Sunday, 20 January 2013

Drawing for a Webcomic

I'm posting this up for three reasons:
1) So those who don't know get a sense of what drawing entails;
2) So those who do know can offer me tips on getting better;
3) Because I thought it would be fun. Plus, if nothing else, it may be informative for me later in life.

But let's get this out of the way first... my "webcomic" is more a "web series". (Web original? I honestly don't know what to call it, maybe you can help, check it out here.) It's a bunch of text with a picture or two dropped in here and there. I have adopted this format for the following reasons:
1) I'm a much better writer than I am an artist.  (Some might argue I can't draw well at all.)
2) My story form requires paragraphs, not just dialogue. In particular, it's full of math puns, which flow from the English language and descriptions in general.
3) I don't think I can be contained within a 3 panel (or even 6 panel) format. Particularly not when I'm using clip art SO much... since drawing takes SO long for me.

Now, that last point is me, and also comes from the fact that I obsess with having a continuing storyline. (It's indexed. One of these days I should figure out how to manage an actual webcomic site, maybe.) For an example of panel clipart being done well in a math series, check out Index Out Of Bounds. (Or if you're more the D&D type, go see how Elf Only Inn got started.)

Point being, I use text with random head shots. Sometimes dropped into different foregrounds or backgrounds. And then, occasionally (like today), I want to do more. To attempt a sight gag, or to draw the reader in a bit more. So this is an explanation of that process.

STEP ONE: Refining the mental image.

I have a sense of what I want - six characters around a table playing cards.  So I do a quick search on tables, and quickly realize that a rectangular table will probably be easier for me than the round one I had in mind. I can put the six in definite positions and worry less about the gaps between them, not to mention the perspective of a circular table.  That decided, I sketch it out.

I wanted my polynomials seated together, and they're easier to draw, so they got the far side. Para needed to be on the right, so there's room for her bunny ears.  Circe can't be next to the polynomials (conics and polynomials don't get along, donchaknow), and Expona can't be near Para (similar issues), so they went across. (In retrospect, maybe Expona should have had the head of the table.) This leaves Reci and Tangent, and I decide the young girl can be perched on her chair, looking at the people coming in, so that I can see her face.

I sketch some bodies through the chairs to get a sense of the proportions (as most do I imagine). And you can tell that things are a BIT off, but the mind (I hope) has a good ability to rationalize away minor discrepancies once the furniture is there. I'm not aiming to be a professional here, only an entertainer.  (By the way, the dashes in the corners of the image is to make sure the whole thing scans; my scanner tends to lop off anything too light, and I'm still working in pencil here.) I'm not actually sure how long this took, I did bits and pieces over a couple days.

STEP TWO: Refining the actual image.

Time to add detail, still in pencil only.

Changes at this point: Expona decided she wanted her face to be visible, rather than leaning on her arm, and I went along with that because it made the perspectives easier. Also, Circe decided to steal Tangent's cards. That whole pencil process took over an hour, with my images of the characters handy for reference.

At this point, I walk away for at least a few hours.  (To, you know, mark papers or otherwise do the job I actually get paid for, maybe.)  Then I come back to it later, to see if it still works in my mind before I jump to the inking. I decide it's a bit weird having both Cubi and Para's left hands dropped below the table, so I adjust to have Para's other arm on the table instead.


Saying it that way makes me feel more professional, but really I just use a couple black felt-tipped pens I got at a general store.

I should have used a ruler for the chair legs. If I were doing this for someone else, I might have, but it was late last night, and I figure I'm only doing this for the ten people who read my comic. I always seem to miss a line too, which I have to add in post (Para's eyebrow) but sometimes see something I forgot (Para's earring). That done (and dry), I go back and erase all the pencil lines. Takes me about half an hour for a larger image like that.

The rest is all done on my Mac laptop.

STEP FOUR: Cleanup and Colouring.

First I crop the image to a new file and do a bit of white/black cleanup. (FYI, I work in Seashore, the closest Mac program I found to MS Paint. Not willing to spend the money on Photoshop when this is all I'd use it for, plus my laptop's getting outdated.) See, while the pencil mostly erases, indentations in the paper can still be picked up in a light grey (like where I drew Cubi's face about 4 centimeters low the first time), and my inking sometimes runs over the lines (like on Para's eye). So I spend some time now making preliminary corrections there.

Now we're getting somewhere. For the colouring, I bring in a recent image of each character, on a new layer.  I eyedrop grab the colour from the layer and put it onto the new picture, then delete said layer. This saves me having to remember exactly how I mixed certain colours, as well as providing me one last opportunity to pick up continuity errors. Like the asymptote rings for Expona and Tangent!  You'll notice they've been added in the next image.  I've also kept that picture actual size in the upload; the previous ones had all been reduced by 25%.  So yeah, some of the details I'm detailing probably won't even be seen once I shrink the thing back down. -.-

This leaves the objects in the room, namely the table, the chairs, and the cards. For the table, I grab a brown and darken it. I decide the chairs need to be a different shade, or that's too much brown. (And what if I want trig at the table later? They're all brunettes!) So I grab a black and lighten it into a dark grey, which I vary between the chair backs and sides.  I toy with making the cards green, but decide that's weird, and they're probably fine staying white.  All that's left is to shade in the background with my off-white and slap my name and a date into the corner (also cropped from a prior image).  This whole part of the process again took an hour, partly more detail, partly the sheer number of characters.

You can see the final result at the actual published strip - which I'll link to here once I have it up.
Updated: Final Image Is Here

So there you have it!  Start to finish we're looking at a good three hours minimum, not including waiting time for error detection. And that's just for the ONE image... which is why I mostly use clip art.  It's not like (mathematics) teachers have tons of spare time, after all.

That said.... I do have some image ideas for my future web series (comic?) entries...

Because Logan is coming back, with his gazebo base that's larger on the inside...

And of course, we're due to meet the Heaviside step function any day now...

Plus you'll want to tune in for more random anime references, math puns, and plot twists!  (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, probably best you start right back with Series 1.)  Thanks for reading here at the least!


  1. Fascinating. I love hearing about the creative process and seeing parallels in my own work, which I flatter myself as thinking in creative terms. I have to walk away many times before I'll post on my blog, or make a ggb, or even write an email.

    So the hand drawn part has no colour, just like a Disney artist. I used to love watching the "bonus features" at the end of my own kids' movies, about the artists and their process.

    I think you are great at drawing! Your characters are alive in my mind, and that's because of your style and skill. I am thoroughly enjoying every bit of this, the asides, the behind-the-scenes stuff, the videos. Thank you for sharing, and if you're right about the 10 people, turn that up to 11. (get it?)

    1. Parallels are great! Creativity is in the eye of the beholder! The time between sketch and ink also varied wildly during Series 6 the last few months, depending on whether I was running up against deadlines or not. Deadlines (I've found) are also somewhat important - for instance, I wanted to reflect on this comment, then didn't get back to it until now. Whoops.

      So no, no colour off the computer, mainly because I'm picky about not missing colouring in pieces... also gives more variety of shades than pencil crayons. On rare occasions (like Reci's stubble, or with Julia) I've done some pencil shading and "coloured over" it. I'm awed that they're coming alive for you - I think that may be as much you as it is me. Thanks so much for letting me know.

      I'm also taking the last as a Spinal Tap reference. Very nice.