Category Archives: How-to

Crying Kid Eating Predatorial Animals: The How-To post

Okay, so I did this with the Hetfield album cover and I did this for the Furey’s show screen printed flyer and I kind of did it for the Brainfest flyer too…

so here I’ll go into detail about how I did the Weak Teeth album art (not sure what their plans are for releasing it at this point).

Okay, so as with all the stuff, basic layout started in Photoshop from cut up stock images. It was essentially a long kind of dull process finding the right images, cutting them out, placing them on the background, etc. etc. and I won’t really go into detail about that since it’s just the skeleton of the whole thing. Suffice it to say, that after several hours of mundane photoshoppery, I had this image at 16×16:


AHHHH But damn, that’s a lot to draw and paint. And the concept is that the front cover has the kid being the prey, but then on the back he’s shown having eaten all of his attackers:


So, that’s two fully painted and inked 16×16 drawings? AH! But I’m a super genius at being lazy. So what I actually printed to work from were these things:

4 BG 3

The tree stump is in the lower right of each of them so that when all was done, I could use the stump as the anchor and rotate the scans until they fit just right. So then came the drawing. The idea is that I’d only have to draw the background once and I could just pop the different foregrounds over it, so instead of two 16×16 painted illustrations, it really added up to a 16×16, a 14×12, and an 8×10. The background of the forest and all that was the largest (and least interesting) to do, so only doing it once kind of ruled.

Hours upon hours of making little scratches on paper. Here are photos, pretend this took you a month.

2 5a6aBACK_1BG_BK

Okay, so drawing is complete. Went through a couple pens on this.

Now to paint. What I did for that, which is different from the Hetfield process, was actually scan the drawings and print those out with registration marks in the corners. For Hetfield, I trace-painted using the photoshop printout I had used to draw from. Here, remembering that scanning the large drawing in chunks and piecing it together resulted in parts of the drawing being slightly off from the original, I opted to paint using the final drawn piece as the basis. This led to a much closer match when I placed the ink layer on top of the color.

So here’s how that worked out. Remember, I did the background, front cover foreground, and back cover foreground all separate.

BG_COLOR FRONT_2 BACK_2Not super impressive, I know. But check this out:


then the back cover foreground:


then the background for both:


The color is there purely to get…well, a color. All the depth and shading comes from the inks. With the Hetfield album cover, I was aiming for a more surreal painterly look. Here, I was going for a coloring book vibe, or even old comics where the color was flat.

So the guys in the band told me a lot of the themes they’d been exploring lyrically were related to people telling you to grow up and be an adult and all that. And the album title is “So You’ve Ruined Your Life” which I took as an authority figure looking at you as a totally devoted punk rocker down on your luck saying “well that’s what you get for being so childish, what else could you possibly expect?” So to really get nerdy medium-is-the-message about it, with the message being, to me at least, about being empowered by the thing you love that everybody else says is immature…I used a cheap children’s watercolor set and some really old German kid’s crayons for the whole thing. There’s not one drop of a “professional” art supply on the color layer.

So yeah, those three parts were scanned and pieced together and then this was the end result:


Continuing with the theme of being told this sort of “obviously you were going to fail, you don’t understand the world and you need to grow up” thing…the kid wins and was using himself as bait. I like that. The back cover, to me at least, is one big bloody “O RLY?!” punchline.

And that’s that. Hurrah.

