“Storytelling and art can’t be separated in comics. There’s no other way to know what’s going on. If you’ve read a great story that’s not just down to the writer, the artist is equally responsible for telling that story through the visuals. It’s that simple. Art in comics doesn’t equal pretty pictures, it equals storytelling.”—
Just curious on how you approach composition and perspective. I feel as if sometimes I think too hard, not really about what to draw but how to draw it and make it look interesting. The comic panels you have been doing are amazing. Any tips/references on improving my knowledge of composition and perspective? What do you think about as you lay your pencil on the drawing paper? what goes through your mind?
*STANDARD DISCLAIMER* I’m not handing down life lessons or trying to assert that there’s a ‘correct way’ to draw. I’m just trying to make perspective more approachable for thems that want to tackle it.
Okay. Let’s do this.
1. Understand what perspective is and what it’s for. Stay away from rulers while you get comfortable.
Everyone struggles with perspective because 1. it’s not well or widely taught and 2. artists tend to see linear perspective as a set of rules rather than a set of tools.
Linear perspective is a TOOL we use to create and depict SPACE. That’s it. That’s all it is. Your goal is not to draw in ‘accurate linear perspective.’ Stay away from the ruler and precision for as long as you can. Your goal is to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Perspective is just a tool to help you construct and correct that space.
2. Know in your bones that you can ONLY learn to draw in perspective through physical practice. There is no other way.
Grab some paper and draw with me. If you match me drawing for drawing you will be more fluent in linear perspective and spatial drawing by the end of this post. Unfortunately if you don’t, you won’t be.
3. Sketch around in rough perspective. NO RULERS.
So let’s make some simple space. let’s start with a two dimensional surface…
K. We have a flat, 2D surface. Let’s create some depth by putting a vanishing point in the middle, and having parallel lines converge towards it. Make a gridded plane inside that space.
Good. Let’s make that space meaningful by adding a dude and a road or something. (Again, parallel ‘depth lines’ will converge into the vanishing point along the horizon)
And now we have the rough illusion of some space. I didn’t use any rulers, and it’s not perfectly accurate, but we got our depth from that vanishing point right in the middle of the page. And since we have a little dude in there, we’ve got human scale, which allows us to gauge the size of the space we’ve created. Gives it meaning.
You need people or cars or some recognizable, human-scale THING in there as a frame of reference or your space won’t mean much to your viewer. Watch. We can make that same basic space a whole lot bigger like this:
Same vanishing point in the same place, completely different scale, and a totally different feeling of space. Cool, right?
3. Sketch around in rough perspective MORE. STAY LOOSE.
See what sort of spaces and feelings you can create with vanishing points and gridded planes on a post-it or something. Super small, super rough. Feel it out. Pick a vanishing point or lay out a grid in perspective, and MAKE SOME SPACE. Do it. Draw, I don’t know, a lady and her dog in a desert. I’ll do it, too.
Good job. LOOK AT YOU creating the illusion of space! This is how you’ll thumbnail and plan anything you want to draw in space. All of my drawings start this way. I think about how I want the viewer to feel and then play around with space and composition until I find something that works.
Once you have a sketch you like, and space that you feel, THEN you can take out the ruler and make it more accurate and convincing.
4. Draw environments from life.
I cannot stress this enough. Draw the world around you, try to draw the shapes and angles as you see them, and you will ‘get’ how and why perspective is used. Use something permanent so that you’ll move fast and commit. I usually use black prismacolor pencil.
You’ll learn or reinforce something with every drawing. I learned a lot about multiple vanishing points from this drawing:
Learned from the receding, winding space I tired to draw here:
Layered, interior spaces:
You get the idea.
Life drawing will also help you develop your own shorthand and language for depicting textures, materials, details, natural and architectural features, etc. Do it. Do it all the time. Go to pretty or interesting places just to draw them.
Take a second and just draw a quick sketch of whatever room you’re in.
5. Perspective in formal Illustration: apply what you’ve learned.
1. I always start with research. For this particular location I looked at Angkor Wat.
2. Once I had enough reference, I did a bunch of little thumbnail sketches with a very loose sense of space and picked the one I liked best.
3. Scanned the thumbnail and drew a little more clearly over it. Worked out the rough space before using formal perspective.
4. Reinforced the space with formal perspective. I dropped in pre-made vanishing points over my drawing. If I were drawing in real media here’s where I’d get out the ruler to sketch in some accurate space.
5. Drew the damn thing. Because I do my research, draw from life, and am comfortable drawing in perspective, I can wing it. I just sort of ‘build’ the ruins freehand in the space I’ve established, keeping it more or less accurate, experimenting and playing with details along the way. I erase a lot, too, both in PS and when drawing in pencil. Keeps it fun for me.
And that’s what I know about composition and perspective. If you want more formal instruction on perspective and it’s uses, you can use John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Or If you want to get really intense about it, Andrew Loomis can help you
I drew this Bizarro Sephiroth (from the boss battle in Final Fantasy VII, you remember) in Sketchbook Pro 6, it was about 70 minutes. Here’s a sped-up video of the process!
Afterwards I added some quick colour overlays in Photoshop and drew a hint of his other arm in there.
I’ve been using a couple of Sketchbook Pro brushes by one of my favourite concept artists, the amazing Calum Alexander Watt. You can download the same set and watch some of his process here. I feel like I learn so much just from looking at his work, and especially from watching his videos. So that kind of inspired me to post my own video, even though I’m just beginning to learn this program!
