***A walk through tutorial for “Going Fishing” is below! Enjoy!***
A year ago I started to explore the field of digital art. Comic book cover artists and cartoon animators made a gateway that had the possibility of using my artwork on a fresh, more vibrant, and true platform. It was a perfectionist’s medium that combined the cleanliness of pen with bold colors, and the flexibility to hit the delete button without a trail of evidence.
When I was young, my father taught me how to draw in basic pencil. We started with lessons in shading and perspective. He crumpled up a piece of white paper and drew every bend and fold of the white ball. It was the ultimate test in still life. I learned to hate still life, because there was no life. There was an undeniable beauty in luscious landscapes and vibrant bowls of the most delicious fruit, but still life left me feeling drained and dull.
Three-dimensional cubes and circles learned to stack together and turned into cheetahs, Shamus, and people. Everything that I drew revolved around movement and life. I liked animals and people. I liked adding eyeballs to inanimate objects so that they became creatures with stories to tell.
Pencil upgraded to the prism of colored pencils, with the occasional vacation to water color and oil paint, and even pain-in-the-butt dry pastel – but only once because it wasn’t pretty.
In college, one of my first art courses was taught by a seasoned animator, who introduced me to the extreme value of black and white. I experimented in charcoal, but found serenity in the detail and absolute commitment of black pen. The dim gray lines of my pencil started to evolve into black ink on the plaster white paper and made the perfect foundation for colored pens, vibrant pencil, watercolor, acrylic, and gauche. All of my fashion sketches, throughout college, were a compilation of pen and watercolor.
Art school didn’t teach me how to draw, but my instructors hammered out my shortcomings. Before, my hands that I drew were always too small, my people were stiff and my movement wasn’t fluid. They taught me how to bring life to my art. More important, they taught me the ins and outs of Photoshop and Illustrator.
I began to research comic book cover artists, and absorbed their techniques in line work and coloring. I watched hours of tutorials on YouTube, and embraced the flexibility of drawing from scratch and improving the cleanliness of my art. Here is a walk through of my first computer composition:
To start, I opened a new file, in Photoshop, that had a resolution of no less than 300 dpi. My canvas was 11 inches by 8.5 inches (standard size of a piece of paper, just to make things easier for me to print, if need be). I started a layer titled “rough sketch” and worked in a blue pen color so that when I traced over it with black, the color didn’t blend into one another.
I didn’t know what I wanted to draw but had started with a little cat body, and it morphed into a cat squatting next to a fish bowl. I brought the idea further. I thought it would be cute to have the cat use his tail as a device to try to catch a fish in a bowl. The basic body and anatomy of the little cat was built beside a fish bowl and dragged to the corner of the canvas so that I could start sketching out the fish.
I like cute and animated. I love fish with big eyes, and I wanted this fish to be surprised at the sight of whatever was dangling off of the tail of the cat. I didn’t want the fish to look directly at the cat, but I wanted him to have a “What the hell is that thing? It doesn’t look good,” expression. I gave him big eyes with small pupils for surprise and fear, and drooping fins for a sense of limp shock and hopelessness.
I had a difficult time sketching out the anatomy of the tail. I wanted the fins to be an extension of the feelings that were dawdling through his little head, but I also wanted the tail to float. Trying to find that perfect balance took a little time because there were so many options. Body composition tells a lot about a character.
After I completed a rough drawing of my fish, I shrunk it down, and placed it in the bowl. I added foliage, a little castle, and the base for the sand and rocks. At first, I had the fish facing the cat, looking up at the hook, but something didn’t feel right. Sometimes you have to dive into the psychology of your characters.
If I had been this tiny fish, I would not have been looking at the hook dangling above, I would have been scared out of my mind and staring into the two huge eyeballs that were looking at me from outside of my bowl. Screw that hook! Who cares about the hook?! But, if I had no clue that the cat was there, and my back was to him, it would make sense that I would look at the dangerous shiny thing that started descending into my fish bowl. For this reason, I flipped the fish around and changed the placement of the pupils.
Once I had my foundation rough sketch finished, I created a new layer titled “final outline”. I sketched out the final lines for my drawing, and changed anything that needed changing along the way.
Line weight can bring a lot of life and depth to the composition of a piece. Traditionally, skinnier lines are used in the background of cartoons, and thicker lines are used in the foreground and around the main figures. Because my cartoon was all one layer, I didn’t have to worry so much about line width except to accentuate certain materials, such as the glass of the fish bowl, or the fur tufts of the kitty cat. When I finished the drawing, I found that the lines for the fish were too thin compared to the cat, so I thickened them up slightly.
I printed out the drawing and took a look at it with fresh eyes.
I made sure to sign it and date it. — So many artists have incredible signatures in the comic book world – they are like little pieces of art. I need to work on mine and make it more personal. (My real signature looks worse than a doctor’s… that isn’t an exaggeration; one of my teachers lectured me in college for my shitty signature. I’m working on it.)
I made new layers and mapped out the base colors. I used the darkest shade of the color that I was going to use for each section. If the fish was going to be a light orange, I would find the darkest shade of that orange and color him in. Rarely is white ever used in its purest form and black isn’t used except for pen work. For the fish’s eyes I used a khaki/tan color for the base because I wanted this color to be the darkest shadow of his eyes.
Here is a screen shot of all of the base colors, without light. Again, these were the darkest parts of the characters and objects. The most important part of this step was to make sure that the colors balanced well with each other. It was time to bring some life into this cartoon!
The only color I used to bring shade and light to this drawing was white. That’s it. I went across each section and made each color brighter and brighter using the white pen tool. I wanted the fins on the fish to be transparent, and I erased a small section of the bottom of the tail to make it look like it got thinner. Here is a detail shot of the fish! If there had been a background you would have been able to see it a lot better. It really is all about the small details, though. I added texture and lines to the eyes of the cat. This was the only time that I used any additional color, and not just white.
After I finished highlighting the drawing I added a little sparkle to the central elements of the drawing.
I wanted people to focus on the hook, the eyes of the fish, and the eyes of the cat, so I brought a little light to these areas, and I also added some white whiskers.
The finishing touch was to add a little reflection on the fish bowl. There is the slightest hint of blue within the fish bowl, to give the illusion of glass and water. The addition of a little of the cat’s reflection, as he pushed his face against the bowl, gave a little breathlessness to the piece. I think it might be my favorite element. It is barely noticeable, but it gives so much in a subtle way.
‘Til next time!