For the past couple of years, I’ve wanted to get in on this whole October inking thing. Not the inking itself, I guess, but the whole sharing of it. With October waning, my wife Jess suggested I finally do something about it before time runs out. The problem was that I needed a drawing to record myself inking. Luckily, I had just been sketching a witch which was inspired by a George Petty drawing I’m fond of, so I had a fresh drawing on hand that was ready and waiting to be prepped for finish.
Now, before I begin, I must say that not only would I have not done this before next year if Jess hadn’t suggested I finally get busy and do it, but the vital building of the following video was something she assembled for me. Partially because I didn’t have time to and she’s extremely gracious, talented, supportive, and enthusiastic that way, and critically, she also doesn’t have the newest crappy version of iMovie. Because she is cautious about updating her programs, Jess still has an older iMovie that actually works. So a couple nights ago we had a swell time doing a bit of editing together on it. I love to shoot film and video, and curiously, I love to cut most of it out later. We really had fun doing the final cut.
But first I must say, I love ink. I love looking for it, buying it, and keeping it handy. I love that it comes in tiny amounts, like jewels or spices. I love that you need pens and nibs and brushes to make it work. I love dipping pens and brushes into it. I love drawing with it, painting with it, and writing letters with it. I love that if your power goes out or your computer crashes it has no effect on your inked drawings. I love that it makes you take the time to think about what you are writing, and I love that it makes original drawings that there are only one of in the entire world.
Years ago when Joe Grant was still alive and working at Disney Studios, he happened to walk into my room. He immediately exclaimed, “Oh, you have ink! That’s so good to see. No one has ink anymore. Do you use it?” I told him yes, indeed I did. This led to a long, long conversation about ink and all the adventures we’d had with it. He drew every day, I think. And he drew with ink. Boldly. Decisively.
Sometimes I draw and sketch with ink instead of pencil, as a way of keeping from slowing down and being too precious with my rough ideas. Sometimes, as in this video, I use ink to pull a pencil sketch into a singular, final drawing that is ready to be scanned and colored. When I do that, I usually transfer the original sketch as a red-line onto a sheet of plate-finish Bristol. And I usually enlarge it substantially.
And that is what this first video is about.
The reason for this enlarging transfer is simple: even though I can greatly vary the thickness of an inked line, there’s a general line to size relationship I want for the finished drawing. The fatter the final line I want, the smaller the initial redline. The thinner the final ink line, the larger the redline. There’s also a certain “draw” to the line that comes at a larger scale. This “draw” is the smooth landscape of a long leg, for example. A leg that is about six to nine inches long will have a nice scale for a brush to trace with a minimal of waver. And this is why I use plate finish Bristol. It allows my hand to slide along without “catching,” which will produce a smooth, continuous line. So in this video you’ll see the transfer of a smaller sketch to a larger sheet of Bristol, ready for ink.
I’ll scan the original sketch, print it out on a couple sheets of plain paper, assemble them into one continuous print, and then use a Scarlet Red Col-Erase pencil to rub a surface onto the back side of that print. This will allow that print to then be carefully traced down onto a fine sheet of Bristol.
Now, on to Part 2!
Let me stop right here for a moment and tell you how blown away I was by this video that my wife Jess edited. By Friday morning, I’d already dumped 1 ½ hrs of video on her, and then proceeded to add another four pick up shots to complete the inking continuity. As I spent the day coloring the image, she methodically worked to assemble, trim, speed up, and pace this. Long day and story short, by the time we went to the gym she’d finished the video you’ll see here! I am absolutely enchanted by this, and have watched it about ten times now. Jess really shaped something marvelous. I hope you like it as much as I do. I think you will.
Okay, so this is the inking part of the inking video set. As for materials, I like a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #1 brush. For ink, nothing beats Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. The one with the spider on the label, not the dragon. The ink from the spider label bottle is made from the blood of a giant space spider and is collected at great risk and expense and is the blackest black I’ve ever run across. The ink from the dragon label bottle is made from people who work as coal sculptors blowing their noses and collecting what comes out in bottles and calling it ink.
If you haven’t yet done this and are thinking of trying it, let me urge you to use a real sable brush. Years ago while I was working at Disney, I was staying late, trying to ink something. It wasn’t going well. I had tried doing this before, and it always, always, always ended in sadness, defeat, and piles of horrid, tortured little inked characters that looked like they’d been put through a special machine designed to make things appear as though an anteater that had been freshly run over had, as his final act, dipped his tongue in ink and tried to draw something.
I was on, like, the seventh one of these tiny disasters when Richard Vander Wende happened by. Richard is an incredible artist who can draw and paint anything. Anything. He was working on Aladdin at the time, helping define their style, and was apparently also working late. As he passed by my desk I did that thing where I leaned over my drawing like I was having a stomach ache so he wouldn’t see the shameful state of what I was doing.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m… I’m trying to ink. But it isn’t going very well,” I said in a low and ashamed tone as I straightened up to reveal my tragic drawings.
He considered this for a moment, then said…
“Do you mind if I give you some advice?”
Now advice from Richard is something to be listened to, and I fatefully said “yes.”
And this is one of those moments that was a turning point in my life. He said something so simple and important.
“You’re using a really cheap brush. If you want that stuff to work you need to spend some money on a sable brush.”
Richard then showed me a proper sable brush and how it holds a point and can be mooshed almost flat and then return to a beautiful point. He showed me that you can re-shape it any number of ways and it will resiliently return to a razor-sharp point in an instant.
This changed everything for me. I went and spent a staggering (for the time) twenty dollars on a brush and instantly… instantly, my inking got better. Not just better, but by then end of an hour I was pretty much doing everything I’d hoped I’d be able to do when I started trying to ink in the first place. So if you want to do this sort of thing, find the right brush for you. But I’d advise finding a sable brush as a starting point.
And all of this is to produce something that simply can’t be accomplished digitally. You will have a magical thing called an original. By definition there is nothing else quite like it. Yes, it’s a lot of work to take all these steps, but in the end I have an inked piece that is immune to power failures, format changes, EMP, and computer crashes. Go to a comic con and spend the day looking through old inked pages and paintings and tell me you’d prefer those artists had drawn and inked them digitally. Last I looked, an original “Peanuts” comic strip starts at something like ten thousand dollars. But the best part is seeing the lines, the hints of pencil, the expert lettering. Knowing that actual page spent time with the artist and vice-versa.
And before you say it (because someone always says it), my drawing has every property of a digital drawing as well, since I’ve already scanned it. The best of both worlds!
Even though I draw and ink everything traditionally, I do scan the finished piece and often color it digitally. The reason for this is simple: the computer allows me to experiment with color choices I would never risk if an original ink was on the line. I have indeed lost some well-liked drawings to painting disasters in the past, and, for me, death by color is never quick. It starts with a bad color choice or bobble somewhere, and then me trying to correct it, which causes something else to go wrong, and so on and so forth until I’m staring down at a terrible mess and I’m forced to concede that the drawing died a few hours back.
✧ I have had the joy of drawing many wonderful witch commissions over the past couple of weeks! ✧ Slots are closed for now while I catch up (I still have a good handful to go!) but I hope to open them back up mid-Febraury with other options. Thank you all for your continued support! – j i j i ♡