December 27, 2008

December 22, 2008

This week: Printed Lettering Guides

Many folks can get away with unruled, freehand lettering in their comics, and have it looks fine, or even good. My all-time-favorite-cartoonist Lewis Trondheim doesn't rule out his lettering, and I have great affection for it. But I am not one of these people, and most people who think they are really aren't. Unruly lettering looks cheap and lazy, and it's rediculous how drastic the improvement would be in many people's work would be if they just used some straight lines to help tidy things up.

The tried-and true tool for ruling out lettering is the Ames lettering guide. The Ames guide is fantastic- it rules 3 lines of text without you having to move your ruler. It's adjustable, so you can letter as large or small as you care to. It rules upper and lower case letters. The spacing the Ames guide uses will garauntee that if you follow it at all, your writing will be at least somewhat typographically tasteful. And it rules letters with 4 distinct kinds of line spacing. Plus, it makes a great right angle for small corners. It's a fantastic little tool, but I'm not going to teach you how to use it for two reasons: first, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden wrote a textbook called "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures," and they have a detailed, fully-illustrated four page section covering nothing but it's proper use:
Their book is fantastic, a resource every cartoonist should have around, along with Scott McCloud's "Making Comics" and David Chelsea's "Perspective for Comic Book Artists." Secondly, the Ames has a few drawbacks that have made me move away from it as I've become more finnicky.

First off, you can only rule 3 lines at a time with it. More than 3 lines of text? You have to match the thing up with your bottom line to draw more. Pain in the neck. You have to pencil the text lines onto the page, which I hate, because I like being able to move text around up until I ink it, sometimes very minutely. Redrawing lettering is bad enough, but having to re-pencil guidelines? Somebody shoot me. And the Ames guide can only rule lettering with the proportions of it's letter spacings. Let's say my lettering doesn't quite match the Ames proportions. Let's say I have a lettering style that looks good, is well balanced, but doesn't fit. I'm out of luck, then.

So a couple years back I heard this tip from...someone. I wish I could remember who, so I could give them credit. They said that they did a bunch of freehand lettering, picked out some they liked, and printed out a page of lines that were ruled to match that lettering. They stick the lines behind the page on a light box, letter away, and boom! they're done, no lines to erase. If they don't like where the lettering is, or they want to change the text, they don't have to re-draw any lines.

I tried it and I've been doing it this way ever since. Here's how I do it now:

First, I take some lettering I think looks pretty good, like this, which I just drew freehand with a marker.
I scan it and pop it into Photoshop. I pull down a couple guides and then rotate the text to match up straight with those guides.
Now that everything is straight, I pull down one more guide, which shows how far down the next line is.

Then I make those guides actual lines.

Then I just multiply those lines, like this:
I remove the text layer and print the lines out, like so:
Here's how it looks on the light box:
And here it is finished:
As you can see, it has the same spacing and character of the lettering I did freehand, and now I can guarantee it will be consistent.

By the way, I did all this lettering with this marker:
It's a Copic Multiliner. I LOVE Copic markers. I just bought one recently, and it writes better on my rough vellum bristol than any other marker period. In fact I'd say that it's the only marker that gives me acceptable results on vellum. Even my pricey Deleters don't to as well. It's a sexy, well built marker, too. It's made of VERY solid metal. The thing feels like a Japanese beer can. (If you've ever handles a Japanese beer can you know a good way to kill a frat boy would be to dare him to crush one against his head. It would go right in.) The cap seals tighter than any marker I've ever used, and it also holds into the back nice and securely. And the tips are REPLACABLE! The ink is waterproof and marker proof, though I don't see anything that says it's archival. But it is pigment-based, so it won't separate chemically into different-colored bleeds over time like the evil Sharpie will.

December 21, 2008

Hi everyone,

I was up till seven in the morning last night and it's four o'clock now (I've been under Linksome deadline pressure lately), so I'm gonna tuck into bed and assemble this week's entry tomorrow. I have the photos readied, they just need assembling.

In the meantime, here are some tools I came across on a neat blog called "Cool Tools", and I thought some people might find them helpful:

This is a mechanical pencil that has a mechanism that rotates the lead a tiny bit with every stroke, preventing it from developing that chisel profile mechanical pencil leads ten to get as you draw. I personally strive for that chisel shape and can't draw with a lead that doesn't have it, (by using the blunt side I can keep my lines indistinct enough for inking and also not dig into my paper as much), but I know many people actually rotate their pencil by hand to prevent it, and according to the review this pencil is solidly built and long-lasting.

