Two Sneaky Tips For Making Longer Comics Look More Detailed

2017-artwork-sneaky-background-tricks

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m busy preparing this year’s Halloween comic at the time of writing. So, I thought that I’d talk briefly about detail levels in webcomics today.

This was mostly because, when I tried to make the failed mini series that was posted here recently , I went for more of a ‘back to basics’ approach with the art. In other words, I tried to reduce the level of visual detail to the minimum that I could get away with. This was an interesting experiment, but it sucked some of the “life” out of my comics.

On the other hand, in the mini series that will appear here in early October, I did the exact opposite. I made larger comics that contained slightly more visual detail than many of the ‘detailed’ comics I’d posted earlier this year. This was a lot of fun, but it also meant that the comic-making process was a lot slower. Of course, whilst this was perfect for a short six-comic mini series, it wouldn’t be practical for the longer narrative comic I’d planned for Halloween. So, what did I do?

1) Mix high and low detail backgrounds: This is one of the oldest tricks in the book (I’ve mentioned it before, but recently learnt how to use it in a slightly better way) and it can be barely noticeable if done well.

For example, the pages of my upcoming Halloween comic contain a few detailed interior and exterior locations. But, these often appear for only one or two panels. Most of the time, the backgrounds are slightly less detailed – but this is disguised in a few clever ways.

For example, here’s a preview of one of the less detailed backgrounds in page one of my Halloween comic:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

If this had been a scene from my failed “back to basics” comic project, then I’d have just used a plain purple background. However, although most of the background is solid purple, I’ve also added the corner of an old computer monitor and an undetailed poster to it.

Although both of these small details were fairly quick to draw, they give the impression that the scene is taking place within an actual room. So, a couple of tiny and quick details can make an undetailed background look like a detailed one.

Another good trick to use is to draw a few detailed “establishing shots” of a new location and then to add less precision and less detail to most of the other drawings of this location. Since your audience will have seen the more detailed drawings first, they’re probably just going to “fill in the gaps” when they see the less detailed drawings of the same location a little while later.

2) Clever recycling: First of all, I’m not talking about directly re-using backgrounds. Although, if you’re making your comic entirely digitally (and are skilled with using layers), then you can obviously do this. But, I’ll be talking about something far more subtle and much less noticeable than that.

This technique works best if you also do regular art practice, have a good visual memory and/or have made lots of comics before. But, all you have to do is to use something that you are familiar with drawing for your background. Not only does this save you thinking/planning time, but it means that you’ll be able to add a lot of detail more quickly for the simple reason that you already know what to do.

For example, the first page of my upcoming Halloween comic features a detailed outdoor location. Since the comic’s location is loosely-based on Aberystwyth, I already had plenty of pre-made ideas for outdoor locations. On top of this, I’d previously made a sci-fi painting (which will be posted here on the 10th October) which was based on this old photo of Aberystwyth high street that I took in 2009.

One interesting feature of the photo was that the bank in the background had been undergoing renovations at the time and was covered in scaffolding. Likewise, the top of the building next to it looked a little bit like something from “Blade Runner“.

Needless to say, both things were a part of my sci-fi painting. But, since I’d already worked out how to draw them when making that painting, they were surprisingly quick to re-draw when I wanted to add a detailed outdoor location to my Halloween comic:

 Again, the full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

Again, the full comic update will be posted here on the 21st October.

This outdoor location isn’t exactly the same as either the photo or my sci-fi painting but, since I was drawing buildings that I’d practiced drawing recently, I was able to add a lot more detail to that panel a lot more quickly.

So, if you find some way to draw what you know, then it’ll be easier to add detailed backgrounds far more quickly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Ways To Use The Backgrounds Of Your Webcomic To Stay Motivated

2017 Artwork Webcomic backgrounds motivation

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about settings in webcomics and how they can be an unusual source of creative motivation.

As regular readers of this site probably know by now, I’ve been busy making a series of three time travel themed webcomic mini series that will appear here this month and early next month (the first one begins tonight 🙂 ).

