Sketching Comics – My lessons

Currently, more things are happening at a faster pace than I can document them.

I’m in the second week of working on chapter 3 of my Street Prey (SPREY) comic – so how did it go?

I am grateful every moment that it worked. It is as if I never had left, my brain and body have accepted the daily comic panel back without much resistance. Some of the pages do put a good fight up, but I have worked my way through all of them so far, no matter what storytelling or art problems to solve they have thrown at me. A lot of woes I had in the previous chapter did not cross over to this one. I know at least a bit what I’m doing when it comes to backgrounds and environments now, a multi panel layout doesn’t overwhelm me anymore and my linework is worlds better (but still there’s room upwards).

The retro frame was a victim of circumstances. It had to go to make experimenting with several panels on a daily square possible. Also, to Styx from now the frames around the panels might have been a bit garish and distracting from the comic itself. JUST A BIT. But I’m sure the wildness isn’t gone, it’s now in the story itself and will resurface in time.

And now for the main lessons of the chapter so far.

My work on a page starts with loose sketches.

  1. I do not have to invent pages from nothing. My story dictates what must happen next.
  2. A great question to determine whether a panel is any good: Does it advance the story? If not, does it at least tell me something about the characters or their relationship? When in doubt, go for the thing that drives the story forward.

    And specific questions for my way of doing things with a daily deadline: Have I given my reader something worth coming back for today? A new development, an interesting detail, a sort of mini cliffhanger where it is uncertain what direction the situation will take from here, and I’m not done exploring all possibilities yet.
  3. Feeling confident when making page layouts comes from practical experience, it builds by sketching and drawing pages. Learn making comics by making comics.
  4. Always sketch and write your ideas down, don’t just think them.
  • Reason 1: Otherwise you will not know whether the idea actually holds up. Sometimes a page layout that looked brilliant in my head just doesn’t look any good on my actual canvas. Sometimes things just do not translate well out of your head. You either let go or find ways to adapt the idea and make it work.
  • Reason 2: Fail and succeed faster. If it doesn’t hold up as a sketch already, guess what, putting hours in to render it out will not make it better. So solve the biggest problems a panel, piece of artwork or anything you can pack into thumbnail has in small, simple and easy to iterate on sketch drawings. Go through everything that doesn’t work and you’re arriving at something that does work faster.
  • Reason 3: Helps you to actually create. Now hear me out. In our head things often appear flawless, beautiful, unachievable, but oftentimes quite vague at the same time.

    Think of one of the great ideas for an art piece that has been haunting you for a while and still rests in your head. Would you know what you want to draw in every detail, how it should look and feel like and how to draw it from start to finish? And if so, why haven’t you drawn it yet? Usually, you will not have all the answers already when you sit down to work on a piece.

It is okay when you cannot envision something 100% before you draw or write or say it.

You do not have to. Most often getting active and at least thumbnailing will help you understand more about what an idea you have and how it looks in detail. And what doesn’t work about it and what to change. Creating an art piece IS figuring it out. You are luring a nebulous vision out of your head and making it concrete. Remember my “perfect” page layout that I can only test if I actually sketch it down and see how it would look in reality. Drawing it, giving it a form, will entail loss, as when you draw something a certain way, you decide against many other options you would have had of drawing it. But what is your idea worth when it lingers in your head as that great, flawless something that is awesome to dream about, all it’s potential untouched and available… but it has no visible form at all that you could enjoy yourself or show anybody? How do you know it’s good when it isn’t there and you never actually made it?

So: make your sketches.

I hope this helps!
See you next blog entry!

100 Days of SPREY – 45-49

It seems like I look away for a moment and a couple of days pass in the meantime.

But this time I need a timeline.

So there was quite some emotional turmoil over the past days, maybe the whole of January. It is not my month, and I still get a ton of work done. It just doesn‘t feel good and sometimes that is how growth happens. Nobody said it has to feel good.

23th of January, Saturday: I‘m making a short synthwave music clip with Rich „listening“ to the concrete, with minimal animation, flickering lights. This is my first video in Open Shot ever. And I also create a Youtube account to share the meme with friends.

24th of January, Sunday: To my own surprise I finish the first part of chapter 2. Usually I‘m just numb when something gets finally done, but this time I guess I must have felt some sort of metaphoric birth pains over the past days. And after I realized it is over I am very lost what to do now, so I decide to take a couple of days or probably all of the week off to sort myself, catch up with some other things and relax. I let the readers vote what flashback chapter we get next.

25th of January, Monday: I am surprised that the readers chose the tale of the death of Rich‘s father over how Rich fell in love with Willard. I had prepared for the latter. To my own surprise I write and finish the script for Father‘s Death the same day. The surprises do not end, I am making a little trailer for it on a whim, experimenting with title cards and setting the mood for what is to come.

Apparently making videos is a part of the toolkit now.

