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Summing up summer

Summer is nearly over. I can tell because the weather has changed from unexpectedly awful to totally as dreadful as anticipated.  My kids go back to school in a couple of days (thank god, we have 9 – NINE! – weeks of school summer holidays, and while some parents love having their kids off during the summer holidays, those parents are probably liars.

Page count, thus far, is 38. Which is a bit amazing really. I’m afraid I’m only ever one bad way to spiralling down to next to no pages per month (today has easily been the closest, having only gotten one page inked, yesterday was nearly the same except I ended up completing three pages) which is sort of daft, as I could take the rest of the month off and still claim this month as a major victory.

One thing it’s done is opened my eyes to the possibility of doing more things for myself – 25 pages per month for a publisher, 25 pages per month for me … think of the possibilities. I’m still sucking hard on writing, I’ve got some fun ideas ( I think) but not the time nor experience nor confidence to carry them through. That said, there’s a few things I’ve scripted with Scott Ferguson (my erstwhile co-podcast host on the Sunnyside Comics podcast, if you can remember that) that I may go and draw.

 

But that assumes I can find 25 pages of paid comic per month. And that’s usually been a struggle.

Anyways, comics good. Go and pre-order Dept of Monsterology Book 2: Sabbaticals from your local comic shop, I think it’s in this months “previews” magazine (no details to hand I’m afraid)

Go buy Gunsuits ep3, written by Paul Tobin, drawn by me.

And stand by for more comics.

Now, in twitter news, I offered to answer questions (and LO! but only one question did present itself)

Zoe Robinson asked:

“Do you agree you need to know the rules before breaking them”.

Yes. Though it’s probably a little harder to define what the rules are: a search for the rules then…

There are some obvious rules: paper is a fixed size. Artwork must fit the paper. Laws of physics dictate certain tools work in certain ways. Hard to break those rules even if you want to, though you can do some groovy effects if you know exactly how to bend the physical properties of pen and ink to your whim (greywash springs to mind).

In terms of artwork, it’s a good idea to know, for example, how many heads a person has before drawing a person. Which is flippant, but then the question becomes, what is the basic proportion of a human, can you break that rule? Well … probably? But then that’s not a rule so much as a strong suggested guideline. In fact most drawing rules are strong tried and tested guidelines – even the “people read left to right” is a long standing guide that, if your smart, you can circumvent it. Look at what Frank Quietly can do with storytelling on that front to be amazed and how easily that rule what be flipped on its head… But he can only do that because he understands the underlying rule which is that you control the narrative flow – you direct the readers eyes.

So, I think a good rule for whether you can break the rules is whether you realise you’re breaking them.

Breaking them without knowing your doing so is an accident while we can all talk about the happy accidents in art, in storytelling you really want the accidents to happen in a very controlled way.

-pj

 

 

Photoref

I quickly blogged yesterday about my current speed and casually threw out the phrase “Instant Photoreference” – quite rightly, I was pulled up on it, David said (in the comments yesterday)

12 pages a week, wow! Very impressive. Would you please elaborate on you use of “instant photoreference”? What is it? How does it work? Do you consider it “cheating”? Thanks in advance!

Let’s deal with those questions in reverse order: “Do you consider it cheating”- no, whatever gets the work done, as far as I’m concerned. You can be snobbish about it – and some use it well and some use it badly, but as long you’re not stealing someone else’s photos wholesale, then nothing is cheating.

“What is it?/How does it work?”. Ok, firstly I may have overstated it, by “Instant photoreference” what I really mean is that I pencil the page as I think it needs to be pencilled, largely without recourse to photoreference, then as I draw I hit hands or poses that I think are weak (or, more accureatly, are so well trodden by me that even I’m bored with how they look ) so I’ll take a quick photo using my iPhone and then just ink that directly over the pencilled thing. I don’t (usually) repencil, I just wrap it in and try and make it look like it belongs with the page that I’m currently working on. If it’s a car I might try and find online reference of a random vehicle and draw that in the inks (often what I’m looking for are the details rather than the specific image, so a car at 3/4 view in a photo may be used by me to draw a car that’s entirely front on, or from a totally unrelated angle).

