SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

My graphic novel characters from left to right: Pierre in his red robe and black cape with gold trim, Margo hovering as her barn swallow self near Canicula's nose, Canicula smacking his mace against one hand while decked out in sumptuous furs, and Lebeau, charging in from the right in their secondhand armor.

Character Redesigns and Styleguide Revamps
As I’ve been thumbnailing the script of Warlock’d as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop‘s Graphic Novel Intensive, I’ve also had to sit and revisit my comic’s styleguide. There has been some character shuffling as my previous script draft evolved and became thumbnailed. I believe some of my earlier designs that I had prior to taking this course are too literal. I might take advantage of some stylization to not only make these people easier to draw, but also make them look more interesting as well! Here’s how my redesign process has gone for each of the three main characters in Warlock’d, with different goals and style considerations for each.

Painterly versions of Pierre in purple robes with a book and a sun behind him. Margo is yelling at him from the side.

As I’ve stated in earlier blog posts, my initial pipe dream was to create a very painterly comic. This met a swift end with the realization of how much revision goes on with my writing process, even in the midst of creating art. Working by myself and wearing all the hats is a lot different from being on a team. On a team, I have to accept the contributions of the other professionals as-is, and I only have input over my specific area of focus. As an indie comics artist doing all of the things, I have the power and freedom to change things if they aren’t working whenever I want…But if I don’t make it easy to change things, then I’m hampering myself.

Same portrait of Pierre and Margo, but with a half-painted, half cel-shaded look. Still muddy and murky.

Here was my second attempt at a comic style, for use in a pitch packet. I decided to wing the colors and coloring style, which resulted in very messy colors. The feedback was to simplify and stylize my characters more.

Full-color comic page done digitally with four panels. Panel 1: The Abbey of St. Germaine in the dawn, labeled as such. Panel 2 is full bleed and runs under panels 1, 3, and 4, zooming in on the roof architecture of the abbey. Panel 3 is of Pierre with his back to the viewer, framed by an arc window. Panel four depicts Pierre lecturing Margo about angel lawsuits.

Here is a page that was done in the same style as above…Results were muddy! Additionally, I didn’t have a set number of concrete steps to take to get the page to a ‘finished’ state, so some things would get lots of detail and shading, where others would not, and there wasn’t really a system to it. I was glad to get feedback on this so I could make it better.

A cross-section of colors, with bright red, orange gold, warm blue, and seafoam green.

With all of this in mind, I set out to further simplify and code my process as a series of specific steps. First thing on the docket was a pre-defined palette for use throughout the entire comic. I simply cannot be trusted with purple, as it turns out. So, I drew inspiration from the limited palette of medieval illuminated manuscripts. They didn’t have access to purple, so neither would I. Instead, I would rely more heavily on a medieval person’s favorite colors: Reds, golds, greens, and in special cases, blue.

Pierre and Margo, same poses as previous image, but now they have clean coloring with broad, flat colors, less shading, and more highlights around areas of interest on their designs.

The result is much more clean, more vibrant, richer and simpler. Also it’s easier to put together. Really, portfolio reviews are worth it.

One more go at Pierre, only now he's wearing a red robe with a yellow lining on his cape.

The yellow robe on Pierre proved difficult to make clear within the context of a comic panel. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because my backgrounds are typically very light on the contrast scale. I swapped his cape interior and his robe to make the yellow something he could discard for scenes where it would be unclear. The reds and yellows have practical significance (He’s able to afford fancy dyed cloth), as well as spiritual significance (He’s been assigned the medieval zodiac sign of the Sun, which is a bearer of good and bad signs, and the sign of kings and rulers).

Same page as above, but instead of smoky pink and purple, it has been rendered with bright orange and gold tones, with slate blue shadows.

This did get me to thinking, though — how committed did I want to be to such literal character designs? The environments are one thing — I really enjoy developing the details on those and getting the perspective all lined up. But the characters…Do they have to hew so close to real people? Also, what if I find feet really annoying to draw? What if I want to quickly see how tall all of the characters are? I developed my next round of character designs with this consideration in mind. Preview only for now, but I’m hoping to have a post cataloguing each character in the story next month.

Full spread of characters in the graphic novel, Warlock'd. From left to right: Pierre, Margo, Canicula, Lebeau, Renoncule, the Lieutenant, Ferrand, Briande, Janet, the Prévôt, and the Bishop.

