Last year I had the opportunity to work on some card artwork for a boardgame. It was a fun experience. Here is some of the process work.
First, after I was given the description of the card, I worked on some quick thumbnails to realize angles.
The AD decided on the B layout. and I proceeded to the pencil render.
(this scan is with some level adjustments to bump up the contrast). It was then sent off too my colorist friend Juri Hiyasaka Chinchilla to color up and she added a lot of textures to it.
I did some slight color adjustments to bump up the colors a bit. Often, when it gets to the printed card, it can come out a little duller than what you see on the screen, so it’s a bit of a preemptive measure.
And here is a scan of the final artwork I found online:
(Thought I’d throw this up here as well in case people don’t read my other blog/follow me on twitter and hope this helps aspiring inkers)
Sometimes it’s difficult to give advice because there is no right or wrong way to do things. Many rules are given, but they are sometimes broken as well. Some also don’t take advice well as they can take it personally and miss the bigger picture of what the one critiquing the work is saying. This is why I usually won’t give out criticism unless specifically asked to do so. I get it, I’ve been there. More on this later.
So here are some practical advice, and please take these with the caveat that they are only my opinions.
Where you Stand
First of all, you should be inking because you LOVE inking. Not only because you like it and think it’s easier to get into the industry. It’s not. With a lot of the advances in technology, there probably is even more avenues to get a book to the finished product. Some artists are opting to pencil and ink on the computer. A lot of times this really isn’t the fault of bad inkers, it can be as simple as grabbing a secondary paycheck (ie higher paycheck for penciled and inked art) or they could draw so loose that the inker would need to interpret way too much. If you love penciling, focus on that. If you love coloring, on that. If you try all of them, your growth in each discipline will just take that much longer, which is fine as well if you have lots of time on your hands. You’ve probably heard it before, there’s a saying, (and I’m paraphrasing), “You don’t get good until you’ve got 1000 pages under your belt” . The numbers vary, but you get the idea. When you say 1000 pages, that’s 1000 pages of inking, not 250 pages of penciling,500 inking, 250 coloring. It applies to each discipline and then I would really specify that to different types of inking. Inking 1000 pinups is separate from 1000 interior pages, which is separate from inking 1000 convention sketches. So lets just take 1000 published pages. What is that today? An average comic book is 20 pages, that’s 50 full issues. I myself have only 150 issues credited to me on comic vine. Many of them are several fill in pages, some are republished work, a few penciled issues. I think I have close to 1000 pages published so that means I’m just starting to really learn to ink. I’m nowhere close to say a Mark McKenna (~500 issues) or even a Joe Rubenstein (~1000 issues!). Sounds daunting!
You may say, don’t compare yourself with these guys, but if you want to be a professional inker, you are in the same pool as them. They are your peers now. You gotta get your stats up! It’s no good comparing yourself to the one with the least experience, but everyone working today.
Ok, you’re still reading so I haven’t scared you off. You should know by now the one thing to become a professional inker, if not drilled into you by the previous paragraph, is practice practice practice. This really is the only way to develop control of your tools. Be it via your digital program, nibs or brush. There is no “right” tool and I don’t participate in the debates that ensue from them. There are preferences. There is what works for YOU. It’s a tool. It’s what gets the line that YOU want.
Next, practice over other artists and as many stylistically different ones as you can. Many inkers have said this. You know it, I know it. Why? It’s the only way you learn different techniques and adding it to your repertoire. Are you avoiding heavy crosshatching? Find a page and do it. Avoiding a simple open line page? Find a page and do it. These both will teach you line control and accuracy. Oh, haven’t handled a loose page? Find a page and do it! Hard to believe but your first job will NOT be inking over an Olivier Coipel, Ivan Reis or Dave Finch. I’m less picky on working on interior or pin up pages. Obviously, don’t JUST work on the pin up pages. I know, they are all cool and all. Interior pages have their merits too. Often you will find many challenges on an interior page: Backgrounds, tiny people, tiny buildings, tiny trees, tiny windows, multiple panels that should work together. And did I mention lots of things that are TINY. That in itself is a discipline. Try inking a tiny figure without making them crosseyed!
