Monday, November 23, 2009


Page 6 colorized. Click to enlarge. More after.

I learned a new lesson this week: never draw speech bubbles directly into the original line art. I'm pretty sure somebody made a comment to this effect several months ago, but I'm a late bloomer. There are a few really good reasons not to bake speech bubbles into the drawing:
  1. The dialogue may need to change (as it did with this page).
  2. I may want to change the way I draw the bubbles, themselves (with this page, I switched from the old hand-drawn bubbles to stroked paths, which will be easier to modify in the future).
  3. I'm going to have to change the font (suggestions welcome), which means I'll have to resize the speech bubbles later, anyway.
  4. I want to publish the book in other languages, and I'll have to resize the bubbles to match the localized text.
  5. I may want to use the panels in an animatic someday, in which case I'll want the bubbles removed.
  6. If I ever want to sell prints of individual pages, they'll probably sell better without the text.
That said, the bubbles need to be a part of the composition from the very beginning. They just need to be on a separate layer. It took some time to re-draw all the bubble-hidden detail for this page, but I'm glad I did it:

Another lesson learned. I'll double back and remove the bubbles from pages 3, 4, and 5 in the coming weeks. That's what we artists call "eating your vegetables."

Ah, before I forget: paths are rad. Once again, a commenter recommended this months ago. I had known about paths for years, but for some reason hadn't really played with them too much until I picked up the DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics. The moral of the book: paths are rad (it has other morals, but I am prohibited from learning them until I've wasted a few thousand more hours doing stuff the wrong way). But yes, paths. I am a convert. Never again will I spend fifteen minutes redrawing a long, curved line by hand.

For the uninitiated (i.e. me, a month ago), paths are vector-based lines that can be manipulated with little handles. You bend the handle, the line curves. You need to make the line zig, you add a new handle and bend it the other way. The paths live in the paths palette, which sits just to the right of your layers palette. The path tools sit near the bottom of the toolbar -- you really only need two of them to start: the pen tool and the direct selection tool. Try different combinations of ctrl, shift, and alt (or the Mac variants of these keys, which I think are command, lilt, and traipse) to see how these tools alter a path. Once you've got a path, right-click it and select "stroke subpath." BAM! Photoshop traces the path with whatever brush and color you've got currently selected. Instant smooth line. Now go have an Asahi. Note that it is super dry.

On to new business! Namely, my ongoing quest to get faster. I could really use a breakthrough on this -- I feel like I've been achieving incremental efficiency improvements, but what I really need is to go twice as fast as I'm going right now. I'll be trying out the following tactics this week:
  1. No internet (this time, for real).
  2. Start each day with fifteen minutes of planning. Set small, achievable goals.
  3. Systematize the coloring process: do all shadows at once, do all highlights at once.
  4. When stuck on something, switch to a new task and let the old problem percolate in the background.
  5. Spend more time on the rough underdrawing -- work on it until the proportions and composition are correct. This should reduce the amount of time spent erasing "finished" line work.
  6. Hire a flatter.
  7. Take more small breaks to prevent short-term burnout.
  8. Get a more comfortable chair (I'd imagine that in the current economic climate, the market would be glutted with abandoned office chairs).
  9. Check out more audio books from the library. Preferably, ones that don't suck.
Does anybody have any other ideas?

Finally, many thanks to Craig and Nathalie Kaplan for translating my pitch letter into French for me. With their help, I've added some French names to the list of publishers who are now looking at Project Waldo.