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