Book birthdays, Kyle T. Webster, and the future of illustration!

4 Mar

I’ve got a book birthday coming up.

March 8th, to be exact. The book is Chuck and Woodchuck. I got a box of ’em last week.


The crazy thing is, Tom has a book birthday on the same day, for his book Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall. We’re gonna have a book party at Imaginations Toy & Furniture Co. (1531 South Main Street in Blacksburg, VA) on that very day, March 8th, at 6:00 pm. It’s gonna be fun.

But this post is actually a big ol’ thank-you note to the amazing Kyle T. Webster.


All that stuff coming out of Kyle’s head? Created with Kyle’s own brush, BLOT BOT PERFECTO!

Kyle is an amazing, amazing illustrator. He is also the smartest and most creative designer of digital brushes for use with Photoshop on this planet, ever. Kyle sells these brushes and sometimes he even GIVES THEM AWAY. I am not kidding. They are astonishing in how right they feel when you use them in conjunction with a pressure-sensitive tablet, like Wacom’s Cintiq. Just amazing.

When I was studying illustration back in the 90s, I would scoff at the mere idea of using a computer to create an illustration. Ha! Only things completely made by hand were acceptable. What a stiff stickler I was.

Flash forward about 10 years. Fortunately, I had loosened up about the computer, and my first book, Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood, was done almost totally on the computer, with Freehand (remember that glorious program?) and Photoshop. I am as surprised as you are about this ironic twist regarding my career.

But there’s no way I could have foretold the impact that Kyle’s brushes would make on my work in the future. Need something that looks—and behaves—like ink? Like chalk? Like watercolor? Like screentones? Like oil paint? Like oil paints applied with a palette knife? Kyle has created brushes for ALL of this stuff, and more.

Which brings me back to Chuck and Woodchuck, the book that’s celebrating its birthday on Tuesday: It looks like watercolor. But it ain’t. It’s digital! Not only that…it’s KYLE T. WEBSTER DIGITAL!

Here’s a final illustration from Chuck and Woodchuck. I’ll show you a bit of what I did to create it. Very little of it would be possible without Kyle’s brushes. (BEWARE! What lies ahead is only for the folks who really, really dig the boring computer techno stuff!)

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.37.31 AM

Here’s one of the final illustrations from the book. There’s Chuck in the background, and Chuck and their friend Caroline in the foreground.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 1.55.14 PM

To start out, I inked lines based on sketches for this particular illustration. I still do all of my ink work by hand, with an old pen nib that is just sloppy enough to love. Here’s the scan of the components of the illustration.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.50.48 AM

I also created lots of ink textures and scanned those, too. These got added in later, and you can see some of this texture in the splotches on Caroline’s ruined painting.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.43.57 AM

After I scanned in the lines, I colored them a dark brown.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 5.36.28 AM

I created a palette and coded it with numbers. Instead of setting up swatches in the swatch panel in Photoshop…


…I plopped it into the document in its own layer. That way, I could move it around to whatever section I was working on, and sample from it a little bit easier. You’ll see, too, that every component of the illustration has its own folder. I’ll be showing you some of the contents of the “Caroline & WC” folder.


Within the “Caroline & WC” folder, there are subfolders. I kid you not. Caroline is made up of three parts: her shirt, her hair, and her skin. When you open the “hair” folder (ew, that sounds yucky), you’ll see individual layers, labeled with numbers. These numbers correspond with the numbered colors in the palette.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 6.01.33 AM

Here’s where the amazing Kyle T. Webster comes in. I “painted” this whole book using just one of his hundreds of brushes: Kyle’s Paintbox Watercolor 2. I love that thing.


So…with color #7, I used Kyle’s brush to paint the first layer of Caroline’s hair.


Then I copied that layer and filled it with color #6, to make it a little lighter. (Most of the layers have the “multiply” setting checked on, so that colors underneath new layers still shine through the way they do in glazed watercolors.)


Then I added orange highlights with color #26.


