“Arrival”: a digital painting for Joseph Alvarez’s album “When We Arrive”

This summer, I’ve had the opportunity to become better acquainted with digital media, and I recently finished my first ever digital art commission- an album cover for a very good friend of mine, Joseph Alvarez.


He’d been working on creating music for many years now, and was finally ready to release his first single, “Redemption Song.” I’ll let Joseph describe his album, “When We Arrive” to you; straight from his Kickstarter webpage:




Born in Austin, TX, he envisioned the Austin cityscape, with a vaquero (Mexican cowboy) walking toward the city. He wanted to mix the old world and new world. Just after Texas became annexed to the US, Mexican Americans,  due to sheer prejudice and pride, were left out largely out of  US urbanization and the benefits that come along with it (education, increased standard of living, etc.). I thought of a painting that depicted the idea that modern Mexicans are still feeling pushed out of industry by gentrification and racism; they perpetually feel left behind, looking through the gaze of their vaquero ancestors, confused and alone in a strange, growing new world… in a land that used to be entirely theirs.

I made a few sketches. Joseph wanted the work to be a black and white, with a charcoal feel. He’d even gotten a friend, Eliana Bernard, another artist, to make a rough draft for him a few years ago, when he was first publicizing the project:


Credit: Eliana Bernard


I decided, in an interesting twist, to use my iPad to create a digital piece. That way, it would match the appropriate digital color codes, and I could play around with adding colors and textures without the worry of permanent marks. I, too, made a rough sketch by hand, before beginning on my iPad:



Joseph liked the overall composition in the sketch, so I set to work on the planning the piece. I would need photos of the Austin skyline, and possibly photos of cowboys or someone who at least looks like one. I took a friend of mine, David Ortiz, out for a small photo shoot. He doesn’t necessarily look like a cowboy, but I needed a model in the shot to have proportions for the body I would add in later.





I did some research on painting apps, and decided to try one called Procreate. I used the photograph of Austin as a bottom layer, and began tracing the outline of the city over it on a top later using a pencil/pen tool. The great thing about digital art, is that you can delete the bottom layer (in this case, the photo), and the top layer (the tracing) is still there. Tracing the city took many hours. I do think tracing is incredibly easy, which one could argue takes credit away from my artistic talent… but, the sheer amount of willpower it takes to spend hours tracing all the details is a talent in and of itself. It took a long time; I wish I would have kept track… but school kept me busy otherwise and time was a blur.




Once lines were drawn, I had to find a cowboy. I used a compilation of some photos I found online. After that, the creativity began… I used various digital tools to shade, paint, and color the composition, progressivly bringing the buildings to life:




I showed Joseph the progress, and we both noticed that the cowboy looked a little too much like an American cowboy, and not particularly like a vaquero. Joseph researched a couple of other photos he thought better conveyed the Mexican cowboy style, and… since I was using digital media, I easily could delete the original cowboy and replace him with someone more suiting. After adding more layers, and blending in a foreboding sky, here is the end result:



I am incredibly proud of the work. I like the new vaquero much more than the other one. He’s more proportional to the background, and better fits the attitude of the scene.


You can hear Joseph’s single, “Redemption Song” from his album, “When We Arrive” on Joseph’s facebook page:


I was delighted to be in the credits, among the many great names. Thank you, Joseph, for the wonderful opportunity.




But, the project isn’t over! I’ll be adding some fun color to the work for t-shirts and posters…




Posted in Art

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