Thursday, April 24, 2014

The mapping pen is juuuuust right!!

I started off using the G pen, but it's too soft. Goes way too easily from thin to thick. Makes for a rather cartoony look. Then I tried the turnip pen. It's too hard. Can't get any line variation at all with that one!! But the mapping pen is juuuust right!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Look at the signature. I realized I had got used to everything coming out wider, so I compensated by drawing/writing tall and narrow. Now I need to get used to writing normally again.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Figuring out lots of helpful tech stuff

Not quite finished with this one, but it's already benefitted heavily from a few things I've learned since last night.

Fixing Intuos aspect ratio:
First, I discovered that my tablet was set by default to a different aspect ratio than my monitor. The intuos 3has either a 4x5 or 4x3 ratio, and I think the newer monitors are 16x9. Crazy little story about how I discovered this - I'll save that for later. But suffice to say, if I drew a circle on the tablet, I got a wide oval. If I drew a square, I got a wide rectangle.That explains SOOO FREAKING MUCH!! 

The internet told me all I had to do was open the Intuos prefs and click a little box under Mapping that says "force aspect ratio" or something similar. That's all it took.

Oh, the superglue held nicely (1st time it ever has), but unfortunately the 2 pieces of the stylus didn't quite fit back into each other perfectly and it's now about 2 mm longer than it used to be, meaning the tip sinks back inside it till just the very - um - tip of it protrudes. A little tricky to draw with - if I tilt is a little bit suddenly it stops drawing. Not that bad though, but I did go and order a new one. Off NewEgg, not Amazon, because people were commenting that the one you receive was not the one in the picture - maybe because t's shipped from Detroit? No clue - anyway, I found one cheaper on NewEgg anyway.

Using perspective and straight line rulers in Clip Studio, switching between it and PS:
The rulers in CSP are amazing. They make precision drawing really simple. And I figured out a method to transfer this piece back and forth between PS and CSP to use the strengths of each (PS still blows it out of the water for painting). Essentially I have both open, and whenever I need to draw something n perspective or with straight lines I switch to CSP, where I still have it open, though it's at an earlier stage of development since most of my work has been in PS. But that doesn't matter - I just make a new layer, draw what I need, make all the other layers invisible, and export the one layer as a tiff. I open that in PS, select all, copy, and paste it on top of the image as a Darken layer so the clear background remains transparent rather than solid white. Then I can merge it down or work on it separately for a while if I want. For a while I even kept an invisible copy layer with all the perspective stuff on it.

Fiddling around with Selections:
And finally this has been incredibly excellent. It goes like this - use magic wand to select say all the black lines in the mirror frame (lines I drew in Clip Studio). Then I Expand the selection by 6 pixels, Feather it by 4 pixels, which creates a soft edge, and fill in using a chalk brush loaded with black at a low opacity. This creates a beautiful firm/soft edge but with nice straight contours. This is the kind of precision I've needed but couldn't get working freehand.

Wow, how could I forget??!

Transform tool commands:
I also decided to see what happens if I press various keys while dragging the corner of a Transform box. I always wanted to be able to pull or push one corner around but couldn't find a way to do that, until now. The command button lets you do it. Weird - since obviously it has the capability, why isn't there a way to do it without discovering some hidden cheat code? Makes me wonder what other tricks it will do if you can ferret out the secret codes.

I'm doing this one from reference, but not slavishly copying it - man it feels good to have a little creative freedom after all the level up copies!!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Refining scribble dude - breaking and remaking my stylus

I redrew the arm and the outer line on the leg on the left side. You can distinctly see the difference for a couple of reasons - I used a pen this time, so the line is far more responsive than the pencil lines, and it's also blacker. Plus I went for a more formal feathering type of shading, though it's ugly and the lines run in all the wrong directions. Clearly I need to draw like this a lot and eventually develop a technique or rather a collection of techniques, though I do prefer a loose sketchy style over a tight meticulous one. Experience will help a lot but I think I also need to apply conscious strategy - study the work of artists I admire and emulate them.

In order to do this I further developed my layering strategy from yesterday. I started with just the line on the leg, which looked terrible in the original. I had made 3 separate lines all beginning and ending at the right points but looping wildly, each in a different way, in between. It's a case of drawing spasmodically, something I need to get over. I guess I have this notion that loose sketchy drawing needs to be done with quick rapid movements - and really I know better. It's a bad habit I keep falling back on that I need to break.

At this point I"m considering doing my final drawing with a pencil tool rather than the pen tools. Or maybe just using a less responsive pen tool, or adjusting the G pen (the one I used here) so it doesn't vary quite so much between thin and thick. In fact, I even kind of like the fact that the pencil tool lines are dark grey rather than black - I didn't know that until I put pen marks next to them today and saw the difference. There's something about drawing with such a calligraphic pen that makes you draw differently - maybe a little more formally? The lines tend to look a little too self-conscious to me. Maybe it's because I feel the need to always put rat tails on every stroke when using this kind of a pen? Heck, in fact I believe the pen tool is set up to automatically do that come to think of it - I guess I could switch that off or turn it down.

Something I want to try, but I think it will be difficult - turning the tablet so I can make groups of feathered lines at the most comfortable angle, the way I automatically do with paper. It's easy with paper, because you get that tactile feedback constantly, you touch the pen or pencil to the paper and you know exactly where it will go when you move it. But with the tablet there's a disconnect - if it isn't sitting perfectly aligned with the monitor then the line will be angled a little bit - very disorienting. I have a weird but possibly workable idea for this though, short of getting a Cintiq - how about taping a piece of paper on the tablet and swapping the nylon tip in the stylus for the appropriate sized drawing lead? The poor man's cintiq! I don't see why it wouldn't work, though many things obviously fail to work even when we don't see why they wouldn't. It occurred to me today when for the first time I had to replace the tip in my stylus. Though I just realized you can't advance the lead like in a mechanical pencil, so you'd throw away a lot of little pieces of lead after drawing with them for a few minutes.

Update - drawing on the tablet through paper totally works. I also broke off a piece of 2mm lead, which looked like the right size, but it's slightly too big to go inside the stylus. Damn - the next smaller size I know of is more than a millimeter smaller - way too small! It's hard to see laboriously shaving down a piece of 2mm lead for this. 

Oh yeah, I was going to explain how I re-drew the arm and leg. Simple, just a variation on the way I did several layered pencil variations, each successively more refined than the last. I turned the entire pencil layer blue (so I can easily differentiate between the pencil lines and ink marks I'm making over them), drew in the new lines, then erased the underlying blue pencil marks, turned the pencil layer black again, and merged the layers. Working similarly to this you could conceivably do multiple different inks over the same pencil drawing - interesting idea.

Update #2 - stupidest thing I've done in along time. And I saw it coming just before it happened. "Wow - wouldn't it be terrible if this piece of lead I just shaved down on the sanding block broke off inside the stylus?" - I was actually smiling like an idiot as I thought it, but then I sobered up fast and realized - how the well was I going to get it out? Considering how frequently they break in the lead holder.. and sure enough, the instant I tried, SNAP!! The stylus still projects the target disc on the screen, but it won't draw now - I guess it needs the feedback of the nib pressing into it even slightly. Or maybe if I put the button back on the side I can make it draw using that. But yeah, ordering a new stylus now. Hey, at least the part I screwed up is the cheap part!
I love working like this - building up form gradually by laying down skeins of linework in an almost automatic way. It's like it allows me to think as the form takes shape. I go into a sort of trance and unfocus my mind and watch as the drawing builds itself. Using the small point of a pencil rather than a broad brush, as is recommended in painting (digital or otherwise). I don;t seem to be good yet at thinking in fast planar terms to build form that way, but when I scribble it out in pencil (not using the edge of the lead but the paint, and best if it's a very sharp pencil) the magic happens. I had really forgotten about this, and this is the first time it's happened since long ago. I need to keep nurturing this and develop it in the digital realm - maybe I can translate it into painting and bring it through into the broad planar approach.

Update 3 - found this thread on disassembling the intuos 3 stylus and quickly canceled the one I had just ordered. One little falsehood in the post - he says twist and the pen will come apart - it will feel like you're going to break it but you won't. I did. There was no way in hell it was coming apart without breaking. But I did get it apart, found a super thin steel rod I had bought long ago for making armatures, and it actually fit through that tiny hole and was long enough to push the lead out. Amazing!! I even found a tube of superglue that was still liquid (after 2 solid tubes of epoxy and 2 crunchy tubes of superglue) and it's setting up now. It should work, even though it didn't go back together quite perfectly. It's really just a question now of if the superglue joint will actually hold - it's never ever ever worked for me in the past, but I think it's because I always thought it was supposed to be fully cured in 5 minutes, and didn't realize you still needed to let it sit overnight before using. Time will tell.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Feeling my way - and making stable the table

I'm feeling my way through CSP (the initials are starting to grow on me anyway, if not the actual name). Trying different approaches. The top one was based on some superhero stuff by Marko Djurdjevick - I kinda like most of the head, the rest sucks.

But on the bottom one I started to work out a system that I think is a good one. 1st pencil layer I just worked out the basic forms of the body - and in fact I didn't like it so I faded it, turned it blue, and drew over it with black pencil on a new layer. Switched off the 1st layer, turned the 2nd one blue and faded it, drew over it with black pencil on a new layer. It was looking better now, but still not detailed enough to ink over, so I did the same again and drew over it again, this time adding in lots of loose scribbly inking with no real thought for precision or even making it look nice, I was feeling my way. Just wanted to build up a sense of form by layering lots of lines - the way I used to do in pencil. It's a bit different on a tablet, and in black rather than grey, but it did feel familiar and comfortable.

And I changed something else very basic as well, which I think helped immensely. I've been drawing/painting with the tablet laying on my lap, usually legs crossed to prop it up a bit. But I started getting really fed up with that - I know it screws up my accuracy. The tablet tends to wobble around as I'm drawing, though in a way my hand moves with it, so hard to tell if it really hurts accuracy or not, but it feels like it must. So I put a bar clamp on the leg of the computer table and laid the edge of a drawing board on it, with the other edge on my lap, then put the tablet on that. Muuuch better!! It seems like it freed up my hand and arm to draw - somehow until now I must have had to sort of hold the tablet steady to some extent with my arm while drawing, which apparently prevented good free movement.

I also pulled the drafting table out in the studio upstairs. I was getting really fed up with trying to draw stuff sitting right beside me, so that I have to turn my head 90 degrees to see it, then back to draw, and I'm looking down almost on top of the objects I'm drawing, putting them in a really weird extreme perspective. I'm finally addressing the wobbly, unstable, uncomfortable ways of drawing that I've been using all along - maybe this is the beginning of a new phase…

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two New Torsos and my new favorite drawing tool

Remember a while back when I made an excited post about all the Unicorn Studio unglazed porcelain statues on NewEgg? Then I found them on another store too.. Well, eventually I decided against getting any except for these 2 torsos because, as well detailed and realistic as they were, they lack sharpness in the cuts. Very soft rounded detailing on inside details - meaning creases or what should be sharp indentations, like where fingers are laid against the body etc. That kills entirely too much definition overall. But these torsos are big enough (about 10 inches tall - same height as the standing figures), and they don't have any of those sharp undercuts - well actually I guess they do, but for some reason the detailing on these is sharp as a pin. I found them both on eBay for $30 apiece with free shipping, which is the best price I've seen anywhere. 

I also just got in my new Koh-I-Noor 3.15mm lead holder - right in between the 2mm Staedtler and the chunky 5.6mm Art Alternatives lead holder that I did some of my previous cast drawings with, which is good for big background work, but really too thick for drawing. This one feels juuuust right! Could be the perfect sketch pencil - the lead goes down smooth and creamy, unlike so many of the various pencils I've tried recently. It's an ugly dark green octagonal tube with an ugly utilitarian button sticking out the back of it, but that doesn't matter - what matters is how it works. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Not the Rook!!!

Well, I got the registration problems sorted out - it's weird though - Manga Studio is now called Clip Studio Paint - at least if you get the digital download version (still Manga Studio if you buy it on DVD). Had me head scratching - but  checked, and it isn't some kind of pirated copy or anything, this is official. I hate the name - it conjures up a confabulation of MS Paint and clip art…

But all that's beside the point. Lol, I had the usual bout of excited impatience after I was finally able to register it and it was now mine to play around with to my heart's content - I had to take some time web surfing and eat dinner before I was settled down enough to actually stop and think about what to draw, and to plan it. It's funny - getting new art supplies or programs turns me into a kid!

My first attempt at penciling this was disappointing, so I turned it down to about 30% opacity and made another pencil layer above it (red this time to differentiate it from the original non-repro blue layer) and drew it over, but in a decisive straight-line style that from the start looked much more comic-book. And no, it's not the Rook. Really.

This is actually very encouraging - I've rarely done a head in ink that looked anywhere near this good. It still looks amateurish in ways, but since it's digital I can always go in and erase and re-draw any parts I want to. That my friends is what's known as turbo-charging the learning process.

I seem to have shifted myself deliberately into some kind of comic-book artist mode, just through a sheer act of will. It began when Kimonas informed me of the sloppy, hairy quality of the linework in my recent Bridgeman studies, and I kicked it up another notch for this one. More and more I'm getting the strong notion that improving as an artist - at least when you have the basics well in hand - is mostly a matter of focus and concentration. Of having a very clear-cut goal (not just the vague desire to 'get better') and a powerful determination to get there NOW. It helps of course that I have drawn comic style art in the past - many years ago. In some regard I'm just pulling up knowledge I gained then and pushing it farther.

Ok, too much blabber..

I also did this in CSP (I even hate the initials):

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Oops - forgot one..

Ahh, feels good to draw on a big luxurious sketchpad again at long last! Everything has been in either a pocket moleskin (4 x 5 I think) or it's larger cousin (8 x 5) held on my lap in an office chair with my arms trapped between my body and the arms of the chair, drawing like a T Rex. This makes it hard to get any kind of flowing lines. Hmm, ok, the lines on this don't exactly flow, but today I started getting a more flawy quality on my Bridgeman studies thanks to Kimonas on Conceptart for pointing out how hairy and scribbly my lines were getting. I think I did this one right after (last night) but it wasn't till today I found my flow really.

But here I tried a different variation - drawing from the shoulder but with my hand against the paper and using a pen grip - pretty nice. It's the way the artist's drills on CGMA were done if I remember right. So I tried some of the multiple line drills - top drawing from the shoulder, hand hovering, 6 passes over the same line segment. Under it the same, but with hand resting on paper and moving my head to where I can see the line better the way the guy on CGMA did. Tried it several times, this way is always far more accurate. Then some circles - the small ones pen grip with only finger movement, larger ones arm movement hand on paper . Arm movement is always more flowy and smooth, and resting the edge of the hand on the paper and sliding it along pen grip style increases accuracy greatly.

Catching up…

Ok, here's all the stuff I neglected to post for the last week… one huge steaming dump.

Below are the finial revisions of these pieces.

Monday, April 14, 2014

How Mark Crilley makes comics

It waits

Has it really been a week since I posted here? Wow - getting lazy! Sometimes I don't feel like posting identical stuff on here and my sketchbook thread @ Conceptart - though I really should, because then I have duplicates in case one site goes down.

Anyway, here's the latest, done in Manga Studio 5. Couldn't save it because I was using the free trial version. I bought it after doing this, but registration isn't working, so I had to close it and lose the file, though I did snap this screen grab of it first. I really like MS5 - it's streamlined specifically for drawing comics. The pen tools and brush tools seem a lot more responsive than in photoshop - they're designed specifically to mimic the effects of various nibs and brushes. It also has great perspective grids and straight lines tools etc, and uses a deep nested folder structure that lets you lay out an entire comic book and view it 2 up - 2 facing pages side by side to see the flow. It also makes it easy to position and rule panels, and automatically creates a system of masks so you can't draw outside of the one you're working on (unless you want to).

You know - I love the idea of being a purist - of working only with real paint or ink - but necessity is driving me into the digital realm. I need to turbocharge the  learning curve, and that's exactly what digital does. It also means you can easily correct mistakes (no mean feat with india ink on paper) and try various experiments before committing to one. I also realized that the cost of occasionally replacing a computer or tablet or upgrading software would be about equal to all the supplies and materials you'd be buying to work real-world style.

And the final factor - I'm quite sure I wouldn't be able to do this nearly as well in ink on paper at this stage in my development.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


After seeing the video in my last post, I wanted to do something similar. It's amazing watching a good concept artist scribble and see something incredible take form right before your eyes, and keep changing little by little until it's a killer picture.

So I scribbled up a Fafhrd color form and started using it like a paper doll to design clothes on. 1st attempt above, but it was looking more Eastern karate-pants than Viking marauder. That's ok - the fun of this is how easy it is to switch off each garment and whip up some new ones. Second time around I downloaded a bunch of refs for viking clothes (thankfully the cable show is thoroughly researched, and avoids those completely ridiculous cliches like horns and wings on helmets, which were invented by some costume designer for some opera same as big buckles on Pilgrim clothes).

Can't say this is much better yet, but it's a start.

Here he is in nearly naked mannikin form.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Ken Kelly's Exterminator 1 (which clearly inspired James Cameron a year or two later). Brain of an assassin transplanted into a cybernetic killer body. I can hear those steel 2 x 4 legs clanging along the rubble-strewn streets. And I noticed something as I was finishing up - not sure if Kelly really intended this or not, but are those hands supposed to represent Frazetta and Wrightson? Looks like their respective styles - makes me think he was having a bit of fun with them.

Comic panel with notes

Done last night.


  • Pentel Sharp .05 mechanical pencil, 2H lead
  • Hunt crow quill pen with 102 nib
  • Kuretake brush pen loaded with Noodler's Bulletproof ink
  • various small flat and filbert brushes for wash and white gouache (W&N and Acryl)
  • Pigma Micron .05 for borders, which I re-did completely in photoshop today
  • Photoshop for cleanup, corrections, straightening and borders

Here's the original before all the cleanup - well actually I had made an attempt at a photoshop border which wasn't very successful yet:


The Kuretake is actually amazingly good for this. In fact, I gotta say, it's kept its point better than any other brush I've ever used - though I'm sure that's because it's staying wet with ink rather than getting washed and drying in between uses If I did was and dry it it would doubtless splay out like all my other brushes do.

Lines down with a dip pen must be left to dry OVERNIGHT - even after a couple hours they can smear when you erase. The more flexible nibs seem to leave more ink than the less flexible ones.

The Turner Acryl gouache is whiter and more opaque, while being more fluid, than the Windsor/Newton Designer's gouache, but the instant I dip a brush in it I can feel the ticking time bomb effect - I know if I let that acrylic paint dry for as little as maybe 5 minutes the brush is useless. No such fear with the W&N, and I can always use several applications.

Cleaned the ink out of the Niji mini water brush last night and learned how to completely disassemble it. I just ordered several more, including a flat, to keep varying grades of wash in. But then a round used on it's side is much like a flat. If this works, then the only thing I'll need the little inkwell for is the dip pen.

The Spectrafix cap makes a perfect inkwell - perfect size and shape, the transparency is exactly what's needed, and when dumping ink back into the bottle it beads up and runs off, leaving only a couple of tiny dots to be wiped out, no waste and cleans up like a dream.

I poured some Noodler's into one of my 2 oz dispenser bottles, which are nice and airtight, and this makes it easy to pour ink into the little well and back into the dispenser bottle. You can unscrew the top to reveal a wide mouth. Simple and neat. Here's a pic:

Lol, the leftover Coke cap is great for covering it to prevent evaporation when I'm not actively using it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Not your grandfather's comic book inking techniques..

Mike Mignola

Francis Valejo

Jason Shawn Alexander

Frank Miller (Klaus Jansen inks I believe)

What do they all have in common, aside from being considered modern, unconventional, or even avant-garde artists working in the comics field? 

None of them use the standard comic book techniques of hatching or feathering. In the fields of superhero and horror comics of the last few decades, these techniques have been a mainstay - it was basically mandatory for aspiring artists to master them, which requires amazing control over line thickness and exactly where both ends of a group of fine lines falls. Especially in the case of feathering, with tapering ends on the lines (rat-tail strokes as I've learned to call them) - with feathering you can't just come back in and clean up the edges of your groups with white - you need all the lines to taper at the same rate and end on the same curve. It's pretty much what makes inking so difficult, and also what makes it possible to get good subtle shading. 

But all of these guys have foresworn it. Instead they mainly seem to rely on well-designed, strongly graphic areas of black and white to create chiaroscuro (patterns of light and shadow that reveal form, usually very strongly contrasting). And where they want some gradient in between, instead of fine, closely packed lines all in a neat row like little soldiers, they make marks of various kinds. Sometimes rather randomly, like splattering, sometimes very controlled. Sometimes those marks are lines, sometimes they're more like dots or dabs. And many of these artists don't use traditional dip pens and brushes either, but have opted for markers instead. 

Mignola, according to his website, uses Staedtler pigment sketch pens for lines and Higgins Black Magic ink for large areas. Alexander does seem to use dip pens and brushes for the most part. With some it's hard to tell, but I'd say Simonson uses markers for his lines - they look too unvarying for dip pens.

Some of them occasionally do use groups of parallel lines for shading, but it rarely resembles traditional feathering or hatching. It's often much rougher, with no real finesse for the exact shape made by the groups of lines, and they rarely taper on the ends like feathering. It tends to feel a bit clunky in comparison, raw and modern, sort of like alternative rock compared to carefully orchestrated progressive rock of the 70's. Done with a blunter instrument, and not ashamed of it.

I just saw a Mignola interview in which he said you can't just try to enter comics with thus kind of style - he and everyone else who do it began the usual way - Bill Sienkiewicz started as a Neal Adams clone for instance. Then once you've paid your dues and proven yourself you can relax and start to do your own thing. I believe this serves to ensure that you know how to draw well - I can see people wanting to just ignore traditional technique and jump straight into the modern look without developing the skills these guys have.