Saturday, April 4, 2015

Gear Review: Nomad!

Hey hey! I GOT MY NOMAD! It’s pretty rad! :D

I took it out for a test-drive on the two sunny days we had this week, and I can say IT WORKS! I put it through its paces in a variety of sketching situations in the park and Botanic Garden, and so far it’s made all of them significantly more enjoyable and convenient.

I tried it on some detailed flower sketches - these usually take some time, and in the past there’s always been a problem where I have to hold the sketchbook for long periods while standing (especially in the Botanic Garden where they don’t let you sit on the grass,) and my arm would be KILLING me after a while. This is where the self-supporting trick of the Nomad was a lifesaver! I could stand and sketch for hours with no discomfort - at some points I was even resting my arm ON the Nomad! No sketchbook-holding necessary! (It actually makes a pretty comfy arm-rest.)

I also whipped it out to draw a few doggies! This is where the ease-of-access came in handy, big-time! That, and the ability to anchor the sketchbook firmly in place with the inner strapboard. I could have the bag open with a fresh page and pencil ready to go within seconds, which is awesome for any kind of animal sketching, and I could move around as I sketched without dropping the sketchbook or supplies. I found myself wandering around wearing the thing in drawing-board position, following random doggies and sketching them on the run. Mobile sketching feels so damn natural and spontaneous with this thing! It got to the point where I was looking for extra things to sketch, because it was just so fun. THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Oh, and I sketched a turtle. Okay, two turtles. This involved both quick (and stealthy) sketchbook deployment plus standing for a longish stretch of time. Worked great.

I was also able to easily whip it out to jot down some quick incoherent landscape notes and thumbnails of a couple of rapidly passing ducks. Quick incoherent notes are a frequent necessity, so it’s nice to know I can do that conveniently.

It took a little while to figure out how to work the straps and where to put the sketchbook so I could make it easy to flip open and use as a self-supporting drawing board. Here’s the arrangement that finally worked for me (you may need to adjust the strap length to get it to work just right):

Things I love about the Nomad:

  • The strap trick that turns it into a self-supporting drawing board - SO super convenient, once you figure it out! Especially when combined with using the inner strapboard to anchor the sketchbook in place! And the more I use it this way, the more automatic and natural it feels.
  • The fact that I can use the inner strapboard to keep my sketchbook anchored and open to the next blank page, with a pencil tucked in right next to it. I’ve taken advantage of this several times now in situations where I needed to whip out a sketchbook and draw something really quickly - it’s ideal for sketching animals! (The one case where it wasn’t fast enough was this nervous squirrel on a stump, but nothing is fast enough for nervous squirrels, not even cameras. Blink, and they’re gone.)
  • The fact that when I have my sketchbook tucked in using the strapboard, it stays firmly anchored. I can even let the bag hang open while I flail around sharpening pencils or fooling with my camera or whatever and the sketchbook stays put (I did this a few times before I even realized I was doing it…) Same goes for supplies, they stay exactly where I put them.
  • IT’S SO LIGHT AND COMFORTABLE. Seriously, the first day I took it out I was wearing the Nomad, my purse, and a backpack… My purse and backpack started digging into my shoulders after a few hours, but I barely noticed the Nomad was there.
  • Oh, and it's black, so it goes with my entire wardrobe.

Things I wish it had:

  • Slightly more commodious outside pockets (I wanted to stuff a 9X12” watercolor pad in the outside pocket, but they’re a bit snug for larger pads. I did manage to stow a spare small sketchbook in there, though.)
  • Some small pockets for tiny things like pencil sharpeners and small erasers. I’ll probably hunt up a small slim pouch or something for fiddly little things like that and put it in one of the outside pockets.
  • I kind of wish the inside area for storing supplies had a double-zipper, so I could just unzip the top and reach in for things, instead of having to unzip all the way around the whole thing.
  • There is a slight weirdness that happens if one of the inside zips isn’t zipped all the way… Depending where it’s zipped to, it can sort of interfere with the outside zipper. (This is a pretty minor complaint, since it only happens when the inside zipper is left in very specific spots.)
  • Instructions might be nice!

Things I still want to try:

  • The tripod attachment!
  • I want to try this thing with watercolors! I still need to work out an appropriately compact watercolor kit, though (my current kit is seriously bulky, it barely fits in a BIG bag.)
  • I have not had a chance to test how water-resistant it is yet, but knowing me that’s bound to come up sooner or later. The outside zips do seem to be very well sealed.

Now, this is a very compact bag, so it’s not going to be the one-and-only bag for all my gear; especially not in the Summer when I typically head out for a few hours with half-a-dozen different sketchbooks, painting supplies, camera, water, snacks, and possibly the kitchen sink.

But what the Nomad IS perfect for is an everyday-take-it-everywhere sketch bag. I can totally see this becoming something I grab by default every time I go out of the apartment. I’ve been wanting something like this for ages - carrying sketching gear has always been slightly awkward and inconvenient, so I’d often leave it home and regret it when I stumbled on something sketch-worthy. I’ve been compromising with a tiny sketchbook in my purse, but that has its limitations. With the Nomad, I can be ready to sketch anywhere, anytime!

