I've had the final art posted on the portfolio section of my website (click here for detail images) for a couple weeks now, but wanted to do a post that delved deeper into my process for this style of illustration I keep returning to.
Sophomore year of college, I designed a poster series that utilized a style of illustration that combined line art, watercolor, and photography. People really responded to the style, so I separated the illustration from the poster design and put it up on Society6 where it also got good feedback. Then my junior year of college while working in the Publications Office on campus, I utilized that same style for a series of posters for the Interdisciplinary Studies program and again liked the results.
My mom has a wonderful friend who saw my work and really liked the style, also, and wanted me to do a piece of art for their new home; she had a specific space she wanted to fill with a triptych of a waterski jumper (her husband is a fantastic skier!). Since the illustrations had been so much fun the first couple times around, I gladly accepted.
For this type of illustration, I start with a photo as my base. Since I have never even seen someone waterski, I didn't have any pictures. Thankfully, she had a friend, Jordan Orsak, who takes beautiful photos with a high quality camera. When looking at the photos, we really loved the skier with a big splash - but also wanted a jumper in there. We ended up combining two separate photos into one final piece to get the best of both worlds.
I always start by crudely comping up the image in Photoshop to be able to see how things will be laid out. The vertical white lines represent where the canvases will be broken (into three pieces). You can see here that the image didn't extend all the way to the right; I had to make that happen on my own. Also, the coloring of the two photos were totally different from one another, so that was a bit of a challenge in this part of the process.
Once we got the composition to a place where it was acceptable, I smoothed out all the rough areas of the photo so I could start working over top of it. (I also took out logos and other timely marks.) When that got to a place of acceptance, I printed it out on a 13x19 sheet of paper (largest my printer can go) and plopped it onto my tracing table. There, I started practicing my pen strokes on blank paper over the image to get into a groove. Once I began to like how it was looking, I would just keep going. If I didn't like an area, I'd put another piece of paper over and redo it again (and sometimes again...and again). If I liked an area on what piece of paper but ended up screwing up a part of it, I would star the area so that I knew to scan it in. That's my favorite thing about using computers for design; it allows my inner perfectionist infinite finessing opportunities.
After the first layer of sketches, I scanned them in and compiled them in Photoshop, correctly sizing and placing all of the elements over the image. When I needed to, I'd erase parts or modify them slightly to make them better.
Next, I sat down and had way too much fun with watercolor. She had said she wanted blue and orange colors, which I was thrilled to accommodate. I sat on the floor and started spattering away, trying to get a range of shapes and color variation within the splashes. I knew that I wanted a large, curved, blue splash for the water coming off the skis, as well as some thinner splashes for the jumper's skis. Beyond that, I just had fun. I did learn that I liked the splashes and puddley looking things more than the brush strokes, though, for layering into this type of illustration.
I scanned in the watercolors and tidied each individual file up in Photoshop, then started bringing them into my (now huge) document to layer on top of my image. I played a lot with blending modes, which were always different depending on the colors of the area of the photo I was working with. I also used watercolor Photoshop brushes to help soften edges and maintain consistency. My secret is layer masks; my file is full of them. I would duplicate my image, turn on a layer mask, fill the entire thing with black, then go in with a white watercolor brush and bring your image back up more subtly. I also used the opacity tool on the brush setting a lot to get different weights of color in different areas.
Next, I printed it out again and stuck it back on that light table. This time, I went in with a heavier pen (I use microns; I love how they have staggered weights) in the areas I thought could use a little more punch. I used multiple sheets of paper and multiple weights, then scanned them in and layered them on top of the image again.
Lastly, I finessed (for longer than I'd care to admit). Getting the sky to be orange was a challenge, and locating stray markings in the lengthy layers panel was daunting. But I ended up really liking the way the image turned out.
I had the triptych printed by CanvasPop.com, and their customer service was stunning. The canvases were shipped directly to the new home in Texas, so I haven't yet seen them (although I'm dying to know how they turned out).