casia painting, Casia became my “red” piece.

Mirela (March 2018)

Following up Kiana, Mirela became my “green” piece. Mirella’s character was one tied in with the land. Hence, the green theme. By this point, I designated Casia, Kiana and Mirela as “metaterrans”. Metaterrans essentially being super-powered or extraordinarily gifted human-like beings.

Om (April 2018)

From the beginning, I knew I had to create a character who would be the main, most powerful character in this world-building project. Enter: Om, the Ethereal of Vibration. Om’s powers having to do with “vibration” cemented the concept for this character being all-powerful in The Realm Ethereal. He is the first Ethereal.

Kor (April 2018)

At this point in time, I really started focusing on thse “Ethereals”. Om was seen as a “good guy” and, naturally, I had to come up with a “bad guy”. Enter: Kor, the Ethereal of Chaos. In my mind, Kor is more complex than just being all about “chaos”, but I figured he was a good start to introducing some conflict.

Oda (April 2018)

Oda continued my exploration into creating more Ethereals. Oda became the first female Ethereal I designed. I took the concept of Kor’s “hair”, which looks like flames, and wanted to try something similar but different for Oda. I really pushed her hair to become this flowing, ethereal element to her character. Oda is the ethereal of light.

Nor (April 2018)

Nor was a jump back to the “dark side”. I’m still not sure if he really is “good” or “bad”; that remains to be seen. My concept of him being the ethereal of merging stars was that he causes stars to collide. From that, he is one who is able to either create new worlds or destroy them…or perhaps both simultaneously.

Rem (April 2018)

I kind of missed painting planets, and so a large focus this time around was spent on creating the large sphere behind Nor. Nor is the ethereal of sight. It’s no coincidence that his symbol over his face kinda looks like an eye.

Ena (May 2018)

Ena was my next Ethereal creation. She was designed to help balance out who I was slowly defining as the top three ethereals. So, Ena is the ethereal of order. Along with Om (ethereal of vibration) and Oda (ethereal of light), Ena completes my trio of balance in The Realm Ethereal: vibration, light and order.

Aur (May 2018)

To contrast Ena’s visually softer and flowing feel, I came up with Aur, the ethereal of the shining star. His metallic looking skin with sharp, blade-like objects protruding from his back seem to make him more aggressive. The concept of a “shining star” intrigued me with wanting to make Aur a guide of some sort.

Azure (May 2018)

For my next character, I wanted to create a new classification of characters in The Realm Ethereal. And so was born Azure…Ethereal Guard. This is the first design where a character is visibly holding some kind of object, most likely a weapon of some sort. From there, I came up with the idea to have guardians of the ethereal realm. This is also the first time I show the “ethereal flame”, emblazoned on Azure’s chest.

Nenael (June 2018)

For the next several paintings I would be excited to work on this new classification of characters called ethereal guards. They would be neither ethereal or metaterran, but something in between. Nenael was the next ethereal guard, wielding a magical torch. The idea of the “ethereal flame” was also carried through into this design. This is the first painting that includes a background with more than just planets, clouds and rocks. It is the first time I painted some kind of city.

Thereon (June 2018)

With Thereon, I was exploring a really wild idea: an ethereal guard who has the ability to cast worlds. In fact, my idea in this painting included a world forge (seen behind the character on the right side of the painting.) An idea to be explored in a future story-arc.

Nodeoknakama (July 2018)

Nodeoknakama, the ethereal guard born without eyes. In keeping with creating new characters and worlds, I introduce this ethereal guard who interfaces the realm via a magical staff.

Om Reveal (August 2018)

My designs take a turn as I come up with a new theme idea: Ethereal Reveal. All of the Ethereals have a mask of some sort, over their faces. These are each different symbols I designed to give a symbol for what each Ethereal represents. The concept of Ethereal Reveal is to reveal the faces of the Ethereals.

Oda Reveal (August 2018)

My Ethereal Reveal series continued with Oda, Ethereal of Light.

Aeliana (September 2018)

The Ethereal Reveal would be short lived (for the time being.) At this point, I felt like I needed to challenge myself. Enter: Aeliana, the Lion Gatherer. All compositions prior to Aeliana were all structured around single characters. Not only did I want to add some kind of additional interactions for my characters, but I felt a need to include other creatures. Aeliana is the first painting where I tackled rendering an animal head-on. I referenced the lion in the painting with a small plastic toy lion I bought at my local Michael’s art store.

