Thursday, August 16, 2018

Nashville Comic Class- Making Comics and Zines


If you've always wanted to take a comics class, led by a professional comic artist with industry, anthology, and self-publishing experience, here's your chance at an amazing opportunity!

I'm leading a 6 week, six class workshop series with Nashville Community Ed this fall!   This class will be held at the Cohn School, and it's only $60 for all six classes.  Nashville Community Ed has kindly agreed to provide all the materials you'll need for the class.

What Students Can Expect:

A six week intensive comic workshop that will cover everything from planning and scripting your comic to drawing, inking, and assembling the finished minicomic or zine.  I plan on teaching everything about the comic process from writing a synopsis to a beat sheet to the basics of constructive human anatomy and perspective to inking and laying out your mini comic.  Students of all skill levels are welcome, and I hope to end the class with a zine and mini comic exchange.

More info about the class here.

Check out my six week, six class course outline here to get an idea of what we'll be covering!

Sign Up through the NCE Classes portal!

My credentials:

  • Masters in Fine Art from SCAD: College of Creative Careers in Sequential Art, Bachelor's of Art in Digital Art
  • Published in six comic anthologies (check out which ones here!)
  • Work for hire for Viz Media, Lego, and more
  • 29 workshops on comic craft, anatomy basics, watercolor, and alcohol markers led through various community services and conventions ranging from Nashville Public Library to the Alternative Press Expo (check out the list here!)
  • Self-published, self-distributed comic, 7" Kara
  • 10 years working on the Nattosoup Studio Art and Process Blog
  • 4 years working on Youtube art education
  • 4 years working on How to be a Con Artist
  • Member of SCBWI- Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators 
  • My Kidlit Art Portfolio
  • My Webcomic

Want to prep for the class? 

Intro to Comic Craft-- Blog -- Youtube
Nattosoup's Zine and Minicomic Resources
Nattosoup's Inking Resources
Drawing and Figure Drawing Resources

Not in Nashville?  Can't take the course?  Follow along through my Patreon!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Classroom Conundrum- A Watercolor Process

kidlit art, kidlit artist, children's book illustrator, children's book illustration, children's comic artist, graphic novels for kids

The piece above was created for SCBWI's 2017 Illustrator's Contest.  Although it was not selected for a prize, I'm still fairly proud of this piece as it combines multiple things I love.  The prompt was provided for us, and while SCBWI Midsouth doesn't seem to have a category for comic artists to participate in (it's Writers or Illustrators), I try to represent comic artists by doing comic submissions.

Before beginning the spread in earnest, I knew a few things- I wanted to do a piece that included linework, and I wanted to explore styles that I don't use often enough.  I wanted a piece that could go in my kidlit art portfolio.

Development Process

Brainstorming:

For me, brainstorming usually begins in written form- verbal brainstorming is what comes naturally to me, then visual brainstorming.  So I begin with what I know from the prompt- classroom setting, two girls, a rivalry.

Once I established the basics, I branched out a bit, exploring what I know is popular in kidlit art- animal characters.




So rather than decide on a direction right away, I decide to do some visual brainstorming, now that I have a starting point.

Character Designs:

I opted to do designs for everything I brainstormed, and go from there.  I began with a somewhat fleshed out, realistically cartoony style to start, so I could hammer out details.


From there, I decided to do dots for eyes anthro using the more detailed designs as a base template.


From there, I revisited the human character designs, but went even cartoonier.


And then I opted to do one more pass at the anthro designs, since animal and anthro characters are fairly popular choices for children's book illustrations, and something my portfolio sorely lacks.


Thumbnails and Revision:

While deciding on my final character designs, I started working on my layouts.  For me, layouts are like pre-thumbnails- figuring out my pages, my page composition, the story beats- in a very loose, sketchy form.


I take the best ideas from my layouts and tighten them up into thumbnails.  For this, I'm planning around a double page spread.


Roughs:

Once I've developed a clean thumbnail, I scan it, blow it up to 6x9 (12x9 for both), and print the blue lines out onto cheap copier paper.  At this stage, I determine my perspective grids and tighten anatomy. 


Digital Corrections:

For this illustration, I decided to revise several things at my digital corrections stage, redrawing Ruby (the girl with the guitar), tweaking outfits and expressions.



Once I've finished my corrections I'm ready to print my next round of bluelines.

Printed Bluelines and Inked Borders:

For this round of bluelines, I print on Fabriano Studio- a mixed composition paper that takes ink well and has a nice tooth.  I pencil my bluelines before inking to further tighten and correct my illustration.


