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Making Comics is About Design

I've been working on creating a comics course.

A theme started to emerge as I designed this course: the process of making comics is a sequence of design phases!

First, you design the script, then you design the pages, then you let the characters audition in your sketchbook — you design them. You design the world they inhabit. You design the style you want to use to render the pages.

It's all about design!

This is the basic mechanism behind how designers design something. Say you want to design a chair. You draw a design, you make a prototype, and you put that prototype in a space where you imagine it will be found. Does it look good there? You invite people of different sizes and body shapes to sit in the chair, to find out if it is a comfortable chair. You figure out the small adjustments you want to make, you go back to the drawing board, and then you go back to the workplace to make another prototype. And you do this until you are happy with the design.

You need to go through this exact same process to design a script, going through different prototypes, called drafts in this case. You need to go through different page designs, by making many quick thumbnails. Rinse and repeat for character designs. For world building. For developing a style. Et cetera.

You can find the course online for free here:

Comics Course


Developing Your Art Skills In Isolation

Franklin Booth is known for his amazing, beautiful pen drawings. There is a famous story about him; he saw the illustrations in newspapers and tried to make one similar to it with a dip pen. The thing is, these illustrations were woodblock engravings! But he lived in a rural area, disconnected from the world, and developed his own unique, gorgeous style. Many pen and ink artists who followed him - including many comics artists - were clearly inspired by his work.

Had he had access to artists of his time, he would probably have taken a very different path, and we would have missed out on something important.

It is a good idea to forge your own path, to develop in isolation a bit as an artist. This is not easy in modern times where social media tempt you to post everything.

Do some work in private! Develop, don’t show everything. When you have a stack of works, go through them and maybe share the things you still like, or like again.


This Is Something All Artists Go Through

Francis Bacon was the most expensive living artist when he was still alive, and the prices of his paintings have gone up, sometimes selling into the millions.

This same Francis apparently hated his paintings so much that he would feel the urge to destroy them days after he made them.

The gallery that represented Francis had a an assistant stationed in Francis' studio, to silently whisk away the paintings that were finished, before Francis could destroy them.

Do you see mistakes in your art? You're not alone. Every artist has that. Your idols experience that too. Keep going though!

All artists hate their own work! Don't let that stop you.


Optimal Conditions For Creating Art

Caravaggio lived before and was an inspiration to Rembrandt. He made these still life paintings of fruit, giving each a different texture to brag about his skills. He broke part of a wall and ceiling in his apartment to get the perfect light from above on his still life, which he naturally got in trouble for with his landlord.

You don’t have to be as rigorous, of course. It can be small things: put your drawing tools within reach, and maybe put your gaming gear out of reach. Put time limits on being on social media. Plan in an immutable time in your schedule for making art.

What changes do you make in your environment for your art?


How To Become Your Own Teacher

The drawing from memory exercise isn’t a very strict procedure.

The critical, crucial step is to verify your drawing, to compare it to your reference, to measure.

You can also do this while drawing from life, for example. You can draw a figure and then measure it, holding your pencil out and comparing to your drawing to find out if you got proportions or orientations wrong. You perhaps find out that way that you maybe consistently draw the head too big, and you know to focus on that. And you start to notice it, and you start to draw the head smaller, in a more correct proportion to the body.

Comparing against reference, and then fixing your drawing is, I think, the crucial step. It is where you find out what you’re doing wrong. You can be your own teacher that way and critique your own work.

Try this: after you practiced drawing from memory, keep drawing the thing many times, occasionally comparing against the reference. You’ll discover you developed a sixth sense for when a line is wrong. This is very valuable!


What Would Rembrandt Do If He Were Alive Today?

What would Rembrandt do if he were alive today?

He used the state-of-the-art technologies of his time: oil paint, etching.

He was a commercial artist, making portraits, etches to sell. Etching was the best way to make many reproductions of a work of art.

Rembrandt also made his own art materials. You can see pieces of egg shell in some of his paintings. When etching, he developed a new method, using wax to coat plates so he could use much looser lines.

He was interested in storytelling. He really wanted to make these paintings that depicted biblical scenes, but portraits of rich people brought in way more money.

Commercial. State-of-the-art technologies. Making his own tools. Telling stories.

Would he be a film maker today? Would he be making his own cameras, or creating his own render farms for special effects?

He went bankrupt, spent way too much money in his time. He’d probably be notorious in Hollywood for not sticking to budgets.


How To Turn Drawing Into an Addiction?

Computer games can be addictive. You play, make a small mistake and game over. But you feel it was a dumb, tiny mistake! You want to have *just one more go* at it, just this once, *this time* you will clear that hurdle. And you try again. When you succeed, your brain gets that shot of endorphins. You feel great, and you move on to the next level. And then the sun rises.

Programming can be like that. You write some code, but it doesn’t work! Just one small mistake. You go look for it, try to fix it. Just one more try. Solved! Endorphin rush. And you write the next bit of code. And then the sun comes up.

How do you create an addiction like that for drawing?

Try to find a nice looking subject that is *just* out of reach, and then keep at it until you get it right, and then feel that rush of endorphins!


Is it better to not understand what you're looking at?

Artistically, is it important to understand what you are looking at?

In Betty Edwards’ excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”, she has students draw something, and then draw something upside down. The upside down version is invariably better. The reason is, people don’t understand what they are looking at, and so the only thing they can do is copy the abstract elements, the lines, where they start relative to each other, at what angle they slant, et cetera. And then the drawing just magically re-appears again on the page.

Our eyes are constantly filtering out information. We are bombarded with data, and the brain reduces everything to symbols. If you see a lion walking the streets, your brain reduces it to something on four legs (can run fast!) with teeth (that can eat you!) and you run.

You don't remember how the line reflected in its fur.

And yet, that is exactly the thing you need to notice when drawing a lion. You have to learn to see, to notice, all the abstract elements of everything, so that you can start to depict it realistically.

You don't have to draw everything upside down, but it does help to draw just the abstract elements of the thing you see, and not the symbol as you think you remember it.


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