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Creating Kang’s tentacular avatar

FireSnake invited me to draw some replacement site artwork for her friend Kang, specifically a green, tentacled alien, to represent Kang herself. Owing to having taken snapshots along the way to show people, I can illustrate the process of creating the drawing.

I wanted as much detail as I could get as to how the alien should appear; questioning led to a request for glasses and silver bracelets. Something gave me the odd idea of having the alien be in a rocket-propelled rubber ring, for which I have no explanation.

I drew an initial sketch of the first thing that came to mind:

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To me, the face bears an uncanny resemblance to FireSnake. FireSnake herself mistook the rubber ring for a lifebelt, which it later became, although for fun I kept the air valve.

The next step was to produce a large master sketch in pencil:

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The only two effective methods I know of for colouring an image in bright, vivid colours are paint or computer illustration. My painting is not up to the task for a project like this, so I scanned the image in order to colour it in Photoshop. My plan was to go over all the lines in a black marker pen first, but the marker pen turned out to draw too thick a line, so I scanned the image in exactly as it was.

To colour in the image effectively, and retain the outlines, the sketch was transferred to a layer mask on a solid black layer and inverted, turning itself into a transparency. Each image element was coloured on a separate Photoshop layer, including darker rear tentacles for depth emphasis:

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This process also involved erasing all the construction lines and other detritus acquired during scanning. Scanners also seem to amplify the grain of pencil illustration, replacing the smoothness of graphite with a noisy texture, so the pencil outline required extensive clean-up.

I desired a shaded image that would have a three-dimensional appearance, but this is a tricky task to accomplish with a mouse. I was hoping that no shading would be felt necessary by Kang or FireSnake, but figured that if necessary, I could shade the pencil original, re-scan it and recreate the transparent overlay with shading on.

Thus, my initial goal was a flat-colour image, here almost complete (the bracelets are notable for lacking their silver colouration):

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Interim experimentation showed that, in this case at least, shading the image with the mouse was—to my surprise—not just possible but also highly effective. After cleaning up all the shape outlines, I began shading the image, starting with the rockets and the lifebelt, and then the body:

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The design looks good both flat and shaded, but the shading effect has proved especially striking, giving the image a very solid feel and some quite tentacular tentacles. The effect of the shading has proved far more spectacular than I had imagined, perhaps due to the tendency for this style of artwork to only be flat shaded.

The final image

Final touches include a bit of glare on the glasses and sparkles on the bracelets and, as of 1st January 2010, stars.

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