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PART 1: How Joe and I made the screen printed posters for the show at Furey’s

Screen printed poster

Here's the end result

You can skip this part, it’s sort of the prologue

So here’s some quick background of how this show was set up. Tim, who you’ll get to see up close in a few, is in both Hivesmasher and Los Bungalitos, and he books shows. Furey’s is a quiet little bar in Lowell, occasionally sketchy but all-in-all a great alternative to dealing with bros at the Village Smokehouse or the crowds at the Worthen (I like the Worthen, but if you’re in one of those moods where you just want to drink your beer and not bump into anybody, Furey’s is the bar for you). Tim also used to live in my apartment, which is walking distance from Furey’s (might explain his affection for the place, but I’m pretty sure he’d just drive drunk anyway, out of laziness). Anyway, turns out almost all the people who live in the upstairs and downstairs units of my apartment are in bands (Los Bungalitos and the Big Sway being Joe’s bands, Hivesmasher being Aaron from downstairs, Pathogenic has Chris and Dan from downstairs, and another upstairs roommate, Tini, just started a band called Oh! The Humanity.). Oh, and I’m in Old Grey. Tim thought it would be funny to book a show with all the roommates’ bands.

And so it was.

Joe and I thought it would be cool to commemorate this event in a limited-edition screen printed flyer. His work recently got a silkscreen setup, so we figured if we got the supplies, there’d be no problem just cranking these out after hours. We also decided that the way to do it, since we both wanted our art all over this thing, was for me to handle the image and base it all on Joe’s photography. Once the image was set, Joe would handle the type.

So, here’s what happened (you can start reading here if you skipped that first part)

So Joe went and took a bunch of photos of the outside of Furey’s, then sat down and sent me a bunch of his photography. The initial photos Joe sent from his portfolio were really good, but I couldn’t find a way to integrate them into a single image -a good photograph doesn’t necessarily make for a good element in a garbagey surreal tracing. The initial batch of photos basically consisted of already-complete images (the image can’t really be broken down into its parts because it’s already kind of a larger scene without any individual characters, more of a mood than a portrait) and there weren’t any elements I thought I could extract and find a new home for. So we talked about what we needed to start from and ended up with these:


This is our cat. Technically, Tini owns the cat, but he terrorizes all of us equally.


This is Tim, drummer for Los B and Hivesmasher. From day 1 in this project, I wanted to do something awful to Tim. Couldn't really say why, he never did anything to me, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Moxie on a bridge

This is our buddy Moxie. He crashed at the apartment for an extended stay at one time, and this photo looked easy to zombify.




This is Josh, a friend of Joe's from his home in western MA. There's a painting of Josh staring at the viewer hanging in our apartment. When that painting isn't around, the room feels like something is missing, so in a weird way the image of Josh is sort of integral to our whole apartment experience.


Joe's brother, Matt, in high school. Apparently that sledgehammer is held by a player on the Agawam team who achieves something badass. So this is kind of like when army guys have photos taken with all their medals, except in this case it's Joe's brother with a hammer. Fun fact: Joe is standing on a chair to get this shot. His brother is standing in a hole 3 feet deep. The kid is HUGE.


Photo of a cow Joe took on a group photo trip to Mexico led by professor Arno Minkkinen.

Nice photo Joe took of some pigeons in Lowell. I think this is one of those photos Joe likes to blow up real big and mount on plywood.

So there’s the source material.

Photoshoppery commences!

First things first, cutting out the bits from each photo.

Obviously Furey’s is the setting for the image, so that was the first thing to cut out. Since it’s mostly hard lines, cutting it out was pretty quick and easy using the line selection tool in Photoshop (the one that looks like  a triangle and half the time you have a bitch of a time finding the start point to close the shape, especially on a gray image since it all blends together).

Furey's isolated from the background

Had to add a little street texture to the foreground. Knowing it'd be drawn later, it didn't really matter.

Note: When laying out these shapes to create the initial image, the key isn’t trying to get the contrast and light-dark levels to look good, it’s estimating how clearly you’ll be able to see the details through a light-table when tracing. It’s actually best if the lighting goes sort of flat. Like here, the side of the building on the left of the image should be a lot darker, but you want to be able to see the detail over there when it’s printed out so you can draw it. If the contrast doesn’t seem right when you draw it, you just put more dark shading in where it needs to go.

From the start, I figured we’d have James the cat destroying something, so why not the bar we’re all playing?

