Like usual, I started with a small pencil thumbnail. I actually have a pages full of tiny thumbnails and am slowly working through them. I try working out all the fun stuff with the thumbnails, like where things will go and what story I want to tell. So once I settled on the thumbnail, I hopped into Manga Studio and started to rough it out in the correct. The size is a huge 420 x 594mm, I wanted to make it bigger haha, but unfortunately my computer wasn’t having it. In fact, once I started colouring, adding textures and effects, the lag becomes its own demon, but I listen to music to distract myself.
After I finish the rough lines, I get into research mode and google all the things that might make up my composition. It’s a great way to learn and expand my mental visual library of things too. I totally recommend googling things. You’re not going to know how to draw everything from your head; you gotta learn and get there and you’ll improve over time. Wish I had this thinking earlier on, because I used to stress myself wondering why I wasn’t born knowing how to draw everything.
So, anywho, once I get a whole bunch of pictures together, I use them loosely as reference and mix it with my imagination (and sometimes I use bits and pieces from many things to create something unique). Each element/item in the picture has its own layers, so I can move, rotate and fix anything that looks weird or disproportionate and try to work out the best composition I can think of before finishing up the lines.
Once all the lines were finished and everything looked all pretty, I did a quick shadow test and decided on where the lighting was gonna be strongest and where the shadows were going to be most shadowy. I decided to go with the torch as the primary light source.
After that, I made sure all my layers were in order and then saved from the Manga Studio format to the Large Photoshop Document format (.psb). I saved it to a PSB instead of PSD because Photoshop has a 2GB limit when it comes to PSD files… which I learned the hard way. So, for future reference, if you’re planning on doing any projects that are quite large in Photoshop, just start off with a .psb from the beginning, so you don’t have to worry about Photoshop kicking up storm and refusing to save all you hard work.
After that, I pop into Photoshop and start all the cool stuff. I generally go nuts with textures and try making everything look real and gritty. When I use textures, I desaturate them then play around with levels, rotate and tweak to get exactly what I need. (You can get really really awesome pretty textures from textures.com). After that, I do the official light and shadows. All grasycale with no colours, which helps to exercise my eyes and allows me conceptualise the lighting and shadows without any colours confusing me. I recommend doing this, just create a new layer on top of everything and set it to multiply, then go straight in with a black brush with low flow and opacity. I also use a white brush to add highlights.
Now, as for the snake skin… it drove me up the wall, so I decided to stalk the internet looking for a good free texture that I could use. I made my own Photoshop brush and tried making a decent looking skin, but I’m not that great at Photoshop brushes and couldn’t get the angle right haha--though you can download my brushes if you want and use them for whatever you want! XD Anywho, I found a really cool reptile skin texture, you can get it here (it's so awesome srsly go get it, its free for personal and commercial use), and I decided to go with that. The relief that texture brought me was ridiculous, but I spent a lot of time tweaking it obsessively with the liquefy option in Photoshop to get it right and bendy for the snakes body. [Download my free Photoshop snake skin brushes here!]
When all that’s done, I start my colours! Because all the lighting and textures are done, the colours are so easier to add. I played with oranges, reds, yellows and slight pinks for the bag and different greens for browns and reds for the ground. That pop of purple on the energy bar is close to the blood and ants, which I reckon helps the composition. I also added a slight touch of blue to the torch, instead of a flat black. And the snake is based on a tiger snake, so I tried to match the colours as closely as I could. I was initially going to do a milk snake, but I found out that they’re actually harmless haha, so I decided on the much scarier tiger snake.
After my colours are in, I add subtle gradients. I usually add a warm yellow to make my lights pop and a dark purple to make the shadows richer. I play around with gradients and add any final touches like the highlights and the dust particles and other fun stuff, then flatten the entire thing, sharpen it a couple of times and I’m done! XD