End of the Week

IT’S BEEN a bit of a disjointed week with some work I took on and appointments taking up more days than I’d bargained for.

So what happened to my time management? Well, I did have a perfectly uninterrupted day on Monday when no-one needed me and I logged my 6 hours of 10, 20 and 30 minutes sessions and – the bonus for all this dedication – I took my lunchtime sandwich into the wood.

But, yes, that was a dull, wet day but I was warm and dry, sitting on a mat on a log in the wood as I was wearing my new waterproof (but breathable) trousers – Craghoppers Steall Waterproof Stretch Trousers. They’d be a bit warm for the summer but for a mid-autumn picnic in the woods they’re perfect. As you can see in my photograph the raindrops beaded on them.

The woods should probably be a hard hat area this month. At Newmillerdam the spiky fruits of Sweet Chestnut are falling. Despite the sometimes poor summer the chestnuts are a reasonable size, not as large as the Spanish chestnuts that you’d see at the greengrocers or on the hot chestnut stall that you sometimes see on the precinct in town, but they’d be worth collecting.

A Touch of Colour

Here’s a detail, here about 25% larger than the size I’m working at, from an illustration for the book that I’m working on. I haven’t totally decided whether it will be in colour or black and white so I’m scanning the pen and ink drawings before I add watercolour.

However, for me, adding the colour brings the drawing to life, so for now, that’s my aim for the book. If it proves to be uneconomical I can go back to the black and white scans.

When I compare final layouts, I might then decide that the stripped down black and white version is more appropriate for the mood of the book anyway but I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to add colour. It’s good practice for me.

The Pencil Stage

IN MY regular sketchbook drawing I simply focus on what’s in front of me and, if I observe carefully, as far as subject matter is concerned, the world that I recreate on paper should look reasonably convincing. Characters, costumes, props, perspective and mood should have a ring of truth about them because they’re drawn in a particular place at a particular time. It can be quite a restful way of drawing as you can let yourself go with the flow.

The latest exercise in the Drawing Words & Writing Pictures comic strip course that I’m following turns this process on it’s head. Now it’s down to me to create a plausible world on paper.

I’m now at the pencil stage, working from my Jack & Jill thumbnails (see previous posts),  to develop alternative treatments for one of the panels.

Now is the time to sort out all the components of the scene – poses, props, perspective etc – and get them them working together. These are the kind of decisions that I have to make in my occasional forays into set design and scenic painting but there I’m always working in collaboration with a stage manager or stylist, not to mention the props department. In a comic strip I’ve not only got to take on those roles but also got to act as script writer and producer, deciding on the whole approach to telling the story.

The authors, Abel and Madden, ask you to try different styles from realistic to comic book and different camera angles. You then need to stand back from your work, perhaps leaving it overnight so that you can come back to it fresh, and assess how each approach would affect the the story.

They say that you’ll soon realise that the possibilities are endless. It reminds me of the Steven Spielberg quote that when a director starts work on a film, he should feel the same freedom that a writer feels when confronted by a blank sheet of paper.

Speilberg draws the scenes for his films in a similar storyboard fashion before going to the expense of choosing locations, building sets and hiring actors.

Dark Patches

Pencils aren’t intended to be works of art, their purpose is mainly for planning and problem solving. To keep things as clear as possible it’s normal to work at a larger size, say half as big again, as the final print size. To keep the pencil stage visuals uncluttered and readable it’s best to avoid textures and shading, which can obscure lines when it comes to tracing to the final artwork. The ‘X’s in my sketches show which areas would be solid black.

Looking Wooden

I CAN’T get my wooden lay figure into the dramatic pose that I’m trying to set up for my latest Drawing Words & Writing Pictures tutorial. Every time that I move its arms and legs into the acute angles that I need they spring back to a right angle.


MY NEXT assignment in my cartoon course is to produce a comic strip layout for Jack & Jill. When we took a coffee break on our shopping trip to Outlet Village a man came repeatedly to the water feature in the precinct to fetch a pail of water. The little waterfall at the bottom of the chute is so shallow that he could get only a couple of inches in his bucket on each trip.

I think that Jack in the nursery rhyme has to be a boy as he’s paired with Jill who I always take to be his sister but perhaps there’s something about the workman and his setting that I can use in my comic strip.

Jack and Jill

Here’s my take on the nursery rhyme, inspired by the workman and the water feature and, taking a cue from the baseball hat, going for a location on a dustbowl stricken American farm.

This exercise is to take the story to the thumbnail stage only, so excuse the rudimentary sketches. The subtleties would come later, but I guess that this is as far as we’re intended to take it. As you’ll know if you’ve read previous posts, I’m following the course in Jessica Abel & Matt Madden’s book Drawing Words & Writing Pictures.

This exercise is about different kinds of transition, seven of them in total; the light bulb, for example, is a rather cliched symbollic transition to represent a bright idea.

Page two starts with a scene-to-scene transition. Different location, different time of day;

Not only a change of scene but we seem to have moved into a Mad Max post-apocalyptical world.

I should explain that the last frame represents my attempt at that almost impossible transition, the non-sequitur. Almost impossible because as readers we’ll always try and invent our own stories to link two random frames, no matter how unrelated they are.

As soon as I drew Humpty Dumpty, I realised that he has a very obvious connection with fellow nursery rhyme characters Jack & Jill, but as he’s a poster boy for nonsense and paradox (he even gets a mention in Finnegan’s Wake), I want to keep him in there.

In fact, having got a taste for telling stories, something I very rarely attempt, I now want to know why he’s talking to someone about asparagus. I’ve got a theory.