One of the interesting things about making these comics was how detailed the backgrounds were when compared to many of the previous webcomics that I’ve made. Previously, I’d usually tended towards using minimalist backgrounds as often as possible for time reasons.

The idea of making highly-detailed backgrounds for each panel of my webcomic updates used to seem a bit like a frustrating waste of time to me. After all, the focus was supposed to be on the characters and the dialogue.

But, paradoxically, the detailed backgrounds were one of the many things that really helped to keep me motivated when making these upcoming comics. Even if these comics took slightly more effort to make than usual, I still found myself producing them at a faster rate than I had expected. And I know why!

Here are a few of the reasons. Who knows, they might be useful for your webcomic too:

1) Interesting locations: One of the many reasons that I used minimalist backgrounds for a lot of my webcomics was for the simple reason that the settings weren’t that interesting.

Most of the settings were either inside a flat and/or on the streets of a generic town (that is heavily inspired by Aberystwyth). These settings are mildly “realistic”, but they aren’t interesting. No wonder that I saw adding the backgrounds as a chore that I would try to put the minimum amount of effort into as possible.

By contrast, since I was making comics about time travel, I had to come up with more “unrealistic” backgrounds. I had to draw gloomy futuristic cities, ominous Victorian factories, something suspiciously similar to 221B Baker Street, a 1980s/90s-style version of cyberspace, menacing medieval castles etc…

Needless to say, these were all settings that required a lot more creativity and imagination. They also gave me a lot more freedom to experiment with things like different types of lighting and/or slightly less realistic colour schemes. Needless to say, the chance to do all of this was considerably motivational than just drawing the inside of the same flat for the hundredth time.

So, set your webcomic somewhere interesting and you’ll find that the idea of making detailed backgrounds will go from being a motivation-sapping chore to being something that you actually want to do.

2) Background jokes: Since all of the upcoming comics in the three mini series that will be appearing here over the next month or so are part of a larger story (although many individual comic updates are still self-contained), this allowed me to include a few references, interesting details and jokes in the backgrounds.

Naturally, this made the backgrounds considerably more fun to make than usual. The idea of hiding something plot-related in the background and knowing that dedicated readers of the comic might spot it upon re-reading the comics added an extra level of motivation. The same is true for some of the movie and game references that I also sneaked into the comics too.

So, adding jokes or references to the backgrounds of your webcomic updates can be another great way to get motivated.

3) Variety: There’s a reason why I’ve made three separate time travel-themed webcomic mini series, rather than just one longer series set in a single time period. That reason is, of course, variety!

If you have to re-draw the same settings (or even the same types of settings) over and over again, it can quickly become a dull and repetitive activity. So, one way to stay motivated is to ensure that there’s a good variety of settings within your webcomic. Yes, you shouldn’t completely change the setting in each panel, but try to introduce new locations as often as you can.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Strange Tips For Improving Your Backgrounds If You Paint Or Draw From Imagination

2017 Artwork Improving backgrounds article sketch

Painting or drawing interesting backgrounds is fairly easy if you’re drawing from life or painting from photographs. After all, all you have to do is to copy what is right in front of you. However, if you’re painting or drawing from imagination, then coming up with interesting background locations for your artworks can be significantly more challenging.

So, I thought that I’d offer you a few unusual tips that might help you to think of more interesting background designs.

1) Play a lot of 3D computer games: This may sound counter-intuitive, but playing a lot of 3D computer games (particularly those that don’t use hyper-realistic modern graphics) can give you a greater understanding of how three-dimensional spaces “work” in a way that you won’t get by looking at rooms, buildings etc.. in real life.

Or, more accurately, it will change how you think about the three-dimensional locations in your own art.

After all, although the locations in a computer game might be three-dimensional, you are seeing them on a two-dimensional computer screen. Since your drawing or painting will also involve turning an imagined 3D location into a 2D image, repeatedly seeing a fully interactive version of this process can help you to think about your location design in a slightly different way.

