Sunday Mailbag- Digital Sketching?

August 23rd, 2015 | Posted in Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag!

Q: Recently you changed your working process and now you are doing your pencil sketches for MAD parodies just digitally. Is this now your favorite method for all sketches? And I think your inks are still real inks. Do you print out your digital sketches and ink over them? Can you give some details and pros and cons of your new working process?

A: I’d say I know do about 75% of my “roughs” on the computer these days. The Wacom Cintiq has evolved into as close to the feel of drawing on paper as I think digital technology can get, so it’s very comfortable to use. I have the Cintiq 24HD, which is a large screen and can be positioned past the edge of a table into a drafting board level and angle. Then I use the “felt tip” inserts in the digital pen, which creates a nice ‘drag’ to the tip which reduces the slick, plasticy feel of the standard tip. Overall it makes for a good drawing experience.

It’s still not as nice and natural as using real pencil and paper, but doing roughs digitally is a real time saver for two reasons:

1. Less erasing and redrawing– The very definition of doing roughs is to rough in the elements of your illustration or comic page and work them out to best effect. That usually involves a lot of erasing and redrawing as you work out the image. The best thing about doing it digitally is you can grab sections of your rough drawings and rearrange or resize them as you see fit, without having to completely redraw them. It saves quite a bit of time when you don’t have to draw the same thing twice or three times just because you decide you need to rearrange the composition or perspective a little.

2. I’m less concerned with the “quality of line”– I often get too involved with the quality of the line when using pencil and my roughs end up being a lot tighter than they should be. That again wastes time because nobody cars about how nice your roughs looks, since I’ll be redrawing them again in pencil on the final boards anyway. For some reason working digitally I can detach myself from that and work much looser and sketchier.

My process is this: I open my layouts in PhotoShop and create a new layer over them for the lines. Then I go in with the brush tool and start roughing in my art. I may or may not actually work out some of the caricatures at this time, usually I only do for the “keystone” ones. When the roughs are done and approved I print them out at original art size. Then I put them on my light table with the final piece of bristol board, and start penciling in the details. I usually redraw all the faces/caricatures and any key elements I want to make sure look particularly sharp. I will also correct anything I see that needs correcting… bad perspective, etc. Any background elements or things that look decent in the rough I do not redraw. Then I start inking. I leave the light table on and turn on my desklamp. This allows me to both see my new pencils on the board and the background stuff I did not redraw via the light table. I use both as the basis of my inks.

The only “con” to working this way is I do not have any physical rough sketches after the job is done, but that is really no disadvantage at all. I guess I have occasionally sold them to people but they are hardly worth having… being only interesting to another artist interested in the process, and they can look at prints of the digital roughs for that.

Thanks to Dominik Zeillinger for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. silveraged says:

    Try Manga Studio 5 EX, much better than Photoshop for drawing. Lots of tutorials by Doug Hills on YouTube to learn it faster and brushes by Frenden that simulate just about any pencil you’d want.


I am close to adding a second caricature workshop in January in Orlando. Details here:

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