From time to time I'll hear questions from other artists concerning artistic pathways.
It probably stems from seeing my work over the years. Early in my career I was given a tremendous opportunity to draw the first Prophet book for Image Comics. I had years of inking experience behind me but I had never drawn a full comic book prior to that experience. The first issue sold nearly a half million copies. My first foray into penciling/inking was quite a spectacle... Looking back, it's one of the most cringe-worthy books from the 90's. That was a little over 20 years ago. When I returned to the comic book field I was a different artist thankfully. Obviously 20 years is a long time for a growth curve.
Check out some of my Journals here on DA. I delve into getting into the business and what pushed me, etc. Mostly it's just focusing on weaknesses and addressing them. Fixing what's broke or doesn't perform as well as I feel it should. Which, is of course, a never ending quest.
Drawing from life [ Life Drawing ] changed the game for me quite a bit.
The things I learned from attempting to capture live subjects and integrating what I learned into other forms of illustration, for me, was key. Too many artists kid themselves into thinking that their style will change into something similar to what you see from traditional Life Drawing artists. A charcoal, tonal illustrative style that lacks the punch and exaggeration one finds in comic book and video game art. It simply isn't the case.
It's a lot like Cross Training. All the top athletes cross train. If you're a Mixed Martial Artist fighting in the UFC like George St Pierre, you'll notice he trains with the Canadian Olympic gymnasts. You wouldn't say he fights like a gymnast would you? But it's common for a comic book artist or animation artist to shrug off Life Drawing because they don't think what they'll gain from the exercise can apply to their particular craft. Also, all too often, no one likes to look bad trying something new...
What Artistic Cross Training does is drastically improve the way you see both organic and inorganic objects. The way light and shadow truly affects a surface. Light and shadow, after all, are what outlines and line work are trying to capture. If your concept of how light and shadow and lines work is learned only from what you've seen from other artists and what you've been taught from studying art instruction books - you are severely handicapping yourself. That's not to say that there aren't great artists out there that haven't learned how to draw that way exclusively. But it begs the question of how much their art would improve if they did! In some cases it's hard to imagine.
The lessons from interpreting forms from Life Drawing can easily be applied to every art style. Particularly cartooning. The best cartoonists and animation artists readily study life! The best studios would even bring in live animals to draw from. You can't develop into a top artist from just connecting tubes and blocks to create shapes. You're best served by understanding how those elements work in concert together to create movement and expression.
Okay, enough of that. The other question I get quite a bit is what tools I use to ink with.
When I first started inking at Marvel and DC Comics a new wave of inking/finishing and even drawing was sweeping the industry. At first they called it the X-Office style [ due to the almost exclusive look the X-Men books were employing ] and then, later, the Image Style. At first, very few inkers/finishers took to the style that was started by Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams. Scott really pioneered an inking trend that dominated the market for nearly 20 years and still affects the level of detail you see in a great deal of comic books today. So, like I said, at first - no one had seen anything quite like it [ it was a combination of Gil Kane mixed with Klaus Janson and some Barry Winsor Smith ]. Because I studied Portacio and Williams' Legion of the Night pages religiously in the Marvel offices - I was given the last issue of the series to ink [ and even finish ] when both Whilce and Scott were concentrating exclusively on illustrating X-Factor and Uncanny X-Men.
Studying an artistic style and actually attempting it are two different things. But I gave it my best shot. The results weren't so hot but the only other inker giving that inking style a shot besides Williams was Art Thibert at DC Comics. So, if you couldn't get Scott Williams to ink your book, it was left to Art Thibert or myself. Very quickly I was moved to the X-Office and so was Art [ he was kicking ass doing finishes on Dan Jurgen's Superman book at DC ]. All of sudden almost every inker was being asked to ink in the X-Office style. Well, there had to be a secret to it. There had to be a trick employed to capture that look.
Perhaps it was as easy as using the proper crowquill nib or brush...
One day, a veteran inker cornered me in the Marvel Bullpen. I was 21 years old at the time and I grew up reading the comic books this man had worked on. He wanted to know what the "Magic Nib" was. That's what he referred to it as. It had to be the pen nib that was delivering this new style of inking, in his opinion. It turned out we were using the exact same nib. A Hunt 102. Almost every inker at the time used that nib.
If you're a basketball player, you obviously need good athletic shoes. Probably some with ankle support, right? But it's really the way you play the game that makes all the difference. It's the same with drawing. You don't see the best artists turning in work done with Crayola Crayons but... A truly good artist, with only crayons at his/her disposal will still blow away an average artist who's using an array of the finest tools. Just like a bare-foot NBA basketball player could easily out play a top high school basketball player!
It really doesn't matter what you ink with so long as you understand what you're inking and what the lines you're throwing down mean. For the longest time I didn't. Shading lines, outlines, hatching - they were all lines. Lines that I wanted to look exactly like Scott Williams' lines. Or Terry Austin's lines or Klaus Janson's lines or Jorge Zaffino's lines. But until you truly understand what those lines represent - they're just lines. That's why, for me, it all comes back to life drawing. Life drawing teaches you what those lines represent.
I worked briefly for comic book legend, Neal Adams. Evey morning I would get to his Times Square ad agency in NYC at the crack of dawn. No one else would be there but Neal and I. Graciously, he would sit down with me and show me how he fixed all the pages I was working on the day before. He didn't have to do that but I'll never forget his patience and generosity. To this day I still recall the lessons I learned from him. Not all of it sunk in back then - but every now and then I'll draw something and think to myself, "OH! That's what he meant by that!"
One of the most important things he taught me was that the drawing tool wasn't important. I had just started inking with a brush because I was also working for Marvel. I had noticed that ALL the pages were inked using traditional India Ink! I was used to using markers! I thought, "There's no way I can turn in marker pages! They'll see I'm a fraud and never hire me again!". Yet Neal insisted that you could use whatever tool necessary to achieve the final look. All that mattered was how the book printed. He used simple Pentel Markers. I was shocked. He had used brushes, nibs and Rapidiographs in the past but settled on markers. It didn't matter. He was doing things with those markers that I couldn't dream of! So, for the work I did for Continuity Graphics [ Neal's company ] I used markers and for Marvel, DC and Valiant - I used a brush and crowquill.
These days I use brush markers. I use the Kuretake PK10-2 and the Pentel Pocket Re-fillable Brush Pen. About two years ago I used the pen used by John Byrne, The Staedtler Mars Graphic 3000 Duo and Microns. But tomorrow, if something comes out that's different I might try it. The tool isn't really important. You can get a precise line with almost any pen or brush. There's little differences, sure - but it's really what you can do with that implement that's important. It's the number of times you've thrown that Free Throw all alone that makes the difference when it's game time on the court. Not the shoes.
You can check out Scott William's amazing work by clicking on this [link]
and Art Thibert's incredible work at this [link]
. And Neal Adam's work by clicking this [link]