Friday, January 11, 2013


As I’m an avid runner, or at least I was prior to deciding on being an artist, I’m going to borrow today’s title from the runner’s slang dictionary. Let me explain this to you. A marathon is a race consisting of 26.2 miles. Basically, you run the first 20 miles without any real problems, considering you’ve spent months training for this difficult task. You enjoy this part of the race, look at the scenery, listen to your body, experience the great energy from the crowd, and feel very proud of yourself for achieving this extraordinary challenge; but wait… It’s not over yet.

You still have to run 6.2 miles (10 km) and that’s when you ‘hit the wall’, with that last leg of the race left to go. There’s a scientific reason for this involving the amount of energy (carbohydrates) that the body can save, but I’m not going to bore you with that. Basically, you run out of energy and you have to start running with conviction, mental strength and strategies (My mantra was the song of the Mickey Mouse Club yeeeeiiii Mickey!). You have to start running with heart. It’s the only way to break through the wall. Every part of your body aches, no amount of carbs can replenish your energy expenditure, you’re sick of Gatorade and bananas, and you’re short of breath. The most horrible sensation is that of failure. You feel as if, at any moment, you’re going to break and not be able to finish the race you’ve trained so hard for. It’s really difficult and some people fail miserably, while other runners make it but with their last breath. One more step and they would have fainted. A select few finish strong.  

I happen to fit into that ‘last breath’ category, and I think it has something to do with my personality. I always have to be sure that I’ve done everything in my power to achieve the best possible results. If there’s passion I will always try my best. Sure, there will be mistakes, but you learn from them and thrive.

And that’s where I am right now—the wall. I feel tired, unmotivated, mentally exhausted and physically drained, and most important, I am afraid. I’m not afraid of not finishing my studies, I know I can do that, instead my fear consists mainly of wondering if I'm going to be a distinguished professional in the field or if I'm going to feel disappointed in my artistic abilities or even in the industry as a whole. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep doing my best. I’m going to keep running with my heart, and if I fail, which I won't, you'll be the first to know.

Now that you’re up to date with my feelings of despair, let me tell you what I was up to this past semester. Overall, it was a very good semester: I had time to work on assignments but still had some free time to enjoy with my wife all that New York has to offer. Now that she is here with me everything seems better and more fun, and the cooking is so good although I think she is losing some steam in that department :) My experience from last year was so traumatic that I don’t think I’ll ever have the energy just to work, work, work. You have to have hobbies, enjoy a good movie, do exercises, I don’t know, have a life besides drawing comics. I have to admit that I don’t think I’m working when I’m drawing, even though it IS hard work, but it’s also fun and rewarding. Still, some assignments are boring and don’t speak to my needs and ambitions as an artist.

So I was thinking of doing something practical for any aspiring artist. Below I’ve compiled a reading list for you for each different aspect the accomplished comic book artist needs to master, with only one book per category so that you can dive in straight away. Yeah! I’m that nice! ;)

1.     Comics: Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
2.     Storytelling: Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative by Will Eisner
3.     Drawing: Keys to Drawing by Bert Dodson
4.     Anatomy: Drawing the Head and the Figure by Jack Hamm
5.     Perspective: Perspective for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea
6.     Inking: The Art of Comic Book Inking by Gary Martin 
7.     Coloring: Hi-Fi Color for Comics by Brian & Kristy Miller
8.     Writing: Writing for Comics with Peter David

Read them, study them, copy the drawings and create new ones. Practice, practice, practice and you will get all the basic concepts ingrained in your mind. There is an infinite number of books I could recommend, but I think these are mandatory and easy to understand. Once you know the basics, things will get more complex. Read them in order if you like (recommended) or start reading whatever interests you the most, but the most important thing is to start. You can always ask me to recommend more books. Also, if you are on a budget I will recommend one book to know everything about comics: Drawing Words& Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Steve Madden. If you go this route make sure to get the sequel Mastering Comics by the same amazing team. Or you can always get How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and learn from that. Either you feel inspired by the concise and practical information or you feel unmotivated and untalented by the simplification of it all. My personal feeling regarding this book is that although it has great material it is simply not enough. Of course, there will always be those artists who believe God gifted them and feel proud of having mastered comics only by using this book as a guide. As true as it may be for some, let me assure you that the majority of people need MORE.