I got my Nomad through the initial Kickstarter, but if you want one and missed it, there are preorders for the next batch here:

Tell 'em I sent you! :D

Friday, April 3, 2015

Comic Page Creation Part 4: Cleaning and Lettering

AHEM ignore this for now! This is a placeholder for a post I'll complete later! I have other posts to write up right now, I just wanted this to follow the previous posts in the same series to keep them all together.

(Yes, cleaning and lettering is the part of the comic-making process I procrastinate the MOST on, so it's only appropriate I procrastinate on the demo too!)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Comic Page Creation Part 3: Inking!


Part 1 is here | Part 2 is here

Part three of my convoluted and time-consuming process for making comic pages: inking, yay! For reference, we're looking at 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!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Comic Page Creation Part 2: Drawing the Page


Part 1 is here| Part 3 is here

Okay! Part two of my convoluted and time-consuming process for making comic pages: drawing the actual page! Again, we're looking at page 124 of the Wayward Queen.

Once I've settled on a thumbnail, it's time for penciling! First step is to grab my trusty non-photo blue pencil and make an unholy scribbly mess. Doesn't matter how ugly it gets at this point, it's non-photo blue, it's all gonna practically disappear when I scan it. I use the Prismacolor Col-Erase non-photo blue pencils because they're erasable (I think Prismacolor has a different brand name outside the US...) The paper I'm using is a Strathmore 400 Smooth Drawing pad, which takes ink surprisingly well; a lot of pages have been on 9x12 inch paper, but recently I've been transitioning to 11x14 inch paper so I have more room for complex scenes.

Pro tip, DON'T sharpen the blue pencils in an electric pencil sharpener, they'll gum up the works and ruin the sharpener. (Learned this the hard way.) (Same goes for most colored pencils, unless you have a sharpener specifically intended for colored pencils.)

Full confession, I'm usually drawing this stuff straight out of my head (studies and reference would be nice, but take a lot of time that I don't generally have when it comes to cranking out comic pages.) Sometimes I'll pop over to the mirror if there's something I'm just not getting ("wait, how does the hand go if someone does this?") Sometimes I'll grab my copy of Peck's Anatomy or my "Ecorché" app if I need to get really specific and accurate with musculature. (I love that app, by the way.) And of course if I have to draw a very specific item and I'm not sure what it looks like, then I will take the time to go hunt for reference. I don't like copying refs exactly (so boring; also there are copyright issues if it's not from life or my own photos;) so what I usually do is compile a bunch of relevant images from as many different angles as I can find, and use them as a general guide to make my own image. (Examples of things that definitely needed reference are that 1930's taxicab on page 49*; or Carnage's guns, which are invented hybrids, but I looked at a lot of vintage revolvers first because I have no clue about guns.)

*(Do you have any idea how hard it is to find reference for a New York taxicab for the very specific time range of 1935 - 1937? Yeah. Page 49 was delayed for ages on account of that damn partially-visible cab.)

Perspective is largely eyeballed, unless the vanishing points are somewhere on the page. Usually they end up way the heck off the page, probably somewhere in the neighbor's apartment. So figuring out perspective generally involves imagining where the VPs are and waving a ruler around along imagined lines from the invisible VPs, and then stepping back and trying to decide whether it looks plausible or does anything seem weird… Yes, this is something I'm still working on. Yes, some pages are REALLY wonky. Yes, actual perspective exercises and drawing buildings from life both help a lot with the eyeballing, I should do more of both.

I also try to figure out the approximate size and placement of word balloons in the blue-pencil stage (totally guesstimated, no way am I hand-lettering this jazz. There have definitely been some pages where I guesstimated wrong and didn't leave enough space, but I'm getting better at this.)

Anyway. The blue-pencil stage lets me make a HUUUUGE mess of construction lines, mistakes, and corrections without affecting the final scan. So this is the ugly nuts-and-bolts phase. Sometimes I'll draw multiple versions if it gets totally screwed up and so covered with blue I can't tell what's what anymore. But hey, screwing up and fixing it is what the blue-pencil phase is all about!

I could probably go straight to ink from the blue pencil phase, but it's usually such a confused mess that I like to do a nice clean pencil drawing first, over the blue pencil. Nothing fancy here, just a regular #2 pencil, kneaded eraser, and my handy kneaded-eraser-on-a-stick for pesky small areas. (I also have a pink stick eraser, but I mostly use it for removing weird schmutz or unusually stubborn spots, because it sometimes smears unpredictably.) I tend to keep the pencil very light so it won't show too much in the scan. Black areas and shading are only vaguely indicated; I'm the one doing the inking, so I don't need to spell it all out.

