morgan girvin

illustrator, maker and hermit
home > illustrated work > general projects > dawn at the snicket

Uncoloured and Coloured versions of ‘Dawn at the Snicket’


This was an A3 Illustration I did as a personal project towards the end of 2021. I used 0.1/0.05/0.03 Fineliners for the drawing before I scanned it in and coloured it digitally in Photoshop. The purpose of the drawing was wanting to create work for my portfolio. I’d just finished Uni and had a minimal amount of illustration in the style that I was starting to develop, so I wanted to knuckle down and create some more.


The drawing started as a quick sketch on a piece of paper. The starting point of the idea was basically “a long, narrow, lived-in cavern that has bridges connecting either side”. It was quite a simple sketch initially, but the core ideas of the bridges and the marketplace on the bottom were there from the beginning.

The last ‘big’ illustration I’d done before this one was ‘Dredd’, and my process with that one was to jump straight from sketch to drawing, and then figure out the colouring as I was doing it. This proved to be quite hard, since I ended up going with a different colour palette than I expected, so this time around I wanted to experiment from the beginning.

I moved into Photoshop and began doing some digital sketching using my Wacom tablet, and it proved to be so incredibly useful. The ‘Progress v1’ image was me working mostly on a direct translation of the sketch I’d done on paper, with the bridge going across the centre and a marketplace at the bottom, but when I got half way through I realised I wanted the scale to be a lot bigger so I increased the size of the canvas and began expanding the image, i.e. ‘Progress v2’.

I think this helps me capture the idea that the world of the drawing is a lot bigger than just whats in the frame, especially since the initial sketch only ended up being about 50% of the final piece.

I ended up doing the same again until I settled on ‘Progress v3’. By this point I’d created more of a foreground/background situation in the image to give the eye something to focus on before looking around at the smaller details.
Initial Sketch


So after I got to the point of ‘Progress v3’ I felt happy to move on to actually drawing the image. The main drive for doing such a planned out sketch in Photoshop was to get the colours/shapes right for the image, whereas I’m happier to work out the details of the drawing whilst I’m working on it. I applied a 10x10 grid to the digital sketch and did the same on my sheet of A3 paper. I started by drawing the foreground section with the 2 travellers, which I did with a 0.1 Fineliner, and then I moved onto penciling the bottom half of the drawing. Once the bottom half was pencilled, I finelinered most of it before moving on to work on the top half.

If you’ve ever done a portrait drawing there’s always that moment where you’ve drawn one eye, and then you spend the rest of the drawing purposefully ignoring the second eye in case it goes incredibly wonky and you mess it up. I think this is what I was doing here. Rather than pencil it all in one go, I felt better completing the bottom half and just neglecting the top half. This probably happened because there are less details in the top of the drawing, and the illustration is mainly of rock formations, which seemed harder to draw. But eventually I got it done.

I think one fault in the black and white drawing is that it feels slightly unbalanced. The top of the illustration should have more linework in it to compensate for the lack of details. I think the addition of more black would create something that feels better compositionally. However, I also knew that I needed to leave it lighter for when I scanned it in and coloured it, as I knew it wouldn’t be an issue once the colour was applied.


Having already planned out the colouring in a digital sketch, it was a lot easier when it came to colouring the final thing. Something I had also been doing this time around was colouring the illustration whilst I was drawing it. I scanned it in after I’d drawn the bottom half so that I could see how it was looking, and how the top half looked like it was going to pan out. This was really useful for knowing how much/little detail I should include in the top half of the drawing. It also meant I had a leg up on colouring, since I had figured out what colours were going where.

One thing I tried to do with this illustration was work smarter, rather than harder. My photoshop file for my ‘Dredd’ drawing had over 500 layers by the time I’d completed it. Since I was going to be working at 600dpi this time I didn’t think my Macbook would be able to handle that and I tried to minimise layers as much as possible.

The main thing I did for this was to utlise layer-masks where I could. I started by setting the background colour to be one solid brown. Then I separated the image into the layers that I had incorporated in the illustration. The best way I can describe this is that the section with the travellers in the foreground is layer 1, then the marketplace/large bridge would be layer 2, and so on so forth, going back with each rock formation. In total there are 7 layers. I then added a Curves and Hue/Saturation to the image, which lightened it, and I layer-masked it to layers 2-7. This meant that the brown background was now lighter everywhere except for the travellers section. I then did this again, except I layer-masked it to layers 3-7, so the background had got lighter for everywhere except the travellers and the marketplace. I did this again and again, each time knocking off the foremost layer. This means that the back of cave has 7 lots of filter over it, whereas the marketplace only has 1. You can see below how the filters turn the solid brown background into a number of different colours.

Had I done this illustration before ‘Dredd’, I would have coloured each section of the drawing with a different colour, but by thinking of a workaround I was able to use 1 solid background colour, and instead have 7 layer-masks that changed the entire atmosphere of the illustration. And not only does it change the brown colour, but it was sat at the top of the file, so it also changes the other objects such as stone, bricks and people. It really does make the entire illustration feel like it’s going further back and I’m proud of myself for working in an efficient way for once.

I also applied this thinking to the linework too (thank you Finn Sorsbie), so as the drawing goes further back into the cave, the linework gets lighter, and it really helps to sell the atmosphere in the cave.

If you like this illustration and would like to buy a print, then I have some available in my shop!