Borders were inked with pigment based, waterproof Sakura Calligraphy pens.

Inks:

These were inked with Sakura Pigma FB, MB, and BB pens- waterproof, pigment based brushpens that are ideal for illustration.





Watercolor:

For this illustration, I wanted to go with something fairly light and simple that wouldn't distract from the linework.  I decided to do just a couple layers of watercolor for every object, rather than full rendering.

Stretching:

Blocking In Major Forms:







Adding Tone and Depth:




Removing the Blue Tape:


Finished Scan:

kidlit art, kidlit artist, children's book illustrator, children's book illustration, children's comic artist, graphic novels for kids

It was fun to plan and execute a double page spread comic unrelated to my work with 7" Kara, but still relevant to the kidlit art I want to create.   I enjoy the challenge presented by creating comics based on prompts with a short turnaround time as it prevents me from overthinking too much.  I really enjoyed working with this style, and I look forward to pursuing it in the future, as I continue to develop my portfolio.

As a member of SCBWI, I have learned much about the illustration side of kidlit art, and would like to see my area, Midsouth, continue to grow and provide resources for kidlit comic artists like myself.  These resources and opportunities are often few and far between, and it would be nice to be part of a community that nurtures this.

If you like the art shown in this piece, I am available for short term projects, as well as longer term projects.  Please email me with a project pitch for a quote.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

How You'll Know It's Time To Pull The Plug on Conventions

I always said I would stop doing conventions by 30.  I figured that was plenty of time to build an audience, to prove I'm capable of fulfilling promises, to earn a little money, to pay my dues.  From twenty-five to thirty, five years of doing seven to ten conventions a year, of varying sizes, should be enough, and by thirty, I would have a publishing deal, right?  Or at least, steady work.

I turned 32 in March.  This year, I've done at least five shows, haven't been home longer than four days in two months, and honestly, this is me trying to cut back.   I did MTAC in March, Imaginacon in May, ALAAC in June, Destrehan Comic Con and Mechacon in July.  I've gone from Nashville to New Orleans to Nashville to New Orleans and back again, and spend what little downtime I have trying to play catch up on my real life.

Some years, I do a show a month during the summer months.  Some years, I do a show a week during the summer, and a show a month the rest of the year.  I've done conventions across the US, from SPX to APE, from Otakon to Anime Expo.  I've met thousands of people, filled hundreds of commissions.  I've sold hundreds of books, and have led dozens of workshops.  I've even celebrated the four year anniversary of How to Be a Con Artist.  And looking back, I have very little to show for my time.

I never wanted conventions to become my full-time job.  But somewhere in 2015, I became increasingly reliant on them.  My freelance dried up.  Anthology gigs became more competitive.  I had a self-published book out, and I justified living on the road as promoting the comic.  I needed the money, and I thought doing more conventions would help me impress art directors looking to hire. I thought putting myself out there would help me find a more permanent job.

Anime conventions, at least on the East Coast, and certainly in the South, do not lead to paying job opportunities.

But the money was decent.  I was at the $1.5k a show range, for larger shows, and as long as I drove and did room shares, the profits were equitable with the work.

Until my convention partners moved away, and I stopped making the drive.  I started flying for shows and paying family to help assist- which is never the price of one person, but the price of three for the work of one.  And by 2016, convention profits had massively dipped, while the price of everything continued to rise.

The money just wasn't right, but I blamed myself.  Just not drawing the right things.  Just not advertising enough.  If I just tried harder and hit upon the right combination, things were sure to look up.

So I continued doing conventions and continued to feel more run down and confused.  I took on more commissions than I wanted to handle, topping out at 40 mail-in's in 2017.  This took me six months to complete and completely wrecked my Volume 2 schedule.  And the money was gone in a flash- vet bills, car insurance, the cost to attend a friend's wedding more than consumed what I'd sold- there was nothing for savings.

But some losses hit harder than financial woes.  And some sacrifices sting for years to come.

Constantly chasing my own tail, skipping out on sleep, self-care, and self-worth, took a toll on my mental health.  Conventions have a way of making odd ducks feel never quite good enough, and years of this grind hit me hard in 2016.  I spiraled into depression hard, and it manifested not only with suicidal ideation (I just wanted to not exist) but constantly fantasizing about being anyone else but Becca Hillburn/Nattosoup.  I tried to scramble for a better work situation- sending out portfolios to literary agents (most of whom were not interested in handling graphic novels at that time and were certainly not interested in representing my art style), filling out job applications for anything in Nashville that might be suitable.  Unfortunately, the self-employed, convention artist, customer service rep life doesn't leave much of a traceable work history, and when filling out applications online, you may find it difficult to get callbacks for even entry-level CSR positions.  Who knew working yourself to the bone could leave you with no real work history?

I often think about all I have missed out on, living on the road.  Weddings.  Birthdays.  Anniversaries.  I missed my own 9 year anniversary this year, because I was in Louisiana, miserable at Mechacon.  When you're young, you think its ok to miss one or two- there'll be plenty more to come, but they add up.  I have only spent four of the nine anniversaries I've shared with Joseph actually WITH Joseph- most were spent with strangers at conventions, trying to make a sale.  And as I prepare to move on to the next phase of my life, I absolutely refuse to do this to a child. 

To an extent, I even feel conventions have been antithetical to my goals.  It's hard to paint comic pages when you're in and out of your home studio, hard to prioritize time when you're always distracted, stressed out, tired, and just trying to get your life back together.  Travel for conventions is disruptive, and living paycheck to paycheck via small commissions makes it impossible to plan for larger things.  For a time, too long a time, I thought conventions were necessary- I lack the online presence and personality to really make a name for myself- but now I know I'm just another nameless vendor, a pencil for hire indistinguishable from the other pencils for hire.  The time spent at conventions would have been better spent on comic pages- at least I would have something to show for it.

And in a way, that's ok.  It's disappointing to have sunk so many years into chasing an audience that never materialized, into chasing a dollar that never paid rent, but this realization gives me permission to stop.  I've done my time, and if conventions don't help me pursue my goals OR pay my rent, it's time to stop.

Most longterm convention artists speak only fondly of their experiences, at least in public.  They talk about the friends they've made, the lifelong customers they've impressed, maybe the audience they've built.  They joke about the bad cons, and are quietly proud of the good, but rarely do they caution other artists not to follow in their footsteps.  Why should they- we equate ability with financial success in this industry, and if you admit that conventions aren't worthwhile, that the con life isn't fulfilling, other artists immediately assume you're doing something, maybe everything, wrong.  After all, if you were any good, you'd be making bank, right? 

For younger artists to admit that perhaps this life holds unexpected quirks, deep disappointments, and often financial failure means to admit they don't have control over every aspect of their career.  TO acknowledge that audience can be fickle, the economy can be against you, and that you might have every skill someone could possibly want, and still be found lacking, is to admit that the odds ar against them.  And few artists really want to face the odds, especially not young, inexperienced artists who don't even know what the odds are.  It's easier to just assume the artist who admits failure and defeat IS a failure- is lacking in every way you aren't- so you can pursue your dreams with the necessary hubris.

But I at least want to put out a warning- that eventually the convention life loses it's freshness, becomes wearisome, and you really need to have something else planned or prepared for that time.  There's a reason you see few older women selling art at anime conventions, and it's not because they quit drawing.  It's because the convention life wears you out, eats you up, uses you, and if you can't keep it in moderation, it will eventually force you to quit.

This isn't the death warrant on conventions, as much as it sounds like a damning condemnation.  As long as I'm self-published, conventions are the best method for promoting and selling my book to new readers.  It's only a warning that conventions will not solve your artistic woes longterm- it's not a permanent solution to a bad situation.  Conventions might help sell your books, but they won't make it easy to draw them.  Conventions might help you meet new people, but its no easier to grow an audience through conventions than it is to grow one online.  And conventions might be work, but the opportunities that seem to appear at the show often wither quickly afterwards.  Basically, consider conventions as a tool, not as a solution, and don't become reliant on the income.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Advice for Planning Your First Comic


  • Keep the scope limited- tell a short story, rather than your grand epic- the goal is to practice and become comfortable telling stories within the comic medium.  If you have to do something with your grand epic, pick a short, self-contained story with simple backgrounds and actions to cut your teeth on.
  • Plan for 1-10 pages, and keep in mind that the difference between a one-page self-contained story, and a ten page self-contained story can be huge!
  • Write what you know.  Work from life!  Tell your own story, retell a story you know well, or tell the story of a loved one.
  • If you're illustrating your own comic, keep the cast smaller- it's easier to design and illustrate
  • On that note, keep the backgrounds humble.  Many find nature settings to be easier to draw, as accuracy isn't as important.
  • Simplify your dialogue!  Many beginners start with silent comics- this way you only have to worry about the plot and the illustrations, not dialogue or lettering.
  • Spend time getting to know your characters- sketching them out, designing their outfits ahead of time, getting into their heads so you understand their personalities.  Once you know your characters, the story often writes itself!
  • Revision is important!  So give yourself as many opportunities (stages, phases) to revise as possible.  Working page to page removes revision opportunities, and while you're a developing artist finding a voice, you're going to need room to grow.
  • Be patient with yourself- even pros make mistakes.
  • Research scriptwriting methods- beat sheets, synopsis, plotform- and find one that works for the story you want to tell.  This may mean trying ALL of the above methods to plan various comics, but when you find something that works, you'll know!
  • Take notes on your own work so you can grow and improve.  What worked for you?  What didn't work?
  • Congratulate yourself on each stage finished!  Every step is a milestone when you're just starting out, so take the time to acknowledge the work you've done.
  • Find or create a critique group of people you trust to help you hone your work.
  • Don't take mistakes personally- after all, you're still learning!  We're all still learning!  Mistakes mean you've taken a risk.
  • Don't take failure personally either- in order to fail, you had to take a risk and try something new, and this means growth.
  • It's easier to re-write and revise than it is to write, so just get those ideas down!  Brainstorm and give yourself options.
  • Read a variety of short stories and short comics to see how other creators frame their work within limitations.


Thursday, August 02, 2018

Nashville Community Education Comic Course




This Saturday, I'm going to be outside the Cohn School, under my big blue tent, singing the gospel of comics and comic craft to all who will listen.  This is because Nashville Community Education is hosting an Open House for all of their community ed instructors, as an opportunity for potential students to get a feel for the instructors and classes.

You can register at the Open House, or online (after August 4th) at nashville.gov/ce

The Open House will be held just outside the Cohn School (where many of the community ed classes will be taking place)- just look for the tents! 

The Address:
4805 Park Ave, Nashville, TN 37209

If you've always wanted to take a comics course and live in the Nashville area, this is a great opportunity for you!

"Learn how to create mini-comics, zines, and how to plan and plot a long form comic!  In this class, we're going to cover the basics of comic construction, go over planning and scripting, and cover basic drawing techniques and skills to help students feel confident in making comics.  Once the basics are down, we're going to talk about those finishing touches- inking your comic, coloring your comic, scanning it, and creating a mini or zine to exchange with other artists.  No drawing skills necessary, just an interest in comics or sequential storytelling!  Class will end the semester with a zine/minicomic exchange."

October 25th- December 6th
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 6:00PM-8:00PM
Held at the Cohn School


I'm so excited for this opportunity because it will be the first time I've led a multi-class course on comic-craft to a live audience.  All materials will be provided by Nashville Community Education, and I plan on creating supplemental materials to augment the class and help students continue their studies even after our time together.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Mechacon 2018 Announcement


This weekend, I'm going to be set up at Mechacon's Colonial Bazaar (artist alley) as part of their Artisan Market.  I'm going to have all sorts of goodies for sale, including


  • 7" Kara, my watercolor, all ages comic
  • Various minicomics, including Lilliputian Living, Favorite Fictional Femmes, and Cicada Summer
  • Handpainted wooden charms and laser cut wooden charms
  • Stickers and miniprints
  • Commissions
  • Mini Watercolors


New Watercolors for Mechacon


Uchako fanart

Bakugo fanart

Sylveon fanart

Espeon fanart

Vaporeon fanart


Other Goodies to Check Out: 

Laser Cut Wooden Charms

Original Comics

Cute Accessories

Handpainted Charms




Monday, July 23, 2018

Foiling with a Laminator

Kabocha here again!

So, first things first: What’s fusing foil?

Basically, it’s kind of a foil overlay you can bind to paper using an adhesive. Usually that adhesive is toner, but of course, you can use glues and specialty adhesives with a heat gun.

This may be sold in craft stores as Deco foil or Thermal foil.

In this post, we’ll be going over a quick tutorial of using this material to add foil to a printed illustration.

Table of Contents

Materials
Procedure
Further Testing & Ideas
FAQ
Further Reading


Materials You Need

Thermal Foil 
Therm-o-Web Deco Foil, Minc, and other brands should be fine. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’m using Minc, but only because it was on sale.
I'm aware of ColorFoils' offerings and tutorials, however, I have not yet had a chance to use their product. If you're curious, you can find them online.

Laminator
The AmazonBasics Laminator is sufficient and approaches an appropriate temperature for basic foiling in my experience.

