HOW *I* DO IT :: Secondary Tools
Why hello again! I wanted to make a shortish (compared to last week's) post this week, basically to expand on last week a little bit with some secondary tools. In keeping with my point that:
IT DOES NOT MATTER WHAT TOOLS YOU USE TO MAKE COMICS,
I wanted to separate out these other tools I use from my main post, because honestly, almost without exception they're completely unnecessary. Arguably the eraser might not be, but even so. How to make art is up to the artist, always and without exception--and in many cases flouting established norms for art-making is what keeps art exciting and expands the cultural and technical vocabulary of art. My friend Brian Fukushima has been doing these beautiful sketches lately with literally pen and CRAYON. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, when it comes to making art.
Anyway. Let's jump right in, I have a lot of work to do today, and if I get sidelined into a bunch of pontification, I'll never pay my darn rent.
The picture at the top of the post is my "B-Team," tool-wise. The support team. The secretaries at the Charlie's Angels offices. They're mainly self-explanatory, or based on some preference of mine--for instance, I've used those Magic Rub erasers since I was in high school, they work plenty good and scar the paper not that much. But like with all these things, there are a million different erasers that will give you satisfactory results. I use those Clic-Erasers a lot too--they're not particularly good erasers necessarily, but they're good for pinpointing little erasures you want to make, plus they fit nice and snug in my little man-purse for erasing on the go.
The steel ruler is something I would more passionately recommend--besides the standard uses as straight-edge and measurer, it's steel edge means you can use it with a razor without slicing or wearing down the edge, thus ruining the instrument. Plus most steel rulers will have a cork bottom or an inking edge, meaning the bottom of the edge isn't in contact with the paper, so if you're inking with a technical pen, the bead of ink's surface tension isn't broken and pulled under the ruler, ruining your day. Where possible, I would try to get any straightedge you use with an inking edge where possible. It's not like they're more expensive, but one day you'll be glad. Side-note, it may not matter to you, but I prefer rulers with one side in metric. We don't really use the metric system here in the Land Of The Free (from sensible base 10 numbering systems) but if you're trying to divide dimensions, dividing something evenly divisible by 10 sure is easier than base 8 or whatever.
The Ames guide is probably it's own blog post--actually I already did one a few months ago, but I might redo it for this series. I had a conversation by email with Evan Dorkin about it, basically about how ridiculously confusing it can be even to people like us who are fascinated by that kind of thing. But ultimately it's just a tool, a tool to make some straight lines. But I'll go into that later most likely.
Rapidographs! These guys are the kings, the blobby, cloggy princes of my secondary toolset. I had kind of given up using them until I started lettering Casanova last year--they're what I letter that whole book with, which means I'm constantly using them. Which means that when I get the urge to use one, it's slightly less likely that they'll be completely clogged up.
You see the problem with Rapidographs is that they're really well-made little machines that deliver a tight, predictable, usually precise little line to paper of good ole permanent waterproof ink, which means that they screw up ALL THE TIME. The more complicated a tool is, the more likely it'll go bad on you--with Rapidographs, the complex relationship between air/ink/cohesion/metal/plastic means that there are a lot of places where just a little dry ink will stop the whole process. And by "stop" I mean "deliver spotty results that will make you want to stab your own eyes out."
On the other hand, Rapidographs--and technical pens in general--are pretty great for what they do. When you have a nice clean one, and nice fresh ink in there, you get beautiful little lines, perfect for inking panel borders, inorganic objects, speech balloons, etc. Anything you want to look regular and consistent. For instance, I just finished inking this commission, featuring an olde-timey car and a bunch of crosshatching. A flexible nib would have worked, but the kind of idiosyncratic line it's good at is less appropriate for regular shapes. To be clear, it can work, and some people make it work beautifully--but for that kind of work, especially fine crosshatching, I like the most predictable possible result.
Like lettering, cleaning Rapidographs probably deserves its own blog post. I've got a process that works pretty good, mainly involving warm water, some pen cleaning solution, a plastic syringe, and a ton of Q-Tips and swear words. OR, if you can get your hands on one of the ultrasonic pen cleaners out there, you can cut way down on all that. John Martz swears by them.
