Is this the end of uncontrolled style fluctuation?
While I was playing around with light and shadow and then with lines some more I realized all my conflict might have been none. If I wish to paint, I would do linedrawings like I‘m used to anyway and then paint on top of them. So there was no choice to make between lines and light. They are two tools that often overlap. And it‘s good to be flexible and able to use different tools for different purposes and outcomes.
Reading “Alla Prima”
I had so many new questions and remembered that I had a book on painting. So I went on to read the first chapters of Richard Schmid‘s Alla Prima. Let‘s just say Schmid and me are opposites with regards to some sentiments, but I keep on reading and learning either way. I feel blessed that I have this book right now, as it can answer questions about the drawing and painting process that I have right now. In moments like these I am sad that I never went to art school, but on the other hand who says I would have learned that there? I‘m learning it now and that is what counts.
So Schmid explains that drawing is measuring and painting is laying masses and light and shadow on top (very simplified). This means I have done both wrong all my life and needlessly have tried to merge them. I didn‘t sulk, not even for a moment, and simply tried one of Schmid‘s suggestions. Most people would make an underdrawing (level of detail varies per artist and purpose) and then paint on top. But then there‘s a different process where you never bother with lines and simply start blocking out. That‘s what I tried out in today‘s panel. This picture saw no linedrawing, only some indications what goes where. It was quite an insightful experiment.
Revelation 1: I‘m okay. I‘m even doing better than I expected.
Revelation 2: I immediately understood why I‘m lacking and where.
Revelation 3: I now understand a lot better what the art fundamentals are for and what it means to build up mileage.
Drawing conclusions for my art
You don‘t build up mileage because drawing thousands of pages full of challenging things is so much fun. Or because „just draw“ without focus and attention would work. You need every scrap of experience you can get so the fundamentals are out of your conscious thought. Then you have a free mind to tackle advanced painting problems. Example: if my line drawings are lacking because I have no understanding of perspective and even after years of drawing no instinct for proportions, my painting on top will be wonky. And then I might even blame the quality of my lines… which doesn‘t have to do anything with anything. And nothing is won.
As you know me I have phases where I‘m rather eager to improve my fundamentals. But then the desired results didn‘t come and I took a break for a couple of months (basically the lock-down), just drawing what I felt like. You‘d think that would be terrible for me and I‘d forget a lot of hard-earned stuff. Now I feel like I‘m even rewarded for doing that. The way I was practising was wrong. I did not make the progress that I wanted because I did not improve the things I would have needed to improve and had no understanding where I was heading with them and how to use them in the end. Practising just to practise is not the way. So hitting the brake, taking some time off and then a cloooose look on what I was doing and why I was doing it, was the right thing to do.
I am a rather analytical artist. You cannot tell me to “just feel” lines or practise until I’m good when I don’t know what this “good” is.
I can‘t hope to just wing it and pretend to feel things that I don’t feel when they make no sense to me. I might have found a sustainable source of motivation now to push myself further and work hard on my art again. But don‘t get me wrong, this doesn‘t mean we are going back to full studying mode. I have a comic to make. Also all practise is for nothing, if not used to create. But now I can go back from time to time, relaxed, and improve one thing at a time.
Yesterday night I still felt the drawing itch and corrected Corvus‘s hairstyle. While I will admit that the sketch page looks quite chaotic, it already impacted today‘s panel.
I have looked into a great program named Storyboarder. Storyboarder is meant to storyboard for movies and animation. It‘s free and easy to use. I wondered whether one could storyboard comics with it, too, and did some testing. I will spare you from looking at it, it really was only practical, not pretty. I‘m not sure what I even should think about it, but I‘m excited. Even if Storyboarder doesn‘t work out for this specific project, I‘m sure the program and me will become good friends.
As promised we are taking a closer look at my project for the 100 days of making comics challenge today.
What my comic is about
Corvus is a one shot about what it takes to be a hero. Struggling mage apprentice Corvus unknowingly helps his master Magister Grimm to unleash a deadly curse on Corvus hometown, killing everybody and turning them into undead. Corvus barely survives and does his best to stop his master from causing further harm, knowing he cannot undo anything and is hopelessly weaker than his enemy. Corvus teams up with gritty mercenary Doomsire (name might change later) who was sent out to hunt Corvus down as the suspected necromancer in this. Later, Corvus‘s best friend mage Asmund joins them to stop Grimm.