Likewise, exploring a 3D area in a computer game (with the full knowledge that it’s been artificially-constructed, and that you can spend as long as you like looking at it) will mean that you’ll start to get a sense of a location as a whole. This is kind of hard to describe, but thinking of your imagined locations in a holistic way (as if you have a 3D model of them in your mind) can seriously improve the design of the backgrounds in your art.

2) Layering and verticality: Before I go any further, I’m going to show you a reduced-size preview of a painting that I’ll be posting here in full later this month, see if you can spot one of the ways that I added more visual appeal and visual interest to this picture.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

In case you didn’t spot it, the picture contains two vertical levels. There’s a balcony/ staircase on the far right of the picture and a street in the middle part of the bottom of the picture. Here’s a highlighted version of the preview to show you what I mean.

 The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

One of the simplest ways to cram more interesting visual detail into your art is simply to include more than one vertical “level” in it. Include balconies, windows that overlook streets, shelves filled with interesting objects etc…..

Obviously, this works best in large, expansive outdoor areas – but it’s certainly something worth thinking about if you want your backgrounds to look more interesting.

3) NPCs: If you aren’t familiar with computer gaming jargon, “NPC” stands for “Non-Player Character”. In other words, it’s a geeky-sounding term for the people in the background. If you’re making art fairly quickly or are focusing entirely on the foreground, then it can often be easy to just draw a few generic, undetailed people in the background.

However, if you have a bit more time and if you think a bit more carefully, then you can add a lot of visual storytelling, humour, visual interest etc… to your background by showing the background characters doing all sorts of intriguing things.

Here are two examples, which will include close-ups of the relevant background details.

Here’s the first example:

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I'll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I’ll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there's a "point and click" game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate's skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there’s a “point and click” game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate’s skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

And here’s the second example:

Here's yet another small art preview. Now, let's take a look at the mid-background...

Here’s yet another small art preview. Now, let’s take a look at the mid-background…

Two "film noir" detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he's just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

Two “film noir” detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he’s just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

So, if you do something a bit strange or interesting with the characters in the background, then you can instantly make the background of your drawing or painting significantly more interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One Way To Draw Backgrounds Through Rain-Covered Windows

2016 Artwork Rain Covered Windows drawing article

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about a simple traditional drawing technique that I discovered when making one of the paintings that will be posted here later this month.

This was one of those times when I was making the preliminary sketch for a painting and suddenly thought “wouldn’t it be interesting if I tried this?” Only to later discover a new drawing or painting technique.

Anyway, I’ll be talking about how to draw backgrounds that can be seen through rain-covered windows. Even though I worked out a “realistic” way of doing this back in late 2014/ early 2015, it relied heavily on using digital tools after scanning the original painting (eg: the “smudge” tool in GIMP if anyone is interested). This is what my old digital technique looked like:

"Shuffle" By C. A. Brown [17th January 2015]

“Shuffle” By C. A. Brown [17th January 2015]

But, I was curious about whether a similar technique can be achieved through traditional means. It can, but the technique I used is a lot more subtle and a lot less instantly noticeable than simply blurring/ smudging the background digitally.

In fact, it’s very similar to the technique that most artists use when drawing objects that have been submerged in water. In other words, all you have to do is to make all of the lines in your drawing slightly wavy. After you’ve done this, then all you need to do is to add the usual thin diagonal lines in order to signify that it’s raining.

However, unlike when underwater objects, you want to make the wavy lines a lot more subtle. In other words, just make the lines slightly wavy rather than very wavy. Here’s a quick chart that I knocked up in MS Paint to show you what I mean.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] As you can see, the lines need to be slightly less wavy than those used for drawing underwater objects.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] As you can see, the lines need to be slightly less wavy than those used for drawing underwater objects.

In addition to this, it might also be worth using techniques similar to those used for drawing and/or painting foggy landscapes. Namely that the further away from the foreground something is, the lighter and blurrier it should be. I forgot to use these techniques when I was experimenting with drawing rainy windows, but I can see how it might be useful.

Anyway, here’s an example of the technique in action – taken from the painting that I’ll be posting here later this month. Although I made my usual digital adjustments to the brightness/contrast/ saturation levels in this picture (as well as covering up a couple of small mistakes), I didn’t use any digital blurring effects:

This is a detail from an upcoming painting. Notice how the edges of the brown building are wavy/blurry, in order to simulate rain on the window in front of it.

This is a detail from an upcoming painting. Notice how the edges of the brown building are wavy/blurry, in order to simulate rain on the window in front of it.

As I said, I didn’t use any “fog” techniques in this painting and the “rainy window” effect is also not really as noticeable as it would be if I’d used digital blurring techniques instead. But, it was still an interesting learning experience and it might be something that is worth experimenting with if you’re making traditional art.

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Sorry for another ridiculously short article, but I hope that this was useful 🙂

Making The Locations In Your Art Look More Realistic (Plus An Art Preview)

2016 Artwork Realistic Backgrounds article sketch

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this topic before but, since I can’t think of any other ideas for today’s article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about a mistake that people who are new to making art can make (and which I still make occasionally too).

I am, of course, talking about making the locations in your artwork look too “perfect”. It’s an easy mistake to make – after all, it’s easier to draw a pristine room or a perfectly-organised bookshelf than it is to draw something a bit more realistic, for the simple reason that “perfect” locations often contain a lot less detail.

Yes, there are some situations where using “perfect” locations can be justified, but there aren’t that many of them. One example of a situation where even a more experienced artist might use “perfect” locations is in a daily comic. Since there is a strict time limit, the emphasis is on getting the art finished as soon as possible – so, making all of the locations look “perfect” can be a good way to speed things up.

But, for stand-alone works of art, the background locations should actually look like places that people have actually, well, lived in.

So, how do you do this?

There are several ways to do this. The most simple is just to add clutter and mess to your artwork. Draw a few everyday objects lying around randomly, like they might be in somewhere that has actually been inhabited by someone. Here’s a preview of part of one of my upcoming paintings that contains an example of this:

Notice the random piles of books lying around on the floor (the bonsai tree might have been a bit too much though).

Notice the random piles of books lying around on the floor (the bonsai tree might have been a bit too much though).

Another way to make your locations, especially outdoor locations, look a bit more realistic is to make everything look a bit worn-down. In other words, if you’re drawing or painting a city street, then don’t make everything look new, clean and/or “shiny”. Show the advertising posters on the walls, show the rubbish on the ground, show the chaotic crowds etc…

With rural locations, remember that every tree should look at least slightly different and remember that, in the wild, the grass isn’t usually neatly cut to a single length. Basically, when drawing natural locations, add some variety and variation to all of the things that are growing there.

The thing to remember here is that “perfect” locations don’t usually exist in real life. When they do, they’re usually the exception rather than the rule (which is why they can look so strange and/or creepy).

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Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Making The Art In Your Webcomic Look More Detailed Than It Actually Is – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Sneaky webcomic tricks article sketch

I know that I’ve probably talked about this subject at least a couple of times before, but since I was busy making a webcomic mini series (which is a follow on from this one) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d briefly talk about it again .

Although you should obviously try to make the art in your webcomic as good as possible, if you’re making a webcomic update every day, then you’re probably not going to have the time to produce elaborate artwork for most or all of your comic updates.

As such, you need to focus on simplicity as much as possible – I mean, there’s a good reason why daily newspaper comics either don’t have backgrounds, or they have very undetailed backgrounds.

If you’re making a comic every day, then the focus needs to be on the writing more than on the art.

If the writing is good, then people are a lot more likely to ignore simplistic artwork. To use an example that I’ve used countless times before, just check out a very popular webcomic called XKCD. The artwork in this comic mostly consists of relatively simple stick figures and yet, thanks to great writing, it still has a very large readership.

