Wylie Beckert


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New Work: Sword and Sorcery Posted on 01 Sep 2013

digital illustration by Wylie Beckert - a magician, a thief, and a warrior.
A magician, a thief, and a warrior. This illustration was based on some thumbnails I'd drawn for a "three cloaked men" fantasy cover brief during Marc & Lauren's Illustration 101 course. Since most of my class time was taken up with the first two projects, I never got past the thumbnails on the third brief; but, with some portfolio reviews from sci fi/fantasy art directors at Illuxcon looming and precious little relevant art in my portfolio, I thought it would be a worthwhile project to finish out.

illustration thumbnails
illustration thumbnails

(Top: the first round of thumbs; bottom: further compositional tweaking.)

Since the project now fell solidly in the "personal work" category, I forsook pretty much everything about the brief in order to include a lady swordsman (swordswoman?) and a fanciful smoky fireball of magic. Everything was sketched out in pencil on Bristol (no powdered graphite this time around) and finished out digitally.

pencil sketch for an illustration by Wylie Beckert - a magician, a thief, and a warrior.


Tutorial: Powdered Graphite Posted on 14 Aug 2013

powdered graphite drawing
I hate doing large areas of uniform pencil shading - it's not why I signed up to be an artist, and my fragile little wrists just aren't built for it. I'd been wanting to try out powdered graphite for a while, but since the local art supply store here in rural Maine only stocks wagon axles and tobacco, I never quite got around to acquiring any.

Enter the fantastic Kelley, who normally takes a cruel joy in showing me up with awesome art over at her website but, in a moment of pity, was kind enough to mail me a huge bag of the stuff just in time for a recent bout of pencil-based projects. I thought I'd document the process I used for the pencil/powdered graphite underdrawing for Full Blooded - an 11x14 piece with a lot of solid blacks that probably would have destroyed my hands if I'd had to pencil them all in normally.

General advice: this stuff is messy, travels far, and sticks to everything. Put your work surface on top of a drawing board, some newspaper, etc, and use a sheet of scrap paper under your drawing hand to keep your greasy hands off your nice drawing (and vice versa). You'll want to work top to bottom, left to right (if you're right-handed) to avoid accidentally over-blending your finished work.

powdered graphite tutorial
1) Sketch in the outlines. You'll lose a lot of these in the shading process, so don't put too much time and energy into them - just give yourself a general guide to work with. I'm using a lightbox, and have my original sketch taped to the back of my working surface to limit the amount of invention I need to do. Mask off any areas (borders, important details) that need to be absolutely white. Sprinkle a tiny amount of graphite (really tiny - like less than 1/8 teaspoon) over your dark areas.

2) Use the edge of an index card to gently push the graphite around the paper for even coverage. Note that your "brushstrokes" will show, so you'll want to be consistent in the direction and angle you push the graphite. Here, I'm working in vertical lines.

powdered graphite tutorial
3) Tap off the excess graphite, and use a large soft brush to brush away any residual powder. At this point, you can use a tissue or paper towel to rub the graphite into the paper and soften the directional strokes left by the index card. Note that your color is going to be a little bit blotchy at this stage - you just want to make sure that there are no extreme dark or light areas.

4) Use a soft pencil (a 5B shown here) to shade in the darkest tones of your sketch. I know, you thought you wouldn't have to do any pencil shading with this method. Bummer. Fortunately, you can do a pretty rough job here - the layer of graphite already on the paper makes the surface a little bit slippery, and rough pencil strokes won't cling to the paper the way they would if you applied them to a clean sheet. Just darken things up a little, keeping the direction of your lines more or less consistent.

powdered graphite tutorial
5) Use a tissue to soften the pencil shading and blend it around the paper.

6) With a kneaded eraser, start to pick out the light areas of your drawing. If you pick up too much graphite and get a harsh white area you didn't want, you can blend in the surrounding graphite with a tissue.

powdered graphite tutorial
7) Go back in with the pencil of your choice (I used the 5B again, along with an HB mechanical pencil for the sharp details) and start drawing in the shapes and edges of the final image.

8) Continue around the image in the same way - pulling out the lights with a kneaded eraser, and deepening the dark tones with pencil. As you can see, although I only applied the graphite powder to the upper third of the image, over the course of working on the drawing a thin layer of graphite has migrated all the way down the page, leaving an even, light overall tone to work from.

This all probably looks like just as much work as doing it all in pencil, but you'll have to take my word for it that it's quite a bit easier, less time consuming, and the results are generally better looking. I also like the softer effect that the powdered graphite gives, and how forgiving and reworkable it is compared to heavy pencil shading, which tends to gouge and flatten the surface of the paper.

Powdered graphite also served as the base for the upper half of Gaslight Dogs - and once again was a huge labor/time saver; this is probably going to become a permanent fixture in my process.


