How I colour

Since I’ve spent the past couple of weeks really focusing on finishing the colouring for Chapter 5, I thought it might be a good time to post something about “how I colour my art”. Then last week got kind of crazy and I never got a post up. So now that things are somewhat back to normal, here’s the post.

Now I’ve never really thought that “how” I do my art is proprietary or anything like that. I don’t necessarily like the idea of giving away all my secrets, but it’s not like you can’t find all sorts of stuff online about how to colour comics or how to use textures in Photoshop. But, I did want to share a little bit of what I do to actually colour the pages of OTV. I’m going to take one of the pages from Chapter 4 and just walk through how I get from inks to the final coloured piece.

First some thoughts
One of the primary drivers of why I colour pages like I do is my attempt to merge my ink drawing with how I paint (and how successful this has been is yet to be decided). In fact, this was one of the primary “art related” goals for me when I started this project and why my art looks like it does. So what do I mean by this? Well first off, my painting and illustration work tends to be more abstract. I like textures and colours in my paintings. I like brushstrokes and fingerprints. I like to paint on various boards and papers and canvases that I’ve stuck all sorts of different textures on to. And none of this works easily with the type of ink drawing that I have been doing for years and throughout this project.

Interestingly, as time goes on, the “look” of actual painted art (specifically watercolours) is becoming more in vogue in comics. It’s interesting to me to see more and more people adapt this style of colouring to things and it definitely gives me ideas for how to do things differently.

Back when I first started painting and using the computer (primarily Photoshop or Painter) to start fusing various pieces of artwork together, I would almost always paint each part so that each piece had specific textures. I mean there were times that I’d pull in a piece of something else that I had created for a different illustration  because it would occur to me as I was working that it might need something and it was just easier to grab something that I’d already done and scanned in. But I would always paint things specifically for each piece. For OTV, I’m really not doing this and the reason is time. With my schedule, it’s virtually impossible to paint something specific for each and every page. So basically I’ve got a batch of various textures to pick through that I painted back at the start of this project and I just keep picking what I feel works for each particular page. This also helps keeps things relatively consistent across the pages since I’m using similar textures on the pages no matter when they were created.

<samples of the various texture you use>

The how to
Alright, this isn’t really a “how to” as in follow these exact steps to achieve this look, but I will try to take you through how I get from Point A (an inked page) to Point B (a fully coloured page). Here we go:


Step 1: Get some inking done. Obviously the very first step is to have your inked art scanned and cleaned up. Above is the final inked page, scanned into Photoshop and cleaned up.


Step 2: Flatting. First up, if you don’t know what “flatting” a comic page is, don’t worry, I had no idea what the heck it meant when I started this project either. That’s part of the learning process and one of the reasons I’m posting this “how to”. So if you’re one of those people who aren’t aware, here’s a link to one of my favourite webcomics reMIND where Jason Brubaker takes you through flatting (and it’s the top Google hit if you search for “flatting comics”). Anyway, if you do know what the heck I’m talking about, then you may understand why this is the step that I like the least. Now I know that there are programs and/or plugins that you can get that will flat pages for you. You can also hire people to do this. I’ve never thought that was really worthwhile and it’s not like it’s hard to do, just tedious. Anyway, you can flat pages using a variety of colours but I always flat pages with the colours that I’ll actually end up using since this saves me changing them later. I’ve added in all the various colours I use on a regular basis to my swatches palette so that they’re readily available when I’m flatting. I’ve also created colours based on the colours available in “old school” comic colouring. I like the fact that it really limits the palette and forces me to be consistent with colour selections. But that’s just me. One final point is that I try to be selective about what colours I use for any surrounding elements. This page is a good example of that since the window has colour which is carried across a couple of the pages in this section.


Step 3: Add in painted textures. Lately I’ve been getting all the textures in place early. I have no good reason for this, it’s just how I’ve been working. This step basically consists of me combining a number of different textures that include: paper texture, painted texture, and photos.


Step 4: Add in paints. I use a mixture of watercolour and ink washes to add depth and even more texture to art. Just like with the previous step, I’ve got a file on my computer filled with various pieces of watercolour paintings (either specifically for background textures in OTV or pieces of other paintings that I’ve done) and ink washes, acrylic paintings, etc.


Step 5 – Modelling. At this point I go back over the art and add in some modelling (or shading if you want to call it that). This wasn’t a step that I had in the process when I started working on this project, but the art looked fairly flat and it needed something to make stuff pop a bit. So I created a couple of “ink” brushes in Photoshop that I could use to add some modelling.


Step 6 – Effects. This part is always a bit tricky because it’s easy to overwork things. I always try to keep things simple. The main thing I try to do with any effects I add is highlight the art and use them to help move the readers eye around the page. I usually try to tie the effects in to what’s happening in the art/story. That at least gives them a reason to be there.


Step 7 – Edits. The final step is the one that can go on and on and on if you let it. Mostly this is about trying to balance all the elements on the page, making sure that the colouring is consistent from page to page and keeping an eye on the overall readability of the page.

Now this is page 106, so as you can imagine, I’m working towards a specific “look” that every page has and that means that some of the experimenting with the saturation of colours and stuff I’ve figured out already. So some of the textures, effects and edits are fairly consistent page to page. In fact, for the most part, I drop various adjustment layers in at the appropriate time in the process since I know they’ll desaturate colours or lighten things the right amount. There’s always a certain amount adjustment for each page, but I’m not starting from scratch at this point.

Anyway, this is the basic process and it takes anywhere from 2-5 hours to completely colour a page from start to finish. One final tip I’ll leave you with is something that I’ve learned as I’ve worked on this project: I work in batches. What I mean by this is that I’ll do groups of pages (say 4-6) at a time and flat them, then do the modelling, then the effects, then edits. I find that I can get into a good rhythm this way and it actually speeds up the process.

About jason

Illustrator and graphic designer. When not working full time as a Senior Graphic Designer, I am usually working on the graphic novel On the Verge: the Arrow of Time. Artist on Andrew Jackson in Space and The Sisters.

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