The Witches Cycle – Chapter 3: Step By Step

Tony Concrete is back with Chapter Three of his bikepacking manga The Witches Cycle. In addition to the latest installment in the lives of Vera and Mary, Tony breaks down how he makes his illustrations in a step-by-step process, from inspiration to finished drawing. Don’t miss this exciting new chapter…

Hello! This is the third chapter of The Witches Cycle, in which we see Vera visit her master-in-magic in a mountain village tucked deep in the forest. The village is called La Petite Pierre, and like most places in the manga, it actually exists. La Petite Pierre, in French, literally translates to “the little stone”… It’s hard not to write stories of magic when the places around you have names like that!

When I moved to this region and saw the name on the map, my imagination immediately ran wild, envisioning an ancient place connected to telluric forces. There are places that you may know little about but somehow live on in your head solely through the evocative power of their names. Eventually, I did visit to La Petite Pierre and it was exactly as I’d imagined: an ancient place connected to telluric forces!

Lately, there’s been another place living in my mind. When I was searching for a name for this manga, I thought of “Telluric Ride.” By typing these words into Google, I discovered the existence of Telluride, Colorado. I know it’s a reference to a subsoil rich in rare metals, but the name of this town struck me in the same way as La Petite Pierre had struck me. I imagine there, on the other side of the world, a point of connection with telluric forces, but perhaps more ominous forces. I envision a sort of Twin Peaks, with esoteric secrets and ancient curses buried beneath layers of development, from the hell of the mines to the boom of outdoor activities.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to ride my bike in Telluride, even though I know that projecting things in advance onto a destination is not a good way to travel. It’s actually the surest way to miss out on understanding what is offered to us. But I also know that along the way, I’ll discover a thousand places whose names mean nothing to me, and where I’ll let myself be surprised by the true magic of this world.

In case you missed them: Chapter 1 and Chapter 2

Step by Step

Since this space under the chapter has more or less become my blog, I propose to take you step by step through the conception of an illustration, unveiling a super-secret technique. I spent some time in Japan and took the opportunity to gather a small collection of articulated figurines, including scale bicycles, which weren’t always easy to find. I sometimes use them for certain illustrations, although this is becoming increasingly rare.

1) Documentation

To design an image, I rely heavily on photo documentation. I take a lot of photos myself, and when I use them, I have no qualms about tracing entire parts. But I also draw inspiration from the work of real photographers, and in that case, tracing is forbidden! My favorite source of inspiration is Spencer Harding’s website. His photos are interesting and full of life, immediately putting me back in the atmosphere of amazement of when I discovered bikepacking. I also like Spencer’s site because there aren’t a million images; I won’t get lost along the way. If I open The Radavist to look for references, I end up diving into comparisons of dropper seatposts, even though I never have the slightest intention of owning one (although now…).

For this image, I composed a small mood board on the theme “after the rain/splash in the puddle” based on Spencer’s photos.

2) Composition Sketch

My sketches are always really ugly and messy. I seem to forget how to draw at this stage, and I feel sorry for my editor, because my storyboards are barely legible. This image is meant to be used simultaneously as a double-page spread, and cut into two adjacent squares for Instagram, so keep that in mind when composing.

3) Choice of Figurines

Here, I’m using figma articulated figures from the Good Smile Company. There are also similar ones in Bandai’s S.H.Figuarts collection. Most of the figurines from these manufacturers represent characters from popular culture, but there are also faceless mannequins designed specifically for artists. The proportions of the mannequins are very standard, and one should not hesitate to look among the heroes if looking for more interesting morphologies.

The first figurine is a “figma archetype: he” intended to represent a young muscular hero with proportions typical of Takahashi Rumiko – Toriyama Akira. I find that it works quite well for Vera; female figurine frames are generally too thin for the design of my characters. I took the arms from another figma, a rather realistic female model.

Her bike is a Montague Paratrooper, which comes from a rather embarrassing collection of realistic military equipment that goes with little girl figurines. Still, I’m glad I was able to find a mountain bike of appropriate proportions.

The second figurine represents Makishima Yûsuke, a character from Yowamushi Pedal, whose proportions match those of Mary very well. It was sold with his road bike, which I’ll need to turn into a gravel bike. I hope to someday find the figurine of his fellow Sakamichi!

4) Base Photo

Beginning to make a sketch starts with placing the figurines and giving them a posture consistent with the sketch, then taking a photo with a credible perspective. One might think this is the most enjoyable step, but it’s actually quite tedious because these little things are so tiny, and they just keep falling over. Making stop-motion films must be hell. The photo is quite bad because it’s taken with my phone held in hand, not with my macro camera on a tripod. I have enough energy to either set up the figurines or set up the photo equipment, but not both at the same time. The quality of the photo doesn’t matter because I’ll redraw over it!

5) Vera’s Bike

Based on my reference designs, I draw the bike over the one in the photo of the figurines. I need to keep in mind the differences between the model I have to draw and the model of the miniature, and not to forget the accessories! When I draw characters on bikes, I always start with the bike. I draw it in full, then I erase the parts hidden by the character’s body.

6) Vera

So far it looks like a magic method for effortless drawing, but it gets tougher. While miniature bikes look a lot like real bikes, figurines, and real humans are very different. So you have to draw over the general shape, relying on your knowledge rather than the figure, otherwise the drawing will look weird. And if you don’t have much drawing experience, it’s very difficult to “fix” the figure. This is a method that only works well if you’ve already done a certain amount of learning in the past.

7) Tama the cat

Very important.

8) The splash

Time to go back and take a look at Spencer’s photos.

9) Mary and Her Bike

Since this drawing is smaller, I can be less precise!

10) Background Elements

It’s rudimentary, but mountain roads all look the same… And the faster you go on a bike, the blurrier they look.

11) Coloring Characters

I’ll look into my reference designs for the colors of each element. Here, I try to color in a precise manner, like in animation.

12) Coloring the Background

Here, it’s more blurry and free. I use basic brushes, slightly decreasing opacity. I’m not a big fan of digital brushes that mimic paint.

13) Shadows

Unlike in animation, I can do the shadows on the characters and the background simultaneously. It helps give unity to the image, here with a blue-gray shadow for example. I add some reflections on shiny elements, and it’s done!








See you soon for Chapter 4 of The Witches Cycle!