Process of the Artist: Jusko Paints "Dejah Thoris"

Legendary artist Joe Jusko is world renowned for his paintings, mixing the worlds of fantasy and sci-fi with images of gorgeous and exotic women and muscularly massive men. For over three decades, his work has graced the covers of comics and books, movie posters, calendars, trading cards and more.

One of Jusko's current gigs is providing covers for a number of comics published by Dynamite Entertainment, including the soon to be released "Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris." In this special feature, Jusko himself walks us through the process behind his cover creation, from the initial thumbnail sketch to the final, ready-to-print cover for "WoM: Dejah Thoris" #3.

This is the initial sketch sent to Dynamite for approval. I indicated that it was designed with the intent of the logo running at the bottom of the cover. Done on standard bond paper.

Once the sketch is blown up to the final painting size, I trace it off and transfer it to a clean, unprimed sheet of Bainbridge illustration board, cold pressed and double thick. The cold pressed board has a tooth to it that grabs the paint and the double thick weight helps keep it from bending or warping when wet. I then refine the drawing as much as needed. I like a tight pencil, as I work in a mixture of transparent and opaque applications.

After masking off the foreground elements with a liberal amount of Windsor & Newton Art Masking Fluid (the heavier the application, the better for assured coverage and easier removal), I loosely scumble on the general background color with a 1/2 inch soft bristle brush. Since a lot of my work is done in washes and glazes, I like to keep all of the elements as clean as possible to save time in overpainting later. The masking fluid does the trick for me. Tip: use an old brush dipped in water with a touch of dish washing liquid to help keep the brush from gumming up too quickly. Rinse and repeat often. Even so, the brush will eventually get eaten up.

Here, I've gone over the initial background color with a more opaque layer blended together with the corner of the bristle brush using fairly controlled circular strokes. I do no wet blending with the acrylics, just dry brushing and glazing over previous dry layers.

The moons have been painted in, the large one by using progressively more opaque layers directly over the background color and the smaller one once the masking fluid is removed. I also painted in the background ruins to about 80% completion. I'll adjust the values later, after the foreground is painted, to help set them back in the composition. I've also removed the masking fluid from the all of the foreground elements using a rubber cement pick up. Any residue at the edges can be removed by dragging masking tape over it.

Close-up of the background city.

I've formed out the rocky outcropping using mixtures of Red Oxide, Burnt Sienna and Dioxazine Purple. Dejah's feet have been re-masked at this stage.

Close-up of the rock.

Here, the rock is fully rendered by glazing washes of Dioxazine Purple to enhance the form and give a deep enough base on which to paint the highlights and texture over using Red Oxide. I essentially reverse the order of paint application, now going from dark to light. I glaze and highlight as many times as necessary to get the desired effect.

Close-up of the finished rock with the surrounding mask removed. The darker foreground has substantially set back the ruined city in the composition, though I have lightened the shadows in the city just a touch.

Going even darker, the foremost rocks are painted using Raw Umber and Dioxazine Purple. The tall rock is angled in toward Dejah to redirect the eye back into the picture.

The entire image is now complete, except for the main figure. Many artists choose to paint the main figure first in case it doesn't work out and they can start over without having lost all of the previous work. I'm confident enough in my ability at this point that I find painting the figure into the finished scene easier to establish it's correct color and value.

Just to be sure I don't lose the basic details of the figure, I deepen the lines prior to laying in the body's base color. Since I already drew in the jewelry, I masked it off. Not really necessary as it could easily be painted in opaquely, but why lose the work I already did?

After laying in a base color of Venetian Rose, I add Dark Victorian Rose to start forming the figure. My paint application is very thin and gradually built up.

Working with the same technique as the rest of the painting, I finish the figure. I darkened the shadows by adding Dioxazine Purple to the Dark Victorian Rose and glazed some purple around to soften the transitions. The highlights (Light Portrait Pink and Soft White) are attained with a combination of conventional round synthetic brushes and dry brushing with smaller soft bristles to soften the blend. Never use expensive sable brushes with acrylics. They're too soft to work the paint and the acrylic will destroy them in no time. I use Loew-Cornell series 797 synthetic brushes -- affordable, yet well made.

Close-up on the figure. The Close-ups are a bit grainy, as the light is hitting the board at an angle and the camera is zoomed in tight.

The hair is painted in without much detail as I don't want it to compete with the ornate headdress.

The gold is based in with Bronze Yellow, Raw Umber and Dioxazine Purple and will then be highlighted with Yellow Ochre, a touch of Cadmium Yellow Light and Titanium White.

The final Painting! 15"x23.5" and about 4 days total working time. To deepen the colors and give it an overall uniform finish, I brush on 3-4 coats of acrylic varnish, turning the board 90 degrees after each application. I use a mixture of Liquitex Acrylic Gloss Medium & Varnish cut with Liquitex Airbrush Medium to thin it down to a brushable consistency. I don't thin the varnish with water, as I think it dilutes the binders in the varnish. The Airbrush Medium is acrylic based.

Tip: make sure your last coat of varnish is vertical and not horizontal. Paintings are normally lit from above, and any horizontal brush strokes will catch the light in ridges. I then scan the painting in sections on an Epson 10000XL, piece it together in Photoshop, clean it up and send it off to Dynamite.

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