Jenn Manley Lee

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Posts tagged art process
Wander dice kits

wanderdice_kitglamour
When I was designing my incentive packages for the crowd-funded print run of Dicebox Book 1 : Wander, it was inevitable that dice would be included in some fashion. As my desire was for the the dice to be of my own design, I was pleased to discover Chessex, a company that specializes in making small lots of custom dice. They were great to work with and the dice they produced were lovely. The flexibility of Chessex's process allowed me to offer a set of four dice with three different "1" pips. For what this did to the cost of each dice set I felt I needed offer a sheet of games you could play with four dice or less as compensation. I looked up traditional games, choosing the most theme appropriate ones, like “Shut the Box,” and “Liar's Dice.” I wrote up my rules for the selected games from various sources in books and on the internet, often combining the rules of similar games, and naturally replaced the generic pronouns with "peh."

For these instruction booklets I wanted to recreate the feeling of those found in card sets and pocket games. the ones with small, compacted text on onionskin paper. After some experimentation, I discovered sumi practice rice paper worked the best. I needed to tape it to another, stiffer sheet of paper in order to run it through my printer, but it did beautifully. Trimming rice paper with an Exacto blade can be a right pain as it often snags and then tears, even with a brand new blade. Luckily I had discovered the wonder that is a rotary cutter which does a clean and quick job of it.

wanderdice_games
For a finishing touch, I created a "watermark" with a custom stamp I had made of the Dicebox poppy and a stamp pad with ink made for the purpose.

Among the games I wanted to include was Tabula, the precursor of Backgammon, which needed fifteen counters for two players. Which, naturally, I felt I should provide. Besides a few of the other games required counters for various purposes. The glass gems used for vase decoration ended up being a satisfactory and cost effective solution.

wanderdice_tabula
The Tabula sheet had its own folding challenges; I created a guide to aid folding it in thirds and learned that whacking the inside of a fold with a metal ruler was needed to make a clean crease.

A set of cleromancy instructions also seemed in order. As with the games, I pulled from various sources and shaped each fortune-telling method to my liking. One of the methods of casting called for a circle to help interpret the shape of the answer. It was a perfect opportunity to incorporate the circular symbol of Book 1, the labyrinth. (for Book 2 it's a spiral, Book 3, a wheel and Book 4, concentric circles) While experimenting with the layout, I wondered what printing it on the back of the instructions would look like. I decided it looked good.

wanderdice_cleromancy
Now, I needed a bag to hold those counters and the rest, didn't I? I began my search for the bags with only knowing that they needed to be black and have a drawstring. I quickly found myself on wedding supply websites looking at the wide variety of favor bags. My favorite of these sites is Save-on-Crafts, full of the most possibilities for future projects.

I found many candidates at a variety of sites but was reluctant to commit to 12 to 24 bags before seeing a sample. Luckily I came across U.S. Box where I could buy individual samples or various items. I chose the black fringed faux suede for the feel, size and vagabond appeal. I might not have chosen something so whimsical without being able to handle it first.

A box was needed to hold the whole kit and caboodle. After much searching and comparing, I ended up finding the absolutely perfect box back on U.S. Box., a red and black jewelry box, square with a snap closure. (It was almost like the manufacturer had me specifically in mind.)

I had already planned to make a custom insert to hold everything separately and securely in whatever box I ended up with. Quite a few prototypes were made in plain white paper before I worked it out. Then I created a final dieline in Illustrator which I then printed directly onto black sheets on Arjowiggins' Curious Skin paper, a very tactile and strong paper I always wanted to find a reason to use. To get the cleanest fold, I lightly scored the lines with the back of an Exacto knife tip before folding.

wanderdice_inserts
Time to load up the box.

wanderdice_fill

Finally comes the branding of the box. The labels were made by simply printing black on the black Skin paper, inspired by the effect I saw when printing the insert die lines. As the ink isn't fully absorbed by the paper (which creates the effect), I need wait a day before trimming them out. I then adhere it to the top of the box by spraying the back with adhesive, using a makeshift guide to help me center it.

wanderdice_finished
Finally, I re-use the white board sleeve that each box came to wrap and protect each box again after I stamp the sleeve with the Dicebox logo.

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And there you have it. It certainly satisfied the urge to make a certain something. As did creating the dice cups, which I'll discuss in my next post.

wanderdice_complete_packges

Proof(s)!

Digital color match proofs of select pages for Book 1

Click above image for larger view.
I couldn't afford a full set of color proofs, so I worked with the printer to select key pages on each signature to match to on press. This photo doesn't do the color of these justice. "Wet proof" of the endpapers for the hard cover (PMS 8860 metallic over PMS 1795)
Click above image for larger view.
Oh my goodness, this whole book thing is really going to happen, isn't it?

Process of an Illustration - Stage 1: Initial lines & color

As I wrap up the production files for the print version of Dicebox: Book 1 : Wander, I've decided to share my current art process to compensate for sporadic page updates. This'll specifically follow me making a stand alone illustration, but a lot of the steps hold true for how I approach comics. The piece in question is the art for the cover spread for the Asides, those fill-in comics that I was lucky enough to have folks gift me when I needed a break from Dicebox. As you might have noticed, I don't really have fill-ins anymore; my impetus for doing them was initially due to me being on a subscription site, Girlamatic and I figured paying customers deserved regularly scheduled entertainment. I continued to have them after leaving Girlamatic as that was the current expectation of a webcomics audience. Nowadays, with the general acceptance of RSS feeds and social media as aggregators, folks are more forgiving of a fumbled update (even if I am not). Also, I don't intend to take that much time off during parts anymore and I'm certainly not planning to have another kid.

