Today, I did layouts. Well, actually I drove in the snow on errands, which involved a lot of slipping and sliding and cursing and so forth, but once I got back from that trek into the Great White North, I did layouts. My husband is thinking that we might wind up moving to Arizona shortly, to be in-house at his game company. While I am not getting excited, since we’ve contemplated moving everywhere from Chicago to Pennsylvania in the last eight years, and are still in Minnesota, I confess that the notion of an area where you almost never have to drive on ice is appealing. Then again, it’s been about fifteen years since I lived in Arizona, and I know that my mind has glossed over how bad the heat was, so in the not-particularly-likely event that we did wind up moving there, I’m sure I’d be longing for the frozen waste soon enough.

Actually, most of what I remember is painfully sharp grass, a sort’ve spartanly beautiful scrub desert, and a searing, diamond hard sky. And lots of Southwestern kitch decor. You…will…learn…to…love…the…chile…pepper!

Annnnyway, like I said, still only a remote possibility, so don’t anybody go gettin’ excited or anything, since while I am not terribly superstitious, I do believe in jinxes. Even if there’s no overriding universal intelligence, I sneakingly suspect that one will come together out of the aether, organize itself spontaneously in violation of most of the laws of physics, and hold together just long enough to screw with me, before collapsing back into nothingness. It’d be my luck.

But anyway, as I was saying, layouts. On the completely random chance that any of you are interested in the process by which I do a big commissioned illustration, I figured I’d throw out a few of my intermediary stages as they arise. I know a lot of people occasionally ask about the process and I figure that I seem to have a disproportionately high number of readers in the same kinda pro-to-semi-pro artist group that I am, so somebody might find it interesting (and since this is what I spend a lot of time doing, it’s cathartic to bitch about it anyhow.) Anybody with other techniques, I’d love to hear ’em.

Crude, huh? Stuff like this is my first stage–the uber-rough compositional layout that I fling at a client once they’ve told me what they want. This one’s kinda interesting–it’s a two pager, meant to appear inside a book (the forthcoming Victoriana sourcebook from Heresy Games, as it happens) but also to be useful as an advertisement, which means that it may be one or two pages, so the composition has to hold together if it’s cut in half, has to have a big dead low-contrast space on the left where text can appear in the 2-page ad, AND a lesser dead space for a title on the top right, for the one-pager, and there can’t be any detail in the middle where the crease is. (Hence the line as a place holder.) Mostly, that’s the same kinda troubles you get if you’re doing a wrap-around book cover, except there, instead of a single straight line down the middle, you have to find out how thick the binding will be and mark it off, and adjust the length accordingly. Also, in most cases you mark off a bleed around all four edges for the printer–I haven’t done so on this one, because the client doesn’t want one, but most times, there’d be a quarter-inch margin on all sides marked off by little grey lines on a seperate photoshop layer, so that I know where the heck I’m goin’.

Annnyway, this has to feature some uniformed babes in the snow with their big demon wolves, and a corpse. And other than a few details on how the women should look and what specifically they are, that’s just about the amount of description I got–chicks on the right, corpse on the left, very little gore, no entrails, damnit. (*sigh* Never enough entrails…) Always fun stuff! So I laid it out in glorified stick figure form to get the composition down–for example I know that the trees are gonna be dark, and that it’s going to fade off into snowy fields on the left, so I added the crow sitting on the corpse to balance out the weight of dark on the right. Couldn’t tell it was a crow or a corpse? Don’t feel bad, I barely can myself. At this stage, things like masses of dark and light are more important than recognizeable figures. (I have no idea if this is how other people do their proposals and so forth–I may be shockingly unprofessional for all I know–but nobody’s complained yet.) Depending on the client and the image, some people want a whole bunch of these layouts so that they can pick one–some people are happy with just one. I’ve worked with this particular guy quite a lot and have a pretty good handle on what he likes, so I can pretty much just send him one and he’ll either approve it or say “I had something else in mind.” When you’re first starting out with a client, or on things that are really wide open, I’d suggest sending three roughs like this along for them to pick from, but it depends–I’ve had a few cases where there was really only ONE possible composition (including the infamous Thing With Twelve Guys, An Army And A Monkey, about which the less said the better.) or where they’re so specific in how they want the layout that you just have to match the verbal description.

This whole thing took me maybe an hour and some change, much of which was spent writing out the verbal walkthrough so that in case he can’t decipher my stick figures either, he knows what the various lumps are and how I plan to handle various elements. And doing this sort of thing is how Ursula spent her day. (And will be spending a good chunk of tomorrow, too.)

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