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Chutz-Pow! One Page, From Script To Print

Recently, I was invited to be part of a fantastic, truly worthwhile comic project called Chutz-Pow! Superheroes of the Holocaust. It’s an anthology series put together by local creators Wayne Wise and Marcel Walker in conjunction with Zach Zafris at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.  The series features a rotating roster of writers and illustrators who recount the tales of holocaust survivors. And in those cases where the survivors are still living, they actively participate in the creative process.

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I’m going to run through the steps of getting a page from script to print, and show what a team effort it can be. And if you know all this stuff already, feel free to skip to the end to find out where you can pick up a copy of Chutz-Pow!

Script

I was asked to illustrate the story of Solange Lebovitz who, as a young girl, hid in plain sight in occupied France, pretending to be a member of a Catholic family. I worked from a script written by Yona Harvey (American poet and assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh), as told to her by Solange. There was a brief period of adjustment for me, getting used to someone else’s storytelling rhythms, but it just took a couple read-throughs to get my bearings and I was good to go.

I’ll show my process here for page three of the story — a good, old-fashioned, nine-panel layout. Yeah, you have to cram a lot of stuff onto one page, but when those nine-panel pages work out, they’re a great storytelling tool. Here’s a shot of the script. Throughout the project, my main focus was to do justice to both Solange’s experiences, and Yona’s literary interpretation of them.

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Pencils

I played it safe with the pencils, doing them digitally in Clip Studio Paint. Easy to rethink and try different ideas on the fly.

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Using the Blue Layout Pencil and various Ruler tools, I was able to pencil all nine panels pretty quickly without worrying about rubbing a hole in Bristol Board with my eraser. But believe me, I erased plenty with the digital eraser.

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Inking

Though I penciled the pages digitally, the vintage time period of this story made me want to go old school and ink it on paper, to have something tangible at the end of the process. It’s something I don’t do too often, and I was a little nervous about fixing mistakes, but I plugged in my lightbox, grabbed the Bristol, and got to work.

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I printed out the blue pencils on 11×17 paper, taped them to the back of my Bristol, and flipped the switch so I could see the pencils through the paper. Now it was ready for inks.

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I used a handful of tools to ink this page. For tech pen work (lines that don’t need too much variation) I use Sakura MICRON Tech Pens and PITT Artist Pens. Both have waterproof ink and lay down a nice, smooth line.

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For lines that need a little finesse, a little more life, I use the Sakura PIGMA Brush Pens. The ink is waterproof, and they make expressive, variable width lines.

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The panel borders took me a little time to figure out. I tried using the Pigma GRAPHIC 1 pen (which has a nice, fat nib point) but it wasn’t quite fat enough. Then I tried the Pigma GRAPHIC 2 pen (which has more of a chisel tip). It was big enough, but running it along the ruler felt weird. In the end I used a combination of the two to draw the outline of the borders and fill them in. So I’m still working on finding my method for this step. If you’ve got a method you prefer for inking those thick panel borders, feel free to leave it in the comments.

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And to fix the errors, I use both Pro-White (opaque white watercolor) and a Sakura Gelly Roll White Gel Pen. Used it liberally, I might add, because there’s no undo function on paper. I’m using the medium point Gelly Roll in the photo here, but I believe they have both bold and fine point options as well, I just haven’t been able to find them locally.

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And the page progressed like that, one panel at a time, — ink, fix errors, next panel — until it was done.

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LETTERING

The lettering on this project was all handled by my friend, Marcel Walker.  He scanned in my original pages, and lettered them in Adobe Illustrator. When I work on my Bigfoot comic, I do everything from script to art to letters. And even knowing exactly what I want, I end up tweaking artwork and nudging lettering up until the time I post it online (sometimes, even after) so I know it could not have been a breeze for Marcel to place the lettering into a finished, static page. Nevertheless, he did a great job.

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Feel free to compare Yona’s original script and my illustrations to see how it all came together with Marcel’s lettering.

