Creating a dynamic illustration in black and white is in many ways more difficult than a full-colour piece, but here comic artist Eric Kim explains how you can create your best work when constrained by applying a single colour.
While Eric is creating a narrative piece in a manga style here, he believes the techniques behind it can be applied to almost any style, as there’s less distinction between types of artwork than many believe. “Illustrations, comics, pictures, drawings – whatever you call them – the outcome is the same,” he argues. “[They’re all] images, ideas, all coming out and finding themselves out in the open air. What I’m here to impart to you is just craft: it’s a very simple, practical way of getting your work out there, and in the hands of readers and aficionados alike. It’s a good thing, and the world might be better off if we were all able to get our dreams off our shoulders and into the public.”
Eric created this illustration specially for Digital Arts.
Time to complete
Tools & Materials
Pencil, paper, pen, eraser, ink and brushes, graphics tablet, Manga Studio, Photoshop
One of the best parts of my day is coming up with the concept for an illustration. This is the part where I can order burritos, watch Netflix, and essentially goof around until the idea hits me.
The concept for this illustration came while reading some blogs. A friend of mine was talking about her night on the roller derby track, and I felt the old inner eye come alive and sing with an image.
I knew a few of things: I wanted a science fiction undertone to it, the main character would be a girl, and she’d be jumping out of a window while someone else was looking on. This sketch shows my visual thought process as I drew out compositions, outfits, designs and random little notes to myself. Also, after doing further research into roller derby, I added other visual cues such as stripes for pivots and stars for jammers.
Once I’ve got an idea of what I’m going to do, I take the image I have in mind and quickly sketch it out on paper. The one shown here took me about 10 minutes. Don’t spend too much time on this; the real drawing will come in the ink rendering.
I don’t have a light box, so I coated the back with graphite. I then took some good copy paper – here I’m using Borden & Riley #234 Paris Paper for Pens, 11 x 14-inch size – taped the rough down, and then traced over it with a ballpoint pen. The result is the same as writing on carbon paper: so you’ll have a graphite drawing on the surface of the Paris paper, which is essentially what you would’ve traced out with the light box.
The drawing is meant to fit within an 8.5 x 11-inch space. It’s important that I know where my cropmarks are going to be, so I measure them out with a ruler at this stage. This image indicates both the trim area and the bleed area.
Here, I’ve refined the image and also worked out the body’s perspective. I’ve established my vanishing point, and made sure that it works out. The overall composition is more or less there, but it’ll require more refining as I progress.
Once I’d finished the underdrawing, I used a kneadable eraser to lightly remove everything. I went over it again and again to refine the work.
At this stage, I began working in the background. My creative process is fairly fluid and I don’t work in a set way. I start off with what I like, and then slowly work out from there. I should probably work in a different manner, but right now, this is what I do.
The background is pretty easy. The vanishing point was established in Step 5, so I used the same point and started working in a one-point perspective of the window pane that she’s exploding out from. Again, I try not to obsess too much over details at this point, since I’ll be refining everything even further in the next step.
I started getting really anal at this point. Details like glass, elbow pads, the wrinkles in the jacket, expressions – all of it came out onto the page. I also started inking in the glass, but I kept it really loose. I wanted to know where the shards were, but the rendering isn’t a big deal at this point.
It was now time to ink the drawing’s details: jacket, elbow pads, hair and the rest. Once I’d completed the linework, I erased the pencils lines and took a good look at what I’d drawn. I started marking in where the shadows would go with the pencil – it’s faster and more accurate than inking them freehand. The areas marked with an X were to be filled in with black either by hand or digitally.
After I’d inked the figure, I could see clearly that I’d left out, well, everything else. Here you can see me roughing in the figures and basically starting to fill in that terrible negative space. I followed the same process as before: linework, then work in the details.
My illustration was now ready to be scanned in at 1,200dpi. My scanner is smaller than my picture, so I have to tile-scan it, which involves me scanning in both halves of the image, then piecing them together in Photoshop.
I converted both halves from Bitmap mode to Grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale), rotated the images properly, then put the two together.
Next, I reduced the opacity on the top layer to 50%, then began to position it properly. I know when it’s aligned because, upon zooming in to it, the lines will be spot on.
Once I was happy, I converted the image to bitmap – Mode > Bitmap with the same DPI that I scanned the image in with (1,200dpi), and set the method to 50% threshold.
Next, I prepared the image to work at its final size (8.5 x 11 inches) with a small bleed around it. I created a new 9.5 x 12-inch document at 600dpi, then copied and pasted the new image in.
For me, it’s important to have a high resolution (1,200dpi) archive copy of the image, but the working artwork can be lower. The magazine this was destined for only needs a 600dpi image – and honestly, this can go as low as 300dpi before the viewer notices any real difference with the unaided eye.
I then free transformed this (Cmd/Ctrl + T), and sized it to fit. Note that the resized image fits within the inner guides, and also bleeds off the page for the most part.
If I needed to double-check how well it fits, I could create another layer, fill the margins with white, and just take a look at the image.
I created cropmarks in the corners, so both the magazine and myself know where the image is to be trimmed. To do this, I made lines using the Line tool, flattened the lines together, then erased the unnecessary parts.
It was now time to move over to Manga Studio. I set up my page at 600dpi with a Finish Frame of 8.5 x 11, a Basic Frame of 8 x 10.5 and a Bleed Width of 0.5 inches.
I then imported my drawing (File > Import > Import Photoshop file). You can import Photoshop files either with the layers separated or merged together – I left the layers separated for maximum flexibility later. It’s important that the output attribute is set to Finish, and not Sketch.
Next, I added tones to the image, but first I needed to create selection masks around the areas I wanted to tone. This gives me the greatest flexibility and speed when it comes to the final product. It takes a little time to set up, but it’s worth the extra effort.
To make a selection mask, I selected an area and then converted this to a layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + D). The result was a green fill in my selection, which showed up as a Selection Layer in the layers window.
What if your mask is too big? You can eliminate the excess by clicking on the Selection Layer in the Layers window and then, using either the Lasso or Pen tools, delete the unneeded mask. I removed the excess masked area using the Pen tool with no fill. The result is a cleaned-up hair mask.
Here you can see how I’m making the jacket mask. To do this, I selected an area, hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + D, then made a new selection layer. However, as you can see, I’ve got a too much selected, and my mask dips into the hair. This wasn’t a problem – this is the point of masks. I simply went back to my ‘hair’ selection mask, selected the masked off area (either by using the Magic Wand or converting the layer into a selection). I then selected my ‘jacket’ mask, and hit Delete.
What I’ve done here is to delete the hair from the jacket mask and saved myself some time. By having that hair mask available – and by being able to reselect that mask all the time – I can clean up my mistakes much faster than if the mask wasn’t there.
Once I’d finished selecting all my masks, it was time to start adding tones. To do this, I made a selection from a mask and chose a material from the Materials window. I picked a dot pattern with 60 lines from the Basic Tones library (Basic Tones > Dot > 60L) and placed a 30% grey on the selection.
When selecting a pattern, the Layer Properties window will open. I felt the tone I’d chosen was too light, so I increased the Darkness setting from 30% to 50%.
The final step in Manga Studio was to export the image to Photoshop to get it ready for printing. You can see my settings here.
When doing this, you need to keep the layer structure for output, as you might need to go back into the layers in Photoshop to tweak the details.
I then added some more details such treated photographic elements. The tricky bit here is integrating them into the tones of the composition seamlessly.
To do this, I selected all the layers with these new elements, and copied and pasted them into a new document. I then merged the layers, and changed the image’s mode from Grayscale to Bitmap, choosing a method of Halftone Screen using the default settings. Finally, I copied and pasted this layer back into the original image, hiding the original layers. Take your time and place them where they’re supposed to go.
When you’re all done, save a version as a PSD file, so all the work is intact, then save a flattened bitmap version for the printer. Select Mode > Bitmap. Under method, choose Use 50% threshold. Hit Enter.
The image will now be a perfect black and white image. All the details, which I converted into halftones previously, were preserved – and the tones I’d applied earlier are also rendered perfectly.