Friday, October 23, 2009

Nativity (Full Process)

JAMES - I was contacted by the Orange Peel to do a poster for their Halloween show, featuring NC metal band Between the Buried and Me. Halloween + Metal = a happy James Flames. I know I usually detail most of the steps of my poster-making processes, but I thought that this time I would get a little more extensive. So let's start from the beginning.

First is sketching in my book, thinking about concepts, composition, colors, etc. I knew this poster was going to be reproduced digitally (as opposed to my screenprinted posters), so the amount of colors I could use was essentially limitless. That's kind of important, because it generally defines the way I'll start my sketching. If I'm doing a screenprint and I can only use 2, 3, or 4 colors, I generally like to do sketching directly in Photoshop because the colors dictate the other aspects of the illustration. But in cases like this one where my colors are unlimited (or if there are none at all, like when I do Black&White posters), it's easier for me to just draw it out in my sketchbook, allowing the lines and composition to dictate the rest.

So I started real loose with the sketching. In a very roundabout way, I knew what I wanted to see in the end: some kind of skeleton creature, a bunch of dead bodies, and some ooze. Most of the time my final sketches are a little more well defined, but the above sketch was all I needed as a groundwork this time. It was a general outline, and the rest of the details were very clear in my head already, so no need to waste time.

Sometimes, in the cases where I do more detailed sketches, I'll scan them into the computer and blow them up to full-size, then I'll print it out and trace over it onto a fresh sheet of paper - it's a good time-saver. But this case was different, considering that the sketch is pretty abstract. So I started with Bristol paper, and I measured out all my margins and crops. Then started drawing - over and over and over. This particular sheet was pretty messy - all the little details in the creature were drawn over many times, so to clear it up i went over the important lines with a marker, and erased the messy pencils.

Once I had everything pretty much where I wanted it, I got another clean sheet of Bristol paper, measured out the same margins and crops, and put it over the previous sheet. Using my light table, I traced it pretty lightly with pencil (I use Derwent "B" pencils - they're my favorites). Sometimes this extra step isn't necessary - but in this case, the previous sheet was so abused that the final illustration would have been very dirty and mangled. Of course it's all easily fixed in Photoshop, but I really like the final work to be clean and "presentable".

This is my last chance for any adjustments before going to my brush and ink, and you can see some subtle changes since last time. Once it's all how I want it, it's time for ink. I originally thought I would use a nib pen to do most of the detail, but quickly realized I felt way more comfortable with the brush on this one. I switched between my Rosemary & Co. #2 and #0 brushes to get all the major work done. I used a thin marker for some of the tiny little details, as well as for the outline of the dead skeletons surrounding the creature - I wanted to exaggerate the difference in line weights between them and the creature. Finally I used a big ol' #6 brush to fill in the big spots. I didn't need a drop of white-out on this at all.

And then as is customary, I slept on it. When time allows (which it doesn't always), I like seeing it with fresh eyes the next day - I feel like it gives me a chance to see things I may have missed. I fine-tuned some of my line weights on some parts, and also fine-tuned the minor shadows cast on parts of the creature (like the horns on his head). Once I was happy, I scanned it all in. My scanner is regular size, so I had to scan this in three pieces and then assemble it all together in Photoshop.

Next is coloring, which in this case was done all in Photoshop. The one draw-back to not doing any sketching in Photoshop (back in Step 1) is that I don't have any color studies to draw reference from. Honestly, when drawing this, I loved it so much as just a Black&White, and I almost couldn't see it as color. But they were expecting color, so I had to really find the right palette to create the perfect mood for this.

In the image above, you'll see the 6 stages of coloring this went through. The Orange & Cyan colors from the first try were really disappointing me - it made the poster seem almost happy and cartoony, and that's not what I was going for. Back and forth, back and forth between every color I could think of, and still frustrated. So, when in doubt, I go look at some other artists' work that I admire and use it as reference. In this case I checked out some of Darwyn Cooke's "Spirit" comics, as his palette in those was always murky and dark mixed with hits of really bright and well announced color choices. I felt like I had a better handle on what I wanted, and by the 6th frame of the image you can see I finally came to the final.

