Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Hello. I'm going to track the thought-process behind the drawing of a panel for a yet-inexistent comic. This panel:

(click on all images in this post for proper sized versions)

I am working completely digitally here. My brain is digital too. I am made of nothing but cables and microchips.

The very first thing that has to be considered when one sits to pencil a page of comics is what it's going to be about. As this isn't a page and is in fact, a wordless panel, I need to let you know what I am going for emotionally and in terms of storytelling beforehand so you can tell if I succeed or fail. I stress that though the rest of this comic is only in my head right now, I drew this thinking as if it existed and I know what page goes before it and what comes after it. I stress this because drawing pretty pictures is meaningless in a comic if they don't emote something, and they don't do it in sequence. Leave the single-image-life's-work-masterpiece stuff to the painters, guys. Of course I may say that because I have a short attention span and could never put 40 hours in a single image like they do.

Anyway. Here the story is that this scoundrel swordsman in this pulp fantasy harbor city has it conveyed to him that a dancer in an ill-reputed inn has lost 'a valuable piece of property' of vague definition and is will reward the man that recovers it. So he sets off to meet his to-be-employer and inquire as to what exactly this property is and more importantly, how much to get it back. This is the panel when the swordsman barges in on the dancer's private quarters, startling her somewhat. I want the human figure to convey both a small shock, some apprehension and the dawning realization that this is a man here for the job and not for some other purpose. I also want the woman to be a somewhat tired person, for other reasons.

So I fire up the Cintiq and put down 'blue pencils' in Manga Studio Ex 3 layer. I use a 1200 dpi a4 page format as a default. The way I work is like so: I make the main desktop screen have a full view of the piece I'm working on and zoom in with the Cintiq to work on detail. This way I can always check if what I'm doing works on the macro level without ever having to zoom out too much from the micro level. It's a relatively fast and precise method. Manga Studio has page-rotation and other handy things that make the Cintiq a joy to use, especially if one maps useful shortcuts to the sidepanel keystrokes. I usually only map 'UNDO' to one of them, but I'd map a whole lot more if Manga Studio and Cintiq didn't sometimes mess each other up and totally forget their respective settings. Just having to bind 'UNDO' a lot to the same key has wore me out, as far as extensive Cintiq customization goes.

That strong hori line is the line of sight of the barging swordsman with whom I want the viewer to relate for this event. Naturally there'd be a panel before this with his hand on the door or whatnot so the narration works, but imagine this for now. We can see from this that the swordsman (and the viewer) is standing upright entering into the room where this woman is sitting down. This creates an immediate effect of dominance over her which is useful if you want to set an emotional mood for an encounter.

I used to be pretty mad about drawing accessories in 'establishing shots' like this one in the past. I guess it was mostly an overcompensation for my skills as an artist. I'd put everything in that shot, but I now think just a few items of importance make a more balanced view and they do not clutter the flow of reading as much. The box with the candle on it plays a part in the story so it's useful and it's excusable that it's rendered as much as it is. The bit of table we see is good because it tells us the person in the room was recently eating, and therefore on private time. The hint of a mirror and bed in the background just flesh out a living space a bit more. Believe me, I could have made this to be much, much more busy if I wanted to show off, but showing off is for illustrators that only have ONE panel to tell a story. For example I'd texture the carpet with something like this which is just... not something a sane human being would attempt.

If you're wondering why the heavy rendering on the female form for such a preliminary sketch, it's because I suffer from this condition called can'tdrawomenitis and it pays to be more careful than with anything else in the scene. I didn't use reference for the pose and though this will hurt the quality of the physiology in the final piece, there is a return for it: a bit more individual style, a bit more 'wrong' that I am comfortable letting in there. If one uses photo reference too much all his drawings will tend to look like fashion models in 'perfect' poses. I heavily dislike 'perfect' poses because they're calculated and held for the photographer. But here I want an 'in-between' not a 'key-frame' (in animation terms) because simply the woman was interrupted. She's trying to put on her 'seductive allure' face but not quite there yet.

Here I've blocked out the lights much more and finalized the crop and the topology in the scene. Usually for an establishing shot one should use proper vanishing points and whatnot but this is such a 'close' shot that I feel I can fake it without too much SCIENCE. I don't want the place to look too sterile anyway. I've dressed (sadly) the girl, though barely so (happily) and worked on some preliminary texturing to know what I want to achieve with the final inks.

Now the exact way I go about texturing a part of an image usually is more impressionistic than anything else. Meaning I don't always try to texture a rug with a naturalistic ruggy texture or flesh with flesh-friendly crosshatching and whatever. I go for an emotional effect first. However here, because this is a process post and a process picture I tried to stand mid-way between impressionism and application. I'll discuss this more in the next few paragraphs.

Here for example I am mid-ink. Check out how much I've deviated from the underlayer in the construction of the girls' face. I don't usually do this, but it's me, drawing a woman. My disease, I hope you don't think worse of me.