In my re-write, I’ve incorporated the new character of King Phillip II. Since I have a compelling scene near the end that features this king, I need a design for him. Here I wanted to explore telling the audience as much about this character as possible from one glance, since he’s only physically present in one scene and it’s at the end.

Stylized digital artwork of King Phillip II, or King Phillip Augustus, the ruler of Frankish kingdoms in 1190 AD. He sits on a throne carved to look like two dogs facing either side. Torches blaze behind him. He spills wine casually, the same way he spills blood. He wears beautiful clothing and ermine furs, with a crown of rubies on his head. He holds a scepter in his other hand. Behind him, the Oriflamme (flag dyed with the blood of a saint) flaps.

Where am I going with all this?
Frankly, not quite sure just yet — this is all pre-production work. I may alter the designs if they offer unforeseen challenges during the roughs stage of drawing the comic, which will happen after lettering. It’s nice to have a starting point, though!

Comics Tip

Writing Reference

While I’ve been writing Warlock’d, I’ve made use of many books to help inform the details of the speculative world in which it takes place. Without the following resources, I’d have never even thought about the political structures, architecture, culture, diet, or technology of the 12th century. While my comic will not be historically accurate, I found the following resources inspiring and important for filling in empty spaces in the setting. I don’t believe in strict accuracy when it comes to fiction, but it sure is fun to be curious and find cool things to bring back to the manuscript.

As of writing this all of the following resources are freely available online for anyone else who is interested in this time period.

Going Medieval – by Dr. Eleanor Janega, medievalist

JSOTR – Sometimes has free access to primary historical resources.

Goodreads – A compilation of print books that I’ve read. Most of these are available at a library. Hope the reviews are of some use.

Mandragore – Searchable database for old manuscripts — it’s in French so it takes some finessing to figure out.

Gallica – More French manuscripts, and other vintage oddities.

 

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Digital artwork of a bishop's skull but with tiny goat legs poking out of it. He stands on a floral pattern with gold leaf. He wears a blue hat and is shaking his papal ferula menacingly (but possibly with good humor; who can tell with a skull's grin).

Skull Bishop
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

Illustration Style Shift
Prior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny Valley. Part of this frustration stemmed from my loose grasp on structural underdrawings, and the other part was from how painting obliterates outlines. Paintings as illustrations are difficult to pin down as ‘complete.’ So, like I have done many times in the past, I turned to art history. Specifically: Bored, poorly-informed monks.

My goal with the graphic novel is to make it half comic, and half illuminated manuscript. What secrets lie in the vellum?

 

Deerface McNoHands
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 36v

My best guess for this character is that it’s meant to depict a medieval mummer. I was utterly charmed by the hidden arms = complete lack of arms. I carried that chaos over into the re-draw. While I have no doubts that medieval people would absolutely suit up in deer hats and robes for no reason, they typically did this kind of thing for Christmas. This leads me to believe that the black ‘vine’ in the antlers is ivy, which would have been used to protect houses from evil spirits. In this case my personal story is that this mummer got a bit tangled up in the decorations this year and is perhaps in need of a good New Year’s resolution. The pink and orange leaves are my invention and represent jazz hands energy.

 


Snail Puppies…Snuppies….or Snrams?
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320
BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v

What…are these? Snails? Rams? What awaits them at the top of the ladder? Is this what people turn into when they die and are ascending to the next life? I got lucky with this one and was blessed with extremely precious clay fanart of my attempts to figure out what these things even are.

 

Bibo Ergo Sum
Hours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 100r

“I Drink, Therefore I Am.” Sounds pithy, but remember: This guy’s dead. The person who drew him is dead. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. But, I added some flavoring botanicals to my illustration and now this image is gracing my friend’s Ko-Fi, set up so that he can buy various gins and tell me what they taste like. What? It seems like a good deal to me.

 

Severely Outdated Baby Yoda Joke
‘The Smithfield Decretals’ (Decretals of Gregory IX with glossa ordinaria), Toulouse ca. 1300, illuminations added in London ca. 1340
British Library, Royal 10 E IV, fol. 30v

This Yoda-like entity is basically every history-communications go-to when they try to relate medieval art to the modern day. It ranks almost as highly as coconuts. Medieval people had access to coconuts! It’s called ‘trade routes that reach ecosystems, which occasionally contain coconut trees’. Anyway, half of medieval Twitter complains about attempts to reach The Youths via the coconut horse hoof sound effect bit from Monty Python. Anyway. So far, no one complains about the Yoda wearing hot Vibram five-finger shoes.

