Hard to Forget: The Making of the Jason Seiler Cover

By Terri Stone

“The mood in this piece is very much who I am,” says illustrator Jason Seiler about the cover of Inspire’s [Inspire is the former name of Adobe Create] MAX 2014 edition (on the website’s homepage now). “Mostly it’s dark, a little creepy. But at same time, there’s something beautiful about it.”

And something intriguing. Did you notice that both the man and the fish have glass eyes? And that the fish’s scales are dry?

“I wanted it to be an image people won’t forget,” Jason says. “I love to do characters that tell just a little bit of a story. You wonder, ‘What is this? Who is this guy? Is the fish his pet?’”


The man has a look of America’s Wild West. “I like old-timey things,” explains Jason. “I relate to that era, the clothing, and I’m attracted to photographs from the time. They’re fun to paint.”

“I didn’t have a complete idea in my mind when I started; it developed as I worked on it,” he continues. “It was kind of like freestyling. My reference for the cover illustration was an old photo of a guy sitting in a chair wearing similar clothes. I created my own character based on that picture. For the pose, body, hands, and clothing, I referenced pictures I took of myself holding a thick skull. I also referenced several other vintage photos when I aged the illustration. I painted all the spots and marks that make it look old.”

Except for a part of the fish that Jason painted on watercolor paper and then scanned, he created the illustration using only Adobe Photoshop CC.

“I mostly use Photoshop's Paintbrush tool and switch between brushes for different things: round soft brushes for hair, scratchy brushes for texture, et cetera,” Jason says. “I usually start with a big brush to block out shapes, then go to smaller brushes. I like to use a bunch of brushes that leave different marks on top of each other. The results feel more like traditional painting. If I used the same brush for the whole thing, it would look too digital, too smooth. Sometimes I use the Eraser as a paint tool, to soften one layer into the layer below it. Then I flatten those layers and continue working.”

Watch the Photoshop layers in an earlier version of Jason's cover build from broad brush strokes to fine finishing details.


“I’m known for caricature and realistic portrait work,” says Jason. “This is a mix of both. It’s painted realistically, but there’s so much character to it.”

“A friend told me I should call myself an ‘expression impressionist.’ Not an impressionist like Monet—more like a stand-up comic does impressions, or like I’m drawing my impressions of a character. That’s what this is.”

You can see more examples of Jason’s work in the article “The Truth in a Face,” as well as on his Behance profile. Or check out the drawings below, which he made of himself and three other keynote speakers at Adobe MAX 2014. 

October 7, 2015