Over the last couple of days I’ve been posting photos on my tumblr and instagram accounts showing the progress I’ve been making on the first image for my planned series of illustrations based on Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

This image is probably the most daunting of the entire series, for a number of reasons. I needed to set the tone for the entire series, and while my first inclination was to go with the quick, rough style I’ve been using over the last few months on various other projects, I wasn’t sure it would get me the effect I wanted with this project. One thing I knew for sure, if I wasn’t happy with the finished piece, I would forever be tempted to go back and do it again. So I had to make sure that whatever direction I chose had to feel like the Right Way to Do It. I ended up going with a more realistic style, that draws more on the influence of Berni Wrightson, Art Adams, and Franklin Booth, which is how I always imagined this project looking, BUT which makes me nervous because, come on. Those are some pretty high standards.

I’m generally okay with designing organic natural elements when they’re viewed from a distance, or are in the background and can be done in shorthand, but when the primary element of an image is this gigantic tree festooned with jack-o-lanterns, that makes me more than a little nervous. Especially once I realized that I was trying to make it so much more detailed and plausible than so much of my other more recent work. It took me about a week to get up the nerve to begin inking the piece, and only after doing several studies on printed copies of the pencils did I finally put pen to paper.

This series of images shows the progression from initial pencils to where the image currently sits, about 1/3 inked. I’ll continue taking photos along the way to completion. Hope you like it!
Click the previews below to see the full-size photos!

First step! I always start by outlining the major objects in a picture with my Thick Pen, then going in for details and texture later.

First step! I always start by outlining the major objects in a picture with my Thick Pen, then going in for details and texture later.

Here's the Tree, about halfway outlined. I used a #3 Rapidograph for this part of the process, all the main foreground elements got this big thick line.

Here’s the Tree, about halfway outlined. I used a #3 Rapidograph for this part of the process, all the main foreground elements got this big thick line.

Fully outlined! The background trees got a thinner treatment, so allow them to blend in more with the background when it's finished.

Fully outlined! The background trees got a thinner treatment, so allow them to blend in more with the background when it’s finished.

This is easily the most important square inch of the entire piece, and I was so much more relieved about continuing once I'd finished it.

This is easily the most important square inch of the entire piece, and I was so much more relieved about continuing once I’d finished it.

First bit of detail added to Moundshroud's outfit. I was relieved to see that, no matter how much I *thought* I was going for a Wrightson/Booth style, it was going to end up looking like I drew it anyway. A relief!

First bit of detail added to Moundshroud’s outfit. I was relieved to see that, no matter how much I *thought* I was going for a Wrightson/Booth style, it was going to end up looking like I drew it anyway. A relief!

Closeup of the texture work on the inside of Moundshroud's cloak. So many tiny lines.

Closeup of the texture work on the inside of Moundshroud’s cloak. So many tiny lines.

Beginning to see some real progress as I tackle the line of trees in the background.

Beginning to see some real progress as I tackle the line of trees in the background.

Closeup of the basket-weave texture I use to start filling in values in the canopy of the Halloween Tree. Easily one of the easiest parts of the piece so far.

Closeup of the basket-weave texture I use to start filling in values in the canopy of the Halloween Tree. Easily one of the easiest parts of the piece so far.

First pass at the canopy is complete! I'll go in later and add more value depth to some areas, but it's nice to see how much I can already bring out all of the pumpkins and FG elements.

First pass at the canopy is complete! I’ll go in later and add more value depth to some areas, but it’s nice to see how much I can already bring out all of the pumpkins and foreground elements.

Beginning the tree trunk. The bark has to serve a few purposes - allowing me to define the mass of the tree, connecting the canopy above with the ground-level foreground elements, and establish the upward camera angle. I really want to give the sense that the tree isn't just in front of the viewer, but spreads out above them as well, and the best way to do that for me is to really show the curve of the tree bark.

Beginning the tree trunk. The bark has to serve a few purposes – allowing me to define the mass of the tree, connecting the canopy above with the ground-level foreground elements, and establish the upward camera angle. I really want to give the sense that the tree isn’t just in front of the viewer, but spreads out above them as well, and the best way to do that for me is to really show the curve of the tree bark.