Saturday, December 6, 2014

"Ruminate" + Coloring Fun!

Here’s a lazy Sunday project I did to accompany a blog post on a process panel, this time focusing on using washes. Just over a minute and a half vodcast that supplements this little essay, which was originally intended as a voice-over, but I just couldn’t bring myself to narrate over the backing track (one of many inspiring shorts available by Podington Bear). Not to mention I just talk too much, so take this write-up as the backstory before watching the video portion.

The particular cartoon for this demo was selected on the basis of it being a relatively simple composition: just enough elements present to arrange a nice, simple image with some minimal touches of linear perspective + slight foreshortening + overlapping so as to create more pictorial depth in the panel.

I sell folks original artwork of my cartoons all the time, but usually they’re just black & white line-art, so to add some value I try and treat the pen + ink pieces with some sort of wash after scanning it in (more often than not the print version is digitally shaded in Photoshop using grayscales – an aesthetic holdover from many years of using Zip-A-Tone/LetraTone to apply screen halftones).

Materials: I primarily use Derwent brand (or General’s) brand water-soluble pencils for grayscale: these come in various gradations ranging from Light/Medium/Dark and all sorts of different levels of hardness inbetween (4B etc.). An aside is that it’s vastly preferable to use these instead of the old-school method where one lines up a series of film canisters (dating myself here), or other small containers, which are filled with water and successive amounts of ink is diluted to achieve a gradation from dark to light. This is both time-consuming and a logistical hassle when doing public demos or working remotely from the studio in the sketchbook. For color I’ve been hooked on both Derwent Graphitint and Inktense pencils, and I typically use a cheap synthetic brush, mostly a Winsor & Newton #4 watercolor round (sometimes larger for big areas like backgrounds, and conversely smaller brushes for detailing).

It merits mention that technically the substrate I’m using (Bristol board, usually Strathmore 300/400 series: smooth) isn’t designed for usage with wet media. The trade-off is that watercolor paper tends to have a rougher surface texture that isn’t conducive to using a dip-pen nib to ink on. The main liability with using Bristol is the tendency to quickly reach a saturation point in conjunction with excessive scrubbing with the brush and the fibers start to fall apart and clump (which means it’s time to let it thoroughly dry before manually brushing off any random chunks), also large areas of wash will begin to buckle the paper. Taping the panel up on a backing board and/or ironing it can help, or most of the time I just let it go. A lot of these intangible factors go into creating the overall aesthetic of an original, up to and including the inherently looseness (ie sloppiness) of the medium and not staying inside the lines when coloring, little goof-ups with inking etc. – the end result is a piece that looks like it was handmade by a human. This as opposed to the look and feel of a digitally treated panel, which has more of a slick, mechanical finish to it.

Also it should go without saying that for the original drawing permanent India ink needs to be used lest you discover more wash than you envisioned, and usually this entails a prudent drying time which corresponds with the point of safe erasing of the underlying pencils. I also didn’t use any colorless masking fluid here, simply because I just didn’t care, I mean, I trusted in my degree of craftsmanship to stay in control.

It’s a constant juggling act to balance out dueling factors in how dark a wash goes down: how much was first put down when penciled out, and how much or how little water is loaded in the brush. Less water and more pigment will equal darker tone, and also the drying/rate of absorption into the paper fibers will play into the process. Sometimes just a little blush will do, or multiple passes layering in gradations, taking care to avoid the aforementioned waterlogging and subsequent buckling.

Also when shading in I maintain a consistent angle on the face of the tip of the pencil so as to better facilitate smooth, even application: this evenhanded burnishing motion avoids leaving heavier marks that are difficult to wash out later, and those marks also tend to break up the surface area with an unwanted texture if you’re going for a smooth gradation in tone.

Generally the first pass is for establishing a base tone: note here that I tend towards the lighter end as it’s a one-way process and so much safer to gradually build up a range of values in a series of passes after each successive application dries. Another technique when doing wet-on-wet is to have a swatch off to the side of whatever color you’re using and use that as a sort of palette with which to bring in a bit of more pigment for a darker tone. Use a rapid scrubbing motion with the brush to break up the initial pencil marks and then push around the color. Often it’s a race to blend in smooth transitions when there is an overlapping area where the wash has already soaked or set and a newer area of fresh area that meets it, like a Venn diagram.

Details of the colors used: First pass: moose = tan; antler = mountain grey; cloud/cup = fuchsia; bear = saddle brown; table = oak; chair backs = meadow; chairs = ivy; chair tops = apple; book = red w/tangerine spine; background = ocean blue + steel blue. Second pass: moose = bark; bear = autumn brown; table = madder brown; chairs = leaf green; antlers = storm grey; shadows = shadow.

One last step is with a sealant like a spray fixative, which seems to add the final touch insofar as literally glossing everything over. This is somewhat replicated to a small degree with boosting the vibrancy + contrast settings on the final scan in Photoshop. Tech notes: I used my lowly iPhone to shoot the hand-held footage, Photoshop CS4 and iMovie on the iMac (OSX 10) for editing and digital shading.

I was initially inspired to experiment with this short production after seeing the piece recently done by KTVF Channel 11 on our last 24 Hour Comics Day gig: the reporter wove together a lot of B-roll material and in one segment sped-up the frame-rate of me doing a sample demonstration piece, which I thought was pretty spiffy. There’s nothing more boring than watching paint dry, except maybe watching the paint being put on in the first place, or at least it’s a challenge to maintain interest after a few seconds. So this was an attempt to encapsulate and accelerate the process, and I hope it was amusing if not informative.

*Tip: When watching the YouTube video, the default resolution is pretty horrid-looking – so hit the little gear-cog under the screen and adjust the setting up to at least 480p.

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