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.

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