Old Stones

Page one of the graphic project Old Stones is complete, at least for now. What I discovered trying to refine my rough sketches into a graphic illustration was that I really, really suck at colour and lighting. Especially since the two are so intertwined, it becomes extremely frustrating trying to guess and make colour passes without those skills. Quite honestly it reminds me of the way I used to feel about maths at school- I could stare for hours at equations trying to figure them out, only for something extremely basic to finally click into place after my classmates had already finished the entire test. In other words, it makes me feel rather stupid- like there’s a part of my brain that functions very slowly compared to other people’s. It’s the opposite of what I feel when I figure puzzles out in Zelda video games- satisfied in a really great way.

I didn’t do a whole lot of prep sketches for this page, which is why composition took longer than it should have. I skipped value comp altogether, which I now realise is an utterly necessary step in my workflow if I want to get over this block with colour.

In the end I resorted to one of my laziest short cuts for making a sketch appear more finished or book ready than it really is- I threw one of my own parchment paper backgrounds at the sketch, tossed in some darker values on a multiply layer and some highlights on an Add/ Glow Dodge layer. This is quite possibly the laziest thing an artist in my position can do, so I’m not proud of it. Even photo-bashing to add realistic textures would have taken more effort than I was willing to put in. So just to reiterate to myself, the stuff I’ve learned during this process:

  1. ALWAYS start with thumbnails. I love them so much anyway that there’s really no reason to skip this entirely essential and invaluable tool for making sure a panel works before putting serious work into it. A thumbnail is to a storyboard or graphic novel what a storyboard is to the finished filmed sequence- a quick and efficient plan that puts the elements into place to check if they’ll work before expending time and effort and resources into it.
  2. NEVER skip the value comp. Grayscale is my best friend. It’s so tempting to immediately splash my favourite colours once a sketch is down, but every time I get sucked into this and pause to desaturate and check my values, I find they’re completely flat, and any variation that’s present is more the result of me getting drawn into textures and details rather than focussing on the big, clear shapes and silhouettes, the major shadows and areas of light. I have a special grayscale palette of a spare, austere 6 values just for this process, and it’s time to discipline myself by sticking to this.
  3. Don’t stress about colour just yet. As I’m learning, the Overlay or Multiply or Colour layers with some curves adjustments are good enough to make acceptable colour passes if the grayscale values are solid. Yes, the dream is to be able to paint from the ground up using bold colours, but that takes time and practice and a lot of learning from the masters. This is a workaround that will have to hold until I become adept at basic tonal rendering.
  4. Keep it sketchy, because as far as I can tell one of my strengths is my good line work and deft mark making. Painting and rendering will hopefully become a strength, too, but for now I should showcase the techniques and methods that present this strength in the best light- and the tools that help me do it- pencil, pen, marker, watercolour. Nothing fancier than that.
  5. Go traditional –> digital. I do this anyway, but it’s good to keep it in mind when working on longer form projects like this. So far my best conceptual or boarding work has started on paper.
  6. REFERENCE REFERENCE REFERENCE. I’ve got an app called PureRef, now I just need to learn my way around it. I have a beautiful big 16 inch Macbook Pro screen to study from. There is absolutely no reason not to have this screen full of carefully researched reference images while I conceptualise, sketch, and draw.
  7. As tempting as it is to throw FX brushes and layers before the groundwork is laid out, avoid it at all costs. If I’m to get better I must focus on the fundamentals. Same goes for overusing Transform, especially Distort, Liquify, and Warp. Distort is super handy in quickly establishing ground planes and/ or ceilings and skies, but anything more than that and you’re straying into cheater territory. I don’t mean cheating as in cheating as an artist- by all means, use every tool available to you to create original work, short of using someone else’s work- I mean cheating yourself of valuable fundamental skills.
  8. Keep flipping the image horizontally to check for errors. Sometimes I can get absorbed and when I finally flip I see all the big glaring mistakes, and then all that time is wasted trying to fix it.
  9. Yes, Clip Studio Paint is better than Procreate for inking and panel making. I did not want to admit this to myself because Procreate’s UI is absolutely flawless, and its painting brushes fantastic- but now that I’ve admitted to myself that my line work is better than my rendering, it might also be time to admit that Clip Studio, despite its clunky interface, might be a better fit for me personally- at least for now, and for this kind of work. CSP just has the smoother brush engine, and perhaps I’m just more comfortable with it, having used it since school. I wanted so badly for all my ink brushes in Procreate to be as much of a pleasure to use as the inkers in Clip, but I can’t fool myself any longer- Clip’s are better, even if Procreate’s are good.
  10. Currently, my average speed is: About 5-6 decent sketches in a day, which can be composited into a full page of panels and inked in/ refined on the same day. Giving myself another two days for adding details, texture, values, and a colour overpainting, that puts me at roughly one completed graphic novel page every 3 days. This will vary depending on the complexity of the scenes; some medieval feasts and dancing scenes are coming up that will probably take longer. On the other hand, close up shots or shots with reusable backgrounds will probably be much quicker. From storyboarding experience, typically dialogue shots will be much easier, where as action sequences can take much longer, even if both scenes have the same run time.

Hopefully this list should help going forwards. Despite the frustration with colour and lighting, I’m still reasonably pleased with this first page, and have already begun a slew of sketches for upcoming pages- and they show promise, which is exciting. A modified, illustration version of the panels:

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