James isolated

Turned him at an angle. In the final product, this is actually 2 layers: His head and his body. In the photoshop file, layer order goes head on top, furey's, james' body underneath. You'll see it in action in a bit.

Next up, Josh and that cow. Since the photo of Josh was cropped a little, I had to google search for a usable arm and leg.

Josh riding a cow

Check out Josh's bicep. It's not because he's a great tennis player...

The photo of Matt is pretty striking, so I thought he’d be great to have front and center being all sorts of menacing. After putting him in context, I decided he wasn’t menacing or weird enough, so I googled “goat horns” and added some. Then I thought he needed to be brought down a peg, so I took Joe’s pigeons and had them hanging out on him, like he’s trying to pose all badass and it turns out he’s just snuggly with birds.

Matt with some pigeons on him

I ended up not drawing the pigeon on his head. I think it like blocked something, can't remember why honestly...

Here’s a great example of that whole contrast thing I mentioned above with the photo of the bar. This photo had a lot of decent contrast and I thought I’d lose the ability to capture that detail on the light table. When you print out your source image, you have to think about how much lighter everything will be when lit from underneath, especially once you put the blank piece of paper on top of it to draw on. I lightened up a lot of the black areas here too, those tend to be hard to decipher through the sheet you draw on, and I increased the mid-tone contrast. I darkened some of the highlights as well, though not all of them. Here’s an illustration to kind of explain it:

contrast example

So the bottom layer represents the source printout lit from underneath on a light table. The top layer is the sheet of paper you're drawing on. When that sheet goes on top of the source sheet, you lose a bunch of visible detail. Knowing that this is going to happen, you try to mess with contrast enough in the PSD file to be able to compensate...then you squint a lot while you trace and put your face up real close to the paper.

Finally, we get Tim and Moxie. I asked Joe for the Moxie photo specifically because I thought he’d be a good zombie from that angle, and I figured if James couldn’t carry Tim’s head in his mouth, Moxie could carry it in his hand.


Moxie, not carrying Tim's head. Since his feet were blocked by the bridge in the photo, I stuck him on the roof

Tim's head

Tim's head. I added blood drips, and even though you can't see it, I gave him zombie/shark eyes.

I added a 3-pixel black stroke to all the layers using the layer styles option. It makes it a LOT easier to tell the shapes apart in a black and white printout. Once the initial drawing is done, you can add your own thicker lines around your characters/shapes to create some depth and get things to pop out from the background a little better. Here’s the completed photoshop layout.

Complete Photoshop layout

Complete Photoshop layout

You can see that whole James layer-order thing here. If you’re not used to Photoshop, imagine the layers as being printed on clear plastic like on those overhead projectors from high school and you’ll be all set. You can slide them around and change the order of things to create your final image.

It’s best when doing Photoshop work, ESPECIALLY for small local events, to create in a non-destructive manner. What I mean by this is, I could have kept James as one layer, put Furey’s on top, and cut out from the roof of the bar layer to expose James’ head underneath, which would have been a “destructive edit,” meaning you can’t undo it later on. Instead, James’ head sits on top, the bar stays in the middle, and James’ body is underneath. I could move James anywhere on the page and still have his head poking out over the bar and have the complete bar with no missing chunks. IMPORTANT: With events set up by your friends, and especially if they involve local bands, you ALWAYS want to be able to undo, change, add, remove, etc.  right up until the last minute. Go ask Tom Southerton from the Ant Cellar, a local basement show venue, how many times he’s had to change the wording on a flyer a day or two before the show if you don’t think you need to be able to do this.

So, Moxie’s a giant, which is fine by me. With something like this, in this style, for this KIND of show (two punk bands, a grind band, a funk band, a proggy-death metally band, and a melodic punk-metal band) you can pretty much break any rules you want. The lineup for the bands is a good one, but it’s a little random in terms of musical style. Personally, I prefer playing and going to multi-genre shows like this one, and I think it exposes fans of one type of music to a lot of bands they wouldn’t have sought out on their own…but meh, maybe that’s just me. Sometimes people want to mosh and only mosh.