26 of January, Tuesday: I am still so emotionally overwhelmed by my own script and all the details that I now know about Willard, Rich and the world around them, that I shut off and focus on gamedev, namely a machine props concept art gig and work on „Your Land“.

The script is based on a shortened version of a standalone comic I wrote last year, how and why Rich left school at 10 years of age to become a freelancer. That script made me cry and why shouldn‘t the condensed version with a different angle not make me cry, too? I love Street Prey even more now, the more I know about my characters and their story. But apparently you can have too strong emotions that make you break down. I got into listening to Gunship at the same time which did not help, because their music is dripping in emotion. If love in all it‘s raw power and nuances was audible, it would be Gunship I‘m sure. I‘m exhausted,but inspired to improve Street Prey in the future, to translate and convey more of what I feel. I want it to be more like the synthwave music my comic is inspired by.

I get the machine gig done and start negotiating about some follow up work. I really love machines, I learned. But when I dedicate my time to design and tweak them, I‘m usually too tired to make sense in my comic the same day. Comic work needs vastly different creative muscles. So it was a really good call and great luxury to be able to do the machines in peace. I feel like I can explode and design anything now if I put in enough time to research. And I learned how to draw in isometric perspective which should come in handy for the rest of my life.

I also got a ton done for „Your Land“. Really can‘t complain how things are going, except for I‘m still very tired.

27 of January, Wednesday: Revenge of the workaholism. I crashed today after not being able to sleep at night. I respect that I have to pay some price for what I‘m doing, so I guess I am taking the few wake hours I have today off for good. The problem is, I‘m immediately bored and uneasy, yet too unfocussed to do meaningful work or reading. Or I‘m not done waking up yet. I‘m starting to suspect that some people have a hard time falling asleep and waking up and that is just a sleep type. But when they are fully awake and well, beware!

Today I also decided that I will not take part in the watercolor challenge I found. I am physically repulsed by the topic and it‘s humor and more than slightly amused about it. Yes, if forced I can do anything, but apparently I do not love everything as much as SPREY or prop concept art gigs. And that is okay. I‘m grateful for the reminder and also grateful that I might have a bit more of an idea who I am and who I am not now.

Throwing the cats out of the Styx formula, that means, my three Ms are Men, Machines and Monsters. With one of these or the combo of them I can never go wrong. Let‘s see what the future holds!

I feel the remnant of a need to justify why I take a week off and do not just continue uploading SPREY. Why should I? I have proven that I can work on it daily already, I don‘t even need daily blogs to document that anymore. In sum, I do a lot of work on the side, too, more than in the beginning of my intense blogging phase last year. Right now I‘m learning how important rest is as well. I bet this week here is helping a lot with that. I‘m exploring new land and doing my best to be grateful, even on the confused days. I want to give you an even better comic experience and thinking about what I can do for that. That might be worth a separate blog entry in the next days.

See you next time!

100 Days – 97,98

Unfortunately, I could not sleep last night, so I had two days as one so to speak, with two regular daily drawing sessions. I‘m a bit surprised I did manage to get two panels out today, which is great.

What is not so great is that the characters seem out of scale in the second shot, at least to me. In my head the placement made sense, the men in the background would step farther away from the fire and Felipe in the front would of course stand closer to the camera. But I don‘t like how the drawn results look next to each other. That is really good to know for the future. I‘m glad I got to experience this now and can watch out a bit better next time.

Also we have another first. I intend to censor a lot of curse words and violent content by fake graffitis. That fits the street theme and might look interesting when instead of actual blood words spill or something the like. We will have to see how that works out.

Lighting advice

I read a bit of Hogarth‘s Dynamic Light and Shade tonight. Apparently now is the time that that book can help me. I could finally understand it. There is so much to do, but I‘m enjoying the journey. I found out what one of my main problems had been. I love dramatic dark shadows, but they don‘t look good in every context. And it‘s not even a given that they always look good in themselves. Hogarth has an idiot-proof rule of thumb for artists like me: light and shadow are mutual. So if you want strong shadows you have to have strong lights. The secret to overcast therefore is to have meh shadows accompaning the meh light. Black shadows would not work here, unless context like the absolute darkest corner in the room that does not get hit with any light. Also, a lazy statement about the highlights of a form and direction of light is better than none says Hogarth. That actually stuck with me since days. A lazy statement better than none…and I started making at least lazy statements and they got me curious to pay more attention and think about ways to make better statements.

