How I’ve applied what I’ve learned in my art

Around the end of the year, I have typically done a review of the comics that I’ve really enjoyed over the course of that year. But as you may have noticed, I was (am) super busy and I haven’t really had a lot of time to actually READ too many comics. I always hear comic artists say that in interviews or on Facebook and Twitter and it’s really very true. The more comics you make, the less time you have to read them.

Anyway, I thought I’d change it up a bit and take a look at all the things that I’ve been learning about comics and illustration over the past couple of years and how I’ve applied that to my own art. You may recall that I’ve been “studying” various comic artists to see what I can learn from them but I’ve also tried to be a sponge and learn from other stuff as well.

I’ve also talked about inspiration a bunch in previous posts and this does kind of cover a bit of the same ground since some of these things are a constant inspiration. The major difference is that I’ve really studied these things and then tried to incorporate what I’ve learned in to my own art instead of using these as reference points. It’s less about copying a particular style or technique and more about learning from something and then applying that learning as I work. Anyway, here are some of the things that have really helped me grow and get better.

The Batman Adventures
I grew up reading this series (the first 36 issues anyway) and I still pull them out every once in awhile and read them. To me, they’re the perfect comic book series and a big part of that is Mike Parobeck’s art. I learn more about simple storytelling every time I go through his pages. I can’t recommend them enough. If you’ve seen my art over the years, you can definitely spot the influence. And while I realize that this was an adaptation of Batman: The Animated Series (which I also loved!), the fact that it is a comic that I can use and study and learn from and not a cartoon which is a completely different experience makes it more worthwhile from a comic perspective.

Becky Cloonan’s brushwork
I’m in love with Becky’s inking. She made me work my ass off to get good at inking with a brush. Up until I really started practicing with a brush, I primarily used a combination of a quill and pens to ink with, which lead to a really stiff but varied line. I loved how smooth and silky Cloonan’s inking was and I knew I wanted to be able to do it myself. So I forced myself to learn and I think that has had a direct impact on how my work has grown over the years.

Jonathan Glapion’s small brush
I was really having a hard time learning to use a brush until I watch Jonathan’s video about the tools he uses to ink and how he uses a small brush for linework. I had been using the typical Windsor Series #4 and other brushes that have always been recommended by professional inkers over the years. But Jonathan suggested a smaller brush which I had never considered. I tried it out and never looked back! Suddenly I could ink with a brush and to be honest, I barely use a quill anymore.

Greg Capullo
I grew up a Greg Capullo fan when he was doing his run on Spawn (I’d seen his work on X-Force but it wasn’t until Spawn that I really started to dig his work). What I am constantly learning from Greg’s work is how to move the camera around. The man is a genius when it comes to framing an image and using different camera angles and shots for even the most mundane of imagery. I can’t emphasize enough how much I constantly look to his work for inspiration when I’m breaking down a page and trying to figure out different ways to depict a scene..

Sean Murphy’s self-described “mess”
I’ve had a few people mention that they can see the influence of Sean’s work on mine and they’re not wrong. The funny thing is, I’ve only recently discovered his work and a lot his “style” was stuff that I spent years doing – and not always happily doing. My main battle which I’ve talked about A LOT over the course of working on OTVt is that I feel like comic art (and the really popular comic art that everyone seems to love) is really super tight, with slick linework, always consistent drawing, perfect anatomy…etc, etc, etc, and my art just isn’t that. My art is definitely not Jim Lee. It never has been and to be honest, actually doing art like that bores me. What Sean’s work has done for me, is really open up my mind to the idea that it’s ok to embrace being messy. I love imperfect lines. I don’t use rulers. I like blobs of ink, and smudges and fingerprints. So discovering Sean’s art has given me someone who the comic buying public actually embraces and shown me that it’s ok for my art to be what it is.

Dave McKean
Is there a current comic book artist who hasn’t in some way been influenced by McKean? Now his work has been a huge influence on me over the years. In fact, I was thinking about pursuing animation until I stumbled across McKean’s work and decided that illustration was for me. But it’s his experimentation that has really influenced me. If you take a look at all the different things I’ve tried in all the various OTV stories that I’ve done over the past couple of years, it all stems from this. I’ve tried prose and illustrations, different drawing styles, different techniques, drawing at different sizes, expressive lettering, and on and on and on. And it really has been the drive to be creative and experiment that I love in McKean’s work that has been the cause of this. I am constantly taking a look at WHAT I am trying to communicate and then figuring out HOW to do that best and that’s really what McKean does better than anyone.

Joe Morse
Joe was one of my teachers in college and he fundamentally changed the way I look at drawing that affects me each and every time I sit down and draw – even comics. I am constantly thinking about how to draw better and I use his work as a reminder for those things that he taught me way back when I was in his class. And to be honest, as I do more and more comic work and as a result figure drawing, those lessons about drawing the human figure are more and more important.

Dushan Milic
Dushan graduated a couple of years before me, from the same college program that I took. I remember being drawn to his work while he was still in college and I’ve followed his work since then (I even got to commission an illustration for a publication I was designing and it was awesome to work on it with him). Dushan’s work has so many elements that I love about art and illustration that it’s a constant source of inspiration and I am constantly analyzing it for both the concept and the drawing, composition and technique. Plus, any time I’m looking for a creative nudge, it’s always a good way to get me going.

TV & movies
I find it interesting and a bit weird how non-comic related things really affect my approach to comics. Things like Broadchurch (the British television program, not the Americanized Gracepoint which aired this past fall) have had a direct impact on how I draw comics. How? Broadchurch uses these really interesting scenic shots and it has really cool framing on the characters and I’ve basically copied this in the way that I frame shots in OTV. I’m sure people might be able to pick out another comic artist that frames shots this way but it was Broadchurch that was the inspiration. And that’s just one example. There are a ton more TV shows and movies that are constantly making me think about storytelling and framing and pacing.

*****

Here’s the thing: no one has just one influence in their art. I think how much of an influence you see in someone’s art is a direct response to what that artist is processing at that point in time. I’m always working on storytelling and drawing so some of this stuff has been “in” my art for a long time. Things like technique, using a brush/quill/pen, etc. are hard to really identify if you don’t know that much about the technical sides of art. Yet Becky Cloonan’s work kind of challenged me to work harder on something than almost anything on this list. But the only way to grow is to keep working and challenging yourself to do new things.

Heck, even the type of story that you draw has an impact on what your work looks like! ANDREW JACKSON IN SPACE is about as far away from OTV as I can get at this point and because I’m having to draw all kinds of different environments and spaceships and stuff and my art is looking different from what I’d say it “normally” does. So taking on new projects that force you to draw new and different stuff also helps you grow as an artist.

So what’s next? I have no idea. I’m sure I’ll come across something new that will make we keep working and hopefully keep getting better.

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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