Eislyn (October 2018)

Eislyn of the Ethereal Sea became the second character creation to include a large, whale-shark like creature. Eislyn is a metaterran.

Casia's Ascension (March 2019)

By March of 2019, my online comic book had been going full-steam and Casia Minohr became the featured character of the first storyline “The Dreamer and The Dreamed”. This painting was created to show Casia’s ascension scene from my online comic book.

Caelesits (April 2019)

Caelestis is a new Ethereal Guard design created to help bulk up my Ethereal Guard line-up. I have plans to create the next chapter in my Realm Ethereal comic book series centered around the Ethereal Guards. Caelestis is the brother of Azure. This painting also marks a major turning point in my creative process. This was the first time I started painting  full-on grayscale with the intent of moving the painting from the app Procreate on my iPad to Photoshop and then working on my desktop iMac. This was a huge game-changer for me and to date, this is how I have been creating my digital paintings.

Damara (May 2019)

I felt an urge to change the tone of my next painting and to date this probably is the most light-hearted almost carefree looking piece. Damara is a metaterran who is one with all winged, flying insects. Between Damara and Eislyn, these are the only characters that are really smiling!

King Baldor (June 2019)

King Baldor is the first character I have brought over from another series I created from two years earlier, an online comic book called The Hammer and The Fury. He is the first male metaterran I introduced. By this time, I noticed a very definite pattern of including flying creatures in my paintings. I suspect that all these winged, flying creatures are subconscious symbols of my own art career finally taking off (or, at least me making a run at it!)

Avalina (July 2019)

Avalina saw me going back to my Ethereal Guard line up and wanting to bulk up the team even more. This painting is a call back to an older painting I started a few years ago but never completed. This one was an especially gratifying piece because of me finally finishing that piece. And it turned out even better than I could have hoped.

Ena Reveal (August 2019)

As you can see, I jump around in my paintings. For this painting, it was back to Ethereal Reveal. With the most involved background artwork I’ve done in a painting, this one is one of my favorites.

Kor Ethereal Reveal (September 2019)

My “brooding” piece, featuring the Ethereal of Chaos, Kor. I am once again drawn toward working within a limited color palette range. This character also gets a major upgrade in terms of presentation and appearance. Especially when compared to the first version I painted. But with this being an Ethereal Reveal image, that was bound to happen. After all, removing the mask and revealing the character behind can speak volumes.

Asreeth Ethereal Guard (October 2019)

The mighty lion warrior returns! Formerly “Asreeth Lion Warrior” and based on a web comic I published a few years back. It’s especially rewarding when I can rescue one of my old projects and breathe new life into it for The Realm Ethereal. This is fast becoming one of my most popular pieces.

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Tales from The Realm Ethereal: The Hammer and The Fury

The Hammer and The Fury

Tales from The Realm Ethereal: The Hammer and The Fury

The Hammer and The Fury
"King Baldor" was originally from a comic book series I created called The Hammer and The Fury.
The Hammer and The Fury” was a comic book series I started online sometime in 2017. I created only as many pages as you see below. I lost steam on this one due to lack of time. I have always enjoyed comic books, as you can tell no doubt, but it was around 2015 when I started to turn my attentions and interest toward fantasy and sci-fi. Being raised and fed Marvel and DC superhero comics growing up and into my early adulthood, there’s no surprise my love for the medium. But I was kind of getting tired of the same old characters. I needed a refresher.
 
My desire to make comic books and create my own stories has been there since I was a child. One day, I may display my early childhood efforts, wherein I made comic books on ruled binder paper or blank typing paper. Today, I share with you one of my transition points where I started focusing more on cosmic and outer spaced themed art and stories. These series of comic book pages also mark the last time I really drew comics on paper using ink with brushes and pens. Today, I’m working entirely digitally.
 
There are a handful of relatively recent comics, graphic novels, and other influences online that have steered my interests in this new direction. Both with how I am today making the art (digitallly) to the actual subject matter that interests me (fantasy, sci-fi, spiritual.) The thing that really just drove it home for me was wanting to write, draw, and publish comics in a realm that was really best left to whatever worlds and characters I could conceive and design. This means these worlds or creations aren’t bound to any rules or existing intellectual properties. No gatekeepers. I haven’t really made any fan art in the last two years as I feel I want all of my current, comic book creating energies to be fully directed toward projects I could reap, both as an artist and as a business person.
 
The story below was the first one that really got my creative juices going. Even though I did not complete the story, the characters contained therein are all my original creations. In fact, I have taken two characters from the story shown here and featured them as Creations for The Realm Ethereal. They are King Baldor and his sidekick dragon, Decima. In fact, there is another character featured below whom I will revive back into The Realm Ethereal. I’m excited to get a start on that piece. If you’re ever curious as to what I have coming down the pike, my patrons over at my Patreon always get the first, early views and behind the scenes look at my artwork creation.
 
I hope you enjoy this little story here. It’s a blast from my not-too-distant past, but it still provides a pretty good glimpse into the type of artwork and stories I’m telling with The Realm Ethereal.

The Hammer and The Fury

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Tales from The Realm Ethereal: The Princess and The Barbarian

The Princess and The Barbarian

Tales from The Realm Ethereal: The Princess and The Barbarian

The Realm Ethereal is the story of The Ethereals and the realm which they oversee. This includes Metaterrans, Ethereal Guards, and other creations that have yet to even appear. But The Realm Ethereal is also a place for me to feature other stories I’ve created over the years.

I have, by and large, always been focused on producing creator-owned content. This yarn here is no different. The artwork shown here was drawn somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago. It was only recently colored sometime in the last four years, which was when I also wrote the accompanying story.

The truth is, this was supposed to be a Conan The Barbarian sample. But I don’t think I ever got around to submitting it. Back then, I would have submitted it to Dark Horse Comics. Nowadays, as of this blog post, Marvel-Disney own the license to produce the character created by Robert E Howard.  I think what ended up happening was I liked the art so much when I completed it, that I wanted to use it for something original.

So here we are today, 2019, and I’m releasing this story as “The Princess and The Barbarian”. The artwork in this story is only pencil art; I never inked it. It was colored digitally in Photoshop then lettered with Illustrator. As for the story, the plot was basically what you see in these four pages. Really, I think you can tell what is going on even if you didn’t have the dialogue.

But, these are comics and a story in bubbles with pointer tails is what it’s all about. As for the characters, setting, and story itself, since it’s all creator-owned (owned by me), I like being able to claim it for The Realm Ethereal, even though I drew this story 15-20 years ago. This is what I enjoy most about creating my own characters and owning the stories. I’m able to reuse them or reintroduce them into another story or universe landscape. Because what that means is I can keep using what I’ve already created and give it new life. In this case, new life many years after it was conceived.

So this is really just a little glimpse into another aspect of The Realm Ethereal. A little something I like to call “Tales of The Realm Ethereal.” It’s designed to give my flexibility to shift things around, bring my previously never-seen artwork into a new light, and also build more characters into this universe I am creating. And that’s FUN!

The Princess and The Barbarian

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Painting A Humming Bird

humming bird grayscale painting

Painting A Humming Bird

The last thing I expected to include in the painting “Ena, Ethereal Reveal” was a humming bird. In fact, in my very first sketch, I wanted to paint frogs. Frogs? Yeah, that idea pretty much came from out of left field. And while the last thing I expected to paint lately was a humming bird, I couldn’t help but notice that the last four paintings prior to Ena, Ethereal Reveal. Each painting below includes some kind of flying creature. From left to right below, I have falcons, a dragon, butterflies and an eagle.

Ena Ethereal Reveal fantasy artThe idea of flight and “spreading my wings” has been the major theme in my life so far in 2019. This is the first time I have really taken the leap to pursue making art full-time. This year has been a great year of exploring my own characters in a universe I am creating called The Realm Ethereal. By coming up with my own designs and worlds, I continue to push myself to make art consistently. And as can be seen, I have consistently been adding creatures of flight in my latest works.

Today’s post is going to be mostly taken up by the video shown here. The video captures me working on the drawing on the grayscale painting phase of the humming bird in the Ena, Ethereal Reveal painting. Be warned, this video is over an hour long but it does capture me from start to finish on painting the humming bird, using photo reference.

