At this point in the project, I’m really not thinking too much about “style” when I’m working but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about it when I was starting out. One of the things that people don’t really talk about too much is how decisions that you make affect the “style” that your artwork ends up with. Simple things like the tools you use, the amount of time you’re going to spend on a page and even the storytelling techniques you use can drastically affect the end product.
This has sort of come up lately as I spend more time working on edits and colouring I find that I’m actually “looking” at my artwork (whereas when I’m drawing I find I’m simply doing). I find all of this really interesting because people always tend to gravitate to surface (ie. style) elements and don’t think much beyond that into what actually creates that “look”.
So how does this relate to me specifically? Here’s a breakdown of some of the things that definitely affect how my work “looks”:
Tools. I work with a variety of tools but mainly they’re not digital (I colour digitally and add in odds and ends where needed via Photoshop). I draw with a pencil on paper and I ink on paper and this definitely is one of the most fundamental ways to change the way your work “looks”. Also, the type of tools you use to create a line on paper will affect the end result. Brushes are different than pens that are different than pencils or charcoal or crayons. Even the paper you use affects the end result. I work on watercolour paper which has more of a tooth than the standard board that most comics artists use as the “industry standard” and this means that I’m going to get rougher linework. But that was a decision that I made very early on in the process. I want a bit of a wonky line. So mix and match: a brush on a smooth sheet of paper will look different from a brush on a toothy sheet of paper. Experiment and see what happens.
Size of artwork. When I started working on OTV, I wanted to work at the “industry standard” when I created my artwork which is about 10×15 inches. The problem was that I was (A) buying giant pads of paper and that added to the cost (just being honest there) and (B) scanning the pages in pieces since I didn’t own a scanner large enough. Now for my illustration work I tend to always work 9×12 or smaller since that will comfortably fit on my scanner. So somewhere around the point of doing the artwork for SHADOWS I made the decision to work smaller (at 9×12). What effect does this have? Well I’m sure it limits the amount of details that I can put on the smaller panels. Does this really matter? Probably not, but it does affect how the overall artwork looks. Anyway, this is just something to keep in mind. What happens if you work tiny and enlarge it? If you work on giant boards, how much detail do you get and what does that look like when you reduce the pages for print. All things to think about…
Time. Anyone who’s been following along knows by now that I primarily work on art during my lunch hour. The key word there is hour. I have a time limit and I usually put one full page down onto board and tighten up the pencils in an hour. I also usually ink one full page in an hour. Now would my artwork look different if I spent 8+ hours a day penciling/inking? Probably, but I don’t have that luxury at this point. So time is definitely a factor in how the art ends up looking.
Process. I have posted things about the process I use to create a page before but it definitely affects the “look” of the art. I don’t sit down with a blank page and just draw. I start out with tiny thumbnails that I enlarge to about 3 inches wide and “rough pencil” on top of the thumbnail drawing. From here it gets enlarged again to the final art size where I transfer it onto board and tighten the drawing some more before I ink it. Each step of the process adds more detail. That being said, everyone has their own process that they develop and I think it has to affect the way the final art looks.
Panel layout. A simple way to change up your style is how you compose a page. Right now every page of OTV uses a pretty similar grid system though I try to mix it up every now and then depending on the requirements of the story. But for the most part, the panels on the pages follow a three row system. Now I made that decision when I was starting out and there are times when I wish I had more freedom, but overall it’s let the pages feel related to each other. It’s a design decision that was very important to how each page ends up lookings.
Drawing. This may sound silly, but I don’t want straight lines on my page even though every line I draw with pencil is with a ruler (usually at least). The tools I use actually help make sure of this. So all of the borders of the panels are inked freehand with a brush and all the backgrounds are drawn freehand with a quill or pen. The thing is, each of these decisions compound on each other and add to the overall effect.
You can switch out any of these and suddenly your art would look different. The underlying drawing will most likely be the same, but theoretically, you could completely change your style pretty easily (and in fact, there are many illustrators out there who have and use more than one style, depending on the job they’re working on). I haven’t even touched on things like linework versus stark blacks or realism versus abstraction. Each decision will result in something that looks different.
So will my artwork always look the same? I’m not sure. I think the fundamental underlying drawing will probably remain because that’s just how I draw. But I can see that with a different project I might make different choices and that will mean a slightly different result. We’ll see…