Superman by James White

I’m proud to release the poster I contributed to the SUPER poster art show for The Roost in Newcastle, Australia. I was thrilled when the team reached out to me, all the way on the other side of the globe to contribute. They didn’t want duplicate heroes in the show, so selecting which hero you wanted to do a poster of was first come, first served. Luckily for me, the Man of Steel was up for grabs. I jumped at it.

I’ll say this: creating a Superman poster was nowhere near easy, and halfway through I found myself in a tough spot. Here’s the scoop. I knew straight away that I wanted to create a Superman poster that honoured MY Superman. The classic costume, bright colours, smile on his face. Proud. Not the strange version of Superman we have today with that weird costume, desaturated colours, leaking heat vision whenever he gets pissed off… I don’t even know who that guy is.

No, I’ll be designing MY Superman which was a bigger challenge than I expected since he’s been my hero my entire life. I planted about 12 hours into the initial design, only to scrap it days before the deadline and redevelop it from the ground up… while on a plane to Wisconsin. I’m an idiot.

I started with some quick digital mock-ups to figure out the pose, colours and overall composition. The poster had to sum up a number of ideas and not just be a portrait piece. I toyed with the idea of putting in the chrome Superman symbol from the Bob Peak poster, but couldn’t make it look right. Even messed with a “Fortress of Solitude creating the Superman logo” like an Olly Moss piece, but I didn’t dig it. Eventually I arrived at a simple flying pose that looked proud and strong.

Superman by James White
Digital sketch concepts: Photoshop.
Superman by James White
Digital sketch concepts: Photoshop.
Superman by James White
Digital sketch concepts: Photoshop and Adobe Ideas colour mock-up.

That design on the right was created in Adobe Ideas on my iPad during the flight and ended up being the foundation for the pose and palette seen in the final. It was my first time using Ideas, and it really worked for what I needed. Well done, Adobe!

But I didn’t settle right away. I pulled out my Field Notes and started sketching the composition, playing with Superman’s design, angle, arm position and a bunch of other things. What would Superman’s body and face look like? I needed these things nailed down before I got to the hotel in Madison WI so I had very few guesses to make. I had basically 1 day in the hotel to build the entire poster. Yikes.

Superman by James White
Sketchbook concepts and thumbnails.
Superman by James White
Sketchbook concepts for Superman’s design. Right: Head and shoulders sketch.
Superman by James White
Final sketchbook concept and vector design.

After I felt everything was ‘sort of’ in place, especially after roughing that sketch on the left I opened Illustrator and got to it. A lot of scrutiny went into those vectors before I moved into Photoshop for all my effects, texture lighting and construction work. The final looks more ‘Bruce Timm-y’ than I intended, but I always kind of drew Superman in the style of the ’90s cartoon… sort of. I also shifted the style and process to mimic my console illustrations done earlier this year.

The addition of the jets and planets was VERY last minute, and I’d like to thank the crew at The Roost for allowing me the slight update. Those little elements add so much to the poster and I’m thrilled they let me get away with it, especially after I had sent them the ‘final file’. You guys rule for putting up with me.

Superman by James White
Initial concept. I scrapped this direction after 12 hours of work.

And seen above is the initial idea I started to build. 12 hours of digital painting. I got to the point where the image looked forced. The concept wasn’t very inspired and I became bored looking at it. This is when I made the tough decision to scrap the entire poster and re-think it from the ground up. Now, I KNOW someone is looking at this and about to type “I like this one better”, but when you boil down the 2 concepts this initial one is just a portrait piece. Nothing more. It’s not designed at all, and stylistically it’s pretty dull. I couldn’t deal with that and wasn’t about to sell this piece short. This is Superman, afterall.

So, here’s all the details straight from The Roost!

SUPER art show

A big thanks to my new friends at The Roost for approaching me to contribute to this amazing show. SUPER opens this Friday in Newcastle, Australia at Curve Gallery. Here is the Facebook event page.






14 responses to “Superman”

  1. John Avatar

    James, the final concept looks great!

  2. Harry Fordham Avatar
    Harry Fordham

    Much prefer the initial concept art style, but the final product is still awesome.

  3. Simon H. Avatar

    This is, as usual, super rad. I love to be able to see your progress in the design process.

  4. Barely Original Avatar
    Barely Original

    Ditching something after 12 hours is tough, but it’s not only proved to be worth it in the end but it’s proven that your worth your salt ten times over! It’s amazing what a looming deadline can do to a project!

    Well done, man!

  5. Francisco Avatar

    Wooow, un excelente diseño, tus trabajos son geniales, los sigo de cerca, grande signalnoise, espero un tutorial detallado de como realizas estos tipos de trabajos, saludos desde chile, un abrazo…!!!

  6. Tom Muller Avatar

    I liked the first one better.

    I had to do it! You left the door, nay, the gates, wide open! ;)

  7. Chuck Avatar

    I love the 30’s vintage poster look. Great choice. The initial concept art style would have worked if you took it towards more of a comic book look.

  8. Ben Avatar

    Brilliant. Can’t wait to drop into the exhibition next week.

  9. Dennis Salvatier Avatar

    The final piece came out great. You definitely captured classic Supes. I’m in the same show so it’s great to see another piece since I won’t be there in person.

  10. Bryan Heredia Avatar

    This is awesome, James! Nice job, man.

    I really like that you were able to change gears after putting in so many hours of work on the first concept. When it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right. You know?

  11. Reno Gruber Avatar

    Wow. Really inspiring stuff. Love the textured approach you’re moving into. I shudder to think of the size of that PSD file. All of them are solid concepts. I think you chose correctly. I really do like the top right concept a lot, with the side profile. Again, great work!

  12. Cassie Stronach Avatar

    Hi James.

    I bought your art work last night at the Roost exhibition. I love it. I saw it straight away when I walked in the door and had to have it. Can’t wait to pick it up when the exhibition is over. I was thrilled to find your blog and see your process. It’s fascinating!

    Do you have a preference for what I should frame it with?

    Also, if you ever decide to do a complimentary Wonder Woman, I will be first in line for it :)

    Thanks for all your effort!


  13. Jorden Tually Avatar
    Jorden Tually

    Your work is being displayed about 5 minutes away and I never knew? NO WAY! I am going there asap!!!

    Nice Cassie, How much did you pick it up for if you don’t mind me asking?

  14. Kyle Avatar


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