Reubens Art: Behind the Scenes

February 24th, 2012 | Posted in General

Fellow caricaturist Rick Wright asked in the comments on yesterday’s blog post about my 2012 Reuben artwork if I used a 3D program to do the Las Vegas sign in the background, and I got a couple of emails asking how I handled that (one accused me of photomontaging it!). So, I thought I’d post the pencil roughs and inks for a little behind the scenes look:

Clicky to embiggen

Above is the the rough concept sketch. Typically I only take a rough stab at the caricature at this point because I am just working out the composition and general concept. However I did do a fairly tight sketch of the sign in the slight worm’s eye perspective I intended. I had moved John’s header text/graphics over to the right and wanted to use that space on the left for the NCS logo on top of the sign. This sketch was also for “position only” purposes for John , so I didn’t bother drawing in all the characters quite yet… I just knew where I would fit them in.

Unfortunately I didn’t scan in the final pencil sketch before I did the inks, so I don;t have that to show. Here is the final inked version. Note I enlarged the logo on the sign and altered the perspective a touch:

Clicky to embiggen

I inked mostly with a dip pen, but I did break out a brush for the blacks in the suits, etc.

Here is how I handled the sign…

With the lines on their own layer, I painted the background:

Then I painted the sign. Sorry for the big jump in steps, but I flattened all the sign color and lettering into one layer and didn’t have it to separate out for this little demonstration. I did my usual process of painting in flat, base colors first, then selecting the individual colors with the wand tool and painting the shadows/highlights in. I usually avoid the airbrush tool in PhotoShop, but in this case I wanted the smooth, gradated look. The hand lettered “Fabulous” I isolated on the inked layer and then colored the linked lines a flat blue, then added some shadow along the top of them to match that cast by the protruding “drum” objects. Finally I found a font that closely resembled the one in the real Las Vegas sign, and did the lettering using the text tool in the appropriate colors. Then I rasterized the text, and used the transform>distort feature to create the right perspective look to the lettering, which I did using the eyeball method:

I debated whether or not to do the neon-tubing like in the real sign, which I was afraid would be too much. I ended up compromising by doing it on the sign letters but not on the NCS logo, which I thought would make that too busy and hard to see. The tubing was easy. I did the letters by painting in the tubes using a flat, light gray, and then selecting them and creating the darker gradated edges with an “inner shadow” layer filter:

Lastly, I created the circular tubes the same way, but added the connections to the surface of the sign as well:

Fun little illustration, and I’m glad so many people got a kick out of it.


  1. Leandro says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for sharing all the steps of this nice artwork.
    If you don’t mind to answer, I would like to know how long did you take to have all this artwork done? (from sketch to the final digital coloring).
    Best Regards!

  2. Great work and Details Tom… Thanks


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

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