The Project – 4

So, a huge number of decisions went into getting the work to where I wanted it to be, and I’ve shown you samples in various previous posts, some collected here. But where does it all begin? It starts with the idea or concept that I am thinking about, and conversations which will form the dialogue for the piece in question. I start fleshing it out more, perhaps with a setting beginning to form in my mind. Maybe pencil drawings begin to take shape, and I start laying out pages, capturing the beats of the conversation, and the visuals that might get used. Characters (the people who will be in dialogue) begin to assert themselves by this point as well.

Incidentally, this is a place where sometimes the iPad comes into its own, and it is a great tool at several stages of all this. This project is one of the reasons I got the iPad, although I could not tell you at the time I got it back in the early Summer since I was not revealing what I was working on then. (Much of the other stuff I happily discovered about the iPad that I blogged about a while back (here, here, and here) are actually nice bonuses. I got it primarily to help me with development aspects on this project that had little to do with those other features.) I draw rough layouts on the iPad sometimes, and I can store all my rough ideas and print them out, modify them, call them up for later viewing, and so forth. I can carry work in progress with me, reference photos from location scouting, etc. It is also good for practice sketching, and sometimes, using it, I’ve grabbed some nice quick drawings of people in a meeting or in a bar or on a bus. Drawing from life is an important skill to keep up. The iPad is not used in final production on the graphic novel though. I work at a level of detail and complexity that the iPad would not be able to handle, as you’ll read later in the post.

I’m still quite old-fashioned, and so when it comes to the next steps, I’m a pencil, pen, and paper guy again. On the one hand, the detailed conversation gets written out on real paper to help me shape it. Then I do a more careful rough layout next to it, again adjusting the two things as I go, to work together. panel_example_aCharacters get designed, choices are made about a particular angle, establishing panel, a detail, etc. The spread of panels on the page is worked out, and I try to make decisions about how they hand over from one to the other, how to lead the reader’s eye around the page, and so on. Each panel is a piece in itself, and I have to make decisions about angles, how much room there is in each panel for text and visual elements, what kind of perspective to use for the visuals, placings of vanishing points, eye lines, diagonal vanishing points, and so on and so forth. See the post Nine Points for more on that.

Then the really hard work starts. Drawing more accurately, placing elements into the visual field, designing a little piece of the universe -borrowing heavily from ours- for all the bits to exist in. Worrying about the details. This involves a lot of walking, observations, scouting, and so forth. Reference photographs. Occasional returns because I forgot to take note of an important detail – what did the lampposts look like on that street? What is the height of a parking meter, anyway? – and other obsessive things that if I told you, you’d think I was mad. Oh, wait, that ship has already sailed, right? This whole endeavor is a bit insane, and I’m loving it!

(The point there is that you, (yes, you – reading this post) probably don’t log in the forefront of your mind how tall a parking meter is, or some other detail like that…. And you don’t notice those sort of details in a finished piece of work so much if I’m getting them right… But as soon as I get one of them wrong, you’ll see it. It’ll poke you in the eye. So in this style where I’m using a relatively non-stylized and non-abstract forms and figures, I must be careful.)

panel_example_bSeveral iterations later, perhaps after a lot of redrawing and so forth, I’ve done all the major pencil work. That the page gets scanned into the computer. Then I ink. I spent a lot of time thinking about inking, researching it and experimenting with it as much as several other techniques and forms associated with different stages, such as the raw drawing itself. Again, there are traditional choices and modern choices, and hybrids of the two. I suppose I’m doing a hybrid, of sorts. For a while, I was doing mostly digital inking, (drawing on the computer with an special pen and drawing tablet with the scanned pencils in a background layer), and this is what people do a lot now. Eventually, I began to dislike it, since a lot of the character of my pencil work (such as it is) was getting lost. I would get too clean a result, and I’d have to spend a lot of time trying to make the finished product a bit more dirty. And even then it did not always achieve what I wanted without an inordinate amount of time. I’ve a number of pages finished that way, and I don’t like them any more. (Also, such a work flow was far too inefficient, and I am going to have to find many ways to improve efficiency or I’ll never get this thing done before 2015.) The method I settled on and which I like a lot, goes back to inking on paper, with pens and sometimes brushes. I mentioned a bit about this in one or two sample posts, such as Inkin’ and Black Lines.

For some reason, I’ve become a bit obsessive about having all the finished work in vector form, and not raster form (long story – ignore if this loses you), and so was stuck for a while on how best to keep my pencils nice and pencil-ly while going to vectored inks that keep close to the pencil style. Digital inking was not doing it for me because there is something quite different about the way I use a pen and tablet when drawing as opposed to pencil or pen on paper. And as inking is not just a matter of tracing the pencils in black (professional inkers hate that people think that), but a finishing and drawing stage in and of itself, I want to have a better drawing feel to get the pencil-ly feel. Hard to say what I mean by pencil-ly feel, but I know it when I see it. One option is working from scanned pencils straight to colour is a growing form now, with no inking step at all. Why not? Inking was invented as a form in the comic book industry as a way of getting over various printing limitations, but those don’t exist any more. Inking remains because it became a beautiful form unto itself, but there’s no reason to do it just for its own sake. But the result is typically all rasterized, and I want vector graphics for the entire finished product. In the end, I found a way, with a good work flow, and I won’t bore you with the details. It takes me, happily, back to inking with good old-fashioned pen or brush on paper!

Again, the iPad can play a useful role at any of the stages discussed here. At many of these stages I generate a version that I put on to the device. This allows me to see how the thing looks in my hand, which is useful. One reason is that is how you’ll probably read the thing one day yourself. That size, either in a printed page from a book, or perhaps from a handheld device like an iPad or one of the many clones emerging on the market as we speak. Another reason is that I can work away from the desk and make some progress while mobile. I can muse over it on the bus or subway, over dinner, etc. I can critique my layouts, pencil work, etc. Also I can pull the file into a program like Brushes, and doodle suggested changes or other adjustments on top of it for later reference. Very useful.

panel_example_cTedious details aside, I now have a nice work flow for inking that allows me to preserve some of the key feel of the pencils I do in the final inks. There’s an ink-y character to it as well, since I do things like substituting cross hatching for the range of soft pencil half-tones, here and there. I don’t have those deep pools of black that you get in a lot of comic book inking craft. That’s wonderful stuff, and a great look for some projects, and I may use it elsewhere, in a different story (perhaps with a film/comic-book noir edge to it), but to not have it here is a choice. I want to keep the pencil feel under the colours. Ultimately, I end up with it all vectorized in Adobe Illustrator. There, I might add some more inks here and there digitally, and correct errors and so forth. Then, it is all ready for painting and lettering.

Not so much to say about that last stage that I have not said in a previous post. As the core of the rendering for me is in the blacks and whites that form the core drawing, I focus less on the colour rendering aspects. panel_example_dAgain, a choice. I use simple flat colours, applied with combinations of filled shapes and digital brushes. Minimal use of gradients except for special objects, or large objects like skyscrapers, abstract backgrounds, the sky, and so forth. (See Paints.) But the choices of colours themselves are important. How will the overall panel look to the eye? The overall page? What colours does that character like to wear? Would he/she clash with the background? What is the main colour scheme kept this page or panel? Is there an aspect of the content of the conversation or the story that calls for a particular colour choice? The iPad comes in here again. While musing on things away from the desk I can take a digitally generated version of the ink work so far into Brushes and play with sample colour choices, etc…. (sometimes I do this on real paper too, with colour pencils, pens, crayon, whatever comes to hand)….

Anyway, I promised I’d show you the cafe interior that the three-point perspective construction work in Nine Points started. I’ll do that in the next post. Instead, I’ve embedded four samples* of a panel showing it at each of the stages I discussed. I showed you three stages before, on some buildings (see earlier posts), but people want to see people and faces, and indeed the overall work is more intricate and delicate to get right. Anyway, see them in order running down the left hand side of the post: (1) Rough sketch, (2) completed pencils, (3) inked, (4) flat colours added. I’ve suppressed all dialogue for now. ( 🙂 !)

Click them to make a bit bigger. Enjoy!

And, before you say it: – That second character who has appeared is not me. Something that I’ve heard from several people who’ve seen a sample is “Is that you?”. They mean well, and while an innocent enough question, I think it knocks on the door of a larger issue. So let me say this: – It is a pretty generic-looking black male fictional character talking about science, that’s all. It is not me, and it is not based on me. There are other black people who do physics besides me, and who indeed walk and talk and dress like your generic physicist**. Really. They’re out there. Sorry, but it had to be said.

Ok. Well, I hope you found this fourth post on the process of The Project interesting and informative. Do read some of the rest if you have not already.

So, I’ve got the workflow set. I’ve got the techniques where I want them. Just gotta do it, really, and figure out the publishing aspects at some point. But mostly, it’s just all about digging in and doing it now that I’ve refined the productions aspects to a satisfactory degree***.


*All images, copyright Clifford V. Johnson, all rights reserved.

**Then some people persist with this line, and despite the obvious, go on to construct some nonsense about there being a subconscious projection or something. Fine, psychoanalyze me. I’ll be curious to know what people’s diagnosis will be when the black female character walks on… Actually, I won’t be curious. I’d rather not hear it… 🙂

***There’s always improvement going on at all levels of execution, happily, and my overall speed is still very slow. So I hope to be getting better at all aspects as I continue.

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6 Responses to The Project – 4

  1. Mary Cole says:

    Clifford, thanks so much for sharing this! It is really fascinating to be taken through the different stages of the creative process and all the technical stuff. I wish you every sucess with this!!!!

  2. Plato says:

    Yes I agree with Mary…..although “the projection of ideas” well that is going to be contained in the panel process, so I will have to just wait to see what happens in the wording:)

    Just curious…have you ever seen carvings in panel form, whose figures protrude from the surface and have “carved depth? See the form protrude from….?


  3. Clifford says:

    Thanks Mary and Plato! Glad you found it interesting.

    Plato, I think you mean bas relief. Yes… lots.



  4. Ele Munjeli says:

    Cool post. For anything digital I use keyboard shortcuts, especially in creative software. Sometimes you have to hit the help to learn them, but it’s typical for a professional workflow. When I was in school for audio my instructor would slap the hand that reached for a mouse. There’s chewy rubber keycovers printed with the shortcuts too, you can find them online and sometimes in computer shops.

  5. Clifford says:

    Thanks. Yes: mouse slow, keyboard shortcuts fast. I have a lot of the key ones for illustrator and photoshop now logged in memory.


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