Re-entering illustration

One of the things that I understand now which I didn’t, so much, when I began drawing again: I shouldn’t expect the same type of stories to arise from the visual part of my brain, as versus the verbal part! An example is this momentarily femme-dressing character, whose backstory I have not worked out yet…

A greyscale drawing of a person in a frilled white blouse and pleated skirt reaching over a desk chair towards a computer screen with two open windows on it.
This was just for practice; I can see a number of places where I need to be more involved in environmental design 🙂

Over the past several days, I’ve been re-entering what I feel essentially to be, an Illustration mode. I am not entirely sure this is accurate, as I have not formally studied Illustration: I’ve just seen it (a lot), and known people who were into it.

A value scale from Black to very light grey, done in Copics on Deleter Comic Paper.
Copic Cool Grey
value scale on
Deleter Comic

…And, yeah, I was heavily into manga and (slightly less into) comics when I was younger.

At this point in my process, I’m just giving myself enough leeway to draw what comes to mind, as versus the stories that come up through a repeated practice of drawing. The only reason I know about the latter: it’s how my original writing practice began, when the stories became too complex to handle through drawing alone.

It’s also worth mentioning that a lot of what I’m dealing with in my life, and which I expect to come out through my art/writing, has to deal with reality being different from appearances. I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to surface; I only know that it’s a major issue with me right now, and so it probably, will. I had been reading in Malik Shabazz’s How to Draw Black People…and realized I already have my own views on character design. In my view, a character’s visual design isn’t necessarily an expression of who the character is. That may work in fiction and film, but it is incongruent with social reality.

I find the idea of the character looking like an expression of their identity to be problematic. In reality, except in rare cases such as with gender dysphoria, we don’t get to choose our bodies — and even then, the only major slider (or mix/match) you get is between phenotypically masculine and phenotypically feminine. There is elective plastic surgery, but that is an opportunity beyond the economic reach of very many people.

What I’m trying to say is that for the regular person, there is only so much which can be done to change one’s appearance to match one’s identity. Mostly, it would be done through clothing, muscle tone or weight, hair, makeup (and rarely, tattoos) — with varying levels of difficulty. These are the things we have choices over. Things like race and physical sex, height, etc.; not so much. I’ve seen people in considerable levels of distress because what they look like does not “match” who they are...and I am not sure where the expectation comes from that it, “should,” or that it ever does, for anyone.

As regards reading…well, I have a lot to get through on graphic art — and I’m just beginning. I’ve started recording the titles of anything I read deeply (whatever the topic), in my daily planner; though this has been going on for less than a week. I do, however, have a copy of Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden…which I first found years ago, and decided to get my own copy. The book has been sitting on the shelf for years, unread, it appears: I haven’t highlighted anything.

In the same thread is Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, by Jeff Vandermeer. This was a gift from my sibling — again, from some years ago. That book, I’m a bit farther into…but it is very difficult to say what Wonderbook is about, due to its organization.

It’s worth noting that I’ve read in at least two books, recently, of the usefulness of limiting the number of values (shades and tints) in a composition. (How to Paint Fast, Loose & Bold, by Patti Mollica, and …something else which I cannot remember, though I do now have a copy of Pen & Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide, by Alphonso Dunn. Though I’m fairly certain, now that I think of it, that it couldn’t have come from that latter book. I’ll leave the mention up here to remind myself to look at it, though.)

That is, even if one does have all twelve Copic Cool Grey shades plus Black (see left), a printer (I assume they mean a standard home printer) won’t necessarily be able to sense the difference. This could cause unintended distortions if the image is printed on paper and not just to a screen; though I’m pretty sure that at least Photoshop has a way of communicating a more subtle language of tone to the printer than the printer has, itself.

I’ve just tried printing out a closer-to-original version of the above illustration, and the distortions are…mostly negligible. (The printer didn’t know what to do with the white areas in the drawing, so there is light grey rectangular artifacting in, for example, the white of the computer screen; and certain other areas which were supposed to be totally white [the windowsill; and the light shining through the sleeve], now are not.)