Anyway, let's begin:

Click above image for slightly larger view.
Above is Stage 0, the rough sketch of an idea. This is a pretty elaborate rough sketch for me, but as this started life a cover concept for Book 1 and–though I liked the potential of the illustration– was iffy about it as a cover. So I sent it around to the usual suspects for feedback and got confirmation that it was a nice idea for a picture, but not a cover. It was during this process that I had the epiphany that it was actually the Asides cover spread in the print edition of Book 1 (silly me).

The entertaining white gap running vertically in the middle is me realizing the bed was too short and hence extending it.

Click above image for slightly larger view.
In Stage 1 you see the beginnings of final line art and initial color blocking. It's common for me to take the line art to a nearly finished point and then block in the basic color shapes so I can see how the basic composite is shaping up and to help me spot any drawing problems. The rougher line art indicates what wasn't working for me and where I started to extend it vertically.

Also, obviously, I've flopped the drawing. I actually liked it better this way from the get go and as I want to put the title and intro paragraph on the right hand page, it was a win-win situation.

This illustration is actually beyond this point in refinement, but not quite at Stage 2: Final line art and initial rendering. Which'll be my next entry here in a few days.

Kerchief'd

Prototypes of the Rafferty kerchief in Family Yellow and Auxiliary Red (not show: Boss White). Personal verdict? Pretty darn pleased. Looks pretty swell in action as well, as my lovely model Dylan Meconis demonstrates below.

Like the dice, these will be available only during pre-orders for Book 1 of Dicebox. Included in the "Swank" package on up, there is also an option to add the Rafferty Kerchief to any other package. Or buy an extra, whichever.

In the actual

I got a short test run of the custom Wander Dice, and I must say I am pleased. Naturally, I had to re-enact the patterns I had mocked up previously.
I find the detail on the Poppy particularly delightful.

As you all probably know by now, these are available only during pre-orders for Book 1 of Dicebox. But you probably didn't know that I have added an option to add these to any pre-order package. Ditto for the Rafferty Kercheif.

Rafferty Redux

Way back when doing Part 7 of Book 1, "Pots and Pans," I created a badging system for family organized factory workers known collectively as Sooners, specifically the Raffertys, Mare and her lot. I made a post about this badge–which takes the form of a head kerchief–in this journal, explaining the rudimentary code and inspiration for it. Here's my original design:

Simple, to the point, perfect for my needs. Until I decided to actually produce this sucker as a full size kerchief as part of my pre-order packages. Then I went to town:

You can click here for a much larger view of this design.

As I am using a process that allows it, I'm offering a choice of the three color variations, beyond Family Yellow seen above, there will Auxiliary Red and Boss White, seen below.

These will be 22 inches by 22 inches each, printed one-sided on organic cotton sateen with finished edges.

Them Bones

Here's a look at the design for the custom dice I am offering with some of the pre-order packages of Book 1 : Wander and only during the pre-order process. It'll be a set of 4, 2 of design A, one each of B and C.

My criteria for the design of this set was to keep the traditional dice pips there and readable while seeing what pictures I could make:

Next up: the fancifiying of the Rafferty kerchief for production.

I got better*

So Dicebox got a write up on io9 yesterday, which was a completely delightful shock. It is a great review with the added bonus that the reviewer, Lauren Davis, picking up on those aspects most important to me, making me feel that I did my job as a storyteller. So I am a little ashamed that my first reaction was my, uh, dissatisfaction with the art of the sample pages she chose. From a story angle, her selections are very rewarding. And understand that as I've been going through the rewriting and tweaking process on Book 1, I've gotten kinder towards my old art, finding most of it acceptable. (Do I still want to redraw everything? Yeah, but I wanna finish Dicebox even more and move on to the other stories rattling around my brain)

Of the seven examples chosen for the review, only one will stand as is. And two more will need only minor tweaks. But of the other four, one will be reincorporated into a rewrite of the scene and so redrawn, one needs everyone to get back on model, one is slated for a serious makeover and one has already been redrawn and recolored though not uploaded as I need to tweak the following pages to have it integrate.

But I'm actually not here to whine and moan about that. Heck, it tells me that I chose correctly on what some of the keys pages are. I'm here to show and go through why I chose to redo a page that contains a panel that is used over and over again as a positive example of the art of Dicebox. That being page 10 of Part 5, "Blood from a Stone."

(click a thumbnail for a larger view in new window)

On the left is the original page art, on the right, the revision.

I was never satisfied with the feel of this page, specifically I wanted more of a sense that the characters are in and surrounded by the space and for the plains they are walking across to be a significant presence. So I took the opportunity of being invited to a group show to rework this page, exploring how I could make it really work the way I wanted it to. Which is my criteria for the other couple of pages I plan to revamp, i.e. that they are somehow key pages and there is something I can learn in the redoing. After all, I always intended Book 1 as my journeyman project, what I would use to learn the craft of a cartoonist.

First thing I decided to do was make the first panel a background flood image to allow it to be an environment to the characters and the other panels. To aid this, I felt some indication of foreground was called for and so moved up the second panel to reveal some of it. This had the added bonus of suggesting motion between it and the next panel. Lastly, I decided to let the Griffen in the last panel break the frame for continued integration with both the background and the first rear view of her. Also as a mood break to accompany her comment.

And you probably notice the updating of the color palette and the increase of contrast, all things that I need to apply to the rest of this scene before I will upload this revision. Because, as happy as I am with the redo, I would find the disconnect too jarring and so be doing myself no favors.

*The title for this post comes from a response I made to Kevin Moore when he called me on my propensity to redo the same pages over and over again. He and many of my other friends are forever trying to break me of this filthy habit.