‘Serenity’ Comic Artist Walks Us Through Creating A Cover

Artist Dan dos Santos describes working on his 'favorite kind of job.'

“Two by two, hands of blue…”

Thanks to Dark Horse Comics, early next year Browncoats (“Firefly” fans to the uninitiated) will be treated to the continuing adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of his beloved Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. And the cover of “Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #3″ featuring gifted passenger-turned-pilot River Tam is as beautifully strange and mysterious as River herself.

Artist Dan dos Santos walked MTV News through the process of creating it. Here’s what he told us:

‘River’s Dream’, by Dan dos Santos

“Every commission starts with the manuscript. After reading through Zack Whedon’s rough draft of ‘Serenity: Leaves on the Wind #3′, I began to sketch some rough ideas for the cover. Dark Horse Editor-in-Chief, Scott Allie, requested I depict the opening dream sequence with River Tam, so I started there.

“Although my finished paintings are typically painted traditionally, I almost always sketch digitally, which allows me to think in terms of color and value rather than line when concepting a piece. Using Photoshop and a Wacom Tablet, I quickly came across an idea that I felt really captured the flavor of the story.

“Once this sketch was completed, submitted and approved, I began preparing for the actual painting.

“I started by priming my illustration board (which is basically just really thick paper that artists can paint on). Using a mixture of white, grey and pink primer, I created an irregular surface with bold brushwork and splattering that would hopefully provide some textural interest for the subsequent painting.

“While that was drying, I took a LOT of screen grabs from the Firefly show, and scoured the internet for any pictures of Summer Glau that I felt would help me refine my rough drawing. With those pictures, and a lot of other reference I shot myself (of hands and children, etc.), I redrew my sketch directly onto the primed illustration board using colored pencil.

“From there, the process was actually quite experimental. I applied several washes of acrylic paint (with a traditional brush and airbrush), and detailed things as I went along with colored pencil. I bounced back and forth between the paint and pencil a lot, gradually building a smoother, more refined surface with each coat.

“Once I felt I pushed the acrylic and pencil as far as I could, I finished the painting off in traditional oil paints (my preferred medium). Areas like the blue gloves, which are relatively more realistic, are much easier to paint in oils since the slow drying time allows me to refine things with ease. The oil paints also allowed me smooth out the flesh tones, darken and tint some large sections, and glaze a lot of vibrancy into the more saturated areas.

“After completion, the painting is left to dry for several days, and then varnished and photographed. The high-resolution scan was submitted to Dark Horse, where it was met enthusiasm and zero revisions… My favorite kind of job!

“The final painting ‘River’s Dream’, measures 16 x 24 inches, and is pencil, acrylic, and oils on board.”

Image painted by Dan dos Santos, and is © 2013 Dark Horse Comics.

Serenity: Firefly Class 03-K64 – Leaves on the Wind #3, written by Zack Whedon with artwork by Georges Jeanty, is on sale March 26th.