And finally, I added darker tones with color #9. And it all looks like watercolor to me! Thanks to multiple undo, I couldn’t mess this up the way I would have using the real stuff.


Every component of every character, object, foreground and background was broken down like this. It got confusing! But fortunately, I kept copious notes while working so that I could refer back to what decisions I had made without having to open completed Photoshop documents and toggle back and forth all the time.


Here’s the first page I recorded about Caroline. You can see my notes for her hair. Anytime I needed to color Caroline (and she’s in every spread, so that’s a lot of Caroline-coloring), I’d simply refer to this page. There are 47 pages of notes. OMG.

Check out this slide show that shows what a difference some extra line work in different colors can do for a bunch of blobby colors…

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Hopefully that gives you a little sampling of what it was like to create this book. It took a lot of work, but it would have been a LOT more work without the assistance of the amazing KYLE T. WEBSTER!

And wanna hear something cool? When Tom was working on his book, Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall, he used Kyle’s brushes, too! Especially the screentones. Holy moly, those are amazing.


So, come March 8th, we’ll be celebrating not just our joint book birthdays, but we’re also going to take the time to acknowledge just how important Kyle T. is to us and for the work we do.

So…hop on over to his website and get yourself some awesome brushes NOW! And here’s a bit of great news: Kyle’s got his FIRST EVER picture book coming out in August. It looks like a BEAUTY! Congrats, sweet Kyle T.!

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 6.05.02 AM

P.S. I’m working on another book, and I’m using Kyle’s Mr. Natural Brush (my all-time favorite), Chunky Charcoal, and Kyle’s Screentones 67!


8 Responses to “Book birthdays, Kyle T. Webster, and the future of illustration!”

  1. Margie Jackson March 4, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

    Wow! Happy Double Book Birthday to both of you!!

    Wish I could be there (but glad to have a full time job again even though it cuts into my personal life)!



    Sent from my iPhone


    • Cece Bell March 8, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      Thanks Margie! And congrats on the new job!!!

  2. freshhell March 9, 2016 at 12:21 am #

    Happy birthday Cece!!! And congrats on another book!

    • Cece Bell March 10, 2016 at 11:27 am #

      Thanks, sweet Freshhell! I wish I did share a birthday with my book’s birthday…having it the day after Christmas usually means I get one sock on the 25th, and the other on the 26th. Hardy-har. You are supercool!

      • freshhell March 10, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

        Happy book birthday then! Why did I think it was in March? Silly me. I am losing the marbles!

      • Cece Bell March 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

        Ha ha! That’s ok. I am losing my marbles—one per day from my big jar of ’em… LOVE your recent posts. xoxo!

  3. thehungryartist March 9, 2016 at 12:13 pm #

    Happy Book Birthday to both of you! (It was Denis’ actual birthday yesterday too! ha ha) I love Kyle’s brushes SOO much too. They have completely changed how I work! The ones I use constantly are the Clean as a Whistle inker, the Rough Inker 3, and the Gouache 70. I love seeing your process! Wow, you are organized… That’s a great idea of numbering your palette colors.I may have to steal that idea. I make a palette in a similar way, and write in using the type tool (on the palette) what I use it for (eg. Boy’s shirt stripes) but it takes up a lot of space! Thanks for sharing your insights — hope you had a great time last night at your party!! 🙂

    • Cece Bell March 10, 2016 at 11:40 am #

      Thank you so much! And happy actual birthday to Denis, one day late! I will have to check out Clean as a Whistle (my favorite is Mr Natural, I love it so much it makes my head spin). The Gouache brushes are truly amazing, too. Do you have the Xerox brushes? Love those as well. I would be honored if you started numbering your palette colors! I’m constantly snooping on other artists and stealing their methods all the time. It’s one of my favorite parts of being an illustrator. And most everyone is happy to share—it’s the sharing that makes everyone get better, right? You’re awesome! Thanks for all the kind words. SOUP DAY and HUSH are GORGEOUS!!! Congrats to you both! xoxo!

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