 

Ye Olde Pokémon Starter
Worksop Bestiary, England c. 1185
NY, The Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.81, fol. 10v

Okay, about those red things: They’re berries. Medieval monks wouldn’t go out and actually look at a hedgehog. They’d blithely copy the folk story about hedgehogs rolling in grapes and berries to get them stuck on their spines. The hedgehog would then go to its family and give them fruit shish kebab. I give the original illustrator of this bestiary entry props for figuring out a way to color all of the berries in each row on the hedgehog’s back with one swipe of the brush. Excellent time management. Accurate observation of animal behavior? Not so much.

Takeaways
It’s a lot easier to relax when drawing these strange little characters. The simplicity of materials lends itself well to less detail, more emphasis on silhouette. If I were making a comic with only a quill and very limited paints, it would similarly look small and honest in nature, just like these marginalia. I found myself really empathizing with a lot of these centuries-old cartoons. No wonder people ran off to join monasteries and bookmaking guilds. I would, too, if it meant drawing cartoons all day.

Comics Tip

Do-It-Yourself Vellum Texture
Illuminated manuscripts have a particular ‘look’ to them, and the base of that look is the substrate onto which they are painted. This look can be quickly and effectively executed in a digital painting program by understanding the real media materials that the original artists used to create them. Originally, marginalia was painted onto stretched sheets of calf skin called ‘vellum’. These days, artists can digitally recreate the look of vellum, while omitting the expense and cruelty.

Scanning/Photographing
Take a trip to the local crafts store (or craft-re-use center) and pick up different papers. Lay them flat in the sunlight so your camera of choice can pick up all the wonderful, crunchy wrinkles. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got tissue paper, newsprint, copy paper, vellum (the paper kind, not the skin kind) even some fabrics — The texture is what you’re after so give a few things a try. Photograph them at different times of day and see how the color/texture of your paper changes. If you have a scanner, try that out as well, although the lighting will be different!

Tea-Staining
Making your own aged paper/vellum is a fun way to spend the afternoon. Get cheap black teabags and brew them, then slop them on top of the papers of your choice. They’ll immediately wrinkle, distress, and stain the paper in a lot of interesting ways. It’s almost like watercolor. If you want the paper to remain flat, try stretching it on a masonite board with watercolor tape. Otherwise, let it warp and wrinkle for extra textural interest. Photograph and scan this like you would a found texture.

Layering Digital Filters
Art programs can do a pretty good job mimicking real world textures. It’s often just a question of which filters and effects to apply. The ‘noise’ filter is a good place to start, and the ‘motion blur’ and ‘gaussian blur’ filters are a great polisher for any real-world texture. A little bit of hand-painting can also work wonders.

Stock Textures
Many stock photography sites have paper textures that look enough like vellum, they’ll do the trick in a digital application. For free ones, check out Pixabay.com and Wikimedia Commons. I have also created a free vellum stock texture here using scans and digital filter layering techniques. It is public domain for any desired use, even commercial. What sort of illuminations might be possible on this texture?

A free stock texture that looks like vellum, or medieval calf skin. This texture is public domain and may be used for anything!

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

Has a colorful magenta and purple panel with three lettering effects inside. A Little Lettering over Lunch
Recently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n’ Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don’t know where to get started on this important aspect of comics creation. I view my own lettering skills as utilitarian, coming from a general graphic design/print background. My skills have successfully carried me through a dozen books via Scholastic and Little Bee Books. There are a lot of small tasks one can do to acquaint themself with digital lettering. There’s no need to go so deep as designing their own typefaces or completely hand-lettering hundreds of pages. Unless, of course, it’s fun!

For this presentation, I designed the above slides to help demystify lettering and make it seem more approachable to those who have never done it before, or who are looking for tricks to refresh their current experience. Some slides are going to be tweaked as I refine the knowledge I want to share. I think it would be fun to create a video about lettering with these slides and use it as an example of public speaking for my Appearances page. It would be fun to create a 2D virtual avatar for this purpose.