So, if you’ve got about an hour and fifteen minutes to spare, feel free to watch. Or, if you feel like listening to me talk about my art methods, show which digital brushes I like to use in Procreate, and listen to my cat begging to be let out at about 4:12 into the video, then by all means click play.

The Realm Ethereal was created by me, Rene Arreola. I am an artist who draws and paints fantastic imagery in the style of imaginative realism. My interest in making art lies at the intersection of character design and creation while owning my art and intellectual properties.

On top of all that, I really just enjoy playing with colors in a painting while paying homage the superhero comic books I read as a child. That’s why my fantasy art illustration will always have some kind of look to it that draws from and is inspired by superhero comic books.

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Digital Painting In Color

digital fantasy painting Avalina

Digital Painting In Color

The Realm Ethereal was born out of my love for superhero comic books and fantasy art. Blending these both gave birth to The Realm Ethereal. A feel for something both superheroish and fantasy based is what I am for in this “realm”.

All character creations, as I like to call them, are in fact character studies in my process. I often start drawing and these characters eventually emerge. From nothing more than a single word such as “space” or “ocean” or “butterfly” or “green” do these creations first manifest.

Once the character starts to manifest in a sketch and eventually a full composition in a painting, I start really refining the character’s visual look. Once a painting gets through the full detail grayscale phase, it’s time to add color. In this video, I show how I do that.

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My Secret Art Arsenal: Photo Reference

photo reference for art

My Secret Art Arsenal: Photo Reference

When it comes to one of my many “secrets” to making art, one of the biggest ones is my use of photo reference. In fact, it’s the biggest one, period. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for finding the right reference photos.

I have no shame in admitting I use photo reference for my art. The fact is, when it comes to making comics, the process is a rather time-intensive effort. Especially when you’re like me, the type of creator that is truly independent and is in charge of the whole package: writes, draws, colors and letters. A long time ago, I thought using photos was cheating. I also thought using photos would slow down my process of actual art making. In all my years of drawing and looking back in hindsight, I’m here to tell you using photo reference is going to help your learning process and actually make you faster…even if it slows you down a bit in the beginning.

I attended a California State University many moons ago, but ultimately dropped out because it was getting expensive and the instructor was having me do something I hated at the time: using photo reference! Now, it’s not like I never used photo reference prior to university. Keep in mind this was after community college, so I was well into my mid to late twenties when I decided to go to university. I used photo reference for some drawings, but I hated how it slowed down my process. But I was so enamored with drawing comics at the time that I only thought of looking at comics and emulating my favorite artists. That meant I was trying to draw like them after only having seen their final artwork in printed format in a comic book. Anatomy books? Figure drawing classes? More figure drawing classes at night where the students all chipped in to hire their own models after drawing live models all day long? I signed up for this?? Screw this–I wanna draw comics! Ah, I know the sentiment.

I guess I had a really bad attitude back in my day toward using photos to draw from. Let’s face it: we don’t see the human figure one day and decide we want to draw it. We see comics, manga, video games, etc. and we start drawing and copying those things. Not a bad start necessarily, but… a bad thing nonetheless. For me, it was the era of the Jim Lees and Todd McFarlanes at Image Comics. I saw WildCATS and Spawn and, BAM, I was off and drawing! Again, this was great for inspiring me and making me want to draw endlessly. But I lacked the knowledge at the time that using photo reference was such a thing. I guess you couldn’t blame me for not knowing any better, right?

I think that is an important part of our development, especially as comic book artists. We kind of have to first fall in love with the work we see, figure out how to do it, figure out if we really love drawing enough keep doing it even though the work really sucks (which we wouldn’t be able to see at the time anyway because we’re too new to it), do it any way we can, and (after potentially many years of struggling and learning our craft) finally learn how to do it in a way that actually improves our level of art. This only happens after having somehow found a path that points us in the right direction. This path could take the form of school, instructional videos or books, or another more skilled/advanced artist.

