My new process – bluelines everywhere

I’ve posted a couple of times over the years about my “process” and how I get from an idea to the final art. And up to now that’s usually consisted of:

thumbnail drawings  >>>  pencil roughs  >>>  pencils  >>>  inks  >>>  colour art

And this process has worked relatively well (heck I even managed to do over 150 pages last year). The thing is, it is somewhat slower than it could be considering I really only spend an hour most days (my lunch!) actually drawing. This means that for me to finish a page, I need one full lunch of pencilling and one full lunch of inking and this completely ignores the thumbnailing and page rough part of the process that I have been doing off and on in the evening (in most cases).

Now when I’m working (and I mean work-work as in my day job or the freelance stuff I do) I use whatever technology helps me to get the work done to the best of my ability on time. “On time” is the absolute key since that’s primarily the biggest obstacle that I face every day. If you can’t meet your deadlines, you won’t survive very long in the business. So I’ll use the computer to speed things along all the time.

For my comic work though, I’ve always worked in a more “traditional” way – pencilling the artwork first and then inking it. The problem is, this takes time. And even though I’ve realized for a couple of years now that I could speed the process up, I’ve avoided changing it because I wanted to work “traditionally”. Probably stupid, I know, but I’m stubborn.

Anyway, as far back as last summer, I was really starting to get the urge to speed the whole process up for no other reason than I have other stuff that I want to do. I have all sorts of ideas – both new stories and other OTV stories – and I realized that if I ever wanted to get to those other stories and really focus my attention on them, I was going to have finish this “main” OTV story that I’ve been working on for 3 ½ years now.

Now back when I was in college, I used to work with blueline pencils all the time. They were great for roughing out thumbnails and gestures and sketches first so that you could go back with pencil or pen and draw something tighter on top. Then when you photocopied the drawings, the blueline wouldn’t show. Working in blueline is nothing new in the world of comics and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to explore this as way to speed up my work process.

Now why I stopped using blueline pencils, I have no idea. It probably has something to do with not having easy access to a photocopier after college. It was just as easy to draw something in pencil and then quickly scan it and clean it up in Photoshop. Plus I was doing more abstract illustrations without as much detail work. The main thing is that I stopped, but now I’m going back.

Alright, let’s get down to the fun stuff… Let’s take a look at the new process in action on one of the the new pages that I’ve inked for Chapter 6 (sneak peek!). Here’s how I’ve started working:

I’ve got a template! One of the things that “professional comic artists” usually use is paper, provided by the publisher, that has a template on it. Now back when I started this project, I made up a quick template that I used when doing my page roughs but it was nowhere near as exact as what “professional comic artists” use. So as I started to really explore the idea of using blueline, I realized that I could make my own template (and I mean why not, right? I’ve got the skill to do that after all…). If you’re interested, you can download a copy of my template here.

Here’s the basic template.

Script doodles. I always doodle either as I’m writing the plot and script or after when I’m reading a script. I’ve never really included this in my “process” before now because I usually would then redraw these doodles as my thumbnails. But the thumbnails have changed…

I draw and make notes all over my scripts… Some of this stuff gets used, some of it doesn’t.

Thumbnails. What I now call my “thumbnail stage” is actually more like what my page roughs used to be like. I’m now working larger at this stage and trying to get some actual drawing done. Mainly I’m worried about storytelling, design and layout though. It’s still pretty rough in spots, but there are times where I really do draw something if I really know what I want.

One of the reasons that I chose to show this page is because it’s a good demonstration of how some of this stuff is actually drawn out (the second panel for instance) and some of it is very rough (like the third panel).

Scan and organize. I’ve always scanned my thumbnails and enlarged them so that they were the basis of all the drawing that I did. One of the things I’m doing at this point in the process is drawing all the panels out in Photoshop. Since I’ve got the template, I can easily, consistently and quickly do this.

Here I’ve scanned in my thumbnails and then pieced them together in Photoshop with proper borders… all in the template.

Pencilling. So this stage is pretty much the same as before except instead of transferring the page roughs to board by shading the back of paper with graphite and then manually tracing the drawings (thereby copying them onto the board underneath) I can just draw right on top of the rough drawings. I’m working at about 65% of actual size (actual size being 11×17 inches) so that it fits comfortably on an 8 1/2×11 sheet of paper.

And draw!

[Also, yeah, I know, a lightbox would work here and would be a good investment but I’m not going there (even though I used one all the time in college). Truth be told, we even have a lightbox at work. But this was just the process that I used since I could do it anywhere and it’s really really old school]

Scan and convert to blueline. At this point, I scan the pencilled art, bring it into Photoshop and then convert it to blueline by adjusting the Hue/Saturation. It’s super easy, but here’s a quick video of how to do it.

Inking. No real change here. This is pretty much the exact same as I’ve always done. Let the ink flow! Here are some shots of the inking in process…

wpid-20140506_114647.jpg wpid-20140506_114654.jpg wpid-20140506_121319.jpg wpid-20140506_121311.jpg wpid-20140506_130137.jpg wpid-20140506_130144.jpg wpid-img_20140506_130609.jpg wpid-20140507_084748.jpg

Scan and clean up the art. I was doing this anyway. I never really think about it too much time-wise when I talk about my process, but it does take time. There are tutorials for how to take the bluelines out of your scanned art and I’ve put a video of a good one below.

Adding in the extras in Photoshop. Again, I was doing this previously, but at this point I add in more ink splatter as well as some digital inking.

Once the blue lines are removed, I just go in and add splatter and some other finishing touches. I love using splatter and white paint, but since I primarily work on my lunches (at work) it’s a bit too much of a mess. So I’ve compiled several different files of splatter and different marks that I add in in Photoshop.

So where are the time savers?
This may sound really simple but not having to transfer the rough drawings to board is a HUGE(!) timesaver obviously. Plus it means that I only really need to nail the drawing once not get it right at the pencil rough stage and then hope that I don’t screw it up when transferring it to board. Plus(!) there are a whole bunch of little time saves like not having to draw out panel borders with a pencil and ruler, trying to make the spacing consistent in the gutters and stuff like that. I just do all that in Photoshop on top of the template. Simple, quick and easy. And the final time saver is no erasing. Again, it sounds super simple, but having to carefully erase each page takes time that and now I don’t have to do any it more.

The one thing that takes a little bit more time…
This new process has added some time to cleaning up the inked artwork. Obviously I’ve got to take out the bluelines now and depending on how dark they are, sometimes I’ve got to go in and manually paint them out. It’s not hard, but it takes a little bit longer than before.

All in all, this process should hopefully speed my up and my hope is to get at least as many pages done as last year – maybe ever more!

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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