To my surprise, Tom Hart from Sequential Artist Workshop (SAW) took an interest in my lettering talk. I had been posting it in the SAW network for feedback there. I was then invited to give this talk again to the audience within SAW. How cool! I was so flattered and still am. I had a great time presenting. The group there is always good. I think it went really well, and as usual it whets my appetite to do more lectures and appearances about comics.

I think I’ll investigate the local libraries and bookstores, see what’s up. They might not want something so specialized as “just” the comics lettering that goes on in graphic novels, but I could probably invent something more generally comics-related and give that a go.

Some Excellent Lettering Questions
Lettering is an endless rabbit hole of stuff to learn, so it’s not quite feasible to lay everything out in a single talk or blog post. That said, there were some questions from both the Lunch n’ Learn and my SAW Presentation that I found particularly interesting, so I will answer them here as well.

What if you want a sound effect to expand across the gutter between two pages in a spread?
Generally a letterer avoids the bleeds and margins of a page layout, since letters can be lost to the printing crop there and become unreadable. However, artistic license demands exceptions to the rule, and one of those exceptions is large sound effects that spread across two pages, or that cut in from off-page, or etc. In general, keep as much of your word as legible as possible by keeping important letters (such as beginning and end letters) of the word being depicted in the printing safe zone. Sometimes, a letter might need to be wider to cross over the gutter between two pages effectively, too.

If words aren’t fitting into a panel, is it better to edit the text or squish the font size down?
There is never a strictly universal ‘better’ option for lettering, just ‘appropriate’ options for specific cases. In a comic with consistent font size throughout the whole book, smaller text will look odd or even infer something incorrect, such as characters whispering or lowering their voices. If the text is truly necessary, sizing down the art is preferred. Cropping, masking, resizing the width of the letters slightly, and some tracking tomfoolery can all be used to help letters finally snap in place. In general, though, if the editor can pare some text down, that’s much better and easier on the letterer.

What is the industry standard narration bloc treatment?
Unfortunately, industry standards do not exist. If they did, someone would have automated lettering a long time ago with machine learning. Typically narration blocs are squares with left-aligned text, but there’s nothing stopping an enterprising designer from experimenting with blocs of different shapes, sizes, and colors. I would save the really weird and wild lettering experiments for personal projects, though. Clients typically aren’t happy with surprises.

I have an older lecture about setting up one’s first Artist Alley table that I ought to dig up and rejuvenate, too. It was all about small starter projects and when to outsource production, as well as some tips on pricing, copyright, display, and marketing. That was a lecture I gave at San Francisco Comic Con way back in 2015(?) and I never got any feedback from it except from people directly attending. I think getting out there is really important so this looks worth revisiting. The design work isn’t half-bad, either.

Future talks are listed here on my Appearances Page.

Comics Tip

Hand-Lettering vs. Digital Lettering?
This is a false dichotomy. There is no vs.! They don’t fight each other. Digital lettering can look just as beautiful and human as hand-lettering. Both hand-lettering and digital lettering are used to create beautiful, readable comics. Good lettering leads the reader through a comic, and is implemented without suffering for the letterer and anyone who touches the working files of a graphic novel. The process of lettering does not matter; only the results do.

When to use digital lettering:
-Many pages
-Short deadline
-Health issues preventing wrist motion (such as carpal tunnel)
-Small, unimportant sound effects
-Corporate styleguides in place
-Mechanical-looking book title lockups
-‘Live’ text for others to edit if needed
-For works that will be translated into other languages

When to use hand lettering:
-Few pages
-Big, fancy sound effects
-Organic-looking title lockups
-Designing your own custom typography
-In-character hand-writing
-As a meditative exercise
-If it’s just more comfortable than digital
-For fun!

These are starting points for starting your lettering career. Or hobby. It would be nice if more people lettered for fun! Not everything’s a race to monetization.

Generally, lettering fits into a comics layout best when placed first, then has the drawings created around it. However, most publishers will ship flat, unlettered art to letterers, and letterers have to figure out how to slot the letters in to the layout so that all the nice artwork can be appreciated and understood. Here’s a blank comics page and a script, if you want to test out some lettering chops.

Script
PANEL 1
Narration:
On not recognizing someone because they are wearing a mask…

Bear:
Oh! Blueberries.

PANEL 2
Bear:
They’re my favorite.

Bear’s nametag:
NAME
NOT “BEAR”

PANEL 3
Bear:
But I like raspberries too.

Bear (thinking):
Have I offended the raspberry?