IN PRINT

And that’s the finished product. Volume Three of Chutz-Pow! is out now and available at Phantom of the Attic, Oakland and WildCard in Lawrenceville. And I believe the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh will also be selling them on their website within the next week.

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There was a great turnout at the Holocaust Center for the debut of Chutz-Pow! Volume Three. The stack of books dwindled as the afternoon wore on, and few guests had the writers and artists sign their copies. And I got to meet Yona Harvey for the first time! Turns out we were mutually in awe of each other’s work on the story.

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Pages On Display

In case you’re in town and want to see some of the pages, full-size prints of the artwork from the first two volumes are hanging at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh until May 31st. And the original pages from all the artists in Volume Three: The Young Survivors  are hanging at the American Jewish Museum at the Jewish Community Center, and will be there until April 20th.

Stop by either exhibit to see some nice artwork created for a good cause. -v

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Chutz-Pow, The Art of Resistance Opening

I will be at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh this Sunday, February 11th, to celebrate the opening of The Art of Resistance — original comic pages from the first two volumes of Chutz-Pow, as well as the release of the all-new Chutz-Pow Volume 3, which I worked on.

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Chutz-Pow: Superheroes of the Holocaust is a comic book series produced right here in Pittsburgh, in conjunction with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. These books tell the stories of survivors of the Holocaust. The third and latest volume focuses on survivors who were just children when World War 2 changed their lives.

A bunch of my cartoonist friends have work in this volume (Mark Zingarelli, Howard Bender, Marcel Walker, Wayne Wise, Loran Skinkis) and most of them will be there at the opening. Tickets at the door are a very reasonable $5. Here’s the rest of the details on the event. Stop by to see the artwork from the first two volumes, pick up copies of all three books, and talk to some of the writers and illustrators who worked on all three books.

Process: How To Ruin Christmas in Two Easy Steps

Hope you all had a great holiday! Here’s how I ruined my friend’s Christmas.

I got my friend the Kong: Skull Island Blu-Ray. For some, this alone would’ve been enough to ruin a holiday, but he actually likes the movie and so it was an appropriate gift.

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To accompany the disc, I did an ink sketch of the giant gorilla. I used Pitt Artist Pens and Sakura PIGMA brush pens. The paper is that cheesy, yellow craft paper that they gave you in grade school when they didn’t want to waste the good paper. I like it for some projects because it gives the finished art an aged, vintage look and feel.

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The images look dim and yellow because the lighting in my studio at night is dim and yellow. If my friend knew what kind of jeopardy I was putting my eyesight in just for his Christmas present, he’d probably appreciate this gift a lot more.

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So that’s the finished sketch. It doesn’t look half bad. And you might be thinking, “Well that’s a nice drawing! I’m sure that only made Christmas better!” Slow down. Let me tip you off to my “How-To-Ruin-Christmas” process. Like I said, it’s just two easy steps:

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Step One: Use the drawing to wrap the gift on which it is based. This achieves the effect of removing all surprise and wonder from a wrapped gift. As soon as your friend sees the package, he’ll know exactly what his gift is (extra points if you give it to him a few days early, so he’ll just sit and stew about knowing what his gift is, but not be able to open it until Christmas morning).

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Step Two: You might think, “Yeah, you blew the surprise. But at least your friend got a nice drawing!” Not necessarily the case. Because, when you use the drawing as wrapping paper, not only do you end up bending and folding the artwork, but the liberal use of scotch tape makes it virtually impossible to remove the wrapping from the gift without tearing the artwork into pieces. So they don’t really even get the drawing…unless they never unwrap the gift. It’s genius, really.

Anyway, that’s how you do it. Two simple steps and everybody’s angry with you on Christmas morning. Yeah, everybody, because I did it to my other friend who wanted the Wonder Woman movie too.

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UPDATE: Top marks for effort, but despite meticulous care, the Kong sketch was torn during the opening process as predicted.

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Hope you all have a nice new year! -v

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My Comics Process: Pencils, Inks, Colors.

I just finished up a 14-page Untold Tales of Bigfoot short (you can read the whole thing from the start right here) and this last page (spoilers?) was a lot of fun for me, so I thought I’d break down my process here.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

I’ll be taking you from the initial pencils all the way through the final colors, and noting my tools/apps as I go along. So if process is your kind of thing, read on, friend.

Pencils

This looks like an unholy mess because it’s my scanned pencil roughs covered in digital scribbles (done in Clip Studio with the Blue Layout Pencil).

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The pencils were my rough, stream-of-consciousness plans for the page. The blue pencil is my attempt to clean those ideas up and define what I really want.

Inks

Inks are done in Clip Studio. For stuff like this, I use the G-Pen (comes standard) or any one of a handful of custom brushes you can find online (Ray Frenden has a few nice collections for sale).

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

Since this was the final page of the short, I wanted to end it with a big, splashy image. So the dominant illustration of the forest stretches out over all the edges of the page, full-bleed.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

Here’s the entire page, inked (the top two frame borders were made using the Rectangle Frame/Divide Frame tools in Clip Studio).

Flat Color

Next step is flat color. Until Clip Studio has a proper CMYK space, I’m coloring stuff in Photoshop. I’ve also been experimenting with Affinity Photo (one of the few digital art platforms that boasts a CMYK workspace), but I’m not adept enough at Affinity Photo for a job like this, so off to Photoshop I go.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

There’s a few different ways to flat, but for my purposes, since I’m the one doing the finished colors, I just go in with a hard, round brush, opacity at 100%, pressure sensitivity turned off, and I lay in the base color of the objects.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

If you’re flatting for someone else, you may want to explore the lasso tool/fill method (select your shape with the lasso tool, fill with flat color, repeat), since that’s a pretty reliable workflow. But my approach works fine with this project for my workflow.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

With some techniques, you can drop in any random color during the flatting process, and then change it with a simple fill later. But since I have a color palette set up for my Bigfoot comic, I start with the actual, proper color, saving me a step.

Don’t Get Sloppy

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

Whichever method you end up using, just try to make sure there isn’t any gapping between the colors of your flats. If the ink plates shift even a little during printing, you could end up with some sloppy looking white space peeking out from beneath your linework. So check your flats and clean up any gapping before moving on to the detailing.

Lighting , Shadow, and Texture

This part’s more fun than flatting, but it’s also all over the place with technique and tools. So I’ll just highlight some of the stuff I do to model the forms.  Still in Photoshop, I bounce around between tools to help me achieve the lighting and texture I’m looking for.

Untold Tales of Bigfoot : Heading For A Fall (Process)

Sometimes I’ll use a hard-edged brush at 40-50% opacity to build up things like tree bark or model the foliage, other times I’ll use the hard-edged pencil tool to carve some shadow into rocks. I think I used a custom texture brush on the ground to give it an irregular, dappled look. And in the water, I experimented this time with a combination of hard-edged and soft-edged brushes. I like the way it came out, so I’ll probably mess around with that technique again in the future.

Pencils to Final Color

So here are all the steps, animated in this gif. I approach most of my comic art in a very similar way, sometimes simpler, rarely more elaborate. But I’m always scouring the internet to find new ways to experiment. Anything that’ll help me make my comics better…or faster — optimally, both — I’m willing to try it.

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Hope you got something out of that. Again, if you’re intrigued enough to read through the whole 14-page “Heading For Fall” short (inspired by the nice fall weather we were having at the time), here’s the link to the first page. Have a great holiday! -v

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How I Made My First Mini-Comic (Or Failed To, Actually, Because I’m An Idiot And Couldn’t Leave Well Enough Alone)

I Like Mini-Comics

Mini-comics are awesome. Homemade, photocopied, hand-stapled, indie gems that may be lo-fi but are often packed with amazing artwork and stories. Say what you will about big budget movie trailer sneak peaks… I think mini-comics are the heart of comic conventions.

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Recent buys, Detached:Vol 1 by Angela Fullard, Black Dog: Steps & Red Frog by Saramiel Ae.

But, despite drawing during practically every waking minute, I really haven’t put together a proper mini-comic of my own (at least not since I was a kid doodling bootleg Spider-Man adventures). So I decided to do it. Finally. It’d be good practice and would give me another low-price item to offer at cons (most of the ones I’ve picked up range between $4-$6). I’ll take you through my steps, start to finish.

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I began the process by folding eight sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper in half and I started drawing. Eight folded sheets gives you 32 pages (I know you know math, just bear with me). My goal was to come up with a simple story and have a 32-page mini-comic ready to go by the time I tabled at the Baltimore Comic Con this September.

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The thing I really love about mini-comics is that there are no rigid expectations about what they contain. Sometimes it’s light comedy, sometimes dark horror, sometimes artsy allegory, sometimes superheroes,….so many genres and styles. Often they’re limited-run one-shots so the storytelling can be bold and experimental. But just as often, you’ll see standard sequential art and linear storytelling. Mine? I wasn’t planning anything groundbreaking. Just a story about a girl and her cat. I really just wanted to have fun making it.

The Mechanics of Pagination

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So here’s why I folded up the paper before I started drawing. Whether you want to ink traditionally on paper, or scan in each sheet to ink digitally, the end result should be a spread that you can then photocopy and staple into a booklet. And you can see how the not-quite-intuitive page distribution is all taken care of by simply drawing the book as a book before dismantling it to make copies.

Inking

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Because I was under the gun to get it drawn, copied, and stapled before the comic con, I decided I would dismantle the penciled booklet, scan in the sheets, and ink the drawings in Clip Studio. That way, it’s easier to fix mistakes (and experiment with technique if I felt like it).

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Everything was coming along pretty quickly, aided by the fact that the story wasn’t a panel-heavy layout. I wanted a lot of single, solitary images on stark backgrounds (kind of like a kid’s book), eventually building to a more traditional, sequential format, then back to lots of breathing room again. This was another experiment for me, and I wanted to do something stylistically dissimilar to my other books. The inked, ready-to-copy pages were done in a few weeks.

Then, Like An Idiot, I Decided To Color It

Once I finished the inks, I got price quotes from Staples to plan my budget. Everything was rolling along smoothly. Then I thought I’d color one of the images to see how it looked. Good news/Bad news….I kinda’ liked it.

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Soon I started questioning the project, “How will they know it’s a ginger cat if I photocopy it in black and white?” and “Will anyone know the girl has two-toned hair?” So instead of heading to Staples for final copies, I went back to the computer to color a few more pages. You know…just to see how they looked. Then I colored the entire book.

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Coloring in the black line art would’ve taken enough time as is. But the pages for the mini were heavy on high contrast, with big areas of bold blacks, and most of the grey tones were completed. If I was really going to print this thing in color, the greys had to be eliminated, and some of the black inks had to be removed and replaced with color.

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While I was making those changes, I started researching prices for printing the mini in color at Staples. But I also researched what it might cost to do a very limited run of these things as a full-color, regular-sized comic book.

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I researched a couple online print services (Ka-Blam and Comix Wellspring), both of them well-recommended. Turns out, the online comic book printers weren’t that much more, per issue, than hand-folding/stapling a bunch of half-sized color copies. I figured, why not? And it would save me all that folding, collating, and stapling. With a deadline looming, I completed the reformatting in time to have the comics printed by Ka-Blam and delivered just a couple weeks before the convention.

