Goblin Week 2022 Retrospective

Goblin Week 2022 Retrospective

Digital artwork of seven gangly goblins.

Throwing Down on Social Media
I don’t often participate in big group challenges in public, but this one caught my interest: Goblin Week! It was started by Evan Dahm in 2012 and every year, the goblins just get more goblin-y. I created seven different goblins with different goblin careers. One aspect of the challenge that I was proud of was testing out how fast I could conceptualize a goblin, draw it, and color it. I could make a couple per hour with my new lining and flatting style. The goblins didn’t make as big of a splash as I’d hoped on social media but I am happy with them and hope they live lovely little goblin lives.

Comics Tip

Developing a Following for a Comic via Community Events
Big community challenges aren’t necessarily great for exposure. Many times, artists who already have a following are the ones who are going to get big numbers within a large group event. I’ve done many community challenges in the past and have a few thoughts to share about them, besides simply honing your skills.

Digital art of dragons chasing a tiny Margo.One of my old Inktober entries. Margo has attracted quite the following.

What is the trick to gaining followers from community challenges? I would say, picking smaller challenges that occur frequently is a great place to start. Why is this? Well, if you think about advertising, it’s something that has to happen consistently to ‘take’. A person often won’t click on an ad the very first time they see it. If the ad is persistent, they are more likely to click it. The same goes for following an artist. A person who sees that artist’s work multiple times is more likely to recognize and follow them.

If the only community event an artist does occurs once per year, and is already oversaturated with the works of other, bigger artists, then that is not going to result in many new followers. Sure there are oddball lucky submissions that do numbers, but for stuff like Inktober and Goblin Week I could tell that artists who already had followings were being seen and shared the most. My own submissions for just the one year reached a couple of new people, but this was only with the help of those who already followed my accounts (about 2-3 thousand people across my various accounts, as far as I can tell). So, this makes me think that the really big community challenges aren’t necessarily the best ones for comic artists hoping to attract new eyes to their work.

Try Small, Repeating Art Contests
My suggestion for those looking to build their following would be to start small, with small challenges, that repeat frequently, so that your work gets presented to the same audience on a relatively frequent basis. People love to watch growth so even if your work isn’t up to par at the beginning, it could get there eventually. Persistence is going to win the day if your goal is to build a following. Pick one or two monthly challenges with consistent deadlines, such as on Facebook or Twitter, and add to the community there. Then, once momentum builds from the smaller communities, it’s easier to make a statement in larger community events.

My final note, of course, is that social media is inherently meaningless on its own, so some thought ought to be put into what a following may be used to leverage. Don’t build your following for a comic at the expense of making the comic, is all I’m saying.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

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.

An Illustration of Gastronomical Proportions
This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits. The meals involved as puns are all based on my own personal tastes and are in no way representative of all the great food out there. I should be ashamed of all these puns, but no, I’m going to include a chart so that you can track down each and every one of them. Many of the puns were contributed by regular viewers to my weekly livestream and no, I’m not sure whether I should thank or blame them.

Gastronomy labeled map - full details pending

Horoscopes
As a writing exercise, I wrote encouraging food-themed horoscopes for each zodiac sign.

Steak

Aries
“B-aries”

You are bold and swift. As you charge forth into your creative endeavors, remember that the things you are creating and offering to the world can also be things that you, yourself, enjoy.

Steak

Pisces
“Stargazy Pie”-sces

You’re looking at the stars all the time in search of inspiration. Don’t forget to glance in front of you every now and then. We wouldn’t want you to end up in someone else’s pie.

Steak

Aquarius
“Asparagus”

Today, you’re going to chop all the woody parts off your project. This will make it super soft, buttery, and crisp after it’s fried. Look to Taurus and pour a little red wine for a great pairing.

Steak

Saggitarius
Saggi-“Pear”-ius

Keep your eye on the prize, but — if you can load your arrow upfront, who would blame you? Maybe you have a secret resource that you’re not utilizing yet. No shame in using it.

Steak

Scorpio
Lobster Tail

You might be severely underrated. Even prisoners didn’t want to eat lobster in Victorian England. But look at this dish now — Golden, buttery, delicious…expensive. Boil your heart out.

Steak

Libra
Li-“Bread”

Your work is going to be a staple in someone’s life. Maybe not everyone likes raisins in their loaf, or rye, or sourdough, but trying different angles will show you the true grain eventually.

Steak

Virgo
Extra “Virgo” Olive Oil

Honey, you’re delicious, and you belong in every meal. Just remember to add yourself after the pan is heated so you don’t evaporate into smoke. Tonight: sit in a bowl with some oregano

Steak

Leo
Le-“Orange”

If your work isn’t quite complex enough to attract attention, utilize your sunny personality. Big, simple flavors are refreshing, especially if they’re offered by someone kind and friendly.

Steak

Cancer
Boiled Crab

You’ve got something really grand in the works, and you know it! The project may take awhile to get from one place to another, but once you have it, it’s yours to steam and butter.

Steak

Gemini
Ge-“Mint”-i

Have you shared your project with someone you trust? Not every pitch session has to be about critique. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to sit down with someone who only has praise for your work.

Steak

Taurus
T-bone Steak

Your stalwart nature will save the day. Flip your project and your finesse will result in a juicy, flavorful meal — and it’s also okay to use extra spices. A good sear is what locks the flavor in.

Comics Tip

Comparing Processes in Similar Projects
Lately I have been on what I could term an ‘Eye Spy’ kick, where I’m fascinated by broad, landscape compositions with lots to teeny, tiny intertwining scenes and characters. My previous work in this vein was this snapshot of the Carboniferous, featuring over 250 organisms from the time period.

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.

For this complex Eye Spy page, I had each organism in its own named layer folder. The folder contained visual reference, a rough sketch, and lineart. I approached the composition by laying out all of the organisms as sketches first. Then I created their lineart. After that, I duplicated the lines and merged them so that they would be easier to color. I felt weird about having over a thousand layers in one document, but my computer was able to handle it.

For the Gastronomy concept, I wondered if simplifying the document might help complete it more quickly. Instead of compiling reference for everything, then sketching every character, and then drawing lineart for every character, I worked on the piece one constellation at a time. All the sketches are on one layer, and all the lineart is on one layer, and then all the stars are on one layer.

Which one works best for me?
The results were… drumroll please…Absolutely, 1000%, my process on the Carboniferous was better. Working on individual illustrations meant I was constantly switching between research, sketch, and lineart mode on Gastronomy. My Carboniferous creatures, as sketches, could be moved around more easily and tangents were solved. This was not the case with Gastronomy constellation characters and I fear the tangents in this piece.

For creating highly-detailed landscape compositions like this, I recommend:

  1. Organized, named layers, in folders per miniature that exists in the illustration. Don’t be afraid of a thousand layers in your document. Just save it as a .psb. It’s all good.

  2. Do visual research for ALL of the characters or mini-illustrations first.
  3. Sketch ALL of the characters across the whole composition before doing lineart.
  4. Give yourself a composition-editing phase between sketching and lineart. Easier to move, enlarge, shrink, and otherwise edit sketches than it is to edit lines, in my experience.
  5. Once the lineart is done, create two duplicate, flattened versions of all the lineart. One is to behave as lines, the other is to help with flatting. Keep at least one copy of the lineart with separate characters because they can be useful outside of the big composition as spot illustrations, or as easy selection areas for the magic wand tool.
  6. Chunk the whole composition into 9-12 squares for coloring flats, details, and doing small paintovers. Polishing a fraction of the larger illustration per day helps manage burnout and gives a series of smaller accomplishments to reach.
  7. Choose points of interest in the overall composition. Putting big highlights and shadows on everything can make it hard to focus (although sometimes that’s the point!). Selectively highlighting certain parts of a larger Eye Spy composition allows the other subjects to fall back and ‘hide’ a little, making it more fun to look through.

On a final note, there was also a small hiccup with Gastronomy where my reference star chart omitted around 40 additional southern constellations. The way I had constructed the illustration hampered my ability to add them in harmoniously.

This Gastronomy constellation food chart is available as a free coloring page under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 3.0.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

Afterlife

Afterlife

Full-color digital artwork of a vast, mossy landscape under a sky clobbering up with stormclouds. Two yi qi dinosaurs browse the moss near a black river. Overhead, a third yi qi swoops in from off-frame. The remains of a sauropod are overgrown with ferns and moss in the foreground. Off in the distance, it's difficult to tell where the mountains end and the clouds begin.

The Composition that Social Media Made

This piece didn’t start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them purple. I had a lot of help from NeolithicSheep, who shared my polls with enough people to give me good data to work from.

Dolling up a poll with emoji to make people want to click it is one thing, but the main force involved with garnering interactions is having friends with big followings on Twitter. I haven’t 100% figured out how to manipulate social media in my favor on my own, but this poll’s results sure turned out fun. I feel encouraged to set up other polls like this in the future. If you check out Shep’s twitter and enjoy his content, you can help him maintain heritage sheep and cattle breeds by pledging to his Patreon.

Comics Tip

Color Theory: Lightness and Darkness
When learning how to color, many beginning colorists are surprised to learn that at least one aspect of color theory can be picked up from doing grayscale (monochromatic) studies. The lightness and darkness of a color affects its depth and ability to catch the eye in any given composition. The way that light and dark colors pop out depend on their proximity to one another. Examples:

Digital artwork of a black composition with one white point, and a white composition with one black point.

In a very dark painting, seen on left, a light color will stick out as what you want the viewer to focus on. In a very light painting, seen on right, a dark color will stick out instead.

Digital artwork of a grayscale box. A white square and a black square are next to each other in the box, creating a point of interest.

It’s also important to keep midtone values in mind. The typical composition that utilizes midtones will gather  the darkest and lightest colors on a focal point. They will pop out at the viewer as an area they should look at. This is called an area of ‘high contrast’. 

Digitatl artwork of a checkerboard panel with nine black and white squares. One of the black squares is gray instead, creating a point of interest via scarcity.

…But this can be subverted in a very interesting way, such as making a high contrast black and white composition with one area of midtones.

Digital art of four different checkerboard squares. Each one is a different color, starting from monochromatic, to purple, to teal, to a yellow and purple variant at the end.

Monochromatic doesn’t mean ‘grayscale’, either. Monochromatic simply means ‘one color’. These aspects still apply even when a single color is used throughout a composition. Photoshop has a tool called ‘Gradient mapping’ which is useful for exploring monochromatic compositions and then harmlessly trying out different color schemes on top. It can be pushed to fantastical extremes, depending on the colors chosen, breaking it out of monochrome into a multicolor piece. Some artists use a Photoshop layer set to Overlay to hand-paint monochromatic compositions. I confess that my grasp on grayscale is not quite polished enough for this to work, and when I used this method I would add layers on top to deepen colors. For me, Overlay is too messy for comics coloring.

A version of the previously-described yi qi piece, but the only color used is purple.

My first attempt at coloring Afterlife was to use only purple, and color pick based on a palette. For a vision of the beyond, it turned out a little too lifeless, so I added a few spot colors here and there. I haven’t figured out whether this is an aspect of purple to be cold and dark like this. Red is probably easier to work with, so I’m keeping red in mind for a future monochromatic composition.

For another note on color theory, here is my writeup on how different hues of colors interact. If you play with both hues and with contrast, you’re bound to get some lovely color composition ideas.

DIgital lineart of the yi qi piece. Colors are omitted so that the viewer may supply their own here.‘Afterlife’ Coloring page licensed under CC BY NC 3.0.

 

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

Beenix: A Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster

Beenix: A Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster

Digital artwork of a half bee, half phoenix fantasy creature perched in a cherry tree. The Beenix is about a foot and a half tall, with a bee's thorax and six chitinous legs. It has six bee wings. A feathery tail sprouts from its behind and its head has a beak. The beenix is eating a cherry and tilting its head at the viewer. It has feathers on its antennae. This is one half of a collaboration with Adam Ma.

The Creation of a Free Home-Brew Dungeons and Dragons Monster
When I first approached Adam Ma about designing mechanics for the Beenix Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) monster, I had artwork and a jumbled text document full of features that blended phoenixes and bees. It was ‘lore’ in the worst sense — me blathering about exploding bee trees and cherry honey, having all of one or two experiences as a DnD player and understanding that ‘numbers good’. Overall I did not have a concept of how the Beenix would fit into a tabletop rpg campaign. I passed a link to Adam and was unsure if I should take him up on his offer of collaboration since the beenix was such a mess! I’d honestly been intending to partake of his professional Dungeon Master (DM) services. The moment Adam heard that it was a homebrew monster design to be released freely to the masses, like Oprah would, he grabbed all my Beenix fragments and ran off with them.

When Adam returned, he had a gorgeous pdf containing everything a DM needs to incorporate the Beenix into a DnD campaign. My intent was a creature that is suitable for low-level adventurers to encounter, but could scale up to a mid-level encounter. Not necessarily a hostile entity, but alien and requiring some patience when encountered. Adam translated my ideas into DnD concepts such as ‘swarming’ for multiple monsters. He gave the Beenix better DnD-specific context by ascribing them to an existing setting: the Faewilds. Adam also pushed the concept of the Beenix queen into not just an entity, but as a whole setting unto herself.

Digital black and white artwork of a giant, twisting tree, most like an oak in shape. It towers over mountains, the ruins of a village, and a pair of tiny horses.
Guess what? Beenixes turn into GIANT! TREES!

Adam ran the design through some balancing checks and now here it is, a free, cute, weird addition to any Faewild adventure that could use a little more glitter. I highly recommend developing adventures with Adam Ma. I had so much fun and I’m grateful he took my concept and ran this hard with it!

Click here to download the Beenix PDF

The PDF contains stats, lore, and artwork for the Beenix, and is licensed for non-profit DnD campaigns under CC-BY-NC 3.0.

Comics Tip

How to Digitally Color Diaphanous Insect Wings
Whether it’s a bee or a dragonfly, or a house fly, insect wings can be tricky to figure out because they are shiny, delicate, and transparent, all at the same time. To begin, we should look at a reference photo, courtesy of Pixabay.

Photo of a bee with the wings displayed clearly.

What we learn from this photo is that an insect wing has opaque parts with shiny transparent stuff in between those parts. How do we mimic this in a digital drawing? We’ll use masking and some hand-painting to nail the delicate insect wing look.

Digital artwork of the beenix wing with a 50% dark brown opacity fillThe opaque veins of the wing are filled with 100% opacity dark brown. A bee’s wing has an underlying dark sheen on the transparent cells. I’ve chosen to fill the cells with a dark brown set to 50% Multiply. This is still too dark and opaque, but it’s a good starting point.

Digital artwork of the semi-opaque dark brown layer with masking to provide an insect wing texture.
I set up a masking layer on the membrane which I’ve filled. A quick swipe with a soft brush set to black on the masking layer makes this look more like the light is passing through the wing in a more interesting way. I use a hard brush to define some sharp mid-tone highlights in the end of the wing.

Digital artwork of the bee's wing with a 100% white layer fill.
I set up another layer on top of my brown layer, this time filled with 100% opacity white on normal. It will look like the white has obliterated the underlying brown layer, but that layer is intact underneath.

Digital artwork of the bee's wing with the layer masking on top of the white layer, with various parts of the white masked to provide a texture that looks a lot like an insect wing.
A masking layer and some swipes with a 100% opacity black soft brush, then a 50% gray soft brush first soften the look into a gradient…and then I can pick out brighter mid-tone highlights with a sharp brush. For a final touch, I speckle the edge of the wing with sharp 100% pure white highlights, but only on the wing I really want to shine and shimmer.

Digital art of the beenix perched in the tree. It's lines only and ready to color!

Want to customize your Beenix? Here’s a CC-BY-NC 3.0 coloring page that is free to use for personal, non-profit DnD campaigns, as well as just relaxing with a half-bee, half-phoenix monstrosity.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

On the Care and Feeding of Teleoceras

On the Care and Feeding of Teleoceras

Digital artwork of two miniature teleoceras rhinocerouses, but with corgi coloring. One rhino perches on a fancy leather chair with a plushie and pillows and a blankie. The other rhino is eating kibble from a bowl labeled 'Petunia'. There are chew toys on the ground, and umbrellas with rhino-shaped handles in the background, and a portrait of the two rhinos hanging on the wall nearby. Clearly this person who owns these rhinos enjoys them a lot!

On the Care and Feeding of Teleoceras
Hello, new pet owner! Teleoceras is a miniature breed of rhinocerous with a big personality. If you’ve never owned one before, they can be a handful. Multiple handfuls. Many many handfuls. 

Diet
Alfalfa kibble and hay are mainstays in any little rhino’s diet. Be sure to keep a steady stock of this at all times. They graze for hours at a time. Cheap and easy treats are carrots, avocados (which they devour whole, seed and all), and the occasional ice cube. Enrichment may be provided by burying their favorite foods under a layer of play-sand or earth.

Grooming
Teleoceras love a good mud bath. For best protection on long walks in the sun, allow them to roll about in the mud and then allow it to form a dry ‘cake’ over their skin. When the walk is over, the mud can be cracked with gentle palm pressure and brushed away. The mud also keeps insects away.

Surprisingly, Teleoceras have fragile feet. To prevent cracking of footpads, refrain from walking Teleoceras on hot surfaces such as asphalt in summer. If their feet become cracked, obtain a medicinal mud mix from your local veterinarian and give your rhino a quick mani-pedicure. When properly acclimated to having their feet handled, their toenails can (and should) be filed as well.

Enrichment
Teleoceras do well on their own or with a partner teleoceras. Armed with a large, sturdy rubber ball, a teleoceras can have a wild day, provided they also have ample space to run around in the sunshine. A good pond for swimming always goes over well, especially if it is allowed to turn into mud during the summer. Indoor teleoceras can be trained to use treadmills and burn off some extra energy. Well-meant but terrible toys for a teleoceras include above-ground pools, beach balls, and trampolines.

A bored teleoceras is a teleoceras who is knocking over walls in your house. If your mortgage is on the line, consider a cat instead.

Training
Teleoceras have low eyesight and primarily rely on audio cues for training. Their senses of touch and taste can also be engaged with gentle touch-gestures and treats. Teleoceras do best in houses with static layouts and open doors. Woe to the owner who closes a previously-open door to one of these stubborn creatures…The door rarely wins.

Teleoceras can learn simple tricks. “Here” is a good starter command, useful for getting them to move to somewhere they are wanted, or away from elsewhere, where they are not wanted, as they are very heavy and therefore not good at cuddling, nor are they easy to drag around. Once trained to seek out a lowered hand (often with a treat hidden inside), a teleoceras rarely disobeys on purpose. “Slow” is also a good additional command for when a teleoceras is a bit too happy and charging with its full weight to meet a favorite human.

A Teleoceras often does not stop moving once started. Its momentum often spells the doom of anything in one’s way. Agility course training is not recommended.

It’s important to remember that modern Teleoceras are descended from much larger Ice Age megafauna. Teleoceras are very difficult to move when it is not their own idea. They must be acclimated to car rides over many exposure sessions. Carpeted ramps are recommended to help them safely climb into and out of vehicles, and to stay away from the gas and brake pedals. They are, perhaps fortunately, not too big on jumping.

Final Notes
To be a good neighbor, always keep your teleoceras firmly trained and either indoors or inside of a reinforced paddock. Leashes, harnesses, etc. are useless on these little creatures, although the bitey ones may be trained to be comfortable in a muzzle. Also, don’t forget to spay and neuter your pet. We don’t need any more feral rhinocerouses roaming through suburbia than we already have.

Good luck!

 

Comics Tip

Fast Flatting Saves Wrists
If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to spend any amount of time re-tracing lines you’ve already drawn for an art piece just to fill it with flat colors. After experimenting fruitlessly with what was taught to me as the ‘correct’ ways to draw and color in photoshop, I threw it all out and came up with something dirt simple. Criminal, even. If you’ve worked with digital media for any sort of time, what I’m about to describe will make you feel deeply uncomfortable.

But the thing is? For the look I want? This flatting technique works.

And it’s awful. But in a fun way!

Quick Notes about DPI
Before I show you my technique, here are some quick tips about DPI (Dots Per Inch) from a printing perspective. The rule of thumb is everything printable needs to be 300 DPI or higher, or else it will print with pixellated feathering (also known as anti-aliasing, and this is not the first time I’ll bring it up, so remember this term). However, this is mostly applicable to objects you hold in your hand and can look at up close. Billboards are often printed at 72 dpi because they’re viewed from so far away, for instance.

So! Extrapolating from that knowledge, I asked myself, does anti-aliasing matter on a print document that is 300 DPI or higher?

I knew the answer to this from my work lettering, curiously enough! I am sometimes able to look at comic pages and there, I learned, that the lines on comics aren’t anti-aliased. They’re sharp pixels. When they print, the small pixels look the same as lines that are anti-aliased.

Ditch Anti-Aliasing, and Embrace the Pencil
That’s right, everyone. I use Pencil tool now. When I draw a closed shape…

Pixelly drawing of a smiley face
Duplicate the layer to preserve the lines on their own…

The smiley face has a pink fill now!

I can use the fill tool like a child with MSPaint on the extra layer, and love it.

The smiley face has marching ants, indicating that I've selected the pink fill.
This even makes it easily selectable for extra shading and detail!

Digital artwork of the two rhinos featured at the beginning of the post. Instead of being fully colored, they are lineart ready for coloring.The above lineart has no anti-aliasing and is ready for fill tool!
The lineart is licensed under CC-BY-NA-3.0.

Care to read more?

Gastronomy Chart

Gastronomy Chart

This one-shot editorial illustration represents mashups of foods that I personally enjoy and celestial bodies. I wanted to make a large print for sale in-person at conventions. Someday, I may open an online shop as well, but for now this exists as an exercise in creating a compelling illustration out of lots of fiddly bits.

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Terminal: My New Graphic Novel Pitch

Making a New Graphic Novel Pitch: Terminal!After attending a comics event via SCBWI, I realized that my fantasy graphic novel Warlock’d was better off self-published. If I self-publish Warlock'd, I could teach myself how to make a graphic novel without the threat of...

Afterlife

Afterlife

The Composition that Social Media Made This piece didn't start out as a reflection of some unrelated personal stuff that happened to me lately. It was defined via a Twitter poll where voters decided I was going to draw yi qi dinosaurs next to a stream and color them...

Want to chat about this?

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

A Dungeon of Little Dragons

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.

‘Fieschi Psalter’, Cambrai ca. 1290-1295.
Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, Walters Manuscript W.45, fol. 256v

Fox Dragon
Reynard? Is that you? You look a little different. A little foxier than normal. Please don’t tell me you’re the harbinger of the Revelation. What would Ysengrim think?

 

 

Digital artwork of an emu-like dragon, with a sheep's head on a long neck attached to a blue body with white spots down its back. It has a furry tail. The legs are gray and stripy with fur covering the toes and heels. A little spig of flowers springs from the heel of the dragon.‘The Maastricht Hours’, Liège 14th century British Library, Stowe 17, fol. 182v

Sheep Dragon
Leg warmers were a thing 650 years ago, I swear.

 

 

Luttrell Psalter, England ca. 1325-1340. British Library, Add 42130, fol. 178r

Lion Dragon
Look, sometimes an apex predator rocks the soft baby pinks and blues. There’s no reason to get mad about it. It’s almost like someone got the description of a lion spot-on right up to the shoulders and then gave up. Whatever — do you know how many people will leave the abbey to go look at a lion way down south in person? That’s right. Not many. So lions are pink and blue now, and they wear comfortable hats. Deal with it.

 

Re-draw of a medieval illustration of a long, snakey green dragon with red lion paws and pink wings with stripes. The dragon has antlers and flowers for a tail. On its head is an extremely phallic hat. There's no getting around it.pontifical, Avignon ca. 1330-1340
 Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. Diocèse 8, fol. 59r

Hat Dragon
I have so many questions about this dragon. One of those questions is not what the hat is supposed to be. I don’t want to know anything about this dragon’s hat. Instead, I will focus on this being the world’s tiniest dragon obsessing over its hoard of a single copper penny, which telekinetically floats nearby.

 

 

Digital artwork of a large, purple, four-legged dragon with human feet sharing an even purpler tongue with a yellow winged cat dragon. The purple dragon has six extra heads in its collar and they all look like they're whining. It's also wearing bunny slippers on its back feet. Its front feet have weird sandals that blend into its skin. The cat dragon, meanwhile, only has one extra head, which is on its long winding tail, and that head looks really annoyed.

Beatus of Liébana, Commentarius in Apocalypsin, Astorga 12th century
BnF, Nouvelle acquisition latine 1366, fol. 106v


What is Even Going on Here?!??

This must be the end of the world. That’s the only explanation I have. I didn’t feel like drawing the Schmooze in the corner there so this dragon gets a comfy pair of slippers.

Comics Tip

Designing a Dragon
Say you’ve got a story that calls for a dragon. The first thing to do is figure out what function that dragon serves in the story. Is it a pet? Is it a steed? Is it a friend? Is it a foe? Is it a wild beast? Is it bigger, or smaller, than a breadbox? Can it speak or coexist peacefully with humans? Does it represent something beyond being a mythical creature, such as the greed and cruelty of mankind, or the vengeance of the natural world?

Or do you just want a dragon that looks super cool*?

*Dragon ‘coolness’ as the result of this exercise may be subjective!

Digital artwork of three possible dragon silhouettes. The first is serpentine with bat wings and a snake tail, with little tiny paws and feet. The second is an upright armadillo with an ankylosaur tail. The third is some sort of bird with four wings and a feathery tail and frills on the head.

Step One: Silhouettes
Regardless of how big your dragon is, the first thing you’ll want is a Shape for it to fit into. Grab a marker and scratch down some rough poses and proportions for your dragon. Don’t worry about details at this point, just get a broad picture of its shape and size. Try to think about how the dragon would move. Maybe it’s very agile, or more of a tank. Can it fly? If not wings, include a visual of how it alights in the air. If it’s a more literal animal, it will look a bit different than if it’s the figment of a child’s imagination. Same for magical beasts having more leeway for fanciness and silliness than most real-animal analogues for dragons.

Digital artwork of three possible dragon heads, rendered as black scribbled silhouettes. The first is a smooth reptile. The second is more horselike with bumps and ears. The third is clearly a beaked creature with a feathered plume.

In addition tvo the overall body, it pays to figure out how the dragon’s head will look. Is it capable of expressing emotions, or does it need to express emotions within the story? Are its emotions clear or are they buried under the complexities of being a different species from humans? Explore that.

