The chapter Black Gold in Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden discusses inking comics with a brush. It’s written in such an entertaining and practical way that I thought I’d like to give it a try.
I’ve always struggled when drawing with a brush because:
My hands are so shaky.
I find myself thinking of calligraphic Chinese brushwork and realise that my technique is always going to fall short of that calm fluency.
Abel & Madden highlight some appealing aspects of brushwork that had never occurred to me, for example that brush dries more quickly than dip pen.
They take you step by step through the process of inking. I like their method of dampening the brush before dipping it in the ink, which works better than going straight for the ink. Dipping the brush several times and “tipping off” on the rim of the ink bottle helps build up a reservoir of ink in the brush without overloading it.
My drawing of the shoe took just two brush-loads of ink.
I used a number 6 Daler Rowney Aquafine Sable Round and Rhorer’s Black Indian Ink. I feel that I can clean the brush more easily when using the Rhorer’s than I can with my other Indian ink, Lefranc & Bourgeois Nan-King.
In a chapter on reproducing inked artwork, Abel & Madden go through the process of scanning. Over the years, I’ve scanned hundreds, if not thousands, of pen and ink drawings but I still picked up tips from their suggested workflow; for instance, to reset the resolution (dots per inch) in Photoshop before adjusting the threshold levels (the balance between black and white).
I now feel ready to progress to their follow-up book, Mastering Comics, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures Continued, which amongst other topics, moves on to colour.
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.
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!).
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.
THE NEXT EXERCISE that Abel & Madden set you in Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is to draw a series of actions in a single panel – and to try and make the actions flow in their logical order.
The cause and effect in this tripped up/knocks over lamp is, I hope, reasonably unambiguous as the action proceeds from left to right, the way we usually read a drawing in the west, but the next frame, the stone thrower, involves a reciprocal action so it’s trickier.
Chain of Events
I had a couple of goes at the throws stone/gun misfires/lamp crashes on stone-thrower scenario. The big problem with my solution is that the crashing lamp is the first thing the reader sees but it’s actually supposed to be the climax of the chain of events.
Homework is to make up your own scenario. Thinking of slapstick action, I remembered Eric Sykes’ almost silent movie The Plank but I didn’t find it easy to set up even the most blindingly obvious stunt in my drawing.
I’m equally clueless in trying to come up with funny captions but – phew! – the great thing is that this is just a learning experience. My career doesn’t depend on finding a solution.
Perhaps I need a more ‘cartoony’ style, as these straightforward sketches have all the comic ambience of a health and safety instructional leaflet. Of course some artists, such as English illustrator Glen Baxter, have made a career out of getting comic effect from a quirkily straightforward retro style.
IN THE INTRODUCTION to Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, ‘a definitive course from concept to comic in 15 lessons’, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden do a lot to build up the kind of feeling that I used to get when I enrolled in an evening class; a slight frisson of whoa! – what have I taken on here? combined with the delight of getting started on something fresh and challenging.
Above all, their ambitious scheme of work really doesn’t seem scarily professional and they create a friendly atmosphere; it’s like the creative buzz that you can get finding yourself part of a group of disparate talents in a new class.
Well, I’m too impatient to wait for someone to set up a course here and I’m not going to take up their suggestion of starting my own ‘Nomad’ group, fun though that would be, because I can’t wait to get on with the 15 sessions. But I’ll definitely miss the discussions at the end of each session where everyone puts their work on the wall and I’ll miss the jam comics, where you draw a panel of a strip then pass it on to the next student. I’m intrigued by those.
Working on my own, at my own pace, I’m what Abel and Madden call a Ronin, named after the masterless samurai who roamed around feudal Japan. That’s so cool!
In discussing the definition of ‘this thing we call comics’, they point out that it’s not tied to a genre, such as superheroes or manga, they see comics as:
‘. . . a medium, just like “film” or “painting.” You don’t think film necessarily means movies about gangsters or cowboys, do you? Or that painting always depicts realistic landscapes? Film, painting, and other media are ways to express ideas—any you like. Comics is like that too. It’s a container for ideas.’
Action within a drawing
The exercises start not with a comic strip but with a single panel and the aim in the first ‘drawing time’ session is to depict five specific sorts of action. I enjoy these little problems and I feel that it’s good for me to do something different and work a) straight from my imagination rather than from referenceand b)in pencil (and they allow you to use an eraser too, so don’t panic).
In my work as an illustrator I’m invariably up against some kind of deadline, so I never have the time that I’d really like to be playful or inventive, also I’m always working for print and I generally go for pen and ink to produce crisply printable linework or, if it’s colour, pen and watercolour, again using the pen to give a bit of definition in print. I’ve hardly if ever used pencil – it can go a bit grey and smudgy in half tone reproduction – but now I’ve got an excuse to use it and I’m finding it so relaxing.
I’m working on office paper as they suggest, so there’s no feeling that I’m going to ‘spoil’ a sketchbook with a duff drawing.
I the freedom of knowing that what I draw doesn’t have any significance beyond the exercise.
I started the running figure in what I’d call a cartoon style (above, left) and soon got into thinking what props would I add to emphasise the action – a billowing coat, hat coming off his head. Then I thought this isn’t an exercise in using props or building a character nor am I obliged to draw in a slightly unfamiliar ‘comic’ style.
I find the concept of comics being simply a medium for expressing ideas is liberating. I don’t have to start feeling that I’ve got all that baggage of a century or more of comics history to emulate. Here it’s simply the idea of running that I need to focus on.
I say that I’m trying to avoid working in any style but, for this speeding car, I couldn’t help going for some 1930s streamlining, the sort you’d find in Tintin story or in a Goofy cartoon on how not to drive that I remember.
I’ve just finished reading Alan McKenzie’sHow to Draw & Sell Comic Strips. He’s a professional with years of experience, so his book is full of practical advice, the low-down on how the business works and the nuts and bolts of putting together a comic (he edits, or did edit at the time of writing, the British science fiction comic 2000AD). But compare his advice on drawing cars:
‘Drawing cars convincingly is where many artists fall down. Readers are likely to be very familiar with what cars look like, so you better make sure you use good reference.’
with Abel and Madden’s more encouraging:
‘If you don’t know how to draw a realistic Porsche, just draw a rectangular shape with a few circles under it: instant car!’
The latter approach isn’t going to get you a contract to draw the next instalment of Spiderman but I know which of those gets me itching to pick up my pencil and have fun.