I almost never use disposable pens for "finished" work, but that's because I'm a snob about longevity, as if 1000 years from now someone will be looking at my comics in the Comics Louvre or something. But there you go. Microns are great for sketching; I use them constantly on the go or in my sketchbook, especially the colored ones. But their ink is too sissy for me, the black is hardly even a dark grey, and as I said last week, running an eraser over Micron lines removes half of that already not-great ink.
Conversely, since I'm such a snob about them, using them in my sketchbook helps me relax a little bit. One of my biggest problems is just DRAWING, not worrying about how it looks or whether anyone will see or any of that, just MAKING A MARK and EXPLORING AN IDEA or just whatever. So Microns help a little. This is not a problem everyone has; hopefully you don't have it. If you do, God help you.
Similarly, I really love Copic markers, although they're hard to use for finished work. For one thing, they're alcohol-based, which means you can't use them with most India ink because they unbind the carbon in the ink and it's just a mess. But with water-based inks like Microns, they're mostly fine, and you can do cool stuff. Using Copics has been a good way to slowly explore color, which I'm terrible at. I recommend them, although they're crazy expensive. But if you can find some cheap, try picking up just a few colors to play with.
Here's a cool thing I recently learned from Dan Berry, an amazing British cartoonist. He uses Pentel Pocket brushes, which are basically a refillable watercolor device, with his own mix of specific ink colors/intensities. Kind of a brilliant use of the tool I've been playing with it myself using black inkwash, but I'm not as good at is as he is yet. But definitely it's a cool thing to play with, especially if you're not around all your fancy brushes and water and mixing bowls and all that. You can see a really cool process post by Dan here, and then an even fascinatinger post about his general tools here. Love that guy.
Okay almost done. I have struggled for years to get the right white ink/paint for corrections, and nothing really works, or it works but it's so gloppy and hard to use that it's not worth it, especially when it's so easy to correct things in Photoshop anyway. But! Recently Matt Forsythe turned me onto FW white acrylic ink, which is more opaque than most--maybe 2 or 3 coats will obscure black ink. Matt swears that he does white-on-black linework with it too, but I haven't been able to make that work at all. Matt may be a big fat liar maybe. Also, FW ink doesn't normally come in a mustard jar, but I had to switch the bottle out with my Black Star ink bottle, because of my big chunky ergonomic nib holder. Although I haven't actually tried using mustard--it may work, I don't know.
I wanted to leave computer stuff for a different post, but it's worth mentioning that one tool I use CONSTANTLY for my comics is my phone, which is of course essentially just a tiny computer. But it's a tiny computer I can sit on my drawing table and look up reference on, figure out details to things, look up historical info, etc. etc. Not to mention all the social networky stuff, plus did you know you can plug these things into speakers and play music? Or podcasts? Or watch movies?? Yes it's true my friends, it's all true.
That Netflix app is going constantly while I work at my drawing board. I'm not really good at working at my computer when there's TV on, unless I'm doing REALLY mindless work. But the phone screen is tiny enough that it keeps things from being too distracting, so you're really just listening to TV, and maybe occasionally looking at the screen. Probably because the Netflix app just crashed again. Lord, it is crashy. Plus I watch really bad TV while I work, again to keep from being overly distracted.
I'm a recent convert to Evernote--I think I'm the last artist in America to realize that it's a way to throw things into a folder from pretty much anywhere, and then later you can open up your "pictures of English countrysides" reference folder and get to work. Super useful app, especially considering that it's totally free. Unlike Harvest, which is a great little app, very clean and so forth. But it's like $12/month, which is probably too much for what I'm using it for, essentially a time-tracker. I'm trying it for a couple of months though, maybe the other uses will make it worthwhile eventually. It does help me stay on task though, especially with stuff i do EVERY DAY, like lettering.
The Flickr app is terrible. I mean, it's AWFUL. It's like if someone made an app to purposefully frustrate you. You can't zoom in on anything, which is maddening, the way the app is organized is confusing and weird, and most of all YOU CAN'T ZOOM IN ON ANYTHING. For an app that's 100% about images, not being able to effectively look at the images is criminal. But, it's good for sometimes being able to search for reference, or "people hugging' or whatever it is you're terrible at drawing. Sigh, stupid ole Flickr.
Okay! I think that's it for today. Next week I'll start on the process of actually making something with all these tools! In the meantime I've got bills to pay and comics to make!