PANEL 4
Bear:
Oh no. Maybe I just like ALL of the berries!

H.:
W…Was the cashier a bear?

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

Carboniferous Friends

Carboniferous Friends

Full-color digital artwork of 250+ creatures of the Carboniferous period. A graphic of the world in the upper left corner encourages viewers to 'spot 'em all!'. The Carboniferous lasted from 359.2-299 mya. There are too many creatures in the graphic to name, but there are sharks, nautiloids, ammonites, fish, amphibians, arachnids, insects, and even a couple of edaphosaurs (mammalian reptiles) present in this period. They're scattered all around the continents before they were even Pangea. Plenty of plants dot the landscape in between, including plants still extant today such as ginkgo.

As it turns out, a person can fit a lot of stuff into an 11×14 inch double-page spread. How much, I didn’t realize, until I set out to create an example illustration for a picture book concept that I thought up. The idea is for kids to browse expansive eye-spy pages for their favorite animals throughout natural history, and maybe discover new favorites. The final book would contain a spread for every geologic time period in the history of Earth, and perhaps feature subsections of those time periods. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull something this complicated off, but I’ve established a workflow for making more of these illustrations when I move forward with this project.

Sketch of the layout of continents during the Carboniferous period.

1. Sketch
First, I made a best-guess sketch of what continents looked like during the Carboniferous, cross-referencing maps. Ideally I would be able to trace a Creative Commons or open-source map, but there were none to be found. Above graphic is an approximation of what the first sketch looked like, before I went back and refined it again. I have either deleted or lost the original map I drew in the list of 800 or so layers used producing this image. (whoops!)

Example of what a layered folder looks like when the visual reference is visible, plus sketch and lineart layers. This one contains the shrimp-like organism, Malacostracan.

Screenshot of a layer group containing reference, sketch, and lineart for the shrimp-like organism, Malacostracan.

2. Research
Each organism is contained in a named layer folder. The folder contains visual reference first, then will eventually hold the sketch and the final lineart.

It’s best if I do all of the research in one go, rather than switching from research to drawing intermittently. I trawled Wikipedia mostly, as the site requires citations and sources, plus it offers plenty of open-source visual resources. I also look at paleontology fansites and wikis where possible, because there is an enthusiastic fanbase of people devoted to compiling and sharing updated natural history research. Ideally I would want a consultant with more of a research and natural history background to help me with this, but for the time being, it’s just me, doing what I can with the resources I can access.

3. Sketch, again
After drawing the landmasses and using them to place organisms in spots where they mostly made sense, I studied each bit of visual research I can find. I used the name of the organism to search for additional reference if necessary, so naming my layers was extremely important here. I’m mostly looking at pose and size of each organism as I sketch. If there were ways to make the creatures interact with environments or with each other, I incorporated that too, for variety. A lot of this is speculative but I based it off of things I’ve seen real animals do today.

[image of tangent, or viewer flow through the piece]

4. Tweak composition
Once everything’s sketched, I bonk critters around to avoid the dreaded tangent. There’s a lot of organisms so they either need to be crossing over each other clearly or placed far enough apart that they’re not interacting. Typically the viewer needs to be able to see the head and tail tip of each creature to be able to tell what it is.
Something I have on the docket to try is compiling creature silhouettes as a check-off list and see if kids can look at the silhouettes, then find the creature depicted on the page. My goal is for the reader’s eye to travel all around the page, through all the creatures, without running into blocks or walls.

Two-page digital art spread, lines only and no color, depicting as many organisms of the Carboniferous as I can fit into two pages. A placard of the Earth with a ribbon states:

5. Lines
Each creature gets its design tightened up with clean lines in rich black at 5px on 1200dpi, prepped for coloring. I keep an older version of the completed lines, then merge all the lines into one layer on a new version of the layered photoshop file.

Color palette for Carboniferous Spread

5. Colors
I generated a palette containing two warm colors (orange and yellow), an intermediary color (green) and a cool color (blue). The blue and the intermediary green were used to create a background that would remain behind the critters and pop them out more. Sea creatures were given mostly cool colors, and land creatures were given the warmest colors. I want viewers to perceive both individual animals on a small level, but also the entire map of the earth of this time period (Carboniferous) because it’s so different from modern times.

The carboniferous spread with 250 organisms, now with flat colors for easier coloring!