Also you may notice the evolution of the "eye smoke". When I first drew it on the original drawing/sketch (it's got a red-marker outline), it was a little more zig-zaggy. But I didn't include it on the final inks because I always intended to draw it directly in the computer using vector. The vector would give me the silky smooth lines I was looking for. When I got to the coloring stage, I needed a placeholder for the smoke, so I just scribbled something loose (which you see in the first few color steps). Well, throughout coloring, I got so comfortable with the loosely drawn smoke that when I finally did add the originally intended zig-zaggy smoke (which you'll see in step 5), I was very disappointed. So I just went back to the scribbly style, turned it into vector and refined it a little bit, and I was very happy with the shapes it made. I love when spontaneous things like that happen - I could have never planned it that way, it just happened.

Here's a final detail shot. These are hanging all over town, and they look pretty cool, if I do say so. Final size 11"x17".

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meridian of Mobility

JAMES - I was contacted awhile ago about doing a poster for Ra Ra Riot's show here in NC. I'm a big fan of the band (and also a very big fan of their side project Discovery - check that shit out!), so i wanted to have alot of fun making this - they're all such nice people, and I wanted to make something really special for them.

original sketch

I started with research: the band's recent album is called "The Rhumb Line", which refers to a navigational term used to describe a line or path that intersects latitudes (or something like that). While I was doing a little sketching of ideas, I came across a half-finished sketch I had done awhile ago. It had the basic colors and forms already set, but there was no concept or specific imagery. But it was a great starting point to wind up with what you see above.

The images consist of three main parts, shown above. The first two, the smoke and the train, were little model cut-outs I made. Similar to my approach with the demon on the King Khan poster, I wanted these parts to be three-dimensional, and eventually end up being photographed to show the shadows that these cut-outs make as they lean against paper (which you can see in the detail shot below). Since the whale was under-water, I actually wanted him to appear recessed into the poster - so I drew him as usual with a brush and ink, but I used halftones in the final coloring to make him appear 'within' the water.

detail shot

I knew this would be a two-color design, but I love the color created by the overlap of the two colors, giving me a third color to work with - and in the final print, that purple-y color looks so velvety smooth. I hand drew the lettering and added it to the composition, then drew the bubbles in Photoshop, and it was all done.

2-color screenprint, full-bleed 19.5" x 25.5", on 100lb. Cougar Natural paper, edition of 60

They were printed by The Half and Half, and they're full-bleed and larger than usual at about 19.5" x 25.5". The show was last night, and it was so fantastic. As I said, the band and everyone else involved were super cool, as were all the fans at the show. It's great to see people's reactions to the poster first hand. These were selling pretty fast last night, and I did manage to save some and they're available now on my website and through Click here to buy.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


JAMES - Another oversize illustration, this one originated almost exactly two years ago. At the time I was keeping a personal mini-sketchbook, a real free-form experimental type of book, and every once in awhile, I wound up with a good idea or two that have translated into future illustrations (one of them became my Henry Rollins poster).
Anyway, this particular one always stuck in my mind, and I finally took the opportunity to bring it to life.
Similar to The Pill, this one is 22" x 30". I really like working this large, cuz it's more of my whole arm moving across the paper, as opposed to just my wrist and fingers controlling my strokes.

original ink drawing

I started with taking some photos for reference and then made this sketch, done with marker on 8.5" x 5.5" copy paper. I scanned it, and blew it up to the size I would need it, then printed it out onto 12 sheets of paper. I assembled those to make one large blueprint of the artwork to use for the final piece.

color study

Then I did a little color study on a little piece of 5" x 7" paper, just to get a handle on the colors and layers before I attacked the actual illustration.

process photos

This time I used Somerset paper, which is very similar to Rives BFK, and was great to work with. I started with a light pencil outline, and went layer-by-layer with my colors - almost approaching it like a screenprint. All the colors are acrylic, and the outline is an ink wash. After the main color and outline, I covered the entire painting in a layer of translucent metallic gold acrylic, which I kept messing with to warp the coverage. Finally, I added the lettering, which took awhile to keep my hand really steady for it all.

