I’ve been working this week on some of my cartoon art cards. That’s what I call those little drawings that are found on the left and right side of my Sunday comic strip “Drifting and Dreaming”. They consist of a person’s face looking out at the reader and saying something odd, amusing, funny, and clever. At least that’s what I aim for. I’ll settle for any one of the four.
It all starts with my pieces of scrap bristol. Bristol board is the name of the paper I like to draw on. I usually buy it in pads of 14×17 inch pieces of paper but I like to draw on 11×17 inch paper. So I cut three inches off the side and end up with an extra 3×17 inch piece of paper. I then cut that piece into a bunch of 2.5×3.5 inch baseball card size pieces. I’ve got a lot of them hanging around. For a decade I cut up the paper into the smaller pieces with an x-acto knife and a straight edge but recently switched over to my Dahle Rolling Trimmer paper cutter. I’ve had the paper cutter for about ten year but have never used it for cutting my art cards. Despite the guide lines on the cutter I could never get consistent accuracy in card size with it. Last month I finally just drew my own guide lines with a marker on the Dahle and it’s been smooth sailing ever since. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that ten years ago.
I make these cartoon art cards in sets of ten. So I grabbed ten blank cards. I use a sign pen marker that has been refilled with India ink and the first thing I do is draw the border and the word balloon. Then I clear my mind. That’s because I don’t do any preparatory drawings in pencils for these. They’re drawn right in ink so a clear mind and spontaneity is essential. I’m looking for weird little faces that I’d never be able to draw with my conscious mind. At least that’s how the first lines are drawn. About halfway through the drawing I have to turn my mind on and make it into a coherent face. Usually the face is accompanied by a weird hat or some weird hair. I do this for ten faces in a row. Then I write them.
The start of my writing process for my cartoon art cards is to make lettering guidelines inside the word balloons. I hand letter these because I want the lettering right on the original art and I also want a rough look to match the art. I use my Haff hatching machine to make the parallel lines rather than the traditional Ames lettering guide because the Haff is easier to use. And because I have one. The Haff is kinda an obscure piece of equipment.
After the guide lines are in place I lay out the ten cards in front of me on my drawing table and think. Once again I clear my mind and try to make the writing come into my head. I come up with some silly phrase or sentence and then look at the faces to see who I think said it. You couldn’t tell from my rough lettering but I first do the lettering in pencil. That helps me fit all the words in the balloon especially because the phrases I come up with are often too long for the space and I have to rephrase or edit them down. It’s better to erase than to white out.
Once I’ve finally got all ten cards written and pencilled into the balloons I letter them in ink. It took me a long time to settle on a pen I like for the job since the lettering is kind of small and I was lettering in upper and lower case rather than the traditional all upper case comic book lettering. I ended up using a Copic Multiliner size .5mm for the letter. I tried all different brands of .5 and .7mm pens but that one worked the best for me. I letter all ten in ink, wait for them to dry, and then erase the pencil guide lines.
Next come the colors. I use markers for those. This week I actually colored twenty cartoon art cards since I wrote and drew two sets of ten without coloring the first set. That happens sometimes. I put all twenty cards in front of me on my drawing board and one by one I colored in the background designs. I’m not sure why but I like to do all the backgrounds before I start on any of the faces. The backgrounds are all basic shapes drawn in two colors. I like to keep them simple.
After the backgrounds are done I color the figures. I like to make the faces two tone and with a simple design on them. That makes things a little more interesting to me. Once I have all the colors down I come back with one final dull purple marker and add just a little shading in. Not too much since everything is small and colorful. I just like a little bit of rounding.
The cartoon art cards journey isn’t quite done there because I have to scan them into the computer and do a little production work on them. I number each of my art cards so that I can keep track of them and I’ve learned it’s easier to number them after I scan them. My scanner software adds a “+1” to each number in the file name so it’s easier to write that number down on the back of the card rather than trying to scan the cards in some sort of predetermined order.
I make sure the scans are straight, write the scan number on the back of the card, and then put the card into a template for presentation. That way if I want to post one it’s set up to look pretty already. I also name the Photoshop layer in the document with the scan number that way when I’m making my “Drifting and Dreaming” strip I can drag the numbered layer into my D&D template and the number will come with it. Keeping things organized is the key to keeping confusion away.
So there is another process of mine for you. It might not be overly exciting but it’s a way to get things done.
I’m back from the comic shop this week and I got five new comics.
Here is the first of my “Comic Book Haul” videos. I’ve been watching a bunch of other people’s on YouTube and thought I’d make my own. It’s pretty rough but I plan on getting better.
