Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board (Thank God!)

I love the way this guy draws elephants!
Illustration by Heinrich Kley, from the series The Family at the Sea Shore

My eyes are pinchy and I have a crick in my neck that’s reduced my arc of vision to about 90 degrees. It’s times like these that I’m glad that I made the decision early to break up this mammoth project into bite sized and varied pieces. Ten pages drawing, send them to my editor, ten pages inking, ten pages colouring, get approval on the first ten and then start the whole process over again. The relentless mathematics of doing a book has kicked in now as I find my stride. One day pencilling, a half day inking, three quarters of a day colouring adds up to four to five more months work before I reach the end of Book One.
I woke up in a cold sweat the other day from a half dream where I suddenly realized that I would be 60 by the time I’ve finished the three-book arc of this story. The relentless math had transposed into a relentless march through a good portion of my allotted time on this earth. But in the cool light of day I remembered that I had to be doing something with my time over the next decade and at the moment I’m having the time of my life.
Except when I’m colouring.
It’s not that I don’t like colouring. It’s simply the least favourite part of my work. And because I have elected to colour this on the computer, it’s also the most physically demanding. I haven’t figured out a good interface with my computer that doesn’t leave me eye sore and weary at the end of the day. But I still prefer it to colouring on my art board, enjoying the options inherent in using flat colour with Photoshop, the possibilities to play around with tones harmlessly and without consequence and to be able to create certain effects that would be difficult using paint. But it still hurts!
As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog (I think) the drawing and inking is really where my passion lies. I barely touched paint before I was thirty, and would gladly abandon it again if my work would allow. (My partner, on the other hand, loves her colour, would eat it up if she could, and in some books has been my Jack Spratt’s wife to my preferred diet of lean, clean line.) I think my love of line is the love of the immediacy of it all, that the picture takes shape with very few material intermediaries (just a pencil or pen) and not a whole lot of preparation. The line is drawn, the mind image transferred to paper, corrected, altered, completed.
With my inking, I always start with a tightly drawn pencil sketch so there are few surprises at this stage. But there is something about the transfer of the grey medium of pencil to the stark black line of ink, starting always in the upper left corner and working my way through so that I don’t smudge the ink (that being a hard lesson learned young!) that I find meditative and immensely gratifying.
I think for me drawing and inking are a fairly intellectual pursuit, using the cognitive part of my brain where I exercise a million little decisions in working through a drawing. But there is also something that is very unambiguous about ink, a finality where, if you don’t get it right, the drawing is ruined but it also doesn’t allow for the endless tinkering that paint does.
I thought I would mention a couple of books, one that was my bible for pen and ink drawing when I was working at improving my technique many years ago, and the second an artist who’s work I admire greatly. The first was originally published in 1930 – my edition is from 1976 – and I don’t know it it’s still in print. It’s titled Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill, and includes step-by-step instructions on a variety of techniques and portfolios of early 20th century ink drawings that are lessons in themselves. The second is a book of drawings by the German artist Heinrich Kley. Irreverent and sometime misogynist, they are still brilliant renderings that always inspire.
Now, back to the drawing board!

Above: One of the many inspirational pen and ink drawings from Guptill's book. This illustration is by John R. Neill.
This week's preview, p. 38 from Big City Otto. One of my favourite panels in this story is the bottom panel, where Otto is looking out over the city and realizing for the first time how big it is (and how hopeless their task of finding Georgie). I found a great old photo from the '30's of the New York skyline and used this as my inspiration for the cityscape.


  1. Great post, Bill - very interesting and I just eat up info about an artist's methods. I can't wait to see the finished product, it is looking wonderful.

    I've read several illustrators that have switched over to inking using a tablet directly over their pencilled scans - inking digitally. I'm guessing that wouldn't appeal to you and your computer sore eyes. :) Of course, many of these artists don't do their own colour work, so that could have something to do with it! It appeals to me because I've never picked up a brush or pen for inking and I've got a choice which to learn - and ink on paper seems so FINAL (no undo function!).

    I'm currently eyeing the Wacom Cintiq - better start saving my pennies. LOL

  2. Hi Niki,

    Yes, I won't be switching to a Wacom tablet soon, although I do know a few old work horses who have switched! And because I'm scanning in the inked drawings, I can correct a few small errors once it's digital. But I'm pretty old school.

  3. Kley s work is confusing to me is it suitable for framing where children might view it? I have ten prints from old Huli for degla uffizi galleria. Firenze. Is there a market for them?