While I was glad I left university at the time (and quite frankly, I still am glad–no student debt for me, EVER!), I should have stuck to using photo reference. I think my disdain for using photo reference back in the day was because it was more of a hassle than it is today. Back then, to get really specific figure poses, I bought a 35mm camera as well as a Polaroid camera. Then came digital cameras, my first being a Kodak. And that was kind of cool, but still somewhat of a hassle because I had to put the memory card in the computer, download the JPEGs, etc., etc. Then, I got a really nice printer to compose and print out my work onto sheets of 11″ x 17″ paper. Which I would then trace off if I were doing a painting. But for comic books, man, such a pain! I did eventually print out a “morgue” file of some photos I took plus stuff I found online. I put them into a binder and created a catalog of reference photos. After a time, this became a hassle too. For me, all this work was a barrier to wanting to use photo reference for my art, especially for comic book work.

But today? It is zero hassle these days to use photo reference. Provided you have the right hardware and a decent internet connection, the barrier for using photo reference these days is only limited by my imagination. The main reason, in my opinion, is because of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. Damn, it is so easy these days to get a hold of any photo reference. As a co-worker of mine used to say outright and outloud, “Google that shit!” I routinely gather photo reference these days, especially for heads and faces, from Google images. For human figure work, when I really need to, I use small, poseable manikins or an app on my iPad where I can pose a figure in literally any position I can come up with. It’s helped my art tremendously.

The big take away here is this: photo reference is just a means to an end. The end result is creating a credible image or drawing that looks as we intend it to look in the eyes of other people. If I were never to show my work to anyone, the point is moot. But guess what? If we’re posting our art online for others to enjoy or critique, we’re opening our work and ourselves up to the world. For better or worse, people are going to talk. The worst of it: no one cares, and they keep scrolling. But, if someone takes the time to actually crit your work, man, that is golden in this era of social media. Sometimes we get good feedback, sometimes bad feedback. And at times it kind of stings when someone says something negative about our work, right? Some take it better than others for sure.

I feel using photo reference enhances my art, improving my chances of successfully creating an image that most accurately conveys what I’m trying to express. Consider my most recent endeavor “The Realm Ethereal”. In this comic book series, I am using photo reference as I never have before. This frankly due to the fact that I am now working entirely digitally and primarily using my iPad Pro. This has worked wonders for my love of using photo reference. As an example of some of the handful of reference I’ve used in this series, check out the examples below.

 

Straight on view, head tilted up. This is always an easy one to blow if you don’t have reference.

Eyes half-closed, looks better when referenced

Eyes fully closed…much better with reference!

Profile shot with contrasting light and dark areas…don’t even try to make that stuff up, especially if it’s a woman and you still need for her to look dramatically lighted and still appear attractive.

This one is challenging enough to draw even with a photo reference. How often have I drawn this particular expression? Prior to his, I don’t think ever. Forget trying to make it up out of my head!

This particular expression could only have been successfully achieved using this photo reference. And even then, the drawing itself might still be a bit wonky. Imagine if I had no photo reference at all!

These three-quarter views from behind are also a gem. Don’t even think about pulling this one from out of your head. That ear in that position will mess with you every time unless you have photo reference!

Did you know there’s more to eyes than just eyeballs? How about the way eyelashes attach to the eyelids and their formations as they bend up and back and down and back? Eyelids? The shape of the eyebrows and the insertion and origin points of the eyebrows from the middle of the brow area of the head? No thanks, I’ll use photo reference when I want this to look TIGHT!

That squinty-eyed look. But remember, she still needs to look attractive. Best chances are by using…photo reference!!

Eyeballs looking up. Trickier than you think. Don’t rush this stuff. Reference!

That darned three-quarter view agin, PLUS looking down at an angle. Tough stuff here…drawing a mouth from that angle is like a booby-trap. Photo reference, baby!

So, while photo reference won’t make your work perfect (no one’s work is perfect, and certainly not my own), you have a better chance of success by using it. We can all look at the photo reference and agree on one thing: you’re doing your best and the reference will always be there as gauge to see how much we’re really putting in to our art. And remember, you get out what you put in. The rest is talent, so don’t even worry about it. Just keep drawing, and when you have a chance, get some photo reference. After all, there really is no excuse.

