Monday, October 29, 2012


It’s been two months since the start of my senior year, and I have made one of the biggest decisions of my artistic career. I’ve made the leap into the digital world. No, I don’t mean to sound like the stereotypical tortured artist that doesn’t know how to check his e-mail or, for that matter, does not have a Facebook account (Believe me, there are still some who do not). On the contrary, I have always been very fluent in computer language and kind of a tech geek, or to be more specific, a loyal tech consumer. Yes, I love my wonderful toys and gadgets and I shed a tear when The Sharper Image closed all of it's retail stores (Oh, I know their products weren’t always the best, but they were so much fun). In any case, I’ve always been excited about new technology and try to embrace it and move forward with the world. I understand there will be a time when I will deny myself the opportunity to understand new technology, but now is not that time. This resistance to change sometimes prevents some people to incorporate new methods or use new tools in order to make their work faster and more efficient. Let’s agree on the fact that if you do not accept technology you become a dinosaur. Now, does that mean that your art will suffer? Absolutely NOT! You can make great art and not touch a computer in your life. But if you are a commercial artist, or a cartoonist such as myself, you will at least need to know how to scan the piece you worked on in order to send it to your editors or clients. Simply put, the world we live on does not have the time or the patience to send and receive art via FedEx, at least not for aspiring artists. You see, I understand that legends such as Neal Adams or George Perez have the privilege to do what they want and still work the same way they did back in the seventies, but for the rest of us to tell an editor: “well, I don’t know how to scan my page properly, would it be OK if I send you my pages via UPS?” in your first interview would be a total disaster followed by the art director’s words: “NEXT”. Or so I would imagine.

Cintiq & me

Now, what do I mean that I’ve taken the digital leap? I just bought a Wacom Cintiq and it basically changed my whole process of making comics . Let me make this clear, I love the traditional way as much as the next artist, but I had to make a decision and for me it was the right one. It’s not that I don’t pick up a pencil anymore, that is not the case. I always carry my sketchbook around to draw with my mechanical pencil. It’s more natural and in my opinion the results are still superior to the digital equivalent. There’s still no device or tool that can recreate the sensation of drawing with a pencil on actual paper, but I’m sure there will be… there will be! (Master Yoda stop haunting me!!!). The same stands for the quality and finished results of the inking process. There is no match to a pen nib or a brush with a good Indian ink (For South America would be China ink. This is because no one can tell for sure where ink was invented, either in India or China… interesting, huh?). For a new digital artist I pretty much sound like a traditionalist, or even a purist, but don’t get me wrong, the advantages of the digital approach are far too seductive to pass. Let me name a few so we can agree at least that digital is more efficient:

1. - Software: I use Manga Studio for laying out the pages, drawing, and inking them. For coloring I use Photoshop (you are probably familiar with this software). The great thing about Manga Studio is that because it was created specifically for comic artists (It’s not only for manga, which are Japanese comics, but for western comics as well) you can create panels (which happen to have their own layers), insert dialogue balloons, captions, tones (used more extensively in manga), and effects (that I think they have to be avoided most of the times). Also, and probably more important, you work in layers. If you are familiar with how animations are produced, they use the principle of layers. In other words, you draw one page and then add a movement or a change in a page on top of it. Layers are important because you can start by drawing your thumbnails in the same page. (Thumbnails is the first step consisting of small drawings that indicate how panels are going to be laid out focusing on panel sizes, camera angles and shots, word balloons, gestures, expressions and more; but you already know that since you have read all my previous posts, right?). Once your thumbnails are drawn you can simply reduce the opacity of that layer (make it more transparent or lighter) and start drawing your loose pencils, then, reducing the loose pencils layer opacity and start drawing your tight pencils in another layer, and finally, reducing the tight pencils layer opacity and creating a new layer to start the final inking process. Sounds maddening, I know, but it is rather simple. Layers are, of course, used in Photoshop and will prove to be invaluable in the coloring stage.

2. - No scanning: This has always been a tedious process. It involves scanning the final page (sometimes in pencil if it is going to be inked by an inker, or in inks if you’ve already inked it. Duh!). But seriously, it takes too much time to do when you could be drawing and producing more pages. For starters, the comic art page is actually 15” x 10”, so if you have a regular scanner you would have to scan the page in two pieces and then overlap and merge them together using Photoshop. It is not hard when you know how to do it, but it will take you some time to merge each page properly. More important, you have to really know how to use Photoshop in order to do this and also be familiar with the standards in quality the publishers require. Don’t even let me start talking about the traditional way that involves sending them by mail. You can send it priority and still the best scenario is one day to get to the destination, and you know what the publisher is going to do when they receive the pages? They will send them to be scanned! Why would they want to go to all that trouble? No, they will simply hire the one guy who can scan correctly, assuming their art is pretty much the same.

3. - Pencils: With the Cintiq you can draw directly on the screen and it wasn’t as difficult to get used to as I thought it would be. I can draw until my hand falls off and I wouldn’t have spent a single sheet of paper; this is a great factor for environmentalists, but if you err on the side of “who cares about the world!” well, your wallet definitely will. You can even draw your sketches on the same file on another layer and then just hide it. But the one thing I love more than anything is the ability to redesign the page as you see fit without having to redraw everything again. I will go more in depth in the “transform” point.

4. - Inks: Again, because I use my Wacom Cintiq and it is pressure sensitive the weights of my lines do not suffer at all. Also, you have millions of brushes, and you can customize them any way you want. Even if you have a shaky hand you can add a feature that corrects the line, although I do consider that cheating and I certainly don’t do it out of principle. You never run out of ink and better yet, NO INK SPILLING, which all artists can testify that Indian ink is not merciful on anything it falls upon.

5. - Undo: You can make all the mistakes you want and just undo them if they don’t work. I mean, you can take more risks and if you are not happy with the results, just go back in the history (a collection of the steps you’ve made while drawing) and go to a previous step. Adam Hughes gives a great tip in one of his interviews: “ If you need to have the ability to undo a brush stroke from 20 actions ago, maybe you aren’t making great decisions to begin with”. I agree to a certain point. Don’t overuse the undo feature and try to spend more time thinking first what works best; at the end, if you screw things up there is always a way to go back.

6. - Transform: I love this feature because it allows you to move your figures or change their sizes. Sometimes you draw the head too big in relation to the body, or maybe a car too small compared to the building next to it. It happens a lot, and it certainly happens less if you are more experienced, but still happens (Just ask Rob Liefeld of his infamous Heroes Reborn cover of Captain America with boobs, although to be fair, that is more lack of knowledge on anatomy rather than a mistake in proportions). Still, you could lasso the car mentioned above and just make it bigger and arrange it the way you like it.

7. - Lettering: It saddens me to tell you that lettering is a lost art. Now all the lettering is done digitally with fonts and the letterers are out of jobs. Of course somebody has to know enough calligraphy to create these fonts, but there is no more glamour in them. In any case, since I’m not a letterer, it is better for me because now I can download a font that I like and just paste the dialogue in my word balloons, simple as that! Some fonts tend to be expensive but you can download them for free on other sites (but that would be wrong kids! Stop the piracy!). I wouldn’t recommend using illegally downloaded fonts on a work that will be posted online or printed, since you could get sued, but for educational purposes they are just fine. Also, it’s much faster to type the words than to write them, and for us who are not blessed with good handwriting, digital fonts make the work look more professional. Beware of the use of wrong fonts though, they can kill your pages! (DO NOT USE COMIC SANS)

8. - Coloring: Nowadays all comics are colored using Photoshop. I’m not planning on coloring my own pages but I’m learning how to do that just in case. I’d rather hire a good digital colorist, who understands color much better than I do, to put some life into my pages.

Time is an important factor for me. Maybe I feel this way because I’m 35 and I would love to break into the comics industry right away. More time means more pages done in a month, and more pages mean more income. Also, and most important, you could spend more time with your family, which is invaluable. Now that I’m married we are hoping to be a bigger family soon. So it’s important to prioritize your time and be efficient about it in order to get the most out of what you have left. The disadvantage is that these types of software and devices have a learning curve and surely you can read all about them in books or on the internet (YouTube tutorials). Yes as all art is learned, you will end up learning by trial and error. However, you can thankfully COMMAND+Z (CTRL+Z for PC users) all your mistakes and undo them. No harm done! If you are interested in making the leap, watch Dave Gibbons on Manga Studio tutorials on YouTube by clicking here and here.

I’ve been rambling on so much about my digital leap that I haven’t been able to show you any of the work I’ve done, nor explain to you what classes I am taking this semester. I’m taking 6 classes: Cartooning Portfolio, Drawing Formulas II, Inking, Advanced digital coloring, Perspective, and Society & Nature (Ok, that last one is a Humanities requirement but it's a great class!)

My Cartooning Portfolio has the objective to help me create the best possible comic book pages to show in my portfolio. Not only do you better yourself in drawing, but you also learn to apply more storytelling techniques. Needless to say, the more I know about storytelling, the less I enjoy the usual comic books I enjoyed in the past. The comic industry is flooded with ignorance regarding storytelling. In other words, you can draw amazingly but lack storytelling abilities and your work will suffer. Younger audiences are easily impressed with the drawing skills, but let me assure you, storytelling is more important and lives longer. You still have to draw amazingly to break into the industry. In this class I’ve done a 4-page story so far. We were given a script and we had to work around it. It was very specific and each panel demanded drawing and storytelling knowledge. Most of the pages will not be as packed or specific as these, but some of them will be, or even worse. Again, I did all of those digitally from scratch. Two of them are already inked and corrected and the last two pages are just tight pencils with some obvious mistakes or lazy panels. As I write this entry I’m working on a story of my own called “Turmoil”, and I think I have acquired enough knowledge to actually put those freaking pages on my portfolio. The story is very good but I will not spoil it now. They will be the main focus on my next entry.

Dino story page 1 Inked

Dino story page 2 Inked

Dino story page 3 Pencilled

Dino story page 4 Pencilled

Drawing Formulas II is my favorite class. I’m really learning how to draw human figures (anatomy), lighting, clothing, and perspective. It’s the drawing class I always wanted and finally got it at my senior year. I’m pretty sure that if I had had this class before, my Jekyll and Hyde comic thesis would have been much better than it turned out. There are formulas for everything, and even though I really like to reference my drawings, it is much more liberating to know some rules as to how to put some shading, or make a correct foreshortening in a pose. We are using an advanced model sheet that my professor Nelson faro De Castro has done. He is a great teacher and very thorough and practical in what he teaches.  I won’t be uploading the advanced sheet because it is a process and goes along with his lecture in order to fully understand it. Also I wouldn’t want him to be pissed off that I’m using his designs for my blog. I will be posting some figures I’ve drawn using his model though (4 in total, out of a 100). These were done without a model or reference but directly from my head. Also, I have made a lot of studies on facial features because Nelson told us from day one that he wouldn’t be focusing too much on the face, so it was our job to learn it. I took it upon myself and I’m drawing every single page of the book “Drawing the Head & Figure” by Jack Hamm, which I highly recommend. It has EVERYTHING you need to know on how to draw the figure from your head. Even if you want to draw as a hobby and enjoy drawing characters and poses, this would be the book for you. I will be showing some pages of my studies as well.


Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Figure 4 with corrections
Inking class is a workshop taught by the same teacher of drawing formulas II. It is a great class and I’m learning traditional techniques on inking. It is ironic that I’m taking this class when I decided to ink digital (or as some people call it now “dinking”) but that does not matter because you apply the principles of inking while digitally inking. It’s all about line weights, contour lines, spotting blacks, feathering, crosshatching, shadows, textures, and style. Sounds complex? It is! Some people think that the inker just traces the artist pencils and that is totally wrong, at least for a good inker. A decent inker knows that applying inks to pencils is a big responsibility. Here are some responsibilities I’ve read from the book: The Art of Comic Book Inking” by Gary Martin with Steve Rude: 1. The inker’s main purpose is to translate graphite pencil lines into reproducible, black, ink lines. 2. The inker must honor the penciller’s original intent while adjusting any obvious mistakes. 3. The inker determines the look of the finished art. In other words, the inker has to know the craft of drawing, and know it very well. Not long ago a friend of mine told me that he had no time to learn to draw comics, but that sometime in the future he will somehow be involved in the comic industry, probably as an inker. When I heard that it made as much sense to me as when I was a kid and wanted to learn to play bass guitar because I thought it was much easier (because it had less strings) than learning to play normal guitar. It just doesn’t work that way. Some people are better inkers than pencillers, granted, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier.

Advanced Digital Coloring is pretty much the same as the class I took last year, but this one focuses more on the approach to digitally color comics, so it’s been fun and it has reinforced my knowledge on the correct way to color pages. As I said before, I don’t think that I will be coloring my comics once I graduate since I think my work will be better presented in black and white format, nonetheless, I’m learning it because it is important to be familiar with colors to state the mood of the comic. I’m posting a page from my thesis I colored using this approach.

Colors of Jekyll & Hyde's transformation

Perspective is that class I had to move heaven and earth to get into. Can you believe that the Cartooning department does not have a perspective class? I learned that this was mainly because nowadays a lot of young artists are focusing more and more on indie comics, webcomics, or strips, that does not generally focus on complex backgrounds so they just need basic perspective knowledge. This is a shortcut that no artist should take. To quote Andrew Loomis on his book “Successful Drawing”: “Since perspective is the first main problem that arises, it is the first thing the artist should learn. An understanding of this should precede or be a part of every art-school training. No drawing is real drawing unless it is related to an eye level or horizon, with the relationship understood by the artist”. Since there was no perspective class in Cartooning I went ahead and got permission from the Dean to take a perspective class from the animation department. I’m feeling more comfortable now with the rule I’ve learned although sometimes it gets very confusing.

To wrap things up since this entry has gotten out of hand, I can honestly say that I’m happy with my classes and with the decision I made in regards to making the transition from traditional to digital. This year is not as abusive and intense as my previous year and I think this breather has helped me improve my art. I almost forgot! I was granted a studio space in the Cartooning Department. It was a great honor and it was based on academic achievement. Only 16 people were granted this studio so I was really proud of myself. Sadly, I had to turn it down since I wasn’t going to use it. I’m pretty sure another kid needed it more than me. Still, I was happy to know I was in the top 16 of the class of 2013.

I know this was a long post. Sorry about that but to make it up to you I'm posting a sketch by none other than Carmine Infantino, penciller and co-creator of the silver age Flash we all know and love. It seems shaky but give the man a break, he is 87 years old. I wish I could draw that well at his age.

Carmine Infantino sketch

See you on my next post, if Hurricane Sandy has mercy on my soul obviously :)


José Luis

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


You could have asked me at the end of my last entry what was going to happen in the following months and I would have never guessed my summer would be so exciting. I went back to Ecuador (my home country), proposed to my girlfriend, asked her parents for her hand in marriage (yes, we are still in the fifties back home, although is more a formality rather than an actual asking for permission), had a bachelor party, moved to a new apartment, got married, gave a lecture on comic books, went for my honeymoon to Rosario (where Eduardo Risso, the artist from 100 Bullets and dear friend of mine, was conveniently holding a comic book convention) and later on to Buenos Aires, finally me and my brother went to Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando. Let’s not forget that I also cut my hair In order to be presentable for my wedding (sorry, our wedding!!! Now it seems that for some reason I need to change all my first person pronouns to third person ones – Behold the assassination of independent Jose).

So what exactly have I been doing artistically in the last four months? Well, it shames me to tell you, not much. I’ve been so preoccupied with all of these turns of events and social gatherings that I lost track of time. Believe me, my initial plan was to study and draw the whole summer and do pretty much nothing else. I would have been a great artist by now with all the hours I would have put into my work. Instead, I decided to take a long break and make probably one of the most important decisions of my life. You have to understand that I have always been a free bird, a free spirit if you will and it was tough for me to finally make up my mind and commit to a relationship even though it made sense. Yeah, you could say I got my wings clipped, but I would rather walk the rest of my life with my wife rather than fly alone. As Wally West (The Flash, who is erased from existence but not forgotten) would say about the love of his life, Linda: “She’s my lighting rod and that’s why I always come back to her”, and that is exactly how I feel. It’s not that I am planning to leave her and then return, just try to understand the metaphor from a Flash fan perspective. She is the love of my life and I regret not marrying her a lot sooner. Then again, there is a time for everything, and probably if I would have done it much sooner I wouldn’t be writing to you guys, and that would be awful. You are the center of my universe ;) (I expect extra points from my readership, or at least some Twitter and Facebook sharing! Spread the love!).

Needless to say, I have not been putting too many hours drawing in the summer, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything at all. As a matter of fact, I did a piece that is probably the most ambitious piece I’ve done so far. This is going to turn a little corny but bear with me please. I drew and painted my proposal to my girlfriend (whom you can meet in the picture below).  But first I must clarify something in order for you to understand. Coming from a third world country, Ecuador, where there is a limited comic book market and does NOT even offer an illustration career opportunity, not to mention a degree in cartooning, Ecuadorians do not exactly understand the nature of comics, and who could blame them! It is just not within our culture. Comics have been stereotyped as superhero magazines exclusively for kids. I’m not ashamed of a good superhero comic book, in fact, I would kill for the opportunity to draw, and possibly write, The Flash, but there is more to it, of course. I always explain to my acquaintances that comics are a respectable medium not unlike films. The ninth art (yes, comics, and yes, it IS art!) borrows a lot from the film industry and vice versa.  Nowadays the introduction of comic book superhero movies have helped a bit to make adults enjoy a good superhero flick, up to a point that now being a geek is practically cool! (Big Bang Theory anyone? San Diego ComicCon sold out two years in a row?). Still, it is totally unfair to categorize comics as a superhero medium entirely for kids, because, well, it’s NOT! It has as many genres as film does. For more than half a century there have been many genres such as horror, romance, detective, action, noir, caricature, crime, political, editorial, non-fiction, manga, science fiction, underground (comix), war, western, biographic, and the well-known superhero. Don’t take my word for it, if you don’t believe me just google it. So this prejudice against comics has been very damaging to the industry, limiting the number of potential adult fans. It feels as I’m rambling on and on, but I had to clarify this because people in Ecuador are so distant from the medium that they just don’t understand it. Even worse, they actually think you can make a comic book with relative ease. Newsflash, this is harder than working in finance and management. I have the right to tell you this because I’ve done both of those jobs and making comics is certainly harder than working in a grown-up, sterile, and regular job. Yes, it is harder, and you gain less money, but hey, don’t get discouraged if you want to be a comic book artist or feel sorry for me, because this job is amazing, fun and self-fulfilling :) 

My wife Morole

Going back to the proposal! I wanted to propose to my girlfriend in an original and unique way and like Frank Sinatra said: “I did it my way”. Yes, I drew a single panel in which I depicted myself on my knees asking her to marry me. But just showing her the finished piece wouldn’t have been enough. So I decided to record not only my whole artistic process from digital pencil to final colors and special effects but also myself drawing in a smaller window. It was challenging but I did it in around fifteen hours more or less. Then I edited it and included three songs: The first one is from the future husband of my sister in law, who happens to be very talented, so do not hesitate to promote him through the web. His name is Hector Crisantes and his song is “Live And Let It Go”. You can find it here Live And Let It Go by Crisantes. The second song is “our song” (how romantic!) “Better Together” from Jack Johnson, and the last one is a song I found out by watching and amazing animation by Ryan Woodward. Go check it out; I’ll be here when you finish watching it! The link is: Thought of You by Ryan Woodward. The song is called “The World Spins Madly On” by The Weepies. Of course I could not shave shown fifteen hours or so in a video so I sped it up by 50% (5000 times faster than real life). This is why in the video it seems that I’m having an epileptic attack. I picked up my girlfriend, turned off the light of the living room in my apartment, turned on the speakers, projected the video through a projector on a wall and then asked her to watch the video, which supposedly was for a summer homework from school. Then, as it was starting, I excused myself because I had conveniently left my iphone in the car. Of course, I came inside from the back door and heard anxiously the songs until I knew it was over. Got out from hiding, gave her the ring, and proposed in real life. Once she said yes we proceeded to celebrate with our family and friends, drinking a lot of champagne and a lot of whisky. The following day, with a huge hangover, I decided to upload the video on Youtube and Facebook. It was incredible the kind of response I had. So you see, I killed two birds with one stone, first I made the proposal unique by doing it my way, and also I showed everybody in Ecuador what my artistic process is. You can see the video in Youtube by clicking the following link Comic Book Style Proposal. If you like it please spread it :) I will also post it here if I can figure out how to do it in Blogspot.

Prior to my wedding I was asked to offer a comic book lecture to 15 year-old girls. Although most of them have the span of attention of a fly and have no interest in comic books, they were extremely polite and showed a lot of respect and interest on the material I was presenting. It seems it was a requirement for them. The good news, heck, the great news is that I enjoyed teaching a lot. I’ve always wanted to teach something I was passionate about. Of Course I got questions such as: “Can I go to the bathroom?” or “Is this lecture for credits?” but hey, who can blame them. Still, I tried to make the lecture as fun as I could, so at the end I showed my marriage proposal video. They loved it, and a couple of them had already seen it J I will teach again, that’s for sure!

Giving a lecture on comics

The contents of the bachelor party I cannot divulge here, mainly because I’m well behaved, proper and a serious man. I can only say that there was a lady Flash and a slave Leia involved, among others ;)

Then I got married, and it was lovely and amazing and totally unrelated to this blog, so I won’t talk about it. I could probably upload a couple of pictures though.

At the altar

Working the crowd

Let me tell you about the city of Rosario, Crack Bang Boom and Eduardo Risso. As you may already know, or not, Rosario is a city from Argentina. It’s not one of the most popular cities in the country, but it is beautiful. I had prearranged this trip for over a year, even before I knew I was going to get married. It was kind of a cheap shot to have gone to a comic convention in our honeymoon and she felt a little cheated at first but we had a great time there, especially due to our hosts, Eduardo Risso and his lovely wife Marupe. The convention turned out to be a great success and introduced me to a lot of Argentinean material and artists. There is one story that I cannot understand it hasn’t been translated to English and sold in every comic book store and every Barnes and Noble. If you speak Spanish, please get it. It is by far one of the most intelligent comics I have read in the previous decade. Carlos Trillo and Domingo Mandrafina made this graphic novel in 1987. I don’t want to spoil you the story since it is perfect, but if you lose hope on getting it or you do not speak Spanish (and are not interested in learning) read the following article which describes the importance and nature of this story: Peter Kampf lo sabía (you can always translate the page into English with Google)

Peter Kamps lo sabía

Me and Eduardo Risso in his studio

During the convention I had the chance to meet and talk to Dave Johnson. He is a very talented cover artist who did all the covers for 100 Bullets and Punishermax. Risso introduced me to him and told him I was studying cartooning at the School of Visual Arts. The first thing he said to me was among these lines: “Why would you pay thousands of dollars for something you could do at home”. I really didn’t care for that comment but understood where he was coming from. Some people have great talent but more importantly, they are clear of what they want from life in early stages. Yes, you could spend every day drawing (without an actual degree, which I fairly assume he does not have due to his comment), and you will eventually get it. If you have the drive and the time to do it, you could definitely pull it off. On the other hand, some people do not have the cultural advantage of being born in a country where there is an industry in comics and being a comic book artist is a respectably career, or they probably because of that made the mistake of choosing another career and spent 10 years working in a job they don’t particularly love, or maybe they just need the structure of a well though out curriculum in order to get the advantages of people with more knowledge than them. Perhaps you need the degree in order to teach. Or most likely, the degree of a bachelor in fine arts is more complete than a simple book that superstar comic book artists feel proud they have used. Two well-respected comic book artists have told me that you could draw amazingly and still not know the secrets and advantages of a good storytelling. Finally, if it is the student’s choice, who can say he or she should not invest their time and money the way he or she wants to by pursuing an academic career? I guess it is easy to criticize other people who want to do things differently, or simply put, to not do it their way is the wrong way. Granted, at the end you can have a degree and still suck, and that is on you, but the same goes if you make it, doesn’t it? Yup, I didn’t care for that comment at all, but once I explained him my point of view and told him a little bit of my background story he kind of understood and respected my drive to do this now. Up to this point, I didn’t need his acceptance and that is the advantage of being a little older than most students who could get their feelings crushed by some guy who thinks the only way to gain success is his. Well, I got it out of my system. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the guy and I think he draws and paints covers wonderfully, but his point of view is not mine, so don’t get discouraged if you follow your own path, just make sure the path lead you to your goal one way or the other.

I’m starting my final year at the School of Visual Arts on Tuesday September 4. I can’t believe I’m a senior and God willingly I will be graduating on May 2013 at the age of 35. Don’t you worry; I will keep writing my entries until I reach my 10,000 hours goal so you can see for yourself my artistic evolution and hopefully get inspired by it. With a bit of luck I’ll be working and have a successful career in the industry by then. If not, at least I will be happy to continue making an effort.


José Luis

Sunday, May 13, 2012


You might be wondering where the hell did I go? Did I succumb into the seductive hands of defeat? Or did I just accept a certain level of mediocrity. Did I forget about my loyal readers? Or worst of all, did I lose track of my goal to become a great comic book artist. Truthfully, I’m still here… barely. This has been a pretty intense academic year and I hardly made it out alive. With 1521 hours of drawing so far, I’m still in my path to become a better artist. But all of those hours are not devoid of afflictions, and I will tell you all bout them… in a minute. First I need to vent a little. God I missed writing. The fact that I neglected my blog, which I’m really passionate about, lies in the amount of hours I devoted in doing my comic book pages. I’m fascinated with how fast time flies, and I do have a theory about that; it is all about perception of relative time, but I shouldn’t get into that now. This academic year hasn’t been easy. I pretty much put everything else in my life on hold, including this blog, as you may have seen. Believe when I tell you that I have forgotten what weekends feel like. Why all the drama you ask? Because I need to emphasize that this has been the busiest year of my life. You see, because I had a business degree back in 2000, I got transferred all of my humanities credits (around 30, which means an entire academic year). So in order to shave off one year I had to take sophomore and junior hardcore classes together. This is somehow unprecedented because you need to pass the sophomore classes to get into your junior classes. Still, the chairman of my department understood my situation and let me take those classes together, not without asking: are you sure you can do this? In my mind I answered: “Hell yeah! If anybody can do that is me! I’m the grown up here!” But rest assured, I doubted myself every day of the year. You have to understand that although you need a certain set of skills to do what I do, which you get by studying and practicing almost every day, what you really have to do in order to improve is to put in the hours. Basically, the Principles of Cartooning (sophomore) and Pictorial Problems (junior) classes demand a certain amount of hours every week that I had to draw in order to meet the deadlines in time. Now I really understand why people need at least one day of the week to rest or do anything irrelevant and trivial. DECOMPRESSING! It is an essential mechanism to keep on going without a potential burnout. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still had time for my regular daily activities, such as eating, cleaning myself (my hygiene was always top notch), seldom exercise, and most often than I care to admit, watching TV in between drawing sessions and before going to bed. Also, the lack of a social life this year helped me a lot to focus and concentrate on this challenge. As you can see, I made it! And I’m immensely proud of myself if I can say so.

Inking demon

First of all let me show you my grades! The disadvantage in getting a Bachelor in Fine Arts is that grades don’t matter much. Clearly it is a way to evaluate your efforts and goals met, in accordance to the teacher’s perspective of course; but when you graduate, no art director is ever going to ask for your grades. It does NOT happen. What you need is a strong portfolio, so no matter how many A’s you get, those grades will be wandering in oblivion. What really matters in this case is what I think of my grades in relation to my efforts, considering my own personal constraints. I still think I could’ve done better, but considering how restricted my time was for the whole year and the eventual burnout and artist block I had to endure, I guess I did very well. And before I forget, for all of the artists out there, I did some research of the infamous “Artist Block” I found an interesting webpage that is a MUST read: The Anatomy of Art Block.

Spring 2012 semester grades

You have to take into consideration that I started writing this blog on a monthly basis in order to have some finished pieces to show you. It has been almost 5 months since my previous entry, so I have way too many of them to upload in one entry. I will basically give you a summarized version of my semester. As you can see in my grades box above, I took 6 classes; most of them were the second part of my fall classes (in the titles shown as II), the others were brand new. My classes are as follows: Pictorial Problems II, Principles of Cartooning II, Drawing II, another Drawing II (which is actually Drawing I with another teacher, more into that later), History of Cartooning, and Figurative Sculpture. So, let’s start, shall we?