I don't use the kind of lead pencils that need sharpening, but if you do, I can concur with the review that this is the best lead pointer available. And here is their review of the sort of pencil you'd use with the lead pointer, if you've never heard of a lead holder pencil as opposed to a wood pencil.

Here's my favorite tool that I saw on the blog: a Japanese paper drill, which is a punch that rotates as you press, putting a neat hole through up to 15 pages of paper in one press, anywhere you want it. I bet you could do some fun things making minicomics with this thing. Off the top of my weary head, you could do a comic where someone had shot holes all the way through the book. Or you could bind the book with paracord, since the holes would be just large enough. Or you could do a comic about facial piercings, draw a face on the cover, and pierce it according to people's requests when they bought it. Or, you know, it doesn't need to be a face on the cover. You could get crazy. This thing just looks like an amazingly fun little toy.

Okay, so I'm gonna go to bed, and I'll post my tutorial tomorrow. Good night!

December 14, 2008

This Week: FortitudeThis is where you live now.
A two page spread of the thumbnails I'm working on. After roughing in a figure I liked alot, I realized I'd not left enough room to the right for the other characters.
Tracing is great for saving detailed work, but it's more trouble and time than it's worth for roughs. So instead, I leave a ghost of the previous image when I erase, so I have it there to refer to when I re-draw it.
Here's the re-drawn panel. The space feels more real, nothing is cramped, I didn't lose my pose from before, and I feel good lust looking at the page. And the best part is, even though it took me several minutes to get that pose the first time, it took me less than a minute to draw it again, and do it right this time. Time well spent if you ask me.
I use pre-printed word balloons so I know how much room the text will take up and what shape it will be, but sometimes I notice that I could have done a better job, so I utter a few curses and then cut it up and assemble it right.

Most careers that involve doing something you love require that you adapt to some harsh conditions that most people would consider too much to handle. Cooks have to adapt to standing long hours and heat. Standup comics have to overcome fear of judgement and public failure. I think the reason being able to do what you love is so rare is because the cost of doing it is so high.

In cartooning, that cost is in hours and toil. Cartoonists work longer than people probably suspect we do for much less pay than people probably think we get. There is no boundary between our work life and our personal life. Every moment you're not doing work, you're thinking about it, and more precisely, you're thinking about how you ought to be doing it. Days of your life will pass with no memories, no social interaction, nothing but you and the work. But a cartoonist's days leave behind pages, and the creation of these pages is worth trading our lives for, day by day.

The roughest times aren't the ones where you're grinding along, working insane hours, and kicking ass, though. It's the times where you have to work but you don't feel like it. This is when the lack of seperation between personal life and private life can really start to get on your nerves.

For the last week I've been cranking away to meet a deadline, working until five in the morning the last 3 nights, never going to bed before four. I also developed a sinus infection earlier this week, and every morning until today I woke up and immediately started hacking up blood and infection. Want to wake up feeling lousy? Go to bed with the sun coming up and wake up coughing out what looks like a mashed beetle. And then work another 14 hour day. And the next day.

I feel good about the work I'm doing, but I'm not working this hard because I want to, I'm doing it because I have to. The way I stay balanced is by making sure that nothing leaves my table that I'm ashamed of. But it's SO hard not to get lazy. It's so hard, when you're ready to move on to the next page, and you see that a panel could be re-shot from another angle to be a little better. It's so hard not to say "It's good enough, no one will care," and move on to an earlier bedtime.

But what I know is, when I buckle down and do it, I'm always proud and I sleep soundly, and when I don't do it I sleep with a thief's conscience. When I do it, people look at those panels and compliment me, and the memory of that praise obliterates the memory of the labor, but when I don't do it, I know what I did and the work feels wasted and pointless.

Nest week really will be about Printed Lettering Guides.

December 7, 2008

Reader tip:

In last week's entry about the pointed drafting divider, I explained how it can be used to find the midpoint of a line without measuring.

Reader Ethan commented:

You know that there's a much easier way to find the exact midpoint of any line, right?
Set your tool to be obviously larger than the halfway point. Place one end at one end of your line. Mark an arc that crosses the original line and extends far enough on either side that when you make the same arc from the other end of the line, you get two points of intersection (like a venn diagram). The line connecting those two points of intersection will always go straight through the exact midpoint of your line. Geometrically. Without guess-and-check.

In my comment back to him I replied that I did know about it and that for various reasons I didn't include it in that entry, but I thought about it some more and came to 2 conclusions: 1, maybe others don't know it, and the point of this blog is to tell people about stuff they might not know. And 2, even though I have some issues with this method, other people with different working methods or different needs might find it way better, just like people like inks I don't like and pens I don't like.

So thanks to Ethan, and I hope this helps someone out!

December 6, 2008


Click on small images to make them large.

People who use red or blue line pencils to pencil their comics need not read this unless they're just curious, as none of this applies to them.

One of the worst plagues of student work is unerased pencils. I have never understood this. If you had a house painter come over to do your walls, you wouldn't be satisfied with his job if he left bits of painter's tape and plastic everywhere. If you were the owner of a new building you'd be royally pissed if the construction crew took off and left the place covered in scaffolding, regardless of how nice a job they did underneath. Paradoxically, the people who seem to have the worst time getting over this are almost always good artists, who seem to feel like their good draftsmanship should exempt them from this particular piece of gruntwork which they find so boring. "I DID erase the page!" they'll squeal, pointing to a page covered with a dusty speckling of unaddressed segments of pencil line. Fuck you, the job isn't done yet. If you're going to claim to give a shit about your job, don't go handing me a suit covered in loose threads and call it done. And double fuck you if you hand your filthy, unfinished work to someone else to scan and clean up for you, like I had many do to me when I edited Inkstains at SVA.

Oh, and don't go thinking you'll get away with the old excuse "I penciled too hard and I can't erase it." I'm going to show you how to erase lines that look like they've been carved into the page by a pencil-wielding Jack the Ripper.

Now that I'm done ranting, let's begin the lesson:

No matter who you are, you should probably be penciling lighter than you do. I should be, and I don't know anyone who doesn't need to also. It's easy to build up tension as you work and start pressing hard, or to lose focus and start re-working part of a drawing over and over instead of stopping and really thinking about the next move. In the same, semi-conscious way you'll keep reminding yourself of your light source as you ink, you should train yourself to think once every few minutes "am I going to hard in my pencil?"
Here's a drawing of Astroboy I made. You can see that I started to overwork the nose and the curve of his trunks. When you see the pencils getting this dark, STOP. NOW. Put the pencil down, move to another part of the drawing for awhile, and THINK about what you're doing wrong. Maybe do some practice sketches on another piece of paper. Usually when you have a detail that won't work it means the surrounding structure is wrong and needs redrawing, or that the detail is in the wrong place. If you keep re-working you'll begin actually cutting into the paper. Don't work out your problems by digging a trench into your paper.

I thought I'd include this photo of the inks partway done just for kicks.

If you haven't penciled TOO hard, you should be able to get all your pencils off with a gentle but thorough scrubbing with a gum rubber eraser. Scrub just hard enough to pick up the pencil, but be careful not to overdo it and take off ink. Look at the page up close, and examine every inch to make sure there isn't a pencil like you're mistaking for an ink line. Your scans will thank you, and I'll explain why a little later.

Now let's say you DID press too hard, and you have deeply carved lines that won't erase no matter how much you erase over them, like this:They're usually along edges you've re-worked, and for that reason they're often dangerously close to delicate linework or important but hard to render objects like faces.
If you scrub your eraser REALLY hard you might get them, but this could happen to your ink:

Obviously if this sort of damage happened to a delicately rendered face or some really fine dry brushing, it could irreparably ruin the drawing.

You could leave the pencils in and clean them up in photoshop, but depending on the way you scan that could ruin your art just as much.

If you have a style that uses thick, bold, black lines, doesn't rely on fine detail, and your ink is nice and solid black, you could probably just scan your art on the threshhold setting and most of the pencil would disappear, and what was left would be easily erased. My friend Joe never frets his pencils much that that exact reason- of anything's left over, it'll disappear in the scan.

