I get asked that question a lot because there is a perception that I am a fully digital artist because I deliver most of my work digitally. People are sometimes surprised to hear I still draw and ink on bristol board with a dip pen and brush just like cartoonists have been doing it since the dawn of time, and then scan my work in and color it via the computer and a tablet. It seems odd to some that I bother with the traditional media at all, when I could just do it all on the computer and save time, hassles and ink stains on my studio carpet.
There really is no mystery as to why I still haul out the pen nibs and the inks… the bottom line is I just like working that way, and I like the results I get better than the occasional times I have tried to work straight on the computer.
Why do I like it better? I guess I was probably born about 5-10 years too early to be a truly digital age cartoonist. I’m sort of a half-way mutant. When I started doing freelance illustration in the mid to late 1980’s, computers were still in their infancy when it came to graphics and illustration. I remember having a “Keylining and Paste-Up” class at my art college where we learned to layout text and screened images printed via photostats using waxed back stats or rubber cement, and terms like “leading” and “kerning” had not been replaced by icons and drop menu numbers. I used an airbrush as well as other media for my early illustration work, and of course had always worked on paper or board.
In 1990 I started doing comic books, and while I didn’t do much inking on those titles (David Mowry and the legendary Marie Severin inked my penciled pages) I penciled about 600 plus comic book pages over the next 5 years which went a long way to getting me ingrained in the pencil/bristol dynamic. Besides, at that time the Wacom tablet was still a pipe dream (there were some tablets but they were clunky at best) and drawing on the computer meant using a mouse… and that was impossible.
To be honest, I can’t really recall when I made the transition from natural media color to digital color work. I do remember doing a series of kids comic books for an educational company on topics like “Don’t Smoke”, “Don’t do Drugs” etc., and this client insisted I do them as vector based files. This was maybe 1992 or ’93. At the time the PC I had was way behind the Mac in terms of the version of Adobe Illustrator, so I went out and bought a PowerMac specifically for this series of projects. I scanned in my inked drawings and then used a program called “Streamline” to convert them to vector shapes. This worked okay to an extent, and I was able to click and fill with flat color and add some gradation effects, but it was a far cry from really coloring my cartooning on the computer.
At some point in the mid 90’s I bought a Wacom tablet, an ArtZ II if memory serves, and using PhotoShop started scanning in my work and doing grayscale and color digitally. I don’t recall my first digital illustration but I know when I was doing work for Cracked I was doing both grayscale and color for those parodies. By the time I made my move to MAD I was delivering 95% of my work digitally… but I was still doing the drawing and inking with natural media and I still do that today. I never took a class in digital art or in the use of PhotoShop or any other computer program… whatever I do I learned through experiment, trial and error (and error, and error, and…)
Maybe it’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks, but I love the feel of the paper beneath my hand. I like the drag and friction of the pencil tip and pen point along the surface of the board. I like the imperfections and charm of the interaction between the fibers of the paper and the pencil and ink. Mostly, I don’t like the computer getting in the way between me and what I am drawing… when I draw on the computer I feel like I am looking through a window and it is separating me from the work. Coloring is different… that can almost be mechanical when you are talking about coloring line art. It’s the drawing that I need to feel I am a physical part of. The surface of the tablet/Cintiq is too slick and glassy… even using the replacement felt tip I don’t feel like I’m working the surface properly. Using the Cintiq helps a lot with drawing, but the tactile feel still just doesn’t work for me.
I do envy a little the artists who can and do work directly on the computer from a commercial standpoint. That must be a lot faster and more efficient than slogging through drawing and erasing and inking and scanning. I also think the results they get can be fantastic and very bit as good as someone who does it the old fashioned way… I am by no means bad mouthing doing everything digitally. Speaking strictly for me, I just don’t like doing it that way and don’t like how my work turns out when I attempt digital drawing and inking.
There is also one benefit to working traditionally that working digitally does not give you… I end up with a piece of original art instead of a bunch of 1’s and 0’s on a magnetic metal disk somewhere. There may come a day soon where there is no more original art from commercial illustration… original comic book pages and cartoons will become a thing of the past. That will be a sad day. There is something to be said for holding a piece of original art in your hand, knowing it started out as a blank sheet and an artist spent their time and creative talents turning it into something wonderful… that they physically interacted with the surface of the paper and left their art, and a little bit of themselves, behind on it. I like sitting back and looking at the physical evidence of the hard work I put into a job rather than saving the file and turning off the computer.
Call me old fashioned, but that’s just the way I like to work.
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