I started drawing comic art when I was 11 or 12 years old. Like many young people, my first drawing experiences were based on looking at and learning to draw the comics I saw in the newspapers or in comic books. I would look at the comic characters and try to reproduce them on paper. My earliest drawings were characters like Yogi Bear and the cavemen from the comicstrip B.C. It was lots of fun, but in hindsight, because I was only looking at finished art, and very flat two dimensional styles of art, I started out thinking that comic drawing was all about lines on paper.
Later, I would try to draw in the Disney and Warner Bros styles and became very frustrated at how difficult and elusive they were to reproduce. Something was missing in my approach. Most cartooning books that I read were over simplified and reenforced flat line oriented drawing. Then I found some books about animation that talked about solid drawing. Animation depends on understanding movement, on weight and balance. That was my first exposure to forms and construction in drawing, the missing piece of the puzzle. Characters were “sculpted” on top of basic 3D forms. Had I originally been exposed to pictures of these animation drawing process steps, and not just finished flat art, these concepts would have been so much easier to understand. Some people seem to be born able to easily visualize underlying forms and structure, but for some of us, it’s a learning process based on lots of practice to help us develop our artistic eye.
In this article, I hope to demonstrate aspects of my drawing process. I’ve been doing this for a really long time and I realize that there are probably many steps that I follow almost subconsciously, so if something seems to be missing in my explanations don’t hesitate to ask me for clarification.
Dr. Beauregard is a villainous squirrel. He is sort of a mash-up between a Disney forest critter and a Tex Avery off the wall wacko. He has a very simple non-squirrel comic body, except for his tail, but his real expressive character is in his head.
Here’s my approach to constructing Dr. B’s head. I try to visualize a solid form, not really a true sphere, but more of a bean shape. So I have this bean on a stick that I move around in my head to position the squirrel’s head.
It’s just an oval until you add the contours. So lesson one in visualization is to learn to turn the form in different orientations and see it as a solid. Those contours are not for show they are a critical part of solid drawing, they help to define shape and direction and orientation of solid forms.
Once you are comfortable visualizing and turning your bean form, you can begin to layer on shapes that represent the underlying bone and muscle that define his facial structure. I like to think of this like I’m wrapping bits of clay around the bean to build up the 3D structure of his head. Facial expressions are controlled by muscle movements, expansions, contractions, contortions of the skin above by the muscles below. More importantly, step two in the process is to train your eye to see lines as representing the edges for solid forms. Nature is comprised of forms not lines, drawing lines is just a way to describe forms.
Once you have your underlying framework, you add his eye shapes, pupils, nose, teeth etc. He comes to life. I like to refer to the layer above the forms as the personality layer.
An important trick, that I learned from studying the work of the great Warner Bros. cartoon director Chuck Jones, is the subtle importance of simple tiny movements or changes in the underlying muscles. The small muscle variations are the key to significant expression changes. There is all sorts of nuance in a raised brow or a curved cheek muscle. Eye shape and pupil placement are windows to what’s going on inside that character’s peanut brain.
That’s all for my first set of thoughts on solid drawing. I hope it is helpful. I plan to do more articles of this type in the future. Remember, there is never only one way to learn or do anything. My goal is to share how I learned to do what I do. Your questions , comments and suggestions are encouraged and totally welcomed.
It has been a number of years since I have written an article here on the Bristol Board and Ink. I actually enjoy writing about the process of creating comics, but I manage to get busy and not allocate any time for this activity . I hope to rectify that in the near future. This then is a step in that direction. I want not only to be informative about the process we use, but also to expose some often hidden aspects of comic creation. In this article it is important to recognize that there is a process by which our comic is created and that process is step wise and developmental. Finished work does not magically appear in a single burst of elegance, rather it evolves step by step from a rough form to a finished form .
