Mr. Ivy OwlTopus

Here’s another artistic/Design process article for you; showing how I created this illustration with pencil, paper and Photoshop. (See more of my illustrations at my portfolio:


My Ivy-Owl-Octopus Chimera experiment!

Where Did the Idea Come From?

I wanted to experiment with pencil drawing – and Photoshop. So: no inks and no graphics tablet for the drawing phase. But what to draw?

The subject idea probably popped into my mind after walking through Knocksink Wood, near Enniskerry, County Wicklow here in Ireland. There was lots of ivy all over the trees, and it reminded me of tentacles (and snakes, which I can’t bear!).

How Did I do it?

1. Blue-Pencilling

First of all drew on plain, rubbishy ol’ A4 printer/copier paper with a blue col-erase pencil, which I still have from my assistant animator (inbetweener) job at an animation company in Dublin, back in 1990! I was working on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, believe it or not… It’s only now, that I look at this, that I see how wonky and lopsided it is. Always a good idea to look at it in a mirror or flip it over and hold it up to a light source, to see it in reverse. You soon see the problems that way!

Initial blue pencil stage of the Mr. Ivy Owltopus illustration by Irish Artist & Illustrator, John I. White

Initial blue pencil stage of illustration. “Look ma, no photoshop!”

2. Graphite-Pencilling (inking)

Next, I worked over the blue pencil with an ordinary graphite B pencil. This was actually all very fast, which makes me want to do a lot more using this method, even for my comics! The first time I read of inking being done with pencils was from Jason Brubaker‘s blog for his excellent ReMind graphic novel. Whenever he went to conventions “and show an editor my work they would scratch their head and ask why I was ruining my pencils with screwed up inks.” So Jason concentrated on his pencils instead!

At this stage of the drawing, I already should have twigged that I should have been looking at photos of owls, instead of just making it up. Sometimes it seems like it’s too much trouble to type the three letter word ‘owl‘ into a search engine – on the PC which is right in front of me! – and I tell myself that I just want to experiment and see what happens without copying. Copying is such a cheap trick. Right?

Graphite pencil stage of the Mr. Ivy Owltopus illustration by Irish Artist & Illustrator, John I. White

Graphite pencil stage of the illustration. Should have got reference images!

3. ‘Flatting’ in Photoshop

Next, I scanned it and opened it in Photoshop. I’d only done about an hour of drawing work on it at this stage, and was very excited about starting the colouring! I adjusted the levels and darkened the pencils, making them as dark as possible – without ruining their subtlety – against pure white. I then used the flatting system used for colouring comics. Well actually, I used my lazy variation on flatting. Instead of making non-antialiased selections and filling them, I mostly scrub around with Photoshop’s pencil tool! See how I do flatting (badly) in my comic production process article, here. And ended up with this sort of thing:

The flatting stage of the illustration by Irish Artist & Illustrator, John I. White

The flatting stage of the illustration – in Photoshop

4. Colouring, Lighting and Finishing

Then I finished off the fine colouring of the filled shapes and the lines themselves. I used colour-holds for the lines, and some – but not that many – graduated fills and big soft airbrush for easing between the greeny/brown feathers and the tentacles.

Shadows and highlights were overlaid, semi-opaque layers of white and black. And ta-daaaaa! Finito.

The Mr. Ivy Owltopus illustration by Irish Artist & Illustrator, John I. White

Finished illustration by Irish Artist & Illustrator, John I. White

P.S. I made a major change or two to the concept and drawing

As you can see, initially he had a very big, made-up, Eagle-like beak. After actually looking online at a few photos, I changed it. I also ditched the icky, glaucoma eye. It just didn’t look any good and for no particular reason went for a pirate’s eye-patch instead. Which I love!


I modified the concept and drawing quite a bit after this stage.

– John White


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