UY Book 30: Thieves and Spies cover process

Here is a step-by-step look at the making of the cover to UY Book 30: Thieves and Spies. It was done on 4-ply 500 series Strathmore cold press bristol. The art is approximately 8.5×12.5 inches.

I laid out the pencils very loosely using a 2H 3mm mechanical pencil. I am just concerned with creating shapes here for composition. It is easy to make changes at this stage. You can see I decided against the original angle of Usagi’s sword.

Still using the 2H pencil, but getting more defined.

I switched to a 5mm HB pencil to finish up the pencils.

Inking done with a Koh-i-Noor ArtPen which was discontinued about 15 years ago. It has a nice flex to the nib, giving a variation in line weight that makes it interesting to look at. I used Badger Black Opaque ink, old formula. The formula was changed to an acrylic base about 5 years ago. I don’t like their new recipe but, fortunately, still have a few bottles of the old stuff. As you can see, I decided against the whiskers on the left side of the guy on the right. It was too close to the other guy’s sword.

Here it is erased

I needed to “mask” certain areas of the art to protect it from the watercolor paints. I coated the art and a sheet of tracing paper with rubber cement, waited for them to dry, then laid the tracing paper over the art. I used an X-acto knife to trim the areas needed to be protected.

Here, I am peeling off the tracing paper, exposing the areas I want to paint. I used a rubber cement pick-up to clean off the rubber cement.

Background painted with watercolors.

I used color pencils to reinforce background colors, and used my pen to add some black embers.

I used an old toothbrush to splatter on white paint to add texture.

Peeling away the rest of the mask from the artwork.

The entire mask removed, except for the borders and signature box.

Working on the figures.

Added color to the clothing, and colored the signature box.

I added patterns to the clothing, and used a white Uniball Signo pen to add embers in the background.

Peeled off the border mask, and finished.


  1. Stan Sakai on October 16, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    I really miss Strathmore’s 5-ply bristol. Besides the curling (which is not a big deal) I had other problems with this 4-ply, such as some blotching of the watercolors. I will have to switch to illustration board for these covers, and use the 4-ply for lighter watercolor work.

  2. neal yamamoto on October 17, 2015 at 6:09 am

    …i’ve never tried using rubber cement and tracing paper as a frisket (on occasion i’ve used winsor-newton liquid frisket and a couple different brands of airbrush frisket with varying results); so, the rubber cement doesn’t affect the surface of the paper at all? i’ll have to try that…
    …lovely work (as always)…and congratulations on your engagement!…

  3. Stan Sakai on October 18, 2015 at 12:15 am

    I’ve had bad luck with liquid frisket. I used them for stars in Space Usagi. I splattered it on with a toothbrush, used a brush to ink over the area, then removed it with rubber cement pick-up. It left a nice speckled sky and plain paper everywhere else. I could then use a pen to ink the rest of the panel. The good thing about this method is that I did not have to cut out a mask as I would do if I was splattering paint. However, wherever the frisket had dried have browned over time. This left small brown splotches over the artwork.

    The rubber cement method usually does not affect the paper, however this time I notice some blotchiness as I mentioned in my first comment. I have noticed a difference in Strathmore paper quality in the past few years, in that some sheets accepts ink or paints better than others without spreading or blotching. Also, the 4-ply seems to curl much more than it used to. The last time I complained to Strathmore, they sent me a nice package of illustration board that was great to use. I may have to switch to that for my cover paintings.

  4. Steve on October 19, 2015 at 12:41 am


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