The Finished Project From Ka-Blam

So there it is. Phoebe and Beeswax. Glad to get it in time for the show, but let’s take a closer look to see how the printer performed. minicomic_process_DorseOverall, I’m happy with the book. But I do note that Ka-Blam’s colors are a shade paler than what I expected. Still very nice, but just a touch washed out compared to my test prints at home.minicomic_process_DorseMost of the time, print-houses nail my colors. And Ka-Blam came pretty close. But Ka-Blam’s colors are not quite as intense as I expected. It might be because Ka-Blam prefers their files in RGB, while I work in CMYK (as most printers I use require). Ka-Blam doesn’t provide a proof, so you don’t really know how your colors will look until you crack open the box. The comic looks fine, but if I get anything else printed by Ka-Blam, it’s an issue I’d want to address to see if we could tweak things a bit more to my liking.

minicomic_process_DorseAnother issue I’ve discussed with them is that a number of the books arrived with some corner damage/creasing. It’s not unheard of, of course. I had a few dinged Bigfoot books from PrintNinja, but I’d ordered a lot more of those. With such a limited run of Phoebe & Beeswax, the dinged copies make up an appreciable percentage of the total. I can’t say Ka-Blam didn’t try to pack it well — the books were sealed in plastic, and encased in a pillow of shredded paper. But take a look at the shipping box:minicomic_process_DorseIt took only two days to get to me, by airplane, and it was delivered to my door looking like it had been used as the ball in a Steeler’s pre-season practice game. I know sometimes I can be a little nit-picky. But most times, I think I’m the perfect amount of nit-picky! So I informed Ka-Blam customer service of the issue to see if they’d do anything about it. They asked me to send photos of the damaged product, so I assume they’re considering their options. However, they’re located in Florida and I’m pretty sure that Hurricane Irma is marginally more pressing than my dinged corners. I’ll update this post when I receive an answer.

That’s That

And that’s how I failed to make my first mini-comic. Because I really couldn’t stop tweaking this project, it went from a half-sized, black-and-white mini-comic (that I could price at $5~$6) to a full-sized, full-color comic book on premium paper with a gloss cover (that I’ll probably price at $7~$8). Not much of a price difference, really. And if you like color, this version of the story will satisfy your rods and cones. Personally? I like color, and I like seeing that the orange cat is orange.

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Phoebe & Beeswax Debuts at Baltimore Comic Con

Phoebe & Beeswax: There’s No Beeswax Like Show Beeswax is a sweet little story of a girl who’s not sure what her talent is, but luckily her cat’s there to help her figure it all out. I’ll have it with me at Baltimore Comic Con, September 22 – 24, 2017. If you’re there, stop by table A-233 and say hi.  -v

Covering A Health Issue (Ha! Pun!)

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_01Here’s my latest cover for the Pittsburgh City Paper. They’re publishing their 2017 Health Issue this week, so Lisa the Art Director had me draw a kindly old doctor for the cover.

The Brief

Lisa gave me a few options to play with for the cover assignment, but they all centered around a doctor making a house call, so I tossed out a couple quick sketches. I toyed with the idea of having a young woman doctor with a modern feel, but the concept of making house calls is so quaint and outdated, I decided an old-timey doctor would fit better. The illustration was done in Clip Studio Paint, including these sketches.

HealthIssue2017Lisa liked the one on the doorstep, so we went with it. I only had a couple days, so the quicker we nail down an idea the better.

Side Note: One of the reasons it’s so fun to work with Lisa is that she has fun doing her job. She told me she kept flipping back and forth between my two sketches to make him dance. So I made a gif for her to enjoy. In fact, she just reminded me that I didn’t include it in this post, so I’m adding it just for her. : )

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Line

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_03When I do work for the City Paper, I often use a style that tries to evoke retro comic book inks and colors. But, for this doctor piece, I wanted something a little softer, a little more storybook. So I decided I’d use one of the Clip Studio pencil tools for the linework.

Flats

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_02aEven though I’m trying to avoid a comic book look, I did begin the coloring process with the standard comic book practice of laying down the flat colors. I used a standard, smooth, round brush for this.