Toner Printer
The Printer I use is a Brother HL-3170CDW -- but I would strongly suggest using a monochrome toner printer for foiling illustrations.

Smooth Cardstock
My go-to at the moment (because it was on sale for like, super cheap) is Recollections' Cardstock, which you can find at Michaels.

Washi Tape
You're going to need to hold the foil against the paper somehow and prevent it from crinkling up too much in the heat.
Basically, anything low-tack and not made of cellophane ought to do.


Procedure

Have your image ready to print.  For this test, I created an image with a couple of text areas, an illustration (with thick lines) and one of my free Photoshop brushes.
Everything was done at 300DPI, and fits easily on to an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper.


Print your image.  If you're using cardstock, you may need to manually-feed it through your printer.  Get your toner foil handy!


 If your paper curls up, no worries!  You can also set your printer to do less curling in some cases in the printer settings.

Cut out your chunks of foil.  Your foil should be slightly larger than the image you're laying it over.


Lay down your foil. Make sure to do this with the colored side facing up!! If you're using pigment foil (rather than metallics), the matte side should be down.



Tape down your foil! Yes, tape it down so it's very flat.  You may need to uncurl your paper, or hold it down to do so.


Turn on your Laminator, and let it warm up. When it's ready to go, the "Ready" light will shine green.  I usually leave mine on the 5ml setting.

Feed your paper through the laminator. If you have a transfer folder, use that.  If not, eh, just run the paper through.  Sometimes I'll fold a sheet of printer paper to sit on top of the transfer foil, but... It's not necessary.

Once your paper finishes through the laminator, peel off your foil sheets and tape!  Your image should be foiled and ready!



If you find areas need cleaned up, you can use a VERY, VERY low tack post-it note to pick up bits that aren't stuck to toner.

If you're feeling particularly fancy, you can use alcohol markers to color in your illustration.




Further Testing and Ideas

There are still several things left to test, ut fall outside the scope of this post.
First and foremost -- it is rumored that you can print over the foiling, so if you, say, produced a color illustration, you should be able to print around the area where you did not foil.  Care would likely be necessary when running the paper through the printer, and minor offsets can occur.  Therefore, it would likely be recommended to expand the size of the area you are foiling to cover any potential offset, but keep the "blank" area in your color image the original size.

Finer temperature control on a better laminator would likely yield better results, as would working with a printer which had finer control over the toner output.  Darker prints on a toner printer produces more "glue" and would likely work better.

Other materials, such as the application fluids sold with Minc and Deco foil, as well as toner pens, are frequently available. I have not yet tested how these are used, or if they are meant to be used in the laminator, or simply using a heat gun.

Glue can also be used, with varying results.  A small glue pen can provide a level of precision for small details, but can be troublesome as you will need to gently press on the foil to ensure it is consistently stuck to the glue. This often results in smudging, which may be an undesired result.

I need to experiment further with pigment foil for a comparison to the metallic foil used here. At the moment, I have Minc's white foil, but its reliability is questionable in comparison to the metallics. Pigment foil may require a darker coat of toner. On my printer, this may require setting the print quality to "fine" when going through the properties dialog in Photoshop.

Another technique of applying foil using a toner printer exists -- however, I don't like to do it.  It does not appear to harm the printer, but it is wasteful of toner.

FAQ:

Why not the Minc machine thing?
Costs a lot more than the AmazonBasics laminator.  You want me to recommend it? Buy it for me, and I'll test and document it.
The Minc machine costs $50 [entirely too much money] (usually closer to $70 with coupon at my local stores) compared to the AmazonBasics Laminator, which I got for $20-something.

Why don't you use transfer folders?
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I live dangerously.

Why toner?
Toner is “fused” to the paper it’s printed on using heat. A laminator will re-melt the toner and make it sticky enough for the foil to adhere to.
You could use glue or other adhesives, but if you’re looking to mass produce illustrations to foil, toner is the way to go.  (Also, do NOT use inkjet ink. It just won't work, and you will cry.)

Why monochrome?
It’s a waste of toner to use color - when it comes to heating things, up, color toner melts just the same as black toner.

Why smooth or coated cardstock?
The foil won't apply evenly on other forms of cardstock, I noticed.  The toner settles in divots on the paper's surface and well...  Then you get an uneven and speckly sort of appearance.  If that's what you want, that's fine though!


Further Reading

Transfer Foil to Paper With a Laser Printer
Color Foils: Techniques
How to Foil: Live More Worry Less Metallic Gold Wall Print
Foil Tech Q&A