In the past I've been approached to do a small tutorial in the inking process of one of my 90 minute exercises. I've often times declined because that defeats the purpose of doing something in that alloted time if I have to stop every few minutes or so in order to scan and catalogue my steps. And generally I don't have the patience and free time to do such a tutorial with any kind of extensive, helpful detail.
I guess all things change (hell, I suddenly have a TWITTER account now and I could've sworn that I said that it'd be a cold day in hell before I'd ever get one, much less be active on it) and if you'd like to read along, I'll try to be as thorough as possible with my process. Come to think of it, now that there is a Twitter account - if you have any further questions about the process below, then you can ask them using that portal. I might as well put it to good use and considering I have to keep my answers to a 140 character fortune cookie response, it'll guarantee that I won't spend too much time typing anything out. Also, my dear friend DUSTIN NGUYEN has pointed out that I don't have much of an online presence and I'm hoping this will somehow help remedy that. Stick that in your online presence, Duss! Heh.
You know, I say all this sh*t now. But I'm going to bet that after a few tweets back and forth, I'm going to lose all consistency and interest, and my responses will either be few and far between or they'll just revert back to talking about triviality and asinine things. Let's find out together, shall we?
One more thing I'd like to address is the fact that I don't draw my people anatomically correct. Actually, I don't draw anything correctly. If that's what you're looking for in your comics, then you're going to be disappointed and offended by the way I approach drawing people, places and things. And to be perfectly candid, drawing and reading comics that are rendered in an ultra-photorealistic manner hold very little interest for me - save a few exceptions. That's just personal taste; I believe this industry has ample room for the plurality of expression - mainstream comics or otherwise.
It is safer to say that I draw what best helps COMMUNICATE an idea. This is a difficult concept to explain to someone who is just starting out in their sequential art illustration career. Those guys are typically inundated with critiques regarding their anatomy and their ability to draw it correctly, so I'm not surprised when I hear that they're uncomfortable or offended with my work when they see it.
For me, in regards to the style that I employ to cartooning and illustrating, it is simply NOT enough to draw a guy who looks like he's running fast. Instead, I believe that the more important point to execute is to draw a guy who FEELS like he's running fast. That, along with a handful of other deciding integers, is why I draw things the way I do. It's not rocket science and it's nothing new, but it's not for everyone. Like I said - it's a difficult concept to explain, but (using the same analogy of a person running) my primary interest is not drawing the perfect thigh muscle or the best clenched fist. My concentration is on the guy's stride; the effort or the lack of effort, the contour lines that best explains his forward motion and the tension of exaggerated muscles - all in hopes of capturing that elusive moment of communicating how fast he's really going by the way he physically emotes.
Anyway, enough with the soapbox - let's get on with the image.
Oh, and if you DON'T feel like reading, then just skip down to the bottom to see the finished version, you impatient and ungrateful bastard.
The image above represents as tight as the pencils will ever get for me when it comes to the 90 minute warm ups. I'm very comfortable with all my short hand and I've become quite familiar with the finished line that my brush pen will produce. I've purposefully left a lot of the detail OUT because I know I'll put them in there once I start inking, so why bother? Also, to do the pencils any tighter than this would be defeating the point of doing the exercise, which is predicated on speed and execution. Being very tight with pencils is not very conducive to that.
A small aside here. It may seem incredible to think about, but on more images than I care to admit, I've been thinking about its execution in narrative, rendering, and composition probably days (even WEEKS) ahead of time. Most of my work goes into the thinking about the image rather than the drawing of it. On more than a few occasions, I found myself at the drafting table being very bored when it came time to the physical act of drawing the image itself because I think my brain was convinced that we've drawn this thing over and over already and it's become quite tedious to do it one more time. Yes, I know. It's certifiable and I'm taking medication. Bear with me. My point is, I believe many of the 'land mines' we may run into as designers and illustrators can be avoided wholly if we just take a few minutes to work them out in our heads rather than hack away at the piece of paper in front of us. Nothing's worse that to go at the drawing like a crazy person, get frustrated when the image isn't working out, then step away so that we can think about it a bit more. I ask, "Why not do the thinking ahead of time?"
