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Create Character Driven Book Cover Art Using Illustrator and Photoshop - Part 2

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Read Time: 11 min

In this two part tutorial on creating the "Let's Go To Monster School!" book cover, I'll show you a complete process from initial sketch to the final artwork, using an Illustrator to Photoshop integrated workflow. We employed Illustrator in Part 1 to trace our hand drawn sketch, lay down the shapes and define the basic colors.

Now we'll take the vector drawing into Photoshop where we will refine the shading, add some textures, and complete the book cover with the appropriate typography. Let's continue on with Part 2 of this series.

This illustration is a cover art for a fictitious novel called "Let's Go To Monster School!". It depicts a fun monster professor teaching insane science in a dingy classroom. We already created the basic image in Part 1. Now we'll finish the artwork with textures and lots of brushwork using a pen tablet in this Part 2 of this series.

Step 1

Open the PSD drawing we exported in Part 1 (1a) and check that each element sits on its own layer (1b).

Let's start with the blackboard. The first thing to do is to lock its transparent pixels (1c). This is crucial, as it allows us to paint on the layer without affecting its edges or painting outside of them. The lines we carefully crafted in Illustrator are therefore safe. Lock the transparency of all layers unless specified later on.

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and use a low value (1d). Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur (1e) to turn the sharp noise into a hazy texture. The blackboard is now a bit more rugged (1f).

Step 2

Add a subtle Gradient Overlay to the layer (2a) to enhance the feeling of depth. The blackboard gets darker as it recedes towards the corner of the room (2b). We are satisfied with the result therefore there's no need to keep the layer style active. Right-click on the layer and choose Create Layer. The Gradient Overlay will be turned into a normal layer above the blackboard, masked to it (2c). Select it and hit Command + E to merge it down. We have one layer now (2d).

Step 3

We are going to add several layers of erased chalk marks on the blackboard. To accomplish that we have to select white as the foreground color (try hitting D then X).

Hit B to select the Brush Tool and F5 to open the Brushes palette. Photoshop already has a few chalky brushes so pick one, I like number 36 (3a). Next activate Opacity Jitter under Other Dynamics and set the Control to Pen Pressure (3b).

If you don't have a tablet leave the Control off. Under Brush Tip Shape increase the Diameter to an appropriate value (test the brush on the blackboard) and change the rotation Angle if the default one is not to your liking (3c). I find it hard to paint very lightly with a tablet so in the option bar at the top of the screen I set the brush's Opacity to 50% (3d).

Step 4

Paint several passes of random chalk marks on a separate layer, making sure they overlap (4a). Apply a good dose of Gaussian Blur to smooth them (4b), then set the layer to Soft Light with 50% Opacity (4c). The blackboard looks used now, just what we need (4d). Of course feel free to repeat this step until you're satisfied with the result.

Step 5

Now the real fun starts! Select another, more textured chalky brush (5a) and fill the blackboard with pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo. Go crazy here, this is Monster School! (5b)

Step 6

The blackboard is done. Let's take care of the classroom now. You need some dingy textures for the floor and the walls, plus a wood texture for the baseboard. The ones I'm using can be downloaded for free from the website CGTextures. Once you create an account you can download the textures for free, with a daily limit of 15 MB. Here are the direct links to the textures I used:

Place the floor texture in your document (6a), hit Command + T to select Free Transform, then using Distort and Skew (from the right-click menu) adapt it to the floor (6b). Set its blending mode to Multiply so the gradient we applied to the floor shows through (6c).

Step 7

To create color variation on the tiles we use the Dodge and Burn Tools. Accessible from the Toolbar (Shift + O to cycle through), these two tools allow us to respectively lighten and darken objects using brush tips.

Using the default settings and a big, soft brush set to low opacity, darken the tiles under the monster and closer to the baseboards (using Burn). Lighten some areas irregularly (using Dodge) to add the impression of an old, stained floor (7a, 7b).

Step 8

Map both walls with the plaster textures downloaded before. Place the first texture in the document (8a) and distort it to match the wall's perspective, using Perspective and Distort while in Free Transform mode (8b). Do the same for the second wall. Set both textures to Multiply, 70% Opacity (8c).

Step 9

Go back to the first chalky brush, the one we used on the blackboard. Add a blank mask to each plaster texture (9a) and paint discoloration strokes into it (9b). Using the Burn Tool set to Midtones, darken the textures at the bottom where they meet the baseboard and in the corner where they meet each other. That's where the shadows are (9c).

Step 10

Place the wood texture in the document (10a) and adapt it to the left half of the baseboard (10b). Hit W to select the Magic Wand Tool and click on the yellow baseboard (10c). Use this selection to create a mask on a layer group in which you'll place the wood texture (10d). This way you don't need to be super precise when placing the texture. Mirror the right half (10e).

Step 11

Create dark stains and discoloration spots on the baseboard using the Burn Tool set to a small diameter (11a, 11b). Hide every layer except the ones that make up the walls, the baseboard and the floor. Hit Command + A to select everything and Shift + Command + C to copy all layers merged together. A simple Command + V will paste the entire classroom on a new layer.

One last touch. Pick the Dodge Tool with a small diameter and brighten up the corner where the walls meet. Paint a faintly irregular vertical stroke down the entire length of the corner, where it catches the highlights (11c, 11d).

