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Narrative tutorial: Rats on the Loose

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(Score 4.67 out of 5 after 3 Votes)
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Date Added: 25th August 2017
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Illustrator & concept artist Gabriel Romero (Gaboleps) uses rat-filled sci-fi flash fiction to conjure up his latest retro-styled illustration...


What are the important elements from the text to focus on?
Well, the main elements are the escaping rats, the space station crafted by humans and the space environment. I want to represent a concept, not describe what I imagine while I am reading, so most of the readers won't get their imagination distorted by my vision. So, I will represent the rats as rats with fishbowls on their heads, humans with a mug of coffee, and space by a planet. Finally, I like when the text names a color; in "Loose" the color blue is very important, and I want to make sure there is quite a lot blue in the picture.

What goal are you looking to achieve with the final piece?
As mentioned before, the main goal is not to describe the scene, it is to complement the text as a concept. I also want to give a retro look to the image, like an old sci-fi poster, but keep the idea of illustrating a page in a book, so I think making a vignette is a good idea, instead of painting every pixel of an A4 page.

Step 1: Sketches

First I read the text and start making rough sketches of anything that comes to mind. I do anything that comes out even if it does not make sense. This is the one I like most.

One of many

Step 2: Working on the sketch

In this step I try to get as much of the idea as I can, not applying much detail, but defining all the elements in the composition. I like to connect the big elements, for example the liquid from the mug overlaps with the main rat foot, and so on with the rest of the elements. If I isolate something it is because it's quite small, like the rat in the upper-right corner.

I keep to grayscale for now

Step 3: Contrast

After defining the idea more, I try to achieve a nice contrast. Or at least, see which way I'd like to go. So I make a couple of versions and pick one which I continue to paint, not too much. I would rather not add color in this step.

I pick the one on the right

Step 4: Adding some colors

Time for some color! It is important to generate a connection between the colors named in the text and the image, so I pick blue. If I think of myself as a reader, I like to find those coincidences between what I imagine in my mind and the illustration. We all have personal and unique psychic reality, so it is a good idea to highlight those little coincidences. I like complementary palettes, so if I pick blue, I am also picking some range of oranges. Of course that depends on what you want to express in your art.

Here we can also see some of the process

continued on next page >

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