Step 1 - An IdeaThe first step is to come up with an idea. I carry a sketchbook/notebook and write down any crazy idea that entersmy head. I also use it for casual life drawing, figuring out characters, scribbling observations, writing telephonenumbers down and for stealing ideas from other people that I can modify for my own evil purposes. I get throughabout one sketchbook a month. Its not uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night or whip out mybook in the middle of a darkened theater to write down and idea. I have lots of ideas, however nearly all of themare pretty lame in the cold light of day. Id say currently, even with a daily schedule to keep, I still reject 90% of myideas although it should probably be higher. So its definitely quality not quantity thats important. I spent ageshere trying to find a page of my sketchbook that didnt look completely embarrassing.Step 2 - Rough SketchMy rough sketches are so rough that sometimes I have trouble deciphering them myself. Usually this is because Iam intent on getting the idea on paper as quickly as possible before I forget. I end up writing out some words againmore legibly and also to remind myself how to spell them later on. There is lots of crossing out and added lines.Sometimes I have several "punch lines" for one joke. The example Im going to show is an idea that originated fromthe little mirror I stick on my bicycle helmet. Im not sure this idea is not one of my best. However, Ive learned thatsometimes mediocre ideas come to life once they are colored so well see.
Step 3 - A Quiet SpaceAlthough ideas and rough sketches can occur anywhere and everywhere, I can ink in no place other than myunderworld studio. Here you can see my three external hard drives on the shelf —filled mostly with music—buriedamongst toys, books and CDs. I keep my art tools on the left of the desk (note elephants foot) even though Imright handed because the other side has the laptop and the Wacom tablet. Other useful items include anintercom/telephone to the upstairs world, large supply of music, glass of water and paper towels (not shown). Thereal important think is the lighting. I have three light sources and two windows so when I draw there are noshadows. Thank you Ikea. I have a little slanted drawing board that I usually use to work on but its upstairs at themoment so Ill be working directly on the desk today. Its usually a bit neater than this believe it or not.Step 4 - PanelsThis is a four panel strip so I pull out my four panel template (each box is 5" x 3"). This is something I made formyself out of matte (some say mat) board and anXacto knife and is extremely useful and saves a lot of time. I alsomade one for 3 panels (10.5" x 3.5") and "editorial" size (10" x 7"). Because my scanner is 9" x 12" and I haventfigured out how to "stitch" two scans together, this is the maximum size of all my art. Thats the scanner standingvertical behind the laptop. I like the fact it uses very little real estate on my desk. You can also see my Elvikistatuette and some of my Tikis and fez monkeys. The photo makes it look quite dark (probably because the smallspot lamp is shining right into the camera).Step 5 - PencilsThe strip is initially sketched with my favorite Faber Castel DS05 pencil (which Ive had since 1976!) with a 2B leadon Strathmore Vellum Bristol board. There are two types of Bristol board that I know of. The "smooth" type tendsto bleed to much for my liking although most cartoonists tend to prefer it. I already started inking the first letterwhen I remembered I hadnt photographed this stage. Sorry.
Step 6 - LetteringI use a green plastic Rapidesign lettering guide template. I used to use an Ames lettering guide that drew lines butIm too lazy these days. Plus I like the effect I get when the pen slightly touches the guide and makes a straightedge at the bottom. Im a bit sloppy with the lettering but I refuse to use a computer font as its nearly impossibleto get that to look good unless you have someone who makes a font out of your own handwriting. I shouldprobably take more care and pride in my lettering. Something to work on I think.Step 7 - Finished LetteringWhen I ink over the penciled lettering I can center it more and make corrections although theres still time toadjust this once its scanned. Sometimes I even completely change text at this point. I think that because itsbecoming "final" I take a more critical view of what Im actually doing. Im still not sure this is funny. Too late toback out now.
Step 8 - Inking the CharactersI ink using size 0 and 00 Robert Simmons 785 white sable brushes and Pelikan drawing ink. Id like to use cruelty-free brushes but I havent found any good synthetic ones yet so those poor sables suffer for my art. Supposedly thebest brushes are the Windsor and Newton Series 7. However, they have very long barrels so that dont have theaccuracy of the shorter brushes although they do last longer without having to reload. I have a supply of vintagePelikan ink that seems to be so much darker than the new stuff but its probably also full of all sorts of bannedchemicals that will cause me to go blind and grow a third nipple. Its important to use the correct waterproof non-fade drawing ink and not the stuff you put in fountain pens. Some of the details are done with Pigma Micron orCopicMultiliner pens (usually 08 and 05 sizes) and I usually draw the borders with a customized KuretakeSumiBrush pen. I also use crow quill pens a lot (I even have one I made myself out of an actually crow quill I found).These are much better than a brush for certain effects, namely cross-hatching and really thin lines. The nibs I likebest are Hunt 102. 108 and 99 but thats only because those are the nibs I read my favorite cartoonists use.Speedball recently bought up Hunt and the poor quality nibs they now produce are a thing of great bitternessamong cartoonists these days. Speedball do sell a handy little "cartooning" nib pack which is a pretty cheap way ofexperimenting. Gillotte is another good brand of nibs. If someone was paying me to do this properly I would usecrow quills more than I do.Step 9 - Finished Inking the CharactersI ink the characters first which is the opposite of how I color (background first). One important thing is to makesure the weight of the brush is heavier on the character outlines and the undersides of the characters bodies.Notices I left Weenus hands out in the first panel. They were too small to do with a brush. I probably should haveleft the other hands undone as well. Oh well, no one will notice.
