COMIC PAGE CREATION PART 3: Inking!page 124 of the Wayward Queen.
Pencil is done, time to ink! (This is the part that takes forever.) First I put in the panel outlines, and anything that involves rulers and templates (straight lines, precise circles and ellipses, etc.) I use my set of Micron pens for this, and a collection of transparent rulers and templates (I admit I don't use the French curves very often, but sometimes they're handy.) As long as I have my Micron pens out, I may also put in some of the smaller details (It's easier to do these with a pen than a brush.)
Next I start inking all the line work, which is, like, 90% of the inking phase and takes the longest to do. For this I use a Utrecht 228 #2 Sablette brush. For ink I like Speedball Super Black because it actually goes on BLACK, not all gray and washy. (My all-time favorite ink was Pelikan India Ink, but it doesn't seem to be available in America anymore. Bummer. That was good ink.)
I seem to have a rather idiosyncratic routine for inking lines... The first dip of the brush into the ink is pretty ink-heavy, so on the first dip I ink thick lines or the outlines of black areas; then I dip again, and the second dip is just the right consistency for fine-to-medium lines. As the brush runs out of ink, I ink smaller details that need less ink. After using up the ink from two dips, I rinse the brush and repeat.
What I'm going for is clean-but-expressive lines with a lot of thick-and-thin variation, but not too much. Getting the right amount of control takes a fiendish amount of practice - I can't say I have total control yet, and I'm not sure I’ll EVER be completely free from that subconscious feeling of panic every time I go to ink an especially tricky curve... But I've come a long way since I started this comic! (The first dozen pages or so were all "AUGH what am I doing how does this work WAIT I didn't mean to do that HELP!!" Fun times. And lots of white out.)
More lines inked… Somewhere in the middle of inking, I start putting in the swashy special effects. THIS IS THE SCARY PART. This is where I take my big sumi brushes and, well, SWASH them around to get those loose, brushy effects. This takes hella practice. I'm barely in control, here. I've got a whole range of sumi brushes in different sizes, so I can do a pretty good range of effects. (Still hunting for a replacement for my smallest sumi brush, which I inherited from Grandma. I think she got it in China, like, 50 years ago….)
Continuing to put in all the lines… (Have I mentioned this takes forever?) Yes, Erro's hair is a bitch to ink. I'm holding my breath the whole time I ink that damn hair. It doesn't help that most of the rest of the cast has complicated hair, too. If we ever end up with Erroneous, Mezereon and Minerva all on one page it's gonna be death by hair, I swear. (Surprise Plot Twist for Chapter Two: HAIRCUTS FOR EVERYBODY)
Areas that get filled with black only need a nice clean line on the outside edge, so that's what those sloppy parts are. Heck, I'll often deliberately slop into the black areas to remind myself to black them in later. If there are any detail or super-fine-line areas that I want to have a looser look than technical pen, I might use a crowquill pen for those (I don't think this page has any, though.) (Clouds are almost always done with a crowquill pen, and so are some chainmail effects if they're not super tiny.)
When all the lines are done, it's time for the rest of the special effects and drybrushing. This is where I put in all the bits that I want to have a looser or rougher look. Some of this is more messing with sumi brushes. Most of the smaller details are done with my rather involved drybrush technique. For this, I save my old 228 #2 Sablettes after they're too scruffy for inking clean lines. In fact, the scruffier they've become, the better. I also save the dregs of my last bottle of ink - the stuff you get when you're nearing the end of the bottle, and most of the liquid has evaporated and the remaining ink feels very dry and thick to work with. It's useless for clean lines at that point, but perfect for drybrush. (If it starts to get TOO thick I might top it up with a little bit of fresh ink to keep it just the right consistency.)
I use the brush dry (if it's wet before I dip it in the ink, it won't look right,) and keep dipping it in the ink without rinsing until it just won't brush anymore - then I rinse it and let it dry completely before dipping again. (I have a few scruffy brushes, so I can switch to another while the first is drying.) This is hell on brushes, but it's okay because I WANT these brushes as scruffy as possible. The combination of old, dry brush and old, dry ink lets me get rough, broken lines and rough textures - useful for things like rocks and trees. (And spikes. And Iris' eyes. And Schwartz' beard.) It's a finicky process to get just the right line quality, though, so this step can take quite a bit of time.
Once all the lines and special effects and drybrushing is done, the last step is blacking in! This is the easiest part, so I often leave it to the last minute (i.e. right before I scan the page.) This is pretty straightforward - I use a few different sizes of round nylon brushes and, well, fill in the black areas. (I use the Utrecht 234 series brushes for this, but any old watercolor or acrylic brush would work fine.) Before blacking in, I erase any obvious pencil marks that are still visible - erasing after I black in tends to rub off some of the flat black areas and make them a little lighter, which is annoying.
Add a few more tiny details with technical pen, like Carnage's bullets and buckles and Fursovich's bandolier patterns, and a couple more bits of drybrush, and we're done! Ready to scan!
FIXING MISTAKES: If there are any mistakes I want to fix before scanning, I fix them with white gouache. I like this a lot better than any of the white inks I've tried - for one thing, the gouache doesn't dry up if I don't happen to use it for a few weeks. Gouache is nice because it has a lot of flexibility in how it can be applied, and it dries matte and not too slick, so it's easy to ink over. But it's not waterproof, so if you need to do wet washes over it or something, that might not work so good.
If there are mistakes that don't interfere with the actual image, I tend to leave 'em and clean them out in Photoshop. (Especially things like swashes that slop outside the panels, or smudges in the margin from drawing while eating blackberries. Or in one case, doggie pawprints.) (The hazards of drawing in the park…)
Next up: Scanning, Cleaning, and Lettering!