Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Another Artistic Dilemma

I hit another dilemma today.

I know this probably won’t interest many people, so feel free to go do something else…but for the rest of you it’s an insight into my ‘creative process’.

Today, my dilemma was this “Digital Inking Vs. Traditional”.

Right now, here’s how I make a comic strip.

Obviously, the first thing I do is write it, then I come up with a rough idea of the layout.

I work on 9x12” paper and use two pages with each page split into two panels to make up the four panel strip. The reason for this is simple. If I work too small (fit all four panels onto a single sheet), it’s impossible to get any sort of detail. I’d be drawing in panels less than 3” wide.

So I start with a very hard 2H lead and ‘rough out’ the panels, putting the characters in place, getting everything set out. At this point everything is nice and faint and kept as ‘loose’ as possible.

Once everything is in place I switch to a nice soft HB pencil and put down my ‘real’ lines. When I’m done with that I essentially have the ‘finished’ panel that looks almost exactly like what you’ll see in the strip.

Then it’s into Photoshop.

I use a graphics tablet (if you’re interested it’s a Medion Tablet, a re-badged Trust 1200-V2…not quite as good as a Wacom, but they cost $50 rather than $200, and they match up quite well).

I take my pencils, lower the opacity in Photoshop to make them fairly faint and create a new layer on top where I’ll put my inks. Then it’s just a matter of ‘tracing’ the strip using the default Photoshop brushes with the sensitivity turned up nice and high. (All this means is that the harder I press with my stylus, the thicker the line will be…it’s a lot like painting with a very stiff brush).

Once the line art is in place, I use a thicker brush and use 30% grey to add some simple shading. This is on a layer below my inks.

My dilemma hit because digital inking has a ton of advantages, but one or two real disadvantages.

For example, inking digitally has that awesome undo feature. If I mess up a line, alt-Z gets rid of it. It’s the same with the shading. If my hand slips and something messes up, away it goes. Then, of course, I can resize, cut and paste background elements that stay the same.

The other thing is I can zoom in on my pencils until they’re massive on the screen, so when it’s inked and then re-sized to normal viewing size, all those little hand-shakes vanish.

Unfortunately, drawing on a tablet isn’t very easy. It’s much easier than a mouse, but you’re still drawing on one surface and having your lines appear on a screen. Basically, my actual line-art suffers a little.

Now traditional inking is a lot easier in a lot of ways. It’s just drawing. You can see exactly where your nib is in relation to the pencils and inking over the top makes things much easier.

In other words, when everything goes right, the finished art looks significantly better.

The problem is that every stroke is set in stone. You’re inking over your pencils, so if you mess up, you have to start again from scratch. If you scan your pencils and print a copy and ink over that…then you can’t erase your pencils when you’re done which takes a lot of cleaning up in photoshop.

The other big problem with traditional inking is that sketch pad paper doesn’t take ink very well. The paper actually gets damp with each stroke and the ink has a tendency to ‘bleed’ if you need a particularly dark thick line. Basically, you need Bristol-Board to take ink properly…and that’s pretty damn expensive…and I can’t afford to spend 20 bucks a week on paper.

I figure I’ll stick with traditional inking…at least until I find a huge stockpile of Bristol Board, Micron Pens and India Ink…or I somehow find a Wacom Cintiq lying in the street.

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