An example of my workflow – Scientific American illustrations


Earlier this year I contributed to Scientific American’s article “Rise of the Mammals” by illustrating various key animals in the mammalian family tree for the story’s internal spread (see their June 2016 edition). This spread ranges from the stem mammaliaform Morganucodon, to one of the largest early mammal, Repenomamus, to an early primate relative, Torrejonia, with examples of early gliders, swimmers, and diggers in between. The well known and well respected James Gurney of Dinotopia fame did the cover illustrations both for the June edition and the article. I regard James Gurney as a role model and am delighted to have worked on the same project as him.


I always enjoy reading about other artists’ workflows, so here I am with a brief show and tell as to how I went about these illustrations.


All of my flesh reconstructions start out as a list of measurements taken from the specimen itself or published scientific literature. Sometimes these lists are nicely complete, but not always. In the case of Repenomamus, there were several specimens to choose from, and you can see in the below animated GIF where I distinguish between the specimens.




Rough Sketch
The rough sketch is to get an idea for proportion and posture and is indeed very rough. I usually hand draw these, scan them, alter them, print them back out, draw over them, etc.


Refined sketch
The sketch may go through several series of scanning, digital altering (this leg is too short, it’s neck is too long, etc), printing, redrawing, and double checking measurements. At this point I seek feedback/critique on the sketch and it may go through another round of alteration.


Flat color
Flat color is pretty strait forward. I choose a color palette and decide what markings the animal may have.


Shadows and Form Light
Light and shadow are what gives an image form. To make it easy, I paint the form light layer on a clipping mask with the mode set to Screen. I do the same with the shadow layer with the mode set to Multiply or Color Burn.


Fur, Details, and Ambient Occlusion
It is good practice to work with the image as a whole first, then work your way down to the details. This is the fun part where I start giving the fur texture and refining the facial features. Ambient occlusion is the shadows that occur where two object meet – such as in the mouth, ears, and nose, or where it’s feet meet the ground – and this is also a multiply layer.


Reflected sky light and other effects
All that is left at the end is artistic touches. For these illustrations I decided to add a reflected sky light – that bit of blue reflecting off the back. I did this because I felt that it created more dimensionality. I also opted to include an ‘atmospheric’-like effect, making the legs that were on the far side of the animal a little lighter, so that they would recede a bit.


If you enjoy these illustrations and would like a print, sticker, or even a phone case featuring one of these images, visit my RedBubble page! I have several other animals from the Scientific American project available there too.

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