Friday, June 06, 2008

Behind the Front Lines: Batman Bike Process

Well, it's a little late, but that shouldn't be a surprise by now to all my die hard readers (Hi Mom!). Here's the long awaited process behind the Batman on a Bike bag illustration.

First, I used a few reference images for the project. I found a great mountain bike photo from Flickr, and a couple images of The Batman from a Google Image Search. To find these guys, I scrolled through photos using the awesome Internet photo browser plug-in called PicLens which I highly recommend, even if all you do is check out photos on Facebook or MySpace.

1. Ok, once you find the reference images to work with, you need to plan out the image. For this project I simply used my iPhone to take a nice front photo of the messenger bag. Then...

2. ...I printed out the photo in black and white on just a regular sheet of paper so I could start drawing right on to it. To be fair, I'm not good enough to start immediately drawing out the final plan; I sketched out Batman on a bike a few times in my sketchbook first. I usually try to work out my ideas in my sketchbook before I settle with a final approach. The photo printout is mainly to give me a quick way to gauge how the final product will look, but it's also a great way to show the client what their illustration is going to look like. Here you can see that the original design included a city in the background.

3. Once the design is approved, I mounted the front flap of the messenger bag to a piece of masonite that I had laying around. It just so happened to be a perfect size for the flap, so I was pretty lucky. Otherwise I would have gone down to the Home Depot and got one cut to size. Masonite is pretty cheap, and it makes an excellent drawing board when you need one, but if you don't think you'll ever need it again, I'd say try any sturdy flat surface panel, like a cookie sheet or better yet, a cutting board.

4. Next I used the sketch I made and the reference photos to guide me as I penciled in my illustration. It was done with an HB pencil, which is comparable to a typical #2 pencil. To erase any lines I used a mars plastic eraser, a magic rub eraser and my awesome Sakura electric eraser. It was during this phase that I showed the drawing to my brother, who thought the image was cool without the city, and so I just started inking the image sans background. To ink, and color, I used Sharpie markers. I found that inking in the outlines worked really well with a dual tip (fine/bold) black Sharpie.

5. The coloring for the Batman was pretty straightforward, all I had to do was match the color scheme from the images I found on the Internet.

Now, the bike's color actually took some time to decide on...and yes, I realize it's the color from the reference photo. The reason it was tough was because I had to weigh the fact that it's Batman...so why would he ride a red bike? But then I had to ask myself why the hell is he on a bike? In the end I though I didn't want to go black or blue with the bike because I wanted the bike to stand out. The best color to go with for that effect is yellow to contrast the blue of Batman's cape, but because there is already yellow in the belt I figured just sticking with red was fine (plus yellow just didn't seem like the type of bike color you'd expect to see in Gotham). Seriously...this took an hour to figure out.

For any of you out there thinking of doing this yourself, a word of caution; Sharpie bleeds when used on ballistic nylon. I found this out early on and ended up reinforcing my black outlines to compensate, which ended up being a good thing. The lines are thicker than originally planned, but overall they work better than the thin lines. So, the lesson here is keep your initial lines thin; put in the color; then go back over the lines to finish the coloring job. When coloring, avoid going over the same area more than necessary so you don't saturate the fabric. If you want to go over it again, wait awhile for it to dry and lay down several light "washes" of color.

Also, since Sharpies don't really come in a variety of hues, I used cross hatching and overlapping lines to vary the shading in areas - specifically on Batman's suit and face. This was a very time consuming process, but worth it. Just remember that you have almost no room for error if you try this, so be slow and patient.

6. Because I was pretty much making this stuff up as I went along, it seemed pretty reasonable to spray the bag with scotch guard to protect the illustration.

Well, I'm hesitant on recommending this step. As I was doing it, I started to reactivate the Sharpie color and therefore cause more bleed during the spray; so I immediately stopped. If you feel luckier than me, I'd say definitely keep the spray coats light and do it during a bright sunny day to speed drying times between coats. You can see from the photo that I was sure to protect the parts of the bag that didn't need scotch guard, including the buckles, with masking tape and a garbage bag.

What would have been awesome would be practicing the entire job, from Sharpie to scotch guard, on some scrap material, and not the bag; but I had no idea how to get scrap ballistic nylon. Maybe it would have been worth while to email R.E. Load and ask if they could send me some scraps?

7. So here's the final product! I'd love to hear what people think, and especially find out if anyone has suggestions on improving the materials used and the process in general.

Overall though, this was really fun to work on! I'm actually a little jealous that my brother gets to have the bag and I don't...but it's not like I can't make my own someday!

Hope someone out there finds this useful! Good luck if you decide to try it!