Adam HughesBlast from the past – 2001 – from the Adam Hughes Yahoo Group Files archive.


This document is a compilation of Adam Hughes’s answers to questions from members of the Hughes-Fans e-mail discussion group.

Group Moderator: Royd Burgoyne
Group Owner: Larry Dempsey
FAQ compiled by: Jason Narvaez

Last updated: July 20, 2001


Q: What version of Photoshop do you have?

AH: I’m still using Photoshop 5.0, because every time a new version comes out, yes they have exciting new features, but they also seem to like re-assigning keyboard shortcuts, which I LIVE for.  I’ve got my key board shortcuts so memorized, it’s like I’m playing the piano.  If I switched now, the learning curve would slow me down.

Q: What are the main tools that you use in Photoshop?

AH: The Lasso Tool, the Magic Wand, the Path Tool.  I do a lot of my rendering with the Lasso Tool.  I select an area, then fill it with 10% of the FG color.  Then I move the selection (or make a new one) a little to the left or right, and do it again.  Do THAT 6 times, and you’ve got a nice analogous gradation.

Sometimes I’ll make Lasso selections with the feathering set up  to give me a soft edge.  Lara’s Gerber-baby cheeks in the TR piece was done that way.

I also use Lighten and Darken (regardless of the tool) a lot when applying color.

Q: Do you keep a (color) palette next to you?

AH:  Definitely.  I keep a lot of my Preference windows up while I’m working.  The Palette is VERY important to me.

Q: What general sequence (if any) you use to color with Photoshop? (Such as) scanning inked artwork. Do you save a copy with lower dpi for easier coloring?

AH:  I color at print size.  I upgraded my PC to handle a regular-sized comic cover with relative ease.  I SHOULD upgrade again, now that you mention it…

Q:  Is your local color midway between the item’s shadow and highlight, or more towards its shadow…?

AH: Darker.  I treat the flatted piece as an imprematura, upon which I go in with my ‘opaque’ colors.

Q: (Do you) render the shadow areas with cuts and the airbrush & paintbrush tools?

AH: Render light areas after. I never use the airbrush (or paintbrush) tool.  It’s got that phony digital softness I can’t stand.

Q:  Since you say you don’t use the paintbrush or the airbrush then do you smudge a lot?

AH:  No.  I think the smudge effect looks digital and phony.  I’ll post a file with a detail from WW’s face so you can see what I do up close. I let the printing and the reader’s eye do a lot of the final ‘closure’ for me.  My selections look like tiles in oil or gouache painting, when seen up close.

Q: Do you use different layers or channels for rendering? Do you render certain elements first, such as skin before moving on to hair, or foreground elements first before background? Do you render certain elements completely – shadows & highlights – before moving on to other elements? Do you render from shadow to light or vise-versa?

AH:  It’s a judgment call.  Whatever the piece calls for is how I handle it.  I usually only have two layers going at a time.  The basic background Layer, and them the section I’m working on (i.e.; WW’s face)  I save the selection of that area as a channel, that way I can get as sloppy as I want, and then I just load the inverted selection, delete the unwanted crap, and merge the layer back down to the base BG Layer.

Q: How do you go about changing the black line work in some of your pieces in Photoshop? (For example the trees in the background of the Hammer of the Gods cover). The closest I can get is choosing “Load Selection” and using the airbrush to color the inverted selection. But there always seems to be some color that creeps outside of the selected area regardless of how tight the selected area is. Please tell me there is an easier way?

AH:  By ‘creeps out of the selected areas’ do you mean that unselected areas (non-line art) are getting colored?  If that’s true, then something’s up with the feathering on your selection.  If you mean, areas of your line art that you don’t want to be colored are getting color, either de-select what you don’t want to receive with the Lasso tool or don’t use the airbrush tool.

When I want to change line art to color, here’s what I usually do:

1. Load selection.
2. Invert the selection
3. Deselect everything but what I want with the Lasso Tool.
4. Activate the Line art Channel and delete the selected areas.
5. Leaving the selection going, I activate the CMYK channel, and Fill with whatever color I want.

This is for a PC, which is what I use.  Macs have the ability to eliminate a step, and I can’t figure out if it’s a setting I can change in Photoshop, or it’s just something that Macs do.  On a Mac, you can make a Lasso selection in the Line art Channel, and it automatically ‘grabs’ just the black line art info.

Q: How do you do those amazing shines?

AH: I do a large feather selection, then fill with a light color like a yellow or orange, set on Lighten.  I do this to ‘set the stage’ as it were.  Then I fill it again with a color like orange or red, set on Color Dodge.  I then use the Fade filter to control how much the highlight ‘burns’.  Try it; it’s fun to experiment!

Q: What do you use the Path tool  for?

AH: If I need to make a large gradeful color selection, such as might be found on a reflection on her armor, or on a leg or something, I’ll use the Path tool to create a very graceful arc to my selection.  It’s also good for rendering color highlights on hair.

Q: The Lighten feature doesn’t seem to do anything when I use it?!?

AH: The color you’re applying (i.e., your Foreground color) has to be lighter than the areas you’re trying to affect.  It won’t affect any areas that are lighter than your FG color.  For example: a 50% magenta in your FG color selector, with your desired Tool set on ‘Lighten’ will only affect pixels that are 51% magenta or darker.  Anything 49% or lighter won’t be affected.  It sounds confusing, but I stumbled upon it all by accident.  I use it a LOT.

Q: How do you use the Fade filter?

AH: The Fade Filter is at the top of the Filters drop-menu; it’s the second from the top.  On a PC, it can be keyboarded by hitting Ctrl + Shift + F.  You’ll also notice you can alter your color application there, after-the-fact.  This is where I discovered the value of Lighten, Darken, and Color Dodge.  In the Fade Filter, you can change the color application of the function you just completed.  It’s a great ‘before and after’ tool.

Q: Do you use any Photoshop filters in order to give your colors a particular finish?

AH: I never used to, but I’ve gotten braver about it.  Sometimes when I feel my flesh values are too high-key, I run them through the Auto Levels filter, just to see what it does to them.  Sometimes I use the result, sometimes I don’t.

Q: What filters do you use commonly? What would you recommend for specific effects, such as metal gleam or rain?

AH:  I disdain the use of filters, until you can prove you can render that stuff on your own.  It’s like Ian Malcolm’s diatribe against raising dinosaurs with genetic engineering in Jurassic Park.  If you don’t take the time to master a technique, you don’t learn the even more important disciplines that come with the experiences.  Any decisions you make with shortcuts are uninformed ones, and you open yourself up to a world of bad judgments.


Wonder Woman #159 Cover Q: Did you study human anatomy?

AH: Once I started, I never stopped.  Studying human anatomy is a never-ending thing. There’s no final moment where you go “I’ve mastered human anatomy!  Now, on to ducks and geese!!”

Q: Do you use anatomy books, body-building magazines or nude pose files as reference?

AH:  Sure!  If working from life was good enough for Rockwell and Michelangelo, who am I to argue?

Q: When you draw a figure, which do you draw first, head or torso?

AH: I always draw the head, and I shouldn’t do that.  My sketchbooks are FILLED with a lot of these hydrocephalic Mardi Gras festival-head versions of my characters.  I’m always ‘fixing’ big-head syndrome in my sketches

Q: How (do) you figure your shadowing patterns, esp. in the costumes/anatomy?

AH:  I get my theory on shadows from Nowlan and Rude; those are the guys whose work has inspired me to not be afraid to cover up a pretty drawing with a lot of spot blacks.  As for figuring them out?  I just think about the human body as a series of abstract shapes.  It ‘s easy to do shadows and such when you don’t THINK of it as an arm.  Think of it as a cylinder.  Then imagine it as a curved cylinder.  Then go a step further, and imagine soft shapes bulging out from the curved cylinder.  It’s pretty much that easy.  A rudimentary understanding of Edge Control is all you really need to complete the equation.

Q:  How do you do the black shadows, especially in Fairchild’s suit? Do you use references?

AH: When it helps.  For the dark latex look of Fairchild’s outfit, I’d look at African-American body-builders and fitness competitors. Their skin is so dark, and usually the flash photography is so stark, you end up with a high-contrast human whose flesh tones go from absolute black to a an absolute white hot-spot highlight.  It’s a great reference for drawing ANY hero who wears a dark shiny costume.

Q: Can you give some short general tips about handling the eyes of male/female characters?

AH:  My advice on eyes is to remember that when drawing them, what you DON’T draw is sometimes more important than what you DO draw.  Always think about ‘dropping out’ unnecessary lines, like the bottom lid on a male eye.  Just let the lashes describe a female eye.

Also, don’t think of it as an ‘eye’.  That might be messing you up.  Distance yourself from it.  Just think of it as a wet sphere that has two pieces of thick material that can close to cover it.  Always draw the eye with depth.  The eye sits inside the eyelids.  Shadows are cast.

Q:  Do you always use reference for drapery/metal?

AH: I use my eyes all the time, and anywhere I can improve the believability of an aspect of an illustration through reference, I’ll do it.  Reference is a tool, like a ruler or a circle template.  In one artist’s hands, it’s a crutch; in another’s it’s just another brush in the paintbox…

Q: Do you ever intend on painting with oil or acrylic paints?

AH:  I MIGHT, sometime down the road, but for now I’m trying to explore the digital permutations.

Q:   What’s your advice for someone who wishes to better the technical drawing skills?

AH: I guess I’d suggest you do what I did: find some really great  technical drawings, and try to deconstruct them.  I look at them and ask “OK, what are they doing here?  What are they NOT doing?  Are they doing things with technical tools (like ellipses, french curves, and tech pens) or not?  As for guns, I just use real guns for reference. I collect 12” action figures (a dirty little secret revealed), and the detail on these little 1/6 scale guns nowadays is so good, I have this great miniature arsenal of toy guns that I use for reference.  Try it!

As for BS tech like the Dirty Pair ‘Sirius Bitches’ space bike, I subscribe to the Syd Mead principle that if you make something functional, it’ll look believable.  Don’t just draw something that LOOKS cool; draw something that almost seems functional, and it’ll BE cool.  That bike was the result of my studying Harrier engines and motorcycle designs.

Q:  When penciling, do you specify line thickness for your inkers (e.g. foreground elements have thicker outlines), or do you leave that decision to your inkers? Same question for your hatching, feathering, and other rendering effects.

AH: Yes, I do.  I’m VERY picky about that stuff.  I don’t feel confident in my basic structure, so I make sure the finishes carry across what I’m trying to say.  Some pencilers are ink-proof, because they’re so solid as artists.  Gil Kane, John Buscema, Jack Kirby.  You couldn’t really ink those guys poorly and hurt them…

Q: Would you go back over an inker’s work if you find their work unsatisfactory (hypothetical) being the perfectionist you appear to be?

AH: Sure, but since I work with the best guys for my style, I’ve never needed to!

Adam Hughes SketchingART MATERIALS

Q: Do you use non-photo blue pencil for any stage?

AH:  I never use blue pencil.  It’s wax-based, and that gunks up tech pens…

Q: What medium do you use for painting? Oils, acrylic, gouache, watercolor?

AH: I haven’t touched real paint in about 4 years.

Q:  Do you use any device (photocopy, etc.) to transfer sketches to the final drawing board?

AH:  I use an art-o-graph overhead projector to transfer the stuff from my sketchbook.

Q: Do you use an opaque projector or any other instrument to enlarge artwork for large format work?

AH:  I use it for everything!  I go through more erasers than pencil leads, I make so many mistakes.  My originals would be Farina by the time I got to the inks, if I didn’t transfer them.

Q:  What specific ink brand and inking tool/s do you use? (I read somewhere that you use Pelikan or Higgins ink and a brush.) Do you erase mistakes with opaque white or do you do your clean-up in Photoshop?

AH:  I use Dr. PH Martin’s Black Star India Ink, with Rafael Kolinsky and Scharff brushes… I like to do a little drawing with the opaque white, so I do most of my corrections then.  I use Photoshop for errors only when I miss something, like a dope!

Q:  What specific board brand and line do you use? What wouldn’t you recommend for your inking style?

AH:  We get our own bard made up for Gaijin (Studios).  It’s Strathmore Brite-white, three ply, I believe.  I never use that smooth hot press finish.

Q:  What type of paper do you recommend for sketching?

AH:  I use those Strathmore 60 lb. Recycled Paper Sketchbooks.  Seems to work OK.

Q:  I’ve just read (that) you use a mouse for coloring! … Have you tried a Wacom tablet?

AH:  I’ve used a Wacom tablet once or twice, and it’d set me back a ways to retrain myself using it.  The mouse works fine for my style, and I’m a big proponent of not messing with what works.
Norman Rockwell


Comment:            “Good cover art can include both storytelling and impactful eye candy look at Norman Rockwell…he’s the best and he had both elements.”

AH: I agree.  I genuinely feel that Norman Rockwell is the greatest cover artist in the history of modern illustration.  He knew how to get people’s interest, but he almost always told a story at the same time.

Q: Do you use photo reference?

AH: I use some reference on everything I do, even if it’s just a lock of hair or a shoe.  The TOMB RAIDER piece wasn’t from any specific photo reference….  I use reference piece-meal, as a quality control measure.  Her face, for example.  I had about ten different portrait-style head shots that I was studying to get the lighting, the flesh tones, and the features.

I learned to do that on STAR TREK: Debt of Honor.  I tried drawing straight from photo references of Kirk and Spock, but it always look flat and boring to me.  I found that if I sketched what I THOUGHT Captain Kirk looked like, then ‘fixed’ it with spot reference, it ended up looking like Kirk enough, but still retained the dynamic of a free-hand illustration.  I’ve tried to never forget that lesson.