( Note: click on images to view them enlarged )
Sara and my approach to writing comics is situational. We have developed a cast of characters whose personalities have evolved over time and we just have fun placing them into situations and watching them react. In our current adventure, for example, Agile, the bug, has been cast in the role of a costumed crimefighter. Of course everyone who follows BugPudding knows that Agile, no matter how hard he tries, can never quite do anything without somehow fouling it up. As a crimefighter, he gets no respect and so situationally his logical response to that problem is to perform a costume makeover. As expected his attempts to redefine his persona can only generate a series of humorous failures.
This particular strip, titled Wreck Tangled, is the first in that series. Agile is a very physical bug, he always expresses himself thru a wide range of physical gestures. I must confess to enjoying being his model for this type of activity and then trying to capture that feeling into gestural poses. They are not meant to be anything more than shorthand scribbles to approximate his actions and emotions. The layout of the action is highly emotional and ideally when done well that emotion shows thru into the final art.
The next step in the drawing process is to convert those poses into more solid drawings of Agile. For this strip the goal is to have Agile, who is not anything like his name would suggest, get tangled up in his latest costume design. But as you can see from these process drawings, it is funnier and more physical to capture the slapstick by drawing him out of costume first and then layering on the costume over his form in a later stage.
Now that we have Agile in his not yet costumed form, we can better visualize how his costume will look in these poses, particularly the flowing and draping of his cape.
The dialogue comes in early in the process and evolves as the drawings evolve. Sara will eventually clean up the wording and insure that it flows, makes sense and is really funny. It is a collaboration that hopefully results in entertaining strips and ultimately an entertaining adventure.
We hope that you have enjoyed this look into the making of this BugPudding comic strip. We are always glad to try to answer your questions in the comments section below.
As a comic artist, I’m always looking for ways to connect with my audience and also to find ways to earn money to offset my expenses etc. Recently I decided to create a series of artist sketch cards to have available for sale at conventions. In this article, I’ll try to give you some insights into how I’ve gone about the process.
The first decision I had to make was the format for my cards. There are a lot of people who make sketch cards on a small format roughly 2.5″x3.5″. You can even buy these standard sized cards with a light blue frame outline and the words “sketch card” printed on them. But, I wanted to work in a larger size closer to the normal panel size of my comic. That meant that I needed a card that was approximately 6″x6″. I also wanted the cards to work well with ink and/or colored markers. My preferred surface is vellum Bristol board. As it turns out Strathmore makes a nice 300 series of vellum Bristol board in a 6″x6″ pad. Depending on where you buy them, they cost between $1.40 and $3.00 for a 20 sheet pad.
As you can see in the photo above, I’ve taken the plain 6″x6″ sheet of Bristol board and customized it with an outline panel frame with the titles “BugPudding” and “Artist Sketchcard” and my copyright signature. In order to do this I take the sheets out of the pad and run them through my computer printer. I made the template for the cards in Adobe Illustrator set up on a canvas that is 6″x8″. Then I save that off as a PDF document and use that to print on the Bristol board. The reason I layed the template out on 6″x8″ instead of the actual 6″x6″ size is because the standard paper size my printer expects is 6″x8″. Even though I’m actually printing on a sheet that’s 6″x6″.
Having decided on the size and format of the blank sketch cards, I’m ready to start making cards. I wanted to have two types of cards. One type is for pen and ink drawings and the other type is pen and ink that is then colored with markers. The plain pen and ink cards are faster to make and therefore I can afford to price them for less then the colored cards. Basically it takes about twice as long to do the additional marker coloring. In either case the first step is to do a loose blue pencil sketch over which I render the pen and ink drawing.
In general I erase any blue pencil lines that show after the ink has dried. I could leave them, but it’s an old habit.
Above is a photo of the basic tools that I use to make the sketch cards. Starting with the Bristol board, I use waterproof ink both black and assorted colors. My normal style in the comic is to ink in assorted colors so for some of my sketch cards I reproduce that look. For others I just use black India ink. I use my trusty lead holder with 2mm blue lead and a lead pointer. For the actual inking I use dip pens as well as Winsor Newton series 7 sable brushes. I also have a jar of “Pro-White” for making corrections and of course my handy Sakura cordless electric eraser.
I prefer to use Copic sketch markers for my coloring. The aren’t as flexible as using a brush and watercolors, but much faster and easier. Let’s face it, time is money.
