I´m racing towards the finish on my follow up to the dinosaur book from earlier this year. This one, as you perhaps already know, is about pterosaurs and their reptilian marine contemporaries: ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and mosasaurs plus a few others.
One of the brilliant scholars who are helping me getting the sciency stuff right for the upcoming book is pterosaur luminaire Dr. Mark Witton - a well known name in the paleontology community. He´s made a rather flattering piece about my stylised approach to paleoart on his blog, which also includes a lengthy interview with yours truly.
Head on over to markwitton-com.blogspot.se and have a look. If you're at all interested in paleontology and trailblazing paleoart I wholeheartedly recommend following Marks well written, informative and often highly amusing blog.
To celebrate the upcoming book and unexpected paleontological attention I thought I´d divulge some of the secrets behind my particular brand of paleoart. This techinque just requires a pencil, some copying paper and an eraser.
Plus of course an iMac computer with a Photoshop license and a Wacom Cintiq tablet...
STEP ONE - RESEARCH
The most important step. We´re not just drawing any old monster here, but reconstructing a real animal that was very much alive at one point in history. I look up the creature I´m about to illustrate in books (I´ve got an extensive reference library at this point) and also by using google, wikipedia, paleontology blogs, academic papers - the more information you can gather the better. What the animal ate, how, where and when it lived is just as important as the basic anatomy when you do a reconstruction.
I also study skeletals and other peoples reconstructions to get a feel for the animal. In this case I chose the basal Chinese pterosaur Wukongopterus as my subject.
STEP TWO - SKETCH
I do a sketch on paper using an HB pencil on normal A4 copy paper (I personally prefer the slightly heavier 120 g paper). I then scan this loose drawing into my computer.
STEP THREE - TWEAKING
I open up the sketch in Photoshop and slightly tweak the sketch. Sometimes I move things around or make features larger and smaller - everything to get the basic anatomy right. In this case it´s hard to see but I used the warp transform tool ever so slightly to accentuate the sprawling posture somewhat.
STEP FOUR - BASIC COLOURS
I put the sketch layer in multiply and create a new layer under it. Using the polygonal lasso tool as much as possible ( to get that special Egerkransian angular feel ) the shapes are blocked in and coloured. The coloration of the animal is pretty much made up as I go along but the aim is always to make it believable so I take a lot of inspiration from birds and other animals. I try not to simply copy paste patterns from living animals onto the reconstruction, but rather use them as starting points for a new unique colour scheme.
STEP FIVE - LINEART
In a new layer on top of the colours the lineart is added. The actual pencil sketch won´t be seen in the final image but I try to stay true to the spontaneity of the loose lines in the preliminary drawing when I do the lineart. I also choose brushes with a little texture to create "nerve" in the lines.
STEP SIX - SHADOWS
I createca new multiply layer at 50-60 % opacity and draw in the shadows, often using a greyish violet. The shadows help define the shapes and anatomy of the animal, making it less flat.
STEP SEVEN - DROPSHADOW
And with that my friends, we are done!
To make it even more three dimensional a grey/cyan dropshadow was added under the pterosaur in this case.
STEP EIGHT - ADDING A BIT OF TEXTURE
After that I slapped on one of my patented watercolour textures in overlay mode on top of the whole thing, which brings it all together and makes the final image feel less "computery".
And with that my friends, we are done!