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Work in progress: “Caelestis, Ethereal Guard” ***UPDATE 4-1-19

Caelestis Ethereal Guard featured

Work in progress: “Caelestis, Ethereal Guard” ***UPDATE 4-1-19

I’m going to be detailing my working methods with this blog post regarding this new painting “Caelestis, Ethereal Guard”. As an experiment, I’ll be updating this particular article post as the painting progresses.

For the most part, I have been painting digitally since early 2018, using my iPad Pro along with the Apple Pencil. My app of choice is Procreate. I do have several other apps and from time to time I used them for miscellaneous things. Such as I’ll use Affinity Photo to sometimes adjust the levels of some sketches for posting directly online from my iPad to social media and the like.

Other times, I’ll just want to get out of Procreate and work in a different app. Isn’t that kind of funny? I like the simplicity and how light weight Procreate feels. I’ve read online that Photoshop is coming to the iPad Pro and I’m very interested to see what the experience and file handling is like for digital painting. When I do work outside of Procreate, I find myself using Adobe Sketch. These first images here show my attempt at working up some really loose sketching, trying to hit something that captures my interest. The sketch of the lady just went nowhere for me. But, as I worked smaller and smaller, finally I hit upon something.

 

In the image above, the small thumbnail toward the upper right is where things just finally clicked for me. The app I’m using is Adobe Sketch.

Zoomed in 400%, you can see the basic, rough sketch of Caelestis. The sketch itself is tiny, but therein is where I finally hit upon a certain satisfaction sketch-wise.

The initial thumbnail then gets ported into Procreate, my app of choice for more detailed sketching and rendering. A quick side note here, I am currently fully drawing my Realm Ethereal comic book pages all within the Procreate app. Getting back to the topic at hand, here is the thumbnail now in Procreate.

Here is the tightened up sketch, fully rendered in Procreate.

As a bonus of sorts, I’m including a downloadable PSD file if you’d like to see my layers for this first stage of sketching. It’s not too involved, but you can check it out just to get an idea of how I work. Interesting note: you are limited in how many layers you can use in Procreate based on how large your canvas is. I’m also including a video time-lapse of the sketching phase. Enjoy!

As I mentioned, I’ll be updating this blog post as I progress further with this painting in the coming days. The next stage is a fully rendered greyscale painting. So check back in a few days (or subscribe to my email list and get notified when the next update happens) to see how things are coming along.

UPDATE: 3-25-19

The next phase of the painting involves working entirely in grayscale. It’s been quite some time since I’ve worked this way and when I did, it was using traditional media. Bringing it back for this painting is motivated by the fact that I am curious to add color using gradient maps in Photoshop. What I’ve done so far is leveraged my comfort painting in Procreate to do much of the heavy lifting in drawing and establishing value first hand.

So right of the bat, I’m delaying any colors. Instead, colors will be added using a totally different approach. I’m still a little nervous because I’m really comfortable with working in Procreate. I know Photoshop inside and out, but have never really used it to paint with. The adventure continues.
Caelestis fantasy art

UPDATE: 4-1-19

As I finish up this blog post, and after having completed the painting shown below, I’ve come to the realization that working in grayscale was of tremendous benefit to the outcome of this piece. After making the very first print, I could see how the time I spent working on my values really paid off in the end. But the other element that struck me was this: my color palette. Painting digitally, it’s so easy to use almost any color you can dial up on the color picker. But since I was “painting” color in Photoshop, I was able to see what I was not seeing before: how a limited color palette helps to unify a piece throughout.
 
Using the gradient map method in Photoshop was a bit of a struggle at first. And I’m sure I’m still going to learn a lot more the more I stick with it and pick away at the process. But, for the first time, I think this painting gets as close to what I would define as being ideal. Ideal in the sense that the composition clearly has the main subject in focus (the robed figure) with stark contrast to help keep the focus right on him. The background element of the bird, although busy with my mark making, is kept in check due to the values I had worked out beforehand in the grayscale painting.
 
To put things in perspective, I spent (according to the time clocked in the Procreate app) 14 hours and 33 minutes refining that grayscale painting. That’s a big deal, but in a good way. I was really able to focus on more of the drawing aspects in the grayscale since I was not worrying at all about color. I see the advantage in working in this fashion. The painting below is the final result. I’m excited to try the next painting I work on to see what the process reveals as I delve more into gradient maps and painting.
 