Above is an example of an inked and colored sketch card. They aren’t as nice as if I were digitally coloring in Photoshop but these are “old school” hand drawn and colored sketch cards not digital prints.
Above is an assortment of my sketch cards. I want people to be able to handle them at the conventions when they pick out their favorites therefore I needed to protect the art by putting the cards in a self sealing clear plastic bag.
I buy these self sealing clear plastic bags sized 6-7/16″ x 6-1/4″ from a company called Clear Bags. A hundred bags cost $6. The seal is great and it allows the bag to be easily opened and resealed if I need to add an additional autograph ect.
I also take blank sketch cards to the conventions for the occasional on the spot special request, but I really am too busy to do much of that during a normal convention so I try to make up a big stock of cards in advance. I’d much rather be talking to people and showing them the comic and save my drawing work for in the studio. I hope you got some good ideas from this article. If you have any questions, or other thoughts, just leave a comment.
My daughter Rachel and I both publish comics on-line. Her comic Last Res0rt is now almost 4 years old, while my comic Bug Pudding has just completed its 9th month. One of the ways that we promote our web comics is by attending conventions. It is a learning experience in many ways. First and foremost, it is a promotional opportunity, but it is also a marketing research opportunity. Conventions and shows provide a great way to gather first hand input from your readers and potential readers. Conventions are also a great opportunity to sell merchandise that can help support your fledgling publishing efforts. In this article, I want to share some of our experiences and conclusions and in particular I want to share the design of our ever evolving convention and show display.
Success at a convention can be measured in many ways and you need to plan your convention presentation to maximize your desired goals for that particular show. The first place to start is with the design of an organized and eye catching display. Here is a picture of one of Rachel’s early attempts. It’s only a 3 foot wide table space and pretty simple, but it was a start. One of the first things we both learned when looking back at this photo was to ask ourselves the question ” what does the presentation of the display say about our brand?” As you can clearly see in this first attempt, the answer is “not much”.
In 2009 Rachel and I did a major “make over” to her presentation and the results can be seen in this next photo. The branded image has improved considerably.
The addition of the banner makes quite a statement. The previous display said ” I’m a artist.” This improved display says ” I’m an artist and I have a web comic to promote.” But even with this major branding improvement we quickly learned that our visual presentation needed additional improvement. Shows and conventions are very busy places, attracting people and communicating your desired message requires using all of your presentation space to the max. Here is our latest evolution.
We are taking full advantage of all the visual planes and utilizing the vertical space not just the horizontal table space. One important lesson in promoting your brand at a convention is the simple reality that on average, at most, you are going to get about 30 seconds of mind share from a visitor to your presentation before you lose their attention. So the more you can present quickly the more you can hope to communicate your message.
One of the challenges presented in designing a display for shows and conventions is the logistical transport of the display itself. So when we were determining how we wanted to expand our presentation, one important consideration was to keep it simple and easy to set-up, break down, and haul around. As far as our current configuration, it all fits into a couple of small tote boxes and a backpack. Another important consideration is that the design has to flexibly be reconfigurable to suit different spacial arrangements. Some conventions allow for 3 foot table space, some 6 foot spaces and some 8 foot spaces. The goal of the presentation is to best utilize the space available.
The vertical frame that we use is constructed out of commonly available components. As seen in the diagram above, the basic foundation uses an amazing product call an Irwin Quick Grip Clamp. It’s a pistol gripped clamp that easily adjusts and clamps to the provided convention table. (see photos below). Rising up from the Irwin clamps we have 3/4″ threaded PVC pipe, the kind that is sold in hardware stores for yard sprinklers. I chose threaded PVC because it makes for easy and secure assembly of the structure. We use an assortment of in-line couplings, tee connectors, 90 degree elbows and snap-on tees as shown. The snap-on tees provide for adjustable “out riggers” which add significantly to the flexibility of this design. The choice of 12″ lengths of pipe also contributes to the ease of adjusting the dimensions to fit an available convention sized table as seen in this 3 foot table version of the display.