Everyone has their process and at the end of the day, if we all arrive at the same end product then I guess it makes little difference. My suggestion is to take the time out and really process all the little disconnected synaptic ideas in our minds about the next image we want to draw, shape it into a workable context, then apply it to paper.
Oh, it's worth mentioning that from time to time, in the middle of the process when I run into a more complex or less defined areas, I will go back with a pencil and flesh it out more. Nothing is ever 100% crystal clear as my brain isn't that efficient. But for the most part, once I've done the majority of the work by way of design, light source and composition, I'm ready to start the inking process.
I've been asked a few times about the things I think about first whenever I do a new image and to me it doesn't get any more important than these two concepts: narrative and composition. I don't want to go into them too extensively with this entry, but I do try to stay adamant about those two things whenever I do these exercises or my commissioned work. That doesn't mean I always accomplish it - as perfectly illustrated by this image; where the Bat-kids are just standing there, doing nothing, looking at each other suspiciously and wonder who cut the cheese. Narrative fail.
So, very quickly...
At the beginning of every new image, I will ALWAYS try to incorporate some sort of narrative; a little story, a little 'behind-the-scenes' that somehow gives the viewer a glimpse of what's going on in the image. Narrative is part of the visual element that will (hopefully) compel the audience to build a story in their own mind's eye. In my opinion, this is the most difficult part of my process. I mean, it's easy enough to draw someone standing/looming/punching - obvious as can be. And while it can be argued that's there's nothing wrong with that, I feel that there's always room to explore before coming back to the more obvious of choices. For me, it's an extraordinary challenge to immerse your viewer into a story that's happening in a single image - either literal or subliminal or both.
From there my attention focuses on the composition. I employ a lot of tricks in determining a competent composition for an image and one of those tricks is using something called THE GOLDEN SPIRAL. This mathematical formula has been used to explain the theoretical compositions in classical art throughout history. However, in my applications, I only use it as very loose guideline. Actually, the version I use more closely resembles the Fibonacci Spiral, which is less rigid than its logarithmic predecessor. As an example, I've layered a version of the spiral (slightly warped using Photoshop in order to better serve my example) over the rough of the 90 minute exercise.
Please keep in mind that I use the Spiral simply as theory and as a rough estimate. This is NOT meant to be a hard and fast rule of thumb, and it is definitely NOT absolute. If it doesn't work, then I just try something else.
From my experience, it allows me to position my subject matter in such a way that helps the readers' eyes to travel around the image more naturally. And sometimes, this saves my ass since my drawings have a tendency to get really busy with detail and rendering, I don't draw traditionally proportioned characters (which makes them a bit harder to decipher), and I can become heavy-handed with my designs. If nothing else it helps me with placement of rudimentary elements, and from there it's a matter of adjustments and nudging based on what I'd like the audience to see and what's more pleasing to me.
And if none of that makes any sense to you, it's okay - I'm really just lying through my teeth and I'm just randomly typing this shit out to make it seem like there's rhyme and reason to the things I draw. Good luck figuring it out. Har!
Okay, so now let's talk about inking the image itself.
For those of you who don't know, I am left handed when I draw. I never think that's anything noteworthy until A) I see people's reactions at shows who watch me draw, and B) When I'm inking a page and I have to be careful not to smear the inks with the side of my hand as I slide it across the page.
That said, I have to make a conscious effort to ink the page from right to left. A deciding factor in that R to L approach is that I use a water soluble watercolor brush pen made by Staedtler/Mars and ANY moisture will cause the inks to smear. I've been told I should use a more professional grade of ink, not just because I'm *supposed* to be a professional, but also because archival ink looks better as an original and it will last longer. One day I'll listen to them and my pages will actually look as amazing and as slick as SEAN MURPHY's.
The reason why I use this brush pen, as opposed to more traditional tools, is strictly based on its convenience. This pen is portable, mess-free (for the most part) and unlike other supposed 'archival ink' brush pens on the market, the tip of the Staedtler/Mars is made of rubber rather than felt. It holds it shape better and doesn't shred after a few uses. Its draw-backs are that it's not light fast (honestly, I don't think about that part all that much) and that it's susceptible to moisture.
