Happy Winterfest! (For all you nerds out there, yes that was a reference to Beauty and the Beast) I was recently commissioned to do a holiday card design featuring cardinals. The design was similar to this one but with an edit. I liked the original image so much I decided to keep it and use it as my own. I would still like to do something like this except as a Japanese woodblock print but that must wait. In the meantime, if you'd like to see how it was made, read on!
One day, I'll show you the many sketches I did of cardinals in flight and landing but for now we'll just deal with the pencil sketch of my final. This particular arrangement is not from a photograph. My process involves sketching both from life and from photographic references I find online. Once I've "warmed up" my mind to think of snow, cardinal shapes, and tree branches I start free form sketching what I would like to see. I liked this particular grouping.
I have gotten into the habit of sketching and inking separately. I need to get myself a light table like nobody's business but I just haven't committed yet. I like being able to have the inked version and the sketch separate. I don't like the idea of "losing" the sketch by erasing it once you have finished inking it.
Anyhow, I knew this image was going to be turned into a polymer plate for printing so I taped a sheet of Denril over my original sketch and did the inking on that. I think I'll switch to drafting vellum next time because it is absolutely SEXY to draw on. It just sucks the ink right down and has less smearing.
After inking, I scanned the Denril sheet and colored it digitally. The image at the start of this post has a gradation of dark brown to lighter brown in the inked areas and the image above has a gradation of black to grey in the inked areas. The red areas graduate from dark red to a brighter red. In letterpress printing, this would be achieved by a "rainbow roll" or a "split fountain". If I were going to make a Japanese woodblock print of this, I would do away with the background hatching and choose to go with numerous subtle "bokashi" or gradations.