In the case of page 124, I ended up drawing two versions - I didn't think version one was quite dynamic enough, so I redid it. (I try not to get bogged down in redoing pages, but sometimes you just gotta start over.) Just for laughs, here's the original rejected version:

Coming up next: Part three: Inking!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Comic Page Creation Part 1: Writing and Thumbnailing

To mark the 150th page of The Wayward Queen, I thought it would be fun to show how I make my comic pages. So! Here's a step-by-step of page 124! (I guess that's old enough to avoid spoilers for anyone who's not caught up.) This is going to be pretty long, so I'll make it a series.

For reference, here's the page I'm talking about.

COMIC PAGE CREATION PART 1: Writing and Thumbnailing

Part 2 is here| Part 3 is here

The first step is writing, of course. This step is more madness than method and mostly involves scribbling incoherent things in my Big Messy Notebook, crossing things out and scribbling some more.

When some sort of plot outline starts to emerge from the scribbly notes, then I add it to this nifty "Index Card" app (most cards pixelated due to spoilers.) This becomes my official outline. I like using the app because it's easy to shuffle things around and try different sequences. Plus I can group cards into sub-outlines if I need to go into detail on certain scenes (like the Giant Fight Scene I'm in the middle of right now. It's complicated. It needs its own outline. It may even need a few sub-sub-outlines.)

THEN I go back to the Big Messy Notebook to flesh out specific scenes and dialogue. Since this is an ongoing comic, so is the writing - I try to have the outline for a given chapter pretty clear before I start it (and some idea of what happens in subsequent chapters so I know where I'm going,) but specific scenes are handled more or less on the fly.

Once I have a scene written, it's time figure out how what it looks like! This is where the all-important thumbnails come in. In spite of how simple they look, this is the hardest part. The thumbnail is where I figure everything out - what's the action, how to break it down in a sequence, how to show it clearly and expressively, how each panel is composed and how the whole page is composed, what are the actual poses/setting/props/etc, and approximately where will the dialogue go...This is hard! But once the thumbnail is nailed down, everything else goes comparatively smoothly.

Here's a batch of thumbnails for page 124 and adjacent pages... (Around this point I started using pre-printed thumbnail boxes to speed things up.) I often start with the panel layout before going into the content, because page layout is important to me - I want it to be as expressive as the content. (But hopefully not confusing.) Dialogue gets written out around the thumbnail; I tend to do a lot of dialogue edits at this stage, especially if I find bits that flow weird or are too long to fit. Some pages take a lot of thumbnails to figure out, some take less. Page 124 was kinda tricky.*

*Actually, now I have a two-step approach to thumbnails: I start with VERY rough tiny doodles breaking down a sequence into beats or shots, just to wrap my head around how the sequence goes. Then I use these tiny brain-dump doodles to determine how to organize it into panels and pages, and do full thumbnails like these examples. Unfortunately I can't yet show any examples of the two-step process yet because they're all spoilerific. Maybe I'll show that later, because I think it's giving me better results.

Coming up next: Part 2: Drawing the Page

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Legendeering: Greenwood Cemetery Day 1

Whoops, long time no blog... I've been off playing hooky on Tumblr. But I'm starting to accumulate a bunch of stuff that's going to require more robust blog posts than I can throw together on Tumblr - so I'll be dumping that stuff here!

To start with, Legendeering! It's a thing that Sterling Hundley's organized, and is kind of hard to describe... But so far it's about getting out and exploring and experiencing and recording what you experience. The official FaceBook group is here if you want to find out more (or join in!)

First assignment is to visit someplace unfamiliar three times, preferably to a location that involves some amount of exertion to visit. I had trouble thinking of anyplace unfamiliar that would involve exercise and that wouldn't require an all-day out-of-town trip... I've been living here for years, so I've already explored a lot of the best spots nearby. But then I remembered I've never been to Greenwood Cemetery, and you know, I don't know why?? I mean, it's technically walking distance. Somehow I always forget it's there.

So I went. And I'm glad I did, that place is amazing. It's HUGE. I had no idea how big. It's a freaking necropolis. And it's all hills and crazy winding paths and of course I managed to get totally lost, but that was part of the plan - its not a proper adventure if you don't get lost at least once! Also it's the highest point in Brooklyn, so you get some amazing views of the city.

Between taking forever to find the entrance, getting lost, and trying to get unlost before they locked me in, I didn't have much time for sketching. Mostly I ran around like a mad thing with a camera until I got a "memory card error" (AGAIN. Aaarrgh. Need to get some spare cards.) But I squeezed in one quickie sketch before dashing to the gates:

Not sure how many photos survived the memory card SNAFU... So far I've salvaged about a third. The rest might be gonzo. I may have to go back and re-photograph some things. Here's the best of the photos I've recovered so far (click to embiggen):

Not sure if I'll manage two more visits THIS week, the current forecast is rain-sleet-cold-yuck (it's been raining all day today)... But we'll see. Definitely going back when it's REALLY actually Spring and things are blooming. (If we ever get Spring.)

Between schlepping down there and running around on all the hills, it was more of a workout than I thought it would be. Also I found a dollar on the way back, so, profit!

Also there was this cat near my apartment: