Thursday, November 18, 2010

Future Vision and Metal Lunchbox

Thought I would post a couple of new designs. The first is for Metal Lunchbox Publishing. I grew up in the 70's and one of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the school year was to pick out a new lunchbox. Some of my favorites were Space 1999, Star Wars and Scooby Doo. I wish I had kept them but truthfully they were pretty beat up by the end of the year. Metal Lunchbox Publishing specializes in children and young adult books so I wanted to go for a fun retro look.

Since Halloween was around the corner, I decided to put together a version with a different color scheme. Halloween is such a fun holiday and I like the contrast of the color scheme on this version. It almost looks like it glows in the dark. I like the idea about having different color schemes at different times of the year so I may play around with the color design and elements in the future.

I also completed another book cover with Future Vision by Ellen Parry Lewis and published by Metal Lunchbox Publishing. Future Vision is about Samantha Bell who is an ambitious high school student with a bright future until one fateful night at the local fair. She decides to go through the controversial Future Vision exhibit. This attraction allows viewers to see up
to twenty seconds of their personal future. Because of the possible risks, viewers must ingest a dissolvable pill immediately afterward, causing them to forget what they had just witnessed. Samantha tries to take the future into her own hands, though, when she smuggles a pen inside the attraction. Although she was forced to forget what she had seen, she leaves the attraction with an ominous feeling and three mysterious words written on her hand: Snow, fight, and ca. Samantha feels she must figure out what those three words mean before the event occurs and possibly ruins her life.

I created this image in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet. I decided to focus on the imagery of a ferris wheel at night (it was a lot more dramatic than having the words written on her hand or a few other ideas I played around with). I put dark clouds in the background to give it a more ominous look. And since the future is uncertain, I made the "Future" blurry or unclear.

Comments are welcome.

Monday, August 30, 2010

September Book Signings

I will be signing copies of Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse at the Sharpsburg Public Library on Saturday September 18th from 10:30am to 12:30pm as part of the Sharpsburg Heritage Days festival in Sharpsburg, Maryland. I will be joined by Charles Matthews, the talented author who wrote Pinesport Divide.

I am also scheduled for a book signing at the Bizarre Bazaar on Saturday September 25th at Victory Comics in Falls Church, Virginia. If you are in the area, be sure to stop by and say hello.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Project Redstar and Geppi Museum

Just wanted to share what is currently on my desk. Here is a book cover for Project Redstar, a variant cover for Pinesport Divide by Charles Matthews.

I played around quite a bit with creating
patterns on the background. I got my inspiration from a ceramic and carbon fiber wedding band which you can see here. The picture of the wedding band really doesn't do it justice but if you look at it in a store, it have a really cool 3D effect.

I kept playing around with different sizes and I finally settled down with this size. I probably could have gone a little bigger for the individual blocks but I was concerned about legibility.

To create the background, I made a block of 12x12 pixels in Adobe Photoshop and then divided it in half. I then utilized the gradient tool to create a gradient black to white from top to bottom. On the other half of the block, I pulled the gradient in the opposite direction. I then saved it as a pattern. I created a fill layer in my book cover file and selected my custom pattern to create the effect. Creating another layer, I pulled two gradients from the sides to give it more of a three dimensional look.

This blog is not intended as a step by step instructional but if you have any questions about a specific technique, please do not hesitate to send me a note.

I recently had an opportunity to take a few days off and go visit some of the local museums in the area. One of the benefits of living in Maryland is the wide variety of incredible art museums in Washington DC and Baltimore. My older sons wanted to go see the Freer Gallery of Art and the Hirshhorn Gallery, both part of the Smithsonian collection of museums in the National Mall in Washington DC. At the Hirshhorn, I was very impressed with the body of work by Yves Klein.

In Baltimore, fans of comics books, strips and popular culture should visit the Geppi Museum. Conveniently located at Camden Yards, this is a great museum for all ages and recently was nominated for the Nickelodeon Parents Pick Award for best museum. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of original artwork and comics, but chances are you will get a chance to see some of the toys you grew up with no matter what age you are. My five year old son was a big fan of the toys and metal lunchboxes. We had a great time and look forward to going back.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Inks and Carrots

Here is the inked version of Leara. Changed the angle a bit. Inked with india ink and a brush. Cleaned up with Photoshop. For ink, I prefer Higgins Black Magic with a little bit of Koh I Noor rapidograph ink mixed in. If I use Black Magic straight, it tends to start get too thick for some of the finer liner work.

I always had a fascination with finding out what tools of the trade some of my favorite artist used to get their effects (especially inkers). It was almost as if finding the right tool would instantly improve my artwork. In college, I once had an instructor who wanted to make a point that it was about the artist and not about the tools so she had us paint with carrots. Initially I thought it was a stupid idea but it turned out to be a great exercise. There were all kinds of different solutions including using the leafy part of the carrot to paint like a brush or carving it into different types of pens using an x acto knife. It was a lot of fun and proved a point. We were able to create some very interesting textures that would not have been created by traditional means. Point was made.

That being said, having good materials matter and there is nothing worse than trying to ink with a cheap brush. I prefer Raphael series 8404 Kolinsky sable #2 for inking but there are lots of great brushes out there. You never know, you might find your favorite in the produce aisle.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Pinesport Divide Variant

I am working on a variant cover for Pinesport Divide, a great book by Charles Matthews. Here is the pencil layout for Leara. Next up traditional inks with a brush and then color in Photoshop.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace Color

Here is the colored version. Traditional line drawing with india ink on bristol board and colored with Photoshop. Still playing around with background color. May have to change things up a little if I use this image on the cover. Interior artwork will all be black and white. This is from the upcoming book Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace

Monday, June 14, 2010

Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace

Here is what is currently on my desk. This is the first image released from the upcoming book Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace and first appearance of Charlie. That crazy looking helmet guessed it, the alien. Next up is inks. The book is scheduled to be out in late summer and I am working hard to get it out on time. In the meantime, if you haven't heard of Karate Dottie, head over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

MBTI in writing

I recently became very interested in Meyer Briggs Type Indicator (also known as MBTI). It is based on a theory of pioneer psychologist Carl Gustav Jung that people have preferences on how they perceive the world and make decisions. The mother daughter team of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Meyers began developing the personality inventory during World War II to determine what jobs would be the best fit for women going into the workforce for the first time.

According to the MBTI, there are four opposite pairs of preferences resulting in 16 different personality types. You can find a complete description of each type at the Myers & Briggs Foundation. I have taken this test multiple times and always come up with the same result. For me, the results are fairly accurate. There are no right or wrong types. Just because you are one type, it does not mean that you cannot or should not flex into another type. I admit, initially when I was introduced to MBTI training in my job, I had difficulty in determining an appropriate application. Upon revisiting it and having my team go through the training as well, I have a much clearer understanding of the benefit of the program and hopefully improve my communication skills and get improved results.

These personality types remain the same throughout your life and so theoretically you can predict how a person will probably react to certain situations. Which brings me to the point of this post. As a writer, if you determine the personality types of your characters, you can always make sure your characters act in accordance with their core values.

Why does that matter? Because when the characters do not act in accordance with their values, it can be very distracting and confusing to the reader. Recently, I read Batman: Cacophony written by Kevin Smith and illustrated by Walter Flanagan and Phil Hester. Kevin Smith is the super talented director (and actor as Silent Bob) of great movies such as Chasing Amy, Clerks, and Mallrats. He is also wrote some great comics books such as Daredevil and Green Arrow. In this book, his take on the Joker was vastly different than any version I had seen before and I found it to detract from the story (for me). There was one scene where the Joker offers his bum to the villain Onomatopoiea as a thank you for breaking him out of Arkham Asylum which is not in character for this sociopathic character. Did I mention this book is not for younger readers? I guess that is one of the challenges in writing well established characters and trying to put your interpretation of that character. Sometimes it works (like Heath Ledgers role in Dark Knight or Jack Nicholson in Burton's Batman) and sometimes it doesn't.