How far I am
I have written and finished the script for the comic at the best of my current skills.
This is not my first comic script, but I am the first person to admit that I‘m not on the top of the game yet. I have two particular beginner difficulties.
I do not write out dialogues, otherwise I might be tempted to needlessly procrastinate on single lines forever. How does this still work? I instead summarize the dialogues that have to happen. All what has to be said still gets written down, but I have no excuse to tinker on the language forever. The heavy lifting of the final phrasing is left for storyboard me when it comes to thumbnailing the pages. This is also an incentive to not go overboard with the amount of text I will want to put into speech bubbles and instead show as much visually as I can.
It may be well possible that I‘ll sooner or later fall on my nose with this approach or that my writing skills catch up, so that writing finished dialogue into the script doesn‘t cause so many problems anymore. But not now. As with many other things, only finishing multiple comics will give me the experience I need to estimate things correctly.
Camera angles and panel layouts
Camera angles and panel layouts are the crux of comics. If you read any professional script, you will find those. I leave them out unless I have an idea in my head already, which almost never happened so far. Keep in mind that most pros do not write for themselves to draw it afterwards but have to describe their vision to a team of other people. But setting my camera angles and panel layouts would be pretty handy for me as one woman army as well. I just don‘t know them without having tried a couple of thumbnails on paper right now. Think about it. If you do not have a pool of experience about those things already, how should you imagine anything when you just close your eyes? I am honest with myself. I love movies and sequential art, but at my current skill level camera angles and panel layouts are not exactly my second nature. That is okay and it will come later, so now I don‘t worry about their absence in my scripts too much.
Again, storyboard me is left with the heavy lifting, but I will either discover that I do my best work primarily visually either way or get better at scripting to a point that camera angles and panel layouts aren‘t that much of a problem anymore.
And before anyone says these are just lazy crutches – I literally had to choose between never finishing a script or finishing scripts with these two handicaps, but get it done. Can you imagine that with my first works I struggled with story structure so hard that that seemed like a video game end boss already? The anxieties and insecurities of a beginner are real. Nothing is to be taken for granted, especially when you have a very visual person writing for whom words seem painfully slow. But you cannot sketch everything in a sensible way, especially complex plots and story structure, so writing has it‘s undisputable place in the process.
I am a self-professed design procrastinator! I do not procrastinate from doing design work, on the contrary – I am never leaving this stage voluntarily if not forced to. I have fun researching and sketching, pushing variations around and thinking about meanings and symbols. I will for example make a giant sheet of costume design ideas or haircuts and then never find something that is 100%. It never feels 100%. The only solution? Try again another day, just continue sketching and searching…
So far, this has been working against me when making comics. This would even work against me as a concept artist, as concept artists have to finish, too! But if I would find a way to nurture this trait of me right, this could become one of my strengths. At least I don‘t have to worry about not doing enough in this stage ever.* (*I wish I was as obsessed with researching how the world works for the script (painful smile)).
So are there „simple“ solutions in sight that could mitigate the worst for the sake of this challenge?
Deadlines and peers
The most obvious way to go are hard deadlines and constant pressure by having to show the daily progress to friends. „Why have you made 50 costume variations? 30 of them nearly look the same (to non-designers) – and haven‘t you made 25 the day before already? Narrow it down to 3 favourites and work within that frame! Also- is the comic done yet?“
To my amusement I don‘t seem to have the same problems with environments. I tend to be happy to come up with anything on this front and don‘t question or feel so much here. Props on the other hand trigger my curiosity again really really badly. I always want to know how things work and am happy to look at countless variations of them, admiring the creativity and craftsmanship of past and present people who made them.
Also I guess lists are my friend. Can‘t go off the rails when you have a list that is set in stone what you HAVE to design, and do not strive away from it. Even better: mark down if something is important or not. I can already see the trap of designing a whole mage academy out although I know that I will realistically only need 3-4 rooms in detail and a base overview of the academy for establishing shots.
Remember why you are designing
I try to remember this and tell it to myself daily from now on: I am not designing because the process of designing is the biggest joy for humanity. I want to give things a good form, a good vessel. The vessel itself is not the goal. In my case, I want to make a comic and express a whole story through pictures. That leaves me with a lot of choices to make, but my designs serve something that I can always go back to to see whether they are helping express the story. Getting stuck in design phase does not help.