Background

I started with the background first knowing it’d be relatively simple. The clouds in the sky were done with a low-opacity watercolor brush. The houses and trees in the distance were just blocked in with a chalk brush (you can see the rough edges), then blended into a soft blue.

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_04I used that same chalk brush for most of the rest of the illustration, including the work on this picket fence and grass. The sweeping crossbeam on that fence was drawn with the assistance of Clip Studio’s curve ruler. It’s an indispensable tool I use with almost any image that has long, smooth curves.

Sunbeams

I had this idea about kitschy lighting in the background: sunbeams radiating out and upward like vintage product packaging for butter or oranges or some other wholesome food.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_05I flipped the sunbeam layer on and off a few dozen times before finally deciding to keep it. I think it helps give the illustration more of an old-fashioned feel.

Modeling The Figure

The really fun part was adding all the highlights and shadows with the chalk brush. I made this animated gif to show the progression from flat color to fully-rendered.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_06Here’s another reason doing the background first is helpful. The color of the highlights were pulled directly from the sunlight behind him. Same thing with the shadows. This way the figure looks like he belongs in the scene. The rosy reds on his cheeks and nose don’t really exist in the background, but they’re there to give him that friendly, cherubic glow.

Text

HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_07I hand-lettered the words on this cover (based on existing typefaces) because I didn’t want them to look too perfect, but I needed them to be clean and readable at a distance. For “Health Issue” I added a slightly offset drop-shadow to really give it some oomph.

Grass and Shrubs

I ran a really rough chalk brush over the lawn a few dozen times to give it a little more texture. The bushes were done with a watercolor bristle brush because I wanted the slightly ovoid stroke of a brush for the leaves, rather than the blunt mark of a chalk tool.HealthIssueProcess_VinceDorse_08I handed the piece in and then realized I’d forgotten to draw the bottom beam on the picket fence. So I fixed it and re-sent the final-final illustration to Lisa. This is why I usually sit with an illustration for a full day before handing it in — so I can catch some of my mistakes before the client does.

Finished Cover

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And here’s the finished cover with the masthead added by the City Paper. If you’re interested in the state of health care and how it effects Pittsburghers, feel free to zip over and read the digital version online. -v

My Custom Drawing Board from Green Rabbet Workshop

This’ll be an oddball process post because it’s not really something I created (though I did work on the design). Instead, it’s a wonderful new art tool, custom built for me by my friend Mike at Green Rabbet Workshop.

DrawingBoard_DorseIt feels as nice and rich as it looks, by the way. A vast, 18×24 surface, beveled edges, and smooth as silk so it’s perfect for a pad of paper or even single sheets. No pencil-jarring humps or grooves in the wood.

DrawingBoard_DorseAs per my design request, it snaps open to a very useful 30º angle for drawing when tilt-top tables aren’t available. I didn’t want it suddenly snapping shut if I put too much pressure on the drawing surface. Mike knows his stuff and he came up with a solution.

DrawingBoard_DorseThese are locking hinges. They give the board a slightly higher profile when it’s closed, but the security of knowing this thing won’t flap down during a drawing session is well worth it.

DrawingBoard_DorseMike also worked in a lip at the bottom at my request. It’s tall enough to rest pencils, pens, and even the bottom edge of a sketchbook against, but it doesn’t interfere with my forearm when drawing.

DrawingBoard_DorseAnother great feature is that, when the legs are snapped closed, the arch cut into them forms a very comfortable handle. Mike and I are thinking about adding a shoulder strap just in case I have to juggle an armload of art supplies, but even as-is, it’s amazingly portable for such a roomy drawing surface.

So, that’s it. That’s the process of designing a much-needed drawing board and having your friend the professional craftsman (who isn’t deathly afraid of power tools the way I am) make it into reality. If you want to learn more about Mike’s efforts to use reclaimed wood and green processes in his projects, visit the Green Rabbet Workshop site (and check to link to his Etsy shop to see more of his work). He’s always taking custom orders, so if you need something unique, let him know. -v