I have a confession to make. I’m kind of lost regarding my audience. It’s true that I enjoy writing, but I write for you, my loyal fans. (Who I’m pretty sure include my mom, family, and closest friends). I may be getting too technical for the people who want to know about the challenge, or maybe too biographical for readers that only are interested in comic book making. So in order to clarify what this blog is about I’ve come up with a theme:

“Mastering Art Skill is a blog written by an aspiring comic book artist who happens to be studying art at the age of 35, in which he talks about his experience as a way to inspire readers to follow their dreams and also guide newcomers in the comic book industry. All of this following one simple rule: to draw 10,000 hours in order to master the subject at hand”.

I hope that’s clear enough. Is it? Anyway… Here are my grades for this semester:

Fall 2012 grades

Let’s start with that infamous and undeserved B. I don’t want to come off as a complete nerd, but I was very disappointed with this grade. I worked so hard and I never received a heads up that I could be getting a B. It is disappointing because I thought I deserved an A based on effort. It is the teacher’s prerogative and his explanation was that last year there were 4 students whose pages deserved an A, and I quote: “So, to give anyone this year an "A" who is not yet performing to last year's "A" level would devalue the grade and would not be right”. Mmm, I respectfully disagree. I’ve always been a fan of the curve system. What I mean is that you will not always get the same batch of talent or preparation by students every year. Maybe last year those students had better teachers, or were better prepared based on another curriculum. (For instance, Perspective class in the Cartooning department was cancelled two years ago, which I myself find inexcusable and irresponsible). From my point of view, especially in art, grading is very subjective and cannot be compared considering the “talent” factor and preparation (some of those kids did nothing in math class in high school and drew all the time, or others had art classes since they were kids.) Art is relative and it should not be compared, but if you have to, at least compare it within the same group of students who are somehow receiving the same lectures from the same teacher. There I said it. I’m a frustrated teacher so I have a clear idea on how I would teach if it were the case. Maybe I deserved a B, who cares. Stop whining Jose and move on.

I’ve been working on a single comic named “Turmoil” and it is about a guy who finds himself chased by unknown people, until he realizes that what he’s been running away from is created by none other than himself. Sketchy, I know, and probably not a good pitch if I’d like to sell the script, but I promise I will do my best to make it fun. I believe it has a good ending and will make you think a lot. Here are the first six pages plus a cover all done with ink. It will be an 18-page comic and the rest of the pages will be done this semester.

Cover Turmoil

I’ve also been coloring some pages in my Digital Coloring class. Since I needed to color pages made by me I decided on doing three pages from last year’s thesis. One of them I already showed you in my previous post, so here are the other two. Also I colored my “Turmoil” cover and a caricature I made of a friend back home from Guayaquil, Ecuador, where I am from.

Cover Turmoil colored

Ifood Delivery Biker

My perspective class was great, although I wanted a more technical approach more commonly used in comics. Still, it was a challenging class and I got a better sense of perspective. The only thing with perspective is that you have to apply it everyday because you easily forget about some obscure rules. In any case, I hereby present you two of the eleven assignments I had to make. One is a still life that was an exercise of almost every rule of perspective, focusing more on shadows, and the other is just a patterned floor, which may not seem too impressive but was a pain to draw.

Still Life - Shadows

Pattern in perspective

Finally, in my drawing class I’ve been working hard on trying to understand drawing formulas to represent fabric. Clothing for me is very hard to depict and after the class it still is, but at least now I know some rules. I guess you get used to drawing fabric (like anything else) and it becomes easier the more you practice. The formulas in drawing clothing makes it so much easier and they help your figures look more real. I’m more inclined in drawing noir comics so I need to master the clothed figure sooner than later.

I’m going to level with you. This entry was supposed to be written and posted before New Year’s Eve, so I had a great paragraph written on wishing a happy holidays and the importance of the New Year’s resolution As I procrastinated quite a bit during my two weeks vacation that I’m a little late, but I still wish you the best and want to take a moment to emphasize the importance of goals. Make quantifiable and attainable goals. Be realistic, but do not DARE stop dreaming. Sometimes dreams do come true, you just have to be a little unrealistic, close your eyes, and jump to the void, even though it seems you’re jumping to hell itself (as Doctor Who did… doesn’t ring a bell? Go watch those episodes... NOW!). Ok, so I’m really tired. I have nothing more to say for now. May this year be the best for you, and for me :) This is, after all, graduation year!

As a bonus for the aspiring artists, I made a chart of expressions. I just put all the expression drawings into a single page in Photoshop. The illustrations are from a book on Facial Expressions that I highly recommend: The Artist’s Complete Guide to Facial Expression by Gary Faigin.

Facial Expressions Chart

If you want to be involved in comics in any way and don’t know where to start, I may have a few suggestions. Please write me an e-mail to or find me on Twitter @bielero


Jose Luis