Thursday, July 09, 2015

From Doodle to Ink

Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis. This weeks post is a short insight into my process.
The Importance of doodles
Let me give you a tiny insight into my process of designing a shirt. My best “friend” is my doodle wall. I force myself to sit down every week at least once and spit out ideas, no matter how bad or good. I do it at home, in trains or cafes. I usually choose a topic (a TV show, a movie, a game) and a market direction (like, some ideas work better for certain shirt pages) and then I make 1-3 doodles of shirt ideas. People who know my stuff also know my ideas usually feature cute creatures (such as ninjas, zombies, monsters, Godzilla, knights, etc.), sometimes in story-driven busy scenes, sometimes retro-style vintage posters and more.

(Below, a picture of my magnetic doodle wall)

The ideas go on my idea wall and they have to sit there for a while, because what I find funny today might be kind of stupid tomorrow. So if an idea is still funny a week later, it might actually be a good idea. To me, it is important to have “ideas on storage”. I have about 40 – 60 doodles on my doodle wall that haven’t been made yet. For me, the most important steps are doodle and layout. The idea has to feel right before I start the layout process. At this point, I try to see the commercial potential as well as the “fun-factor”. Yes, it should sell! But I should also have a ton of fun making it. Find that magic zone, where the “money” and the “passion” zones intersect (as mentioned before).

(Below, you can see some doodles of concepts that were quite successful as shirts.)

The cool thing about doodles is that they tend to be more loose and alive than the finish – I only use a pencil and a multiliner. I also usually sit in a café or at the balcony – my mind works more freely and expectations are lower, so the drawing comes out more “relaxed”, the characters are more dynamic and alive. If you are quite happy with your doodle, you can even use it as an under-drawing for the next step, the layout/pencil. 

Layout/pencil/ mirroring
As mentioned above, I sometimes use the doodle as an under-drawing. I scan it in, put it into Photoshop, reduce the opacity to 10 % and print it out again so I can do the next version of the drawing on top of it.   I prefer to do the pencils with traditional media (col-erase pencils red and blue) on top of simple copying paper. The red pencil works well for a light, first sketch. The blue pencil works well for a second, more detailed sketch. Oh, before I forget it: By now, I have usually created a sheet full of printed out reference pictures (like, photos of bears if I want to draw a bear, or photos of myself in certain poses). 

 When the first sketch is done, I am usually incredibly unhappy with it and decide to do a second, a third and sometimes many more versions of the sketch. I do this by using a light box that can be put on top of my regular drawing table.  With every new sketch, I turn the paper around on top of the light-table so the drawing is mirrored when I do my next version. Mirroring is great, it helps you to find and take care of errors you might not see otherwise (our brain works in weird ways). Always take care that your sketch works well by mirroring it.  If you don’t have a light-box you can also try scanning the sketch, mirroring it in Photoshop then print it out with only 7 – 10 % opacity and draw on top of it. Repeat the process until satisfied. 

That sketch should be as tight as possible, because that will speed up the inking process immensely. I used to HATE my inks (I still kind of do) as my hand is quite shaky, and I have great difficulties with fine, light lines – my pressure on the pen changes far too much, and I am inpatient; multiliner-tips tend to explode under my firm grip! That is why inking digitally works perfectly for me; I used to ink in Photoshop, and I still sometimes do, but for shirts I prefer very clean, clear and smooth lines, so I do my inks in Adobe Illustrator. For that, I scan in my sketch, make some last improvements in Photoshop, and save a low opacity version of it as a JPG. I pull it into Illustrator, and with a mix of the calligraphic brushes and the line tools, I create a clean line-art of the design. I do this on multiple layers (because keeping control of your various layers is awesome), then I export the file as an Adobe Photoshop file (make sure to keep the layers intact). In Photoshop, I can do the final cleanup of the drawing. Now, the layout, position of the characters, composition etc. should be as close to PERFECT as possible before the coloring starts. Coloring is a whole topic in itself, and will have its own chapter.

(As you can see below, I made some last minute changes in the inks - I removed one character to make the design less busy and to avoid to many lines "clashing")

To summarize the most important points from this article (and add some new):

-        Brainstorm & doodle down ideas on a regular basis, even if you can’t do them all. This will create an “idea vault” for you which you can come back to if you have a creative low.
-        Make sure you are happy with the sketch before you start the clean line-art. That can mean that you have to do 2 – 4 versions of the sketch or maybe even more.
-        Do research before you start drawing! How does a dog run? How does rotting zombie flesh look like in a cartoon-sort-of-way? How does a pose of a character look like when he/she is sad?
-        Once you have the reference, don’t just copy it – rather, learn from it. Make studies, and then re-invent.
-        For the clean line-art, make sure that each line makes sense. Try to keep the most important information and get rid of unnecessary details. If the character is a mighty wizard holding a great, magic staff but he looks like a sad monkey with a banana, don’t accept it; Re-draw until the idea is clear!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Idea & Concept

Welcome to my article series about my experiences in the licensing market and my process. I will publish new articles on 1-2 weekly basis. This weeks post is a short insight into my experience with finding ideas.

Boy, have I learned a lot  about the importance of a good idea over the past years. In order to tell my stories, my comics have run anywhere between 4 and 66 pages; before I began designing shirts I didn’t consider “one-image-cartoons” to be my strength (and I still don’t). Designing for shirts made me change the way I told a story and  learn to tighten up my ideas. The following list represents the most important things I’ve learned when designing for shirts (and illustration in general):

The idea has to be clear
The ideal idea for shirts works with one image. However, since I came from comics, I learned to mix sequential storytelling with clear, shirt-friendly design (“raster designs”). 

The idea should touch something in people’s hearts: Humor, melancholy, happiness, delight – anything that makes the viewer go “Awwww” or “Wow” or “cool” etc. You can test an idea by showing the rough doodle to a group of friends you trust and see how they react. I always wait for a big laugh to confirm that my idea might be good. Making doodles is important! I wrote a whole post about it for next week :)

For me, the most important journey has been to find my niche: that one thing that made me recognizable to others - others might call this “finding your style”. I want to underline that finding your style is a journey – it’s not something that happens overnight. You find it by drawing a lot, by designing a lot, by failing and succeeding (much more failing). You find it by asking for feedback from other people who you respect, by trusting their feedback and by being modest. You find it by being interested in the world, in other people’s work and by being persistent. There is a chance that you will never feel like you’ve arrived at a style, and that’s ok, too.

Finding the Magic Zone

One: Themes you love

Being a huge nerd has been a great point to base my style/concepts;  I adore comics, video games, movies and RPGs. I love certain character archetypes from popular culture: Ninjas, zombies, wizards, zombies, killer rabbits etc. So I began to center my designs around things I loved, which is the best thing you can do because it will show in your designs that the things you draw are also the things that make you laugh (or cry or whatever). So start there! Start with the topics/themes you love and that make you happy. Below is stuff I love :3

Two: Themes people love

From there, find out what big groups of people love. Finding the intersection between the things you love and the things people love shouldn’t be too hard. For example, I love ninjas. Many other people love ninjas. SO I make many shirts about ninjas. Another example: I love the fucked up dreams I have sometimes – most people can’t relate to my dreams because they are very subjective. So I don’t draw (many) shirts based on my dreams (however, that doesn’t stop me from drawing them for fun in my sketchbook).

Three: The commercial factor

Once you have an idea, ask yourself: Will it work well on a shirt? Will people get it within a few seconds? Some designs work far better as posters, cards and prints in general than shirts (which is fine) – others are perfect to be worn on a chest. In addition, ideas that are “timeless” will sell far longer than super-current designs. For example, my ninja designs still sell well after many years. My “Parks and Recreation” design relating to a specific episode doesn’t sell at all anymore. You might want to keep that in mind.

The intersection between those three factors (What I love, what people love, commercial factor) is the magic zone that will get you a potential best-seller.
 Finding the "perfect idea" takes practice and sometimes luck. It took me a few years to "get a feeling" for ideas that work well. Be patient. Try and test ideas. Stay true to yourself. Find the magic zone ;)