 “Caelestis, Ethereal Guard” is available in my online store as a limited edition, 17″ x 22″ art print.
 
 

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Apple iPad Pro with Apple Pencil for Artists

iPad Pro art Rene Arreola

Apple iPad Pro with Apple Pencil for Artists

Since March of 2018 I have been drawing and painting almost exclusively on my Apple iPad Pro 12.9” and I have not looked back (so far.) I ordered my Apple iPad Pro 12.9” and Apple Pencil sometime in late 2016 and my drawing and painting have never been the same since (in a good way.) However, the first time I really took to trying to draw something that resembled a finished piece of art was in February 2018.

I clearly remember being in Maui at the airport with my wife at our gate waiting to board our plane, departing for home. Our flight was delayed and I decided to kill some time by playing with my iPad Pro. Given the circumstance of being stuck somewhere with nowhere to go and having a good chunk of free time on my hands, I was actually forced to entertain myself with the iPad. Previously, I used the iPad to read some comic books I downloaded from ComiXology. I did not have any music or movies stored on the iPad because I knew I wanted to conserve memory and resources for strictly making art.

But this time, I didn’t feel like reading and so I decided to sketch instead. I launched an application I previously just fiddled around with, the drawing and painting application called Procreate. Without really trying to create anything of significance, I began doodling this strange looking character:

Yes, this is technically the first full blown illustration I created on my iPad Pro. I probably spent an hour on it and about another 30-45 minutes on it while on our flight back home. When we returned home and I had a few days to let the drawing sit. In fact, I almost forgot about it completely. However, upon revisiting this drawing, it struck me how truly awesome this piece of work was. Not because of what I drew, but because of the manner in which I drew it.

With nothing more than two tools (the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil) and one drawing application (Procreate) I was able to produce a decent drawing with color. I was able to sketch as if I were using a pencil. I painted colors almost effortlessly. And all while working from a remote location. I was suddenly looking at my iPad Pro in a new light. It was at that point I realized the power of this device and the potential for me to really start using it for my own art.

I have had years of working with traditional media: pencil, ink, brushes, pens, watercolor paints, oil paints, acrylic paints, etc. I’ve taken art courses in color and design, figure and perspective drawing, expressive drawing and introductory illustration courses at the local college and state university levels. I think I’ve got a decent handle on working with traditional drawing and painting methods. Working digitally now opened up a whole new world where I could put my previous studies using traditional art mediums to practice using a tool that allowed me to create almost as fast as I could think.

I have mostly focused on creating comic book artwork most of my life. Specifically, drawing in pencil and inking with india ink. This is where my passion lies, and creating any kind of art in this genre is what I aspire most to do. However, I also really enjoy working with color and painting. The issue with working with real world materials is the handling of the materials themselves and, quite frankly, having the space to work. I don’t live or work in a tiny space by any means, but my work area has definitely been the victim of the clutter brought on by accumulating a lot of various art supplies.

What I like about the iPad Pro is the freedom from having to stock, file, catalog, etc. such art materials. As an artist, I love to buy tons of art materials…some of which I never used! Maybe that’s just me, but I have a collection of pencils, brushes, pens, paint tubes, notebooks and other art paraphernalia that clutter up my work space. I think much of these art supply purchases were impulse buys I made when I was younger. An attitude of “…one day, I’ll use this art thing for that type of drawing/painting…”. Nowadays, I like to streamline as much as possible. Less is more and as such I feel my iPad Pro has helped me to do two major things:

1) Focus more on concepts

2) Work much faster

While it’s a fact that I now have to concern myself with such things as battery life and internet connectivity, I really have come to enjoy drawing and painting digitally and uncluttered. I can launch my favorite drawing/painting app and get straight to work. Making changes or adjustments, especially with color work, almost feels like cheating! When it comes to “painting”, I have found since I no longer am setting up a traditional painting space, I can work almost anywhere I want to. When I’m at home, I work at either my drawing table or at my desk near my iMac computer. On occasion, I have sketched at the dining room table. If we’re on the road, staying at a hotel, I can use my Elevation Lab Draft Table to work on almost any stable flat surface.

