Behind the scenes – making a pinup for reMIND

I illustrated a pin-up for the reMIND pinup contest last month, sent it off and it finally got posted earlier this week so I wanted to do a post to go behind-the-scenes of how it all came about. I was really excited about doing something since I missed out on the first reMIND pin-up contest. I had just discovered the webcomic around the time when the first contest closed – doh! But the question was what to do. Historically, pin-ups were mass-produced pictures of models and/or celebrities who were considered sex symbols, though in comics it could be practically anything from cool drawings to fight scenes to group shots (but let’s face it, there’s plenty of sexy pin-up images in comics).


Jason requested that we aim for something “all audiences” since that’s his webcomic readership, so I decided that the sexy pin-up of Sonja was probably out. I needed to take a different approach so I sat down with my sketchbook and started to brainstorm some ideas of what might make an interesting image based on his characters. I pretty much mainly stuck to Victuals but I was toying with the idea of trying to do a light/dark version him in his lizard form to play off what happens in the story. At this point I had no idea what “style” this would be in and I was just working out ideas – some were really graphic, some much more realistic, some more illustrative.

My main thought was that I wanted to do something more illustrative because that would be something different that not everyone else would do. The obvious thing is to do a cool action shot, a sexy pose or an intricate drawing and yeah, I doodled some of those, but they aren’t really what interests me. If I was going to do a “Jason Smith pin-up,” I needed to go in a different direction.

So what’s an illustrative approach (to me)? Good question. I’ve always thought of it as being not literal. The more literal and realistic you are, the better a draftsman you have to be. There are hundreds of artists – from the old masters you learn about in school to ones working in the present day – that can draw better than I’ll ever be able to. And unless you’re the absolute best and can 100% nail the literal/realistic approach, something a little different is a good option. So for me, reality is kind of out the window and it’s really about what makes a good and interesting image. I tend to think about how the piece is designed first and really work on composition until I get it right. And that’s what all the thumbnails and doodles are for…

At this point, I always start to get an idea of what I think is an interesting approach, but I find it’s nice to get opinions. So I showed my doodles around and asked what people thought and didn’t tell them what I liked so that I got an honest answer. Overwhelmingly, everyone chose the bottom couple of doodles with Victuals in the suit and the helmet which was a pretty strong contender for my favourite as well.

So with that sort of settled I needed to get one thing decided pretty fast before I went any farther – I needed to decide how I was going to actually draw this thing. Jason draws Victuals in a pretty specific way and my doodle (above) didn’t look like that. So I grabbed my copy of reMIND and sat down and drew a couple versions of Victuals that they looked pretty good with his football shaped head like Jason draws… but I really liked the shape of the head that I doodled so I needed to make a decision. After a bit of back-and-forth I decided to go with my gut and draw it like me and that meant the rounder head (plus it fit better in the helmet).

At this point I shifted into my normal working process. I scanned my original doodle, enlarged it and shifted it around a little to fit the proper specs that were provided. I always draw at a smaller scale at this point since I find it easier, but I still work to the proper specs to make sure that things fit the space. Once everything sort of fits, I print that off as blueline and drew over top of it in pencil. In the image below you can see that I’m still playing with the placement of the type, how much image I should use and the overall cropping. You can see my notes to myself as I tried to work through the composition and even how this will be painted/coloured.

Next I scanned the pencil drawing and set the type with a proper typeface. I had an instructor tell me once to use actual type instead of always drawing something that would inevitably look horrible. It made sense and was pretty good advice so that’s what I tend to do. People spend their lives designing type so why not utilize that, right? Now I’m sure you may be wondering, why “totally tiger shark”? Well (1) I wanted to include type since that added to the whole designed look I was going for and (2) I really loved this line from the first book. It just makes no sense in terms of what it means, but I loved the language and I thought it would look cool.

So with they type set, I printed out another copy and went back in with pen to tighten up and refine the drawing. I love drawing in pen like this because I always get a better line quality and awkward shapes (like the shape of Victuals helmet which is slightly not round like it should be) which I just can’t seem to get any other way.

From this point, things moved a little more quickly. I scanned and enlarged the image to fit the proper specs. Printed that out, transferred the drawing to watercolour paper and tightened up the pencils. The biggest thing I do at this point is to refine the drawing and add in detail. This is the first time that I’m actually working a the proper size and all the composition and design has be figured out letting me shift my focus to all the details that need to be included.

Then it was just a matter of inking everything. For this piece I used a combination of brush and pen to get the linework I was aiming for.

I tweeted pictures I took while I was working through this process and here’s a bunch:


With the main art done, I cleaned up the page, erasing all the pencil drawing, scanned the ink drawing before finally adding paint, colour, type and effects in Photoshop.

And then I’m done, right? Ok, not as much as I’d hoped. I built extra image because I loved everything that I included in the original drawing. But now I needed to make the final cropping decision before sending a file of to Jason. It actually took me about 3 days to finally settle on something and ta-da! here’s the final piece:

I had a lot of fun doing this. It was a nice break from all things On the Verge and I enjoyed working on someone else’s characters for a change. So who needs another pin-up?

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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