Friday, 8 April 2016

A long essay about INKING

Still swamped by family and work obligation that keep me away from the drawing board, I try to move things along anyway.

I had plenty of story ideas, didn’t need a new one, but a friend of my challenged me by passing me a short poem and challenging me to make a comic out of it.

I took the challenged and scripted the thing in a couple of days.

I did some preliminary sketching and now I’m off to the actual drawing.
Funny thing is that the opening panel (that has now become the opening splash page) is the hardest thing in the whole story.

So I’m taking my time with it, not wanting to mess it up right off the start.

And of course I’m already fearing the moment I’ll have to ink the mofo.

I’m a pretty bad inker. My good friend Taiyo still satirizes me about it. And for a reason.

I tried to look at the masters to see what I can pick from them, but still I felt very much like a guy on a first date as described by Louis CK: “A blind dick in space, thrusting into infinite directions”.

And it’s not that I don’t know what style I want to work with (which is a problem, but a problem I do not want to solve by just picking one style and sticking to it, but rather through sheer perseverance to find MY style).

It’s that I don’t know what I’m doing when I ink. Am I tracing? Am I drawing? Am I improvising?

I often thought it was the pencils. Should they be tight? OR not? It’s the pen or brush I’m using?

So I sat down. And started to think.

And suddenly I think I have it.

It’s about RENDERING.

The comic art I grew up on and I still love, it’s as much a product of the artists as it is a product of the limitation of reproduction techniques (and I’m no longer talking about vision-challenged genitalia).

The solid black line art so typical of comics was dictated by the inadequate printing tools and the poor paper used for comic books and newspapers for many decades.

Because of this, artists had to develop this specific graphical language that could suggest reality.
Out of this necessity a sort of “grammar of the lines” was born, a grammar stillin use today.

This "grammar" was further advanced by the fact that comic books were printed in colors. Cross hatching, dry brushing and other visual devices were no longer used to represent different tones. This solid-black-lines-based style emphasize CONTOURS rather then TONE VALUES and somehow cemented in my mind the idea that LINES were the fundation of the art.
Well, WRONG.


I've written it large and centered, so I won't forget it.
I should put it on a cue card and place it above my desk.

Of course there are a whole lotta elements that need be there in an illustration or a panel: composition, anatomy, body language, use of negative space and so on.

Cartoonists should better be good at a LOT of things that do not always come together.

But when time comes to finish an illustration, rendering is vital.

Hair, tone, textures, reliefs, clothing. The ink drawing has to suggest the tone, rather than draw the contour.

So I have come up with 4 tips, four exercises for myself first, but hopefully for anyone who may be struggling with inking.

1) Practice ALLA PRIMA ink drawings.
Either copying other artists' stuff, or photographs, or out of your own head, practice drawing with no pencil drawing or sketch underneath (maybe just a few marks to get the proportions right).
This should help developing this skills
a) build up confidence, which usually translates in fresher, more appealing drawings
b) train you to think in terms of final inked art.

2) Copy the artists you like the most and whom you consider the best inkers IN PENCILS
Since my issue in particular with pencils art that does not instruct or even suggest much about the actual final inked rendering, I decided to do some reverse engineering and train myself to think in terms of final art FROM THE PENCILING STAGE.
Make the pencil pass not only about getting the proportions, the pose, the expressions right, but be mindful of what the final art will need.

3) Shamelessy rip-off shorthand ways to do stuff.
My shortcomings as an inker come across more blatantly with some aspects rather than others.
One way around this is locating those problem areas (rendering of hair, thickness of contour lines, placement of shadows) and JUST COPY SOLUTIONS from artists you think solve those problems brilliantly.
This approach in general can be applied to a lot of other aspects, not only the inks, but layouts as well.
I do not see much disgrace in borrowing or even stealing solutions from the masters. There is a downside, though: this way you do not think about how the artist came up with his/her shorthand way of rendering something in the first place. And lack of knowledge or awareness usually translates in poorer art and will limit your range when faced with a new problem you cannot find a solution for in one of your masters' ouvre.

4) Don't do anything.
Which seems pretty much a in contradiction with what I just written, but stay with me for a second will ya?
While my inking has been mocked since those distant school days, my skills as a draftsman received some praise. This is not the place to brag or even defend my work, but I think it's safe to assume I have some skills and that my sketches do have some value.
Since modern technology does no longer require inking in solid black and white, why bother? Why not just use the techniques I'm most comfortable with OR just do with INK what I do with pencils or any other tool, without the urge to learn how to render?
Play to my strengths.

I should give this a try.

I suppose I just need practice and that improvements will come as a result of all of the above.

I'm not certain this long rambling made any sense to anyone other than myself, but I really needed to put it down.

Here below some links.

this tutorial is so far one of the best I've ever found.
Even the greatest masters are often unable to deconstruct and rationalize about their own processes, making art teaching a very rare skill
MAD illustrator Tom Richmond has the ability to break it down in a very accessible and straightforward language and deals with the "pressure" element of inking with actual ink (the irreversibility of the process makes it often a bit scary) using tools like brushes and quills which we do not use much in "real life".

It is not like taking a class or practicing, but it provides some very good insights.

The following tutorial by Joe Kubert suffers from some of the flaws I was writing about: Kubert is not breaking down HOW he does it, but even only watching a master at work is of some help.

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