So... I have to ink from right to left. And in this case, I start with Azrael. I do my best to pay attention to the light source I've established - which is technically (oftentimes, loosely) coming from the upper right corner of the image. This light source is prevalent in most of my drawings because the stroke of my brush is often dictated by my left handedness and my avoidance of running over that water soluble ink with the side of my hand. Simply put, my line stroke naturally starts from the upper right, down to the lower left - pivoting from my wrist. Otherwise, I'm rotating and flipping the image in order to accommodate an alternate line.
A couple notes about about the image so far - as you can see, I started with and inked the most mechanical line (Robin's staff) with a curved edge. It's not the most extreme of curves, but you'd be able to see the grade of that curve in contrast to a line that was inked with a straight edge. It's subtle and it doesn't make or break that concept of Robin's staff, but I prefer it over a standard straight edge for no other reason than I like to keep a dead weight line 'alive' with a subtle (almost subliminal) arc.
Next, I'd like to point out that in his design, Azrael's shoulder armor has an almost reflective property to and so I made an active effort to warp an abstract reflection of Nightwing onto them. Again, another subtle element which mostly serves my OCD. But in the long run, I believe it's a detail which better serves to define the properties of that armor without going overboard in its rendering.
From here, it just starts to become pretty systematic. After Azrael, I move onto Nightwing. Another thing to consider when using the brush pen is that since it's water soluble, traditional correction fluids such as White Out or Pro White used as effects or for fixing mistakes won't work very well because they have a tendency to mix with the solution of the ink. It turns it into a purple tinted sludge and you can't redraw the corrected line on top once it dries because it repels all forms of non-permanent ink.
In this case, I knew I wanted to to come back later in order to draw the seams in Nightwing's wings after I drew the rendering that represents the wings' sheen. So instead of my standard brush, I use a pocket Sumi brush made by Pentel which has an ink cartridge loaded with traditional ink. From there, I can add the seams on the wings using a white gel pen without any problems.
Again, at this point, things are pretty routine. I move onto Robin and finish inking him off in short order.
I use a technique which adds just the appropriate amount of drop shadows under certain parts of the image in order to 'push' an element forward and facilitating form and depth. Using the Robin figure as an example, I put a hint of spotted black under the short sleeves on his arm, under his his utility belt, and even small ones under laces that are on his shirt. Even though this is a really small and seemingly insignificant detail, I believe that it really helps with that object's tangibility.
Batgirl is inked next and I make a mental note to down-shift the speed a little in order to make sure she's handled with a little bit more care. Sometimes I get so carried away with trying to finish something - strictly focusing on speed - that I lose track of the subtleties I need to make a pretty drawing. Batgirl needed that careful attention.
Unfortunately, I'm STILL very susceptible to mistakes even after I tried to slow down - evident in the red arrows I've used to point out my mistakes in the examples above and below: the crown of Batgirl's head and the contour around her thigh. As a matter of fact, I had a good chuckle to myself in thinking that being more careful in order to draw a prettier line on Barbara might've been ill-advised and that perhaps I should have just barreled through her as quickly as I did with the men. That's all jokes, of course; the real culprit was the fact that I wasn't being precise enough when I penciled and inked the curvature of the top of her head. Her thigh, on the other hand, was just the product of bad control. It happens. I'm not perfect.
I've included a close-up of the errant line weight on Batgirl's leg and what it looked like after I applied correction fluid in fixing it. After a little bit more massaging, I get the line to the thickness I wanted and continue to ink the rest of her figure. I left the mistake on the top of her head without applying any correction fluid because I knew when it came time to ink the Batman figure looming in the background, I could manage to hide that mistake within the crosshatch rendering.
The drop shadows under Batgirl's cape, behind her right arm was really beneficial in helping push that arm of her's forward. I had a moment of pause in deciding on whether or not to make the top part of her cape black (while leaving the yellow underside of the cape undisturbed), but decided against it when I realized that most of Cassandra Cain's costume - the other Batgirl standing behind Barbara's Batgirl - would be primarily in black and that would cause a conflict in contrast.