Pictorial Problems. – As I told you before this is a junior class, but more important, our main goal was to create a complete comic book so it could be exhibited in the School of Visual Arts gallery. I concentrated most of my time and efforts in developing this comic, not only because it was my thesis, but also because it would be my first comic done exclusively by me. Naturally, I have to thank my classmates and my professor Keith Mayerson who helped me along the way with their observations and critiques. Anyway, if you follow my blog you’d know that I was working in the adaptation of the novel: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. The more I drew it, the more I cared about the characters, particularly Mr. Hyde, which I find disgustingly creepy and fun. I wrote a brief description of my thesis for the gallery presentation: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a novella written by Robert Louis Stevenson published in1886. The story is about a London lawyer named John Gabriel Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the misanthropic Mr. Hyde. The work deals with the duality of the human being, hence, it is commonly associated with the mental condition called “split personality”. Dr. Jekyll represents goodness, while Mr. Hyde embraces evil. These two opposites struggle against each other and it is up to Mr. Utterson to discover the truth behind it all”. I can really relate with this duality as much as I can relate with the HULK! (I had to put an Avengers reference, since everybody is talking about it and I have to agree it is a pretty cool movie). But seriously, Jekyll and Hyde inspired the Hulk, and not only that, but more important this novel actually created the mystery genre. To my disappointment, every single film and comic adaptation has been done with complete disregard to mystery. SPOILER ALERT (although this book has been around for more than a hundred years, so if you haven’t read it SHAME ON YOU): In the book you don’t know that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person until the end. To tell you the truth it is very hard to adapt it to film so the movies dwell more on the horror side of the story. This is a psychological thriller and I hope, with my limited skills, I did a good job to adapt it into a comic book. The chairman, Mr. Thomas Woodruff, told me that my skills do not meet my level of ambitions yet, and I totally agree with him. I really want to create realistic drawings in comics, and that is hard to focus when you also have to create page layouts, compositions, spotting blacks (creating shadows with ink), and over all that, meet a deadline. Either way, the good thing is that every next page was better than the previous one. The comic is done in black and white, but I’m going to find the time (probably this summer) to color it and make it look more professional. I did paint a cover and back cover at the end of the semester, and I’m really proud of how they turned out. I will also show you my three favorite pages from the comic. It won’t be long before I make a website in order to read all my comics. This class has been a remarkable experience, but what is most important is that I completed a task I set about almost 20 years ago. Every New Year resolution had always the same goal: “Create a Comic Book”. You know what? CHECK!

Cover of Jekyll and Hyde
Back cover of Jekyll and Hyde

Minicomic of Jekyll and Hyde

Me in the gallery presentation

Splash page redone - Hyde attacking Carew
Hyde transformation to Jekyll

Jekyll's statement letter

Principles of Cartooning. – I explained in my last entry that I had to do 21 pages this semester. I chose to do the Greek story of Theseus and the Minotaur. I think the subject matter was not as interesting as I thought it would be. I don’t know, the story wasn’t as fun and I only have myself to blame. Saying that, this was a real challenge, and the fact that I got bored of the story pretty quick doesn’t help. Also, it was impossible to get good references for ancient Greek cities, interiors, and clothing. Now that I think about it, I should have gone to the picture collection in the New York Public Library and get as many references as I did for the Jekyll and Hyde comic. Surely it would have made my life much easier. In any case, I did learned a lot with those assignments, mainly composition inside the panels and word balloon placement. It seems intuitive but it is far from it. What you learn is mostly by experience. I’m uploading 5 of my favorite pages of the Minotaur and 2 pages for another assignment in which I needed to establish different moods in each page using the same surroundings. Also a sketch of the Flash my teacher Klaus Janson did for me at the end of the semester. Thanks Klaus, you rock!

The Minotaur Page 8
The Minotaur page 13

The Minotaur page 14

The Minotaur page 16

The Minotaur page 17 

Mood Comic page 1

Mood Comic page 2

Sketch by Klaus Janson

Figure Drawing. – The drawing classes were mainly workshops. One of them was the continuation of a class I took in the fall with comic book artist superstar Phil Jiménez. It was a very frustrating class because it focused only on figure drawing. I really love figure drawing with a model, but it was very intense because he wanted us to get faster, so most of the times were gesture drawings or 10 minute poses. It is very limiting what you can do in 10 minutes. Sometimes I nailed it and sometimes I didn’t, so at the end of each class I ended up feeling like I didn’t know how to draw. I did sell myself short, and it’s understandable since all artists are self-conscious. I didn’t improve as fast as my classmates; then again, I believe I had more figure drawing experience in the past than most of them. The good thing is that I did in fact get better and although some of the times I felt like I hit a plateau, in the end I could clearly see the improvement. There were a couple of students that understood line better than me and I still can’t figure out how they did their drawing so graciously and beautiful in the amount of time per pose given to us. I was sure I was going to get a bad grade, but I came through with my semester homework. We had to do a sketchbook with 10 portraits of one specific classmate, each of them with a different expression. I felt the need to experiment with different materials and that was a game changer. Believe me when I tell you that I was getting really tired of the subject matter (in this case, my classmate). My professor really liked my portfolio and told me that it was the best of the class. I felt relieved and proud, and proceeded to like my teacher again ☺ I will show you 5 portraits and one I did of myself with the expression that symbolized my feelings during this long assignment. I’m also including a drawing made by one of my classmates of myself. It is a different drawing and it is not accurately correct, but he caught my essence perfectly, especially when I’m drunk.

