December 28, 2011

This week: Recommended animal anatomy video

You all should all already know about this week's topic, which I heard about on James Gurney's blog, because I've told you many a time about how great and useful James Gurney's blog is. I post things from it all the time, it's in the links sidebar, and any of you who aren't subscribed to it are fools shooting your artistic education in the foot.

So, being as you already read this post this morning when it popped up in your blog reader, I'll skip to saying that it intrigued me so much that I bought the video and found it to be worthwhile enough to recommend that you do the same.

Yes, I know, it's 39 bucks. Yes, that's a lot of money. Last year was the first year in three years I had to even file income taxes, having made an average of $8,000 a year after gross adjustment in those years, and this year I'm a clerk working for $9.75 an hour, so I don't wanna hear any clamouring about anyone else's budgetary constraints, especially not from anyone with a smartphone, or who buys coffee with any regularity. For 39 bucks you're getting more information than you'd get in three decent hour-long collage classes, from a very gifted professor, for way, way less money than you'd pay just for the lecture time, let alone the cost and time expense of putting together the graphics for the videos. These are worth the cash, if they suit your needs.

The videos do for basic animal anatomy what I endeavored to do for human anatomy in my anatomy posts (and will continue to do, several more coming at an undetermined time), but from someone much more expert and gifted than myself. His insights into simple but profound differences in quadruped and biped anatomy were revelations to me, in that way when you hear someone perfectly articulate a concept you've only barely understood by instinct. After watching these videos, I will look at animals and my approach to drawing them on a wholly different way.

I have a small issue with his basic shape exercises. I notice that he has a tendency, like many instructors, to assign beginner students different basic shapes for learning anatomy than they themselves use when drawing, which I feel hampers rather than enhances understanding of shape and ability to construct. However, he makes up for it by reversing the usually backasswards process I see in so many well regarded and in my opinion useless how to draw books by encouraging you to start with a gestural sketch, and use basic shapes to help you true the parts that seem off. Or, to use them as a separate intellectual exercise altogether. He's also very clear that you may use any basic shapes you like that help you understand your drawing better.

He's a gifted instructor, and it shows in his student's work, which is sprinkled all through the videos. You can tell he's taught them to really SEE differently. The music in the videos is ridiculous, but evidently it was composed by his son, so what can you do.

If you're someone who's ever had trouble drawing horses or realistic cats, which is everyone if we're not lying to ourselves, you really should invest in this tutorial.

Speaking of horses, I love these drawings from Fabio Moon showing the thumbnail drawing for a panel and the final artwork. This is what it means to take an adequate composition and push it into a good one.

Mark Kennedy posted this great analysis of how one out-of-place element in your art can throw your entire reality out of whack. Seriously, what was the artist thinking with those damned stars?

Finally, Kate Beaton did some great holiday comics. Yes, I know it's redundant to day she did some great anything.

See you next week!

December 21, 2011

This week: Your hand doesn't bend here.

So, it came up several times this last week with several coworkers, who in my case are artists, that they didn't realize the bones in your hand don't bend in the location illustrated in the title. I can sort of see why someone might think it, so I'm just gonna toss this out there for people. In fact, your bones don't bend at either that line, nor the line seperating the palm from the fingers. The pad at the top of your palm actually comes both a little above and a little below your knuckles. Your knuckles are roughly in the middle of the pad, as you can see in the illustration:

So when you bend your fingers down, the pad, which makes the bones in your palm appear longer than they are, gets bent down. This makes the palm seem to shorten and makes it look like the palm bones themselves must be bending. The phonomenon is easier to understand from the side:

If you really want to prove it to yourself, fold your hand while looking at the back. You will see that the back does not change in length at all.

Knowing that the pad comes above and below the knuckles also helps you draw palm lines more accurately. I can't tell you how many students I've seen draw a hand with the top fold line in line with the knuckles, who then try to fit the lines of the palm onto a palm that's too small to fit them into. It's especially a problem for young artists who draw "realistically", meaning they hatch and shade too much and observe too little. It is a problem 100% of the time for those guys who seem to know how to draw every single gun known to man, in perspective, but can't draw a back three quarter view of a head or a garment that hangs naturally to save their lives. Those of you who have been to art school know the ones I mean.

Oh, and check out this recipe comic from Laura Park! Isn't she the best? That's a rhetorical question, obviously she is, duh.

See you next week!

December 14, 2011

This week: Assorted Tips

Cleaning out nifty links I've been saving:

If you don't read Brandon Graham's blog you should. He has fantastic taste and insightful comments about comics. I was particularly struck by this bit in one of his posts:

For some reason BPRD feels to me like watching a good tv series. It might be the episodic breakdown of the thing and the multiple writers. One thing I noticed is Guy Davis panels almost read like tv.

"I thought this scene where this old woman is talking through a child was done how you would see it on tv. --with the woman starting to say the words and the little girl finishing them--seperate panels seperate baloons. I photoshoped, on the right what i'd look like if both characters spoke through the same baloon, with 2 tails.
(click image to make it bigger)

I like how a small tweak like that can effect how it reads.
I think the original lettering does make the old woman and the girl seem farther away."

Chris Schweizer is always posting some awesome shit on his blog. Here's a fantastic (illustrated!) post on avoiding tangents of all sorts.

And here is a short but useful post on how clothes drape from the always educational Gurney Journey blog.

Illustrator, cartoonist, and teacher Jillian Tamaki made a student FAQ page for her website. It's great! Go read it!

After Completing Habibi, Craig Thompson is now working on three books at once. That all ages one looks absolutely delicious.

And finally, Kate Beaton's Hark, a Vagrant! collection made it into Time's best 10 books of the year!

Have a good week all!

December 7, 2011


No specific topic this week, but rather a smattering of fascinating things. I'm gonna kick it off Elanor Davis and the interesting method she used to generate this image:
Elanor uses guache to make color paintings a lot, so I thought nothing of seeing a two-tone drawing from her, until I saw a series of tweets from her, which she meant to send to meg Hunt, but mistakenly posted to all, saying that she'd actually just altered an ink wash drawing to make this and other illustrations. I was fascinated, and asked if she'd elaborate, which of course she did:

Hey Matt!

Ha! you caught those tweets - I meant them to be @meg and mis-sent them, then threw my hands up at the whole thing. : )

Yep, that's a greyscale piece I messed w/ in photoshop. I don't have a good method for going about this process, there surely is an easier way to do it. I basically just do it for limited color printing processes; I don't think I would do it for any other reason, it's a hassle! : p

Make two separate files. Keep one greyscale.

for the other one: Image > mode >duotone

choose monotone; choose red (or whatever)

Now turn it into CMYK. Copy paste the greyscale file on top of the red version. They should line up perfectly. Then erase whatever parts of the grey layer you want to be red.

You can also monotone both w/ different colors. This image is 2 colors, for a process where the 2 colors combine into a 3rd. Just make the top layer transparent.

Finally, select the erased sections of the grey layer, inverse the selection, and delete that part from the red layer.

Thanks for asking! I hope you're doing great! : )

Isn't she great? Feel free to thank her by buying all her work.

Next up is a review of a device I hadn't even heard about until this review, the Wacom Inkling:

It sounds neat, but I was disappointed to see that the scanner gets less accurate the farther away from it you get, so you have to use a fairly small drawing area. So, no good for full-size pages, but maybe good for scaled down thumbnails. I'd probably just get a pad myself, but Crabfu makes the point that this now gives him original art to sell while simultaneously creating a layered, colorable digital file. Original art sells for more than prints, and that means more income, so it's not a trivial consideration. The alterations you can make to the line quality after the fact is pretty interesting too.

John Martz did a drawing of all the stuff he used to draw, for the artist's space porn tumblr Where They Draw. I don't know just why, but I LOVE seeing people's studio setups.

The Tools I Use

Alec Longstreth finally finished the final chapter of Basewood! As some of you may know, Alec resolved not to shave or cut his hair until this task was completed. Well, here's what he looks like now:

Chapter 5: Inked Page 52 - 100% DONE!!!

As you can see in his post about it, he'll be cutting his hair at the release party. Alec has been a friend of mine as well as Comic Tools blog, and is himself a great comics teacher, so I'd have posted about this no matter what, But as it happens, Alec gave me a flimsy premise to call this a tool related post with this comment to his post:

Yes, I will be donating my hair. That would be funny to make a brush from the beard hair - maybe it would have magical comics power in it! :P
Finally, nd totally unjustifiably, mega-super friend of Comic Tools Blog Hope Larson is making crazy-ass ice creams and posting photos of them: Ice Cream Log

See you next week!