For myself and many others, it's not so simple. When you scan an image in threshhold,, or convert it into a bitmap on threshhold, the computer is deciding which pixels will be completely white and which will be completely black. If you have delicate hatching, which rarely scans as pure black because of it's thin delicacy, or if you have delicate drybrush effects, which are notoriously hard to scan in themselves, and then you have these grey pencil lines on the page, the computer will often decide that things you wanted black will be white.

As you can see in the image below, the threshhold setting eliminated most of the pencil lines, the remnants of which are highlighted in pink. But it also obliterated large areas of drybrushing, as seen in the green areas. And the computer also decided that alof of areas that looked black on my original are now white, because they weren't as dark as the darkest of my pencils. The result is printable, but not at all what I wanted.

I never scan in threshhold when I'm using delicate drybrushing. I don't think the computer is as qualified as I am to know what I want black and what I want white, and I'd rather decide myself. But having stray pencil lines can make that process very difficult. Sure, now I can save my drybrushing, but in the process I end up making the pencils black and clear along with my ink. The result is a messy image speckled with little dots called "artifacts" which drive careful editors insane, and black pencil lines that are now going to be very hard to clean up indeed:

It's clear that the solution is to get your page as clean as you can BEFORE you scan the page, to make life easier on everyone. And if you have these carved in lines, there's still hope for you. You just need a little strategy:When you do this, you want to actually re-draw the line, like you're tracing it, but with the eraser. Get the eraser as far into the line as you can, and really work it around. It's like washing stuck-on food- you may need to take some time, but it will come up. It might not come all the way, but if you can get it light enough so that it's lighter than any of the ink that's almost good enough. Here you can see the results:
And now here's the same drawing, fully erased this time, and as you can see I was able to get my dry brushing to look just how I wanted, and without having to do any digital cleanup at all. Taking the time to pencil lightly and erase well saves me and others a lot of headache at the computer.
Next week: Printed Lettering Guides

November 29, 2008

This week: The Pointed Drafting Divider.

I only bought this thing a year ago, and in that time it's become my third most-used tool. #1 is my pencil and #2 is my eraser. That's right- this thing gets more drafting table and sketchbook time than any or my markers, sticks, brushes or nibs. Why? because it's the most brilliant, multi-tasking, time-saving thing I've ever owned. I find new things to do with it all the time. This thing has made my life better like a good friend makes your life better- the longer you know it, the more incredible and helpful it seems. I'd lean out of an airplane and toss them to people from a huge sack for everyone to have, except that the points are needle-sharp and I'd end up killing and maiming thousands if I did.

This is what my baby looks like:
Let me show you how to use it. (as always, click on small images to make them larger.)

The most basic, most helpful thing it does is allow you to make evenly spaced marks super-dooper fast without having to use a ruler. Rulers work great, but using a ruler to rule 50 tiny marks is a HUGE pain in the ass, for the following reasons:

A: your head needs to be right above the marks you make, or else perspective distortion will cause your lines to be ever-so-slightly off from the actual ruled line. This is not fun to find out when you're inking and you find out a line doesn't really look right.

B and C: If you have an inclined drafting table, you have to press hard against the ruler and tape the paper down securely to make sure both don't start sliding down while you work.

D: My clumsy hands always seem to jostle the ruler and I constantly have to reposition it. The longer the ruler has to be down, the more I jostle and have to re-set.

E: You can try to save time by marking off the space on the ruler and moving that along the line, but it's awkward to slide the whole ruler and you have to mark up the ruler, which then needs cleaning! This is the part of the infomercial where the person tears their hair out and declaims "There must be a better way!" There is. Instead of marking off your spaces with a ruler like a chump (1.), measure the increment you want with your handy-dandy pointed drafting divider (2.), and then go right down the line making perfect, even spaces! (3.) As you can see, they come out more even than my ruled marks! (4.)
But that's just the beginning. Having a tool that can adjust to any width and hold that width means no more measuring, ever again! Which is great, because what would often happen to me when I'd go to evenly divide a line that I'd drawn freehand, I'd get some number like 5 and 13/32", which if you try to divide my half or thirds is fucking unmeasurable. Now when I want to divide a line I don't even look at my ruler.

