Sunday, March 30th, 2014
Q: I’ve read several “how-to” articles on inking comics – including your excellent 2-part inking tutorial – and there is great information out there. However, what I am having trouble finding is how an artist should care for their brushes and pens. Not only when one is done working with them for the day, but, also what to do with the tools during the actual inking process? For example: are you constantly swirling your brush in a cup of water in-between strokes? Does water work for cleaning permanent ink – or is something else needed?
A: Great question. You do have to care for your tools properly, both during and after use, so they stay usable and work well for you. I’ll cover the two tools I use the most for inking: dip pens and brushes, as well as inks.
Dip Pens- The quality control on pen nibs is not perfect, and I’ll find duds every now and then—nibs where the ink just won’t flow right. I toss them and grab another. That just means when I do find a good nib I like to keep it working as long as possible.
There is a long standing myth that putting a flame to your new nib burns off the film of oil that is on the nib to prevent rust, and that film of oil is bad for inking. You will see ink run off the nib quicker on a new nib, especially a crow quill like a Hunt 102, that is because the surface has that light film of oil. However putting a flame to your nib is a bad idea as it retempers the metal, makes it brittle and causes it to lose some spring. If you are dead set against using a nib out of the box without dealing with the light oil coat, use acetone or fingernail polish remover on a piece of paper towel and just quickly wipe of the nib and let it dry. This takes seconds, and removes that oil very effectively without damaging the nib. I don’t bother. In fact, I kind of like the way it works with the oil… makes for a quick and sharp first few lines.
Most of the trouble you have with a nib, at least until it either gets too loose and your line thickens up or you mess up the end with too much pressure, is old ink building up and interfering with ink flow or the closing of the two nib “tines” (the dual sides of the nib separated by the slit). Some people say a nib with ink dried on it is better for even flow, but I disagree. I can use a nib for 1/2 and hour or so before it gets too gunked up for the ink to flow well. I take an Exacto blade and scrape the dried ink off, then wipe it down with a wet cloth. It’s often really responsive right after that. I might do that a dozen times using a nib for 6 or 8 hours before it gets too loose for me to keep using, then I junk it and grab another. I usually go through a pen nib per big MAD page, but I am heavy handed when I ink.
I keep my nibs in old cigar boxes. They are metal and hard to store badly. I just don’t let them get wet or keep them anywhere it might be too humid, like near an open window in summer. Nibs I have used and are still good I just clean up and keep in their holder. They are pretty indestructible as long as they stay dry.
Brushes- These need a lot more care, especially real hair brushes. I use Winsor Netwon Series 7 red sables, a #2 and a #4 mostly.
The big thing with brushes is to keep the ink out of the base of the brush where the hairs are glued under the metal collar. Find a reservoir where you don’t have too much ink and can really see the brush end as you dip it… a big inkwell is no good for that. You will end up over-dipping at some point and getting ink into that glued area. Then it starts messing with the adherence of your brush hairs and separates those hairs, and everything goes to hell. Nice, careful dips… keep that ink on the lower two thirds of your brush.
While inking I clean my brush pretty often. Not after every dip but probably every 1o-15 minutes of using it. I have a big can of water next to me and I dump it and get clean water probably at least once or twice a day if I am doing a lot of brush work. I will shake the brush vigorously in the water and then blot it gently with a paper towel. Avoid splitting the hairs apart and never rub it on the bottom of the water jar. That also loosens the gluing. If your brush is in good shape, once you have the bristles wet from a rinse you should be able to slap it smartly against your hand (so that the metal collar of the brush is what hit the pads of your hand and the bristles “snap” in the air) and the hairs should snap into shape right away. There should be no splits in the bristles when you do that. If there are splits the brush is or is almost shot. Be careful you don’t do that snap thing over your work, as the brush has to be reasonably wet and water will fly.
When I want to put my brush aside and use a pen for awhile, I will rinse it and do that “snap”, or else when it’s wet I will hold it at about a 20 degree angle and gently pull it backward it against my palm or a piece of clean board while I rotate the barrel, so the wet brush is formed into a nice, sharp point, Then I lay it down ON ITS SIDE on a piece of clean towel. You don’t want a wet brush that is not thoroughly cleaned stored upright, as the water will drain down into the gluing and take any particles with it, gradually loosening up the bristles. The glue they use is waterproof but the weight of the water and gravity forcing it down into the glued area along with tiny ink particles will start the loosening process. Some brush water containers have inverted holders that hold the brush in the water bristle end down, with the bristles floating free in the water. That’s okay while you work but isn’t really necessary. . . as long as the brush itself is rinsed well and shaped into a nice point when wet, it’s okay to dry out. Just make sure it is thoroughly rinsed out, and no ink is in there to dry on the bristles.
You will want to clean your brush well when you are done using it. There are lots of brush cleaning cakes and stuff out there, most of it is just soap. It’d best to use any kind of soap that doesn’t have deodorants or other additives to it. Some people say hair shampoo is best, but it depends on what kind of hair shampoo. You don’t want to use something with conditioners or other chemicals meant to make your hair soft or smell like coconuts. Just a nice, mild, fragrance-free soap bar will work. Gently swirl the hairs on the bar and then on the palm of your hand, working up a little lather. You don’t need much soap. Rinse and keep doing his until you get nothing but perfectly clear water in your rinse. Look for little flecks of dried ink, like grains of pepper, in your bristles. Try and wash/rinse those out if you see any.
The key to storing your brush is getting that nice point with the “snap” method or the rotate and draw back method I mentioned before. Dry the barrel and collar of the brush with a paper towel and let the hairs air-dry in that pointed shape.
One thing I used to do was use “gum arabic” to shape and store my brushes. Gum arabic is a liquid medium that is used in watercolor work, and can be purchased in most art stores that sell fine art painting supplies. It’s completely water soluble, but dries into a hard, almost plastic form. By dipping your clean, wet brush into gum arabic (just shy of the point where the hairs go into the metal collar) and then shaping it into that nice point, it will dry into a hard form and keep that point forever. That is until you rinse the brush again, at which time the gun arabic instantly dissolves leaving your brush ready to ink. That’s a nice way to go but I do not think it’s necessary… just point your brush when wet and allowing to dry keeps the point nicely. Ink is a harsh thing to use on a brush and you will inevitably destroy brushes with it. A little care will keep them going for a long time, though.
Ink- I have a nifty little inkwell that only takes a little bit of ink at a time, and I clean it out after every job. Therefore, I use fresh ink every time I do a project, and my ink never congeals much since I have to “top off” the ink several times a day as I deplete the reservoir. I know some inkers like the ink to thicken up some. I don’t. I think it works best right out of the bottle. I know one inker who leaves his rather large inkwell open 24/7 and sprays the household cleaner “Fantastik” into his ink before each job. He told me it was something Wally Wood did, and that the chemicals in “Fantastik” (and only that one, stuff like “Windex” wouldn’t work) would loosen up the thickening ink to give you a perfect consistency. I never had cause to try that. I’d be concerned with the effect of the archival nature of the inks and the board. Anyway I always use fresh ink so I don’t have to worry about its care. Also, I will never run out of ink so conservation is a moot point.
Thanks to Greg Lunzar 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!
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
Q: Like you I use a nib (i.e. a dip pen and ink) to draw cartoons with but unlike you I don’t have deadlines to worry about. Artwork inked with a nib can take a long time to dry before you can erase any pencil lines and scan into the computer to be coloured. Do you have a number of pieces on the go at any one time or do you have to just go and do something else. I can’t imagine a client would accept, “sorry, the ink isn’t dry”!
A: Inking with a dip pen does lay down a lot of ink and it does take a bit of time to dry… but not THAT long. Even the heaviest of lines are dry in about 10 minutes or so…. certainly not long enough that it would interfere with meeting a deadline. The main concern with using a pen nib to ink is smearing the inked lines with my hand if I try to work on the drawing while it’s too wet. I do several things to combat this:
- Work on a few different pages at the same time- As you mentioned, this is a good solution if you have multiple pieces to do at one time. In the case of a MAD parody, I usually have several pages to do for a job, so its easy to work on one until it’s too wet to continue working on, then I toss it aside and grab another page and work on that until it’s too wet… then on to another or back to the now dry first page.
- Work down and to the right- (If you are a lefty it would be “down and to the left”). I will start in the upper left of either the panel or object I am working on, then proceed to lay down ink lines as I move down and to the right, ending up on the lower right of the panel or object. In this way all my wet, inked lines are above and to the left of my inking hand, and thus never get obscured or passed over by that hand. I can see them at all times and am never in danger of smearing them… unless I forget and move back up to the upper left again in which case both smearing and swearing occur in proportionate amounts.
- Use a brush for the big lines- The big, thick lines take a lot longer to dry due to the heavy amount of ink laid down, but you use FAR less ink when using a brush as opposed to a pen and nib. I will often use a #2 or #3 watercolor brush to ink in big, bold lines for that reason. They are dry almost instantly. If you are comfortable inking with a brush, this is a good solution.
- Blot the not-quite-dry lines- I don’t do this too often because it often messes up the line, but you can carefully blot the excess ink off the paper surface if you use a tightly rolled paper towel. Roll up a folded paper towel so it is about a 4 inch long tightly rolled tube. Lay it on the paper surface close to the wet line but not on the wet area. Roll it slowly across the paper and wet line keeping gentle pressure on the roll and not allowing it to slide at all… the trick is to roll it along the surface. This only works for smaller areas as once you reach the full circumference of the roll you have to stop blotting. Also the area cannot be too wet, or you will just squeeze it into a big blob of ink.
Fortunately for inkers everywhere, there is a little thing called “white out” that can be used to fix the inevitable little smears and screw ups when needed… nobody likes to use that stuff, though, so a little care and foresight when inking will save on the need for the white.
See my tutorial on inking for more techniques and tips.
Thanks to Des Campbell from England 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!
Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Q: Is there any way you could explain the way you apply line weight (when inking) and why you would do it in a particular place?
A: You can find out a little bit about line weights and variations in my tutorial on inking part one and part two, but I don’t touch on it too deeply. I do say the following:
You add weight to a line to make something seem heavier or more substantial, or to place it solidly in front of another object, or to emphasize a light source.
. . . which really is 90% of the concept of line weight. Basically the idea is that the variation of the weight of inked lines adds visual interest, life, movement and volume to your drawing. Lines that are all the same thickness become flat, lifeless and boring. The inker must not consider their lines nothing but contours that define the edges of forms and objects. These lines also help define the volume of the objects drawn. The question here is when and where do you apply line weight differences?
1. Establishing a light source- Traditional thinking is that comic book inkers treat line weight as a way to suggest volume by using the line weights to describe the lightsourse on the object being inked. In its simplest form this means keeping line weight thin on the side closest to the light source (the part being “hit” with the light) and thick on the side away from the light source (the “shadow” side). You can quite effectively indicate light and volume using this basic approach:
Line weight isn’t that simplistic, though. There are other instances where you might make a line thicker or thinner.
2. Create depth of field- Heavier lines attract the eye more than thin ones, and objects inked with heavier lines will usually be read as closer to the viewer than ones using lighter, thinner lines. You can create depth of field or atmospheric perspective by using thinner, lighter and less varied lines in objects in the background than those in the foreground of your drawing:
3. Separate objects from one another- Since bolder lines are more noticeable and “stick out” more you can beef up a line to make the object it defines be more separated from the objects around it:
4. Place focus on an object- Using the boldest lines of your drawing on a single object or area with draw the eye to that area, and will help place the focus of the viewer on that area. The inker can use this to emphasize the most important part of their drawing.
It’s also important to understand that choosing to make lines thinner is also using line weight. You can create a wispy or fragile look to an object by using thinner lines to define it.
Personally I don’t over-think using line weight when I ink, but rather begin using a simple but consistent approach. I start by inking the foreground and most important elements of a drawing and establish a consistent light source and use nice bold lines in the “away” areas. Then, as I go farther and farther into the background of the image, I use lighter and less varied lines. Once I am done with the main inking, I go back in and beef up lines I feel need to be bolder in order to make things pop out here and there. I can also reduce the thickness of a line with white out (which these days I do digitally after scanning) if I feel I need to.
I’ve learned over the years with inking that you cannot approach a drawing being timid or too analytical. You need to look it over once, get an idea of what you want to do and then attack it with the ink, using confident pen or brush strokes and knowing that any mistakes or missteps can be corrected later.
Thanks to Reggie Ferguson 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!
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Here’s what I’ve got on the board right now:
- Supercapers Comic Book- 13 page full color promo comic for the movie I did illustration work on. I was given two weeks to get this done, which is almost impossible so I am collaborating with my friend and ace comic book artist/inker Tom Nguyen on it. I’m doing the penciling, color and all design/layout while Tom is inking most of the book with me inking the caricatured faces and some other detail work. It’s been a long time since anyone else has inked my work, so this should be fun to see. Tom is one of the best inkers out there. The comic is going to be given away as a promo item at WonderCon in San Fransisco the last weekend of February. I will share some of it here on The MAD Blog once its released.
- MAD Job- Working on a two page gag article likely for #500 but might end up in #501. It’s one of those “evergreen” type pieces.
In the meantime, here is a job I did for movie industry magazine Fade In a few months ago. The issue just hit the news stands. It was a tough job, as the topic was discrimination in Hollywood. Short of throwing KKK hoods on studio executives or having some burning crosses in front of the Hollywood sign, it was difficult to come up with images that demonstrated the discrimination minority creators and actors/actresses deal with in the movie business. The main image was the client’s concept, playing on the popularity of superhero movies:
The idea is that the studio execs are ignoring black superhero films in favor of ones with white heroes. Apparently nobody wants to make a Black Panther, Luke Cage or Jon Stewart Green Lantern movie, but they will make The Hulk. The thing is, there are sadly few mainstream black superheroes anybody outside of comic book fandom has ever heard of (Blade comes to mind as one that went from relative obscurity to a three film franchise, but had anybody ever heard of “Blade” before the first film?), so that’s not exactly a strong message. Also, the Hulk is green… not white.
The other spots were illustrating specific stories of discrimination in the article.
A few other small projects in the works as well. Next week I should be able to share the artwork I did for an article in the March issue of Penthouse, which should be on the stands by then.
Sunday, December 14th, 2008
Q: After all of these years of cartooning, I should know this, but one of the biggest issues I have when it comes to drawing and cartooning is when I erase something on my bristol board it ruins that area (that I erased in) when it comes down to inking it. What happens is that area that I erased in ends up creating awful, bleeding lines (or runny) from my ink, therefore not allowing me to have control and achieve the desired effect. I’m always afraid to erase too much. I don’t erase ‘rough’ or anything, and I use Strathmore 300 series Vellum. I realize that this happens largely in part because the eraser takes away the texture of the paper. So, the question is, what do you recommend I do to fix this? Is there some kind of ‘magic’ paper out there that can handle an eraser better, or is it best to NOT erase and work around mistakes–erasing when completed? Basically, what do you recommend?
A: This question comes from Nate Fakes, a cartoonist, writer and fellow member of the Usual Gang of Idiots! Thanks for the question, Nate!
Just to clarify: your problem is that you are penciling on Strathmore 300 board, do some corrective erasing and further penciling, and then when you ink on top of the pencils you have bleeding and fuzzy lines in the areas you erased on. I just wanted to make sure the that was clear, and your issue was not that the inks smeared when you later erased the pncil lines way after inking.
The bottom line is that should not happen. You must be able to erase and make corrections at the pencil stage. I am pretty sure the problem is yourbioard. Strathmore 300 is not a very good board… I’d call it a “student grade” board, good enough for layouts, experimentation and studies but not consitant enough for pro work. If you are going to use real ink with a dip pen or brush as opposed to a marker or brush pen, get at least Strathmore 400 series. If the texture of the paper is not important to the look you are going for, get smooth (plate) finish as opposed to vellum. That has a much better surface for smooth inking. Also use 3 ply thickness or heavier… the thicker plys seem to have the better weave. Also buy the indivudal baords as the bound tablets are not the surface you need to work on.
