Library School Journal Cover

April 7th, 2009 | Posted in On the Drawing Board

Here’s a job I did a month or two back that is now on the stands so I can show some of the process and the end result. I used my new “colored line” technique, which is really growing on me, and also seems to be a hit with clients.

The job: Cover illustration with a “survivor” theme showing how library budgets are getting squeezed and cut, but the libraries are “surviving”. They wanted a mixture of calm definace and some anxiety on behalf of the librarians, with sharks (aka budget cutters) eating away at their resources.

Here are three initail rough sketches. They really are the same concept but at three different angles:

“Normal” horizon line

Upward looking angle…

Bird’s eye view

The original idea was to have the island actually be made of money, and the sharks are eating it away. It was decided that was not necessary to convey the message, so the island got changed to a sand one, with the sharks chomping on random bills.

The client liked the downward angle. No scan of the final pencils, but here are the final inks:


Inked in black as always. The color is added to the lines via the line selection trick I outlined some time back, and then simply painted over in different colors. I start out with a basic red/brown color, and then paint over them as needed.

Here is the image at a partial colored stage. You can see the color I use for the linework, which I change as I go:


And here is the final art:

Click for a closer look…

Here are a few close ups to show the colored lines as they relate to the areas they define:




There is a softness/ textural quality to this technique that makes it more versitile than the traditional black line/color look of my work in MAD, for example. It’s still “me” but just in a different light. The technique needs refining but it’s got promise.


  1. Steve Hearn says:

    I REALLY like this new technique Tom and it looks fantastic! Excellent work ‘Holmes….’. now play that violin again…..!

  2. I love this colored line work Tom.

  3. Angie Jordan says:

    Nice Color Line Technique! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Nate says:

    I’m slowly starting to learn how to work some of your techniques. I have a feeling I have a decade or so to get them right! I really like the color line effect that you’ve been using. Nice work (as always).

  5. Mark Engblom says:

    Great stuff, Tom. I’m still loving the line selection trick you linked to, and use it all the time.

  6. Artisticulated says:

    I used to “airbrush”, via Photoshop, Looney Tunes‚Äö√묢 characters into photo backgrounds (sometimes mixed with famous people) and the colored line was the ONLY way that worked. Black line flattened them out terribly.

    I liked working with thin lines. It was easy to make them all but disappear. Sometimes I had to use thicker weights and they could flatten the characters a bit. Your line work is much more involved in the overall design. It looks good to me.

    • Tom says:

      When you do a black line/color images you need to paint much more boldly and garishly to overcome that flattening effect. With colored lines you can be much softer with the color.

  7. Great breakdown. Its great to hear from someone on the artistic side explaining the math going on “under the hood” in such a clear way (especially in your original article).

    Funny how, as I was reading this, it paralleled what is done in the compositing world in AE with pulling edge mattes from luma keys to help blend talent into a CG background.

    Brilliant work!

  8. Jon says:

    The colored line look takes me forever – particularly in trying to find an appropriate amount of contrast with the colors beside the lines.

  9. The colored lines look great! Thank you SO much for sharing your techniques with us. 🙂
    Joanne Stephens

  10. MAtt Bryant says:

    Hi Tom,
    Love that technique. I too am using it with Adobe Photoshop.
    My clients are chowing a liking to it also.
    great work you do.

  11. MAtt Bryant says:

    I found that i can select the line art and colour it in sections one the one layer.
    SELECT/COLOUR/Then select the black.
    It does the magic wand thingo and highlights the black line art only.
    I then use a hard brush and colour the line art where it’s required for each section. I no longer have to use the layers in multiples.
    I can also use SELECT/COLOUR/ Select white, and delete everything that’s white in the drawing.
    Dont know if this is any help to you buddy, Just thought i’d share it with you.

  12. I really appreciate the link to the tutorial on the line separation! I always use to loose my light line work when doing it the select tool in the white areas, copy layer, delete back ground, and then paste. (Something like that)
    How do you change the color to the sepia tone, or what ever color outline? (Just on its layer) Thank You again Tom

  13. Leonardo F?©lix says:

    Thank you very much. You’re a nice guy :]

  14. Mugshotz says:

    Good stuff Tom. I’ve tried that approach and know it’s alot of extra work. But, It suits your style.

  15. Great illo! How did you get the water texture?

  16. Ken Knafou says:

    I can’t believe nobody has said it yet, but those are awesome sharks. I’m glad you didn’t make them too cartoony. Kinda scary.

  17. Mark Engblom says:

    “The color is added to the lines via the line selection trick I outlined some time back, and then simply painted over in different colors. I start out with a basic red/brown color, and then paint over them as needed.”

    I’m not sure how you color over the black lines, but here where I work, a guy just showed me how to color directly on the line without highlighting the black line art at all. He simply locks the line art layer and paints the line only, with absolutely no “spillover”.

    Geez…the stuff us art guys can learn just talking to each other!


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

Workshops Ad

Dracula ad

Doctor Who Ad

Superman Ad

%d bloggers like this: