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'Secrets of Corel Painter Experts': Brian Haberlin

In the excerpt, Spawn artist Brian Haberlin takes readers through how he brings the comic to colorful life.

Brian Haberlin

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Brian Haberlin: About the Artist

I am an artist and writer working in most entertainment media from film to comics. I am known as an innovator and creator of most of the modern production and computer art methods used in the comic industry today. I have created many comic book properties, including Stone, Aria, Hellcop, and Area 52. I write for 3dWorld Magazine, and I teach at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and my own online company: For another company of mine, Anomaly Productions, I am currently creating new graphics novels that will be coming out in 2011.


Software: Painter, Photoshop, PoserHardware: i7-980x PC, Wacom Cintiq


Brian HaberlinCalifornia, USA

Artist's Statement

I have an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. I believe in being an all-rounder — able to paint in oils one day, sculpt digitally the next, write and create later the same day, and then fuse all these skills into one product. Illustration and sequential storytelling are that ticket for me. I have always felt that a pretty picture deserves a good story to go along with it.


Great artists, both fine and commercial, influence me. Let me break it down for who does what really well: for dynamic action, I admire the work of Marko Djurdjevic; for expressively rendered figures, Egon Schiele; for design, Gustav Klimt; for awesome painting, Phil Hale; for simplicity in storytelling and design, Moebius (Jean Henri Gaston Giraud). Really, my list could go on and on as I look around at the books in my studio. It really depends on who I’ve been looking at lately — so it is fluid and changes. Great directors like Peter Jackson, David Fincher, and Alfred Hitchcock, and great shows and movies, from Lost to Seven, also influence me.

[Figure 7.1] Rendered chain sample.

TechniquesStep-by-Step Tutorial: Create a Pattern Brush… “The Spawn Way!”

I was lucky enough to draw Todd McFarlane’s comic Spawn for a couple of years before moving on to my own creations. I learned a lot — especially about timesaving techniques. A comic is twenty-two pages, plus a cover, every month, so it’s a lot of work. One of Spawn’s powers is the animated chains he uses to… well, kick ass! I have a fairly detailed and realistic pen-and-ink style, so doing hundreds of chains would take me a long time! My solution was to create a Chain Pattern Pen that would allow me to freely draw hundreds of chains in mere seconds. Here’s how:

         1.          Acquire a chain; it can be a photo, a drawing, or even a 3D model. For this example, I use a 3D digital model: I use Poser software to render a length of chain and save it as a PNG file. See Figure 7.1.

[Figure 7.2] Import sample and open in Painter.

         2.         In Figure 7.2, I import and open the image in Painter. I select the layer with the chain to be the active layer. Because this is a PNG file, the chain is already nicely masked off.

If I was using a different image file type, I would have to select the part that I want to be the pattern. Also, if I choose an image with a white background, it will not be transparent when drawing, and it will not look correct.

[Figure 7.3] Select Capture Pattern.

         3.          With the image selected, I go to the Patterns palette menu and select Capture Pattern. See Figure 7.3. I choose a name for my new pattern. I usually find that the default settings of Rectangular Tile and Bias at 0 percent work well. I click OK.

[Figure 7.4] Select Pattern Pens, Pattern Pen.

         4.          In my Pattern Selector, I can see my new pattern. It’s time for me to take it for a spin. I select Pattern Pens from the Brush Category, and under Brush Variant, I select Pattern Pen. See Figure 7.4.

[Figure 7.5] Use Brush Control to create perspective.

        5.          Now I draw! I see a chain that wraps with my strokes. I decide to change it so that it appears to work in perspective. Under the Brush Control palette (Window, Brush Controls), in the Size menu, I choose both the size (Size) and the minimum size (Min. Size) of my brush. This way, by using pen pressure as my tool for expression, I can draw the chains larger and smaller in space to make my image appear more three-dimensional. See Figure 7.5.

Try using your pattern as a painting tool by selecting Brush Variant, Pattern Chalk. You can really create some unique images.

[Figure 7.6] Create a Custom Brush palette.

         6.          I click and drag my new Pattern Brush from the brush selector menu. This creates a new palette with my Custom Pattern Brush — now at my fingertips’ convenience for future use. See Figure 7.6.

[Figure 7.7] Using Distortion, Distorto to create spikes on the chain.

         7.          After looking at the brush pattern, I decide I need to take it one step further. After all, because this is chain for Spawn, it could be a bit more evil looking. With my original chain pattern opened (the PNG file), I select Brush Category, Distortion and Brush Variant, Distorto. Now it’s easy for me to pull out spikes on my chain. See Figure 7.7. I follow my earlier steps to save this as a custom spiky-chain brush.

[Figure 7.8] Use of chain pattern in a drawing — final image.

        8.          I use this same technique for wires, Spiderman’s webs, rope, and fabric design — and, of course, all of Spawn’s chains. The applications really are unlimited! You can see how I use my custom chain pattern in a drawing in Figure 7.8.

Draw a sketch mark, make it into a Custom Pattern Brush, and then draw something with it — your marks will be unique. It’s almost like creating an entirely new drawing tool.

[Figure 7.9] Use traditional art tools to make marks on paper.

Step-by-Step Tutorial: Creating Natural Pattern Pens

The key to a unique painting is the type of marks made on the canvas. I use Pattern Pens to create natural looks — perhaps even more realistic than Painter’s own built-in brushes. With the following technique, you will have a method for creating all types of marks and making them your own.

         1.          I start by making two pages of marks using traditional watercolor paints on paper, and then I scan them onto my computer. I save them in PSD format. In Figure 7.9, I open them both in Painter.

[Figure 7.10] Use the Rectangular Selection tool to capture the marks individually.

         2.          I decide to capture these brushes a bit differently from my chain pattern because I will be using them as brushes to paint with. I use the Rectangular Selection tool to select around one of my brush shapes. There is no need to use layers. See Figure 7.10.

[Figure 7.11] Select Capture Pattern.

         3.          Now I follow the same steps as outlined in the preceding technique, “Create a Pattern Brush,” to capture and name my pattern. See Figure 7.11.

[Figure 7.12] Select any color and make traditional-looking marks — final image.

        4.         Figure 7.12 shows a sampling of four of my brushstrokes. I apply them with the Pattern Pens, Pattern Pen Masked Brush. I am able to pick any colors I like to draw with, and the marks look really natural. I use them to add an even more natural feel to my paintings by either adding them throughout my working process or touching up a painting with them.

You can design long texture brushes in Painter that curve convincingly, as opposed to in Photoshop, where the stroke doesn't curve as well and ends up looking like rectangles of the image you used to make the brush.

"First Page from Anomaly Graphic Novel.”

InsightsThe Creative Process

Ideas come as they please — either as just a pop, or as hearing or seeing something and twisting it. I play the “what if” game, so to speak. From there, it’s on to the sketch pad. I use plain old paper and some type of drawing implement, and I start designing. I draw different versions of what my idea is, or if it’s a story, I start to break out the elements and characters. Ideas keep popping into my head, and I have to express them one way or the other. I think if I didn’t, my brain would just pop.

Favorite Features

I like the way I can make brushes with full textures and colors. I use these to create things that would be time consuming to draw every time. For example, when I was drawing Spawn, he had these chains that would emanate from him, and he’d fight with them. Drawing every link, over and over, would be a pain, but with Painter, I just created a section and made it into a Pattern Brush. Now I just draw wherever I want the chains to go in a scene.

“Page from Anomaly Graphic Novel.”

Customizable Tools

You simply have to make a custom tool palette, because there are too many choices in Painter. Most artists get lost trying them all. I recommend grabbing your favorite tools, tweaked or not, and putting them into a custom palette. You’ll stay much saner that way.

To get a handle on creating your own patterns, go to Window, Library Palettes, Patterns. This opens the Patterns palette. On the Patterns palette, go to Pattern Selector. On the side drop-down menu, select Check Out Pattern. This shows the original pattern used to create the brush and allows editing.

"Page from Anomaly Graphic Novel."

