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Key Largo

Key Largo Poster Illustration by Christopher King www.wingsart.net

John Huston’s Classic Key Largo gets an Alternative Movie Poster Illustration by Christopher King.

I’m a big fan of John Huston’s noir classic Key Largo so it was an easy choice to start the new year with this poster illustration. This was inked by hand with brush and pen, mostly as separate parts and brought together and coloured in Photoshop. More details about the making of below;

Some notes on my process;
My poster designs always start with a series of thumbnail sketches in which i’ll begin to think about the basic layout of the poster. Once happy with the thumbnail i’ll search my books and the internet for suitable reference photography of the actors, in this case Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson. From this reference i’ll assemble a photo comp that i’ll use to base a draft illustration of the poster, marking in where type and logo elements will sit.

I then draw (in pencil) the 3 portraits separately (i draw them as individual parts because this allows me the flexibility to arrange them Photoshop later) and go over them in black ink using pen and brush. The final part of the inking stage is to create the rough background textures, again drawn in black ink, but this time with an old brush that gives a nice broken line.

With all the inked elements complete, they are scanned into Photoshop and compiled as layers using the ‘multiply’ setting so each appears transparent. On a new layer, underneath these outlines i’ll paint in the tonal values using a preset Photoshop brush (with the image set grayscale at this point), create the text in Illustrator, import and arrange to fit. Once I have a finished grayscale version of the poster i’ll convert this to RGB and overlay colour on a new layer. After a little more painting in colour values I end up with a finished poster.


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  • Chris,

    I love that you actually maintain a slideshow of your design process. That’s something I think many artists leave out and it leaves you to wonder how they really do their work. I can tell you’ve spent many years drawing and inking products – now my question is: What type of pens do you use for inking? I’ve always ended up reverting to computer line art because I thought it looked smoother and I could easily correct for mistakes – but with ink you can’t. Any suggestions for a guy who might be interested in trying his hand at inking for the first time?

    • I actually used to obsess over getting the cleanest line I could and experimented a lot with drawing straight to the computer in vectors, converting hand-drawn line art into vectors and cleaning it up and eventually realised that my goal of ultra clean lines was unattainable and somewhat pointless. I now ink it all by hand using a combination of Zig Twin pens, Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes, Faber Castell PITT Pens and embrace all those little human errors. It all adds character. Oh, and inking on smooth Bristol board is the best way to go.

      • Can you explain your process? – because usually what I have to do is I sketch out a design in my sketch book, I then take tracing paper and trace the image off of the sketchbook and then press it into a better sheet of paper to give it that cleaner look – I realize that’s far too many steps for me to take for one drawing so any advice or steps would be wonderful.

        I’m so often a doodler and a sketch artist that when I try to refine my work and actually draw professional looking items it takes me forever to get finished results. Perhaps I’m just too much of a scrutinizing perfectionist to my own work.

        • Not at all. Use as many stages as you need. I’ll usually re-draw an image 4-5 times before i’ve got it to point where i’m happy to ink over it. I’ll start with a few thumbnails, just small 2 inch sketches putting my ideas down, and then progress onto layout paper at A3 size building upon the drawing until i’m satisfied. Then i’ll scan it in, blow it up to A2 and draw a new version on a light-box. This new pencil drawing is I what i’ll then ink over.

          • Thanks Chris! I used to have a light box at my house before [ or a makeshift one rather… >_> ] and so I’ll definitely try and acquire a new one – hopefully that’ll help me get some more professional work to post rather than just pencil drawings scanned in from my sketchbook. Thanks for all the advice man helps a lot!

  • I love your individual portrait sketch of Lauren Bacall. There’s just something about the light and open feeling of a sketch that I usually prefer over inked work – in my own art and in others’. And you really captured Bacall wonderfully. She was so beautiful. Just stunning. Thank you for sharing.

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