I put the divider on one side of the line, and guess where the exact middle is. (1.) Then I swing it over to check, and usually I'm a little under, as I am here. (2.) So I expand my divider to fill about half the extra distance, put it back on one end and try again. That's closer, but still not quite there, (3.), so I refine a little more, and voila, in about five seconds I have the exact half-length of the line, (4.), and it's midpoint (5.) Once you have that, you can add your gutter spacing, if you were dividing it to make two tiers or two panels. (6.) Just use the divider to measure one of your other gutters and poke it right where it's needed. The prongs are specially made to be so thin that with careful use they won't harm your paper in any noticeable way. I can ink right over the teensie holes it leaves.
Now let me show you some more advanced tricks:

A common problem I see that even some professionals never figure out how to solve is how to divide a page into tiers that are of even height. It's easy to divide a page into equal parts by dividing the length by 3 or 4, but people run into a wall when they add gutters. The most common mistake is to draw the gutters around the lines, which leaves the middle tiers scrunched up and the outer panels larger, with an uneven and amateurish result. (right below)

The solution is easy, but different for even and odd numbered tiers. For even # tiers, find the middle of the page, and DO draw your gutter around that. But then when you divide those two halves in half, don't use the midpoint, use the edges of the gutter around the midpoint, like on the left below. Repeat as necessary, and all your tiers will be totally even between their gutters. This also works with a ruler, by the way.

For odd # tiers, you need a different approach. As you can see below, you start with the same basic problem: tiers in the middle get scrunched up short and the outer ones are too long.

Instead of dividing the whole line into 3 or 5 or whatever and then drawing in gutters, like in the top two examples below, figure out how many gutters you'll have, and then subtract their distance from the line, and now divide that up. Then use that distance and alternate plugging that and the gutter distance in along the line, as in the bottom example below:

Now let's say you have some crazy amount of tiers that would take forever to split up with the divider. That's when you pull out a metric ruler with really small spaces and a calculator, or if you have the equipment, do the division in Photoshop and measure it off the screen with the image set so inches on the screen are actual size. Once you have the measurement you can use the divider to make the spaces.

But the thing I use my divider for most is keeping my proportions consistent, and for taking measurements off of photographs and drawings. It's great because I don't have to actually know how long something is, just how it relates proportionally to something else. It's like how some artists use their pencil shaft to take measurements when they draw.

Here's a great example of how the divider helped me out: Awhile back I did a poster for Patton Oswalt, and I needed to learn how to draw his face quickly. I'm not naturally very good at faces, so to give myself a head start I used the divider to measure parts of his face against one another to give myself an idea of how big different parts really were compared to one another. Here's part of a sketchbook page of the measurements I made:
Doing this put me days ahead in being able to draw Patton recognizably. The divider also really helped recently when I was learning how to draw horses. With all the things I can do with it, you can see why the divider has become such an important tool for me.


November 22, 2008

This week: Draw in any direction with a nib

For reasons I cannot understand, there are still people who think you can only make downward strokes with a pen, and that to get an upward stroke, you have to physically turn the page over and draw a downward stroke. There are even still professionals who've used pens for decades who think this. There are books that supposedly teach you how to use a pen that say this. I don't know how people can have used this tool for so long without having figured out the very simple solution to the problems. For those of you who've never used a nib before, let me bring you up to speed on what I'm talking about:

A nib is a pointy tool made out of two needle-sharp barbs of metal that sit up against one another, forming a channel that ink flows through. When you hold a nib in a resting position, the nib is at an angle, with the bottom concave side facing the page, and the tip of the tip pointing at the top of the page. With the nib in this position, as illustrated in Fig 1.2, you can only draw the nib downward, or in a downward-ish direction. If you try to pull it to the side, it's tip will thrust into the page and stop. Here I've shown the maximum range of angles I can draw with my nib facing straight up before the tip catches the page. (Fig 1.1) As you can see, this particular nib can actually draw up on the left side, probably from wear on that side. If you had a really sharp nib like a crowquill you'd have way less range if you tried this.