I didn’t want to do a voiceover (my dental hygienist yesterday said I was “nasally”) so here are some notes about what I’m doing:
- This was just a sketch with no background or action, and I didn’t even get creative with the pose. Pretty simple stuff… so I didn’t mess around too much with creating a composition. I just started! If this was “for” something, like a cover, I’d do a fairly precise drawing first.
- Here’s the reference I was using:
- I love digital painting because you can paint dark on light OR light on dark with equal ease. Meaning you can start with a dark form and build up the highlights, then put more shadows on, then put more highlights on, then put more shadows on, etc… it means you can go in without a plan of action, haha.
- I only used one brush for this- a big soft watercolour brush with a lot of pressure sensitivity, so I can generally enlarge it just by pressing harder instead of messing with the brush controls.
- The button on my Cintiq pen is set to bring up the eyedropper, and I’m using that to pick up the colours I want. I’m choosing colours from the painting itself rather than from the colour wheel/palette.
- I don’t use a ton of layers. On my layers palette to the right, you can see the main painting on the bottom, and the layer that I’m using on top of it. I create a new layer for each bit that I paint, and merge it down when I feel confident about it.
- at 4:04 I’m flipping the image to make sure everything on the face is aligned okay
- at 4:53 I’m selecting his head, copying it to a new layer, and shrinking it to the size I want. I like to do this as a new layer so the background is still behind it, filling in any gaps left behind after shrinking the shape. It’s easier to blend in the new small head now. Although I forgot to blend in the line where it joins his neck. That’s ok, it’s a tendon or whatever.
- around 6:05 I’m painting the “Jenova hat” on a new layer, then I make that layer invisible so I can fix the horn underneath it. Then I go back to the Jenova Hat, complete it, and erase the bit that was covering the horn.
- Bright white highlights are a nice finishing touch! Don’t use them everywhere, though!
I’m going to be in the UK next weekend for the Thought Bubble festival and associated signings! Here’s what my schedule looks like:
Thursday Nov. 21, Travelling Man Manchester: signing 4-6 p.m. with Kelly Sue DeConnick, Matt Fraction, Ramon Perez and Richard Starkings (wow!)
Friday Nov. 22, GOSH! London: signing 5-7 p.m. with Brandon Graham and Eric Stephenson
Saturday Nov. 23 - Sunday Nov. 24: Will be set up at Thought Bubble! I’ll be with my art dealer Essential Sequential selling prints and sketchbooks. Come on by and I’ll be happy to sign whatever you’ve got!
I expect it to be busy, so I’ll reserve sketching for the LAST HOUR of each day- this is to keep things moving throughout the day, I hate making people wait in line for ages when they just want a simple signature or hello. Also to save my hand. Quick head sketches will be £10.
Edited to add: On Sunday I’m doing a sketching panel from 12:50 - 2:40 in the Bury Theatre.
A couple of people on twitter asked about a pen I used for a recent drawing. So I thought I’d list a few of my favourite pens, tell you why I like them and where I buy them from. Most of these are pens that Fiona Staples told me about. She also introduced me to jetpens.com which is my favourite…
I’ll likely be spending more time at my table than this, but here’s when/where you can DEFINITELY find me this weekend in Denver:
5-7 pm - Signing at Con - TICKETED
12pm - 1pm - Panel with Jon Price and Clayton 1:30 - 5:30 Signing at Con - TICKETED
12-3pm Signing Panel 4-5 pm - Jon and Clayton
That’s right: not one, but TWO panels with Jon and Clayton of the Have You Heard of This? podcast. What will we talk about? I have no idea, but I’ve heard they’re growing their facial hair out for the occasion, so that will be worth discussing.
Jason of Essential Sequential will be joining me at the table, so we should be well-stocked with prints and sketchbooks.
I wanted to apologize to everyone for this entire SAGA #12 kerfuffle. Yesterday, I was mistakenly led to believe that this issue was solely with Apple, but it’s now clear that it was only ever Comixology too conservatively interpreting Apple’s rules. I’m truly sorry. I never thought either company was being homophobic, only weirdly inconsistent about what kind of adult material was permissible. I’m grateful that the situation was cleared up so quickly, and I’m delighted I can go back to reading smutty comics on my Retina Display iPad.
As has hopefully been clear from the first page of our first issue, SAGA is a series for the proverbial “mature reader.” Unfortunately, because of two postage stamp-sized images of gay sex, Apple is banning tomorrow’s SAGA #12 from being sold through any iOS apps. This is a drag, especially because our book has featured what I would consider much more graphic imagery in the past, but there you go. Fiona and I could always edit the images in question, but everything we put into the book is there to advance our story, not (just) to shock or titillate, so we’re not changing shit.
Apologies to everyone who reads our series on iPads or iPhones, but here are your alternatives for Wednesday:
1) Head over to you friendly neighborhood comics shop and pick up a physical copy of our issue that you can have and hold forever.
2) While you’re at it, don’t forget to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which helps protect retailers who are brave enough to carry work that some in their communities might consider offensive. You can find signed copies of Saga at the CBLDF site right now.
4) If all else fails, you might be able to find SAGA #12 in Apple’s iBookstore, which apparently sometimes allows more adult material to be sold than through its apps. Crazy, right?
Anyway, special thanks to Eric Stephenson and everyone at Image for supporting our decision, and for always being so supportive of creators. Sorry again to readers for the inconvenience, but I hope everyone will be able to find an issue that Fiona and I are particularly proud of. And after you do, please check out PanelSyndicate.com, the new digital comics site I own with artist Marcos Martin, which remains 100% uncensored by corporate overlords.