SmArt School Project 2: Gaslight Dogs Posted on 06 Aug 2013

Illustration by artist Wylie Elise Beckert for Gaslight Dogs by Orbit Books: a steampunk inuit girl with a knife and a glowing spirit dog
I've just wrapped up the second & final image for SmArt School's 2013 Art Director Challenge - another book cover, this time for Karin Lowachee's artic steampunk fantasy Gaslight Dogs, another Orbit Books title.

pencil art by Wylie Elise Beckert for Gaslight Dogs by Orbit Books: a steampunk inuit girl with a knife and a glowing spirit dog
Following the decent results I'd had with the Full Blooded cover, I ditched my usual toned paper and tackled the initial drawing with pencil and powdered graphite on white Bristol board. While this is admittedly a bit more work than starting with toned paper, I'm beginning to realize that having the pencil art on white paper is a huge plus when it comes to coloring a piece digitally - especially if the end result needs to be highly saturated. On the plus side, I'm getting a little faster at this; the piece above is 11x14" and I was able to hammer it out in the same amount of time it normally takes me to do an 8x10. Powdered graphite (tutorial coming soon, I promise) was once again a huge help in getting this done.

illustration concept thumbnails

(Above: my thumbnail concepts.)

Despite my sadness that this course has come to an end (working with Marc & Lauren = fun fun fun!) it's awesome to have tried some new techniques, gotten some valuable external input on my art, and found a more solid direction in which to start taking my work. It's also had the side effect of making me reeeeally want to attend Illustration Master Class next summer... hopefully I'll have accumulated enough nickels in the swear jar by the fall registration deadline to make it happen.


SmArt School Project 1: Full Blooded Posted on 30 Jul 2013

Illustration by artist Wylie Elise Beckert for Full Blooded by Orbit Books: fantasy book cover illustration of a werewolf girl running through the woods
Here, at long last, is the first of the two pieces I've been working on for SmArt School's 2013 Art Director Challenge. I had the good fortune to work on this piece under the dual art direction of Lauren Panepinto and Marc Scheff.
Over the past few weeks this illustration has been fed through a meat grinder, been through countless revisions [Editor's note: two revisions] and had its colors tweaked mercilessly. The result was a piece that, while different from my previous work, taught me a lot and is (I think) a step in the right direction.

The assignment for the course was a mock cover project for one of several of Orbit's previously released books - in this case, Amanda Carlson's Full Blooded. I'd never really thought of my work in terms of cover art before, so the course was an awesome opportunity to examine what makes a cover image, and analyze my process of creating an illustration accordingly.

thumbnail and cover mockup

(Above: some of my initial concepts... which will almost certainly become final illustrations of their own one day.)

thumbnail and cover mockup
Above: my chosen thumbnail for the illustration, and Lauren's vision for the text design of the final image. It was awesome seeing the full process behind the creation of a book cover for Orbit, and the details of cover art in general and Orbit's house brand in particular. The color was overhauled multiple times during the process of this illustration - I'd never realized it, but due to what I like to think of as a superhuman hypersensitivity to color, most of my work has been unusually drab and desaturated which, as my art directors pointed out, doesn't make for the sort of eye catching image a book cover requires. The image in its final form was, initially, not only eye-catching but also a little retina-searing for my own delicately calibrated vision, but once I'd placed it among my existing pieces, I could see what a difference the pumped-up color made in the overall impact. With that in mind, I've actually gone in and re-saturated some of my old portfolio pieces - it's definitely something I'll have to keep in mind for my future work.

I'm heading into the final week of the SmArt School course, but as soon as the flurry of pencil shavings dies down I'll be posting the next piece, along with a breakdown of my process and techniques (powdered graphite tutorial!) for this illustration and any additional coherent thoughts I may have formulated on the course as a whole. And then I get to reward myself with a handle of the finest plastic-bottle vodka the corner store has to offer and an ice pack for my drawing hand. Hooray!


Art Director Challenge/Short Fiction Posted on 28 Jun 2013

No pictures for you today - posting will be a bit sparse this month, since in addition to my usual art regimen, I'm going to be taking SmArt School's Art Director Challenge course. I've been coveting these mentorship programs for a while now as a compromise between my raging desire to attend IMC and my pathological reluctance to leave my house; when I saw that both Marc Scheff (AD/all-around awesome artist) and Lauren Panepinto (Orbit Books) were heading a course, I knew I had to be part of it. Work starts on July 1st - there's still space in what looks like it's going to be a very awesome course with a very small class size- I'd encourage anyone who's interested to check it out.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with an excerpt from a rad piece of short fiction by Mark A. Sargent, based in part on my recent piece Whispers:

"They’d all heard the stories about the Bramblewood. They were the stories told by their mothers to keep children from wandering too far in. Stories told by older siblings just to scare them. Stories told by friends as they dared each other to venture just a little farther from town. The Bramblewood was haunted, they said. Or cursed. Or sometimes both, depending on who was doing the telling..."

Check out the complete short story at Mark A. Sargent's website - it's well written and definitely worth a read (and, of course, it's beautifully illustrated).


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