finished detail shot

I had a specific reason for using the metallic gold, even though it is kind of subtle in the end. I feel like most of the art I make is all done with the idea of it being reproduced faithfully in different ways: screenprint, photocopy, digital jpegs, etc etc. But metallic colors are really hard to reproduce, which gives the original piece of artwork greater importance and uniqueness. The only way to get the full effect of the illustration is to see it in person - and in contrast to my usual work, that just seems like a cool idea to me.
Anyway, I had a good time with this, and I'm planning on doing a bunch more like this. One thing, though, is that I think it would be better to use an easel - I'll have to look into that.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Salt Of The Earth

JAMES - I was contacted by a local promoter to do this poster for the roots-reggae band Groundation. Joel was a great guy to work with, and after doing some research on the band, he and I found common ground on a concept for this poster rather quickly.

original sketch

This was the keeper of the two sketches I submitted. We knew right off the bat that these would be a two-color screen print, so I decided to use varying degrees of each of the two colors to create a more dynamic illustration.

The main drawing was done at about 1/3 the actual size of the final poster - india ink, with a #2 brush on bristol paper. I drew the rest of the figure (the upper arms, neckline, and dreadlocks) on a separate sheet of paper using some markers that were almost out of ink. This was on purpose, to give the dreads texture and to kind-of "blur" the background elements to create depth against the sharpness of the line drawing.

detail shot

The varying shades of each of the two colors was done in photoshop, and gets represented as halftone on the final print.

2-color screenprint, full-bleed 18"x24", on 100lb. Cougar Natural paper, edition of 55

As always, these were printed by Nick at The Half and Half - they look fantastic in person. Joel mentioned how successfull the show was, and he sold out the posters that he brought to the show with him. Awesome! I have 5 remaining prints up for sale at or through my website - these are the last 5, so get them while you can. Click here to buy.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


JAMES - so the other day, i was buzzing my hair, and as i got real close to the skin i revealed a black spot on my head. i spent the rest of the day trying to strategically arrange double mirrors to try and see what the hell it was. was it a tick? dried blood? or maybe that microchip they inserted when i was on that spaceshi.... well, if it was a tick, it was long gone. and i have no symptoms of anything remotely serious (i spent alot of time that day looking at google links to tick stuff). it was probably just a regular insect bite. my head looks like an apple with a worm hole - nice! (don't laugh)
anyway, i've been working furiously on a ton of new projects - none of which i can start posting till next week (thus, the lack of posts recently).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Girl With Sad Eyes

JAMES - my original intention, when i opened my sketchbook, was to do an intricate but loose pen and ink drawing. somehow this is what happened. maybe it was the tunes i was listening to.
to avoid the set-up and clean-up time of using the good watercolors, i just used one of these kinda sets:
the actual colors on the set i used were a little more "kiddie-bright-ish" (as you can see in the results), but it did the trick just fine.
...she's a little ugly i guess, but i think she has charm.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


JAMES - i have a tube of metallic gold acrylic paint, it's so cool. but i rarely use it. so, in this sketchbook piece, i mixed a little of it with all the colors here, except the blue. i was hoping the little metallics would shine thru on it all, and while it's not exactly shimmery, there is some kind of sheen to it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New Rose

JAMES - another Local Showcase poster for the Orange Peel here in Asheville. since this show was only 3 days after the Jay Reatard show, i knew both posters would be all over town, together. i did want to try to keep going with the re-direction that the Jay Reatard poster was going in - but it had to look somewhat different so that the two posters didn't meld together and lose their advertising power, and also the bands for this show were much more tame than Jay, so the subject matter couldn't really be too off the wall.

detail shot

originally, it was really just the snake skeleton and the clouds - the rest of the room i'd leave for the band names and show info. but i realized that it was probably too heavy and dark of a concept for these bands, which are mostly country/rockabilly/blugrass. so i added the rose, which evened everything out - it represented the "life" where the snake represented "death".
the clouds were really fun, and i used one of my favorite techniques - splattering ink with an old toothbrush - to get the textured effect on them. and it really came in handy for giving depth to the rose. i used an old piece of tracing paper to make the mask so that i didn't splatter all over the rose, snake, and the borders.

