Zoot Suit

Last October I announced, with no little fanfare, the arrival in my studio of an exciting item of new kit, my 24″ Wacom Cintiq (Oct 2012: The new recruit) Ten months on, I have to say that initial enthusiasm has turned out to be entirely justified. The device has become so integrated into my workflow and technique that it’s hard to recall the ergonomic dark age of the Intuos 2. Unfortunately, once it arrived, there was no time to experiment and get a feel for the new equipment before using it on any ‘real’ work so I had to pretty much jump right in and adapt on the job.

As luck would have it however, the first project I worked on using the Cintiq could not have provided a better demonstration of the advantages it had over its predecessor. Much as I wanted to post an account of the job and share these insights at the time, the work was not due to be published (or more accurately, released) until March of this year so the details had to remain under wraps and I had to keep schtum. By the time March came around I was of course involved in another project entirely so the planned blog post stayed on the back burner… for, er, another six months. Until now.

Actually, the job in question was notable for several reasons besides being the first I completed using the Cintiq. The initial contact was via social media from Lucy, who I’d met on a memorable tour of southern China four years earlier, when the unfortunate young woman found herself to be part of a five-person tour group that consisted of herself and the four members of our family. Mercifully, we all got along famously but that’s a whole other story and has no place here.

Anyway.

She explained in her message that her ‘false Dad’ (a complicated non-blood relative who is apparently thus referred to in the interests of convenience and brevity) was a musician called Judge Smith who had a new album in the pipeline and a concept for the cover artwork that Lucy had been kind enough to suggest I might be able to help with, and would I be interested in discussing it with him? She went on to add that he’d been in a band back in the 60s/70s called Van Der Graaf Generator (he actually co-founded the band in 1967 with Peter Hammill); I won’t revise history and pretend to have been a huge fan of the band – I was more of a Led Zep boy at the time – but I certainly knew the name and remembered them being a pretty big deal on the alternative scene back in the day. I asked her to please pass on my details.

A week or so later I met Judge, an instantly likeable guy, at a café in Brighton where he outlined his album cover concept – a mash-up of photography and cartoon illustration – and admitted he wasn’t even sure it could be made to work in the way he envisaged. The album was to be called Zoot Suit. Illustration-wise, there were quite a few pieces required: a cover image plus separate images to illustrate each of the thirteen tracks in an accompanying CD booklet, all combining photographs of Judge overlaid with drawn elements relating to the track titles. I assured him that we could definitely make this happen.

Shortly afterwards he let me have digital and print copies of the photos I’d be working with together with a few demos of songs that would feature on the album, which gave me a really useful flavour of the record and helped to set the ‘tone’ of the drawings. At this point, in the pre-Cintiq era, I would probably have gone straight to the light-box with the print versions of the photos and started making pencil sketches on layout paper overlays. These would have been gradually traced and refined up to the finished line-drawing stage, scanned in when complete and only then combined on-screen with the digital versions of the photographs.

Now though, my faithful old light-box had been rendered obsolete. Opening up the photo files in SketchBook Pro (an extremely affordable and naturalistic drawing application that’s been developed with Cintiq-style tablet/monitors in mind), I simply had to add a new layer, which took the place of the sheet of layout paper in the old method, and I was off. Very rough sketches could be cleaned up by knocking back the layer opacity, adding a new layer above and making a neat trace. This process could then be repeated as many times as necessary, in order to arrive at the finished line-work. And all without once resorting to an eraser or putty rubber. The fact that each of these images, by their nature, had to be built up in layers, meant that this job was, as I said earlier, an absolutely ideal introduction to the whole experience and convenience of drawing directly on-screen and long before it was finished I’d become a complete convert.

Here’s an example of one of the unadulterated shots I was supplied with, followed by the final version, complete with overlay. The track is called Stamping Ground. Oh, and one additional stage of the process I neglected to mention was the cleaning up of the photo files in Photoshop prior to opening them in SketchBook Pro; this involved isolating the figure by masking out the background and tweaking the levels to give them a little more punch.

Lo-resStampingGroundStampingGround(lo-res)

Here are the rest of the final composites, with their track names:

Weird Beard
Weird Beard

I'm through
I’m through
Cardboard Suitcase
Cardboard Suitcase
F*ck Me Shoes
F*ck Me Shoes
Cannonball
Cannonball
Zoot Suit
Zoot Suit
Been Alone So Long
Been Alone So Long
Darling It's Up To You
Darling It’s Up To You
Extract from The Book Of Hours
Extract from The Book Of Hours
Ghost In The Machine
Ghost In The Machine

Rover 90
Rover 90

The Selfish Shellfish
The Selfish ShellfishBasic CMYK