January 10, 2019

Howl's Moving Castle

I created a series of three illustrations inspired by the book Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. For these illustrations I focused on creating dynamic compositions and a strong style that would unite the pieces visually. The final results convey the whimsy and magic that I felt when reading the story while still staying accurate to the text.


Thumbnails are often overlooked by designers and illustrators but I feel that they are a great way to work through a lot of ideas quickly and get a feel for what will work at full scale. After reading through the story and picking out which scenes I wanted to portray, I took the time to do some thumbnails and visual development in my sketchbook.

A title treatment and some unused concepts for a scene where Sophie cooks on Calcipher the fire demon.

Thumbnails of Sophie opening the door "on black," the field of flowers, and an unused scene of Sophie and Michael running through the streets. I often jot down notes about the compositions in my sketchbook or on post-its while in the thumbnail stage.

I was originally thinking about making each composition ovular. I drew out the scene of Michael chasing the star and the castle in the flowers this way but decided against it later as I was having a hard time getting some of the scenes to work in the oval.

The Rough Sketch

I take my favorite thumbnails and work them up into a rough sketch. "Rough" is relative as I've been told my rough sketches are pretty tight for a first pass.

My first go at Michael and the falling star

Sophie and the field of flowers.

Sophie opens the door "on black."

I recently invested in a Huion pen display and I have been trying to sketch digitally. It isn't as clean as the pencil sketch but I was happy with the final results and it was much easier to edit than a physical sketch. I think i'll keep sketching this way in the future.

Developing a Visual Style

After sketching I dove head first into trying to finish the first piece with the falling star. I went through quite a process before landing on the final style. I think in the future I will spend more time doing some smaller tests to find a look I'm happy with before taking on a whole piece.

My first try at finishing the piece, after working it up I realized there were some composition issues I needed to resolve.

I balanced the composition better by moving Michael off to the right and changed the star to make it more accurate to the book's description. There were a lot of things I felt were working better but I still felt the piece was coming off as too digital.

I really liked the texture on the ground so I tried to (unsuccessfully) pull some more organic textures into the rest of the piece. It wasn't meshing but I really liked the pencil line texture.

Looking for inspiration

I tried to find some examples of artists that were using line and pattern to get the feeling I was trying to achieve.

I really like how Fran Meneses uses a limited color pallet and the way she uses line - the scribbled texture and the way she omits the outline where it isn't needed

I love how Ben Schipper uses line to create texture and pattern

Sara Ogilvie's work has a wonderful roughness to it while still feeling polished.

The Final Results

After studying what I liked about the work of the artists above I took one more try at finishing the falling star piece, this time with much greater success.

After working out the kinks with the first piece the other two came much easier. I made some compositional edits as I worked on the final renders. In the second piece I fixed some perspective issues and changed Sophie's posture so that you could see her face. In the last piece I moved the characters down. This allowed me to make them a little larger and pulled them away from the darkness and detail of the castle. I decided to use the same limited color pallet across the entire series. This created a bit more of a challenge since the settings are so varied but it provides the series a strong sense of unity.

If you liked this story, here's some more stuff to read:

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Experimenting with Pencils

I've been working on integrating traditional pencil line work into my digital illustrations. Here is an overview of my process and results.

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