DIY Comic Art Book Camp: Part I – Da Gear

Fifteen years ago, I was very much like you: I wanted to learn how to draw like a comic book artist.

Now, let me be clear – I didn’t want to BE a comic book artist. I just wanted the requisite SKILLS to be able to draw what I saw in my head and not be sadly disappointed once it appeared on paper. I had to teach myself, and it was a long slog. But I can happily relate that, unexpectedly, I now AM a comic book artist – however obliquely – doing colour work for an upcoming series of graphic novels from Dark Horse Comics.

So it does happen, folks.

 

That’s the purpose behind this series of articles. I know there are LOTS of you out there who want to start drawing or doing other kinds of comic art – whether you want to be a comic book artist or not – but just plain don’t know where to start. There are many methods out there, lots of books, lots of schools and instructional videos. Some are great. Some are terrible. It is my hope that I can help you cut through the clutter and achieve what you want.

In this series I plan to cover the gamut of comic art, more or less. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’m a self-taught son-of-a-gun who’s tried just about everything in the comic art arena, and I’ve built up a bit of a repertoire of what works and what doesn’t. [Note: Since we're just covering the basics in these first few articles, I'll only cover basic supplies today. Once we get to inking, colouring, etc., I'll specifically discuss supplies targeting those subjects.]

Before we move on and get to the meat of this first article, I want to make something perfectly clear, and be brutally honest. If you want to learn to draw/ink/colour for comics or simply for your own enjoyment as a hobbyist, it’s going to be hard. There is no silver bullet, no single book, no one-off method that will teach you what you want to know. It is up to YOU. YOU have to put in the time, the effort, the frustration to get where you want to be. YOU. And it may take a long time. But it will be worth it, I promise you.

Okay. On with the show.

 

I. SUPPLIES

Sketching and drawing comes with the requisite necessary supplies: paper, pencils, books, etc. You CAN just doodle with a ballpoint pen and copy paper, don’t get me wrong (actually, that’s the preferred method of at least one artist I’m familiar with). But I’m going to run through the things that, through trial and error, have worked best for me.

 

A. Paper

I know that many artists have switched to a digital work-process where they sketch and ink wholly on their computer (Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons being among those artists in the western world that do so) but if you don’t have the capability to do so, or, like me, you’re a traditionalist, then you need paper.If you’re just starting out, I recommend a sketchbook. Some enjoy using the black, hard-bound sketchbooks, and they are nice. However, using these practically necessitates that you have a good table to draw on, since you really need to lay it flat.With that in mind, I recommend a spiral-bound sketchbook. It’s versatile (you can fold the pages back, and draw while sitting in an easy chair, for instance, which is my preferred posture) and also generally cheaper than its hard-bound brethren. I tend to use 50-page Strathmore sketchbooks (the ones with the brown cover, as shown), but you can use whatever size/style suits you.The one thing that I do insiston in a sketchbook is that the paper be acid-free. I’ll tell you why: I save my sketchbooks for years and look through them frequently. I can immediately tell the ones with acid-free paper and those without: the acid-free sketchbook pages haven’t started to degrade and turn yellow yet. The other ones have. It’s a sad state of affairs. If you have any interest in looking back on your work later and seeing improvement, get acid-free paper. Thank me later.It also may help you on your artistic journey to carry around a smaller sketchbook for you to jot down ideas and images, or sketch while you’re in the park or a coffee shop. Or it may not. I’ve tried to keep one of these things and I always forget it at home. Many professionals swear by them. It’s up to you.B. PencilsThis truly IS a matter of preference. If you read any number of interviews with any number of artists, you’ll find each one uses something different.

The thing with art pencils is that they come in a dizzying variety of leads, going from the Bs (soft and dark) to the Hs (hard and light). I used to draw with 4H lead pencils – and they tore up my sketchbooks because I had to press so hard. And the dark B lead smears. But it is up to you and your particular artistic preference.

As a compromise, I tend to use HB lead (similar to the lead in a #2 pencil), which is right in the middle between the hard/soft and dark/light debate. Instead of an actual pencil I use what’s called a lead holder (pictured above), which is like a mechanical pencil, but holds thick leads that can actually be sharpened. You can get these easily from most art supply stores, or online. I use Staedtler leads, which are high-quality leads from a German technical supply firm, but you certainly don’t have to.