I ordered refill inks for some of my Copic markers this week. I’ve been buying Copic markers for a few of years now and have around one hundred and ten markers in my stock. Or is it a collection? I’m not even sure because sometimes the collector’s mentality takes over and I want to get all the colors. But in the last year practicality has won the day and I’ve been buying ink refills for the markers I already own. One of the really good things about Copic markers is that you can add more ink to them. One bottle of ink will fill the marker eight times. With a marker being six or so dollars and a bottle of ink costing about the same it’s a good deal to buy the refill inks. So I do. I have the thirty six piece 25th anniversary Copic marker set plus another seventy two marker case that is almost full. The seventy two marker case I filled by buying markers a few at a time with colors that I liked rather than buying a prearranged set.
As I’ve been slowly matching up my markers with their ink bottle counterparts I’ve noticed a pattern in my behavior develop. I’d use the markers I have refills for more than the ones where I don’t yet have refills. Part of this is because I bought refills of the markers that I use the most first but part of it is also because when choosing a color I’ll sometimes shy away from the ones that I don’t have refills for. I don’t want the marker to run dry in the middle of a drawing. That would be bad. With this next order I should have about seventy five percent of my collection of refills complete. When it finally reaches one hundred percent I might get some new colors. Y’know, if the collector’s mentality takes over again.
I pulled out one of my marker drawing to write about and noticed that it was from the future. Or I had written the wrong date on it. Take your choice. It had 4/19/14 written on it but since it’s the first day of April 2014 as I write this that was obviously the wrong date. I checked my calendar in which I write down what things I worked on that day and it turns out I made this drawing on February nineteenth. I guess I was playing an April Fool’s joke on myself.
This drawing is named “Ranger Motion” and is drawn on a nine by twelve inch piece of bristol board. That’s another reason why the marker refills are so good. Bristol board soaks up ink like a sponge. Paper that is made specifically for markers is often smooth, thin, and has a surface that doesn’t absorb a ton of ink. But marker paper is often too thin for my liking so that’s why I prefer the bristol. It can really dry out a marker quickly though.
Nine by twelve inches is also a pretty big size for my marker drawings in general. I’ve made a lot of marker drawings at five by seven inches and some more at six by nine inches but usually not a whole lot bigger. It’s easier to use paint at the larger sizes but I guess I wanted something different that February day.
This is one of my face motif drawings. Or is it a mask? I don’t always know but being that the face is bright red it could be either one. As usual the first thing I did was start with a small drawing which I blew up and made a larger drawing out of. After I finished that larger drawing I scanned it into the computer and printed it out at this size in blue line for inking. I inked this one, to start, with an india ink filled marked and some French curves. After that I pulled out the markers and put down the color. Then I pulled out my brush, dipped it in India ink, and added line weight to the inks where ever I thought it was needed. The final step was to add some white highlights with a white charcoal pencil.
I’m happy with the way it came out. I went with a red and green color scheme and managed to avoid a Christmas look. The power of the light blue (Tahitian Blue one of my favorite colors of marker) even in small amounts stops the red and green from fighting too much. The purple makes a nice base for it all and settles down almost like a neutral color. The background is a bit odd being that it’s a mustard yellow. That’s not my usual color for a background but the technique I make it with is. I drag the side of the marker brush across the paper while varying the pressure I put on it to make that uneven line. That’s light purple on top of the mustard yellow which greys out and dulls down. Overall I like the airiness of the background.
This piece is all about the interplay of line and shape. There is also a lot of roundness versus flatness going on. The main bit of roundness is the guy’s head. That big round jaw and wide face . But then there is his neck and collar which flatten out as if made of paper. His eyes are circles without the roundness of spheres and his nose is hinted at but doesn’t reach out to you. The triangular marks on his face are the tipping point in the fight between flatness and roundness. They seem to play both sides as sometimes they seem round and other times flat. I’ve always enjoyed this type of interplay of space.
I’m no positive why I decided to make a marker piece this size. Though it was only made weeks ago motivations can fade fast. I think I was going to use it as part of a comic I’m making but I haven’t found a place for it in there just yet. Often I make art just for the heck of it but lately I’ve been trying to put together a couple of books of stuff and tie some things together. So far I haven’t finished any of them but until I do I’ll have to keep making things and then see what becomes of them.
This week’s comic book cover to look at and examine is “Strangers in Paradise” number 53 by Terry Moore. This one come out in September of 2002 and I bought it at my local comic shop. Once again this wasn’t one I remembered specifically but it jumped out at me as I was thumbing through my SiP comics.
This cover is a take-off on Alphonse Mucha’s famous Art Nouveau style. A lot of people have borrowed Mucha’s style but rarely with such skill. The style is decorative and pretty and Moore has got both of those things going on here. We get two pretty women in flowing dresses surrounded by ribbons and flowers. Moore is really really good at pretty.