Notice the usage of the out riggers as a way of maximizing the vertical space even in a small display and how their positioning can be adjusted depending on the location of your table space in relation to the surrounding tables.
Below you can see the Irwin clamp installed on a table. These things are amazing. They’re not cheap at around $20 each, but they work great.
You may be able to find a less expensive table clamp, but it will be hard to beat these Irwin clamps for ease of usage in set-up and break down of your display frame.
Hanging art or signage from the frame is accomplished using 1 1/2″ binder rings and medium binder clips. As shown below.
I hope that you will find this display design information useful and don’t hesitate to share your own ideas. One last tip that is often over looked by artists planning a convention is build a mock up of your display presentation prior to each convention. You will save yourself lots of last minute surprises by putting it together in advance. Also it gives you time to evaluate how well the set up addresses your desired goal for the showing. You can make sure that you have provided clear and consistent signage and that you are getting the most out of your precious space. OK, it’s show time.
The following article was submitted by my good buddy Rob Campbell to give readers an inside look as his current creative process for producing his comic stripKeeping Up With Jones.
I’m a little new to doing comic strips, and not as new as I might think at drawing. I’ve probably been drawing Harleys in different styles for over 20 years, but I started taking it more seriously about seven years ago. In October of 2009, I launched a comic strip called Keeping Up With Jones, a strip about a biker—yes, named Jones—and the few people unfortunate enough to be called friends by that aforementioned scooter fiend.
For me doing the comic is an ongoing learning process that improves weekly. Since October it may appear as though I haven’t really settled on a style or a look, possibly because I’ve been trying a few different methods of production to get the job done. Rather than expend energy on the things I tried that worked, but didn’t make me happy, I’ll focus here on the things that I appear to have settled on that get the results I want and provide some artistic pleasure in the process.
I start off by bouncing the basic story around in my head and on paper until I’ve got it figured out. The most important thing is to make a start and know that I can adjust as I go. Good ideas that don’t get realized on paper amount to nothing.
I begin by taking my idea to Adobe Illustrator and put the dialog into a template I’ve created that has several different panel layouts on different layers. I hide all but the particular panel layout I’ve chosen to use for this particular strip and begin adding dialog using the text tool. This gives me a sense of how much space my dialog will take up and gets me thinking about ways to cut the word count down to make maximum room for my drawings. Then I print out a copy of the dialogue only strip and use it for doing my rough layout sketching. Sometimes I might print out several copies if I feel that I may want to work up several different visual takes for the layout.
The rough sketch is usually pretty rough for me. I’m a scribbler with no real drawing education, but I’ve learned how to gesture a drawing together from rough to—well, not so rough—over a series of drawings that spiral into the thing I see in my head.
Occasionally in the drawing process I get this kind of flickering of my eyes that reminds me of going to sleep. Only I’m not going to sleep. It worried me for a bit until a friend told me there’s a name for it, which I of course don’t remember, and that it’s my eye looking up into my brain for that image in there to visualize my drawing. Sounds like quackery, but I’m pretty sure he was on the level.
I might make several copies of the rough layout so I have the freedom to mess up a few times. It’s important that I remove all excuses I may have for not drawing, including the whiny little “what if I mess it up” that accompanies every drawing I do. The more I draw, the quieter and meeker this negative voice gets. It also gets intimidated by the brawny pencil guy who says “shut up and draw.” If I spent much time in conference with these voices I’d never get anything done, so I get them wound up on each other, then sneak away to draw in another room.
I’ve been surprised lately at what I’m able to achieve on the rough layout considering I really prefer to draw larger.
I put a bunch of blank templates in an art box I frequently take around with me so if the inspiration hits before I’ve done the Illustrator dialogue layout step I can still get right into it. This has come in handy a number of times and just makes sense considering my schedule.
By the way, the Illustrator layout template uses the measurements of the actual artwork, not the reduced final strip. I draw most frequently on 12×24 drawing paper, so once I know how the layout will go, I measure and draw the frames on the paper using a Col-erase blue pencil.
When I like my rough layout enough, and it seems like a nearly finished image, I scan it into my computer.