Unfortunately Strathmore has really lost quality control in the last few years. I’ve learned the hard way not to buy too large a quantity of Strathmore board at a time, as some batches are badly woven. Right now I have a stack of 500 series Strathmore that is practically useless as I get the bleeding you described no matter what on every piece. MAD had a batch like that a year or two ago and it was awful. Lot’s of “fixing” the lines in PhotoShop. ugh. That stuff is too expensive to put up with those kinds of issues.
It seems like any cartoonist you talk to that has been in the business for a long time will lament the poor quality of art supplies these days. Nibs, ink, paper, etc. are just not made the way they used to be. This is not a new phenomenon. Charles Schulz used an Esterbrook Radio pen #914 for his work, and when the company went out of business he purchased enough nibs to last the rest of his life. I know a few other cartoonists who own and horde pen nibs or other art supplies that have been discontinued because they can’t stand the later maufactured versions.
Strathmore’s issue seem to be batch related, so if you get a bad board or two return the rest or at least seek new board from a different source. I’m going to be forced to get a new pack of 500 series as this stuff I have is almost unuseable. I prefer the vellum surface as I like what the imperfections and texture add to my inks, but to each their own. The point is seek a better surface as there are enough challenges to overcome in any given job withotu fighting poor materials.
Thanks again to Nate Fakes 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!
Sunday, March 30th, 2008
Q: I was wondering what is a wash (in inking), and how do you do it? I know that it makes the ink turn grey, or maybe something like that.
A: Washes are areas of gray created by watered down ink that you “wash” into an inked drawing to add values of gray and turn it into a more “inked painting”. Washes can be used either as flat areas of specific values or as a more painted grayscale set of values like a monochrome watercolor painting.
Washes are more easily accomplished via the computer these days, and I often will use the computer to add the washes and values after scanning in the line artwork in the same manner I add my color when I am doing a black and white piece. Occasionally, however, I will do it the old fashioned way to take advantage of the more flawed and hand-done look it imparts… especially with respect to the texture of the board the washes naturally pick up.
The best way to create consistent natural washes is to set up a “palette” of gray values. Take small several plastic bottles and add water to them, then add drops of ink until you reach a range of values… say one at 10%, one at 30%, one at 50%, etc. How do you know what percent they are. You eyeball it, of course. It doesn’t really matter what actual percentage of black it is anyway… it’s all about how it looks. Once you have the these set up, you can dip a clean, rinsed brush into them to get a pure, consistent wash value. You wash over your linework to add the values where you want them. Be sure you used a waterproof ink for the linework… otherwise you will mess your lines up badly.
Washes work like watercolors, where if you place one on top of the other the overlap produces a darker value. You can paint an area flat or do some modeling and rendering to make a much more dimensional looking final result. Here are some examples of some ink and wash art, although I had a hard time finding anything at all using physical washes… it’s so much easier on the computer:
I added an actual ink wash to the seat and console of this
spot illustration for MAD Kids just to be different…
The washes on this ink sketch were added with
grayscale markers of 10%, 20% and 40%
These darker “washes” were done digitally on this
spot illustration for Fade In Magazine
Here’s a small spot I also did for Fade In before adding
some more subtle washes using PhotoShop
With the digital washes. More subtle than in the Pee wee spot…
“Back in the Day” at MAD the artists used a lot of washes to accent the inked artwork, but most avoided a fully painted look. They would use actual washes or often gray markers to add just a little value in the art, since the whole thing (pasted up lettering and all) was photostated as a line screen it all became a dot pattern and could be reproduced in print. Some artists, Like Mort Drucker, were old school and used “rubylith” to indicate percentages of gray for flat areas to add values. Rubylith is a sheet of a clear acetate plastic with a film of transparent red affixed to it like a peel off sticker. Mort would place this sheet over a portion of his art and tape into place. Then he would cut out and remove the areas of red that were not to be the gray value, leaving a red “mask” over the area that was to be gray. Then he would write what percentage of gray he wanted the red area to be:
Mort original panel with rubylith in place. Note the 20% indicated
for the printer. The other washes were done in markers. The foreground
character’s shirt has marker values under the rubylith.