I like the way the color holds this drawing together. I find it interesting that the black line is held to a minimum but not abandoned altogether as I often see when people uses color for holding lines. A red holding line is used for the red dress, a purple one for the light purple dress, white for the scarf, and a brown one for the skin tones. Yet he kept the black line in the places he wanted us to look at first. The eyes of the two women and the hair of the one on the right. You’re immediately drawn the gazes of the characters. One looking at the other while the other looks out at us. Very well done.
The toned down color of the background is also executed nicely. It gets a uniform brown line instead of black and all the decorative objects in it are tinted so they fade away a little. This really makes the red dress and the red flowers stand out as decorative elements. This cover is all about decoration and the gaze. You don’t see that too often on comic book covers.
It’s no fun to work on something all day only to have it not turn out well in the end. I’m lucky that it doesn’t happen to me more often but it sure did happen to me last Sunday. I was dipping back into something I hadn’t done since 2009 and now I remember why. It’s hard to pull off. What I wanted to do is mix my drawing with my street photography. How I tried to do this was by drawing masks on the people in my photos. I actually did pull this off successfully back in 2009 in two photos and figure it was time to try it again. I vaguely remember trying to make a few more back then but not being successful at it. Now I remember why.
The first part of this process is to find a street photo of mine that I like. This isn’t always easy because I take photos in such a way that I’m not looking for one image as is usual in photography but am looking for a group of images that I can organize into the picture that I dream up. It’s a different way of shooting photos. So when I have to find that one photo to turn into a masked photo I stumbled around a bit. I thought that I found one I liked but the next morning I didn’t care for it. So I looked through photo after photo on and off over Sunday morning. I say on and off because it gets frustrating looking for something that I can’t find. So I do some drawing and then go back to looking. Eventually I found one that I liked. It took a little prep work on the photo after that. Just basic straightening and cropping. I’d save the fancier stuff for later on in the process. But now I had to figure out how to draw masks over the two faces.
I like to draw masks. It’s one of the recurring themes in my work. I draw them all the time. Ideally for this project I should be able to draw the masks right on the computer. That should be a time saver and fit in with the theme. I have all the necessary equipment to be able to do it but for some reason I find drawing on the computer, even with a tablet, clumsy and I have a hard time with it. My solution was to abandon digital drawing and print out the faces onto which I was going to draw masks onto bristol board in grayscale. I printed out the faces about four inches tall so that I could draw the masks fairly large.
Of course the drawing of the masks took longer than I thought it would. Isn’t that always the case? Sometimes I can knock one out in mere minutes but in this case I had to draw them at angles specific to the faces I was using and make them work with the photo in general. It probably took me about an hour a mask to draw and then ink. I liked them too. I think they came out pretty cool.
I then scanned the two masks into the computer and gave them a quick color. That still took another half an hour because as we all know these things take longer than you think. I didn’t even bother to do any real coloring on the masks and went with some quick and basically harmonious shades. After that I pasted the first mask on top of the photo and attempted to put it in place. Except I couldn’t.
It wasn’t a matter of scale. I drew the mask at a bigger size than the finished piece and knew that I would scale it down. It was a matter of it not looking right. I tried the mask larger and smaller. I tried distorting the mask and bending it around the head a little bit more. I tried making the mask various percentages of transparency to let some of the woman’s face show through. It all looked clumsy and pointless. I decided to bring in the second mask and see if with the two of them I could get things to work. As you might imagine it only made things worse. After working on the thing for a good four or five hours I abandoned it. That’s a terrible feeling but not as bad as trying to get something to work that I know is not going to.
I now remember that one of the reasons I stopped doing these back in 2009 is that they take a lot longer than I thought they would. I like the idea of them: to take photos of people in the street that are anonymous to me and make them totally anonymous to everyone but the idea appeals to me partly because it seems so easy to execute. But it’s not. It takes way more subtly, time, and thought than I guessed it would. And it’s not an idea that I like to take up so much of my time. I don’t like it that much.
I think that the two pictures I finished using this technique five years ago worked not only because I put the time into them but because they were the photos that inspired the idea. They were the photos that made me think, “A-ha, I can do something with these”. The other ones were a big maybe and a maybe with more work attached than I was interested in giving to the idea.
Another thing just occurred to me as I was writing this. One thought that went through my head as I was finding it hard to pick a photo to use was to draw expressions on the mask. I liked the faces and expressions on some of the people in the photos since that was what I was aiming for when taking the pictures so I figured maybe I could somehow match the expressions on the mask. Within the first minute of drawing the first mask I realized this was a terrible idea since I draw the masks with weird and far-out expressions and there was no way they could match the subtle and fleeting looks on people’s faces. It was a day of abandoned ideas.