In the Background

I love drawing people. I think people are endlessly fascinating artistic subjects, and I love drawing a character’s eyes, mouth, expression and body language. I never get tired of it! But backgrounds? They’re my bête noire. Drawing them almost always feels like a chore.

A very wise comic artist once gave me some very good advice: if the characters are talking about something that sounds cool then SHOW IT (I was trying to weasel out of drawing a background and he totally called me on it) . So what if it’s going to be hard to draw or take a long time? Tough! That NEEDS to be your show-piece panel/page. You better whip out some reference and your perspective cheat sheets because it’s time to get to work!

I always try my best to make the art on the page match the scene in my head, and I think backgrounds are an important part of that. Unfortunately, detailed backgrounds take a lot of time to draw. Which would be fine, except I have a two-hour round trip commute, a challenging dayjob (where thank god my supervisor is very supportive of my at-times hectic artistic schedule), and a houseful of demanding, slightly nutty rescues. Plus I’m human, which means it’s inevitable that I’ll get tired and burned out.

What that all adds up to is the fact that I only have so many hours in a day.

Which means it’s time to talk about cheats! :D

The same artist went on to say that I could continue to sweat every single detail on every single page, but most of my readers were going to blow through a page every 4 or 5 seconds (IF I WAS LUCKY). They were probably never going to look THAT hard at the backgrounds I’d spent so many hours slaving over. His recommendation? Give yourself a break! Let’s say you have a 6-panel page. You can get away with sketching or abstracting away 5 of the panels if one of them has a nicely rendered background. My personal preference is to use this trick with scene establishing shots; in my opinion, once the reader has a solid idea of the characters’ surroundings, they’re more likely to let you get away with employing “cheats” such as dropping the backgrounds while characters talk, or drawing objects from the foreground or midground without rendering the entire room.

So all that said, I’d like to write a series of posts collecting backgrounds I really love that do a great job employing these kinds of shortcuts.

First up? Studio Ghibli/Hayao Miyazaki. A LOT of the backgrounds have surprisingly loose rendering.

Whisper of the Heart
The world of Shizuku’s story in Whisper of the Heart / Mimi o Sumaseba
The kitchen in the new house, My Neighbor Totoro / Tonari no Totoro. The kitchen is really well rendered, because this is one of the first times we see it. The forest behind them (which has already been well-established) is a literal wash (that’s some artist humor there, hyuk hyuk…ok, all right, I’ll show myself out, yeesh).
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa’s secret lab from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind / Kaze no Tani no Naushikaa

You can see this in the Nausicaa graphic novels, too:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 10
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 22

Look at how many of these backgrounds are loose or suggestions. And it’s not like he CAN’T draw with an incredible level of detail when he wants to:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Vol 1. pg 6

What I’m saying is that, clearly, he has the skills, but he also knows the value of cutting himself some slack once in awhile.

You can see this technique in these backgrounds from Miyazaki’s 1979 debut film, The Castle of Cagliotro:

Remember, this was an early movie which means it probably had a pretty small budget and staff.
This is a really good example. If you look closely you can see how much of the detail is suggested in a way that doesn’t detract from the background’s quality.
Lots of suggested elements here, too. I’m willing to bet the artist knew the focus of the composition would be on the clock tower, so that’s where they focused their effort.

The point of all this rambling is a plea to be kind to yourself when it comes to your art. Remember, you won’t be able to tell your stories if you burn yourself out.

Comics Math!

I’m currently working out the maximum size canvases I can get away with in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and Procreate on my iPad Air 2.  I love drawing on my iPad, so I’m trying to get as much penciling done on there as possible before I switch over to working in MangaStudio on the desktop.

The default page template I’ve been given by my publisher is 6.25 x 9.25 @ 600 dpi, with a live art area of 5.25 x 8.25.  For the most part I’m not working full bleed, but within that live art area, which equals 3150 x 4950 pixels.  The largest size canvas I can create in Sketchbook is 2227 x 3500, which is pretty good.  However, I can get a couple hundred pixels closer in Procreate: 2603 x 4090.  I’m going to try switching over to Procreate a for a bit and see how
that goes.

The truth is that you can work on pencils at a slightly lower resolution, then size them up and they’ll mostly look all right, and have more than enough detail to allow you to do your inking.  However, the Little Women graphic novel is going to be 100% digital, and I like having the resolution as high as I can reasonably get it for most of the production stages on this kind of project.  You never know when those extra pixels will come in handy!

At the end of the day, what I’d really love is to be able to
do a full size, full resolution page of pencils entirely on my iPad and
then import into MangaStudio for final clean ups.  I’m keeping a close watch on the iPad Pro announcements/specs, so here’s hoping! 

Womanthology Pages – Delivered!

The artwork for “The Vesta” is finished! After making a few last minute tweaks, I uploaded the final pages to the IDW server last night. Right now I’m in a state of shock. I can…leave the house this weekend! I can go outside! I don’t have to stay up until 2am painting!

What a concept.

That said, I’d like to take a moment to share out a thing I did I’m proud of. This is a panel from page 7 – I spent a lot of time angsting over the “SEAL” display on Shriya’s suit. I wanted it to look like it was part of the fabric, not a hard-plastic add-on sewn into the clothing. My first attempt just didn’t look right. So I spent some time digging up reference on Google (keywords: wearable technology, thank you Richard!!!). I’m happy with how it came out. That said, no one is going to be able to see that detail on the finished page, it’s going to be way too small. So here’s a close-up:



We’re Here!

We survived a detour through California’s agricultural heartland, intensely bad traffic outside San Diego, even worse traffic inside San Diego, craziness with the convention shuttle buses, and a magic treasure hunt to find our badges. But we are NOW HERE! Up bright and early, heading on over to the convention hall to check out the Lego “Hobbit” figures. Archaia signing at 10am. Wish me luck!

San Diego Comic-Con 2012 Signings!

Here’s my current signing schedule for SDCC 2012.  There will be three Fraggle Rock signings and one for the Vampire Academy graphic novels.  Here’s the current schedule:

Fraggle Rock signings @ the Archaia booth (#2635)

[Official Archaia schedule]

Thursday, 7/11
10:00 am – 11:30 am
Table 4

Friday, 7/13
2:30 pm – 3:30 pm
Table 3

Saturday, 7/14
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Table 3

Vampire Academy Graphic Novel Signing @ the Penguin Booth (#1117)

Saturday, 7/14
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

For the Vampire Academy signing especially – please do come by! I’m a huge VA geek and I would love the chance to yap with other fans about Richelle’s books.  I’ll probably drag along my sketchbook and see if I can doodle up a few more VA chibis.

I will update/tweet as I get more information.

Manga Studio Pencils

The first page of the short comic I’m working on in Manga Studio EX 4. I’ve been using the pen tool for sketching, as opposed to the pencil tool – I just like the feel of the pen tool more. I love being able to work on different layers! Each layer is assigned its own pen color, which makes it really easy to remember what’s on which layer.

Me and My Kindle: Page 1 - Pencils