Chairs, Dog and Baby

My sketchbook pages for the past couple of days include sketches of my brother’s Welsh springer spaniel.

The Pheasants are Revolting

IF YOU START working out your ideas for a comic strip with thumbnails (quick pencil roughs) you can check that all the elements of the story – words, pictures, the way they break up into panels – fit together coherently before committing yourself to anything approaching final artwork.

This exercise from Drawing Words & Writing Pictures  calls for you to create your own characters, perhaps taking inspiration from staple characters of long-running comic strips such as a married couple, a group of children or talking animals.

I looked out of the window for inspiration but Biscuit the Welsh pony in the meadow wouldn’t work because he’s always on his own. Barbara suggested that the characters with most comic potential in our garden are the pheasants. Her favourite is the female who stands under the bird table pecking fallen sunflower hearts from the edge of the patio, as if she’s sitting at a desk.

The male struts about pompously, so you assume that he’s always heading for an undignified fall.

With my first quick draft I realised that I didn’t need the ‘desk’; amusing as it is, it plays no part in the story. To present the dialogue in the correct order I needed to move the female to the right.


Shaggy Parasol

THERE’S A NEW fungus emerging on the edges of the woodland rides at Newmillerdam, Shaggy ParasolMacrolepiota rhacodes. As you can see from these two young specimens, which had been uprooted, they don’t start out with shaggy scales; the one on the right still has its cap almost intact while the one on the left has broken the surface of the cap as it continues to expand.

Roger Phillips in Mushrooms classes it as edible but warns that it ‘may cause gastric upsets in some people’.

Ash and Bramble

THIS IS the kind of building that I find myself drawing when I doodle; a series of triangles, semi-circles and rectangles. I like those interlocking roofs. The tower has a compact sturdiness, like a pepper-pot or a chess-piece.

The clump of ash saplings and one or two shoots of bramble (top), growing in a courtyard amongst buildings is the kind of subject that Frederick Franck often drew in his Zen of Seeing books. Unlike the building, you can’t simplify this tangle of vegetation into geometric shapes, you’ve just got to let yourself go and hope that the rhythms that run through the clump will appear in your drawing.

A man-made object such as a fence-post or old wall would give some definition and contrast but all that I had available was the grid of the paving slabs.

Different Planet

I’M BACK exploring the final frontier; comic strips. Here’s the next panel in the little story that I’m illustrating as part of the Drawing Words & Writing Pictures course.

My first attempt had the astronaut planting the flag but for him to do this with his right hand was awkward, if I wanted to keep the left to right action that runs through a western comic strip (it goes the opposite way in Japanese Manga comics).

Hopefully the implication is that he has just planted it himself, rather than discovered an existing flag on the moon he’s just landed on.

It’s tricky explaining a sequence of events in just one panel, but I can now move on to the end of the story. These last two panels show his return being greeted with much fanfare and his realisation that he’s landed on the wrong planet.


The next part of the exercise is to add some extra panels and gags. The first thing that occurred to me was to cover the abrupt jump from moon to alien planet so here’s the lunar module heading back on its return journey.

How does the astronaut become lost in space? It’s got to be his sat-nav that’s faulty. Uttoxeter was the first town to mind when I thought of sat-nav, so Utopia sounded like a suitable name for an alien planet. Taunton and Titan might just work or Mars and Marsden . . .

No, it could only be Uttoxeter. That ‘x’ in the middle makes it sound suitably alien. Or wrong.

Just to tie things up I include a frame to show touch-down on the wrong planet.

Here’s the new, extended sequence;

Seeing all eight panels together really gives the impression that this is some kind of a story.

So my truncated new story could start with the sat-nav problem and end with meeting the aliens. Not very funny but at least it has a beginning a middle and an end. I have much to learn.

Blast Off!

‘WE HAVE ignition!’ . . .

I’ve been eager to get back to my Drawing Words & Writing Pictures tutorials but other commitments intervened however here I am with a – shh!, don’t tell anybody – free weekend so I’m resuming with the chapter 3 tutorial The wrong planet, an activity devised by Pahl Hluchan.

I’m starting by illustrating their suggested five panel story. Each panel is drawn on a 3 x 3 inch square of cartridge paper to which I’ll add extra panels to pad out the action and extra gags if I can think of any, then subtract panels to see how few panels my extended story can be whittled down to.

Post-it Panels

A three inch square of cartridge is a fiddly piece of paper to draw on; the tutorial recommends using post-it notes which sounds a better idea as they’d stay put as you work on them, but I hadn’t got any, so I’ve cut down some 120 gsm Canson cartridge which is a pleasanter surface to work on than the scrap paper that I usually grab for tutorials.

The panels need to be separate for the editing process. This is intended to be a group exercise where you’d mix and match each other’s artwork, sticking the post-it notes on the wall, but I’m going for the one-man version, for the kind of student that the authors refer to as a Ronin, a Ronin being, as I mentioned back in the summer, a freelance samurai who wandered around feudal Japan, or, in my case, a wilfully reclusive freelance illustrator enjoying being holed up in his studio for the weekend (shortly after I wrote that Barbara and I had to pop out with an urgent book order!).

Lamy Safari

Pentel Brush Pen

I’m using my Lamy Safari fountain pen which is my current favourite for writing and for relaxed drawing. I’ve been inking in the blacks with a Pentel Brush Pen.

The Safari is filled with a Lamy ink cartridge. I haven’t tried it with waterproof Noodler’s ink.

Link; Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden