Monday, 5 August 2013

Undefeated - Drawing

This is the third and final part of my guide to creating your own short graphic story.

First let's do a checklist. Have you:
  1. Planned your story?
  2. Written your script?
  3. Left your script?
  4. Returned to your scripted and edited it?
  5. Designed your characters?
  6. Practiced drawing your characters until you're happy with easily recreating them?
Good. Then we can continue!

I drew Undefeated using a digital program (I'm an old school cheapskate so swear by Photoshop 7, DON'T use MS Paint) however wherever possible I'll also explain each step as if I was drawing the comic traditionally. I'll put the traditional bits in pink.

N.B. I'm not a professional artist. These are tips from personal experience. Anything that doesn't fit for you, don't do!

Step One

Make a rough sketch of what your page will look like on a separate piece of paper. If you are creating a short comic / graphic story with a limited page count like me you will have already done this in the planning stage. If your story has an open page count you probably won't have already sketched a plan. Sketching a plan is not so much about how each panel will look but the over all page layout - panel placement, text placement, etc - it is purely for you and as long as you understand your plan it is more than allowed to look completely rubbish and incoherent to everyone else!

Here is what my plan looked like (I drew all four page plans on one piece of A4 paper):

Step Two

Make your document size really big (nothing under 200 pixel resolution and 1500 pixel length / width). It's much easier to resize a picture down if it is too big than increase its size if it is too small. If you plan on getting your comic published publishers require digital copies to have big resolutions so as to not look pixelated when printed. Working big then sizing down later also makes it easier to draw finer details.

When drawing a page using traditional materials pick whatever size paper feels right for you or is specified by the publisher. Generally publishers don't like receiving work bigger than A3 (also it's really expensive to send something A3 or above in the post).

Step Three

Create a new layer and draw your panel lines. Never draw directly onto the background. Always create a new layer for each step / set of colours! Think of drawing with layers like drawing on tracing paper. Each digital layer is like a layer of tracing paper and whatever happens on one layer does not affect the others. By drawing on separate layers you do not ruin everything if you make a mistake. You can just erase the mistake on that single layer rather than everything above, below and around it.

When using traditional materials I'm afraid you don't have the safety net of layers however drawing lines is easy, just draw guide lines with a pencil before going over with ink.

At this point I also place my text boxes / speech bubbles (in separate layers) because I'm lazy and don't enjoy the idea of putting a load of effort into part of a panel only to cover it with text.

Once again you don't get the luxury of this choice when drawing traditionally. If you haven't placed your text by the time you start inking you're screwed!

Step Four

Make a new layer and sketch in the design for your final picture / pencil your design.

It should look something like this:

Step Five
In a new layer 'ink' your lines. By ink I mean go over your sketch lines with a smooth black line. This is what your final lines will look like so take lots of time with them to make sure they're right. You won't want to be redrawing things once you start colouring. I mean it's completely possible to redraw your lines once you start colouring (and even I do it when I realise I've made a terrible mistake) but it's really inconvenient and I'm all about making this process as simple as possible.
Though it takes lots of practice try to draw your lines in single strokes rather than feathering then trying to smooth with the eraser. If you find it hard to draw smooth lines when your document is zoomed to its actual size try drawing whilst zoomed into 200% - I find it produces much smoother lines.
You may feel more comfortable drawing the background lines on one layer and the foreground lines on another. That way if you make a mistake it is less likely to affect the rest of your lines.
Once you've completely inked your page you can delete your sketch layer / reduce it to 0% opacity.
When inking traditionally take lots of time and have lots of patience.  You get one shot at this and you don't want to mess it up. There are such things as Tipex / liquid paper but any sort of correctional fluid will always show up (which is why people usually use it to add highlights rather than to correct mistakes).
Let areas dry before moving on - the last thing you want is to smudge the ink with your hand - and when drawing with a ruler lift it onto its edge when lifting it from the paper, don't drag it across the paper as it may drag the ink with it.
Try not to erase your pencilling until you've completely inked your page. Also try not to press too hard with your rubber / eraser. Too much rubbing will also remove the ink.
Your inking should look something like this:
Step Six
Using a new layer for every colour (or texture style if working in black and white) apply your base colours. Because you are drawing on separate layers the fill tool won't work - you have to scribble like colouring in a colouring book page
You'll probably create lots of layers at this stage so it's a good idea to name them as you go.
Colour in / shade, once again taking your time. Work on each panel as though it is its own piece of art rather than trying to colour all the page in one go.
Your page should now look something like this:
Step Seven
Shade your work, once again creating a new layer for every colour. Not being a pro I don't want to tell you my way of shading like it is THE way of shading however here are some basic things that I do:
  1. I always decide where my light source is before I start shading
  2. I never use the burn tool
  3. I make one layer where I use a slightly darker version of the base colour to draw shadows then make a second layer where I use an even darker version of the base colour with the gradient tool (fading to transparent) to create an overall sort of dark glow. (This will be clearer from the example image!)
  4. I keep a sample of the colours I use to shade so that the colour palette is uniform for each panel / page. Once the gradient layer has been added it tints everything and you'll never be able to properly recreate your original colour choices.
Once you have shaded and added any highlights your finished page will look something like this:
General tips:
  1. Every so often take a break. Mistakes happen when you overwork yourself and carpal tunnel syndrome happens when you keep your hand clenched for too long.
  2. If you find you're not having a good drawing day don't force it. Go clean the toilet and come back and try again.
  3. Don't draw drunk / high / with a fever. You may think it makes you cool or an 'artist' but unless you're an absolute genius your work will look rough and generally crap.
  4. I draw wearing a fingerless glove so as to stop my fingernails from biting into my palm. It makes you look like a super villain too XD
  5. When working digitally the colouring stage can get really boring so definitely feel free to listen to music as you work. If you get bored of music listen to something entertaining but bland such as a Murder She Wrote marathon or all of BBC iPlayer's backlog of Bargain Hunt. Don't listen to (watch) anything that requires you to actually pay 100% attention to it such as a film you've been dying to see for ages or You've Been Framed.
  6. When working with traditional mediums you may also get bored but don't be tempted to put on the TV! That is the instant road to making an irreversible mistake. Listen to calming music and if you get bored of your music listen to a radio drama / audio book. I especially recommend Radio 4 Extra's horror, fantasy and sci-fi section. If you come from a country which no longer makes radio drama you can listen to Orson Welles' wonderful radio dramas (including that infamous War of the Worlds recording) here. You can also listen to a podcast but don't pick one that will excite you too much or that your are desperate to listen to as you're more likely to make a mistake again.
  7. And the obvious one...don't leave drawing your comic to the last moment.
Well done. You have just completed a short graphic story and got one step closer to drawing that five volume Batman epic.


  1. This is so awesome! Great how-to and I really liked your story, it reminds me a bit of an anime I really like.

    1. Thank you!

      What is the anime?

    2. An anime called Trigun, mainly because the protagonist fights a lot and has to fight his nemesis at the end which is his brother.

  2. GAH, you are brilliant oh so brilliant!!!


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