I try not to let the photos dictate the drawing, and I often piecemeal bits of poses together so that it still feels like my pencils. The big no-no on photos, I think, is to literally trace or copy them leaving you with an obviously acted moment in a drawn image. Sometimes it’s ok – when you’re dealing with a vehicles. I did a war story using photos of a model plane that I’d built, literally tracing the photos – for the first dozen or so pages, by the end I was so familiar with the vehicle I could freehand it, and the image had more life.

Anyhue, that’s all. Hope that’s of some limited use. If you follow me on twitter (www.twitter.com/pauljholden), I might be tempted to post some of these stupid photos…

 

Page Counts

 

IMG_461323789

January: 28
February: 19
March: 11
April: 16
May: 16
June:16
July: 13
August (so far): 28

January was me determine to make up for the last few years – I Knew I was capable of a page a day (and had often done more) and I wanted to do that, so I figured out ways to keep track (you can read these methods in the blog under the process tag) I was pretty pleased to hit 28 pages, and there was even 5 days where I did nothing at all, so theoretically I could do more.

Feb I was about 14 pages in to the month when my wife broke her dominant arm at the elbow. A pretty serious break that, 7 months later is still a problem (and, in fact, she’s having an operation to see if it can be improved). I managed to claw some more pages back, to hit 19 – not great but not too bad anyway, given the circumstances.

March was awful. AWFUL. Between looking after wife, kids, and my returning stomach pains (which appear to be diet related and I’m mostly on top of now) 11 pages was pathetic, but I was prepared to wipe out the month.

April was rejigging things in my work and a determination to hit 28 pages again but somehow I plateaued at 16, and for the next few months it felt like 16 was all I was capable of, and that was depressing. It meant, even if the work where their I wouldn’t be capable of meeting a monthly deadline on a book and I certainly wasn’t prepared to go looking for more comic work when I felt so low about how much I was producing (and while quantity does not equal quality it always feels to me like the more I produce the better it gets)

May and June same as April, except the spiral downwards felt like it got worse, a real “should I stop this and think about a real job?”

July, god knows what happened here. Start of school summer holidays, I think. At this point ready to throw in the towel in comics – I earned so little last year and drawing 16 pages a month (assuming the work was there) wasn’t going to pay much more. It felt like my earning potential was severly limited, and I missed having a day job (secure money+could draw what I like when I like? WHY DID I GIVE THAT UP? IDIOT)

August.

August.

August.

I.. I’m not sure what combination of things happened. Maybe I’d hit rock bottom? (God, I hoped so – things couldn’t get much worse).

I took some extra work I was offered (they way I felt I’d never be offered work again) and burned through it. I switched from inking with a brush to inking with pigma pens (and I’m an inking snob so this has always been something I’d refused to do) moved to using the lightbox (see yesterday’s post) and found, somehow, I got faster and faster and happier and happier and, I think, better and better – my ego has always been intrinsically linked to my art – when I feel great about the art I feel great about me, and when I suck so does the art.

I’m off for a week, where I’ll just be pencilling, hopefully I can come back and ink like a demon and get three pages per day done (ending the month on an unheard of high number of pages for me). Kids start school next month, and there’s a possibility, one I daren’t hope for until now, that I may actually do all right in comics.

 

How I work Now…

I have altered work methods and I’ve jumped from averaging of sixteen pages per month to 12 pages per week. PER WEEK.

I’m moving through a slightly perfect storm of technique and confidence in my own work that I haven’t gone through in a number of years (which means I’ll end up forgetting it). But here’s how it works (and I should note, I’ve lifted much of this from watching how John McCrea works – a consummate professional and one of the hardest working people I know).

Layouts: I draw layouts on a pdf version of the script using the surface pro (yay! My surface pro has finally found a use!)

Pencils: I pencil at roughly A4 size in Canson 180 pads, using a HB pencil.

Scan these in to Manga Studio where I enlarge then print them out.

Inks: I ink using Zebra brush pen (for larger things) and Kuratake Pigment markers, numbers 01, 02, 08 and 005.

I don’t second guess my self on pencils, and I seem to be using a lot more instant photoreference, which I’ll usually directly ink.

Two pages per day is a pretty comfortable speed to hit (though it’s hard to judge cus usually I plough through three-five pencilled pages per day then spend the next few days just inking). Three pages is more than possible.

In print you can still pick up Gunsuits, ep 3 is due out soon (and here’s a page I like). Coming up: something fun with nazi zombies, and I’m in the middle of drawing Dept of Monsterology book 2…

gunsuits3_015

 

GUNSUITS #1

OUT NOW! In all good comic shops. Issue 1 features a cover by me and an alternative cover by Darrick Robinson. It’s a fun book to draw and I hope to get to do more of it, but that largely depends on you going and buying it!

If you’re in Ireland, I’ll be signing copies at The Big Bang in Dundrum on the 10th and in The Comic Book Guys in Belfast store, on the 11th – more exciting, I’ll be signing along with John McCrea for his new image book Mythic. So come and see us both!

 

McCrea and Holden on tour!

 

(And for those asking, will soon be returning to finish art on Dept of Monsterology book 2 – a book more bonkers than the first!)

 

 

 

Surface Redux

Let’s get this out of the way: if I had the money I’d buy the Cintiq Companion 2.

Ok, now on to the business at hand.

Those of you who’ve read the blog before will have seen my somewhat instant romance and subsequent falling out with the surface pro. The biggest problem with it? the pen nib (made out of something like .001pence worth of plastic) literally wore down in days. Microsoft sent me some replacement nibs, but buy then (three days or so) of owning it, I’d lost my -already somewhat wobbly-faith in the device as a whole. And given I’d spent £1,099 on the top end Surface Pro 3 (i7, 256Gb, 8Gb RAM) to replace my extant Macbook Pro and Cintiq 12″ device – a system that worked perfectly for years – I knew I’d end up using the mac & cintiq and could no longer justify the money on the surface pro.

So I returned it.

But I still missed it. I missed having a portable device I could do finished comic book work on. I went on holiday lamenting the lack of surface pro (or any decent device). I bought with me the macbook pro and an old graphics tablet that would do the job in a pinch.

But, on holiday and feeling low, I pottered in to PC World and did some calculation and in a moment of weakness I bought another one. This time rather than top of the range, I went mid range – the i5 with 4Gb RAM and 128Gb hard drive, and given the UK/EU exchange rate, I managed to pick it up for £690 (the UK price in PCWorld has it at £739)

I reset my goals, rather than replace my existing system this would work in conjunction with it. Rather than replace my still very good macbook pro, it would replace my old and ropey ipad (which I use at my drawing table for looking up reference, checking email, reading scripts, and so on) – that meant I wouldn’t be doing high end stuff on it (though, to be honest, I don’t do “high end” stuff, but I always feel uncomfortable unless I’m buying as good as my budget allows).

On testing though, what I found, was that there’s NOT a significant different between the £1099 and the £690 surface pros, at least not as far as Manga Studio is concerned. Certainly, if I were to use some of the more complicated natural media brushes that mix colours as they draw I might notice a slow down, but I’m running 600dpi A3 sized images – which are actually way way larger than they need, if I was serious about colour and needed speed, I’d probably reduce those down to 300dpi without any great loss of fidelity when they finally print.

The surface pro has a fan but I’ve never found it to kick in or even get hot when I’m running Manga Studio – in fact, if it does kick in, I’ll usually find it’s because a background app is running (and I’ll boot that app and things will cool down).

I’ve set up drop box on the surface pro, and I store multi story manga studio files on their, which means any edits I make on the surface pro are uploaded to dropbox and available on my macbook pro pretty quickly. (Where the macbook pro then takes care of backups).

