Drawing, illustrating, doodling, whatever you call it, it’s hard work

When I first started trying to make comics I really wasn’t sure how to do it. Approaches to making comics are so varied that it wasn’t really possible to develop my own methods by looking at other people’s work, I just had to get on and do it and work it out as I went along. Of course the brilliant thing about drawing is that it doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s a drawing, it can be practically anything and still be brilliant. Some people make a virtue out of ‘bad’ drawing, which can be wonderful and very funny and some artists are sort of matter of fact about it, producing drawings that I would call efficient, so you almost don’t notice it’s there. There are drawing virtuosos, who just love to draw and the joy of it all shines through on the page. All of the above apply whether you do digital or hand drawing.

Art Speigelman says it is just an accident if it makes a nice drawing, the job is to tell a story and I agree with this but you only have to look at the work of Chris Ware to see that it’s entirely possible to make beautiful, unnecessary, abstract moments in your drawing without detracting from the narrative.

The only thing I really don’t like in comics drawing is the tendency to get carried away with it. Drawings that are trying to look photographic or over saturated colour images turn me off completely. I think if an artist doesn’t know when to stop it all looks a bit ‘A’ level art, which is not a good thing, sorry to any ‘A’ levelers reading this. Saying that, I’m also a little suspicious of the tendency to ‘de-skill’ every single drawing as if to say ‘I’m too cool to draw carefully, look at how radical and carefree I am’ This approach is ok up to a point, but I do like something wonderful to behold every now and then.

So I suppose I have developed a method which reflect the statements above. I sometimes draw quickly and without much care, sometimes I’m just trying to depict something efficiently for the narrative and sometimes I get quite caught up in surfaces and tiny details and produce things that take ages but that I hope are rather beautiful. I draw by hand and then use digital processes to rearrange or change things if I need to. I have tried digital drawing, with Adobe Illustrator, but it doesn’t give me the same pleasure as drawing with my hands and I am not keen on the smoothness of this type of drawing so I soon stopped.

Thanks to the well known helpfulness of the comics community I got some good drawing and typography tips from people I met at comics conventions, which helped me get started but it nevertheless it has taken about 5 years for me to feel completely comfortable and confident about what I want to do and I still need to experiment a lot in my work. I’ve been working as an artist outside comics for a couple of decades and I can say with complete confidence that if your work stops developing it has died. There is no end point where perfection lies so don’t wait for one, just get on and make.

I’ve taken some photos today of things I thought might be interesting:


In this image, laid out on my light box are all the things I use to draw with. As you can see there are many pens and pencils, all widths of pen, from 0.05 to 0.8 to Sharpie and many blacknesses of pencils. When I used to teach drawing I was often surprised to find out how many people didn’t know what the H and B stand for on pencils. H is hard and B is black so HB is somewhere in the middle, 4H is harder than 2H, 6B is blacker than 3B etc. Never underestimate the difference it will make if you switch pencils. I sharpen pencils sometimes with a sharpener and sometimes with a knife, depending what kind of point I want.

Also in the image, two different ‘non photo’ blues. These are sometimes useful, especially if it’s an image I find hard to draw and I know I’m going to make a mess of the paper before I get it right. (Cars and Bicycles anyone?) You can either scan as greyscale to get rid of the blue or just select it in photoshop to cut it away. The brushes are for inking which I only use for shadow and contrast, never line and I sometimes use wax resist for texture.

You will see there is a magnifying glass. This is because of two things: perfectionism and age. However I have new glasses now so need the magnifying lens a lot less. The sharp point with a wooden handle is an awl, it’s very useful for making scratchy marks and the white thing is a folding bone, makes nice sharp folds.

photo-9This is my light box opened up. The drawing on it is my Twitter avatar. The light box has been my most significant purchase for making comics to date but it’s just a student model. It’s fine for my purposes although I sometimes think the light is not bright enough so I may eventually invest in a better one. Before I got this if I wanted to repeat or vary a drawing or if it took me a lot of tries to get a form to look right it would take ages and multiple pieces of paper, sometimes I used to have to resort to tracing paper. Now I can easily sketch something out in pencil and then use a pen to select and refine so I get a clean looking cartoon at the end.


Here are some cartoon drawings from various projects laid out together on my light box. Not all my drawings are cartoons. I often use ink and experimental processes to produce dark backgrounds and incidental images or I sometimes draw detailed work with a very sharp pencil but I will talk about those drawings another day.

As you can see I draw quite small. More often than not I draw actual size. Some of the drawings have blue pencil marks on them. Some have hand lettered text and some are blank, waiting for a font to be added digitally. I usually draw whole pages set out as I want them but not always. If I have a quick idea for something I just draw it and worry about where it will go later. I use Bristol Board for pen drawings and cartridge paper if I’m going to use ink, sometimes smooth sometimes rough.

Top right is a pencil sketch on paper of some items that were later refined on the light box and then put into position digitally. Top left is a complete page from the first ever zine I made, drawn in pencil, pen, ink and hand lettered. The picture of a steam train is on tracing paper (I had to cheat and trace it I’m afraid) There are two drawings that were made immediately in pen with no sketching. The four girls second from the left and the tiny school girls bottom left. There is also a page of hand lettered text which was cut and pasted into position after the drawing was done.

I know there is a certain amount of elitism around making comics drawings the old fashioned way: complete finished pages with text hand lettered and stuck on, but it seems to me that method depends either on having a lot of time on your hands or on working in a team of people. When you are doing everything yourself I think its fine to use technology and I don’t see it as a short cut. The aim is to make the best comic possible by any means, right?

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