A few times I’ve taken the time and challenge of actually re-drawing the art on the larger layout. The benefit there is that it makes me look critically at the art and refine it one more stage before committing. However, I don’t have a whole lot of time, so I found I could shave as much as two or three hours off of producing a strip by using the original rough to trace. This means that I use File/Place in Photoshop to get the rough artwork up to the size of the final drawing, then use the marquee tool to copy and paste each panel to a new temporary document to be printed out for a tracing image. While this sometimes feels like cheating, it takes a lot of time off the job. The danger is that I’ll overlook some of the problems in the rough and trace it right into the final.
Once I have art-size prints of my roughs, I use my light table to trace each rough into place, being sure to make corrections as I go.
If I’m being diligent, I will have made notes on the rough about things to correct or emphasize. If I’m even more diligent, I’ll actually follow those notes.
I’ll then go about the process of inking the artwork. I generally start out with my set of Staedtler pigment liners, leaning toward the .5 and the .7 for most work. The .7 really doesn’t produce too thick of a line and can do thinner lines. I go back over some lines with my brush pen. I hope to transition to brush and ink at some point, as I think the line produced with a brush is much more interesting than that of a liner. However, mechanical and architectural details are served well by the pens.
Once the ink is in place, I can make any needed corrections with a bit of designer’s gouache thinned slightly with water. Some folks use a plain White Out correction fluid, but I like the feel and flow of the gouache. Besides, I feel more professional and slick using something designed for the job I’m doing.
Now it’s time to scan again. I scan each panel individually so I don’t have to stitch the thing together and hope I get it right. I scan in color at 300 dpi and adjust the lights and darks for the best image I can get.
For quite some time, I’ve been erasing my pencils before scanning the inked drawing, but I recently read someplace that you can easily get rid of blue pencil in Photoshop. Once your image is scanned, Zoom in to a portion of your drawing that has some blue pencil visible. Use Image/Adjust/Hue&Saturation (Control+u). Set the Color Selection drop-down to Blue, then click the dropper on your blue pencil lines. Now drag the Saturation to -100 and the Lightness to +100.
This should cause the blues to get pretty light.
To get rid of any artifacts from your pencils, use Image/Adjust/Levels (Control-u). Drag the right-most arrow left far enough to get rid of the various flecks and streaks remaining from the pencils. Drag the left and middle arrows right enough to darken the lines to a nice juicy black.
After doing this to each panel image, I save as a .psd that can be imported into Illustrator, where I use File/Place and drag them to the correct panel. Then I use LiveTrace’s Comic Art setting to vectorize the lines. Save the file and close Illustrator.
Open the Illustrator file in Photoshop. Be sure to put the line art layer on top and do coloring on subsequent layers. Organize them in folders if there are many layers. However, I try to keep it as simple as possible and get the line work to support the strip. The color shouldn’t be too dominant.
The line art layer I set to Multiply so that white areas are transparent. That way I can color all I want below it without fouling up my line work at all. To do the coloring I frequently use various selection tools, but my favorite is the magic wand. If I find some of my lines open, I create a dummy copy of my line layer so I can quickly and easily close the gaps without affecting the final work. I’m obsessive about locking and unlocking layers so I remember to color on the correct one.
When I think it’s pretty much a wrap, I save a copy and reduce it to the 900 pixel width size I use on my web site. I also publish the comic in a great biker magazine called Thunder Press. If I’m sending a strip to Thunder Press, I go by the specs I got from them for size and resolution.
I hope you enjoyed this inside look into my process of creating my comic. Be sure to leave comments or questions if you have any. And of course, I hope you will visit Keeping Up With Jones and become a regular reader.
There are many ways to approach creating a regularly published comic strip. Some cartoonists start with the main gag and layout the strip storyboard style while others approach their strip as a written script and then break that script down into panel shots. It is really a matter of which approach for writing is most comfortable and productive for you. My friend Bill Riling is a professional story artist at Dream Works, so it is only natural that he follows the storyboard visual writing approach to writing his comic, The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.