Not sure what happens if I try and edit the same file on both, or indeed what happens when they get out of sync – hopefully dropbox will take care of it, but because I’ve set up the files to only open one page at a time (and it saves between changing pages) the worse that’ll happen is I’ll lose one page (but since I work traditionally, that might only mean I’ll have to rescan something and I may have lost an hour or two of edits).

It’s lovely to be able to sit in the living room and do some of the more mundane manga studio tasks (I scanned 11 pages yesterday, dropping each into the correct page on manga studio – granted I had to keep walking in to the studio to replace the page being scanned, but I WAS unchained from the computer desk!).

Oh, and on the pen nib front: I’ve readjusted the sensitivity of the pen so it uses a lighter touch so hopefully I’ll wear the pen down a lot less, though, I wish it was as sensitive as my cintiq which can give a line with just the lightest feather touch, the surface requires some amount of pressure to get any sort of line.

 

Digging below the surface

So, I’ve had the surface pro 3 a couple of days now and have had something of a change of heart. The machine IS wonderful. There’s no doubt about it. I do love it.

BUT.

The pen.

The surface pen well, specifically the pen nibs. I’ve owned this machine for four days and in that time I’ve finished colouring a piece (it was almost entirely coloured already) and I’ve scanned some pencils which I’ve then edited and then printed, inked traditionally and then re-scanned. Pretty light work I think. In that time the pen nib has become a frazzled piece of plastic. It looked like this:

surfacepentip

that tip should be pointed. It doesn’t seem to effect the drawing, but really if this is three days of wear what’s gonna happen after a month?

I’ve been told by one person this fraying eventually stops and the tip becomes solid, but I’ve googled and this seems to be common among demo machines in shops (explaining the reticence of pcworld in having a demo pen out)

Microsoft were also helpful and have offered to send out a pack of 3 replacement nibs. But at this rate of going those nibs might not last a week, plus when I buy computer equipment I expect it to last 3-5 years, will they be so keen to send out nib #460 in year 4?

So the upshot is, I’ve mulled it over and my wife and I have agreed. I’m taking it back for a refund. A £1k device that’s otherwise great ruined by what is probably a fraction of a pennies worth of plastic material.

It’s a shame.

Instead, i’ll be keeping my pennies and pounds for the next cintiq. It’ll be expensive (and I hear it’s as elegant to handle as a brick, and it gets hot etc) but cintiq know how to make nibs, that’s for sure.

Will let you know how I get on returning it, I’m assuming the nib makes this unfit for purposes, but pcworld my have other ideas.

 

On the surface…

UPDATE!!! I’ve decided to return the surface pro owing to problems with the pen nib. You can read details here. Upshot, brilliant device massively undermined by possibly its cheapest component.

 

So, I went a little doolally and bought myself a Surface Pro 3 (the i7 with 256Gb storage and 8Gb RAM).

My plan was to replace a Macbook Pro and a Cintiq 12XW. I’ll be honest, if I had the cash the Cintiq Companion would be on my wish list, but it was never gonna make it. As it was, the Surface Pro 3 was a little expensive, but thankfully a couple of cheery invoice payments made it possible.

I’ve been using macs for years now, and though my previous life was as an IT supervisor (starting age 14, working mostly in tech support and programming) working in windows environments, I didn’t miss windows at all.

So let’s run through the good and the bad, keep in mind, this is based on two days usage.

For  recap – here’s how I worked with Manga Studio, MacBook pro and Cintiq 12XW

Pencil on paper, scan, add panel borders in Manga Studio, do any pencil corrections (resizing/redrawing/adding perspective grids/objects/photos/etc) print pencils out as blue (keeping panel borders black) ink this, scan in inks and do corrections.

Basically I don’t do much in the way of digital drawing. I also don’t push my system terribly hard.