I did the underdrawing in Non-Photo-Blue mechanical pencil (specifically a Pilot Color ENO 0.7), then went over the drawing with my old Microns (not the new ones, in case the pencil gummed up the nibs; they seem to be fine, except for the one which was already running dry when I started this), and then erased the underdrawing. (I did not, in this case, make a master copy of the linework before dropping in values; in the future, I may want to.) After that I went in with the Copic markers, starting with the lightest values and gradually working darker (though some areas, like the chair, merited blocking in at a relatively early stage, to allow me to see the dynamics of the entire composition).

I also need to remember to reserve the light areas when doing said blocking-in; the character’s face could use some modeling.

I actually did this on paper which had Non-Photo Blue ruling, which I was able to eliminate by essentially erasing everything with a Cyan or Blue hue. I selected the entire image and made a Black & White adjustment layer over the top, then adjusted the slider for the Cyan color channel. This does mean I had to scan the piece in, in color — although with the adjustment layer, it appears achromatic.

For my own reference, I should add that the initial drawing was done on new Deleter Comic Paper. Now that they’ve started putting notices on the paper in English, I can read that the paper is said to perform better when used sooner…whereas I have some Deleter paper which may be over a decade old, by now (purchased when anime was at its high point in the US, historically speaking).

Right now I have no idea where I put my initial value test on what must have been the older version of this paper; but it’s worth saying that this paper does have a shelf life, or they’re just making it better, now. Either this, or I’ve gotten a lot better with the alcohol markers, in a very short amount of time (which I suppose, is actually possible).

You’ll notice that some of the Copics in that value chart on the left side of this post — particularly the midrange greys — have white specks. That is not digital artifacting; the paper itself actually does look this way (only, in-person, of course, it’s much clearer). Here, I’ll show you:

A close-up of the Cool Grey 7 swatch from the above value scale, showing tiny whitish dots against a background of dark grey.

This is pretty much as close as I can get with my scanner. At this range (1200 dpi), the dots (which Deleter states are part of the paper manufacturing process) are pretty evident.

But again, these don’t really become noticeable except between C-7 and C-4. Go any darker, and the dots aren’t as visible; go any lighter, and they start to blend into the background. Given how well the paper performs overall…I’m inclined to see it as just a quirk. (Of greater concern to me is the potential environmental impact of whatever these little dots are; but I can see it being in the same category as Chartpak markers: you get something that performs beautifully, at a cost.)

A line drawing of a feminine person with glossy, shoulder-length hair.

I’ve also found that I am much more practiced at linework, than I am at shading. I’m intentionally not showing the overlay which I made of this drawing…because trust me, it’s really — I mean, seriously, beginner’s work. Once I put the overlay and the linework together, there were a number of things I could see. The most apparent of these, is that when I’m working with value, I’m looking at modeling form and baseline color; whereas when I’m working with line, a lot of it is delineating edges and texture. It may be redundant, then…to outline the shine marks on the hair (though I notice I shade differently in fineliner and in marker: I’m much better at visualizing the form without the tone interfering with it).

I also need to recall how to work in different clothing (that is, I need to imagine the clothing hopefully before beginning the drawing, and work in how the hair will fall before encountering an oddity with the edges of the hair and the beginning of the clothing) and imagine the form beyond the picture plane. That is, in the drawing at the top of this post, I had to think out the position of the figure…but I know I did not work out the position of her lower body, other than that she was leaning forward.

In the image to the left…well, it gave me practice in joining the neck to the torso and to the head; but my tendency to broaden the shoulders of my female figures kind of went a bit far (which is why the image is cropped the way it is). This is likely due to the exaggerated perspective that I’ve found in manga and anime, which often distorts, among other things, the distance and angle between the eyes and nose. (I’m still working on unlearning this.)

The image to the left (or just above, on mobile) is just a line drawing that I did on Bee Paper Company, “Pen Sketcher’s,” paper. I recall it being smoother than it is, but it is at least eight years old, telling from my first dated sketch. It also may have felt very smooth to me at the time, because it was one of my first encounters with paper which was made to be used with fineliners.

Anyhow, it’s about time for me to log off! Time for me to get back to work, and try and figure out the rest of my life. 🙂 See you soon!

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