Next, I flatted all the colors on one layer under the lineart. This keeps the filesize somewhat manageable and makes it easier to select blocks of color for detailing.

Clip of the whole piece, featuring many amphibians, a prehistoric spider, a whip scorpion, and various carboniferous plants. Each animal has some sort of highlight or special detail applied.

Organisms had highlights and detailing applied based on what aspect of them I wanted viewers to spot first. Mostly this was facial features, but some organisms have cool weird bits to them that we don’t see in the modern day. The colors are extremely speculative for lack of scientific evidence otherwise, and for this audience I leaned colorful/patterned rather than restraining myself.

Carboniferous spread with gradients applied for extra depth

6. Gradient overlay
My initial colors were fine but a little flat-looking. In order to add depth without overwhelming the viewer with detail, I added gradients set to Overlay on the background only. Now the bottom of the page looks like it’s angling closer to the viewer, because I used yellow there, and blue on the background.

Hue/Saturation layer from Photoshop, as a screenshot.

7. Hue/postproduction tinkering
Finally, there was a little bit of this, which Photoshop does well. I amped up the vibrancy to make the page feel like it’s bursting out of its bounds.

 

What’s next?
Are you interested in advising me on natural history, and/or picking up this kidlit midgrade picture book concept for publication? Let me know. The workflow is in place, ready to go.

Comics Tip

Color Theory: Warm Temperature Colors
When thinking about how to evoke ‘colorful’, many aspiring colorists throw every hue they can think of onto a scene, resulting in chaos. A seasoned colorist knows it’s not about how many colors used in a piece, but how the selected colors relate to each other. One aspect that helped me grasp this concept was color ‘temperature’, particularly with warm colors.

Six rainbow colors arranged in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple colors.

Reds, oranges, and yellows are typically the warmest colors in a piece, with yellow being the warmest of all. These warm colors tend to occupy the foreground.

Now let’s remove some of these colors and see how they read.

Yellow is the warmest possible color. The human eye typically loses sight of yellow at the furthest possible distance. Yellow is used to create warning signs that can be easily perceived at a distance on the road for this reason. It’s a color that jumps to the foreground. How the blue and green look in comparison to the yellow…They function as ‘cooler’ colors. Arranging them in stacks alters the viewer’s perception of distance.

Green, blue, and yellow boxes arranged in different combinations next to each other.

Which of these seems like it’s in order from back to front? Front to back? Out-of-order? The temperatures of a color correspond to the space it occupies in a composition, whether that’s the foreground, background, or midground.

Green, blue, and purple boxes lined up next to each other.

To look at slightly different color scheme, this contains green, blue, and purple. Without yellow, can we still tell which is the ‘warmest’ hue? Compared to blue, which is the coolest temperature color, or purple, which is also a very cool color, green pops out the most.

This is because green is the closest color to yellow within the context of restricting ourselves to these three colors. When there is no yellow present, green takes over the role as ‘warmest’ color and jumps to the foreground. To compare, here is a yellow-green-blue composition next to a green-blue-purple composition.

Blue green yellow composition vs a purple blue green composition

Two-page digital art spread, lines only and no color, depicting as many organisms of the Carboniferous as I can fit into two pages. A placard of the Earth with a ribbon states:

Maybe one of these color schemes suits you for tackling this big CC BY-NC 3.0 coloring page, or maybe you want to invent your own for the page while thinking about color temperature!

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 3/6

This month in the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), I explored making short comics as practice for the final pages in my graphic novel, Warlock’d. This comic in particular was completed for a Graphic Novel challenge hosted by the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). My entry didn’t go anywhere, but a couple of my peers were recognized for their excellent work, and they have allowed me to re-share their entries as well as links to their respective portfolios.

 

A two-page comic spread of teal, orange, and pink. In the first panel, Jade looks at a delicious mango hanging over head. In panel two, she climbs up a tree that spreads all the way across both pages. Then she sits in the branch and plucks the mango from the canopy. Panels 3-5 are devoted to peeling the delicious mango. The final panel depicts Jade enjoying her well-earned prize.

This memoir spread by Jade Vaughn, an Austin-based comics artist, depicts an exquisitely simple moment. I liked being able to experience the mango alongside Jade, after traveling up the tree alongside her. The layout has cinematic qualities and the color scheme is just juicy, there’s no other word for it. I can’t wait to see what other magical comics work Jade has in store!