Of course, the real trick with making a webcomic is to make the artwork look more detailed than it actually is. There are lots of sneaky tricks (mostly involving the backgrounds) that you can use for this and I’ll give you an example from one of the more art- intensive comics from my mini-series.

"Damania Resurgence - Like A TV Show" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Like A TV Show” By C. A. Brown

If you look at the left-hand side of this comic, you’ll see that one of the panels is in greyscale (since whenever Harvey is alone, he sees the world in greyscale – like an old movie) and you’ll also see that one panel has no background whatsoever. Because the emphasis is on the characters and the writing in this panel, I could get away with not making any background art.

For another example, just look at this comic:

"Damania Resurgence - Film Night" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Film Night” By C. A. Brown

As you can see, the backgrounds in the six panels of this comic are incredibly simple. Three of them are nothing but a solid red wall, two of them contain limited details and one if them is just a dark background with a simple silhouette.

If you’re making a webcomic in colour, then filling your backgrounds with a solid colour is a remarkably simple way to make your comic look very slightly more detailed than it actually is. If you’re making a webcomic in black and white, then adding the occasional solid black background can also have this effect.

In fact, I actually did this for most of the background in the second panel of this comic:

"Damania Resurgence - Raven" By C. A. Brown (And Edgar Allen Poe)

“Damania Resurgence – Raven” By C. A. Brown (And Edgar Allen Poe)

These are just a few of the many sneaky tricks that you can use to speed up making the art in your webcomic, whilst also making it look more detailed than it actually is. But, the important thing to remember here is that good writing (or even just ok writing) distracts from low-quality art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When NOT To Include A Background In Your Artwork- A Ramble

2016 Artwork when shouldn't you add backgrounds article sketch

Although this is an article about compositions and backgrounds in art, I’m going to have to start by talking about my recent cyberpunk art series (again) for a while because it provides an example of what I’ll be talking about.

Anyway, here’s a cyberpunk painting that I made the night before writing this article:

"Blue Light Lab" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab” By C. A. Brown

And here’s another painting from the series. You can probably see the obvious difference:

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

Yes, there’s no background! Whilst virtually all of the paintings in the series have large detailed cityscapes and/or rooms in the background, this one painting doesn’t.

Why was that? Well, it was to do with the fact that adding a background would have completely ruined the painting. If you don’t believe me, then just take a look at the original line art for the painting and you’ll see a couple of my failed attempts at adding a background.

"Blue Light Lab (Lineart)" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab (Lineart)” By C. A. Brown

Because my original idea for the painting was to have the entire picture lit by a glowing blue orb, I quickly realised that this would probably only illuminate things close to the light source. Although I later added orange light to the painting too (to compliment and contrast with the blue light), I realised that the low light levels in the picture would be great for emphasising just one part of the painting.

As such, I had to leave the background out – since it would have distracted from the more interesting parts of the picture and it would have also ruined the gloomy atmosphere of the painting too.

But, when shouldn’t you include backgrounds in your art?

Generally speaking, if you want to emphasise something you’ve drawn or painted- then the easiest way to do that is not to include a background. Likewise, if you have a limited amount of time to work on a piece of art, then the background can often be the first thing to go in order to save time.

In situations where a background would be expected, an easy way to get around this is to – if possible – use a solid colour background, rather than just leaving the background blank (personally, I like to paint it black – but you can use any colour that compliments the rest of your picture). This gives the impression of a background, without actually including a detailed background.

As for learning when it’s right to include backgrounds and when it isn’t, the only real way to learn this is through trial and error. Of course, since every drawing or painting is different, you can only learn a few general guidelines rather than a specific “one size fits all” rule.

But, this isn’t as bad as it sounds – if you’re more of a traditional artist, then just experiment with backgrounds in your preliminary pencil sketches (they can be easily erased). If you also work digitally, then backgrounds can always be added or erased later (although it’s obviously much easier to erase a background – I mean, you can do this in MS Paint – than it is to add one digitally).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