Those people are idiots, by the way. There was a guy at a show last week who only wanted to mosh and he just kept asking if the next band was moshable. I don’t understand how you go to a show wanting to do that, you’re the only guy there in that mindset and you know it, and you don’t actually care if the bands are any good…just seems dumb. That’s like applying for jobs and only taking them if they involve using a shovel, and then you end up digging mass graves for the Khmer Rouge or some shit. Just because all you care about are shovels, nevermind if it’s a good reason to use one.

That was hyperbole and probably a really odd comparison. Anyway.

So Joe and I went over the layout PSD (that’s the file extension for Photoshop files, it’s shorter than typing “Photoshop file,” but it took a lot of words to explain that just now). We made a few tweaks to the original and came up with what we have above. Then I printed the stuff out a few days later and spent a few hours drawing this:

Drawing for Furey's flyer

It's everything you hoped it wouldn't be...

You can see those crosses: they’re for registration. I also drew them on the printout. This way, if you unstick the drawing from the source, you can line it back up and not totally screw yourself over. Joe and I had a few discussions about the empty space, how the writing would fit into it, and Matt’s face didn’t come out quite right. At first, I was pissed, but then I agreed with Joe…sometimes something takes you EFFING forever and you get defensive…but not out of thinking it’s perfect – mostly out of being tired of drawing your friend’s brother’s face.

Moving on…

Joe makes giant letters that look really cool.

So I gave Joe the scanned sketch above and he looked it over for a bit and figured out how he wanted to do the type.

Now, to give some background, Joe works at the Revolving Museum in Lowell. Within the last couple years, they’ve changed locations and now have an AWESOME setup where they have access to what we all affectionately refer to as The Tunnel. It’s a space underneath where two buildings join on the second or third floor, with big double doors facing the street and a fence blocking access to the parking lot/courtyard inside. They’ve had a few really awesome all-ages, no booze, no drugs, no violence punk shows there (the acoustics are surprisingly awesome). The museum used the space to also do a graffiti workshop which Joe taught, and here’s a lovely photo of some idiots hanging around outside of it before  a show:

The Tunnel

And you know it's a great place for a punk show because there's our buddy Moxie in the red hat (not being a zombie on a bridge), and he likes him some punk rock.

So having access to this, and because you can do graffiti, and because you may as well go all out with the crazy dirt on a screen printed punk flyer, Joe did his lettering in spraypaint and huge.

graffiti lettering 1

Almost there...almost all the bands...

graffiti lettering 2

Right on top, obviously the best band ever. Often confused for Old Gray, who are good, but got their band name like 4 months later and are decidedly less metal...

And of course there’s the other details from the show, which Joe spray painted at a later date on the underside of a desk I was throwing out…which coincidentally, used to be Tim’s desk. Oh, and the scanner I use also used to be Tim’s. Come to think of it, I pretty much live off of his garbage…

So from here, Joe converted the photos to black and white, did some tricks to isolate the band names, and threw it on the flyer.

BEST TRICK EVER: I had no idea about the power of the “Select Color Range” option in Photoshop until Joe showed me. Basically, he blasted these photos to flat black and white, no grey tones and then went to Select/Color Range and selected “Shadows” from the drop down menu in there. That lets you select only the black without getting stupid little halos around everything like you would if you used the magic wand tool.

So here’s that:

Fureys Poster bands text only

BTW, real quick: Tini's band didn't have a name yet. We added them to the flyer the week of the show. That's why it's IMPORTANT to leave your PSD files editable, once again. One time, I tried to do a flyer with the writing being part of the original drawing, and if the drummer for one of the bands hadn't called before I finished writing the headliner's name, it would have all ended in tears.

