Going digital!

Inuit Folktale 2, Jeff Crosby

For most of my twenty-one years as a freelance illustrator, I have worked in traditional mediums. I am confident using everything from charcoal to oil paints  and willingly explore various techniques with them. However, I have not felt confident about creating digital illustrations. I admire the art of many illustrators who work digitally and know of the ease and versatility of creating work on the computer, yet leaving the physical space of paper and canvas has been a daunting challenge. After many years of talking myself in and out of it, I finally took the plunge.

Inuit Folk Tale, Jeff Crosby

The above two illustrations were done for Faces magazine. The story was an Inuit folk tale about the origins of the sun and moon. Researching Inuit art, I was really inspired by the shapes in their soap stone carvings. Instead of working in my usual naturalistic style in acrylic paints, I decided to go for a simpler more graphic approach on the computer. I scanned my sketch into Photoshop and added a transparent layer of black over it. Using my Wacom stylus and tablet, I carved out the drawing, sticking mainly to the silhouettes and minimal details. I did leave scratched lines around the perimeter of the shapes to give it a carved feel. Once the drawing was finished, I made the black layer opaque and applied a gradient to it along with different photographed textures applied using various layer blend modes. The final step was adding the background scan of a crackle varnish surface.

Pinocchio in the Shark, Jeff Crosby

This illustration was created using a similar technique to the one described above. The image is from Pinocchio, when the boy-puppet first finds Gepetto in the belly of the shark. I scanned in the sketch, added the transparent black layer over it, and scratched the black away using my Wacom stylus. I used a hard edged brush in Photoshop to emulate the sharp marks of the cutting tools used in woodcuts, linocuts, and scratchboard. The final step was adding the texture to the large black areas of the art. For this I used a photo of my de-tiled bedroom floor. I have been creating a library for myself of textures that I photograph whenever I come across an interesting surface.




The above two illustrations were my first foray into digital illustration. They were done for Dig magazine and are about the first school in St. Augustine, Florida. I intended to do them as acrylic paintings, but found myself one day without my paints but with my laptop, Wacom tablet, and a few hours to kill. I had the approved sketches on my computer so I decided I’d try coloring them in on Photoshop. Using pretty basic brushes, I slowly built up the color by painting it in at a low opacity while in the “multiply” layer blend mode. I was fairly happy with the result and proud of my accomplishment. Looking at this work now, I realize I should have kept going with the color, increasing the opacity as I went. And I should have taken it easy with that crackle varnish texture as these images look a bit jaundiced.

3 thoughts on “Going digital!

  1. Nice work Jeff!

    You are brave to take the plunge into did you go. I personally have not had the heart to go that direction yet.

    I wonder, was the work quicker? Were you able to accomplish things digitally that you would not have been able to do traditionally? Are you satisfied with the work?

    Keep up the good work,

    1. Hey Brian,
      I know you. Were we at Amherst together for that weeklong workshop? I remember your fantasy floating door piece. I dig your Sleepy Hollow images! To answer your questions, the scratchboard looking stuff did go much faster than actual scratchboard and I am happy with it. The more painterly pieces were quicker but I’m not so happy with them. But practice will change that hopefully.
      Thanks for your comments!

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