November 30, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Oblique Nib Holders
James Gurney did most of my work for me this week posting about oblique nib holders. (He says pen holder, I say nib holder.) It's the tool to use if you want to draw lots of slanty lettering without ruining your hands. He even carved his own out of wood so it's fit his hand better:

It turns out, a company named Yoropen makes oblique ballpoint pens and pencils:

According to testimonials on the site, oblique pens and pencils have distinct advantages for many people. In the case of left-handed people, they allow the writer to see their work, and to not have to hook their hand over awkwardly as they write. They're said to promote a more correct grip in small children learning to write, and aid in letter formation. Their ease in grip is also said to be helpful to people with weakness in their hands, such as stroke victims, and people who suffer from writing strain. I'd like to get ahold of one sometime to try it out. I'd also be curious if an oblique nib holder helped left-handed cartoonists ink better. Anyone out there tried it?

They also make oblique nibs (also called elbow nibs) that fit in a regular nib holder. They look like this:

And now for some extras:

One of my favorite things on the internet is Vera Brosgol and Emily Carroll's series of drawings called Fashion From Old People. This blog is a fantastic resource to see how to really dress characters in clothing. They take a real dress from a photo, and then fit that dress to a cartoon character. I save every other drawing to my morgue (That's an old-fashioned illustrator's term for an illustrator's personal catalogue of reference and inspirational images) because I have trouble drawing overly generic clothing on characters, and seeing the different body shapes and types Vera and Emily fit the dresses to, and how the woman and the dress change one another, is always an inspiration to me.

Another one of my favorite things on the internet is when cartoonists post video of themselves working. Well, here's two great tastes that go great together: Vera drawing one of her FFOP posts. There's a LOT of great process stuff here, especially for people who draw all or partially digitally.

How ballsy is Schweizer's inking in this panel:
See you next week!

November 21, 2011

This Week: Escoda Brushes
So, many of you will remember the post where I retracted my endorsement of Rosemary's brushes, after several readers who had purchased from her reported a precipitous drop in quality to the point of being unusable. You're better off buying the cheapest nylon brush rather than a bad sable brush, and with Japan making those insanely resilient and sharp pocket brush pens, a sable brush had better be good for the money you pay.

In that same post I actually did review an Escoda brush, which I'd totally forgotten about. I got it on my trip to SCAD Atlanta, liked it okay, and suggested it for people as a possible alternative if Raphael brushes weren't available. I haven't drawn with brushes for awhile, so I totally forgot about it.

My current workplace sells Escoda brushes, and they're specifically mentioned in our training video on brushes. The owner, Larry, who travels all over the world to meet his suppliers and see their factories, talked in the video about what makes a brush good and why some good brush companies have lost their way *cough Windsor and newton cough*. Basically, what it comes down to is time spent in a single location. Brush making takes years, even decades to learn, and making the kolinsky sable brushes is the hardest, requiring workers who've been brush makers for 20 years or more. If a brush company moves it's facilities, (W&N), and the brush makers don't or can't follow, their experience is lost, and therefore the quality. You do still see, every so often, a decent W&N brush, but the rarity of them leads me to conjecture it may be as little as one person making those elusive few. I imagine an old man, surrounded by fumbling whipper-snappers, weeping to himself as he places each of his perfect brushes on a conveyor belt alongside their splaying messes of expensive hair.

Larry chose Escoda because their factory has been in the same place since 1949, 18 years longer than Raphael, which seems to make some of the consistently better sable brushes these days. I tested 3 of the brushes in our store to decide what size I wanted to buy to test for Comic Tools, and all of them came to a sharp, single hair point. THAT was encouraging- I wanted this company to be consistent, not just good, if I was to recommend them to my readers. I selected a size 4 to test.
I love it. It's better than Rosemary's best brushes ever were. It has great snap, which I prefer to the well-formed, but to my hand mushy-feeling Raphael brushes. (I don't want to seem like I don't like Raphael brushes, By the way. Habibi was drawn with one for chrissake. I just don't prefer the feel of them.) I compared it to my trusty W&N #3 brush, and in doing so a sense memory came back to me. It doesn't feel like my W&N brush does now (which I still prefer), but it does feel like what my W&N felt like new. I could feel the Escoda pushing my hand into making the sorts of movements that led to my inking style when I drew my first book with my then brand-new W&N. How's the tip? That's a hair from my head next to those lines: Can it do drybrushing well? Yup:
Wispy lines? Uh huh:
Fiddly things like eyes and faces? Yes, and well: I look forward to using this brush and seeing how it ages. Now, there's another lovely characteristic to Escoda brushes, probably having to do with being made in Spain as opposed to Britain or France: They're relatively inexpensive. My W&N #3 cost me around $30 new. My Escoda #4? $16.40. No, really, go see. If you buy some from Artist and Craftsman, put a note in your order that Comic Tools Blog sent you, I'm sure it wouldn't hurt my standing with the company. I should tell you, however, that Blick has a better price. Buying from your local art store, if possible, is always best, especially since you can test the brushes, but if not, I feel obliged to ask that you consider Artist and Craftsman, a Maine-based and very fine art supply company, for your Kolinsky needs.

On another topic, it seems Amalgamated Biscuit has started something. Now Comic Tools reader Kat has made this adorable Totoro ink well as a more stable platform to resist upset by cat:

You can see more photos in her post about it. This is the inkwell I've been using, given to me by a friend:

(Remember, never dip your brush more than halfway if you can help it, and rinse it immediately if you do.)

See you next week!

November 13, 2011

Home made inkwell

Comic Tools reader Amalgamated Biscuit just showed me this terrific inkwell he made:

From his post:

"When my ink runs low I have to fish around at an angle to get enough ink on my nib and I usually end up covering my pen and hands. So I created this inkwell which is just deep and wide enough for my biggest nibs."

Too cool, right? Though I feel it's seriously lacking in a pair of googly eyes. The bottom in-action photo is slightly obscene, which I also feel googly eyes would help. Not help make it less obscene, mind you, just more hilarious.

Thanks to Amalgamated Biscuit for sharing!

Best nib holder I've seen:

Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder - Model 36 - White Grip

No surprise it's from Japan, where drawing with ink tools is still so large an industry that nibs and other inking tools are still made with quality. I have several friends who've switched to this and they just love it. One really cool thing is it accepts crowquil/mapping nibs, which have round, circular bodies like this:
as well as regular nibs, which are concave troughs of metal like this:
Most nib holders can only accept one or the other, and the holders for mapping nibs tend to be thin, exacerbating strain during fine work when using a tool used almost exclusively for fine work. The Tachikawa's thick body reduces wrist strain, and the rubber grip makes it easy to hold. Nibs sit securely in it, but the plastic isn't as rigid as on a Speedball holder, so you don't have to jam nibs in or strain to pry them out again. also has a fantastic selection of Japanese cartooning nibs, the best money can buy, unless you go antique hunting. (Fun fact about the two brands of Manga "G" nib: they're literally made across the street from one another. Both factories buy the same steel, mill it on the same machines, and put different brand stamps on them. They're otherwise identical, sort of like Olfa and NT blades, also made in Japan in neighboring factories using practically identical methods. NT's cutters are way better, though.) They also stock the sometimes hard to find Pentel Pocket brush refills at a not-bad-not-amazing price, and sell the brushpen itself at a pretty amazing price.

The Tachikawa is well worth the six bucks, being comfortable and well made, and would be the only nib holder you ever had to buy in your life.
Hey everyone, Comic Tools is now on Facebook and Twitter!

Both featuring my new, more dressed icon photo:

My old icon photo, which was actually my first photo of the face rig I use:

This week's title is a video:

Start at 6:32

Wow, I still have 237 followers? Why? Did you all forget to unsubscribe? Well, either your loyalty or your laziness are to be rewarded, because I'm starting again.

It's funny, you know what the impetus was, the thing that finally broke the intertia? I'm working at an art store now, and some old man came in having had trouble with his nibs, which he is new to using. I was explaining to him what he was doing wrong and how to fix it, and then driving home that night it hit me: I can't really deal with giving advice to strangers who walk in the door, and not my Comic Tools readers, who have truly done for me in the past. And besides, my broken life is finally back together enough that I feel like I can bust out a column about something regularly.

So, Hi! Surprise! And let me start my being back with the advice I have this old man: keep your nib clean while you work, always move it towards the concave belly, and always clean it when you're finished.

And Happy Birthday, Rivkah!

February 21, 2011

Gerhard. Gare-hard? Jer-ard?

Sean Michael Robinson at The Comics Journal did an exhaustive interview with Gerhard, Dave Sim's background artist on Cerebus. It's a must read for every cartoonist who cares about technique, as the Robinson asks Gerhard about specific pages throughout the comic's decades-long run, with Gerhard talking about everything from his preference to toothbrushes over airbrushes for snow effects to showing photos of the models he built ho help him draw rows of houses on slanted streets.

Gerhard with his models.

Gerhard is one of the best draftsman in the last 50 years of comics, and this interview is one of the richest resources I've ever had a chance to bring to your attention. Read, and watch as a man grows from a talented amateur into a true virtuoso, sharing his secrets with us.

A floor plan to a room in Cerebus.

Jesus, I love how loose Guy Davis' pencils are. I always learn something about keeping freedom in my inking looking at them.

Oh, by the way, I'm selling some clothes on Ebay, if anyone's interested:

Rare Red Swiss Army coat
Green double-breasted jacket
Tailored brown suit

February 13, 2011


My internet's been spotty all night, and now it's late, so I'm going to bed and writing this thing Tuesday night. (Monday is Valentine's dinner with the lady.)
This week on Comic Tools: Futzing with nibs

I'm insomniac tonight, so I'll type this sucker up now:

A few weeks ago MK (Remember MK? Started this blog? Wrote the fantastic comic Americus, illustrated by Jonathan Hill, to be published by First Second later this year, which you can now read in webcomic form? That MK.) wrote me with this:

"Hey Matt. So possibly right under your feet all day at work are these scroll nibs, which are usually used for making filials and jazz for fancy calligraphy. Also, at the very bottom, is a thing called a music nib, used for making musical notation lines, it is made by Brause, not Mitchell, so it won't be in the kit. I got mine from scribblers in the UK after seeing them in someone else's catalogue, and I assumed they must be hackable for cartooning short cuts. Double vision, quicker hatching for bgs that must be covered in them, plaid shirts, checkerboards... the list is not gigantic, but you can get some interesting results. I'm not entirely certain that they are in NY Central, but I believe I saw mitchell caligraphy kits hanging over the doorway to the little room the G nibs are stored in, so if you see them, you could probably come up with some ingenious use for them that I am missing. I've used them for a bit of grass in the new comic already, and it was delightful to use something a little different."

She included this photo:

Indeed we do have these nibs downstairs at New York Central. If you walk straight into the store about halfway, you'll see these cheesy looking beige cardboard bubble packets sitting way up high where the managers sit:

You'll have to ask for someone to help you reach them, unless you're seven feet tall. These are what the packets look like up close, and what they cost:

New York Central got the whole lot of them in a buyout of another closing supplier, so once these are gone, they're gone. Fortunately, for anyone who might want them, they don't seem to sell well. Anyhow I've got them back at home now, and I've been playing around with them. I've narrowed it down to 8 that produce various effects I like, and I've been futzing around with them, like MK did.

My first impressions are that either these types of nib are either all made of unusually crappy and thin steel, or that the tinyness of the individual nibs having to share the space makes them weak, much like too many babies sharing a womb, or that this particular brand may just be crappy. I don't know, but nonetheless I've found some uses for these that might induce me to buy more anyway.

The nibs with evenly spaced, equal-sized points make hatching large areas really, really easy and SOOOOOOO much faster. They also make great speed lines.

The evenly spaced nibs with one point larger than the other make pleasantly dynamic and perfectly spaced pipes, dowels, poles, and rope. If I wanted to to an entire series of knot-tying illustrations, one of these nibs would very possibly save me from insanity.

The nibs with multiple slits cut going to the same point hold extra ink like a lettering nib while remaining flexible like a quill, and so far the best use I've found for these are really fantastic willowy tree limbs that you can draw with the line variation of a brush, but with a line quality that is unmistakably of a nib.

Anyhow, I'm gonna mess around with these some more and then do a proper post on them.

Finally a link: A fantastic interview with Mike Mignola about setting and architecture. One lesson learned: you neither need to like drawing, nor even actually draw, straight lines or perfect perspective in order to draw houses, cities, and other settings in a convincing and lively way. Slanty lines and age are your friends.

See you next week!

February 6, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Eraser Showdown 2!

As I've mentioned before, I currently work at New York Central Art Supply in the paper department. Downstairs on the side of the checkout counter alongside all the other impulse buys, they have a bunch of little bins with erasers in them. There were three I'd never seen before, so I decided to buy them and test them out against the current champion, the Tombo Mono eraser.

The new contenders are:

  • Pentel Hi-Polymer
  • Faber-Castell "Dust free"
  • MOO eraser

Unlike in the last test, all of these erasers erased a well dug-in line cleanly and completely. None of these products fails in role as an eraser. That leaves us with the next characteristic, amount and size of dust. This is how each of them fared with each eraser brand-new, using the corner to erase the line:

It seemed like a pretty clear-cut win for the Tombo, with the MOO a close second. My next test was to see how they affected ink, whether they'd lift your drawings off the page. Some erasers can be so aggressive that they remove not only pencil but ink and paper fibers, like an art-destroying tornado. All of these performed roughly the same in that test, but as I used them to erase over the ink with their now ground-down corners, I found that the two really dusty erasers were now producing snakes, as they should. I made new pencil lines and tried again, with these results:

The scale of these photographs is slightly out of whack, as the Tombo's snake of dust was actually smaller than the Faber-Castell's. Nonetheless, with a blunted corner all of them performed adequately, and certainly better than the losers in my previous test. Now a new problem revealed itself, namely that certain erasers were using themselves up far more quickly for the same amount of erasing. The MOO, in particular, crated a hilariously long and thick snake of eraser waste, enough that an earthworm might have tried to mate with it were it any larger. The Tombo won again, with the MOO second in creating less dust, but the Faber-Castell coming in second in not using itself up too quickly. They all erased adequately, and I'd recommend any of them.

Links time!

Sarah Glidden has been regiggering her watercolor process for her comics. Here she is experimenting with different techniques:

She finally settled on one, and the results are beautiful to behold.

Becky Cloonan step-by-step process art? Hell yes please.

Evidently the best perspective book for cartoonists ever made has a sequel now:

Extreme Perspective! For Artists: Learn the Secrets of Curvilinear, Cylindrical, Fisheye, Isometric, and Other Amazing Systems that Will Make Your Drawings Pop Off the Page (Book & DVD)

In this sequel to the classic bestseller Perspective! For the Comic Book Artist, David Chelsea takes perspective to a whole other level—by exploring the most dramatic viewpoints employed by today’s artists. Many of these techniques have been carefully guarded secrets for centuries. But David, and his hollow-headed friend, Mugg, make them accessible to a new generation of artists, cartoonists, illustrators, and animators. In Extreme Perspective! For Artists, you’ll learn how to

• Render complicated multi-sided objects in perfect perspective
• Create accurate shadows and reflections from your own imagination
• Master the most difficult kinds of curvilinear perspective systems
• Draw eye-popping images in fisheye perspective
• Use your computer to create elaborate scenes quicker and more easily
• … And much, much more!

Also included is a comprehensive library of perspective grids on DVD, suitable for printing or using with Photoshop and other applications.


January 23, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Reader Question

Hey Matt,

I've recently read the Scott Pilgrim comics and become interested in drawing comics. I've always been a hopeless drawer though so i got a book to teach me some basics and it's really helping so far, but it doesn't teach anything about comics. I found your blog very useful but its hard to find somewhere to begin. Are there any books out there you'd recommend to teach basic comic drawing?


Short answer:

Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud's Making Comics
Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's Drawing Words and Writing Pictures
David Chelsea's Perspective! For Comic Book Artists

Read those and do all the assignments suggested in them, and you'll have just saved yourself 4 years of college. I wish I were more than a hair away from kidding.

Long answer:

To get good at comics you'll have to read a lot of comics, and learn to steal. I don't mean imitate- that's like stealing someone's jewelry by hoisting their house into the back of your pickup and driving off. It doesn't work and you look like a moron doing it. You must learn to steal- and I use that word deliberately- the very best parts of what works about your favorite artists, and throw away the rest. You must learn to avoid taking on the bad habits of artists you like, the way you might avoid contracting AIDS. It's so easy, SO easy, to look at a great artist, imitate (meaning copy totally) their art, including it's weak parts, and then defend those weaknesses for decades as the inspiration you got from a great artist, instead of a cheap, hacky trick that both you and the artist you got it from should be shamed of. Jack Kirby was insanely inventive and kinetic and used blacks like no human being before or since, but he basically drew humans with 2 not very good faces and just slightly more expressions. Dave Sim has an incredible work ethic and is a proficient inker and letterer, but his people are ugly, stiff, and insensitive. Moebius and Frank Quitely are some of the best draughtsmen on the planet, but they draw distracting and freakish baby faces on everyone and sometimes their art can be lifelessly static.

Everyone's style is a combination of all the things they're best at, and attempts to either avoid or cover the evidence of everything they suck at. Mike Mignola once confessed to a class I was in that he doesn't draw cars because he hates drawing them and uses lots of shadows because he sucks at perspective. You'll eventually form your style by lazily covering up all the things you suck at; don't add to that all the things your favorite artists suck at.

This counts ten thousand times more if your art is Manga influenced. Every single one of my manga influenced artist friends will back me on this: if you take your cues by imitating your favorite manga, you will spend years of your commercially crippled career painfully stripping your art of the shortcuts that, by sheer necessity of how fast those artists must produce, makes up 1/2 to fully 9/10ths of the art of any given page of manga.

If you ever find yourself thinking "Oh, finally, this art looks like something I can actually draw!", put the book down and never look at it again. If bikes are hard for you, fill a sketchbook with people on every kind of bike you can find reference for. If hands are really tricky for you, never, ever draw a panel without showing both hands of every person in the panel. If shoes are tricky for you, don't do another damned thing until you can draw everything from sneakers to dress shoes convincingly. Learn to draw brick walls that don't look like cinderblock walls. Read a lot of good comics, look at a lot of good art, read a lot of good books, and learn to steal the very best from all of them. And don't imitate.

And now, some links for this week!

Andrew Loomis made the best art instruction books for illustrators and cartoonists ever made, and you can download them in their entirety, for free, online!

For young or beginning artists who want a warm, earnest, supportive place to get input on their work, there's few places better than the Flight Forums. Professionals from the books and others who just hang out are always watching to give advice to all those who seek it.

Why has Alec Longstreth given up on rapidographs and pigma pens? Find out!

Listen to Dean Haspiel.

Remember how I was talking about absorbing the worst shortcuts from people's work? Here's a great example. Ha, "Dreamworks brow."

Next week, another eraser showdown!

January 16, 2011

The biggest event in Comic Tools likely to happen this year or any other happened last Sunday, with Jim Woodring exhibiting his enormous pen, it's dripping tip gleaming in the light, to over 100 assembled men, women, and children. Woodring found the 25 pound black wooden shaft awkward and difficult to maneuver, and eventually resorted to just working with the tip, which produced much happier results.

Okay, enough dick innuendo. (Heh, in YOU end-o.) Seriously though, you have no idea how much I wanted to photoshop truck balls onto this thing. Or make a super-nerdy comics in-joke by having the tip going through a slice of pizza.

Dick jokes aside, I really, really love that this thing exists. It's actually really fascinating to me that his learning to use this thing wasn't all that different than the process I go through picking up any ordinary pen.

He had two nibs made, a steel prototype, and then a brass-plated, hand-engraved model, seen here:

Beautiful, right? But it turned out that that nib was actually a bit too stiff, and the steel nib was more flexible, so Jim put the better looking nib away in favor of the more practical prototype:

(The brass nib in the bucket of shame. click on this image for Glenn Fleichmann's great flickr set of this event.)

Jim Woodring and Nibbus Maximus

This happens to me all the time, when one nib will just be too damned stiff, and I have to chuck it and move on to another one in the box.

Here you can see Jim making the first lines with the stiffer brass nib, and all the dripping and control problems he was having:

Jim Woodring - Nibbus Maximus from Gavin Lees on Vimeo.

At first he was cautiously getting a feel for what marks it could and could not make, and the frist drawing was pretty shabby looking, which always happens to me while learning a new tool.

But amazingly, not too far into the demonstration, Woodring's inking with the pen from Land of the Giants was virtually indistinguishable from his regular inking. Here he is inking a drawing with the Nibbus Maximus:

And at the end of this video you can see him inking with his regular pen:

The man clearly has a feel for the nib as a broad concept, and when you change the parameters, like size, ink thickness, and flexibility, he just has to take awhile to readjust his technique before he's mastered it as he would any other nib. It's way, way more interesting to watch than I thought it would be, and watching him have to struggle to adapt to the tool gave me insights into how any artist adapts to nib pens.

Many have pointed out that new Seattle transplant Scott Kurtz was at the event (as seen in the below photo), and I thought I'd take this opportunity to say what spectacular resources the podcast Webcomics Weekly (which he co-hosts) and accompanying book How to Make Webcomics (which he co-wrote) are. My good friend Erika Moen helped make herself a successful independent artist and businesswoman based on concepts she learned from these resources, and anyone who has a webcomic, are is looking to start a webcomic, would do well to buy the book and start listening to the podcast from episode 1.

Jim Woodring and Nibbus Maximus

Two additional things Woodring posted on his blog that I thought were cool, a guide to how nibs were made in the old days:
(Click to see larger.)
And this drawing of a frog being hit by lightning:
(Click to see larger.)
I notice that Wooding is wearing the exact same shirt and suit that he was wearing when I met him at an art opening, and I wonder if he's like me, with only one nice outfit that he just uses over and over at any vaguely fancy event.

In unrelated news, Dark Horse posted this really fantastic back and forth illustrated dialogue between editor Scott Allie and artist Guy Davis on the latest BPRD cover. It's a perfect example of an editor doing their job right, taking an okay idea and molding it into a great one, making the artist look good, and strengthening the narrative impact of the imagery.

Below, a special treat for you: A progression from Guy's thumbnails, to his pencils, to his inks from one of my favorite pages in that issue. Click to see it in all it's glory:

See you next week!

January 8, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Take care of your wrist!

Robin Bougie is one of the nicest men I have ever met in comics. Much like the also famously sweet Scott McCloud, he's spends most of his time as a creator helping other creators, publishing their work, using his own prominence to bring good work to light, and talking openly about his experiences as a creator. For years now he's had problems with his drawing hand, as has his wife Rebecca. This is the second time he's posted this video of injury-preventing hand stretches:

When he first posted it I was drawing a lot of comics myself, and getting terrible wrist pain. These stretches helped me a lot. From his post:

Do these stretches before you start, and once an hour, every hour, while drawing. Please don't fuck your shit up like we did. If you're a writer and typing a lot, it couldn't hurt you to do the same.

Think of yourself like an athlete, and for them stretching before they take part in their sport is absolutely VITAL in order to prevent injury. We, as artists, absolutely have to start thinking this way as well -- especially if we're in our thirties or older when our bodies aren't willing to put up with the crap we put them through.

I'm having a lot more trouble staying pain free because I started doing these stretches stuff AFTER I strained my arm, and I know now that it's much better to be preventative and begin doing them before you do permanent damage. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE!

More information about RSI here:
Your wrist is no less a comic tool than your pen, unless you intend to learn to draw somehow without it. Take care of it. Don't hold El Corazon over crocodile-filled water with your wrist.

By the way, unless you have a really high tolerance for fucked-up, disturbing sexual imagery, do NOT click to see the other entries in his journal. Don't say you weren't warned.

Oh, and I really liked this comment to the youtube video:
"This has helped me quite a bit. For those that loose faith in humanity...visit Youtube every now and again. The fact that people take time out of their lives to help people like this is a testament to humanity"
I actually mainly watch youtube videos by people who have taken time and effort to teach others, but it's still odd to me to see someone associate youtube with MORE faith in humanity. Probably because any video, of any thing, will eventually get a comment calling the poster a fag or questioning their skills. This comment made me think that maybe I should focus more on the fact that I've gotten an amazingly thorough education on a few subjects on Youtube, and less on guys in their parent's basement looking for things to call faggy while their tiny penises heal from over masturbating.

Also, in perhaps the biggest Comic Tool news of all time, Jim Woodring will be demonstrating his enormous, 7 foot nib pen. Here's video of the nib:

He's using it in public for the very first time today, and I'll post video of that when it becomes available. I have no idea how the hell this thing is supposed to work, but you can bet I'm drooling to find out and see what he can do with it.

See you all next week!