Saturday, May 9, 2015

Behind the Curtain

I've always found an artist's process interesting; several years ago there was a great book out on various cartoonists called In the Studio(Todd Hignite; Yale University Press; ©2006). It featured a number of my favorite contemporary cartoonists; Crumb, Seth, Jaime Hernandez. It was both informative and entertaining and I devoured it. I think I read it in a night or two.
Jetpack Jr. ink on vellum; ink & blue pencil on Canson Art Board
Recently, I revised my process to better accommodate the digital work I do in Photoshop, while retaining the hard-copy paper original. It's old skool, I know--but I'm loathe to let go of the original, not so much for tradition's sake, but I prefer being able to conceive of the work in real space--it helps me with scale, proportion(panel to panel-as much as figures within the panels) and most importantly, rhythm; the rhythm of the images and the words together across the strip. I like being able to judge the flow of the entirety in real space. What can I say?  I'm old!

I start with the sketchbook--in my case just a little composition notebook(the kind you used in third or fourth grade) and a tape recorder. I tape ideas and notes while driving on my long commute back and forth to work--and listen to them later--sped up so I sound like I've inhaled helium. It's more interesting listening to yourself that way.
Anyway-after I've loosely blocked it out in the notebook--and written and re-written the text, the next step is to work the strip out in blueline(w/non-photo blue pencil) on 11" x 17" Canson Art Board.  Initially, I keep things really loose, blocking out the text first, after which I begin to work out the figures. I may draw and re-draw several times before pulling something that I can live with out from the tangle of lines.  

Previously to "Jetpack", I'd been going over the blueline in 3B or 4B pencil--then scanning the pencils as text at 600dpi. The result was increasingly disappointing to me, and needed a lot of clean-up.
It also made the coloring I do in Photoshop unnecessarily difficult.  

I've changed the process to better accommodate the work I do in Photoshop and to make life a little easier--and hopefully a little speedier( as juggling a full-time job and a comic strip doesn't leave a lot of time).

In the new process, I separate the figures and the backgrounds into two physical layers-as in traditional cel animation. I work the backgrounds on the Canson Art board in ink(Pentel fine-line markers) over the blueline--and then, with the markers, I trace the blueline figures and text  onto translucent vellum. The vellum has a beautiful surface for the markers' ink--and the process eliminates the clean-up I'd spent so much time doing before. After some erasing on the art-board layer, I scan the pages just as before.
Jetpack Jr. on vellum. from the April 26. 2015 strip on GoComics.

Once in Photoshop, I work on each layer separately and bring them together at the end-just as in cel animation. Of course I make any necessary color adjustments at that point. Sometimes I'll finish coloring the figures and lay them over the background before I've colored the ground. That way I can mold the background colors to suit the figures. I turn the figure layer on and off as I need before merging the two in the final.

Obviously,  I'm mimicking the process of working in Photoshop layers but in vellum and board. Still, it's working great for me--and while I know it's easy to do working on a Cintiq, Wacom or Surface Pro tablet--for now, anyway--I prefer having an original hard copy--and it's giving me a lot of freedom in coloring that I didn't have before.

1 comment: