I often pencil (comic-speak for sketching) using an H2 lead pencil, or mechanical pencil (my favorite is Muji's Low Center Gravity Mechanical Pencil). I almost always use H2 lead as it doesn't have much build up and it draws a very nice, light line. Ultimately, great for work that is meant to be finished in ink or color. If you want to create a finished artwork in pencils, you're better off using HB leads.
Equally often, I use blue/red lead pencil leads (Color Eno makes decent ones). I do this because the color is easy to isolate and remove digitally from a finished sketch, where as regular charcoal lead can't be isolated well from your final, darker lines.
Why do you use a dip pen and not something more straight forward, like felt tip pens? Which dip pen do you use?
Early on I was fascinated by classical inkwork techniques, and was drawn to the mystique of dip pens. I quickly figured out that they have a heck of a learning curve, and I almost gave up using them entirely before I finally mastered them. I love my dip pen, the speed and variety it gives me. It just feels good to use, and I'm not constantly fumbling for the right line width among my felt tip pens-- it's all right there in my hand already.
Right now I use a Tachikawa Comic Pen Nib Holder, as it has a nice grip and is a pleasure to use. The nibs I use are Titanium G Pen Nibs mostly because I like to be fancy. In all seriousness though, I use the Titanium nibs because they hold their point for 75 meters worth of line work compared to only 20 meters with the original G pen nibs. That being said, if you're planning to start with G pen nibs, start with the regular steel ones. They're very cheap and very good, and a great way to get your feet wet.
Why G pen nibs?
G pen nibs, out of Japan, were originally used by mangaka (Japanese comic artists) to great effect. They're, in my opinion, the perfect combination of strength and flexibility, to achieve a wide variety of lines without having to change tools. They're my holy grail of art tools.
And while we're at it, what do you use to ink? Do you ink by hand or digitally?
I ink traditionally, meaning I ink by hand, although there's nothing wrong with inking digitally! I used to use Fabre Castell PITT pens because they are fairly compatible with Copic markers, so I could also use them at comic conventions for color work. However, over time I've narrowed down to simply using a "dip pen" for almost all of my work: you can read more about that here.
Each comic cover begins with a request by a client, usually a publisher. They'll request a cover for Issue #X of a particular comic, and on rare occasion direct me as to what aught to be featured, like "Can we see character X and character Y, fighting?" More often then not though, the cover direction is left to my discretion.
I'll develop three concepts into rough sketches, each offering something a little different. Once the client chooses one of these three, I begin to pencil it, ink, then finally color the piece! The final piece is sent to my client for final approval. Occasionally the client will return with a minor tweak or two, but otherwise it joins the printing queue and ends up on the stands a few months later.
Do you color your comic covers digitally? If so, what programs do you recommend?
I color my comic covers digitally. Not only does this allow for me to make quick edits for my client, it also lets the piece be scaled up or down more effectively. I use two programs to color my work. First, I come up with he general look and feel in Adobe Photoshop CC. Once that's done, I move the piece to Corel Painter to fully render (art-speak for coloring) the artwork. I use Corel Painter because it's the only program of it's kind with a truly effective blending engine. Once the piece is 90% done, I pop it back into Photoshop to put in some final tweaks before saving the piece and sending it to the client.
Both programs are undeniably expensive, so if you're just starting out, I'd definitely give Clip Studio a try. Many pros have switched to Clip Studio because it's feature rich and useful for comic creators, while having a very reasonable price tag and often going on sale.
Procreate is also an awesome program for iPad uses, and frankly one of my favorite tools to use. It is very reasonable priced at less than $20.
If you're looking to spend nothing at all, try Krita! It's a fun program for PC and completely free to use!
You keep talking about "color commissions" and "color work"-- how is that different from your comic covers?
Formal artworks created for print, like books, comics, posters, etc.. I generally color digitally, so the image scales up at good quality and they're easy to edit for clients. However when I do commissions, I'm often asked to do a piece in color, which means creating a colored illustration in my sketch book, in as little as one hour!
For these commissions, I use Copic Markers: they're a alcohol based marker that can be blended beautifully and dried instantly: making it the perfect choice for a live drawing situation. Their color range is more subtle which allows for a beautiful water color effect and dreamy skin tones. I also use Shinhan Touch Markers, but much less so: their most saturated colors are really brilliant and so I keep them on hand when I need things to pop!
Both sets of markers are refillable! A single refill bottle will refill the corresponding marker 7 to 10 times, making it a great investment for colors you use a lot!
Remember though, not all pens are compatible with alcohol based markers, so do your research! Fabre Castell PITT pensare a good place to start, and widely available.
So should I use Copics, Touch Markers, or something else entirely?
As mentioned, I use Copics primarily, as well as Shinhan Touch Markers, although I started out with Prismacolor markers (though they aren't refillable). It's all about what you like, price and availability!
If you're interested in getting into color work using markers though, start small! Just buy a few in a matching set (like all grey, for example) and play around. You can even buy a cheap bottle of rubbing alcohol from the drug store and dip a brush into it, to create interesting interactions with your markers. When you're ready to expand your collection, look carefully at the price of markers locally, availability, and your access to refills. Many people fall into the trap of buying a bunch of markers only to find out the refills aren't sold anywhere near by!
Second hand resources like Facebook Marketplace are also a great place to buy markers people are no longer using and selling cheaply.
I started using colored markers and my work looks all streaky! What am I doing wrong? I even used "marker paper!"
Believe it or not, the most important factor in a smooth and beautiful color work is not the markers, it's the paper! and it's not marker paper! Honestly I'm not sure why they sell that stuff, as it's not very helpful or effective.
Anyway, when you apply marker to paper, it's smoothness is dependent on how long the marker stays wet in the paper fibers-- if you have a very absorbent paper like watercolor rag, bristol, mixed media paper, etc... you're going to end up with paper that sucks up tons of expensive ink, dried it out instantly, and never lets you blend properly. All your lovely work goes down the drain! Instead, you need the thinnest paper possible! Years ago, the amazing Adam Hughes, marker extraordinaire, recommended Strathmore Drawing Paper, 400 Series to me as being the perfect combination between thin and professional feeling paper. I've never looked back.
But hey, if you're not able to go out and buy this super specific paper, then you're in luck! The next best paper for doing marker work? Plain, simple printer paper! Regular, uncoated printer paper is perfect for getting started on marker work.
How did you get into art?
As a kid I always liked to draw, and honestly there wasn't a lot else to keep me busy in those days! I simply drew on every piece of paper I could find with whatever tools were lying around. Sometimes that was ball point pens on my mom's old dress patterns, or mechanical pencils in the phone book. Eventually my mother, likely beleaguered from my assault on every paper product in the house, let me enjoy a few community art classes. I never had any formal art education after that, but it was enough to start me on the path to becoming obsessed with art. The rise of the internet helped me connect with the tools, resources and community I needed to develop further.
How did you start to work professionally?
Just out of university with a BA in Political Science, I was determined to try and make a go of being a professional artist, before formally settling into the career track of a municipal government worker, which is what I was doing at the time. I started out by just buying a table at my local comic con, and making prints of my artwork, to see if it would sell. I was pleasantly surprised to see it did! The experience was a huge eye opener for me: for the first time in my life, buyers were giving me feedback about what they liked in my work, and what they didn't. I went on to continue doing comic conventions, while refining my style.
I was invited by a colleague, Yanick Paquette (Wonder Woman Earth One, Swamp Thing) to join his studio: a co-op work space where creators could work on their independent projects, but share knowledge and resources. This experience was huge for me to learn what it took to be successful: if I wanted a career in comics, I couldn't waltz in at 1pm whenever I felt like it: comics takes a steady, day-in, day-out commitment, no different than any other job. I started slowly taking my work more seriously.
At this point, I wanted to be hired to work on a book, but had no experience to show off! A classic paradox. It occurred to me then that if I wanted publishers to hire me to make comics, I had to start by proving I could make a comic. That's how my self published comic, "1001" was born. I got my first formal industry jobs after completing my second issue, and by my third issue, I looked around and realized I had done it: I was getting regular work from a variety of publishers. "1001" remains my pet project, but I'm happy to say I work mostly for industry now.
How can I "break in" to the comics industry?
Everyone's journey into the industry is a little different, but I can offer you a few things to consider:
First, do you really want to be in this industry? Do you love making artwork? You might not once it becomes your full time job. Art is rarely relaxing anymore when it's what you do for money. It's worth considering if monetizing your source of joy is what you really want to do.
If it is, then I always recommend starting out getting a table at your local comic con. Having a table at a show will give you an intensive crash course in how the buying public views you and your art, which is fundamentally what publishers care about. Also, you get a chance to walk around and see what your friends, colleagues and competition are creating.
When you feel confident in your skills, approach other experienced creators for portfolio reviews and listen carefully to their advice. They will identify weak points you can't see in your own work, and give you a chance to polish yourself up before approaching publishers.