On of my favorite characters in comics is Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. His type is one that is heavily debated. Most people consider him an INFP because of his only friend, the imaginary tiger Hobbes and his fertile imagination. However some consider him to be an ENTP because he is rude, outgoing, obnoxious and argumentative. A great resource to look up MBTI types for both real and fictional characters can be found here. As always, these are all debatable.

As for the characters in my book, Karate Dottie and Treacherous Treehouse. Karate Dottie is an ENTJ and her best friend Gordo is an ISFJ. Although Dottie does not have many friends, she is determined on her quest to become a samurai warrior and does not have any problem forcing her strong will on anyone who gets in her way. She is a force of nature. Another comic character who is an ENTJ is Lucy from Peanuts. Gordo, Karate Dottie's portly big hearted best friend, is the voice of reason. He strives to keep harmony which can be difficult since Dottie lives on conflict.

Comments are welcome and feel free to share your MBTI type as well if you know it.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Had a great opportunity to go to Terrenea Resort in Palo Verdes, California and it was absolutely amazing. Would highly recommend this beautiful resort. It is located on the former site of Marineland where the TV show Sea Hunt was filmed (not to mention many other movies and tv shows including all three Pirates of the Caribbean movies)

What does this trip have to do with my art blog? Actually a little bit since I got to see a couple of friends who I don't get to see that often. The first was John Culbertson who co wrote the Spirit House webcomic with me and who shares my birthday on August Six.

I also got to see a friend of mine who I hadn't seen in over eleven years, Wade von Grawbadger. Many years ago when he lived on the East Coast, I worked as an inking apprentice for Wade. We both love baseball so we headed to Dodger Stadium for the Season Opener. It was sold out but we managed to get tickets. They do Season Openers right in LA. Leann Rhimes sang the Star Spangled Banner, Will I Am threw out the first pitch and Larry King declared the Season opened. Toss in a giant flag, fireworks and fighter jets for good measure. It was a great game and a lot of fun.

Wade has worked on a ton of comic books over his long career and he is considered one of the best inkers in the business. You can catch his work next on the highly anticipated New Avengers relaunch from Marvel Comics. The series is written by Brian Bendis with art supplied by fan fave Stuart Immonen and Wade. You can also buy original art from Wade through his exclusive dealer at Fanfare. Check out his work and pick up New Avengers in June.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Charles Matthews- Guest Profile

Since I covered creating the book cover to Pinesport Divide on this blog, I thought it would be interesting to introduce you to Charles Matthews, the talented author. Below are a few questions I asked Charles about his book. Comments are welcome.

1. What inspired you to write Pinesport Divide?

My family and I recently moved to Maryland, landing us near some truly excellent historical Civil War sites. In fact, it wouldn't be terribly farfetched to imagine gray or blue suited ghost soldiers marching across my front yard during the quiet hours of the night. This history-rich environment has given me a renewed interest in what I consider America's first great Divide. Add this to my addiction of the History Channel and stories about leaders who have risen to power and you might begin to understand how my idea to write about a Civil War in the Twenty-First Century evolved.

One of the guilty pleasures in my life is people-watching. Human nature, in general, fascinates me. I find our inability to co-exist peacefully on this small planet curious. There is an instinctual nature inherent in certain individuals, which drives them to seek power that I find fascinating. I recently read a novel series about the life of Julius Ceasar that chronicled his life from the time he was a small child through his rise and fall as a leader of Rome. I often ponder what it is about people like him, who (almost) magically appear to command loyalty and respect.

