The Trouble with Layers


Warning: post contains tedious Photoshop-based conundrums. Skip to the last bit if allergic to digital dilemmas.

Conrad Mason’s Demon’s Watch books are being publishing by Scholastic in the U.S. (splendid news), but they found my first cover a little overly weaponised and requested an alternative version. Personally, I find happy trolls with blunderbusses cute and amusing, and I struggled to find a different approach. I read the book again and decided on a rather exciting scene that has witches and aquatic behemoths and our heroes in trouble, with no flintlocks or cutlasses in sight. This is the rough idea…


Unfortunately this was considered too frightening for the nippers, which left me in a quandary as I couldn’t think of anything else. Luckily, Conrad stepped in and suggested an idea (top of post) which thankfully did the trick.

When creating pictures digitally, it’s customary to build the elements up on layers, so things can be easily accessed and altered. Unfortunately this also gives the unsuspecting artist many more potential avenues to explore, resulting in a lot of procrastinating and scratching of beard. I can’t count the number of wasted hours altering the opacity of layers minutely or changing the tone subtly, then reverting back to the way it was, then looking at it the next day and inexplicably repeating the whole sorry, indecisive affair. I had a particularly bad case of layer-meddling on this one, which nearly resulted in me submitting this as an alternative:


I liked the simplicity and space, plus it looks better really small (the size you might see it on a website). I didn’t suggest it in the end, as it’s a bit too different from the other two covers and would be summarily rejected. This version happened by accident when I turned the other layers off – here is the opposite effect when the swooping figures are turned off:


Not quite as exciting, but with some fiery typography slapped in the middle it could make a decent enough cover. You see what I’m getting at? Sometimes there are too many options. Wait, maybe I should have done the background less blue…


Enough already.

This week I did an interview for an online magazine called Last Laugh, which features an eclectic mix of art and artists. Have a look through the previous issues as there’s a lot of interesting and inspiring stuff.


5 Replies to “The Trouble with Layers”

  1. Love seeing the thought process. It’s really cool, and I would have really liked the cover with the eye, but the one you are going with now is also really nice. 🙂 Either way, I am ever in awe of your work!

  2. HI David,
    I’m a big fan of your beautiful work and of your blog which is regularly full of insight and refreshing honesty about your process. I’m just getting to grips with painting digitally and I’m sure I remember a great entry where you broke down an illustration showing some of your process using Painter/Photoshop. Can you point me in the right direction? (Or was it a magazine interview somewhere?)

    1. Thanks Keith – you have an impressive body of work, I’m flattered that you should seek my advice! I don’t remember a specific, detailed account of how I go about my digital work, I tend to just reveal nuggets of information. Unfortunately my process is too chaotic to present as a definitive guide; I find I change my approach constantly. But if you have any specific questions, I’d be happy to help.

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