You can see here why the time-honored practice of tinting the pencil layer blue is useful for inking. The blue shows below, but the ink registers to the eye clearly on top. Though a remnant of the 'the penciler pencils, the inker inks, the colorist colors' production chain American Mainstream comics method era, I am quite partial to it because it allows me to focus on what I want to do on every step. I mean, when I pencil - to paraphrase Dave Sim - I am a penciler. When I ink an inker and when I letter a letterer. I do not want to be thinking about pencil art judgment calls when I am inking, nor do I want to think of what I am going to change on the inks when I put the lettering down. Whereas overspecialization is for ants, thinking like a specialized craftsman when you do something as specific as inking helps.

You'll notice I'm shading the flesh with horizontal strokes. This is an emotional effect. I've found that parallel lines for shading people makes them appear mid-move. Also if the lines are close-knit (as are these) and especially if placed on the face, they give the character a sort of tired look. Vertical lines are the best for this effect, but I preferred horizontal lines here because they unbalance her more and they accentuate the light-source.

Also, for kicks, check out a surreal Platoist zen space midway version.

So let's look at the final piece for a minute:

Click here for computer shattering big version.

As you can see I try to create a pure binary bitmap copy for printing (binary bitmap means in computer lingo just black and white, 1, 0 per pixel, no shades of gray in between) which at this day and age isn't very needed because even the cheapest digital black and white prints you can get are grayscale. However I do this because a) it pleases me and b) when you have to print comic tone, it really still matters if you want to avoid moire patterns. I didn't use any comic tone here, though. I used ink pens and the airbrush for the noise patterns where applicable. I try to take special care to 'bridge' between the airbrush and the inkwork because I don't want my art to look like two different things pasted on top of each other. You tell me if it works or not.

As you can see I skewed the rotation on the goblet-holding arm to signify a bit more shock. I wanted to also put some tendon tension on the neck (as the body does this when you're surprised) but the lighting conditions didn't react favorably to it so I took it out.

So how different it is working digitally to real life penciling and inking? Once you get the hang of it, not very. The biggest - and sincerely most important difference - is that you have a very easy way to apply WHITE on BLACK, not just the usual reverse. This makes you work looser without fearing you'll place a line that will just destroy the piece (the benefits of undoing on computers taken into account) which is for all intents, a good thing. Secondarily, if you work at a large enough resolution (like m e and my crazy 1200 dpi) this also means you can zoom in at a crazy degree and do one-pixel detail work that is pretty impossible to do in real life, unless you work at a huge canvas and/or have the steady hands of surgeon. Speaking of this, you should know that most comic artists work in canvases two or three times bigger than the printed result. An a4 printed page's original is a3 at least most of the time. There's two reasons for this: one is that this way when you shrink down for printing, details become minute and errors cannot be seen anymore. Most artists like this effect (I like it too). The other is more psychological: the original for an artist must be BIG so you can hang it on a wall or sell it and it must look like a real piece of art. I don't get this psychological effect and I don't really think my originals are amazing pieces of art worth a million or anything. I have them all stacked on one shelf in my bookcase. When I am in lack of time for a project, I have been known to work at print res (meaning, an a4 page will be printed as a4) and I don't think my work loses anything for it.

But this is a problem in digital art for me, because I can zoom so much I never know when to stop detailing. This picture for example, is a bit overdone perhaps. A good thing to do is to decide internally before you start working at a picture at what the smallest pen size you're going to use will be. This is made with pens all the way down to 0.5 which is overkill for any print version for a 1200dpi image, heh. A good place to stop is 1.0 or even 2.0 if you're not doing an establishing shot panel. Remember: from one point and onwards, not even the sharpest eye can see the detail work you did nor will they even care to try.

So a few words about comic tone, which I use a lot sometimes, and not at all at others, heh. Manga Studio is great for it, it's one of the biggest selling points, I guess. As this piece doesn't have any applied I'll show you how I handle it over a drawing eric did:

And here's the tones I put on it:

Again this is quite overkill but I was trying to help eric with options for toning. Again though this might seem like a regular grayscale pic at 72dpi that internet images display, it is made out of pure binary bitmap black and white at the original res and will print perfectly without any gray tones and/or moire patterns.

A lot of people prefer flat tone that says 'comic book'. I really like rubbing out white from a flat tone to shape volume better, it's the funnest thing for me and I'd do it professionally for other people's tone if they hired me, heh. Though it's usually a big no-no to put one comic tone over another, I really couldn't care less. Pile it on, I say!

So that's that as far as 'how does Helm draw with his Cintiq' goes. Would you like to see more Process posts? I could do one about a full page, with all the formal considerations that go in making a sequence of events flow, now that I've sorta covered the actual craftsmanship of drawing. Your voice will be my guide.



Cow said...

"Would you like to see more Process posts?"

Yes. This is a great read, thank you.

Ethan said...

I am going to have to concur with cow.

Helm said...

Alright then, I'll plot something for the future! But for now, back to the comics!

Thanos said...

Yeap. More Process. I enjoy it even though I don't understand half of it.