All this allows me to focus on ideas, concepts, roughs, etc. almost right out the gate. The ease with which I am able to grab two tools (the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil) and sketch, storyboard, create a color rough, make a painting or drawing and upload online almost instantly is so worth the price of iPad Pro and Pencil.

fantasy art on ipad pro by Rene Arreola

On speeding up my own process and increasing my art output, I can only relate my own experiences. After that initial drawing made with my iPad on February 13, 2018, I continued to explore painting with the Procreate app. My first full blown, completed painting was on February 24, 2018. Since the first digital painting, I’ve completed 16 paintings. As of this article (October 2018) I’m working on my 17th painting for the year. For me, that is a significant increase in my paintings output.

The original pencil sketch for this painting (shown below) was done sometime in 2003! The plan was always to turn it into a painting. But year after year, it just kept being put on the back burner. Working on it to make it a full painting meant having to enlarge it, transfer it onto a canvas or illustration board, and begin painting in either oil or acrylic paint. A long and drawn out process for me personally. But I loved to paint, and the process is what the process is and I did it to the best of my ability.

fantasy art on ipad pro

On the iPad Pro, I completed this digital painting in just over 26 hours (the Procreate app is able to track my time painting, and it will even record the number of paint strokes I make!) I think that’s pretty cool. For me and my process and how I like to work, the amount of preparation time is drastically reduced by working digitally. I can essentially get right to the painting, when I’m ready to paint.

The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil has made a significant impact in the way I produce paintings these days. It has helped me to create more paintings in a shorter period of time. Which is good because I like that I can complete a painting in a fraction of the time it used to take me. I work on a painting until I say I’m pretty much done with it. My paintings are as perfect as I tell myself they are, but the fact is that I am now able to finish them and move on to the next one in record time. “Finished, not perfect”, my mantra for what has been, thus far, a paintings-filled year!

I’m excited to see where the iPad Pro goes from here. I know tech hardware has a shelf life and that advances in the apps as well are coming out faster and faster. But overall, it’s a great time to be an artist in the digital age. If you’ve ever thought about going digital, I highly recommend it. Click here to see the all the paintings I’ve created so far from March 2018 to October 2018.

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Creating Fantasy Art for The Realm Ethereal

The Realm Ethereal original character sketches

Creating Fantasy Art for The Realm Ethereal

The Realm Ethereal original character sketches

On a practical level, The Realm Ethereal is a concept partially describing the state in which I find myself more and more interested in when it comes to creating my personal art. That state has to do with my creating and owning the art I make. This naturally extends to myself being my own gatekeeper on the creative vision of this brand.

In the long run, we as artists are our own brand. I’ve been drawing with some form of intent probably since I was about 9 or 10 years old. This is due to having discovered comic books at that age. Using comic books as the spring board to draw when I was a child is the reason I draw and paint today. I still have the comic books I made from when I was a child. I’ve worked a few freelance projects here and there, but I’ve always felt it is important for me to work on my own personal projects. After all, some of the most fun I’ve ever had was creating my own art and stories when I was kid drawing on ruled binder paper or white typing paper.

I think what I enjoy most about creating The Realm Ethereal is the free reign I allow myself. This ethereal realm exists in my mind’s eye and so I get to form, shape, draw, tear down, reshape, redraw to my heart’s content. This is nothing new, really. Call it “creator-owned” or “self published”, the end result is the same: creating stories and art that get me excited about sharing it with others and being able to sustain itself, both emotionally and financially.

Creating a body of work such as I have been with this ongoing project requires both a physical and emotional investment. While the energy spent is tremendous fun, it takes a good deal of time and focused effort to achieve the desired results. Those results involve creating kick-ass artwork, a cohesive storyline (coming soon!) and all the actual “butt-time” required to make these things fly. “Butt-time” equals sitting at the drawing table, putting in the hours needed. Emotionally, I have to be able to focus on the craft of the art but persevere even on days when I don’t feel like drawing or painting. “Finished”, not “perfect” is a new mantra when it comes to working on this personal, ongoing project.

As a start, creating fantasy art for The Realm Ethereal means focusing on ideas only I can define because they exist as an extension of both my conscious and subconscious. The goal is to take these “ethereal” ideas and birth them into the real world where they can exist in a tangible form. Creating a community around this world and to be able to create interesting, honest work that engages is my hope for The Realm Ethereal.

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