This Week: Refining

One of my favorite things about the internet is all the in-process artwork cartoonists and comics fans are always posting.

Being a good artist is all about self-editing. On their first crack at a page, a good artist will have a lot of great ideas, a lot of ideas that could be better, and a lot of crappy ideas. Most of the crappy ideas get thrown out while still inside their head, but most times the first draft of a page ends up being a few good spots in the drawing held together with a whole lot of meh drawing. Passable, serviceable, not-terrible enough to warrant any strong response drawing.

As an artist it's incredibly morale-lifting to know that your heroes make as much mediocre art as you do. But they refine their art as they go, strengthening good ideas into great ones, making the drawing stronger, until the whole page is vital and satisfying. The only way to learn this is to do it yourself and to look at how others do it.

Here's the first sketch Brian Lee O'Malley did for Scott Pilgrim 5:

As you can see, it's a perfectly serviceable image. Nothing is wonky or horrible or notably badly drawn. But it just doesn't have KICK. It's alright, and the fact that it's alright and not awesome means it's as failed a drawing as an actually bad drawing, from the standpoint of an artist who gives a shit. Which Brian does, so he did another:

KABLAM! Better use of hand gesture. Better expression. More interesting neck/collar bone area and better sense of space within the hood. Hood has more weight and gravity, and the fold lines at the bottom of the hood are less symmetrical. The negative space between her arms and body is way more interesting, clarifying the anatomy and activating the pose. The bag strap is drawn with more care and the addition of the zipper adds some nice small shapes and lines to contrast the large shapes around it. Overall the inking is more confident. Seeing this drawing allows you to see what was wrong with the previous version, if you're not yet acclimated to accepting nothing but the best. You can go back and forth between these and learn how to refine your art. (And this one didn't even make the cut for the final cover, either!)

No one I know posts more of this sort of thing than Craig Thompson, and his examples are particularly helpful because of how drastic the changes can be from his initial concept to what he goes with in the end. I've saved the images from the following 2 posts to my computer in a special folder named "comic help", and I look at them often:

Making Blankets better

Making Habibi better

You should also check out this really interesting post Craig just made about a method he uses when he's really stumped on how to compose a page. It's not too far from a strategy I use sometimes:

Craig gets un-stuck

The nice thing about black and white drawings is they're very editable at every stage. You can erase and re-draw pencils. You can white-out over ink or patch over panels. You can use photoshop to correct or even draw on scans.

And thank goodness. Here are two test pages of mine that still didn't come out very well, in the end. I was drawing a lot of the things in them for the first time, and I was drawing stiffly and uncomfortably. I made and then changed a lot of decisions mid-stream. I should have just re-drawn them, ideally, but I didn't have the time. I'm posting these so you can see just how drastically you can change a drawing in large and small ways as you work on it. White out is your friend.

Page 1

Page 2

By the way, I never knew how to make animated GIFs till tonight. If you'd like to know how to make them, I found this helpful tutorial.

Finally tonight, reader B2-kun posted a neat trick on his blog for using the caps of certain pens as a pencil-stub holder, to get more use out of your stubby, unholdable pencils.