Timesaving Tips

Before jumping into any program — from 3D to paint — I recommend a battle plan. A thumbnail, or multiple thumbnails, can serve as a road map to your creation. Most digital tools are so limitless in their abilities that you can easily drain time away by using a program without a clear plan. A small thumbnail sketch, no more than a couple of inches, will give you that road map and not stifle your creative flow on the computer by being too tight.

Finished Work

My artwork is usually seen in print, so it is normally reproduced as large Epson prints on nice matte- or watercolor-type papers. I consider accurate color reproduction to be the most important thing to consider when publishing my finished work. I can spend forever working on a piece, but if I don’t have control over the way it is finally reproduced, it can be all for naught.

"Page from Anomaly Graphic Novel."

Q&AWhen did you start using Painter?

My first Painter “can” was Painter 1.

Did you have previous experience in traditional media?

Yes — pretty much everything from watercolor to encaustic. I’m a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to art and really like to explore them all and mix them in ways they are not necessarily supposed to mix.

"Inside Cover from Anomaly Graphic Novel."

Do you integrate your work in Painter with traditional artists’ materials?

I tend to work in and out of the computer quite often. There is a painting I did that started as a pencil sketch, which I then scanned and painted on in Painter. Next, I printed it onto some nice Canson paper and worked on it some more with Prismacolor pencils, pastels, and gouache.

Has Painter helped you define your own style?

Sometimes style is all about the mark you put upon the canvas. With Painter, I can put down marks that are hard to emulate with other programs.

How does Painter fit into your creative process and workflow?

It really depends on the style of the project I am working on. I prefer sketching in Painter to sketching in Photoshop, and I prefer Painter when painting in a sort of digital-oils style. Like most artists, I use Painter in conjunction with Photoshop on most projects — sometimes I use more Painter than Photoshop, and sometimes it is the other way around.

How has the Internet influenced your art-making process?

Getting reference materials is now a breeze. I just Google (insert what is needed here), and bingo-bango, the old trips to libraries or used book stores are over. Now I just go to libraries and used book stores for fun.

What advice do you have for artists working with Painter?

Take some time. Explore all of Painter’s brushes, pick the 5 to 10 that you will use most often, and then create your own custom palette. It’s a big timesaver.

"Spread from Anomaly Graphic Novel."

Links *


Brian Haberlin Education 30 years as a professional artist

Client List

DreamWorks, Disney, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Adobe Inc., TV Guide, Top Cow Productions, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., Spin Magazine, Bandai, Pacific Data Images, Stan Winston Creatures, Sammy Studios, Sprint, NASCAR, and many, many more

Awards and Career Highlights

Wizard Fan Awards — winner of multiple awards; Eisner Award (for studio and part of team); multiple inclusions in Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art; artwork added to the permanent collection of The Smithsonian

“Cover to Spawn Comic, Issue 184."


Daryl Wise has worked for the past 15 years as the owner/operator of StreetWise PR, a small public relations and marketing firm near the Silicon Valley. Some clients include or have included Macworld Expos, the artist Peter Max, HP, Ambient Design, Adesso, Pixelmator, GLUON, and e frontier. He was director of the Santa Cruz Digital Arts Festival for three years and is a member of Cabrillo College's Digital Arts Advisory Committee. He is the author of Secrets of Award-Winning Digital Artists, Secrets of Poser Experts, and Secrets of Painter Experts.

Linda Hellfritsch holds degrees in traditional art and graphic design. She is a fine artist, freelance commercial artist, Web designer and writer living in La Selva Beach, California. She has curated and hung both traditional and digital art exhibitions in San Jose, San Francisco, Monterey, San Clemente and Santa Cruz. Her areas of expertise include art, design, art history, and arts education. Linda works primarily with traditional mixed media although her work has required her to design and develop digital graphic arts products. This exposure to digitally produced art has awakened a curiosity and hunger to learn more about digital art tools. She has spent the past several years talking to digital artists, experiencing their work and learning their secrets. Linda's background in traditional fine art gives her a unique perspective as a traditional artist in a digital world. In her spare time, she works as a scenic painter and props builder at the new Crocker Theater in Aptos, California.