Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ink Press

We had a big turnout this week at drawing night. The list included Derek, Rachel, Ryan, Manfred, Jon, Tom, Dillon, and two newcomers: a designer buddy from work, Erin Reynolds; and a student, friend of Dillon's, and brother to a guy I know, Rob James. I decided to press on the ink brush tonight. I really feel like my drawings lose something when I try to take them from pencil to inks, so I wanted to see if I could figure out why, and whether I could get a better approximation of what the pencils look like when the inking was done. On the first page, I started without pencil with the face in the upper-left. Doing inks without pencil seems to produce okay results, but I just flow with mistakes and ultimately don't feel remotely as "in control" as I do with a pencil. The next face (top-mid) was done in pencil first, but when I put down inks and erased the pencil, I thought it was missing something. It got smudged, too; I hate waiting to see what it looks like, so I get impatient, not really caring if it's super-smudgy. Ryan was watching me, and he said that he doesn't use the long brushy part of the pen except for the outer-edges, and he fills in the center with a smaller, simpler pen. So I tried to do that with the guy on the lower-left. I think I messed up the balance of thick lines to thin, but I liked the results of the smaller pen. It made me wonder if I could just "draw" with the thin pen, and the mid-low head was the result of that thought. Inks just don't work like pencils despite best intentions, so I went back and tried one more brush-edge, pen interior drawing with the guy on the right. The head was feeling a bit empty, but I chose a few pencil lines to emphasize and sketched them back in with pen, and I thought it turned out rather well. I started doing the rest of the body very sketchily as a last attempt of "sketching" with the pen, but gave up again. It just looks weird and lazy -- like it's not taking advantage of what a pen brings to the table.

The best results came from using two separate pens, but I still wished that I could use just one. I gave it one last try with the left guy, but couldn't get enough control of the lines, and liked the original pencil sketch much more. (I wish I had some way to scan in the drawings while we sit at the table. Maybe if I get the webcam thing working you can see what I'm talking about.) The next guy (top) was probably my closest approximation to the sketch, using the brush-edge, pen-interior technique. I also used a smaller interior pen. Encouraged, I did the guy with the black hair. He turned out pretty decent but the bags under his eyes never quite worked the way the pencil did. I began a woman next, but screwed up halfway through and tabled it for a bit. I went back to what was working for encouragement, attempting another guy head (right-mid), but it never looked right. Ah well. I figured I just needed a lot more practice, so I went back to trying another woman (lower-left). She turned out well, but I got less confident around the breasts and just sort of gave up. I draw a lot of breasts, but can usually get away with loose lines and usually never put much detail there. I think inking women is a little nicer, though. I always want to represent them with less and cleaner lines, so I think the transition to inks is less tricky. But you can see how smudgy she is due to my impatience (again).

I tried one more head on the last page and thought it turned out pretty decent. I expressed some of my frustration with wrangling the brush-pen to Ryan, and he talked about how he has a rough time doing "feathering," where you make several lines go from thick to thin, that connect in thickness to a black. I tried doing it myself and could never get it looking right. Thinking about inks and the brush pen Ryan gave me, I wonder if the length of the brush (it's long) gives me too little control. Maybe if I found one that goes from thick to thin with less brush I would feel more control over it. The more I mess with inks, the more my respect keeps growing for the great ink wranglers out there. Some of the work of folks like Eric Canete and Connor Willumsen just blow my mind. I love how they and many others maintain flow and life with their inks. I say hats off to 'em all.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Alan. I've recently started practing using the brush pen myself. I first heard about it on Ryan's blog. I figured he was using something smaller in addition to it. What kind of smaller pen were you guys using? If you get a chance please let me know. I'll give it try. My email is Thanks a lot, and keep up the great work.

Billy said...

actually i was also wondering what kind of pens you were using. I recently fell in love with my pentel brush pen so i know all about the frustrating/enjoyable experience your going through =) keep up the great work!

dmcgee said...

I'm only getting to grips with ink recently, a little, after struggling the last 6 months or so.

For inspiration, look at Eric Powell's early stuff mate, he was a mess, now he inks as nicely as anyone. Just take some time and you'll learn your own vocabulary with the inks.

I've tried printing out Canete's inks very lightly and then going over the top with, alternately, brush pen/sable brush/tech pen, and see how I can best produce different lines and effects. I've found it means I don't have to think about draftsmanship while i'm learning to control the tools, and I don't have to then think about the tools when I'm drafting my own stuff hehe

As for a single tool - I think if you play with a few diff tools for a while you'll become quite attached to what they can do, and be really grateful to be able to bring multiple approaches to an image, for diff materials and subjects within the image.

Try a dip pen/crowquil! They're much more controllable but still give your line plenty of bounce!

Connor Willumsen said...

Hey Alan,

I thought I would share some of the guys that I've learned a lot from in the inks department. A look at their work might be a good catalyst for alternative approaches.

Jorge Zaffino is one of the best. With him inking is more about painting than drawing. He throws crazy blacks all over the place and then goes back with white if he lost any information. It looks fun. He is the John Singer Sargent of comics.

José Muñoz is another, particularly his work on Alack Sinner. Like Alex Toth, Eduardo Risso, and Hugo Pratt, he comes from the school of economic line, making it so simple you can't cheat. But he also throws in big fat gobs of black here and there for good measure.

These two guys have taught me that, with inks, making marks in places they don't belong adds great texture, and at the same time you can afford to take away a lot of information and still have it read.

I enjoyed that tutorial video by the way, hope to see more.

Alan Tew said...

connor: thanks for taking the time to write and provide links; the inspiration and insights are hella welcome.

Unknown said...

Hey. I'm just some guy who views your drawings. I've started inking recently and I'm just wondering what brand of brush pen you've been using on this site?