I’ve broken it down into steps and even though this isn’t necessarily the exact order in which things actually always happen in reality, it is the easiest way to write about it. For me, the steps often overlap like crazy.
I’ll talk about drawing these two panels as an example;
Step 1; Thinking.
I think and think and think for the longest time before actually putting pen to paper. I have a long commute to work, so I have the luxury of spending an hour and a half sitting down to think each day. This particular project has been on a back-burner for a few years now, and I’m happy enough with the way I’m drawing and thinking about it at the moment to dive in and get it done.
Step 2; Research.
Not exactly the same thing as thinking, but similar. I like to think of it as either storing all your thinking outside your head so you can get to it easily or confirming your thinking. I’ve read four or five books on the topic I’m writing about, I’ve watched documentaries, scoured archives and libraries for reference and I’ve annotated much of it. I’ve put together timelines, sketched characters, roughed out scenes, and summarised key points that are going to keep the story moving.
I also find as much photographic reference as I can. You can’t have too much reference.
For this, I’ve been using iA Writer on the iPad to take notes whilst reading the old fashioned ‘analogue’ books that you used to see around. I find iA Writer useful because it is a really stripped down text editor that leaves you free from distraction. It can save to dropbox too so I don’t have to worry about syncing and transferring word documents all over the place.
I load these notes into Scrivener and go about structuring the whole thing there. Scrivener allows you to organise all kinds of different formats and templates and has frankly been a godsend. Well worth investing in if you struggle to keep things in order like I do.
Step 3; Scripts
I take the research I have and break it down into a rough script. It is usually very rough, and if I’m doing dialogue, I have to act it out or record myself running through it to make sure it makes sense. I type it all into Scrivener, which formats it like a ‘real’ script for me. This makes very little difference to the quality of the writing, but it does press all the right OCD buttons for me, so there you go. I keep my scenes separate so that I can segment the whole story and focus on the task in hand.
Step 4; Roughs
Working from the script, I break it down into panels by colour coding chunks of the text. I don’t like to break it into comic pages while I’m actively writing it as I tend to get lazy and convince myself to cut corners.
Now is a good time to have a look at my workspace.
I draw on a cutting mat because I like the slight bite that the surface gives. This is unnecessary, but I like it. I have light sources (window, lamp, lightbox) to my left because I’m right handed, and pens, brushes and ink to the right. I keep doodle-paper to hand to try things out.
I rough with pencil on plain A4 paper. I use a printed out grid template on top of the lightbox. This is a flat lightbox that is so handy. It is flexible, doesn’t get hot and is probably about 300 gsm thick. Very practical. The only problem, is that it puts out a slight high-pitched whine and isn’t super bright through the watercolour paper I like using. This means I am spending this summer inside with the curtains drawn for the most part like a sickly Victorian child.
Working from the reference I’ve collected I rough out the panels. Rough in this instance means ROUGH. I know some people like to get in as much detail as possible in the pencils, but this is just for me to work from, so I am the only person that these really need to make sense to. It also helps me work quite loosely on the final page. I don’t want to kill the feeling of spontaneity on the page by over-labouring it.
I prefer to make my mistakes here rather than on the finished page. If I mess up a panel or have to re-think anything, I have a few options. I can re-draw the whole rough, paste over blank paper and work on top of that or scan it in and tinker about with it in photoshop.
The roughs take the longest time for me. Once I’ve got them done, I can breeze on fairly rapidly, but I really spend time on the roughs, trying out things that do and don’t work.
Step 5; Drawing
Once I’m relatively happy with the rough, I stick it to the back of a page of 200 gsm cold pressed watercolour paper with masking tape. Goldline do a reasonable pad of a hundred sheets for about a tenner. It is larger than A4 too, which suits the scale I draw at most comfortably.
I only tape it at one end, usually the top. Although I don’t want it to move about whilst I’m drawing, I also want to have the option of quickly going back and changing something if I want to.
I’m sure I’ve posted about it before, but I’m using a fine Platinum Desk Pen a lot at the moment. I find it pretty comfortable to use. It gives a slightly variable line, which I really like, but I worry that I’m a bit heavy-handed with it. It has been ok so far though.
You can see from the image above that I don’t really stick all that closely to the rough. I treat the rough as a guideline not as a rule. I’m still working from the same reference images too, so if there is something I want to embellish, I can.
It is worth noting that although I’m working heavily from reference, I am not adverse to just making it up. As long as it isn’t dumb or obviously wrong, make it up. Few people will notice if you do it with confidence, and fewer people will be big enough jerks to point it out if they do notice.
Once I’ve got the inks down I can get some tone down.
I’m using ColourDraft Brusho grey ink powder. This stuff is really potent, a little goes a long way. I’ve mixed up a jar to the strength I want, which I keep capped when not in use. I don’t trust myself not to drink it by mistake. It is also water-soluble, so if I forget to clean the brush, it isn’t the end of the world. I tried out some screen tones for this strip, but it looked far too mechanical. I wanted something simple and loose to match the quality of line and the way I draw.
I lay down the ink in a few layers to get the tones that I want. It dries pretty quickly, but this is the reason I’m using watercolour paper. Most other papers I’ve tried this with buckle up and cause more trouble then they are worth.
In a similar way that I keep the pen work loose by denying myself detail in the roughs, I try to keep the brush work loose and spontaneous by having a brush that is far too big to be practical for the scale I’m drawing at. This means that I go over the lines all the time. Sorry primary school art teachers, but this is fine with me. I like drawing without a safety net. If I really mess this up, I have to start the panel again. I embrace the errors and move on with unshakable confidence. That’s what everyone does, right?
I use a diluted wash for bits like the sky. It doesn’t need much, but it is enough to give it a hit of depth.
And here’s those two panels. I let them dry before I scan them in.
What you see drawn in these panels probably took about 20 mins per panel from start to finish. It seems really quick, but the roughs take so much longer than that, so it all balances out in the end.
The Photoshop stuff is nowhere near as interesting to be honest. I photo merge the two parts of the scans as I don’t have a big scanner at home. Then I use the quick select tool to select all the margins and gutters, invert the selection, refine the edge and put the freshly isolated panels on a layer by themselves. This is just a matter of preference for me though.
Then I start it all over again and again.