Step 12

To complete the classroom, add a Drop Shadow to the blackboard (12a). Use the settings that give a result similar to images 12b and 12c. And since we're sticklers for perspective, let's create a layer from the drop shadow and distort it to match the perspective (12d). It's one of those subtle details that count in giving an overall convincing result.

Step 13

The classroom is finished so you can lock its layer. We can finally work on the monster now. The character we exported from Illustrator has flat, uninteresting shading. We need to add depth to it by painting lit areas, shadows and highlights, considering an ideal light source from the top. We will use the Dodge and Burn Tools to brighten and darken the character and the Brush Tool to create the necessary color variations. The Blur Tool will come in handy to smooth the light/shadow and color transitions and to remove unsightly brush strokes.

Activate the Burn Tool and set it up for overall use (13a). Selecting Midtones makes the tool affect the base color, therefore allowing us to start defining the shadows. Shade the horn all around its edges, especially the bottom edge and the base where it attaches to the body (13b). Enhance the roundness by darkening more towards the edges.

Step 14

Using the same technique shade the bottom eyelid (14a). Using a medium green, soft brush with low opacity, go ahead and smooth the color transition by painting where the dark green meets the yellow shade (14b). Now highlight the top edge with a single, smooth yellow stroke (14c). All the upward edges catch highlights and must therefore be brighter than the base color. Anytime you do this you can try the Dodge Tool, set to Midtones. Sometimes the result is too washed out so it's easier to just paint in the color you want. Darken the bottom edge again (14d) and lightly brighten the center pixels to smooth the contrast (14e). Use the Blur Tool to smooth the colors as necessary. Shade the top eyelid in a similar way (14f). As you can see painting is done by first laying down color roughs and then refining.

Step 15

Make the eyeball round by painting the shadows cast by the eyelids (15a). On a separate layer paint some light red veins for a good bloodshot eye effect. Of course use a brush with a small diameter (15b).

Step 16

Burn the eyelid shadow on the iris and enhance the highlight with the Dodge Tool. The secret is to layer soft, transparent, sweeping strokes on top of each other.

Step 17

Merge the warts into a single layer and set it to Overlay mode (17a). Set up Burn for Highlights to affect brightly lit pixels (17b) and darken the bottom edges of each wart to make them pop out (17c). Set up Dodge (17d) and paint highlights on the top edges to complete the shading (17e). Finally add a Drop Shadow style (17f). Now these are good looking warts (17g)!

Step 18

Darken the outer rim of the head (18a) and paint a shadow below the mouth (18b). Paint a highlight on the lower lip (18c). Repeat the process to create the upper lip (18d).

Step 19

Add another shadow on the neck and at the sides of the mouth (19a). Darken the head underneath the eye. Merge down the bottom eyelid and use the Blur Tool to get rid of the hard seam (19b).

Step 20

As you recall from the sketch, there is grass growing on the professor's head. Let's paint it! Choose a small brush (20a), set up Fade (20b) and Opacity (20c). Paint curved grass stalks growing out of the head on a separate layer (20d). The number next to fade sets the length of the stalks. Using different diameters, colors and fade values, create two varied wisps of grass on the head (20e).

Step 21

Shade the teeth much like we did the horn (21a). Remember to paint the shadows cast by the lips. Darken the fins where they meet the head (21b).

Step 22

Paint shadows on the left hand. Darken the bottom edge and the area that enters the sleeve (22a). Paint shadows on the fingers too, and add highlights along the top edges of the whole hand (22b). Unlock the transparency of the fingers and blur them where they meet the hand. Also paint shadows on the stick (22c).

Step 23

The tail has a strong shadow cast by the lab coat and secondary shadows along the top and bottom edges. The shadows must be tapered towards the tip (23a). By now you should have gotten the drift so shade both feet (23b, 23c).

Step 24

The lab coat is white but there are a lot of shadows cast onto it by the monster and by itself. Start off with the lapels, darkening them where they meet the monster's head and along the outer edges (24a). To shade the coat darken the outer edges, paint shadows underneath the lapels and hint at folds by darkening areas along the length. The right side also casts a shadow onto the left side (24b, 24c).

Step 25

Add a small Drop Shadow to the buttons (25a, 25b). No need to shade them, as they are rather small.

Step 26

Darken the right sleeve along its longitudinal edges (26a) then merge it down on the coat and blend the seam with the Blur Tool. Paint some tighter folds at the armpit (26b). Paint a shadow on the inside of the sleeve (26c).

Step 27

Using the same logic shade the left sleeve and the pocket. Paint shadows onto the coat and the left hand. The coat is finished (27a).

The light comes from the ceiling so the professor casts a rather sharp shadow onto the floor. There are no layer styles that can help us here, we have to paint it (in black). Set the layer to Multiply mode and regulate the Opacity to about 60%. Using the Blur Tool to soften the shadow as it recedes from the monster, another nice little touch (27b).

Step 28

The painting is complete. All we need to do now is add the appropriate typography to finish the book cover. I used the beautiful Egyptienne typeface Farao by the Storm Foundry, check it out.


The aim of this two-part tutorial is to show a typical illustration workflow from the conceptual sketch, through the basic drawing, and into the final painting. The task was to lay down a clean vector drawing in Illustrator and subsequently add life to it in Photoshop using textures and traditional painting techniques adapted to the digital format.

I hope you had fun and learned a few useful workflow tips. You should now be ready to create your own weird characters to try your hand at digital painting. Have fun and never stop learning!

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