I have used regular old Bic mechanical pencils before and they work well, but sometimes the leads tend to snap. It’s a good bargain option, though, and works if you’re on the road.

Now, in a pinch, a #2 pencil WILL work without any problems at all. However, you have to get the right ones. I recommend Dixon-Ticonderoga #2 pencils, which are wonderful. Good lead consistency, and great erasers. The problem with erasers on regular pencils is that those of lesser quality may not erase, and will simply leave pink residue on your drawing, which is heartbreaking.

Actually, while we’re on the subject of erasers…

 

C. Erasers

Erasers are the artist’s best friend. I always have three erasers with me at any one time while I draw.

- Kneaded Eraser. There are sold in little gray rectangles and look like Sticky Tack. They are actually flexible erasers of a consistency similar to Silly Putty that you can mold and contort into just about any shape you need. Great for erasing small, targeted areas or doing light, finesse erasing when it is called for. I tend to buy two and smoosh them together. You can clean them simply by stretching and kneading them like dough. While they never “run out” I tend to replace mine every five years or so, because they to lose their “erasability” if you keep them too long.

- White Vinyl Eraser. The atomic bomb of erasers. You can get these just about anywhere office and art supplies are sold. These erasers will, with minimal effort, wipe out large expanses of unwanted lines. They also tend to last a long time. Again, I use Staedtler erasers in this case, but there are many, many, many kinds.

- “Click” Eraser. You’ve seen these. Kind of like a mechanical pencil, but there’s a long white eraser inside instead of lead.

Works very well when you need to entirely wipe out only particular parts of your work. The perfect compromise between the White Vinyl and the Kneaded erasers. Be sure to get refills, as you’ll be using this puppy quite often. Very handy, and generally reasonably priced. Some will also advise the use of the “gum” eraser, which looks for all the world like a small rectangular brick of ear wax. I have one and haven’t used it in years. You may find it useful, so it may be good for you to give one a shot and see if it works for you.
D. Ancillary Materials

You may also want to pick up these items, though they’re rarely necessary in sketching, and tend to be more helpful in inking: ruler/T-square; circle/elipse guides; French curves.

 

 II. BOOKS

On Twitter, I’ve been asked what books I’d recommend for beginning artists to learn from. I’ve become a connoisseur of art instructional books over the years (I have about 100 of them… ouch.) and I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright laughable. Some are genuine attempts are teaching. Others are transparent, self-promoting moneymaking schemes. Here are a few I recommend for the absolute beginner – I’ll recommend a few others as we go along in other articles.

– Draw the Marvel Superheroes (Klutz). No, I didn’t choose this one out of some ideological zeal for Marvel Comics. I chose it simply because, for the first-time artist, it is the best beginner’s book out there. While the book, aimed at children (but teens and adults will find it accessible and wonderfully helpful as well), comes with a pencil, eraser and set of markers (and tells you it’s okay to draw in the book – DON’T!) the main benefit is that it covers just about every necessary facet of figure drawing perfectly. While Klutz does have DC Comics and Star Wars: Clone Wars versions of this book (which I also own), those volumes only cover a fraction of what the Marvel book does. It has everything from figure and facial construction to basic anatomy, perspective, etc.

Drawing the Head and Figure (Jack Hamm). A veritable encyclopedia of figure drawing. Though slim and somewhat vintage-looking, this book will answer almost any question about how to draw difficult parts of the body from all angles. Shoulders, posture, knees, feet, etc. – essentially, all the things that will drive you crazy as you draw – are covered here with ease and grace. A necessary addition to your art book library.

Dynamic Anatomy (Burne Hogarth). Hogarth, a cartoonist on the Tarzan newspaper strip for many years, produced this exceptionally helpful treatise on anatomy in the 1960s. Disregard the rather non-sequitur essay on the history of figurative art at the front of the book, and you have a great starter book on human anatomy. The book is deficient in that it really only covers the male figure and its musculature, but it’s a great place to begin. Please note: you can NEVER have too many anatomy books. Never. Ever.

Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery (Burne Hogarth). Also by Hogarth, this is the best book available on how to draw clothing correctly. Accept no substitutes. I would also suggest you look at How to Draw Manga: Costume Encyclopedia Vol. I as well, which offers a vast multitude of options to consider for clothing your characters.

 

We’ll pick this up next time in Part II: Drawing the Face!

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