December 6, 2008

This week: ERASE YOUR FUCKING PENCILS!!

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

9 comments:

Dustin Harbin said...

Oh man, Matt--I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog, and look forward to the posts. Even ideas that I'm already familiar with I'll generally pull some new insight out of.

The only thing that sticks out for me is the incredible amount of swearing. I know this is part of the magical kingdom that is Matt Bernier, but--even speaking as someone who LOVES to swear--it's a little distracting.

I suspect the obligatory reply contains at least one dirty word, but I thought I'd mention it. Keep up the good goddamn work!

matt said...

Ha! This one in particular had a lot of angry cursing because it's a problem with people's work that's caused me a lot of problems personally.

I'll try to mind it, though, as I think perhaps swearing can be more distracting to some people in print than in spoken language, as print has traditionally been more sanitized.

I'm totally behind this week's title, though. I don't just want people to erase their pencils, please. I want them to ERASE THEIR MOTHERFUCKING PENCILS ALREADY.

Dustin Harbin said...

You've got passion, kid. But more important, you've got MOXIE.

Something I'd like to see some examination of, although it's probably on your syllabus: scanning/resolution/bitmap stuff. I've cobbled what I know about it from a bunch of sources (plus a healthy knowledge of Photoshop from design work), but only discovered how much better bitmap .tif's print when I made my first minicomic recently.

Okay, get on that.

matt said...

Now moxie is an underused word. I tellya what, I'll make a concerted effort to use moxie more in my posts.Moxie also happens to be a favorite beverage of mine.

Scanning is on the syllabus, but it's down the road at least a month or two, as that's probably either one really involved post, or more likely, several large posts. There's just so much there to address. But I promise you I'll get to it. That and critiquing are probably the two most involved and most important things I plan to cover.

looka said...

That's a good one again! And the railing makes me think of Joe Kubert - grumpy but, fun and a lot to say.

I love the putty rubber bit.

I think it's much underrated what all belongs to "making" comics. Especially when you do and learn them as a one person gang. All those things "before" and "after" the drawing and how much time and dedication they take, need to be considered and looked at as well.

Those production sequences in the studios of say, a mainstream publisher of your not-liking, with everything split into steps, done by a different person, are pretty cranky. But they show what all is included in doing a book.

If I do it all by myself it might take longer, but it's also a more complete and unique thing in the end. Also I will be sure to not scratch my paper (A post about different papers would be great!) if it ends up killing my inks, that I do myself.

Hey Dustin, about time you are here ;) AND you are the main source of moxieness around!

matt said...

I haven't read any writing by Joe Kubert. Is he a cranky old man? I'm gonna be a cranky old man when I grow up, that's for sure.

Parka said...

Oh man. Great tutorial. Maybe will feature your blog one of these days. Nice blog.

Rivkah said...

I don't get why people don't just use blue pencils. Sanford makes an excellent line of turquoise blue leads that are soft and buttery and just the right shade of blue so that all you have to do when you scan your inks in is select the blue channel in Photoshop, convert to greyscale, and VOILA! Magically disappearing pencils! Plus, for a gallery showing, I think it's kind of neat when an inked image still has the original pencils beneath is so a student can study how much inking changes and refines the original.

And PS to what Dustin said: I like the swearing and don't think it's distracting by any means. If anything, it's what ads to the color of this site. Your personality is what makes this blog so much more interesting to read than 99% of the tutorial/how-to art sites on the web. And really . . . who wouldn't swear over smudgy pencil marks ruining perfectly good ink work?

matt said...

I tried blue pencils (and red) and man, I do NOT like not being able to erase. I can't tell how dark or light something is, or if I have enough hatching, or what. It totally destroys my ability to discern levels of grey, or even the black-white balance of a page.

I totally love seeing them on OTHER people's work, though, for the exact reason you do: I love reverse-engineering their process. In fact, wanting to make that information available about my own work is why I tried to convert. Alas, it was not for me.

I think swearing is always going to be distracting to some people because some adults will always be stuck in the land of baby talk where it doesn't matter what your words MEAN, just what the exact words are. Salacious or mean thoughts are fine, as long as you express them in cute baby talk.

To my thinking, the only appropriate response to someone whose shoddy erasing creates misery for others is FUCK YOU. Said inches from their face. So close you spit in their mouth.