Digital artwork of one of the dragon silhouettes, with the armadillo body and beak head as our go-to. The dragon has been rendered three times, sporting a horn and T. rex claws in the first, fins in the second, and lots of wings and feathers and raptor claws in the third.

If you have a head shape and a body shape that you like, explore spines, fins, fur, and hair. Maybe the dragon has many limbs, or an unusual tail.

Digital sketch, done very quickly, of a comic page containing a dragon. It has three panels: One with a dragon trotting through the forest. The second panel is a closeup of the dragon's eye spotting something. The third panel is a breakout panel of the dragon discovering a baby and picking up, so it's a good thing I designed it to have opposable thumbs.

Step Two: Try it Out
My controversial take is that it pays to see if the overall shape and size of the dragon works in terms of the comic prior to doing any detail work outside of the silhouette. Try drawing the silhouette version next to characters and in environments you have planned for your story. This is also why concept art sometimes looks different from the actual comic. I think it’s important to get a sense of how the big parts of the creature function in the story prior to working out the finer details.

 

Step Three: Integument Refinement
While still thinking about how your dragon works in your comic’s world, experiment with showing how it sees, smells, tastes, and touches the world. A zoo is an excellent place to scope animals and observe how they’re built and how they move through the world.

Various photos of different scales. A lizard, an armadillo, an eagle's claw, a grasshopper, a betta fish, and a pineapple are all examples of scales that would look interesting on a dragon.
For instance, a dragon is not limited to reptilian scales. Check out some mammalian, avian, insectlike, and fish coverings, too. Maybe even plants!

Photos of the following animal attributes: A big eagle's eye, a dog's paw in a human hand, a skull of a theropod dinosaur, and whiskers on a white kitten's face.
Can your dragon see in the dark? Its eye shape will be different depending on how it senses the world around it. Think about its other senses. How sensitive is its skin? A large nasal cavity means it might be able to sniff prey from a long way away. If it has whiskers, maybe it loses its balance from losing those whiskers, like a cat does.

Photos of an alligator's closed mouth with tons of teeth sticking out, as well as a bear's paw with long black claws poking out.
How does the dragon protect itself, and what does it eat? This will affect tooth and claw shape, and whether it can grasp things like humans can.

Photos of fire, a field of white flowers, a big towering cloud, and the purple reaches of outer space with tons of stars.
Is the dragon ethereal? Maybe it has primordial elements mixed in, such as fire, flowers, clouds, or stars. Each body part tells a story about the rest of the creature, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘realistic’. It’s a dragon, after all. Have some fun for once in your life, gosh.

Three possible color schemes for my dragon design. For my overall silhouette I chose an upright armadillo dragon with feathery wings, a hairy chest, feathers on its claws, a beaked face and horn on its nose. Color scheme one is monochromatic blues, number two is yellows, greens, and oranges, and the third one is a pale grey dragon with red eyes and black tongue.

Step Four: Color!
Depending on what the rest of your comic looks like, you will need to decide whether your dragon sticks out or blends into the background. Stories involving dragons as ‘alien’ or ‘other’ may opt for brightly-colored dragons. Sneaky dragons will need camouflage. Pet dragons might be more likely to have specific color morphs, like the ones seen in snake or pigeon enthusiast communities.

Step Five: Revision
At any point in the process, a change might need to be made to the dragon’s design. Most changes simplify a design so that it’s easier to draw and color over and over again. Better to do that early before the dragon exists in dozens, if not hundreds, of panels. I personally find it more difficult to edit a design the further along it is in development. That’s why having extra versions of the design lying around are so useful. Those can offer easier solutions to big problems that come from an extreme revision to the design at the end of a project.

So there you go! There’s really no wrong way to go with a magical dragon because it doesn’t exist in the first place!

Creative commons dragon reference photos generously provided by pixabay.com.

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