You should never be afraid to take constructive criticism. I know it’s hard, especially when you are starting and think you’re the best thing since sliced bread. I was like this when I started too. When you get a critique, your first reaction is always to be defensive right away. It’s natural, you just spent X number of hours working on something and this guy is trashing it! My Advice, take a step back, take in a breath, walk away and come back with a calmer head. Start analyzing what the person is saying. Did I know this before? Often times, you do, but you skimped over it thinking nobody would notice and this guy just called you out on it. For example, you didn’t fix the crosseyed Rogue and she looks like she’s got something on her nose. Do Better. Pay attention and fix those things before. Oh there’s a tangent that was there but now it looks wonky. Hopefully you will also get some information that you didn’t see. Like maybe bumping up weight lines on a character to add depth. In the end, I think most creators/peers are friendly people and really are there to help with critiques. You may get one or two bad apples, but that goes with everything else in life. For those, just step back, say thank you and move on. Those are really easy to spot too. I mean if it’s really an attack on you, it’d be very obvious like. What did you ink this with, your butt? Also, I would advise when you hit conventions, talk to the creators, ask them about their process. Ask them for critiques. (Don’t punch them in the face if you don’t like what they have to say).
Ok, you may not be the best drawer, but you should always try to improve this area as well. If you can, do some sketching, learn anatomy, learn techniques. Why? So you can see where a penciler is coming from when he/she drops the line. Why did he draw that figure the way he/she did? That knuckle looks weird. Was it done on purpose or am I seeing it wrong? Learning about the penciling process can only improve your work.
Respect the artform, Respect your work.
If you are starting off. Respect your own work. Don’t rush it. Take each page and look at it as a learning opportunity. Believe me, you will be forced to rush enough when you get those professional jobs. I see a lot of people trashing art these days and I don’t know, maybe it’s cause we live in an internet era where it’s easy to find it in forums these days. If you’ve ever tried to draw a page, let alone 20. Do that in half the time and see if you can still throw out your best. That is where you need to get to. Speed will only come with doing a lot of pages. From making less mistakes to becoming more confident. This comes from practice. If you get to a point where you are just rushing through something just to get it done. Take a step back because that’s when your quality of work will decline. It’s like trying to get through the last 15 minutes of a work shift so you can go home. You gotta be great on your worst day.
Communication is the anchor of a good team. Whether it’s from the editor down, or between you and the penciler. Here is an example. I got my first gig at Marvel working on Runaways. Those that read it may notice the style changes from the first 6 issues to the 2nd volume. No disrespect to the original inker. In fact I may have treated the pencils the same way if not for the fact that I knew the penciler and talked with him about how he wanted the pages to look. In fact if there was more communication between the two, I may not have gotten the gig. Luckily, for me, I knew that the penciler wanted a more open look, dead line weights, a bit more japanimation/ Joshua Middleton type feel to the artwork, so I kept the linework simple. The other inker added a lot more weight lines and added textures, spotted blacks. That’s everything you would have been taught to do as an aspiring inker, right? But that’s not the style the penciler was going for. I mean how would a Joshua Middleton page look with Dave Finch rendering and blacks? Not Joshua. This comes more to individual style.
It doesn’t need to be mentioned that you really should hit deadlines when they are given. For myself, and I know it’s tough with everyone to do this, I try to finish before the deadlines. Be proactive and get on top of things. A lot of times the situation may not allow for this like getting pages late, etc. I personally hate having to give pages away, but a lot of times it’s just impossible to avoid.
Remember, you are doing this cause you love it. If not, there are a lot of better paying jobs and gigs out there. I think because of technology, it’s easier for people to get hands on pages to work on as well as getting advice from other creators that there’s a lot more competition. When I started, you had to find some old photocopies that have been passed around and ink on vellum (which takes forever to dry). That was my practice. These days you can blue line print and ink pages. In addition to competing with established inkers, there may be less opportunities. I see a lot of qualified veterans not getting work. This all adds to a tough road ahead, but a rewarding one when you see your name on a floppy!
Don’t throw everything into one basket!
Ok, inking isn’t working for you right now? Don’t limit yourself. There are many other illustration gigs out there! Go out there and find them. They won’t come to you. I’ve had some dry spells, but luckily I have good support from fans, friends and family. I’ve made cold calls to companies that have resulted in new learning experiences and different types of illustration gigs. Do it!