the illustration itself is all hand-done - mostly #2 brush, then a marker for all the skeleton parts, and of course the toothbrush. then i drew the lettering on a separate sheet of paper (vellum, actually) and put the two together in photoshop.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Communication Arts Illustration Annual '09

JAMES - i'm am honored and so psyched to have been included in the prestigious Communication Arts Illustration Annual for 2009. the above illustration, which you may remember from the poster for Trail of Dead that i did earlier this year, was chosen and the issue was just delivered to my house. i am in some seriously good company - it's an amazing issue.

the issue is on newsstands now and should be available until late August. and the original poster featuring this illustration is still available, but i have maybe 8 prints remaining. there will be no reprints - once it sells out, it's done - so get one while you can (click the link on the top right column on this page for poster sales).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Splitting Headache

JAMES - i was psyched to be asked to create a poster for the upcoming Jay Reatard show at the Orange Peel here in Asheville - i've been a big fan of his for a long time, though the only time i've seen him live was with one of his former bands the Lost Sounds (who were opening for the Hot Snakes in NYC - killer show!), so i can't wait to see the show tomorrow night (click for a great video).

original sketch

anyway, the club asked for a Black&White poster, which actually was perfect timing. I've been looking at my recent Black&White posters, and though i'm sure to most people's eyes, the changes in style is subtle - but to me, i feel i've tried many different approaches. and while i feel real comfortable with my more design-influenced posters, i've been wanting to get back to more comic book-influenced compositions - posters that sort of have a narrative. case in point, my early DC Snipers poster, my Daggerman poster, my first Hellsayers poster, and my Unknown Hinson poster (click the links to see what i'm talking about).
so this was my chance to get back to that, and to use it to represent Jay Reatard's music, i really let go and let it be really weirdo.

detail shot

as is customary, this is Black India Ink (Dr. Ph Martin's Black Star, Matte) on Bristol paper with Vellum finish. i used my absolute favorite Rosemary&Co #2 brush (series 33), and a Nikko G nib pen for all the hatching and tiny details. absolutely no white out.
this poster will be available as a free giveaway with all purchases of any of my other posters for sale - you can find them on,, and

Sunday, June 28, 2009


JAMES - oh, that siren song of the mermaid - wretched scourge of the sailor.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I Want Your Skull, #7

JAMES - i'm honored to be a part of the latest issue of "I Want Your Skull". my page is the above image, which you may remember from my Trail of Dead poster. the rest of the issue is just incredible - beautiful color cover, b&w inside, and it comes with a print by the great Drew Millward.

from the press release: At long last, I Want Your Skull #7 is released! This one features a killer wrap-around cover by Brian Morris and includes a fantastic new, serigraph art print by Drew Millward.

And it wouldn’t be I Want Your Skull if we didn’t talk to a few of the creators impacting the world of skeleture expression. This time around it’s cranial designer Dan Springer and screen-printed poster pioneer and old school ripper, Lindsey Kuhn.

As a special treat, we’ve included a reprinted interview with the legendary original guitarist of the Misfits- Franche’ Coma, featuring brand new illustrations by Mark McCormick.

If that wasn’t enough, 34 full page artist pages grace the inside pages. It’s a whose who if super talented creators working in a variety of styles from all over the world, and all dedicated to the SKULL! Included: Cassandra Warren, Glyn Smyth, Shawn Hebrank, Geordan Moore, Rhys Cooper, Tallboy, Ashley McMullen, Albie Rock, Peter Nevins, Jason Goad, Brian Ewing, Budai, Murdoch Stafford, Jeral Tidwell, Franx, Ryan August, Dzgnbio, Horrorwood, Konnik, Jazun, Anville, Droid, Mike Sutfin, Jon MDC, Gregg Gordon, Sean Tidy, James Flames, Kenn TwoFour, Jess Guercia, Jeremi Rimel, Mike Fisher, Surge, Mictron and Joe Bonham.

The whole thing comes packed in a custom printed envelope with a logo designed by lettering genius, Henry “Loco” Contreras.

Limited to 250 copies, hand-numbered and packaged with care.

you can buy copies here for only 20 bucks -