Lastly, remember that for most of us, it takes 10 YEARS to break into the comic industry. In that time, you need to have a back up job to keep yourself going, and a lot of faith. For most of us with at least some skill level, it often comes down to lasting the longest. Not the most inspiring advice I know, but that's my honest observation!
Freelance writers seem really interested in working with me! What should I do?
Sometimes, you'll get an offer from a fledging writer, much like yourself, to work on a project together. These first "contracts" are great experiences-- although they can sometimes be very frustrating experiences. Unfortunately most fledgling writers have little to offer in the way of pay, and some won't offer to pay at all, suggesting you join in a mutual 'partnership' on a project. While this offer is likely made in good faith, these partnerships often become stale and fall apart when the writer can only offer a fraction of the work time that the artist must put into sketching, drawing and editing. That's why skilled and experienced writers pay their artists!
So when you get your first few jobs, remember to look at it with eyes open and value yourself and your time! If nothing else, start with a TINY commitment to build trust, then work your way up from there.
My child really shows a skill and interest in art: how can I encourage them?
First, it's wonderful that you want to encourage your child! Art is very deeply personal and sometimes your child might be reticent to share their artwork with you or with a visiting friend or family that you want to show off to-- and that's okay! Let them keep filling up sketch books, take them to the art store from time to time to try new materials (the art store is our Disney land), and most important, expose them to a lot of creativity! That means art books (you can buy these or take them out of the library), comic books, art galleries, museums, even alley ways with graffiti in them. Artists record the world visually in a way other people do not: the more you show them, the greater their inner "reference library" becomes.
Community art classes can also be a great asset! As a child I didn't take many art classes and I didn't study art formally, but the community art classes my mother took me to helped me to access a world I knew nothing about.
My child is becoming frustrated, saying that they aren't good enough artistically. How can I help them?
Lastly, having an artistic child means having a child that has a taste level for art more sophisticated than their actual ability. This gap often leads to frustration and art block. If your child is feeling this way, like they'll never be good enough, encourage them to express their creativity in a different direction. Sculpture, pottery, crafting and other creative pursuits can give them a safe space to express themselves while they're working out their negative feelings towards their ability.
Also, reminding them of their artworks from just a year ago can help them to see how far they've come.
Lastly, as with adults, sometimes it's just about needing to rest your mind and heart, and come back to it when you're ready.
What inspired you to create your self published comic, "1001?"
"1001" began as a portfolio piece: I wanted to show that I could create a comic, start to finish. I chose then to create my own retelling of "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights" for two reasons. First, because I knew that the beautiful and ornate motifs of that place and time would be a pleasure to illustrate. Second, because Baghdad was the center of the world at the time, it was filled with diverse and interesting people seeking their fortunes... and that would make it a pleasure to write. Even though I rarely have time to dedicate to "1001" amidst my regular art schedule, I do like to pick it up and work on it when I can. Although rightfully, many people ask me...
When is #04 of "1001" coming out? I've been waiting forever!
Because "1001" is something I can work on only between projects, I can't say for certain when the next issue will be released. However, if you follow me on any of my social media, I'll be very clear to announce when it's up for grabs.
Where can I see a catalogue of what you've worked on so far?
A great place to get a sense of what I've worked on so far is at FreshComics.us .
Wait, you keep talking about art-- I thought you were a writer!?
You're right, I am a writer! Not only did I write my own, self published comic "1001", I'm also a trained alumni of the DC Writers Workshop program! I was fortunate to learn under Scott Snyder and many other celebrated comic creators, and I couldn't be more grateful! I've had a long career as an artist, which is why I am best known for that, but my writing career is just beginning. I'm equally passionate about the two, although I'll always have a soft spot for comic covers.
I've got a great idea for a story! Will you illustrate it?
I think there are some really awesome up-and-coming writers out there, but as I'm passionate about writing myself, I am reluctant to take on other writers at this time. However if you're an experienced writer, or work with a publisher, then I would be open to hearing your pitch!
I would love to have you on my podcast! Are you available?
If you've read any of this FAQ, you know I am a chatterbox, a bit of a know-it-all, and I love to talk! However my schedule is a bit tight which makes taking on podcasts a bit challenging. Still, if you'd like to find out if I'm available, there's no harm in contacting me!
I'd like to invite you to speak at my panel/event! Would you like to table at my convention?
I love speaking engagements (as I love to chat!) and really enjoy conventions. So if you think I would be a good fit, feel free to get in touch!