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Hyperloop! Drawing Faster with Clip Studio Rulers.

Here’s the latest Pittsburgh City Paper cover I was assigned. This used to be the kind of assignment I’d worry over — quick turnaround and lots and lots of lines.


But since I started penciling and inking in Clip Studio Paint, jobs like this go by lightning-fast thanks to the ruler tools. Lemme show you. Here’s the rough I handed in to Art Director Lisa for approval (drawn onto the template supplied by City Paper):


I had just a few days to finish it (along with other projects on my board) so I thought I’d start inking over the rough sketch (rather than take the time to do finished pencils).

Inking in all those long, smooth lines used to feel like a lead weight on my shoulders. But the Clip Studio Paint Rulers are just like using a regular ruler on paper — only easier.


Those magenta lines are the rulers I’ve set up to help me draw the lines of the train and track. Specifically, it’s the Curve Ruler tool, which can be a straight line if you wanted (like a straight-edge ruler) or curved (like a flexible curve or french curve).


The pen tool will “ride” along the track of the ruler, allowing you to use as much or little pressure as you prefer when you lay down your lines. In that way, the ruler tools allow you to draw expressive, hand-rendered line work while maintaining a precision that’s hard to achieve drawing freehand.


Buildings no longer give me the cold sweats. I just place and adjust my rulers (those magenta lines) then use them to guide my inking.


Clip Studio Paint Rulers speed up my process, and that’s key with tight deadlines. Below are the finished inks. You can see I drew beyond the CP template to allow myself (and art director, Lisa) some wiggle room.



And, finally, here’s a gif that flips between the inks and the final color version. Yeah, there are plenty of things in the illustration that I DIDN’T draw with the ruler tools, but the rulers were invaluable in helping me get it handed in under the deadline without banging my head on the desk over and over. -v


And, as usual, if you’d like to dive even deeper into this illustration, read the City Paper article about the hyperloop kerfuffle right here, Thanks for stopping by! -v


Up And Away! A Collaborative Art Project

It’s the 1930s. Big City has become a place where greed trumps goodness, a city in desperate need of a hero. A hero like no other. The very first superhero.

Planning The Caper

This year, The Pittsburgh CLO invited members of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators to attend rehearsals of the CLO musical Up And Away, as a collaborative effort to produce artwork inspired by the show.

In this post, I’m going to break down my basic illustration process and ramble on a little about the show (because it’s really fun and you should go see it if you can).


Assembling The Team

I think there were six of us invited to attend early rehearsals for the show. We were there to get a feel for the show, and then create anything we wanted. Some of us illustrated scenes, some of us did renderings of the rehearsals, some did portraits of the cast. But from the very start, I knew I wanted to create a fictional comic book cover that featured the characters from the superhero-themed musical. Here’s the thumbnail I sketched out during that first rehearsal:


Clip Studio Paint To The Rescue

I used Clip Studio Paint to set up my image. As usual, the perspective rulers were invaluable in helping me redraw the background architecture over my sketch (the show is set in “Big City”). I used the blue drafting pencil to sketch in characters based on reference sketches I did at rehearsal, and a G-Pen to ink them in. These aren’t caricatures of the cast as much as representations of the archetypes the actors portray in the show.


About The Show

Up And Away is jam-packed with references to comic book culture. The two brothers (who leave their farm to find adventure in Big City) are Jerry and Joe Jessup (a nod to Superman creators, Siegel and Shuster). There’s a fast-talking lady-reporter, a mysterious billionaire, a tough but doting mother, and a host of costumed kooks running rampant in the city.


One of the most interesting things about this project was seeing director Marlo Hunter, creators Kevin Hammonds and Kristin Bair, and the cast members hammer the show into shape during rehearsals; changing blocking and choreography, editing scenes, working out the props and stagecraft. Process. It’s fun to watch things unfold, piece by piece, whether it’s an illustration or a comedy-musical.


Kevin Hammonds (Book and Lyrics) and Kristin Bair (Music) put together a catchy bunch of tunes. I must have heard “New Kind Of Hero” two dozen times that first day. Anyone who’s ever rehearsed a live musical performance knows you’re going to go over and over and over the songs. But that was fine, because when I saw the show opening week, I could practically sing along.


The performers are fantastic too.  It’s one of those shows that employs a small cast (just five) who have to race through backstage quick-changes to play a series of alternate roles (with those roles sometimes possessing alter-egos themselves).


And, in keeping with the stripped-down feel of a small cast, Up And Away employs classic, lo-fi stagecraft to achieve its own brand of special effects. Think “standing on one leg and bending at the waist with your arms forward to simulate flying over a collapsible MDF cityscape.” I don’t know how you’re picturing that, but trust me, it works.


As the little corner box intimates, Up And Away made it’s premiere here in Pittsburgh in January. But it’ll be running at the CLO Cabaret at Theater Square through Sunday, April 22nd. If you’re in Pittsburgh during that time, and you want to spend a fun couple of hours at a musical comedy made for comic fans, try to get tickets.

Art Show And Sale

And, as of this Wednesday, March 14, the Cabaret Gallery will have the Pittsburgh Illustrators’ Up And Away art on display and for sale, with 20% going to the Pittsburgh CLO. I’ll have two pieces there — the comic book cover (signed & numbered prints) and an ink and marker rendering of the villains in the show (based on brief descriptions in an early draft of the script). This was a fun project, a nice way to spend a few weeks with some talented creators and performers, and I got to see a superhero musical for free! Whooooosh! (that was me, flying away, in case you didn’t catch it) -v


And here, just for fun, the fictional comic book cover:




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.


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!


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.



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


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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




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.


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


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.


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.



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

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.


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.


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.


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:


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).


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.


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


Hope you all have a nice new year! -v


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.


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).

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

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 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.


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






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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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