Where the Wild Things Are – Digital Painting & Illustration Process


Howdy folks! It’s been a while since I posted 😛 In case you want to see work a bit more often, check out my instagram, where I am more frequently posting sketches and personal life updates.

Onward to the new piece! Where the Wild Things Are is a cover illustration, commissioned by Vegas Seven Magazine, on a fun story about wildlife traveling down LA’s flood washes and into the city, surprising city dwellers with mountain lions, coyotes, big horned sheep and more. In this blog post I’m going to losely cover the process it took from tight sketch to finished illustration.


Tight Sketch

Firstly, the Art Director already knew a pretty specific direction he wanted the piece to go in. Usually, I’d start off a piece by drafting several thumbnails and sending off my favorites for review. This time, I went directly to the tight sketch based off the AD’s thumbnail. Not pictured are the rounds of animal-practice I started sketching in a traditional sketchbook with basic BIC pens. When drawing new subject matter (or something I haven’t drawn in a while), I like to spend some time sketching it/them out in different poses that visually interest me. This way, I get to know the object or being personally, I get to know what I like about it most, and I get in a little practice in representing it visually. I always feel drawing what you like is important because I feel it directly affects the quality of your work.

Color Experiment


Next up, I sent off a black and white tight sketch with a tiny bit of value definition, and while waiting on approval went ahead and started experimenting with color. I wouldn’t exactly advise working on color before you have an approved tight sketch, as it can add extra work for you and make you commited to color that’s bound to change, but in this case my schedule was much more free on this day than it would be in the few upcoming. I also didn’t anticipate many more changes, so I figured the each color placement’s “job” wouldn’t be disturbed too much. I also didn’t send this to the AD, as it was really an experiment and I didn’t want anyone to be confused on the final piece or get attached if I needed to change color later. In certain situations, an illustrator might want to get a color wash approved, but in my case I’ve found there’s no good way to explain where it’s going to show up in the end. I’m confident that my portfolio exemplifies my color styles, and that I’m able to discern from the project brief and intial questions that no one is going to be surprised by the color of a final piece.

Color Palette


After the color experiment, I go hunting for photo reference for color. I admit, I’m a bit addicted to color and already have stockpiled examples of other artists’ photos and paintings on my pinterested board ‘Color Inspiration’, so it really doesn’t take me much time to do this. I focus on finding photos with similar lighting (cold highlights, warm shadows, for example) and maybe even a couple of enviromently similar setups (in this case, color across rock over a distance). I then assemble them in a landscape orientation, edit them individually to fit together a little bit, and save it to keep open across the duration of the project. Sporatically throughout the project, I’ll take a second to look at the color references to ask myself, ‘is this piece going in a direction that makes me as happy/successful as the inspiration?’ If so, I keep going. That said, never become a slave to your inspiration! It’s there to help you make quick choices, not strictly steer your project in a specific direction.

Sketch Revisions


Then came sketch revisions! In this case, the AD wanted a lower contrast space for the text to sit at the bottom of the cover, suggested a play on depth of the logo, and moved some things around to aid the changes. He provided an edited image he did himself, but I redrew certain areas to improve on compositional choices and some new found issues in perspective (since the lion got moved up, his hips had to be moved down to support the same “camera angle”). I also spent a hilarious amount of time trying not to cover certain areas of the logo “Seven” so that it wouldn’t read “Sever” 😀 haha.

Flat Color


And color! As the header says, this is what I call a “flat color” round, but since I had already done a color experiment that I mostly liked, I included that as an underpainting. In addition, I added color with various methods to sketchy layers I wanted to keep, gave color to all objects, and tied them all together. In general, I paint the midtone of each object during this stage, but sometimes (like the mountain lion’s back), I need to throw in some highlights or shadows to help me see the contrast between two items.



And then poof, you’re done! Just kidding. The hard part is over, but here I spend at least 50% of my time actually painting everything I’ve planned. The general approach after flat color is: all shadows, all highlights, more detail, shadows, highlights, more details, repeat until finished. All other info here would be trying to sum up a decade of art study :) If you’re interested in specifics, don’t hesitate to email me at kari@karipaints.com. I am more than happy to share my process or things I’ve learned from study, practice, and other people.



Lastly, throw in all you’ve got! Check contrast in details, your focal point, unify color if you haven’t, add some cripser edges, bump up or down the saturation of smaller areas.

I hope you enjoyed this process post! If you want to share or save all in one image: