Making of a SpongeBob Cover Part 2 -- Step-by-Step from Sketch to Print

SpongeBob Nick Mag Bubble cover published 800

The whole Nick Mag cover process
(just like everything else in life)
starts with an idea.

For this SpongeBob cover, the idea was pretty loose -- just some gag featuring SpongeBob and Patrick blowing bubblegum bubbles.

So, how do I come up with a gag when I have just the beginning of an idea? I just start sketching. Even if I don't have a clue where I'm going, I know that if I put the pencil on the paper, something's going to come out. Even if the first few ideas are totally crappy, that pile of rejects will start to point me in the right direction.

Drawing a cover gag is sort of like drawing a single-panel gag cartoon with handcuffs on.

You can't use a caption or dialogue, and you have to fit everything within the magazine's template, leaving room for logos and headlines.
So even if you have a good idea, it still may not work ...unless you can make it read from a distance.

Those magazine racks are pretty crowded, and if the drawing is too complicated, it just turns into mush.

I liked this idea of SpongeBob, trapping Patrick inside of a bubblegum bubble,
but the size relationships were too far off to make this work.

I thought something with Gary might be nice

-- there are a lot of Gary the snail fans -

- but the Gary bubble wasn't looking like gum anymore.


I've done a lot of drawings were SpongeBob is blowing soap bubbles, and I didn't want this drawing to look too much like one of those. That's the same reason, I tossed out the ideas where SpongeBob is blowing a square bubble or a Patrick-shaped bubble.


SpongeBob_Cover_Bubble_Gum_Rough_out SpongeBob_NickMag_Bubble_Gum_Rough_no

I came up with the final idea by using a technique that has helped me many times in the past -- if I start to think vertically, a fresh idea will frequently pop up. By "vertically," I mean, getting the characters off of the same level. I tend to start out any scene by having all the characters standing on the same piece of ground, but this default position often leads to boring compositions.

On the SpongeBob TV show, we sometimes got a lot of humor out of having one of the characters enter a scene sideways or downward from above.

By moving the characters around vertically, I was also able to take a damage of the vertical aspect ratio of the cover itself.

Even though
I only liked
one of the ideas,
I submitted four different sketches.

I was really hoping that they'd pick the one that I liked... and fortunately,
they did.

Sometimes I get a lot of notes suggesting changes or tweaks, but this one just sailed through. I think it's because the idea was so simple. I'm a big fan of simple.

After the approval, I went straight in to pencil cleanup. This kind of "no background" medium shot is a freelancer's dream come true. All I had to do was clean up a couple of characters that I've already drawn about 10,000 times.

I had to shift things around a little bit to account for things like the barcode placement and the address stamp that they use on subscription copies.

That's where Photoshop layers come in handy.

SpongeBob Nick Mag Bubble cover rough pencil

All of my pencil drawings are drawn by hand, but manipulated in Photoshop.

The next phase is where the excitement really begins... inking in Adobe Illustrator. I have full-motion screen capture videos of the entire inking and painting process, and I'm going to post them in the next segment of this painting process. Be sure to leave a comment if you're interested -- the more I hear from you, the sooner I'll get those videos posted!


Chris Houghton said...

Another great post Sherm! Can't wait to see the inking/painting process!

Bob Flynn said...

I saw this on a newsstand this completely popped out to me. Maybe because all things SpongeBob pop out to me ;) But it definitely works as a cover.

So fun to see your steps, and all the various ideas that led up to the final concept. I think its great for people to see that great ideas are often the accumulation of experimentation.

Peter Gray said...

Love seeing you arrive at the final idea....
it is hard to keep it simple and funny..

interesting how bubble gum shapes didn't look like bubble gum..

Good to see the process..

Julián Höek said...

amazing cover sherm! love the final composition.
it's always great to see how your creative process works.
i wanna see that inking video!


cartoonmonkey said...

Ahh excellent Sherm!!
Your work is so fantastic, and I really love seeing this process work.

I would love to see those videos? What are you using to record? Camtasia?


Alex said...

So, this PROVES that they use Illustrator for clean-up these days. See, I've gotten too used to using Photoshop to clean-up MY scanned drawings. And it takes FOREVER.
Illustrator's been too hard on me. Illustration is just around the corner.

Sherm said...

Hey, Chris, Bob, Peter, Julian and Chad - Thanks! The videos start tomorrow!

Elekid: I don't know if this "proves" that other people are using Illustrator...I just know that it's the best inking tool for me.

RuinedJoke68 said...

Great follow up to a fantastic post.

I can't wait for the third installment

Will Finn said...

Please sir, let's see your inking and painting process! Inking in Photoshop is a complete mystery to me.

Great cover!

Sherm said...

Hi Will and ThunderRobot...thanks for the votes! The first video will be posted by morning...I am uploading them to my server as I type this!