I’ve developed a bit of a preoccupation with watercolors. I was a prolific painter as a child, then grew out of it as I got into cartooning. Then I discovered that Randy Milholland of Something Positive also makes these gloriously whimsical watercolors that are a perfect mash-up of both mediums and I just had to try it out.
My first attempts last year were… not the greatest. I started on the wrong kind of paper, then the colors were dull, and the black permanent ink I was using for the line art didn’t stand up to the watercolors, which would either cover the lines or run right over them. For someone like Randy, who draws and paints in a much looser style and has better control over his brushes, this isn’t necessarily a problem. I, on the other hand, am enough of a control freak that I can’t stand coloring outside the lines, but I have very little experience using brushes for fine details, so I did a little experimenting to find more suitable materials.
I started with this cute line drawing of a giraffe with a parasol:
I actually initially created this as digital drawing practice.
It’s still a work in progress.
In the mean time, I really wanted to pull out the watercolors and play this weekend, so I re-drew the giraffe on watercolor paper, and got out my Speedball pens for a little fancy inking. Unfortunately, on my first pass at the supply cabinet, I couldn’t find my bottle of India ink, and instead used Black Magic which, it turns out, bleeds a lot before drying on the page. So I had the lines down, but they were really fuzzy.
I unearthed the India ink, and was very happy to find through some controlled experimentation that it did not bleed, and that after a little practice, I could make pretty nice lines with a size 0 brush that would mostly cover the fuzzy sins of the Black Magic ink. What followed was a very long evening of painstakingly slow drawing with an overabundance of careful muscle control.
The finished line drawing had only a few hints of the messy first layer.
I took even more time coloring. I started with the easiest bits – first the yellow ochre and burnt umber sand, then the base cobalt blue layer for the water and the lemon yellow of the sunset. I still have a good bit to learn about color theory, but I was pretty happy with the layering effects of vermilion for the darker red/orange shades, and Prussian blue in the sky and reflected colors in the water. The main lesson of the background work was to leave more white space. Watercolor is not a reductive process, and white paint doesn’t very effectively dilute or cover color that’s already down on the page.
The India ink solved several of the problems that had plagued me before. It did function as an effective barrier for the more watery paint (to a reasonable extent). It also resisted some of the paint that ended up on top of it. The dryer mixes were more prone to showing up over the black lines, but even then, the black is bold enough to show through.
I finished the parasol and put down the base yellow on the giraffe then left everything to get really good and dry before I tackled the spots.
I was actually pretty terrified of the spots. Giraffe spots are distinctly indistinct – they’re irregularly shaped yet relatively regularly spaced. I am fairly awful at randomization, but I intentionally didn’t include the spots in the line art because I wanted to challenge myself to be a little messy. It was a very pleasant change of pace to just let the brush wander where it wanted. I wound up having a grand old time making all the little mismatched spots, and only lost focus and drifted out of the lines once.
I am really pleased with the final results:
I call her “an American giraffe in Peru” – inspired by a very funny friend who has spent the last few months adventuring in South America and sending back amazing stories and pictures along the way.
My usual method of cartooning is pencil drawing, relatively quick-and-dirty inking with permanent marker in the sketch book, then scanning and inking a second time digitally before coloring. I waste time with the extra inking step because I generally don’t have the patience or trust in my own fine motor control to get the lines right on the first try, and digital inking allows me to use the “undo” function to maddening excess.
I learned a few things by depriving myself of that “undo” option:
- Once you put India ink on paper, it doesn’t move.
- Brushes don’t go where you want if you rush.
- Brush lines will be uneven if you do not carefully mind the pressure exerted by your hand.
- Thicker lines cover more sins and add character.
- Water will dilute many sins, but won’t remove them completely. Watercolor is not a reductive process.
- Evaporation makes your paint darker. Once you have the color you want, don’t hesitate.
- If you have to go back and mix a close match that isn’t quite right, that’s ok too.
- When you step back a little, all those tiny mistakes are barely noticeable.
I will almost certainly be doing more of these. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last week, and now I want to practice. A lot of what I’m learning on paper will help my digital drawing as well.
Finally, finally, I can safely post the sketches I collected at Webcomics Rampage. It only took three tries!
Seriously though, this was a banner year. Let me back up a little bit to explain.
(Warning: Thar be fan-girling ahead!)
In the beginning…
Three years ago, Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy here in Austin decided to put together their own mini-con just for web comics. They invited a bunch of artists to talk at panels, sell merch, sign pretty nearly anything that’s handed to them, and generally be the wacky, wonderful people that they are.
That year, three of the invited guests were creators of comics I was reading regularly – Scott Kurtz of PvP, Joel Watson of Hijinks Ensue, and –gasp! faint!– Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content – as well as Randy Milholland of the infamous Something Positive, which Dear Roommie has been reading since before webcomics were cool.
