“What role does design play in the Norse end of days?”, you may ask. This is the first in a series of blog posts on the making of The Shadow of Ragnarök, a collaborative webcomic. I’m Watkins, the artist of our group. As such, I have a leading role in the presentation of our story.
I’ve studied artist-driven comics for several years. A movement gaining momentum in the comic/graphic novel storytelling medium involves independent artist/writers sharing their stories online, and building a fan base, before moving to a print format. Two significant inspirations for me in this area are Jason Brubaker and Daniel Lieske. Both they and other artists have blogs where they post progress updates and information about their working methods. I always find it fascinating when the behind-the-scenes of creating artwork is revealed. Unlike magicians sharing their secrets, artists sharing their art-making methods doesn’t decrease the mystique – repeating the methods does not ensure the same results. Learning from the successes of others allows artists to positively change their own methods.
I use SketchBook Pro 5.5 (I haven’t upgraded to the new version 6, my OS is too old), which is the most distraction-free drawing program I’ve found. It was designed by Autodesk for use with tablets either touch-screen tablets and external graphic tablets. I use a huge old Intuos3 graphic tablet. The working area on the tablet 31x 24 cm, approximately the same as my 2009 MacBook Pro screen. Each point on the tablet corresponds to a point on the screen, so it creates a very natural drawing experience, unlike a mouse or touchpad. My wrist and arm never get cramped drawing digitally because there’s the same amount of space as working in a physical medium, and my hand is well-used to manipulating a pen.
Working digitally allowed for very easy uploading for the comic image. Unlike previous digital drawing/painting projects I’ve worked on, where the final result was intended for print, for The Shadow of Ragnarök I could work in poorer resolution. Print resolution is 300dpi, while screen is about 75dpi. Consequently, the print size of the comic is about 3×10 cm. This, however, made it possible to work in the long infinite-comic format as one image – if it was higher resolution, my computer couldn’t handle the long save time. Armed with this knowledge ahead of time, I was able to plan for the comic viewing size. The image is not resized as it is viewed on the website, so the entire time I was working I could check to see that the level of detail was appropriate.
An advantage of working in SketchbookPro (which is available for students inexpensively on the Autodesk website) is that it saves in Tiff files, which are about 1/3 the bytes of the photoshop format. To use certain tools I have to save the file in photoshop format and open it with Elements – SketchBook doesn’t have a tool that allows for moving two or more layers in tandem, which is useful for adjusting the relationship of elements in a composition. SketchBook Pro handles a great deal of layers without complaint or extra-long saving time (unless saving as a psd), which is a definite advantage of the program.
When working digitally I like to have each part of a drawing on a separate layer so that it can be moved, scaled, or made translucent as necessary. Watercolor is one of my preferred physical media, so being able to work digitally in layers of adjustable transparency is a pleasure. When painting in watercolor, effects are achieved by manipulating the transparency of the paint as it is applied to the paper. Color is built up in translucent layers, and each decision is made carefully and mindful of the intended final result. Working in layers digitally can be much more impulsive and slapdash, as no choice is permanent and transparency can be adjusted on the fly. If you’re curious about watercolor, James Gurney’s blog is an excellent resource. Even if you don’t recognize his name, you probably know of his Dinotopia:
Starting with a Sketch (part 2) ->