(Dry) Watercolour

watercolour_share_26_oct_2016All change! Last week another style change took place, in service of a new story/chapter for the book. I’ve transitioned to a looser style, with final line art done with a charcoal-like finish, and the colour done as watercolour. (Click for a slightly larger view.) It turned out that back in March when I went and hid for a week to work on the book, I thumbnailed and roughed a lot of pages (on two stories I think?) in a pretty tight manner, and so I’ve decided that I’m simply going to go in and sketch the final material all by hand, with no elaborate construction work for placing backgrounds (neither analogue nor digital), no measurements, no drawing of perspective grids, etc.

This turns out to mean that I can get the pre-colour work done pretty swiftly on some pages. Rather than take this as an opportunity to sprint ahead and make up some lost time, I decided to do the charcoal+watercolour work, and also to teach myself some new aspects of colour design (gamut masking for those interested*, along with some more deliberate planning of (and attention to) colour values**). The shared image shows an example of a (made up) bit of landscape, first in the rough and then in the final render. Note that this is a panel about 2.5 inches across, so there’s not a huge amount to see in the scheme of things. But the page is made of several of these and has a rather nice look partly because of the narrower “gamutted” choice of palette I’ve used. Took a bit of experimenting, but the idea is that a (half-)day “lost” on learning this will translate into gains later if I use these techniques more… They certainly enrich the variety of the work you’ll see in the book.

Ok, the dirty secret here is that while I have used wet media for the project before, by way of incorporating texture here and there (and you might recall I use watercolour pencils for a lot of my sketch work in my notebooks), I simply don’t have enough time left to do that here. There’s so much extra time needed to be invested in scanning and colour balancing the work, which I don’t have. So all of this is digital, done in Photoshop. Key here are the *wonderful* brush sets of Kyle Webster, which are widely used (I’m sure you’ve seen lots of work done with his brushes – including stuff you probably thought was traditionally done). I strongly recommend his (ridiculously cheap in the scheme of things) brush sets. They make Photoshop a delight for painting.

I’m giving up something else here, in exchange for all this. I normally paint the pages in Illustrator, using global swatches for all the crucial elements. The idea was that toward the end of the project I could redesign all the colour at will if needed, since I can just change the swatches, and then the colour changes everywhere. Moving to painting in photoshop removes that freedom, since the colours are not vector elements any more, with no addressable global swatches… In photoshop I’m closer to actual analogue paint and canvas in that sense. That means that that precision changes are hard to do. I therefore decided that I need to make sure that the choices I make now on this story are at least internally harmonious at the outset, since I don’t have a second pass. That’s why I spent a bit of time getting up to speed on slightly more advanced ideas in colour design. These paints I lay down are here to stay, so better get it right.

It has all meant a new workflow, and I’ve been careful to write down some notes to remind me of the old one I perfected in June and July (I’ll be still be using it for a bunch of other stories), but the last couple of days have meant that I’ve tweaked my speed back up, and with the looser style for these pages I’ve got to slightly less than two full pages a day, which is the fastest I’ve ever been in this final art stage. Sadly, I’m still losing days on other things that take me away from the book, so I’m not making up shortfall on the schedule yet.

Yet. We shall see how this all looks as I move into November…


*The amazing James Gurney invented this. His blog is here.
**This is standard, but I loved reading about aspects of it on Tony Cliff’s site here.



Well, since I just lost the last two and a half hours’ work to a mystery crash (and Illustrator CS6 has no autosave*), I figured I lose another 20 minutes and prep a panel from a page of the book I’ve been working on today to:

(1) Share something from the project after a while of not doing so, and

(2) Show what I’d much rather be doing right now. I’m annoyed but trying to imagine myself in the picture… breathe…

Click to continue reading this post

The 2016 Physics Nobel Prize goes to…!

Wow! Topology in the mainstream news. I never thought I’d see the day. Congratulations to the winners! Citation:

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 was divided, one half awarded to David J. Thouless, the other half jointly to F. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz “for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter”.

Here is a link to the Nobel Prize site with more information, and also, here’s a BBC breakdown of some of the science.

An important (to some) side note: Duncan Haldane was at USC when he wrote the cited papers. Great that USC was supportive of this kind of work, especially in that early part of his career. [Update*: You can download the pdf of one of them for free here.]


*Thanks Nikolay!


Are you going to watch the Luke Cage series that debuts today on Netflix? I probably will at some point (I’ve got several decades old reasons, and also it was set up well in the excellent Jessica Jones last year)…. but not soon as I’ve got far too many deadlines. Here’a a related item: Using the Luke Cage character as a jumping off point, physicist Martin Archer has put together a very nice short video about the business of strong and tough (not the same thing) materials in the real world.


Have a look if you want to appreciate the nuances, and learn a bit about what’s maybe just over the horizon for new amazing materials that might be come part of our every day lives. Video embed below: Click to continue reading this post

Super Nailed It…

quick_sketch_of_black_pantherOn the sofa, during a moment while we watched Captain America: Civil War over the weekend:

Amy: Wait, what…? Why’s Cat-Woman in this movie?
Me: Er… (hesitating, not wanting to spoil what is to come…)
Amy: Isn’t she a DC character?
Me: Well… (still hesitating, but secretly impressed by her awareness of the different universes… hadn’t realized she was paying attention all these years.)
Amy: So who’s going to show up next? Super-Dude? Bat-Fella? Wonder-Lady? (Now she’s really showing off and poking fun.)
Me: We’ll see… (Now choking with laughter on dinner…)

I often feel bad subjecting my wife to this stuff, but this alone was worth it.

For those who know the answers and are wondering, I held off on launching into a discussion about the fascinating history of Marvel, representation of people of African descent in superhero comics (and now movies and TV), the Click to continue reading this post

Kitchen Design…

(Click for larger view.)
sample_panel_dialogues_19_09_2016Apparently I was designing a kitchen recently. Yes, but not one I intend to build in the physical world. It’s the setting (in part) for a new story I’m working on for the book. The everyday household is a great place to have a science conversation, by the way, and this is what we will see in this story. It might be one of the most important conversations in the book in some sense.

This story is meant to be done in a looser, quicker style, and there I go again with the ridiculous level of detail… Just to get a sense of how ridiculous I’m being, note that this is not a page, but a small panel within a page of several.

The page establishes the overall setting, and hopefully roots you Click to continue reading this post

Breaking, not Braking

Well, that happened.

I’ve not, at least as I recollect, written a breakup letter before…until now. It had the usual “It’s not you it’s me…”, “we’ve grown apart…” sorts of phrases. And they were all well meant. This was written to my publisher, I hasten to add! Over the last year and a half, circumstances changed a lot at the publisher I was under contract with – chief among those being that the excellent editor who originally originally took on and championed the book, a very unusual project for the publisher to work with, left the company. dear_letterThis, and a few other key things that were not to my liking (that it would be inappropriate to discuss here) became causes for concern for me. While I am sure they would have done a fine job of executing the agreed upon aspects of our contract, it was clear that things would be better if I found a new home for this very special (at least to me) book project.

They took it well, and we’ve agreed to terminate our publishing contract.

Of course, this leaves me in the interesting situation of not being under Click to continue reading this post

Find Your Fair…

(Click for larger view.)
county_fair_panels_shareThis might be one of my favourite sequences from the book so far*. It’s a significant part of a page so I’ve watermarked it heavily. Sorry about that: It’s days of work to make these things. It is based on a location scouting trip I did last year around this time at the LA County Fair. So consider this a public service announcement if you’ve not yet done a Summer visit this year to a county fair near you… Go! They’re an excellent old-school kind of fun.

There’s a whole sequence in the book that involves such a visit and I’ve just Click to continue reading this post

Some Action

sample_sketch_dialogues_30_08_2016I think that the Apple Pencil is one of the best things the company has produced in a very long time. It’s good for both writing and sketching, and so is especially useful in all aspects of my work. I got one back in the Spring when the regular-sized iPad pro came out and it has been a joy to work with. I thought I’d share with you a video stroke by stroke logging of a quick sketch I did with it this morning on the subway on the way to work. The sketch itself is above and the video showing how I made it is embedded below. Yes, it’s another version of the people Click to continue reading this post