Friday, April 18, 2008

Penciling and Inking Cartoons

"How do you learn to draw?"

The old story goes that you get a big stack of paper, as tall as you are, and take a sheet of paper off the top, and draw on it. Then you take another piece of paper and draw. And so on, drawing on every page. By the time you've gotten to the very bottom of that tall stack, you've improved!

So, you get the bad drawings out of your system. Pretty soon, you can look at a piece of paper and see how you want your picture to be composed.

Speaking for myself and my drawings, I always liked my pencils and hated my inks. I decided that I "freezed up" when inking. I was tracing my relaxed, sketchy pencil line with a static, mechanical, boring line. The ink line made, I believed, everything look dead. It wasn't fun to look at.

I had been drawing with a pencil since I was a kid. Using a fancy schmancy ink pen (a bowl tip Hunt dip pen nib or a Pigma Micron pen or whatever) caused me to hesitate and worry: the ink is PERMANENT and IMPORTANT -- BE CAREFUL! And so I was careful, and my inks were there, but they weren't fun to look at.
"The Macaroni Trio" cartoon, an early Mike Lynch Cartoon from BBC Music Magazine above, shows my heavy inking line. The instruments are too close together with this layout -- not apparent to me when penciling. They don't stand out individually with the addition of the heavy inks paid on top of the spritely pencils. You have to really look for a few seconds to see the fiddle and the bass and the piano. An extra few second to decode a gag cartoon is not good!

I realized I had to keep cartooning, and couldn't just stop in my tracks and try inking a big stack of pencilled cartoons until I got better. No time to draw stuff just for myself. I had to solve this quickly, and still produce salable work.

I was talking to R.J. Matson who, at the time, was head of the NYC National Cartoonists Society Chapter. If I remember correctly, he said he inked entirely with fancy Waterman pens -- the ones that go for a lot of money. But, he said, he loves the looks of his pencils better. They're more free, more full of the energy of drawing.

Well, there it was. That's what I wanted! A lively line line that looked like it was drawn, not traced! I wanted my cartoons to look fresh, like they were out of a sketchbook.

Sure, I can draw in pencil and scan the pencils in to PhotoShop, ratchet up the contrast and -- boom -- it looks like an ink line. But my originals would look pretty pale. I had all ready realized that there's money to be had in selling originals. And potential buyers want what they saw in the published version. Pencils would not look right.

I draw on heavy 24 lb. typing paper. It's not very expensive. And it doesn't bother me to throw away a drawing that isn't going well.

If I stop penciling, and just ink directly, maybe then I could get the line I wanted. And I could then eliminate the penciling altogether. Sure, I may have to toss a lot of the drawings, but I draw pretty fast. And, there would be no erasing. With no penciling and no erasing, this new method could, if I was able to master it, be a time saver.

So, I started to draw on a white piece of paper with no penciling, deciding that if the drawing turned out OK, it was a keeper. And if the drawing didn't work, I would toss it. I drew as fast as I could, but taking a bit of time to picture the composition in my mind.

Above: a rejected cartoon -- for reasons you can figure out. (Although I did get a lovely compliment from Matt Diffee when he happened to see it.) Looking at the tree and the doodley bits of people in the background, I could see that the line was not labored or dead. I don't know if you can see what I mean, but I can.
I started just drawing whatever I could think of. A particularly unpleasant trip to a Target store at Christmas inspired the little card idea above. Again, no pencils; just a micron pen and some wash. Everyone at Target looked dreadfully unhappy, and I was glad I captured that.

"I'm J. Harold Phipps and I meet or exceed my media hype."

J. Harold Phipps is maybe too sketchy, but I do like his body language: leaning into his gait as he walks swiftly toward his networking target with his pointy hand. I don't think I could've achieved this vitality with penciling first.

Above is another of the hundreds of drawings that I've done with no pencil foundation. Again, I think I'm fortunate that I can look at a piece of paper and see what I want where. I think that it becomes easier and easier to manage layout the more you draw.

So, that's my little production secret: no penciling. I like the line I get when the drawing tool is actually drawing, y'know? And, after doing a lot of drawings like this (maybe not as many as would be in a six foot high stack), I'm able to draw faster and I'm not afraid of the ink pen! I don't think it's for everyone, but drawing without pencils really freed me up, gave my cartoons a better look, and made me happier.

And, yes, I do recycle all those crumpled up drawings at the local recycling facility!


Kevin Spear said...

Some great insights, Mike. There is something to be said about the spontaneity of a fresh, inked drawing. Keep up the good work.


Mike,I always wanted to quick sketch it like Ross& Dole. Never worked out. I like the way you do it. And you're sure good at drawing instruments. By the way, the day you had the article about
Mr,. Preston, I received a check for one of my cartoons. Must be tje luck ofthe irish. Thanks, Mike. From Don Cresci the Mediterrean irishman.

Richard Blanco said...

I don't know...
I would have to try that and see how it works out.
I would hate to be like 3/4 of the way into a cartoon and somehow scr... it up.
You have certainly given me some food for thought.
Thanks, Mike.

Brian Fies said...

Terrific self-analysis, Mike. I appreciate the amount of thought you put into your style, and your ability to recreate that process. More proof of how hard it is to make it look easy.

I think I'm very unusual in liking my inked work much more than my pencils. You do sacrifice some spontaneity, but I really like the weight and polish of inks. Of course, when I'm inking myself, my pencils are often very sketchy and I rely on the inks to add detail and clean things up, so that contributes to my attitude. I just don't feel like my drawings come to life (to the feeble extent they do) until they're inked.

One of my favorite posts of yours!

Mark Anderson said...

I wish I were brave enough to just ink stuff right out of the gate, but I'm a pencil/light desk sort of guy, and I'm OK with that.


Seriously I am.


No, what?!

Oh. I think that's some gravy.

Sorry, I thought you were looking at me skeptically or something.