Narrative tutorial: Rats on the Loose
Illustrator & concept artist Gabriel Romero (Gaboleps) uses rat-filled sci-fi flash fiction to conjure up his latest retro-styled illustration...
What are the important elements from the text to focus on?
Well, the main elements are the escaping rats, the space station crafted by humans and the space environment. I want to represent a concept, not describe what I imagine while I am reading, so most of the readers won't get their imagination distorted by my vision. So, I will represent the rats as rats with fishbowls on their heads, humans with a mug of coffee, and space by a planet. Finally, I like when the text names a color; in "Loose" the color blue is very important, and I want to make sure there is quite a lot blue in the picture.
What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?
As mentioned before, the main goal is not to describe the scene, it is to complement the text as a concept. I also want to give a retro look to the image, like an old sci-fi poster, but keep the idea of illustrating a page in a book, so I think making a vignette is a good idea, instead of painting every pixel of an A4 page.
Step 1: Sketches
First I read the text and start making rough sketches of anything that comes to mind. I do anything that comes out even if it does not make sense. This is the one I like most.
Step 2: Working on the sketch
In this step I try to get as much of the idea as I can, not applying much detail, but defining all the elements in the composition. I like to connect the big elements, for example the liquid from the mug overlaps with the main rat foot, and so on with the rest of the elements. If I isolate something it is because it's quite small, like the rat in the upper-right corner.
Step 3: Contrast
After defining the idea more, I try to achieve a nice contrast. Or at least, see which way I'd like to go. So I make a couple of versions and pick one which I continue to paint, not too much. I would rather not add color in this step.
Step 4: Adding some colors
Time for some color! It is important to generate a connection between the colors named in the text and the image, so I pick blue. If I think of myself as a reader, I like to find those coincidences between what I imagine in my mind and the illustration. We all have personal and unique psychic reality, so it is a good idea to highlight those little coincidences. I like complementary palettes, so if I pick blue, I am also picking some range of oranges. Of course that depends on what you want to express in your art.
Step 5: Texture
Sometimes I like to paint over a texture, so I take my oil paint and experiment a little. Here is the result. Even it is easier to Google an image and use that, I wanted to have some extra traditional fun, but yes, Google is easier and faster. Maybe taking a picture of a nice wall and painting over that would also be a nice idea. I colorize the texture with a light blue hue, and add Multiply blending mode. Then I erase some areas and clone stamp some others.
Step 6: 3 layers
I have some issues with the base drawing, so I look for some references to fix that a bit. As you can see, my way of working is quite chaotic. I also don't use more than 2 or 3 layers (saves time, the PC works faster, and I don't go through the annoying process of looking for any specific layer). Worst case scenario, I just paint over like a real canvas!
Step 7: Brushes
I continue to render, trying to find a place for the signature so it's kind of part of the composition; not a very important step, but fun. To briefly mention brushes, I try not to use a lot of them, I prefer to keep it simple. It's even better if I can pick them before I start rendering too much.
Step 8: Getting there
In this step I keep tweaking and changing little things, as at this point most of the image just needs time to render with hopefully no radical changes. You can see here a process from the first color sketch to the final image, and how it keeps most of the shape from the sketch.
Step 9: Final image
Here is the final image. I place the texture once again, but in Soft Light mode, with very low opacity. Finally I add a sharpen effect to pop the details a bit. I hope you find this making of useful and easy to follow, and please feel free to comment if you have any questions!