Is it enough to board with it? Are you putting in more work into details than these specific details deserve? The board will tell. If you see something in one scene and basically a couple of shots only without lasting impact on the story…guess how much time you should spend designing it.
This implies the storyboarding/thumbnailing stage is not as linear as I thought it would be. I thought I would have to draw it down once, set in stone and perfect. Therefore script and designs and visdev general should be as finished as possible, right? Using the board as a living countertest could well mean that I will have to make a scene a couple of times in several runs, each time reassessing and adjusting storytelling and pictoral elements. And weirdly, I‘m looking forward to it, as I love the Rapid Viz sketching method (very simplified: draw versions of the piece on top of each other until it gives up and looks good. Sometimes you have to start over from scratch several times.)
… there is no reason to not storyboard my first act immediately. It will suck brutally for the lack of solid settings and awkward lighting, but I will have a brilliant body of sketches to show you how proper environment design makes the next version better. And many things that might or might not happen! This feels like a big, exciting science project!
I already found out that „just draw“ is not a way to go here. I will stop chasing the 100% designs that will not happen and settle for the 70% designs that do the job. So I will create my helping lists of characters, environments and props to make sure I‘m on track.
Other than that I have already settled on going act by act. I will design and storyboard everything for act 1, then rinse and repeat for the other two acts, one at a time. To my surprise it turns out that environments are more important than the characters for storyboards to me. If I have no idea where I am and how the place looks, I cannot imagine a thing, while I could always use stick figures or blocks with a smiley as stand-ins for my characters and the board would still work.
I can see why storyboarding stage frightens me. Revenge of the script is coming as well as wrestling with a let‘s say fluid state of the designs. But I still have to do it. And having said all of the things before, storyboarding act 1 should be my most important goal right now and getting into a state where I can do so.
The storyboard countertest idea feels like an explosion in my head, taking several fuses out. Let’s see what I think about it tomorrow.
– Make lists with characters, environments and props of act 1 that you have to design and then do not strive away from the lists
– Prop up your imagination by taking special care of the environments:
have all floor plans and at least some mood sketches for the places ready that you want to use as setting
build simple 3D models if necessary
research into architecture and how mage academies and medieval towns are supposed to work. This is unavoidable, but to be kept as reasonably short as possible (how about roughly 6 hours per setting? Several sittings – not overestimating my focus and motivation)
– Make your character sheets and have them ready. Do not panic if you are literally unable to draw your characters in a consistent way. That means you aren‘t done evolving your style on a very basic level yet. Hopefully the readers will forgive.
– Make your initial storyboard of the first act, disregarding anything you haven‘t done yet, to have a starting point.
I’m carefully estimating this all might take 4 weeks. But who knows? And if I get a substantial amount of act 1 done in 100 days, that would be amazing! Also I don’t really swim in characters and settings for this comic (the lists will tell).
I dared to reverse-engineer more scenes today, I’ve done about 20 minutes of Carnosaur 2 now and it’s surprisingly hard work really diving into the scenes, percepting and thinking about the directorial choices made, the acting, the room for the acting, reconstructing the script underneath. For now I’m placing a focus on the camera positions and their names as well as the movements.
By extraordinary chance I stumbled across Don Bluth’s and Gary Goldman’s “Don Bluth’s Art of Story” today and immediately started absorbing it. The book really speaks to me and my plights of turning my own scripts into visuals or finding a way out of the agony that can be finding a good pictoral composition. Analyzing Carnosaur 2 I have already seen that there actually aren’t that many camera positions that have to be learned to “get the job done”. With Don Bluth’s book I’m learning to unlearn a lot of constraints more than filling up with new rules. The biggest takeaway from today is that even the great animator Don Bluth himself does not even attempt to storyboard everything in one run and hopes to nail it from perfect camera position to most expressive staging of the acting and best lighting. Even Don Bluth allows himself several runs at a sequence, first thinking about the camera positions, then about the lights, then about the intricacies of timing and so on… that’s incredibly liberating. And probably not only a way to do it in storyboards! I will try to apply that on the composition of illustrations the next days. Chipping away one problem at a time.
About the artist
Styxcolor creates freelance concept art and illustrations. She started the Street Prey Webcomic in 2020 to further explore her love for storytelling.