Buttnuggets Of Cartooning Pseudowisdom
Howdy folks, and welcome back to yet another edition of “Killing five minutes of your work day.” This week I thought it might be kind of interesting to talk about certain bits of wisdom I’ve acquired over my years of doing cartoon artwork. Some of these may help you out and some of these will make you roll your eyes and say “You’re not paid for this are you?” Now since this is the Internet, and if there is one thing I have learned about the Internet it’s that people like things put to them in list form. So I present to you my list of Buttnuggets Of Cartooning Pseudowisdom:
1. The first thing to remember when being a cartoonist, is to learn what exactly you are. For the most part, cartoon artwork, be it animation, comics, pin ups or whatever, can usually be classified into certain genres or categories. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Why do things have to be classified?” And you’re absolutely right. Artwork shouldn’t be grouped together like a herd of cattle. It should stand on it’s own and speak for itself and not a genre. Unfortunately, in the real world, people like categories and real people are who you’re drawing for. You’re not drawing for other artists… They can already draw. If you draw in a light and whimsical art style with an airy feel to it, then you are not a “dark artist“. Just like if you draw in a mainstream style with your eyes slightly larger than normal you are not a Mangaka. (Manga artist for those with a life.) If you draw like Tim Bradstreet, odds are you are not going to attract the same kind of fans as someone who draws like Bruce Timm. Learn what people quantify your artwork as… You do not have to like it, but it’ll be easier on you if you know what fan base is looking at your art. And if you do not like it, then you need to make changes to your artwork to make it what you like it to be. It’s like your body… You accept your body for what it is, and if you do not like it, then start working out or see a plastic surgeon. (I recommend the working out part. It‘s less expensive and you feel better about yourself.) Because telling people that you draw in a dark gritty style when you’re drawing influence from Teen Titans just makes you look like an idiot.
2. Better programs or computers does not replace lack of skill no matter what. This was true years ago and it’s just as true today. Photoshop can make your good artwork great, but it cannot make your bad artwork good. Your flaws still shine through like a fresh shiny zit on a class picture. The computer cannot replace the pencil skills, no matter how advanced the art or CG program may be. This is not a progress fearing luddite speaking. It’s a simple truth. If you cannot draw the breast anatomy of your half naked character properly, no amount of filters, CGI rendering, or color shading is going to make the boobies look right. You’ve all heard of Bleedman, right? (If not, Google him.) He does not have a super high powered Mac G6, Quad Processor, Dual Monitors, with a Cintiq tablet and a beta version of Photoshop CS3. He’s running an older computer with Photoshop 7.0 and he produces better artwork than most fan artists ever do. Now that’s not to say you cannot ever use Photoshop or Painter. Far from it, you should probably know how to use the programs, and know how to utilize them to make your artwork better, otherwise risk becoming obsolete. Just understand that the programs and the computer will not make you a better artist… Only you can do that.
3. Erasers are an inker’s greatest enemy. Yeah, you have no idea how many pictures of mine have been ruined because of “over-erasing.” Avoid the pink erasers and just stick with the gummy and white erasers. And make sure you erase softly, especially around thin line work. If you cannot get all the stray pencil lines… Well fortunately for you, we live in a digital age, and everything gets scanned in anyway. Just up the brightness and contrast to get rid of the nasty little strays. And anything that gets by that… Won’t be visible in print or screen. Don’t worry.
4. Always scan at a hi-rez. I know this is obvious, but I like to explain my scanning and coloring process. For an average page I scan the page (which is photocopied on a high quality copier from FedEx Kinko’s) at 600 DPI Bitmap. I know some people scan theirs in at 300 or 400 DPI grayscale. Honestly, both are the same results. But if your final artwork is meant to be in black and white, you better do the 600 DPI method. It’s more precise, and it gets all the little minute details that color won’t be covering up. After this, convert it to grayscale, and I resize it accordingly to standard comic page sizes, at a lowered DPI of 300 DPI. (That’s the standard printing of most books. Some do 400, but for the most part, it’s 300.) After getting it set up to the right size and DPI, I save a copy of it, and then I lower the DPI again to 150 for coloring. I’ll color the page, and then when complete, I boost the DPI back up to 300, take that saved copy, and replace the line art that was shrunk down and resized. You see, when you have the digital coloring there with a hi-rez line work on a separate layer, the differences between 150 color layer and 300 color layer is not noticeable by the human eye, especially in print. This is a technique used by many professional colorists to save time and strain on the computer. Just make sure you keep a hi-rez line work copy and you’re good to go.
5. When coloring your artwork, be aware of just how naked your character may be. When you’re drawing it in black and white, it’s not as obvious or apparent as it would be in color. Fishnets covers a lot of flesh on Black Canary‘s legs, but then you see it in color and you’re like “I don’t remember drawing her this naked!” This happened last night when drawing a character design. I knew the costume was going to be somewhat revealing… But when I got it in color, I didn’t quite realize just HOW revealing it was. (No I didn’t change it. It’s revealing, but it’s not going to push the book into a Mature Readers rating.)
6. Related note: (And by the way, I’m just as guilty of this. That‘s why I bring this up.) Knock off the camel toes and the nipples poking through the outfits already. It’s silly and borderline stupid. If you think you need to have that thrown in there to make your female character look sexy, then you need to spend more time looking at real women and less at hentai. It’s one thing if your character is just waking up and is wearing light clothing. Some details are going to be seen. (Though you can and probably should work around it.) But when you have a female Transformer and you feel the need to put Minicon Powerlinx point on her “breasts”… And you’re trying to be serious about it… That’s just gonna get you a lot of eye rollings.
7. Photo references are a good thing. And some styles actually call for photo manipulations. But understand that if you do such, make sure you either use royalty free, public photographs or take the damn pictures yourself. It’s okay to look to photos and other artists for references and it’s even okay to use CGI models… But do not just sit there and swipe someone else’s work, draw over it and call it your own. You will get caught. While this is considered a gray area in terms of legality, it won’t earn you any friends in the artistic community. In fact it’ll do the opposite.
8. And lastly, remember that comic are not “cinema in print.” It is it’s own genre. You cannot grasp the tension or the momentum that movie pictures has, but comics does have it’s own rules which can be applied to make it an ever stronger medium than movies and television. A picture can say a thousand words, and as an artist, it is your job to speak those thousand words with each and every picture you draw.
And there you go. Granted as advice goes, it’s not Earth shattering… But I find it useful at times and hopefully you did too. So there. Five minutes of your time have been wasted. Now get back to work!