These were the comics with which I papered my dorm room door. These were the guys that helped me procrastinate for hours that should have been spent doing schoolwork (sorry, Mom). These were the guys that put ideas in my head about one day doing my own comic.
I was particularly stoked to see Jeph. Someone turned me on to QC midway through college, and I’ve been reading it religiously ever since. It’s not just that the comic strikes just the right balance between ridiculous and relatable, but he’s really open about his process and inspiration, and has fearlessly let the internet at large watch as his art and character design evolved into really good, dynamic art from the glorified stick figures of his first strips. He has become a rock star in the webcomics community, and yet that first year, he still seemed to be surprised by the ridiculously long line at his signing table at the end of the panel. “What? People read my comic? How’d that happen?”
I had the bright idea of getting the artists to sign the few empty pages left in my trusty sketchbook.
Sadly, I ran out of pages before I ran out of sketches, so I had to ask Randy to… err… piggyback on someone else’s sketch page.
Now, I try to keep this blog in the realm of PG-13. While all involved found the resulting sketch pretty wildly entertaining and predictably juvenile, it is sadly not exactly blog-friendly – hence, the censor bars (…sorry, Mom).
Rampage II: The Rampaging
The next year, Dear Roommie tagged along to see her old buddy Randy (there was something about forums and a party… it’s generally best not to ask how she meets people). When we both pulled out our respective knit/crochet projects, he actually suggested I should make my comic about crafting, and my day was made.
I came prepared with pre-drawn sketch-starters featuring some of my own characters, and the artists all graciously played along. I even branched out and got sketches from two artists I wasn’t following yet; Danielle Corsetto of Girls With Slingshots, and David Willis of Shortpacked, et al.
Once again, the sketches were not exactly fit to print. In fairness, I completely brought it upon myself that time, but it was a whole lot of fun (sorry, Mom).
In fact, it was so much fun that I came home and immediately started following the whole lot of them on Twitter, then started shotgunning entire comics archives. I made it through Girls With Slingshots in three days. Then I started in on Something Positive and Willis’ insanely large body of work and… well, I’m not quite finished yet.
Now back to this year’s Rampage!
I came super-duper prepared. First, I decided it would be fun to let everybody deface the same sketch page together, so I bought a nice big drawing pad, added a few of my own doodles, then let them all at it.
All the fun character sketches are from Randy, Danielle, Jeph, Joel, and David. I had specific requests for Danielle and Randy, and as I expected, everyone else just piled on, playing off of the previous sketches.
That stunning nude holding a cute smiling thing up in the top right? That was the creation of Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship. PBF is one of The Boy’s favorite comics. It is terrifically clever and twisted and punny, and the art runs the gambit from minimalist cartoons to elaborate, whimsical watercolors.
Getting to meet him was really a treat. I’m not sure what I expected, but he’s just this super-chill geeky guy with longish hair and suspenders. I didn’t get over to ask for a sketch until right before the final panel, when everyone else was sitting at their tables, fighting off the post-dinner coma. But he was very enthusiastic, and just nonchalantly started drawing something free-hand with an insane brush pen. He was most of the way through sketching when he paused, looked up, and asked, “Is it ok that I’m drawing a naked woman? I don’t really know why I did that…” I managed to pick my jaw up off the table long enough to tell him that yes, it was absolutely fine – better than fine, even – damned impressive. Then he went back to shading while he and The Boy chatted about… honestly I can’t even remember what. There was some discussion of carrots and donkeys. Then Boy bought the print of the one with the awful, awful visual pun.
The panel was fun, the sketch-collecting was fun, merch-buying was fun, but the very best part was the success of the hats.
I started a Choo-Choo Bear hat for Dear Roommie’s birthday back in March. I finished it… last week. Since she was sadly unable to get out to Austin this weekend, I took the hat with me to get Randy’s blessing:
I am pleased to report that his beard did not eat the hat, and Rommie will be receiving it soon.
Remember the Magical Pink Unicorn Hat?
I made another one.
I gave it to Danielle.
She loved it. I got a hug and everything!
Then there was a question about gifts from fans, and she whipped out the hat again and said, “Have you SEEN this HAT?” and gave me a quick shout-out, and then I pretty much suffered a geek-gasm right on the spot.
I suspect I will be riding this comics-and-hats high for the rest of the week. I feel invigorated! I’m itching to get started on some more crafting projects, and I have ideas for the comic that I can’t wait to make happen.
Today, this guy is my hero.
Not only is Lar de Souza a brilliantly talented artist and cartoonist, not only is he one of the brightest, kindest personalities in my Twitter feed, not only does he have one of the most epic beards on the planet and wicked cool vintage glasses, but this guy has traveled from Canada to Kennedy this week for a NASA tweetup and a chance to see the final flight of the shuttle.