Pinesport Divide is a story that amplifies the tiny cracks in our society which can ultimately lead to disaster ... like a Civil War. In the book, I theorize answers to questions such as how an unperceived threat can escalate into something substantial (remember the holocaust), how greed corrupts the soul (undeveloped minds being won over with gifts), and how it is never too late to find redemption. The story I’ve created revolves around the lives of adolescents, during their coming-of-age years, who eventually rise to important roles in the unfolding war. Their experiences in this book will shape decisions made later and mold them into the people they are destined to become.

The real American Civil War has been recanted more than enough times, so I decided a twist was needed for this one. My story has been put in a setting that I feel the youth of today's ever advancing social environment might better relate to. Please be prepared though -- like any war -- there is no guaranteed happy ending.

2. Define the difference between a Lectrol and a Loor.

Although both groups possess abilities beyond that of a Normal person, they are still considered human. Said another way, a Lectrol or a Loor is nothing more than an ordinary person who has elected to enhance his/her body.

The methods utilized for these procedures, however, are quite different. Turning Lectrol requires advanced equipment to be able to ‘connect with’ and modify our biological makeup; whereas becoming Loor requires nothing more than the power of the mind. And while the prior requires a lot of complex outside stimulus, it is still a much easier feat to accomplish since it does not involve all of the training and knowledge necessary to become Loor.

The first Lectrol was transformed in 1968; the first Loor followed shortly after in 1970.

Lectrols may sound Super-Human, but they are not. A good way to understand them is to consider what it would be like to exercise your body and mind 24/7. Eventually, your body would peak in performance ability, and undoubtedly, you would be stronger, quicker, and mentally sharper than most Normals. Of course, there’s not many people who could sustain such a regiment. Turning Lectrol allows this maximum potential without all the hard work.

Loors, on the other hand, are concentrated on the body’s energy force to harness and manipulate it in ways mankind has never experienced before. The potential exists in all humans, however it requires many hours of strict study and discipline (not to mention a spiritually open mind) to attain that power. Considering these obstacles, it requires a very devoted type of person.

Based on these differences, it is easy to understand how conflict might arise from their polarizing core values.

One last point to note about Lectrols and Loors is that neither group can be positively distinguished for their true identities with the naked eye. There is one exception though: Lectrol’s eyes shimmer blue in the dark.

3. What challenges did you encounter while writing this book?

Where do I begin? For starters, this was my first novel, and with that came all the challenges every writer experiences with their first book. If I had to pick the top two challenges, they would be Time and Details.

These go together like Peanut Butter and Jelly, or Abbott and Costello (yikes - I can’t believe I just referenced something that old!). Getting into the details takes time – a whole lot of it. With the science fiction element of Lectrols and Loors, it required the creation of a whole new environment filled with all sorts of new rules, procedures, terminology, and visuals. It was easy enough getting through chapters until about the tenth or eleventh when I started searching through previous chapters to remind myself what a specific type of move was called, or what class a particular teacher taught. Eventually, I started a journal to keep all these little details in one spot for quick reference, because the devil really is in the details.

It seems the older I get, the quicker time flies, but I suppose it’s like that for everybody. Life gets complicated with a career, wife, kids, home maintenance, soccer practice, and … well – you get the picture. Stealing a solid hour here or there to bang out a couple of pages is no easy task, but being married to a very understanding and supportive wife certainly helps.

4. Describe your writing process.

It all started with a basic idea that I mulled over for a period of time (see my answer to what inspired me to write Pinesport Divide above). In this particular instance, I had the general idea rattling around in my brain for a good month before it was even put to paper. At first I knew I wanted to write about a Civil War, but I also knew it needed a twist. I thought it would be interesting to see how that kind of situation would play out in a High School. Whereas adults are somewhat predictable, teens, still in the mental development stage of their lives, are not. I was interested to see how a collapse in the social fabric of society would play out with them. That was plenty of substance for a book; however, my inner geek awakened, further convincing me to spice the story up with the Lectrol and Loor element.

With the shell of my idea fully molded, I then developed the basic elements that all stories consist of: characters, plot, setting, conflict, and resolution. This was very challenging and consisted of many brainstorming sessions to come up with the perfect type of environment for my story.