All of it ready to go

Boom, all the bands and Matt's new face.

That seems like enough for now. The creative process has been sufficiently documented, so Part 2 will focus on getting the screen printing part done, and that’s where the real fun stuff happens.

(Part 2 might be more or less interesting, depending on your POV. Joe and I definitely had more fun printing them than we did bitching at each other over creative process. And I said some douchey things about ‘visual hierarchy’ which I later realized were both douchey and stupid –  nobody cares about that crap, it only matters if the end result looks cool.)

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Process and Hetfield

So, I love reading how other people produce their stuff and I’m thinking maybe somebody wouldn’t mind seeing how I go about it. So I’m going to go through how I did the Hetfield & Hetfield “Tidal Wave Dreams” CD cover. They’ve been giving out hard copies for free/name your own price for a bit, and you can buy it or download it for free at their bandcamp here:

Laying out the concept

So I started off by listening to the demos Casey, their singer and guitarist, sent me. I had about 4 songs. They told me a little about the concept as well. The album is basically a prog-rock/emo/metal/punk mash-up musically (think somewhere between Coheed and Cambria and BTBAM, but way catchier than that sounds). Conceptually, the album is about recurring dreams Casey’s had where tidal waves come and destroy everything. So I wanted something surreal and dreamlike with a sense of fantasy/wonder like a kid would have with a fairy tale, but also kind of desolate and doomy…somewhere between a storybook and a nightmare.

So off to Google image search I go. I use the same process for pop-art style stuff as well. Think of the idea I’m going for, start searching one or two-word searches, and let the weirdness of whatever Google thinks is relevant change my idea for me. I ended up with a lot of birds, a really cool looking cove, and a pretty gnarly wave.

What I do while I’m searching for source images is also create a layout for the illustration in Photoshop. Two to three hours later, here’s what I had:

PSD File for punk band album cover

Now, I wanted as much detail in the illustration as possible, so this thing is actually 17″x17″ at 300 dpi. The image above is 10% the actual size (in pixels anyway).

Here’s a detail of it at like half-resolution:

While doing the Photoshop layout, there’s a lot of boring extra stuff. I trace all the illustration work, it’s faster and more accurate, and I personally like the whole concept of re-appropriating digital media and turning it into a hand-made thing…so say what you want about tracing, I’ve got silly art-student reasons for doing it.

Knowing that I’ll be tracing it on a light table, I’ve gotten a feel for how to set up contrast and colors so I can see all the detail I need through another piece of paper, so there’s a lot of messing with levels. The biggest help to me has been discovering the Shadow/Highlights option in the Images menu…you can brighten your shadows without losing detail, so dark spots on this one (like on the bird head, see all that pure black?) I was able to find detail in and actually use instead of guessing.

With that, though, comes a lot of interpretation and improvisation during the actual tracing part. It’s not line-for-line the same as the digital file. You start going, turn off the light table and take a look and see what needs to be darkened up to convey the mood you want as well as the overall tonality of the picture.

So yeah, after the Photoshop stuff is all set, I printed it out on 4 pieces of 8.5″x11″ paper, taped them together where they overlapped, and starting tracing.

Over 12 Hours of ‘cheating’ at drawing later…

I had this bad boy:

ink drawing of a bird-man behind a tidal wave

You’ll notice some crosses on the corners. This is to make sure I can line up the color sheet later, after it’s painted and scanned in.

There’s not much to say about the process during the ink drawing phase. I put the blank paper on top of the printout and traced it on a light table. I used 3 micron pens, sizes .03 (compare to Sharpie Ultra-fine), .01, and .005. I only used the .03, the thickest, for dark outlines around major shapes, so the rest is all those really small ones. Here’s a detail compared to the original Photoshop file:

So the thicker black line around the bird-man is the .03 pen. The rest is made with the other two pens, basically like different widths of sewing needles. Stylistically, I was aiming for a cross between old copperplate engraving and comic books from the 1970’s, so there’s some intense detail in spots, but then there’s sketchy areas, and the tidal wave is my attempt at copying Joe Kubert’s way of doing water. Google him if you want to see somebody who is a real master of pen and ink.