(You can read much more in depth details here …)

The surface pro is smaller than my cintiq 12XW but with a much brighter/better display and similar screen size – no side buttons (which I do use often)

Manga Studio has a great tablet mode that sets the interface to be usuable with fingers, though it still felt small, it turns out you can also set the interface in windows to a little larger and that helps a lot (actually that also helps the overall interface in windows)

I have an external monitor (bought in a second hand shop for £15) it’s not a great resolution but it rotates, and plugs in to the surface so now I have a two monitor system (though you need a mouse or other device in order to drag things between the two windows).

I bought me a small (1tb, physically tiny) external Seagate drive that comes with backup software, so I get backups when it’s plugged in.

I have a cheap (£10!) Bluetooth keyboard I bought for my ipad, and it’s fine and dandy for using with the surface, good for hotkeys in Manga Studio.

Took me a little while to get my pens gathered up that I use in MS – I’ve been using it for years and had accumulated both a lot of good stuff and a lot of cruft, so took the opportunity to clean it up a bit.

So here’s some direct comparisons:

Drawing

I think drawing is still better on the cintiq, but the resolution of the surface pro, and the fact that it feels faster in Manga Studio mean I’ll happily battle with it (esp since I don’t draw digitally all the time) I’m not sure how I’d feel if I was a pure digital artist, maybe I’d save for the new cintiq companion (in terms of processor, memory the equivalent companion is about £600 more than this surface, but it’s not really direct as the cintiq is a cintiq…)

I like the feel of the pen, but it’s becoming apparent that the ergonomics of it aren’t maybe as well thought out as the cintiq pen – the cintiq pen has a thick based narrowing into a thin point, which means you can see around the pen as you draw, the surface point/base don’t taper in just the same way and I sometimes find myself not quite seeing where I’m drawing (which I think matters, but it may be just a matter of calibration – and deliberately setting the calibration off so that the drawing point is above the contact point so I can see it).

Ok, more positive:

The space saving! Oh my gosh. Even with an external keyboard and external monitor, there’s a good chance I can just use the surface on my drawing desk when I need it, meaning I can get rid of my massive computer desk (which, tbh, would be a shame as it was a bargain £25 in a charity shop, and is quite, quite lovely) but removing it would actually double up my studio space! (that’s something I can hardly even imagine!)

Portability, ok you get this with the companion, but the surface is light enough I can rest it on my chest while lying down, and hold it up with my left hand while I draw with my right, and my left hand thumb remains in reach of all the important manga studio buttons – I can go to bed at a reasonable hour and just work!

The kickstand. I don’t trust kickstands. I think they’re ok for moderate use but they WILL break – especially if you lean on your device to draw. My cintiq 12XW has some awful cracks around the base where its stand meets its plastic – it’s ok though, I bought a need laptop stand that’s pretty much perfect, though the quickstand actually remains pretty useful for putting up on a table for reference or for those odd times I’m out and near a table without an angle. Great for occasional usage, is what I’m saying.

Surface Pro software – I’m happy to just use Manga Studio 5 EX on this, it’s great, occasionally I’ll look in Microsofts App Store, but it reminds me of big shopping centres in China, from the outside it looks professional and neat and then inside pure chaos with knock off stuff everywhere. Not a fan. Many of the apps I’ve come to expect just don’t exist (no iPlayer??) although since it’s a full on windows the internet delivers the webexperience pretty well.

The OS is … ok. There’s lots of little issues that I don’t like and weirdness (for instance I accidentally turned on “Narrator” – the equivalent of “VoiceOver” on the mac, you touch something and it will read it out for you. All well and good except I have no idea how I turned it on, my volume was turned to zero so it didn’t actually say anything and it just looked like a weird bug) there’s some properly ugly touches too, like rotate where you rotate the device and it fades out and fades back in in the correct rotation. The iPad is much more elegant.

I’ve transferred all of my current projects on to the surface pro and tucked away my cintiq, moved the MacBook pro into a different room and will keep using it for accounts (etc).