Once all that hard work was complete, it was time to let the funk out and have some fun. After having researched many methods on how to write a novel, I simply did what felt natural and started from the back. This made sense to me because the end is what the whole book builds to. Right? Therefore, I plotted key points, working my way from end to beginning. I identified about 35 key events that would lead me to the ending, and chapters were born. At that point I was hesitant to break it down further because I was afraid of hindering my creative spirit with an prescribed sequence of events, but I did wind up including three or four bullets per chapter to keep a tight story.

Once I started writing, a funny thing happened (funny to me anyway). I’ve always heard writers talk about how their characters take on a life of their own, to which my general reaction has always been one of disbelief, but soon enough my characters under mindedly changed my story. They even took control and changed my beloved ending … more than once.

It took roughly half a year working my full time job while writing feverishly on nights and weekends, but I finally finished. [Queue the light from above and an angelic choir with orchestra belting out a couple of Hallelujahs.] Like Frankenstein, I had created my Masterpiece … or so I thought.

Nobody told me about the revision process. As I read through my (perceived finished) novel for the first time, I had to keep a bucket close by with the threat of vomit escaping my mouth from each horrible sentence I had read. Perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit, but trust me when I say it was bad! That’s when I did a little research and learned that writing the book was the easy part; editing was a whole new beast. So I revised, and revised, and (this is the part where I take up half a page not-so-cleverishly writing the same thing over and over again). At last, six excruciating months later, The Pinesport Divide (later to be shortened to simply Pinesport Divide) was completed.

5. Now that Pinesport Divide is available in stores, what are you working on?

My recently created website – – is keeping me busy as I learn about website design and gather content to post, like sample chapters, a Q&A Page where I can post answers to reader’s questions about the book, and links to other fun sites that I am involved with. One of those links will take you to my new blog, Becoming an Author ( Here, I am chronicling my experience as I set sail to become an established writer. I also set up another fun blog site to publish my short stories ( At both sites, I welcome and encourage comments and feedback.

The planning stage for the next book in the Pinesport series is also officially under way. I am excited to see where this next book takes us in the saga. So far, my characters are keeping tight lips.

In some aspects, the past year feels like it lasted forever with all the work involved in making my first novel a reality, but then another part of me feels like it was over in a blink. I guess there was a little trade off in life happening there. Therefore, as my final order of business while I watch my new book hit the bookshelves, I am committed to spending some quality R&R time with the family before jumping in with both feet again.

Update There have been several inquiries on how to order a copy of Pinesport Divide autographed by Charles Matthews. If you would like to order one, go to Charle's website and click on the order button at the top of the page.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pinesport Divide Now Available!

Pinesport Divide (ISBN-13: 978-0984343799) by Charles Matthews and published by Metal Lunchbox Publishing is now available in paperback from Amazon and will soon be available in a bookstore near you. It is also available a an eBook from Smashwords or as a Kindle eBook from Amazon. You can also order an autographed copy of the book directly from Metal Lunchbox Publishing with a personalized message from Charles at no additional cost.

Earlier in my blog I went through the process of creating the book cover for this project. Stay tuned to this blog for a special interview with special guest Charles Matthews who will share some insight on Pinesport Divide as well as some behind the scenes information about his work habits.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Karate Dottie Trailer

Here is the trailer for Karate Dottie and the Treacherous Treehouse. Pinesport Divide by Charles Matthews is currently in the proofing stage and should be available for sale soon. Currently working on Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace and a reboot of the Spirit House webcomic.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Pinesport Divide Book Cover

Thought I would share my process for creating the book cover design for the new book coming out called Pinesport Divide by Charles Matthews (Metal Lunchbox Publishing). It is a young adult book about a young boy dealing with conflicting emotions of loyalty to his best friend and his romantic feelings towards his best friend's girl. When it becomes evident that his best friend is involved in a dangerous new program that physically enhances human beings and threatens to embroil the world in a new civil war, he is forced to make a painful decision in an attempt to save lives and avert a war.