Had you asked me in middle school what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you I’d like to be a cartoonist, but I’d definitely be working at NASA. You know how overachieving kids have the unreasonable dream and the more realistic yet lofty goal.
Funny how things work out.
Challenger blew up four days before I was born. I grew up in a southern Houston suburb, surrounded by NASA employees during the brave post-Challenger years when the American space program stared death in the face and then dared to keep moving on. A childhood of reading Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein put crazy ideas in my head, and then regular school and scout trips to the Johnson Space Center told me that no, those weren’t that crazy at all. I wanted the moon and the stars, and I had plans to get there. I was going to college to become an engineer, and I’d be helping to build the next shuttle (which, at the time, was already being planned – sort of) as part of NASA’s ginormous brain trust.
Then in 2003, two things happened to bring all of that to a screeching halt: Columbia and Calculus 2. On the morning of my seventeenth birthday, breakfast was interrupted by shocking news footage of the future of American manned space flight silently burning over north Texas. NASA all but shut down until further notice.
Columbia was the last straw. After a series of embarrassing mishaps brought about by an agency trying to run too fast on too little funding, people had died – again. The true end of the shuttle program was finally visible. The plans for the International Space Station were scaled back. The designs for the shuttle’s successor were scrapped. Higher-ups were canned. A lot of my neighbors lost their jobs.
I no longer saw a viable future for myself in the space program.
The same year, I barely passed Calculus 2, and chickened out on my plans to be an engineer. That kind of math was *hard* and really, why did I need that much pain and suffering? What was the point of engineering school now, without my bright shiny future at NASA?
Today the final shuttle mission has launched with absolutely no concrete plans for what is to follow. NASA has general ideas about how America will be launching humans into space in the back half of the decade, but today’s launch is the last until further notice.
In short, I’m feeling pretty jaded.
I share all this not to be a “Debbie Downer” on this auspicious occasion, but to make you understand how emotionally invested I am in this final flight, and to show just how much it means to me that Lar de Souza has been showering the internet with kid-in-a-candy-shop tweets from Cape Canaveral for the last two days.
Here I’ve been getting all weepy and philosophical about this final flight, and he’s been geeking out, unperturbed by threatening weather, thrilled to the point of incoherency just to be there, to see a launch.
He’s taking me back to hopeful, starry-eyed, fifteen-year-old me, and making this experience more sweet than bitter. And for that, I love him more than I can possibly say.
It wasn’t bad enough that today was freakishly cold by Texas standards (yeah, apologies to Chicago, but there is a very good reason I never considered living that far north), but then we had to suffer through rolling blackouts all day.
I blame Canada.
Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person!
So this blog is quickly becoming one of my favorite things on the internet. Dear Roommie just had to share this post with me a couple months ago. It is a terrifyingly accurate account of how being a responsible adult quickly ceases to be fun at all, and we still find ourselves randomly quoting it when things get too serious in the apartment.
Tonight she could barely breathe, much less speak, she was laughing so hard at this post about moving with dogs. The story is hilarious on its own merits – especially to anyone who has every lived with a dog – but the really great part is, “Simple Dog” has nearly identical coloring to Jake, and appears to be equally dumb. As an added bonus, I later found this post – an introduction to “Simple Dog” that only solidifies my belief that this must be Jacob’s long-lost relative.
It is comforting to know that someone else out there in the universe is finding inspiration in a hopelessly hopeless canine. I am especially grateful that she has decided to share these stories in such an unabashedly entertaining format. It makes me feel slightly less bad about taking advantage of Jake’s… challenges? for my own entertainment.
…especially since he managed to get onto the table with my plants again today, despite the extensive toothpick minefield.
There was some vague mention of a Halloween costume contest at work last week, and I’ve been itching to do a little paper mache recently, so come Monday night, I decided to make a new mask.
But what to make?
I thought about it a while, then after brief consultations with my usual co-conspirators, inspiration finally struck:
And thus, late last night, it was finished:
Ladies and gents, I give you…
I was really pleased with face part of the mask. I was a little worried about how lumpy it started out, but then I realized that it would perfectly fit with Charles Schulz’s shaky line.
(I should say now, I am not by any stretch the world’s greatest Peanuts geek, but I pretty well idolize Schulz and remember hearing about his retirement and death the same way my parents remember when Kennedy was shot. Peanuts was just a given in my day-to-day existence growing up, and was a major contributor to my early drive to cartooning.)
The hair piece would have benefited from an extra week of work time, so I could make it fit correctly. The shirt is actually left over from a production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown that I directed and acted in my senior year of high school.
Today I was one of the winners of the aforementioned costume contest (along with the Box of Tissues/Sick Person pairing), and was generally met with choruses of “You made that? No way!” all day.
Sometimes I forget that everyone in the world doesn’t compulsively make things just because things are there to be made.