Trebarg Rough Concept

Here you can see the process I use to create art digitally using Adobe PhotoShop and a Wacom Intuos 3 drawing tablet.

When creating traditional pencil-and-inked art on paper (or in the case of the old TP strips, on bristol board) I would follow a fairly simple process:

  1. I would do rough thumbnail sketches on scrap paper or in a sketch book to lay out the individual panels.
  2. Once I was happy with the thumbnails, I would sketch out a rough layout for the strip, to decide on the size and placement of individual panels.
  3. Next, I would take a clean sheet of bristol board, and use a ruler to pencil in the panels.
  4. Then I would pencil the artwork, based on the thumbnails, into the individual panels.  This generally involved a LOT of erasing, redrawing.  Often I could not recreate exactly what it was that I liked about the thumbnails, which is very frustrating.
  5. Next, I would use pens to ink the entire strip on the bristol board.  This is the most dangerous step of the process.  One mistake (and I generally made way more than one) would create a permanent problem.  One of the reasons I did very little hatching/shading on the strip is that it could ruin the artwork if I didn’t get it exactly right.
  6. Once the inks were complete, I would ink the borders around the panels, erase the pencils, and scan the strip into PhotoShop using the “Line Art’ setting on an HP flatbed scanner.
  7. Once I had the digitized version of the strip, I would use “Select -> Color Range” to isolate the blacks from the white background (and the gray aliasing artifacts from the scan).   I would then copy and paste these into a transparent layer, in a new blank document.  This would allow Dave to do the coloring on separate layers beneath the line work, but there was some loss of detail resulting in sharp, pixilated, jaggy lines.

In contrast, the above image illustrates the process that I use to create black and white artwork completely digitally.  There are a number of tremendous advantages to doing the artwork this way, and the process is a lot simpler and more streamlined.

  1. First, I create a new image with a white background.
  2. Next I create a new layer with a transparent background and label it something like “rough pencils.”  I use a standard brush set to 9 pixels and 50% hardness. I use a Wacom Intuos 3 tablet then to roughly sketch out the basic shapes in much the same way that I would when doing the thumbnails in my older process.  The result is what you see above on the left.  One thing I really love about working digitally is that it’s very easy to erase and redraw over the same parts of the image.  In the above image Trebarg’s left leg was way too long, but I was happy with the foot.   To fix this I simply erased a chunk of his lower leg below the knee, selected the foot, and moved it up, redrawing that part of the leg in.
  3. Next, I set the opacity of the current layer to 50%, which makes the brush strokes appear light gray and makes it easier to draw over them.   I create another layer with a transparent background and label it something like “pencils.”   I set the brush to 3 pixels, and create new, tighter pencils right on top of the rough thumbnail.  The result is the center image that you see above.
  4. Once I’m happy with the pencils, I set the “rough pencils” layer to be invisible, and I adjust the “pencils” layer to 50% opacity.  I create another layer with a transparent background and label it “inks.”  I use a combination of 9 and 6 point brushes to ink on top of the tightened pencils.  The final result is on the right above.

Working in layers digitally with a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet allows me to very rapidly produce high quality line work without the drawbacks of working on paper.  Mistakes can very quickly be fixed, erasures are permanent and don’t leave “ghosts” behind on the canvas, and inking is no longer “dangerous” because the original pencils are unharmed and anything can be undone.  This new process combined with the redesigned characters should allow me to produce high quality strips very rapidly.  The only major drawback is that there is no real, tangible output from the artwork that I can hold in my hands and, if necessary, rescan years later.

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