The layout shown above is from a strip that is part of the Freeze Tag storyline. Lewis and Cluck are explorer chickens who travel around the globe on scientific and ecological research missions. In Freeze Tag, they have traveled to the Arctic to study the habits of the polar bears. Many of the gags in this storyline revolve around tranquilizing and tagging the bears. Scientists who study creatures in the wild try not to cause changes in their subject’s behavior, but as we can see in this comic, the chickens have really gotten into this bear’s head with that unwanted collar. Bill works in loose pencils in order to layout his panels making full use of the “camera” to create interesting shots that help to tell the story and sell the gag.
Here is the final inked and colored strip as published. In this case there wasn’t a great deal of variation between the conceptual layout and the final rendering. To see more of Bill’s comic strip, check out The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck.
For my own comic strip BugPudding , I work from a type written script and compose the layouts for my panel shots digitally in SketchBook Pro. As you can see in the example above, I have more of an animation style of approach to frame organization with each character being on a separate “cell” layer so that I can work through many different composition ideas easily. The inset in the lower left hand corner is the final colored rendering.
Here is a panel layout from one of the strips in the Vapors of Evil storyline. Monroe, a turtle, and Bentley, a snail, are making their way through the Vapor Covered Wasteland in search of their friend Agile, a mutated bug. As you can see from the layers displayed, I can show or hide layers as I compose the panel to simplify my visualization and to facilitate making changes easily. Blue layers are visible while the orange layers are hidden.
Here is the final colored render of that panel with the composite of the characters and the background. To follow the further adventures of Monroe, Bentley, Agile and the other critters who live around Lake Tuberville, check out my comic strip BugPudding .
My friend Bill Riling loves drawing comics and he is a master of the classical approach to creating and drawing a comic strip. His creation is called The Adventures of Lewis and Cluck. In this article, I’ve included some behind the scenes insight into Bill’s creative process. I hope you will pick up some valuable tips and also check out Bill’s comic. Once you start following the adventures of the “Explorer Chickens” you are sure to become a fan, just like me.
Bill works as a feature animation story artist at Dream Works and his story boarding approach shows in his comic strip planning and layout. Below is a sample of a future Lewis and Cluck strip where the “Explorer Chickens” are searching for the mysterious Big Foot. As you can see, Bill has roughed out the Sunday page style layout and then written himself lots of editorial notes, in red, on how he wants to improve the final strip.
Below is the final strip. You can compare the two and you will see many of the notes incorporated in the final as well as some changes that weren’t originally noted. It’s a great example of the classical approach to drawing a comic strip and worth some study.
One of my favorite forms of humor is slapstick. A comic strip, like Bug Pudding, explores humorous situations and certainly plays around with words to create both humor and extra meaning, but occasionally all heck breaks loose and it just gets visually funny. Here are a couple of recent panels:
In this first example Monroe, a turtle who has experienced a lot since he lost his shell to climate change, is losing it after inhaling strange vapors and turning orange. It’s a “Hulk-A-Maniac” moment with a full on “choke slam” ala the WWE.
In this second example, Agile has given Monroe a gift of a replacement shell made from a pumpkin. And we get to enjoy the road rage that follows as Monroe wants to show his “appreciation” by ringing Agile’s neck.
For a cartoonist, some of the most enjoyable moments in drawing a comic strip come from doing the slapstick panels.
One of the best parts of drawing a comic strip is doing panels that are just plain visual fun. I particularly enjoy drawing action poses or “in your face” poses. Here are a couple examples from a recent Bug Pudding strip.
This was a really interesting sketch to draw. I wanted to capture as much of the explosive action as possible when Monroe leaps screaming from the trash can after becoming the main snack at the Flea Brothers impromptu party. And also capture his out right shock and terror at being their munch food.
I’m not totally happy with this rendering of the Flea Brothers, but I always have to remind myself that characters which I haven’t drawn many times before never look as good as they will after I really get more familiar drawing them. Character design is an evolutionary process. In this case this was a really early interpretation in their evolutionary design cycle. A lot more repetition in drawing them is in order.