So what happens if you push that nib up anyway? Either your nib will skip and shoot ink all over the page like this,Or it will flat out stab holes into the page, like this, or both. So, can anyone see the solution to this problem? If you hold the nib perfectly straight up and down when you draw, you can only draw downward lines. Can anyone think of the solution here? Anyone?
DON'T HOLD THE NIB STRAIGHT UP AND DOWN. You have a hand with joints and stuff, right? Your drawing hand isn't a laser printer on a track that only goes back and forth, right? Move your hand around! It's as easy as that! The pen can only move away from the tip of the nib, so change direction of the nib to draw in different directions! What you see below is pictures taken while making one, uninterrupted line. The paper was never moved, the nib never lifted:

Easy! Depending on how you hold your pen, you may need to grip it differently to be able to do this. Everyone holds their pen differently, but just to give you an idea of how I do this, I'll show you how I hold my pen. You'll probably have to find a different way, because your hands are probably different than mine.

In Fig 2, you can see that the two fingers actually holding the pen stalk are my thumb and middle finger. The two fingers clamp against the pen stalk, holding it. They move back and forth for short strokes, where I often won't move my hand or arm at all. And my thumb will shift up or town to swing the pen stalk around, which reorients the nib. All my other fingers are doing is stabilizing my hand at the desired height or steadying the pen. The meeting of these two fingers is the pivot point for the pen to change directions, as you can see.
Using this technique, I can draw very controlled lines of any length in any direction I want. I may still move the page around a little if it's more comfortable, especially on very tricky curves, but it's almost never necessary.

November 15, 2008

This week: pointed sticks

I'm terrified of Rapidographs. They scare the living bejeezus out of me. I know they're hands-down the best tool that exists for getting a consistent dead-line for backgrounds and lettering. They come in different sizes and they have dark, waterproof india ink in them. Everyone I know who uses them likes them. But the cleaning, the tiny little parts, the expense...they send me screaming for the hills.

This leaves me in need of a replacement tool, because having a tool that can produce a dead-line of various weights is pretty important. Japan makes some great pigment markers that make American and German markers look like garbage in comparison, but I hate the feel of markers on paper. Especially my paper, which is vellum surface and fairly rough. Plus, if I don't move the markers slowly, they skip and don't leave a solid line. And disposable markers aren't cheap either. I have pen nibs specially made for writing that will produce a dead-line, but they're a bitch to use and clean and finding good ones means buying antique. For years, I struggled to find a liquid ink tool that would produce the lines I wanted but wasn't a Rapidograph. The chinese were there to answer my prayers:

These are bamboo skewers, and they're
one of my most important tools.
As you can see, they cost $1.25 for a package of 100.
These miracle-sticks saved my life. You can use them as-is, or whittle the tip with an exacto knife to the width you want. Then you simply dip them in ink and draw normally. They're great for backgrounds, architecture, machinery, lettering, and anywhere else you need dead lines to contrast more fluid nib work. Because they're a cheap, mass-produced product not made for drawing, you do need to do a little quality control when you pull one out to use. Make sure the sides are smooth and free of splinters, as in this picture:

The tips also aren't quiiiite uniform in size, so have a look before using them. If you get lucky you'll get one exactly the right size an not have to whittle at all.
For comparison purposes, I'll show you some demo lines as drawn by what are, in my opinion, the three best markers on the market (I've literally tried every available kind that I'm aware of, but I love testing new ones, so let me know if there's one you think I ought to know about.) in comparison to the three sticks I have in service right now. These are the markers, if you're a person who actually likes markers and would like to try them:
The black Deleter is a new version of the Grey and blue Deleter. The new one is archival. Here's how the Deleter and Copic look:
As you can see, they're both good markers, and they even offer a little line weight variation if you lean on them a little. I actually do use both of them sometimes, because they honestly are very good tools. But now here's my bamboo sticks:
As you can see, you can get a lot of very interesting lines out of these, and even a dry brush effect from the larger one. Here's a doodle I did with them to show how they might be used in drawing:
And in this page, everything in the background was drawn with the bamboo sticks, including the swirly lines of drunkenness around the bearded dude's head. The more uniform line contrasts just enough with the nib work to help set it apart, but it doesn't look out of place, because the bamboo doesn't make lines quite as clean as markers. Best of all, I can move the bamboo sticks much faster on the page without the line breaking up than I can with any marker I've ever used. Click on the page to see it full-sized.

The overall lesson here is, if you don't like the tool you're using, use something else. Anything is an art tool in the hands of an artist.

Next week: How to draw in any direction with a nib.