PREY christmas special

In the early afternoon I zoned out and wrote down a PREY christmas special. This is not an announcement of it in any form as it‘s pretty late in November and I have a lot of other things to do. But it sparked my curiosity and I have a script. I could imagine making a compromise and like…drawing the first pages and calling it a day. But it depends on how the next weeks are. If they are as ‚hellish‘ as this one and the last one, I might be good with what I‘m doing on a daily basis now. But what is very visible is how differently I treat an idea like this popping up compared to about 100 days ago. No sweat breaks, the idea just gets written down. I sit back and think about it, then I write some more. No stress having a rough first draft that nobody except me will ever see. Life is good. I even had a rough idea how many pages that might result in if I pack 3-4 panels a page. I‘m a slow/low paneler and love to take my time. That preference might change over the years, I can‘t know how and where to I will develop, but for now it is that. At the moment I’m more worried what the point of the PREY christmas special is. What does it give to you in exchange for your time? A warm fuzzy feeling? Is that enough? Learning more about how Rich and Willard became a couple? Telling you that it doesn’t matter whether you believe in christmas (Rich definitely doesn’t), opening one’s heart for love(not only the romantic one, you know) is a risk worth taking. Anyways, I‘m very grateful for the 100 days of making comics. Only two days to go, wow.

100 Days – 83

Quick note: while my actual comic work was the UI today, I did not want to rush it to completion just to feature it on the blog today. I took the time to draw these two illustrations instead, adding a cute Rich and another costume mash-up (this time at least for the Nemesis part a suggestion from fatcat from Discord) to the collection.

100 Days – 13

More

Today‘s blog entry is split up into two parts. I had some more thoughts about yesterday, that I‘ll put in the front. Then I‘ll show you today‘s work.

Picture description: Cheeky mascot for my friend Pan, a Final Fantasy kupo in a Smite skin and further symbols for the recipient. I loved working on it as it was a great way to finish yesterday and practise everything I learned that day.

Further thoughts about the master study

That study yesterday really moved me.

I realized the whole piece was too complex in itself to study or draw it in one setting would I have tried to focus on everything. That‘s the reason why those lush, complicated paintings don‘t happen in a day. It is too much to focus on in one sitting. Preliminary studies and sketches are necessary to establish all the elements. I would have needed a different session on a different day to study still life elements such as the flowers and lantern on the ground. The lady‘s skin would need a day of it‘s own, too. I would only be fast with creating all of this, if I had routine in all of these. And I had routine if I had built up a big mileage in each field that I need. I‘m starting to see why artists would work in teams with one calling the shots while everyone else doing their best work in their respective field. The same applies to comics.

Motivation

But that doesn‘t mean that you cannot work alone. Most of the time you have to work alone.

The secret to still making it is to adjust your expectations for yourself according to the ressources you really have and consequently the scope of your projects. I‘m in the process of finding out how much I can take. I am very happy and grateful for every day I‘m doing the 100 days of making comics and all the new insights that offers. I‘m doing my best to not feel disappointed with me when I seem to make progress like a slug. I seem to need all that flailing around and soul searching and then be it so. I need that all done and past me to sensibly work on comics or any client work. I need to have all the foundations laid out and learned already, then I can be quick and good. Yes, I‘m gradually realizing what those words mean. Not by abstract knowledge but by working on Corvus every day.

I am really grateful for this challenge and my blogging about it. That is one of the things that helped me most so far.

What I did for my comic today

I started out with two environment studies. I added the characters myself to test how well my construction methods work. It is okay. It would definitely work in a comic when you don‘t look too close. In the first one I wasn‘t fully there yet and didn‘t really know what I was doing (that‘s why warming up is so important), in the second one I remembered my own process and followed it accordingly.

And then, as promised, I continued my costume explorations for good mage robes. My goal is to design a set of academy robes. I need apprentices, full fledged mages, lecturers and a chancellor. Most relevant for the comic are the first two tiers, but I have to know how that stuff looks, I really do. As I haven‘t worked that much with costumes in the past, I stayed close to the refs today again. In order to have good ideas to invent new things I must have materials to combine them, I must know what I‘m doing and a rough idea within which parameters I‘m working in. I‘d say the top row of designs looks more like mage robes than the second one, more the direction I want to go. But would you believe me that this was not clear to me when I drew the bottom row? Nobody sets out to waste their time deliberately I think. It was still great exploring those, too, and helped me to disregard other potential refs I had open in other tabs.

Setting more limitations

I think a good next task is to define for myself what kind of robes I want to have and what I want them to look like. The more limitations I have the better. So far I know that I want my apprentice robes grey and all other robes red, the higher tiers maybe darker red and the chancellor in a majestic purple. I also already know that Magister Grimm, the rebellious antagonist of the comics, deliberately defies these standards and more or less dresses as he wishes to. Also Corvus spends most of the comic outside of his academy garb. Only Asmund, Corvus‘s best friend, is left with the full impact of the robes. He is someone that follows rules and appreciates order. Also him wearing red vs Grimm in black and Corvus in (mostly) grey would be a great contrast.

Okay. So that means the robes shouldn‘t really take forever to design because they aren’t a core thing for all characters. Maybe next time I should set more limitations first. I will soon put that into practise when I‘m designing the clothes for Corvus. But one thing at a time. I think that I might be through with the mage robes in …five days. But I absolutely have no data to estimate how much time it really will take me and that is okay. I will learn. One costume after another.

See you tomorrow for this week‘s summary!