July 5th, 2013
Three Questions From a Beginner Cartoonist.
I often receive questions from young artists and writers, and I generally spend time answering them in some depth. I thought perhaps I'd share one such exchange which happened earlier today. . .
I responded. . .
Hi Mr. Oakley,
I think I emailed you one time long ago, but that email was all about comments and thank you's. This time, I would like to ask a few questions, if you have the time. I am making a comic called "Other Worlds," (somewhat inspired from your T&K,) and, well... the last time I worked on it was about two years ago. In other words, I am going to re-draw it with my much improved current skills. I'm quite nervous, though, as I have never tried to accomplish such a big task. So here are my questions:
- Tips for beginners?
- Best drawing methods/utensils?
- What about writer's block?
I could probably make this list MUCH longer, but those are the three most important questions. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I eagerly await the next part of Apprentices.
Writing and drawing is a very personal experience, and as you explore it, the more you will discover your own best ways to climb the mountain.
But I can certainly offer some of my own experiences with those particular puzzles.
-Tips for beginners:
One of the biggest "Ah HAH!" moments in terms of making comics was this: When you're applying inks to a drawing, often the result will not look as nice as the pencil work you just finished laboring to get right. As beautiful lines vanish beneath uncertain inks, the heart grows heavy, and when you look up at the finished product, it can be downright depressing.
The trick I learned was rather than tear up the picture in frustration, instead just keep noodling at it. Use white-out, (a tiny brush and some guache or acrylic white ink), to tidy up lines and blotches. There may be several dozen tiny spots you can improve or fix, no one of which will rescue the picture, but I found that when I kept at it, adding one little correction at a time, not looking at the whole, just noodling, that when I finally stepped back I'd realize, "Whoa! Hey, this actually looks pretty good!" A few dozen small corrections can have a huge overall effect.
Every drawing is a work in progress until it's done, and if it looked good as a pencil drawing, then you can make it look good as an inked drawing. For the really bad mistakes, I'd often use paste (or a waxing tool), to put bits of paper down over them, (badly messed up faces or whatnot), and re-draw over those, maybe using a light box. An exacto knife and more white paint are used to tidy up the edges of these little repairs.
The point being, take your time, allow yourself to be critical of mistakes and rough spots, and then just trust in the process of getting them right. It pays off. It was very rare in the beginning for me that I'd ever produce a perfect picture on the first go. They always needed lots of noodling and polishing and repair work to come out right in the end.
Also, always allow for your own discoveries and techniques to evolve. There is no "right way" to get to the finished product so long as you find your way there. As you continue to work on new drawings, you'll find you make fewer and fewer errors and the process becomes faster. Like anything. (Though, even masters use erasers!)
-Best drawing methods/utensils:
These days, I personally like to use a digital drawing tablet and a decent art program; there's no question that digital tools offer an amazing range of possibilities and efficiencies, but I recommend people learn on paper for a variety of reasons. In fact, I frequently return to physical mediums to keep myself connected to the real world.
In the real world, I like to find a paper which doesn't let inks bleed. I'd go through art stores and when trying to find the right paper for me, I'd always test a corner with different pens to see how the inks would react. -I look for a paper tough enough to handle repeated erasures, and still be able to take an ink line nicely. My current favorite paper is a smooth bristol board by Strathmore, (you can get them in pads of 20 or so sheets). For size, I like to work at 10" x 15" or 8.5" x 14" Strathmore smooth bristol is a really nice paper, and it's quite cheap. Though, I would sometimes buy big sheets of bristol board and cut them up into page sizes. These days, I also just use decks of high-quality 11" x 17" copier paper, because you can get 500 sheets of the stuff for about $20 or $30, and it takes a line really well, though of course, it's not as sturdy and can't take an exacto knife blade without being damaged. --Though I'd usually be scanning those kinds of pages, so paste repair jobs would be done in Photoshop anyway. They don't look very nice as finished stand-alone pieces, however. For finished work which needs to look great on its own, bristol board is best, I find.
For inks, I use cheap disposable pens with roller ball tips and liquid ink wells. Pilot makes a .5mm and a .7mm pen in this format, both of which have been formulated to work really well on standard copier papers and bristol boards. They may seem cheap, but somebody spent a lot of R&D to make them work as well as they do. They don't clog, they put down a nice reliable line, and you can carry them around in your pocket. And best of all, any drug store will have replacements when they run out.
I also use a pilot thick line marker (also with an ink well), but they're harder to find. They put down a 1.5 mm line, which is good for things like panel borders and word balloons.
For lettering, you can use an Ames lettering guide. (Google that. You can find youtube demonstrations for how to use them. They're the go-to tool for all pros in the field doing hand-lettering on paper, and have been for decades. You can't improve perfection!)
For paintings, I'll use an old-style dip ink nib and india ink. (Those pens I described aren't water proof, so painting over them turns the lines to mud. India ink doesn't do that, but it can be tricky to use.)
But all in all, finding your own preference in materials should be one of your joys! It's a fun exploration.
I don't really believe in this. I think it's an umbrella term for, "I don't wanna!" But even so, there are times when we burn out. The brain uses more fuel than any other part of our bodies, so if you sugar crash while working, or run out of good brain fuel, it's entirely possible to develop some brain fog and lose sight of a project.
Naps are good when stuck, as well as lots of day dreaming. It's also worth noting that writers draw on their life experience in order to have things to say, so living is good. Get outside, interact, have adventures, get hurt, feel joy, read, watch films and think, think, think. That's where ideas come from. A healthy dose of self-criticism and realism is very important. If you can't see or admit to your own flaws and work on them, you'll never be a very good writer. Writers are those who see the world and report on it to others, so we need to be able to see clearly.
But while forcing ourselves to sit down and write and draw even when we don't want to is important, it's also important to respect the organic nature of the process. We are not machines.
It takes time and care for ideas to brew properly. T&K took many years, almost seven (!!) of thinking and writing and sketching before I finally launched issue #1. I was 18 years old when I first started working and thinking about Rubel, Quinton and Soracia, writing little stories about them, testing them out, changing them and their world in little and big ways, gently day dreaming them into existence. The first issue of T&K went to press when I was 24! That's a lot of development time! Jenny Mysterious is only now in the full swing of page production. It's 2013 now, and I first thought her up in 2007. So again, it will have been about seven years of day dreaming and sketching and short stories before her first book arrives on people's shelves all trim and proper.
So it's okay not to have your master work script done in a month. Writer's block is never something I worry about. I think it's a make-believe term for just not being in the right mood. If you follow an organic path to your story, then you shouldn't have to worry about it either.
I hope that answers your questions!
Cheers, and best of luck with your projects!
July 5th, 2013