Spacepig Hamadeus and the Ambush at the Hourglass Sea cover process!

Donovan Yaciuk: Spacepig Hamadeus and the Ambush at the Hourglass Sea has just gone to press for a third printing, this time with more pages and a brand new cover by artist Shane Nitzsche. This blog post is going to examine the process of creating this cover from start to finish. Shane is going to walk us through the process of conceiving and drawing his spectacular new cover art! Take it away, Mr. Nitzsche!

Shane Nitzsche: The art direction for this new cover was fairly wide open, but Donovan suggested that I search the story and come up with something representative of a scene within. More often than not, even if a single idea is crystallized in my mind, I will rough out a few options for Donovan to choose from, and in doing so I like to make them as different from one another as possible.


Here’s some options. I like them all for different reasons. The left one is simple, bold, and tells the story in just a few elements, and is an effects extravaganza for you what with the burning and the flashing and the sparking, and maybe a chance to play with reflections in the canopy glass…. The middle one I enjoy the scope of, and the tension is heightened by the smoking cannon and the shadow under the plummeting ship signifying it’s mere feet from “ka-splat”. The right one was a total afterthought. In fact I had the page in the scanner when this flash of inspiration came to me, and now it’s my favorite. 🙂 It’s extra scribbly compared to the other two, but the idea is a scuffed and injured SP is walking away from the crashed ship (carrying a “lifeless” ELA which tickles me to no end), and he’s just drawn his gun because he heard a shuffle in the palm trees behind him. We’d see tiny little shapes of martians, but not enough to give anything away.


Once we settled on a direction, I sized the sketch to the proper ratio, enlarged it, and turned the lines pale blue to give me an unobtrusive guide for the next step. More on that in a moment, but first…Although the composition was action packed, fraught with intrigue, and we both really liked it, there was something bugging me about it. After staring intently for a while it dawned on me, and a single keystroke made all the difference in the world! Mirroring the image set the action “moving in the right direction”, and somehow even heightened the danger!

Then the real work began. I printed out the doodle and began penciling. In most cases, a lot of re-thinking and refinement happens in this stage, so that’s why it helps to change the lines to a different color and make them very light, so I don’t get confused which lines are which. Luckily this composition was pretty well laid out from the beginning so corrections were minimal, and I was able to arrive at a finished piece fairly effortlessly. It also helps that I know these characters like the back of my hand by now, but that just comes with repetition.


Satisfied with the final drawing, I scanned it in again for posterity, and for the distinct possibility that an un-fixable mistake or mishap might occur in the inking to follow. One can never scan too many iterations of their work! Sometimes I will put the penciled work away, print out yet another blue-hued version and work from that, but I find that there’s a quality about inking directly over pencils (and hand smudges for that matter) that I enjoy, so that’s what I did in this case. Because I put in the extra time to be meticulous with my pencil lines, inking was a cinch. Some artists are better than others at interpreting their own sketchiness into confident black lines. I am not one of them. 🙂


Of course scanning followed the inking process, and then a little bit of Photoshop “white-out” treatment to fix errant lines, and then it was sent off to Donovan for the sparkle!

Donovan Yaciuk: I remember being completely blown away by this cover when it hit my inbox! I love Shane’s clean style and composition! Like any inspiring art, I took one look at it and was able to see it finished in my minds eye.

The first step was to lay down the flat colours, and map out the general colour scheme.


Next up is the modelling phase, where the actual digital painting comes into play. My style on this book is inspired by the traditionally animated Disney cartoons of the past. Backgrounds and places were all lushly painted, while main characters were painted using flat colours and colour shapes. For example, you can see digital brush strokes used to paint the front of the ship in the lower right hand corner, as well as in the fire in the left hand corner. On the other hand, Spacepig Hamadeus and 6-ELA are coloured using flat colours, with no apparent brush strokes.


I’ve also added some red and orange glows to the painting over the flames in the lower left and upper right hand corners, which emphasize the flames. Placing them in opposite corners has sort of sandwhiched the main characters in the middle of the page, accentuating the claustrophobic scene.

Once I got Shane’s approval, I merely added the book’s title and logos, and it was ready for print!


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