Most of my usual work is either hand-drawn and colored or vector drawing in Illustrator. When I draw (or finish) digitally, the coloring usually happens in Illustrator as well. But, that’s not how most of the comic world works. Some people hand-draw, some people digitally render, but in either case… the digital coloring process typically happens in an application like Photoshop. It doesn’t have to be Photoshop, but a lot of colorists use it, and that’s what I use, so that’s the perspective from which I’ll usually talk.
At a very high level, the digital coloring process goes something like this:
- Scan or import your black and white line art (usually 600dpi resolution)
- Perform any digital cleanup or level adjustments to your line art to make it solid black and as clean as possible.
- Lay down flats (flatting) for all the bits on the page that you are going to be coloring.
- Render lighting, shadows, and other effects to characters, objects, and backgrounds.
That’s a bit of oversimplification, of course, but that’s it in a nutshell. Earlier this year I realized that in order to work in mainstream comics, and especially if I wanted to collaborate with others outside of my own creations, I needed to learn and develop skills working in the manner in which most professionals work. To that end, I began learning how to flat pages. There are lots of different ways to flat, and this isn’t going to be a tutorial on flatting anyway… but some ways produce better flats than others. The main point in the flats is to provide easily select-able areas upon which to define final color and apply effects to finish the illustration later. Flatting can be a time-consuming process, and it is something that many professional colorists will sub-contract out to have done for them so that they can focus on the effects work.
Here is an example of a pin-up illustration that I flatted recently. It’s an illustration of Marvel’s Phoenix character and was penciled by Renae de Liz and inked by Rob Norton. I grabbed the original line art from Digital Webbing where they had posted this as part of a collaboration project going on there. The first picture is the flats composited with the line art, and the second picture is just the flat colors alone (i.e. the part that I did).
What you mainly go for is unique colors for all the individual elements that might be colored or shaded differently later, and no instances of different objects that touch having the same color. This makes the work of the colorist later tremendously easier to be able to go and highlight each selection quickly and apply reference colors and effects. Note that while this illustration uses mostly appropriate colors for different parts of the character, flatting doesn’t require it. Often the person doing the flatting will not know what the final colors will be and semi-random color choices will be made at this stage. It’s not important to get bogged down trying to guess the color scheme during the flatting stage. It’s most important to block out every individual thing that needs to be colored.
There are some bits of this piece that could be broken down further, depending on the colorist intentions for the piece. Easy examples are… the fire in the background could be broken into different pieces… and the cloth wrap around her waist could be broken down to the different layers and even the different twists that show alternate sides of the cloth as it flows. You should always check with the colorist before you begin work to find out how far they want you to break down layers and costumes. Some will want everything broken down, while others will only want you to hit the large bits and they will make those smaller decisions as they apply their style to things.
FYI, this is the sample page I supplied to get the gig working on the Tellos Project. I will be posting another blog post about another recent pin-up coloring flat I produced that is a bit more detailed and, I think, more impressive than this one. Stay tuned!
If you are interested in requesting my services as a Flatter, please use the Contact page and provide me with as much information as you can about your request.
Morgan Welborn (Morganza) is a talented artist that I met through the Digital Webbing forums. He recently made available a high resolution scan of one of his original pencil drawings and invited other artists to collaborate with him to ink and color his illustration. I’m not the only one who has taken him up on his offer, but I’m just going to blog about my efforts… 🙂
I don’t have a convenient way to post mature content here on the blog, so there are strategically placed black bars to conceal the naughtier bits. I do have an uncensored version of this up on my DeviantArt page for anyone who wants to go take a look there. I also recommend you take a look at Morganza’s DeviantArt page as well while you’re there.
I spent the better part of an evening and night working on this, plus some final tweaking the next day before finally deciding it was done. I wanted to punch up the red a bit more on the boiling man’s skin, but was afraid it might not have the desired effect since there was an all-red demon hovering there beside the cauldron. All things told, I feel pretty proud of this one. I had a strong base in the form of the original pencil drawing to work from, so I just had to decide what things I wanted to make pop in the final rendering.
This was a very good exercise for me. I’m not always happy with how I ink my own drawings. I’m far better at working digitally (either completely from scratch or over rough pencil sketches), but I’m also considerably better at inking when working over another artist’s pencils with a much stronger foundation than I typically lay down myself. I need to work on tightening up my pencil work so that I can be a more well-rounded artist, but in the meantime I also want to open myself up to more collaborations like this one to produce solid work and learn how to work better with other fellow artists.
FYI, here’s the original pencil sketch that Morganza supplied for the collaboration. I think you’ll see that all the detail is already there in his original illustration, and you can compare this to my finished rendering above to see what choices and minor changes I made along the way.
Please let me know what you think of this and remember, if you’d like an original commission by me or would like to hire me as an Illustrator, please use the Contact page and let me know as much as you can about your request.
Most of the time, I start and finish my art digitally, and almost always as vector art. Sometimes, to get a more organic look, I will start with a pencil sketch that I scan in and then render the vector-art over that. I have also been trying more recently to do more completely hand-drawn from start-to-finish works. All of these processes yield different looks to the final art.
One thing I had not done, prior to this weekend, was ink over the pencils of someone else. A conversation on the Digital Webbing forum inspired me to give it a go. In a case of fortunate timing, someone on the forum posted a nice high resolution scan of an Adam Hughes Vampirella sketch. I am a fan of Adam Hughes work, so this felt like a good thing to tackle as my first attempt at finishing the pencils of someone else.
Here is the original Adam Hughes sketch for comparison:
And here is my digitally finished + colored version:
Adam’s original sketch has some details and shading that I dropped out in my rendering. The digital inking is all vector art, which means I can scale and do other things fairly easily with this later if inspiration strikes. If you look closely you will see minor tweaks here and there between my final version and the original sketch. One thing that particularly bugged me was her left hand and the position of the fingers. It never looked completely right no matter what I did to it, but I settled on a position that didn’t drive me batty anymore… 😉
Famously, comic book inkers don’t always get the credit they deserve. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, there are numerous examples out there of various inkers finishing the same penciled original where you can get a really good idea of just what each individual inker brings to the table. Also, some pencillers lay down more detail than others. Some teams of penciller + inker work better than others, as each compliments the other’s style in a more cooperative way. Part of what led me to this experiment was sometimes being dissatisfied with my inking of my own pencils. I wanted to see what it might look like mixing my instincts with someone else. Look for more of these collaborations as the mood strikes me.
Please let me know what you think, and remember, if you’d like an original commission by me or would like to hire me as an Illustrator, please use the Contact page and let me know as much as you can about your request.