Step 10 - BackgroundHeres where the context really comes into play. The brush goes away and I use the crow quills or the Microns toadd a background. I started off thinking they were going to be in front of a brick wall but at the last minute Ichanged to the wooden fence (this is the view I have out of my own window). Usually I wouldnt draw such astraight line at the bottom of the wooden fence but I guess Ill live with it for now. Its probably ignoring details likethis that keep me from being a rich and successful cartoonist.
Step 11 - White Out and Erasing the PencilsI usually do this stage outside if its not raining so the little eraser snowflakes dont get everywhere. For somereason at this point I notice several details I need to fix later. For example Im not keen at all on that wing mirror inthe second panel. I fix mistakes with regular Liquid Paper and then erase the pencil using an extra soft TriTiperaser. I get through an eraser a week. I also have some Pelikan white opaque ink that is good for inking over blackbut its not always as opaque as Id like. When I was too poor to use Bristol board all the time I used thin paper andwould often crease up my art while erasing the pencils. That disaster is second only to dropping the brush ortipping the ink bottle over everything.Step 12 - ScanningIn the olden days, that would be it. Youd stick it in a tube to mail to your newspaper syndicate and try and makethe last postal collection to beat deadline. However, somehow the computer age has added a whole bunch ofextra work for the cartoonist. First the finished artwork is scanned as grayscale using a Canon LiDE500F at 600 DPI.I use Photoshop (Im still using CS2) for which a Wacom Graphire II tablet comes in really handy. Also, for thisexample Im using a five year old Sony Vaio with a huge 18" screen but I want to point out I usually use Macs. Imnot a fan of either Macs or PCs. If I had my way anyone involved in developing operating systems would be doinghard time in Sing Sing along with Bush and Cheney.
Step 13 - Rearranging the BoxesWith a three panel strip I can skip this stage but since I drew the "two-up two-down" formation I need to rearrangeas a regular looking strip.Step 14 - Threasholding and LayeringThe threshold setting is very important because it reduces your art to 2 bit black or white allowing you to create aneat layer which you can color behind. If you dont do this there will be a graduation from black to white through aseries of gray which will not make for a crisp coloring experience. In Photoshop the default Threshold setting is 128which is usually fine although I prefer 140 as it makes my lines bolder and more masculine. Once you adjust yourthreshold you immediately see a wonderful transformation on the screen as the jaggy grayscale scan becomes acrisp line art. Its now safe to turn your image from a grayscale to a RGB mode so we have a full color palette towork with (if this were for "print" you would convert to a CMYK mode). Next stage is to make a second layer forthe background colors. I then use the magic wand set at 10 to select the white areas in the top layer and deletethem. The bottom later is then selected and filled with a color which will be the majority of the background (or thearea behind the most fiddly bits). In this case brown for the fence. So basically I now have a top later which is just aweb of black lines on transparentness and the color layer underneath will show through ensuring I wontaccidentally color over any of the black. I forgot to do a screenshot with the brown behind but youll get the idea.
Step 15 - Coloring the BackgroundSo now comes the less interesting part. From time to time I color the old fashioned way using Schminckewatercolors but thats a very different and more subtle look than the bold colors needed to attract the attention oftodays Internet kids. So, using the paintbrush in combination with the magic wand I start adding colors. This iswhere the Wacom really comes in handy. Heres I selected the speech bubbles with the magic wand and filled withwhite. The black layer is temporarily hidden so I could clean up behind the letters.
Step 16 - More coloringI always start with the background first and add shading and shadows so that the character colors can then bepainted on top rather than have to go around them. Using the magic wand you can mask out various areas to allowyou to be sloppy with the painting without going over areas you want to keep. As I go along I correct little things. Istill havent gotten to that wing mirror.Step 17 - Coloring the CharactersI hate coloring but once I get to the characters its not so bad as it really brings the cartoon to life. Notice I have aseparate file of custom colors I use a lot. Im sure theres actually a way to to this better in Photoshop but I cannever be bothered to figure it out. As you can probably tell Im no expert in Photoshop.
Step 18 - Final DetailsI clean up a lot of bits here and there. I add some highlights to the helmet. Not sure if this should have been greenor maybe even a military style helmet. Oh well. A real professional would go back and change these things. See Ifinally fixed that wing mirror. Im still not sure if this is such a great joke but with the pressure of a daily schedule tofill I cant be too picky. Even the White Album had some filler tracks.Step 19 - Prepping for the InternetThe usual internet display size is 600 pixels wide for pretty much all the sites I upload to. I change the imagedimensions and save as a JPG. This is always an exciting moment for me, not just because Im done but because allthat detail looks much more impressive when its zapped down to such a small size and the annoying little pixelmesses arent so obvious. I guess better artists than me are devastated that their huge masterpieces are reducedto a tiny bitmap but thats why Im still a struggling unknown.Step 20 - All Done!After backing up my scan file and the final output file, its ready for uploading. Huzzah!