The first step in this process was to come up with a logo for the book. As usual, many different versions of the logo. Most ended up in the trash as first drafts often do but I eventually narrowed it down to a few versions for my client to choose from. At the presentation of the rough drafts, the client liked one design in particular which I developed. Since this was set in part at a high school and there are some critical scenes involving sports, I went for a varsity look.

Next came the development of the cover. Initially, the direction was to do an illustration of the title character as the cover. He was to be a little battered (he goes through some abuse in the book) and one of his eyes glows in the dark. I like to put together a few different options for the client so I presented three versions of the book cover.

The illustration was completed entirely in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. Part of the problem with this illustration is the glowing eye reveals a fairly major plot point in the story.

This version was more of a graphic design/typography approach to the assignment. I like the way that it looks a little bit like a journal from a distance.

I had some concerns about the legibility of the original logo design especially when shrunken down to the thumbnail preview size you see on websites such as Amazon and this version improves it. The little guy at the bottom was inspired in part by the highly stylized animated credit sequence at the end of The Incredibles (which I just introduced to my two youngest boys).

These were the three designs presented to the client. The client liked the third version the best but did not care for the highly stylized little dude at the bottom and wanted a more realistic representation of our tormented main character. The other request was to change the size of the "S" in Pinesport so people would not mistake it for Pine Sport. The final version of the book cover is below.

In case you wanted to watch me create this final version and had some time on your hands, below is a video screen capture of my desktop. The book should be published soon and I will leave an update with all the details. Comments are always welcome.

Watch live streaming video from sfvarney at

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Projects and The Pedestrian

2010 is already shaping up to be a busy year and it just started a few hours ago. I am currently working on a few projects that I am very excited to be involved with. First, I am currently writing and drawing the next installment in the Karate Dottie series which is titled Karate Dottie and the Alien Menace and is scheduled for release in Spring of 2010 from Metal Lunchbox Publishing. Also on my plate are a couple of book covers, the first of which is a young adult science fiction book titled The Pinesport Divide by Charles Matthews also from Metal Lunchbox Publishing and slated for release in Spring of 2010.

As I was cleaning out my studio the other day, I came across some thumbnails
that I did for the cover of The Pedestrian several years ago. This cover is the most popular image in my deviantART gallery. The image was completed in Photoshop 7 but I did several different designs in pencil prior to beginning the painting.

Thumbnails are small quick drawings that an illustrator does to work out the design elem
ents of the artwork prior to beginning a project. When working with a client, this is an approval point with the client choosing the basic design they like the best. On this project, I was the art director so some of the thumbnails were not as well developed as they would be if they were to be presented to a client. I tend to just take a regular piece of 8
.5" X 11"of copy paper and grid it out to give me 4 options per page.

The Pedestrian is about a young lady named Presley who experienced a terrible tragedy in her childhood resulting in the untimely death of her parents and little brother. She has the psychic ability to see the past and can even project
those images onto film. She considers it to be a curse instead of a gift. As an adult, Presley is approached by a lady whose younger sister has mysteriously disappeared and who is desperate for her help. Reluctantly, she offers her assistance and becomes entangled in a web of terror that links her back to her childhood home and that fateful night when her life was changed forever.

These are just a few of the thumbnails I did for this project. Once I got the design that I liked the best, I continued to play around with it. I did the image on the far left first and then made it larger and added detail in the larger image on the right hand side. At this time there were several elements that would not make it to the final image. The lantern on the left hand side would not make the cut nor would the polaroid camera on the right.

So here is the side by side comparison with the thumbnail. Some other changes was the ghost of the little brother who became more ethereal than the previous version. I also changed the eyes to make them little red eyes which for me is much scarier than the previous version. It just reminds me of the scene in the Amityville Horror with the rocking chair.

I will post my progress on the cover for The Pinesport Divide on this blog as I complete it for those who may be interested.