 

Two-page horror comic by Suzanne Fiore Murata. It is drawn in grungy greens with red lettering on aged paper. Panel one is a bloody red splotch with narration written in it:

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Suzanne Fiore Murata’s horror-themed entry get a nod. Media for small kids frequently gets watered down by well-meaning adults, but comics are one of the safest spaces to experience fear and work through complicated feelings. I was already a fan of Suzanne’s work prior to this conference, so I loved that the judges agreed with me on the quality of her craft. Just love the textures, the mood, the lettering!! Very, very good.

 

Takeaways
The SCBWI Illustrator’s Day (Graphic Novel edition) was a nice nod towards graphic novels. Within SCBWI I’ve found it hard to find resources or events that welcome graphic novels, rather than prose books or picture books. That said, there was an implication that only people who were spotlit in the event should submit to the guest agents or publishers. Their tastes were very different from what I want to create, or where my art style is currently residing. I also would not feel great being a risky option for them to consider without having at least one complete graphic novel under my belt. There’s nothing wrong with experiencing success on a smaller scale first.

By far the most helpful feedback on this comic page came from my independent writing group, with a layout adjustment that I feel improved the clarity of the page. With regards to the SAW graphic novel intensive, this exercise did confirm that I want more technical feedback, both in volume and in intensity. However, it’s not fair of me to demand that of anyone in general within the network. It’s home to many people who are making comics as self-expression or who aren’t as keen on technique, for any number of valid reasons. I have also been enjoying it as more of an accountability/socializing thing. That said, I’m more likely to ask some of the friends I’ve made for critique over expecting anything too in-depth from my posts to the SAW course feed.

I’m also excited about getting to start on the final drawings and lines of Warlock’d in 2022, maybe even as early as December! Every time I work on something with lineart and coloring it feels good and natural, even though I still have some things to learn about the art.

Comics Tip

Art Contests, and When to Enter Them
Art contests are either opportunities to mingle with the art community at large, or straight-up scams. At their best, friendships are forged and skills are assessed. At their worst, institutions prey on amateur and entry-level creatives by offering one prize while soliciting as many entries as possible.

The key factors to consider when looking at an art contest are:

How will the art be used?
Is the institution going to use the submissions for profit? Logo design contests in particular are notorious about this. Why should a business get to use a logo as their trademarked identity for perpetuity if their prize is only a one-time prize payout? Logos and brand identity are worth a lot of money, more than most contests offer. If a business is going play fast and loose with its own identity, that’s not a good sign for both present and future professional involvement.

Is copyright retained by the entrant?
Some contests require entrants to forsake copyright on their work upon entry, causing all entries to become property of the contest holder. Do not do this! The work you create for a contest should remain yours upon conclusion of the contest, even (and especially) if it’s not chosen as the winner. No prize is worth forfeiting copyright upfront over.

Would I make this art anyway?
When looking at a contest, if it’s something I’d like to make outside of a contest, I’ll usually go for it. The contest gives a firm deadline that can be great motivation for just getting something done, even if it’s small.

In this instance of SCBWI’s memoir challenge, I needed more short comics as practice, the entries weren’t going to be used for any business enterprise, and I would retain my copyright after the event wrapped up. My chosen childhood memory may have been a little too weird or convoluted for this audience, but at least it’s an entry in my portfolio from which I can learn and move on.

…And yes, the depicted outfit in my comic was real. I’m sure that was the burning question on everyone’s mind!

Bless you, The 80’s. Never change.

Care to read more?

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 5/6

Character Redesigns and Styleguide RevampsAs I've been thumbnailing the script of Warlock'd as my self-assigned work during Sequential Artist Workshop's Graphic Novel Intensive, I've also had to sit and revisit my comic's styleguide. There has been some character...

Marginalia Studies

Marginalia Studies

Skull BishopHours of Saint-Omer, France ca. 1320 BL, Add 36684, fol. 84v Illustration Style ShiftPrior to 2021, I used a more painterly style for my illustrations. I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to drag painterly illustrations out of the Uncanny...

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

SAW Graphic Novel Development Month 4/6

A Little Lettering over LunchRecently I had the very awesome and fun honor of guest speaking at a Kids Comics Unite Lunch n' Learn session on comics lettering. I was invited by Janna Morishima to do a presentation for those who don't know where to get started on this...

Want to chat about this?