Oh, almost forgot, since the whole thing was done in Photoshop initially, I completely skipped the pencil part. Either I draw it pencil and screw up with the ink at some point, or just skip that whole step and screw up with ink right away. No point in wasting time on something I’ll erase and have to try to remove smudges from in Photoshop anyway, right?

Adding Color

Next, I grabbed the old Photoshop printout and put a fresh blank sheet over it for color. I don’t have the control over a brush that I do with a pen (not that either is perfect by any means), so I tend to keep them separate until they’re scanned – I don’t want to risk ruining the ink portion.

Remember the crosses on the corners of the ink one? Drew those in pencil on the color one. When you scan in the ink and the color and put them on separate layers in Photoshop, all you need to do to line it up is move and rotate the ink layer over the color one until all four crosses line up on top of the four in the color layer.

I work really fast with color. I’m not a painter by any means, so it’s entirely about getting the basic hue and the texture of the paint. I use gouache paint watered down to different consistencies depending on whether I want to see smeared paint or if I want it washed out and blotchy. Here’s the color layer:

Piecing it together

The next step was scanning it all in. First, I scanned in the ink layer. Because the drawing was so much bigger than my scanner tray could fit, I had to do it in six sections. I used a hardcover science textbook to hold the paper down flat against the glass.

I used to manually put everything together until I discovered that Windows, of all the friggin’ things, has an auto-stitch feature that works amazingly well. Basically, you open the folder with your saved image files and select them. Right-click and hit “auto-stitch” and Windows (Vista even!) finds the spots where they overlap and automatically puts them together in one large image file, all the while retaining the original resolution. The ink was scanned in at double resolution, so 600dpi greyscale image fragments, each 8.5″x11″ scan (6 in total) were put together (by Windows, glitchy, barely-functioning, constantly-ruining-my-life Windows Vista) into a 17″x17″x 600dpi file. Nobody else might be shocked by this, but I never thought for a minute that A) they would make this feature and B) that it would work so well.

I repeated that process with the color layer. Opened up Photoshop, set the color to layer 1, the ink to layer 2.

I used to be an idiot and delete all the white space from ink work. Anything that wasn’t 100% black would be set to full-on black. It caused a lot of jagged lines to be laid out over the color, and it always printed kind of weak. What I discovered was that if you have a layer of black linework you want to superimpose over color, leave it alone entirely (as far as color correcting or deleting stuff goes) and set the blending option in the layers menu to “Multiply.” It adds the dark lines, including the shading and inconsistencies to the color…so before, where you had a faded black line with white underneath, now you have a faded black line with your bottom layer underneath. It’s awesome.

Here’s a closeup of all three parts separated:

Here’s how it looked all put together, initially:

That was okay for a start, but the color was a little too comic-book for me. Especially the wave and those purple clouds. Some tweaking to the lines needed to be done, and the green parts of the cliff seemed a little muted. In general, the tone was all over the place and needed to be unified a bit.

So here’s the final product:

And, to get a quick snapshot of all the steps that weren’t just a matter of technical tweaking in Photoshop, here’s another zoomed in comparison shot:

And that’s that. Total time on it I think was somewhere around 18 hours. The bulk of it was the ink part. Not knowing what the guys in the band’s plans were for production, I aimed for vinyl LP size. They’re hipsters and I knew they might go that direction, budget-permitting.

Soon I’ll post how I go through the pop-art style stuff. It’s a lot quicker to do, but it might take longer to explain…It’s all Photoshop. The average time for me on those is between 3 and 5 hours…and usually I’m just nitpicking where to put type.

If you read this whole thing, thanks and you must be really ready to go to sleep now.