Seeing step-by-step processes from other artists always helps me gain an insight into the approach of a project or piece of art and offers something to learn, even if small. I like to offer my own process from time to time with an effort to give back to others the way my colleagues and friends have generously given to me.
Here I will show stages of an illustration job for VIBE magazine. I was called to do an spot featuring three rappers, poking fun of their run-ins with the law just after appearing on the cover of Vibe. It is a joke they were making about a 'Vibe Curse', of sorts. The art director wanted a painted and fairly rendered or 'realistic' look to the piece, and cited a couple pieces I'd done in the past as reference. I was given about 36 hours to work on this illustration and I put in almost 18 hours of work.
Starting with a thumbnail for approval, the idea was to show them with a sign board in a group mugshot with a tag line on the board. I sketched how I would exaggerate them, showed the art director and began sketching.
As you can see, my sketches (for the purpose of speed and ease, with such a short deadline) were done separately. This way I could focus on the structure, likenesses, pose and expression and digitally compose the image later.
Once I reached a point where there was enough information to start painting, I brought all the elements together and roughly sketched out the rest in Photoshop. Switching the drawing to a "multiply" layer, I could add color beneath it and give an overall base to start painting with. Once I got approval from the art director, it was a straight 12 or more hours of digital painting.
I knew that the photos had different lighting and color treatment, so to unify them I started with a monochromatic palette that I would use as a base, mostly to give the illusion of one consistent light warmth and environment. I shaped the lighting in the drawing a little differently than the separate reference photos to help convince the viewer that they are 'together'. You may ask why not just find reference of each with a similar light source? That is a great point, however the art director and I felt that a certain expression for each personality would sell the comedy of the piece more, and finding those expressions was not an easy task, limiting what photos I had to work with (two of the three rarely make these sorts of faces rather than their PR poses).
Here you can see the level of detail in the piece. Nothing too meticulous, but when printed at 4-5" wide it will look very detailed. This is before any color variation (except for the irises), using just the monochromatic palette as a start.
Once I reached a point where the heads were nearly finished, the details of tattoos, lips, eyes, shadows and other color variations were added to complete the heads. This was the focus of the piece, so I wanted to get it done to a certain level of detail before moving forward with the rest of the painting.
Here it is about 90% finished. The marks on the wall were added in a separate layer in Photoshop and punched back a bit later, and more details like jewelry, clothing and tattoos were added before finishing.
And here is the final illustration. To be honest, I'm not completely satisfied with it, but considering the tight deadline it worked out alright.