On more than one occasion, I've found myself in a constant state of recovery while I'm inking. Sometimes it's really annoying because it's indicative of the fact that I hadn't done enough thinking during the planning/pencil stages and now I've got to do all I can, this late in the game, to try and fix things. That's just trouble, it's a rookie mistake, and I feel that should know better by now. But then there are those miraculous moments when the unintended, unplanned lines are SO much better that what I had originally wanted. I wish I had more of those happy accidents happen to me.
Cassandra Cain's Batgirl was the part of this exercise that made me salivate the most from the moment I put pen to paper. The challenge with her figure is coming up with a way to interpret an all black costume and to still somehow give it form. Negotiating an image, especially since I'm only working with binary choices - black or white, on or off - can be a real exciting challenge. Within the context of that, it allows you learn how to manipulate those binary properties in order to produce a simulated gray effect. One of the people who I hold in the highest regard is inking legend SCOTT WILLIAMS because of his incredible ability in executing this effect. I've seen a few of Scott's original pages where he's done such exquisite inking and with such mechanical precision that my mouth was left agape. He has such long, magnificent strokes to his inking work and I think it's because he inks pivoting from his elbow, whereas I ink pivoting from my wrist. That sounds insignificant and really technical, but I think (and I'm just theorizing here - I never had the courage to talk with Scott about his craft) that it makes all the difference when it comes to producing those long, beautiful lines that effectively simulate gray areas.
Who knows? Ask Scott. The link to his Deviant Art account is in the paragraph above.
So, I finish inking Cassandra Cain in all of her S&M glory. The decision to NOT make Barbara's cape black paid off and having her stand in font of Cassandra helps with their overall contrast.
Now comes the most tedious part of the image - Batman. And not just because it's Batman. But it's because I've decided to ink him using a new cross hatching technique that I'm trying to implement in a few of my B&W images which makes the task somewhat daunting regardless of its final outcome.
Again, beginning from right to left, I start rendering the stylized bats in the background. Since I'm not 100% comfortable and versed in all of the nuances of this rendering style, I'd feel a lot better if I started out on a small section that won't be too obvious should I make any mistakes in my approach. Thankfully, it wasn't too much of a mess and after cross hatching the other set of bats on the left hand side of the picture, I proceeded to render the ominous Batman image in the background. I focused on the planes of his face as dictated by my light source and tried to cater the rendering curvature of the ink strokes to best accommodate the curves of his face.
As I'm closing in on the end of rendering Batman, I realize that some of the nuances on the contour of the characters in the foreground are getting lost due to the image in the background. If I had kept the background figure a bit on the lighter end by way of rendering, then the original intent of the characters in the foreground would remain in tact (refer to the panel on the left). Instead, the natural progression of Batman's rendering made the it on the darker end. To remedy the lost intention and shapes, I decided to go back and add a white halo line around the main characters. And that solves that.
Here is the image after I'm done with all the inking. I add my signature MONTH (e) YEAR, and I give it one more look-over before scanning it up and making it ready for upload on this blog.
Viola! Here is the FINAL image after I've removed the light blue lines and adjusted the black ink using the brightness and contrast sliders in Photoshop. Done and done. From start to finish it took a little longer than an hour and a half, which is beyond the standard time frame of the usual exercise, but please keep in mind I had to keep stopping in order to take snap shots of the image to show its progression.
Okay, so there you have it. I hope those of you who visit my blog have found this stunted 'tutorial' to be somewhat helpful into understanding my process. I encourage anyone to try the 90 minute exercise so that you can build up your speed, so that you'll get more comfortable with compositions that have a strong narrative, and finally so that you'll somehow learn a better way to communicate by drawing certain visual cyphers that many people can relate to. Thanks for reading along and for trying to understand my non sequitur as best you can. I am extremely grateful for your patience and patronage.
Again, if any of this is confusing or you'd want me to expand on some of what I wrote above, please do not hesitate to use my Twitter account in order to message me. I only request that you try to ask questions that you know I can answer in as short a manner as possible. Because, you know... I only have 140 life and career altering characters to deal with. I think I'll try that until I'm absolutely bored with it. And because I have the attention span of a gypsy moth, the back and forth between us is probably NOT going to last very long.
I hope everyone is having a good weekend so far. Did you guys manage to get out to your local comic book shop and pick up some really wild stuff and possibly meet some great artists on Free Comic Book Day? AWESOME!