Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sabbatical, Day 35 (The Zen of Delineation, Part Two)

Before we jump back on the train of thought from the previous blog, you may be well did that two-page spread turn out?

I finished it at an ungodly hour, but I couldn't stop until it was complete. I was experiencing flow like you want to when you're at the drawing board, so I just let it happen and went for broke. Once I was finally broken (but completely satisfied!), I turned in and slept 'til well past Noon. Damn shame, right? I woke up, walked into the studio, found Wayne sitting at his art table, and he looked at me and said:

"Okay, before I say anything else..."

...then he stood and applauded. Wow. That absolutely made my day, and verified that I must be doing something right with my ink brushes!

You know what else made my day? In response to my early-morning facebook declaration that this was the best comic-book art I'd ever produced (which is something one should always strive for, but rarely had I felt that so strongly), my dearest Jami posted a comment telling me she's proud to be my sister. I read this just prior to Wayne's tribute, and it almost made me cry.

But I'm a man, so I sucked it up. Now, let's jump back into the time-machine and journey to my first experiences using an ink brush.

*      *      *      *      *      *

Oh God, I hated it.

Not so much the actual using of the brush, but my inability to control it the way I wanted to. Mind you, having gotten the best tutorial I could have ever asked for from Don Simpson, my first few brush-inked pages were far better than they would have been on my own. But everything just wasn't clicking. As I discovered, brushes have a life and mind of their own.

My previous inking tool of choice had been quill pens, and I hadn't come close to mastering those - heck, the first time I started using them sans instruction (partly because I missed a LOT of school growing up), I used the nibs upside-down! - but I was familiar and comfortable with them. Pens give you direct resistance against paper, much like pencils. There's the tactile sensibility of a pen, quill or technical, that makes me understand why artists would gravitate to it. You can feel the ink going down far more directly, and you know what your basic line weight will be.

Brushes on the other hand are all about user control. You have to have nerves of steel to get lines the way you want them. My favorite artists demonstrate a precision that you would think is impossible, once you understand what they're doing. It's deceptively simple, what Don Simpson and so many others do, and I just didn't have that kind of control. The linework and cross hatching the brush yielded him would have fooled anyone after-the-fact into thinking he'd drawn with a pen. His comfort with it was stupefying. My own...not so much.

In my defense however, I was a quick study and I was determined. There were periods when I'd revert to pens, and I even invested in a full set of technical pens which are still in use twenty years later. (I always suggest spending the money on good art supplies -- they'll pay for themselves in time.) But I used the brush Don gave me a whole lot. I don't know how long he owned it before passing it along, but I gave it enough usage to wear the barrel loose and chip the paint. (Mind you, I also babied that thing. I cleaned and shaped it after every use, and I still have it tucked away, in retirement.) And I studied art styles from artists as varied as Darwyn Cooke, Terry Austin and Robert Crumb.

Over the years, a host of brushes of varying sizes, gauges, weights and shapes have been charged with bringing my visions to fruition. One thing that remains constant though is when you're having a good moment while inking, things begin to flow in a way that doesn't compare to pencilling. (And remember, I say that as someone who primarily considers himself a penciller!) It's much more about being in tune with the tool. It's Zen-like.

When I started inking HERO CORP last week, I was having internal panic-attacks. After a month of pencilling, I wondered if I had any business with a brush in my hand. It was scary, the prospect of having taken time off from work to devote to this enterprise, and possibly ruining all of that with my sub-standard talents. Was my ego (which is beyond considerable) going to allow that to happen? Yes. because I trusted that all of these years of practice hadn't failed me. They had not.

I ended up very, very pleased with that first page. I believe I solved the mystery of space, at least for this issue. The second page found me experimenting with complimentary tools and bringing out the pens. (The quill pens were too rough for this board I'd drawn on, so I knuckled down and spent four hours cleaning my trusty tech pens to make them operable again.) Those feelings of unease bubbled up again, until it was complete, and I'd stepped away from it for a while. Each successive page felt better and made me more confident.

There were many moments I was in such Zen-like flow that I forgot what I was inking while it was under the brush. Images that I had myself drawn tightly and purposely suddenly were devolved into lines and areas requiring delineation into negative and positive spaces. It was amusing though. It was a different headspace to create art in.

But pages 8 and 9, my double page FIRST double page spread...I knew something special was going to happen there. My single greatest strength as a visual artist is my sense of composition, and I designed these two pages for maximum impact. The story itself has a momentum that pushes you toward this scene, and when you arrive...let's just say, you'll feel the BOOM! I believe everything, the story, the characters, the concept for the art, the layout, the tools and the experience all led up to the best pages of art I've ever created.

I made some magic with my own two little hands. So I suppose I owe my father one for making me do my own drawing, way back when. Of course, he never got me that Johnny West action figure I wanted we're even.

The Train of Thought reminds you to make sure you have all your baggage as you disembark. Thank you for travelling with M.L.W. -- please read with us again!

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