The the printer would remove the rubylith and photostat the inked art using a halftone screen to create the dot patterns. Then he would “strip” the rubylith area into the “black plate” of the print film using the percentage indicated. The end result:
20% value in place where Mort wanted…
Thanks to Mike Kuznar 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. I’m out!!!
Friday, March 7th, 2008
Well, I’m back from the St. Louis NCN MiniCon.
It was a great time even though I spent a good part of it frantically working on the last few pages of a MAD parody. That ended up being alright as I set up shop in the main competition room and everybody got a chance to see me work and ask me questions or just chat. My presentation on Monday went pretty well, although I really need to take out a lot of art from the PowerPoint show… it took two hours to go through it all. The inking workshop also went well… frankly it was a miracle that no one spilled any ink in that ballroom. Unfortunately there was a freakish snowstorm that day and a number of local artists couldn’t make it in. We still had a good crowd and I think everyone enjoyed the workshop.
Here’s a link to a local St. Louis TV report about the convention. Sorry about the used car ad that precedes it, but that’s life. No doubt this link will not last forever, so check it out while you can.
Now I have to pay the price for being out of the studio so long. On Monday there will be a new installment of the “How to Draw Caricatures” series, so be sure and check back for that next week. In the meantime here are some scans of the caricatures that were done of me this week:
Unknown?? Possibly Or?
Thursday, March 6th, 2008
Unless you’ve been to one of these events, it’s really impossible to impart the sheer creative energy and inspiration that you find there. These pictures do not tell the story, but it’s the best I can do.
Imagine a large ballroom full of artists drawing and painting in dozens of different styles and mediums. The walls about the ballroom have taped off sections with numbers above them, and each artist has his or her designated space. Gradually these spaces begin to fill up with caricatures… spanning the spectrum from a typical live, quick draw style to an elaborately rendered illustration. By the end of the event many hundreds of pieces of caricature art adorn the walls depicting the attendees of the convention. Any given artist might find 20 or more different caricatures of him/herself, some done without them even being aware they were being drawn. You my alternately find yourself the subject or a cute and fun drawing or a vicious exaggeration… or anything inbetween. You cannot help but be amazed, inspired and humbled by the talent surrounding you.
This minicon is small by comparison to the main convention that happens in the late fall (this year in Raleigh, NC in November) but it was huge by minicon standards. I would say there were as many attendees here as their was at my first main NCN convention in 1998 in Las Vegas. Gone are the days of everyone doing their live technique and today you see artists experimenting with different mediums and techniques on the fly. I was quite amazed this year at the number of artists with computer setups and Wacom tablets working digitally.
Here are a lot of pictures from yesterday’s finale of the MiniCon and the banquet and awards ceremony. As always it was fun to hang out with so many talented artists.
Court Jones seminar on digital painting
Great one of me by Jeremy Townsend
Award winners! Gold: Angel Contreras, Silver: Roger Hurtado, Bronze: Joe Bluhm
Monday, March 3rd, 2008
The St. Louis NCN MiniCon kicked off nicely last night with an icebreaker reception at the convention hotel. There is a very good turnout for this event, including two artists from Japan, one from Korea and one from Israel! Today’s festivities kick off at 9:30 with an opening meeting and speakers throughout the day including Joe Bluhm.
Artists are already sketching away at the icebreaker
“The Nose”caricature agency’s Tad Barney, Minnesota illustrator
James Hungaski and former NCN president and
Golden Nosey winner Roger Hurtado
Caricaturists Mel Lothrop, Angie Jordan and Dan Laib
All the way from Israel- Or Weitzman
St. Louis caricaturists Jim Batts, Ryan Roe and his wife Wendy
Tomorrow I will blog a full report of Monday’s activities, with plenty of pictures and artwork and the lowlights from my presentation.
Saturday, March 1st, 2008
I’m furiously trying to wrap up a MAD job today before taking off for St. Louis for the NCN Mini-Con where I will be speaking and doing a workshop on inking. So, no time for a real blog post today. Next week I will be blogging live from the mini-con with lots of pictures of artwork and other fun stuff, and on Friday look for the next installment of my “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorials.
I hope I’ll see a few MAD Blog readers at the mini-con!