Q: When you are doing cover assignments for various books, what sort of info are you given? For example, on the WW covers, are you told story elements from the issue, and are free to play with it, or are you told that x and y must be present on the cover?

AH:  It varies.  Sometimes I get given a script, sometimes I’m told the plot, sometimes I’m asked to draw a specific scene, and sometimes I have free rein.  Nothing’s ever the same twice.

Q:  Do you collect much original art?

AH:  I don’t collect much original art, but I have a few pages of guys who’ve inspired me.  I have a few Steve Rude pages.  I’ve got a Jaime Hernandez page from LOVE & ROCKETS #2.  I have that Kevin Nowlan DAGGER illustration from Marvel Fanfare.  I also have an original Hellboy by Mignola, which is one of my all-time favorite pieces.

Q:  How do you view your earlier work? (The original question referred to Adam’s earlier JLA work.)

AH: Old, tired, dated.  Not to insult anyone’s preferences, but I REALLY don’t care for my earlier work.  It’s hard on my eyes!  🙂

Q: Do you get inspiration from fantasy artwork? (Boris Vallejo, Luis Royo, Hajime Sorayama, Olivia, Julie Bell, etc.?)

AH: Sure!  One of the great things about the vast fraternity of artists stretching back through the ages, is that we help each other out of the creative doldrums with inspiration.

Q: Of all the art you’ve created, which pieces do you like?

AH:  This’ll be short! 😉  I really love the cover to Voodoo #2 that I did.  I’m really proud of that, and my mind boggles over the fact that I did that thing in a furious three-day, no-sleep art binge.  BTW, that’s my cat Frankenstein on the cover.  He’s the dumbest cat on earth, and will stand stock-still long enough to be drawn if you ask him a poser like “Hey, Frank, what’s a mouse?” or “What’s your favorite cat-chow, stupid?”

I really like the cover to RETURN OF THE JEDI I did for Dark Horse. It’s starting to age on me, but I was so tickled to finally do a decent STAR WARS drawing.

The Lara Croft (illustration) I did for PSM, where she’d bent over the sack of loot is one of my personal favorites.  There’s just something about it that hits the right bundle of nerves at the base of my skull and goes ‘fzzzt!’

My favorite WW cover?  I haven’t done it yet.  If you could see the WW covers I ‘see’ in my head, but can’t translate, your head’d melt like those guys at the end of RAIDERS… 😉

Q: By the way, is Lara (Croft) still packing a Sig? (Question is based on the new PSM cover by AH!).

AH:  Since the EIDOS guys always render her with a Desert Eagle on the game boxes (and I have a replica for reference), I give Lara the Desert Eagle .50 cal.

Q: Where do you find your gun references?

AH:  All sorts of places!  Just check out the ads in gun magazines.  Gun magazines are half-content, half ad-space.  You can find LOTS of gun replicas (I include air-guns, which LOOK like the real thing).  Sometimes Japanese hobby stores carry GREAT import replicas.  Since guns are illegal in Japan, they of course CRAVE what they can’t have.  So the gun replica market is big v over there.  I’ve got a great German WW2-era P-38 air-gun from Japan; it’s perfect reference.  Also, I used to get a lot of stuff from the company in Virginia called US ARMORY.  They used to have mail-order catalogues.  I still recommend 1/6th scale guns as well.  VERY detailed these days.


Q: Have you ever thought about doing comics in album format (like European comics) instead of doing miniseries from time to time?

AH: Oh, definitely. Then I remember how bad it is to work all year on a big project, and then have it all come out on ONE DAY.  I made that error with that STAR TREK graphic novel I did.  If I’m going to do 96 pages of work on something, it’s gonna get released in four 24-page installments, so that I have four months of books shipping, and not just one day.

Q:  What’s your favorite Beatles record?

AH:  RUBBER SOUL is an amazing piece of work, and I always do a RUBBER SOUL/REVOLVER double-feature when listening; just can’t do one without the other.

But, my personal favorite is ABBEY ROAD.  I think it’s their finest work, and I love every song on it!

Q:  Will you and Gaijin be at the Dragon*Con this year?  If so, will you be doing another “Babe-o-Rama” panel?  That was a lot of fun last year.

AH:  Yeah, we’ll all of us be at DragonCon.  I haven’t received any panel requests yet, but I’m up for it.  It was fun.


“I worry about doing illustrations that are all technique and character, and no ‘story’.  I started out that way but have gravitated away from it in recent years.  It felt WIERD to do a straight pin-up shot like this.” ¾Referring to his most recent cover to Tomb Raider Magazine.


End of interview taken from the Hughes Fans Yahoo Group.

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