Portrait made with a Wacom tablet and Photoshop


Portrait of me made by a classmate

Drawing Formulas. – Due to unusual circumstances I ended up taking a continuing education drawing class. Basically I took it because of the teacher, Nelson DeCastro. He essentially teaches drawing formulas, in other words, he teaches you how to draw directly from your mind. Artists know exactly what I’m talking about, but let me explain it more thoroughly. Drawing from observation is NOT easy, but once you understand the basic principles of proportions, shading, negative space, texture and line weight it becomes fairly easy, at least for me. It’s hard but given enough time I always get a photographic drawing of the subject. This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for improvement, but what you need is to keep doing it. Drawing from your mind is another different ball game. You have to learn and practice all the formulas, from the proportional distance of the torso towards the head to the more difficult ones of three-point perspective. Since the renaissance, artists have developed formulas to memorize certain rules to make their jobs easier. These guides let you draw realistic environments and figures using your mind and not relying on reference or modeling (I really sound like an artist, don’t I?). This is what I always wanted to learn seeing as I felt comfortable with drawing from observation. Since it is a continuing education class and you live in New York and enjoy drawing you HAVE to take it. Also, Nelson is by far the best teacher I’ve ever had. He’s funny, demanding, and very encouraging. Also he really knows what he is talking about. This class helped me a lot in drawing better figures and stronger environments. It was a workshop class, so I don’t have any masterpiece from this class. What I have is a bunch of drawings based on a mannequin he created. He corrects them in class so I had to withstand some crude but funny embarrassing moments. I’m posting some of the drawings I made. His corrections are in red ink, so if you see a “Simpsons Darth Vader face” next to the chest of the female mannequin, then you’ll get how much fun we had in that class.

Me nailing perspective!

Figurative Sculpture. – I also took figurative sculpture. This was an elective and it focused on making models or prototypes for toys, actions figures, or sculptures. This was a freaking awesome class! I’ve never used clay before, at least in this way. I’m not going to explain the whole process because it’s very lengthy, but at least I will show you some steps for you to get the idea. We basically did 2 projects. I decided to make a portrait sculpture of Conan O’Brien. I was really hooked on his show and I knew that there was a Coco Museum in his webpage. I did some preliminary drawings and I’m quite proud of the first I did. The problem is that it was way too realistic, so my teacher advised me to make the sculpture more cartoony. You can see both, the drawing and the sculpture, in Conan O’Brien’s website here and here. The second project was way more complicated. I decided to do a prototype for a statue of The Flash (Not Flash Gordon, just Flash!!!!!) It started with the same process in clay, but after that we had to create a mold with liquid rubber. I won’t lie to you, it was dreadfully messy and I had a lot of wasted material, but after $200 of chemicals I did the mold. It’s amazing how the mixture of two liquids can become rubber. It’s mesmerizing! Once the mold is done we had to pour another mixture of two liquids to create plastic. This process was also chaotic. Finally, I had to paint it. I’m not as happy with the final product, but give me a break, I made it out of thin air!

Conan O'Brien portrait
Conan O'Brien clay head

Clay Flash figure with liquid rubber

Flash sculpture

History of Cartooning. – I expected much more from my history of cartooning class so I’m not going to delve much into it. Some days I’ve find it interesting, other days dull and boring. We just had to be there for attendance and make one paper. I did my paper on Alex Ross, one of my favorite artists. The one thing that really freaked me out was his first slide of the presentation in the first class. It was from a series of colored etchings from James Gilray made in 1808 named “Very Slippy Weather”. Gilray made a series of the same drawing and then colored them by hand. He was one of the first cartoonists the teacher said. Somehow I knew I had seen it before. The minute I entered my room I noticed the same serigraphy right on top of where I sleep. I’m not sure if it is original but due to the fact that this is my family’s apartment since my grandfather bought it, it may be. Freaky huh! Still, it just reassures me that I’m in the right path.

Me with Jams Gilray etching

Finally, I will let you go with a deep thought, as always. Once I heard that all children were born artists, the problem is to remain artists when growing up. I have always wondered if drawing requires a special gift or ability. Then I read a preface by Jack Hamm (author of the book Drawing the Head & Figure, highly recommended) that goes like this: Long before a child learns to write, he makes marks which in his inhibited imagination represent a person. No one has convinced him that he has no artistic ability, nor has he convinced himself, so he continues his unaffected effort to draw. Because he persists, oftentimes to the undoing of household furniture, walls, and parents, his drawings begin to show a decided measure of improvement. Then one day interest wanes, due to acquired restraints, and only a few after that regularly take up the drawing pencil. The others borrow the oft-repeated phrase, “Oh I can’t draw a straight line!”

There is no science and no magic involved, if you want it badly enough, just start doing it. Screw anybody who thinks otherwise. (This line is mine of course)


Jose Luis 

PS.- If you want to start making comics, please get this book “Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: Everything You Need to Know to Create Great Work and Get It Published” by Daniel Cooney and if you want to get better at it buy this formidable book “Mastering Comics” by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden. They will really help you a lot… Guaranteed!