Mastering Comic Art - Chapter 2
Take a sneak peek into Mastering Comic Art by David Nakayama chapter 2, focusing on inking...
During the inking process my goal is to translate everything I set down in the pencil phase, making everything that was a little loose into rock-solid, confident, final marks! Inking is an under-appreciated art form that requires a very steady hand, a lot of interpretation (especially if you're working over another artist's work) and, traditionally, the mastery of several tricky-to-use tools (brushes, nib pens, templates etc.,) all without the use of an "Undo” button. On most comic pages, you'll be called on to fill large areas of black, feather/crosshatch/blend them into white, and outline everything else. Here, because the theme is focused around stark whiteness, we'll simply focus on the outline process, which is an art in and of itself.
Reflecting light in lines
This character we're inking today is defined by two themes: technology and angelic perfection. Both suggest a clean ultra-precise style, and that's why we're staying clear of heavy black shadows, loads of hatch marks, and splatter. Rather, our job here is to provide as tight a framework as possible for the color process to come. My tools of choice for this are Faber-Castell PITT pens, which are simple, straightforward markers and the perfect tool for laying down lines of even-width quickly. In the past, I've tried various tech pens and other markers and none of them are as easy to use and maintain as these – give ‘em a shot.
I like to work thickest to thinnest, so I start by establishing all the heaviest lines first with size M and F pens. Note that I'm not simply outlining the entire form like you'd see in a coloring book. A uniform stroke tends to flatten and Posterize things, so in this case we'll be better served by mixing up the line weight and acknowledging the strong light source. Areas closest to the light receive no ink at this point, whereas the areas in shadow or further away from the light get the heaviest marks. Ultimately, this treatment will help sell the illusion of light and shadow, even though we're only dealing with outlines (Fig.01).
Now it's time to start rendering the interior, so I shift to the thinnest pen I've got: size XS. The general idea is to contrast thick and thin lines to give the character weight and interest. Thick lines are covered at this point, so we need to stay thin and light on all this fine detail.
I begin working my way up the form, mostly freehand. When I get to a long straight or curved line, it's helpful to use a ruler or French curve, and when I encounter a precise circle or oval, like the details on her boots, I break out the templates. This is actually very important, especially on a tech-themed piece like this. Sure, it takes more time to rule things out precisely, but you'll never get those tight curves right without a template, so buy several sizes and use them religiously. Your work will look a lot more professional, I promise (Fig.02).
Think very carefully about what each line is doing as you ink, and as you interpret the sketchy pencil lines, consider adding and subtracting detail wherever appropriate to enhance the form (Fig.03).
On the leg pattern (A) for example, I decide to use two thin lines instead of just one to give the shape a bit of a lip. And on the center seam (B), I intentionally break the line in a few places to indicate that the groove is subtle and too shallow to cast a deep shadow. I continue this process until I have something like this (Fig.04).
In this final pass, the wings require plenty of template work, but the results are worth it: they look appropriately smooth and machine-like (Fig.05).
And that's pretty much it. Basic inking is complete, but there're still a few steps to go before we're ready to color. For starters, I carefully eliminate all traces of pencil from the page using a Magic Rub eraser. And had I royally screwed up at some point, this would be the time to fix mistakes. Artists use all kinds of products for this purpose, but I like to use Pro White (an opaque, water-based paint) over problem areas and re-ink when it's dry. Fortunately, there are no screw-ups this time, so I scan the image at full size and 300dpi.
Now in Photoshop, my first order of business is to eliminate any dirt or stray marks added during the scanning process. I use the Eraser tool to quickly remove various dots and smudges (Fig.06).
Next, I adjust the Levels. First, pull the white arrow in until most all of the light gray pencil marks disappear. Next, pull in the black arrow until the ink lines look sufficiently tight and solid – don't go too crazy however; the lines will actually become bloated and fuzzy if you overdo it. Lastly, slide the gray arrow until things look balanced, e.g., black lines are black and white areas are white (Fig.07).
Adjusting the Levels handles about 95% of the clean-up process, but you'll still need to go in by hand and get whatever's left. If a pencil line was particularly dark, it might still be around at this point, but a quick Dodge pass will clear that right up. Set the Dodge tool to Highlights with Exposure at around 80%. Zoom-in and brush out whatever pencil residue remains (Fig.08).