So, to sum up,I like it a LOT. If I had the money I’d’ve plumped for the Cintiq Companion but it’s a decent enough price difference to make me wonder if I DID buy the companion would I be left wondering did I spend far more than I needed to…

Pricing Artwork

There’s a lot of stages in a comic book career. And sometimes you end up revisiting them. I’m at a stage where I can sell some of my original artwork (certainly not all of it or even most of it) though I don’t use dealers.

Pricing artwork can be tough, especially if you’ve never sold artwork before. The biggest difficulty is that artwork isn’t a fungible –  a page of my artwork isn’t identical to a page of someone else’s artwork, it’s not even identical to a different page of my own artwork. Every page is unique.

So I price my artwork on a simple formula: how much can I sell this page for that won’t make me regret selling this page.

There’s some factors in there:

I much prefer selling artwork to people that I know will enjoy the artwork. I’ve sold artwork that I like for way below normal value to a kid because they’d used the printed strip in a school project and were a fan. I was delighted, and, to be honest, I’d’ve given the page to him but for this second important factor:

Giving artwork away (or selling it too cheaply) makes the recipient perceive the artwork as cheap.  John McCrea has a great anecdote on this and you should ask him, but it boils down to : the more money someone pages for the artwork the more likely they are to put it in a frame and enjoy it. (The less money? the more likely the are to fold it over and use it as packing material for something else).

Sometimes I like a page and want to keep it. That page costs more. Sometimes I hate a page and don’t want someone to buy it. That page may also cost more than it should (but I’ll often not show it anyways). Sometimes it’s late on in a show, and I’ve sold no artwork and I’m tired and I’m hungry and that’s when it’s dangerous for me to sell, because I’m prepared to take any reasonable offer.

I did once sell a page to a celebrity. That page went for a little more than usual (though I suspect I could have doubled or tripled the price)

The real truth is though, you need to make pricing mistakes before you find your level- you need to ask for too much to find out what too much is for your art and you need to undercharge to find out what makes you feel sick knowing you didn’t charge enough. Only you can price your own pages.

(Unless it’s got Wolverine on it, in which case you can charge thousands.)

Weekly Workout…

Hey ho! First week of Feb nearly done, so here’s where I stand:

Work wise: 5 pages for 5 days. Looking good for a page a day for this month.

My working week looks like this:

Monday : All day work. Hopefully a nice pencil and ink day, or, if I’m lucky, get a page pencilled and inked and another pencilled.
Tuesday: I get to work while kids in school, until 2 o’clock. So far I’ve managed a page on those days, usually pencilling in the morning and inking in the evening. Sometimes it’s been harder and all I’ve managed is to ink a page – but I still count that as a page in the day.
Wednesday: I get to work until 2 again. Again, pencil and ink if I’m lucky, if not it’s just inking.
Thursday: Work all day. I hope to pencil and ink a full page and maybe start another page pencils.
Friday: Work most of the day. Knock off early, until everyone is in bed then I work.
Saturday: family stuff, then work when I can.
Sunday: family stuff, usually a little lighter, work when they’re asleep.

I’m trying my best to keep to just two projects at a time (I’ve juggled  more). I plan to deliver three pages per week on one project (fixed deadlines) and around three pages per week on the second project.  So far, I’ve done better than that, but that’s my minimum. The two projects will basically keep me working solidly until August (assuming I can do 25 pages per month). I’ve had to turn down a weirdly large amount of work, frustrating, given last year I was doing next to nothing for most of it (though that was largely me not being able to get any work done).

Dept of Monsterology has three more chapters to go, each chapter has 24 pages, plus a cover (and I have two covers to do for the first two chapters). Project G (my terrible codename) has 22 pages plus a cover for each episode – four episodes in total. Doing the two concurrently means I get one full book done every second month. Maybe I should have just done one book followed by the other… doing two totally different projects I do three pages of one then three pages of the other, a nice number jumping between two books means I don’t get bored. I find US books terrible big meals to swallow in one go.

Don’t forget to sign up to my monthly mailing list – I’ll be giving away a sketch (a full colour sketch) to one lucky list member at the end of the month!

Signup here.