After trying out many different techniques recently, I have discovered that the most practical way to make any illustration is to use the 3 step comic book method. If you’re trying to create fine art, then maybe this isn’t the method for you, but if you want to create anything from Christmas cards to picture books for children, or illustrations for your website or logos, this is the method I’d recommend.
If you open any comic book, you’ll see there’s always a penciler, inker, and colorist. Usually, a separate person will be assigned to each of these three steps. Sometimes, the same artist will fill multiple roles, for instance Jeff Smith (creator of Bone and RASL) pencils and inks all of his work himself, as do most manga artists. In a perfect world, you’d have trained professional artists to do the other steps, but it’s not impossible to do all three yourself. Please continue reading my guide to find out how.
I’ll be using a recent illustration I made as a reference. To follow this method, you’ll need a pencil, a few good pens, and, if you’re planning on coloring it on your computer, you’ll need a scanner and some sort of photo-editing software. If you don’t have any special software, you can download a program called GIMP online for free. If you have Windows, the simple Paint program will suffice. I’d also recommend using a lightbox for the ink stage, but there’s ways to get around that if you don’t have one. Other helpful tools would be a ruler or straight-edge and a compass.
Step 1 Penciling
First you want to draw everything in pencil. When it comes to choosing a pencil, I’d recommend choosing one you can easily see. Remember to also keep a pencil sharpener nearby. As for paper, I’d say it doesn’t really matter what you use. I’ve tried out several types of paper, and I’d say plain old carbon copy works fine for our purposes.
You don’t need to be too meticulous in the penciling stage. The pencil lines won’t be visible on your final product, so it doesn’t matter too much if you make mistakes. Be creative, be loose, try out different things.
If you’re going to be coloring your image on the computer, I’d recommend you draw your image larger than you want it to be. You can always resize it on your computer. For my illustration on the left, I went ahead and filled the entire page. By creating an image large, it gives you a chance to add in a lot of small details, and when you shrink it down, a lot of the small imperfections won’t be noticeable.
Here’s one tip: erasers aren’t necessary. That’s right, I’d say it’s best you control your urge to erase your mistakes, as the eraser can leave large smears on your drawing.
You’ll notice in my drawing, there’s a bunch of unnecessary lines. That’s okay. Lines like those can be filtered out during the inking process. If your drawing has so many extra lines that you can’t tell what to use, then go over the ones you want with a blue colored pencil. That way, when you’re inking, you can just look for the blue lines.
Step 2 Inking
The best thing to use at this stage is a light box. I recently purchased one from Amazon that was only around $30. If you don’t yet have one, there’s a few other ways to do this. One way is to put your penciled image under a lamp, then set another sheet of paper over it. You should be able to discern your pencil lines (if not, use a thin sheet of paper like carbon copy, or darken the pencils). What I used to do was photocopy my drawing with my printer set at quick print, which made the pencils lightly show up. You can always just do your inks right on top of the pencils too, but you’ll just have to erase the pencil lines on your computer later.
Believe it or not, the inking stage can be fun. There’s always room for creativity. Try experimenting with different sized pens. If you’re courageous, also try using a brush with black paint. I’d avoid using ball point pens, as those give you inconsistent lines. If you want thick outlines, keep in mind you can use a regular sharpie.
If you’re not planning to use a computer for the coloring stage, you’ll want to cover up your inking mistakes with whiteout. If you are using a computer, keep in mind you can erase mistakes pretty easily.
Step 3 Coloring
Here’s a trick for getting a crisp looking image that I only discovered a few days ago. When you’re scanning your inks to the computer, set your scanner to black and white, not color or grayscale. This does two things: makes all of your lines the same shade of black (pens inevitable give you different shades of gray) and it gets rid of most of the little annoying white and gray dots. If you look at my old illustrations, you’ll see little dots near the lines caused by the inconsistency of the ink, but if the scanner is set to black and white, these mostly disappear.
Coloring, at least for me, is the longest step of the process. You wouldn’t think so because I mostly use solid fills. It’s during this stage that you can fix the imperfections. With most photo editing software, you can zoom in and out. I’ll frequently zoom in as much as 800% to correct little errors. There’s other things you can do here, like go along your lines with an eraser to create thinner lines than you could get by hand.
Spend some time just playing around with your image. Try out different colors, see which ones correspond, and think about what kind of tone you’re trying to create.
With my illustration, I tried to use colors that reflected the characters themselves. These are all characters from my new book A Rapturous Occasion. The couple in the bottom left corner are high-and-mighty holier-than-thou types, so I colored them using bold colors. Purple is an aristocratic color, which is why I made the woman’s entire dress purple. For the man, dark blue suggests a level of seriousness, which would make sense for a businessman. In contrast, with the younger characters I used lighter colors. With colors that look faded, you can say that your characters aren’t wealthy (that is, they wear their clothes until they wear out) but also that they are less serious. I also tried to dress my younger characters in colors that would appear in nature, to show how different they are from the older couple, who are dressed in colors that don’t normally occur in nature. So as you can see, there’s always room for creativity in each step of the process.
The last thing I do is add the text. Unless you have excellent penmanship, I’d recommend using the computer for your lettering. I’d recommend you simply play around with different fonts until you can find one that you like.
If you’re loading your picture onto the internet, you’ll want to use a font size on your title that’s big enough to read when the image is scaled down. One easy way to get people to click on your image is to also include font that’s too small to easily read when in thumbnail size. They’ll click on your image just out of curiosity if you throw in a tagline in small font. Movie posters use the same mentality (notice how the taglines are always so small in comparison to everything else).
—-If you would like to purchase my fiction novel A Rapturous Occasion, please visit the Amazon product page. It’s available in paperback and as an ebook (the ebook price is currently just $1.50).
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I hope you found this guide to drawing using the comic book method helpful–feel free to share this post with others.