Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Pushing Through the Ugly: Watercolor Basics

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The Ugly Phase: Noun.  When a piece is still unfinished, but looks incredibly ugly, causing the creator serious career doubts. The ugly phase is necessary for truly great pieces to exist.

When: Happens generally midway through a piece- before things really start to come together, or before everything's even filled in all the way.

What: Many newer artists will give up at this point.  But experienced artists know to keep pushing

Lack of definition
Lack of contrast
Inexperience with materials
Piece is underdeveloped
Artist needs to step away from the piece
Piece is oversaturated with water and needs to dry

The cure:
A second opinion or fresh perspective
Time spent away to think
Stepping away (literally- about ten feet- it allows you to get a better overall view)
Increasing contrast
Tightening up details in area of focus
Continuing to work on the piece-push through the ugly and embrace the suck

If symptoms persist:
Take a longer break- 2-3 days- and return with fresh eyes
Consider restarting the piece and learning from your mistakes
Try another medium

This post was brought to you by Ink Drop Cafe- a creator's collective!  Nattosoup Studio Art and Process Blog is an affiliate of Ink Drop Cafe- so swing by and see what's on our menu!

Ink Drop Cafe is a collective of webcomic creators, online art educators, and so much more!  If you enjoy comics or illustration, you should definitely check out the main site- browse our members and check out our amazing update calendar!

Interested in pursuing an education in art?  Love sequential art like comics, animation, and children's books?  Check out the NATTO scholarship!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Easy Blends and Fades: Watercolor Basics

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Blending, fading, and gradation are all wet into wet techniques best applied early in the painting process.  These often require saturating the paper with water or paint, then floating paint on top of that.

These techniques tend to work best on cotton rag papers.  In my examples I am using Canson's Moulin du Roy and Canson's L'Aquarelle Heritage watercolor papers- both of which are mould made, cotton rag papers with a cold press finish.  It seems like L'Aquarelle is the replacement for Moulin du Roy.  Both papers are capable of handling A LOT of water, and are not prone to muddiness- making them ideal for blends.

For blending techniques that rely on wet into wet diffusion, I highly recommend you go with a cotton rag based paper.  These techniques really do not work well on cellulose papers- believe me, I've tried over the years with 7" Kara pages.  I discuss paper types in the post All About That Paper.

This post was brought to you by Ink Drop Cafe, a creator's collective.  Nattosoup Studio Art and Process Blog is a proud affiliate of Ink Drop Cafe.

If you enjoy comics and art resources, you should definitely check Ink Drop Cafe out!

The blends covered in today's tutorials are all fairly easy blends to accomplish, and require no special tools- just a little bit of patience!

Types of Blends

Blends are usually achieved with wet into wet or dry into wet.  Blends can also be somewhat achieved by adding water after the fact, but this is not a reliable method.

Recommended Papers:
Almost anything that is cotton rag should blend nicely.

Papers I've used:

Wet into Wet- Soft Diffused Blend:
Great for glows
Useful for toning
Useful for creating an area of focus

How to achieve this:  Apply a wash of clean water (or background color).  Remove pools using a 'thirsty' brush.  Apply color in circular motions, starting in the middle of the area you wish to highlight and working your way outward.

Dry into Wet: Diffused Blends Within A Small Area:
Useful for:
Creating softer textures, like streaks in marble or woodgrain
Creating diffused shadows

How to achieve this:  Apply your initial color- the color you want to blend your dry color into.  Pick up any pooling using a paper towel or a 'thirsty' brush.  Heavily mix your next color, working directly from the pan if necessarily.  Gently glide into the first color while first color is still wet.

Small, Soft Blends in limited areas:

Useful For:
Painting Blends to Render Glass

How to achieve this:  Blend wet paint out with water, or dab excess paint up with a paper towel, then blend with water.

Wet into Wet: Simple Sky Gradient
Useful for:
Soft transitions

How to Achieve This:

There are three methods for achieving single color gradient transitions. 

The first:
Apply a wash of color to half of the area, blend out using water for the rest.  Prop up so that the color area will run into the water area.

The second:  Apply a wash of color with a single brush dip into paint, allowing the gradual decrease in paint to create the gradation.

The third:
Apply wash all over area.  Allow to dry.  Apply another wash, blending out with water about 1/3 of the way to the end.  Allow to dry.  Apply another wash to about 2/3 of the way to the end.  Allow to dry.

Wet into Wet: Extreme Color Gradients
Useful for :
Extreme color changes in plants

How to achieve this: Paint half the area in one color, absorbing excess color with a thirsty brush or a paper towel.  Starting at the other end, repeat with other color.  Soak up excess water to prevent pooling.

From Fuschia to Green Gold

Dabbing Color in to Gently Diffuse:

Useful for:
Reinforcing certain colors
Gently adding accent colors

How to achieve this:
Simply dab your dry-mixed color onto your wet paper.

If you enjoyed this Watercolor Basics tutorial, don't be shy!  Please share it to your favorite social media!  Your good word on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or Pinterest goes a long way to keeping this blog going!  If you're feeling particularly generous, or want access to Backer Exclusive goodies, wooden charms, mini prints, and more, join the Artnerd community on Patreon!

Love art and want to pursue an art education?  Interested in sequential art like comics, animation, or storybooks?  Make sure you check out the NATTO scholarship!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Recent Kid-Lit Illustrations

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Right now, I'm in the long and arduous process of finding a kid-lit agent or agency that's the right fit for my work.  My fellow artists knows that this means generating a huge amount of new work- for every piece that's portfolio worthy, there are several that just don't make the cut.  After all, we want to include the best of our best work when applying to kid lit illustration agencies, right?

Below are a few samples of my most recent works

kidlit art, kidlit illustration, cute art
 Medium: Watercolor on Canson Moulin du Roy watercolor paper
Completed for: Ink Drop Cafe collective launch
Featuring: Kara and Pancake from the children's comic, 7" Kara

watercolor art, watercolor illustration, kidlit watercolor art
 Medium: Watercolor on Canson's L'Aquarelle watercolor paper
Completed for:  addition to my ongoing kid lit/ children's book illustration portfolio
Featuring: Kara from the comic, 7" Kara

kidlit art, watercolor illustration, watercolor for kidlit
Medium: Watercolor on Canson's L'Aquarelle watercolor paper
Completed for: Firefly Artisan Fair in Nashville, TN
Featuring: Kara from the comic, 7" Kara

digital art, cartoon art, kidlit art

 Medium: Traditional Inks and Photoshop
Completed For: Inks were for Inktober 2016, colors for Mermay 2017
Featuring: Nurse Shark Mermaid (own design)

digital art, kidlit art, cartoon art
 Medium: Traditional Inks and Photoshop
Completed For: Inks were for Inktober 2016, colors for Mermay 2017
Featuring: Sea Slug Mermaid (own design) 

digital art, cartoon style, kid lit art

 Medium: Traditional Inks and Photoshop
Completed For: Inks were for Inktober 2016, colors for Mermay 2017
Featuring: Musical Mermaid (own design)

These may not end up in my children's book illustration portfolio, but it's important to have variety to choose from when putting together a portfolio.  Working on interim pieces also allows me to maintain a daily presence on Instagram and Twitter.

Don't forget!  If you're interested in pursuing art education to further your sequential art dreams, apply for the NATTO scholarship this month!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

NATTO- National Art & Trade Tuition Opportunity Scholarship

In keeping with our goal to provide egalitarian art education, we're pleased to announce the National Art & Trade Tuition Opportunity scholarship.

NATTO is designed to give one aspiring art student—high school, college graduate looking for further education, or returning college—additional funds to help pay for tuition, materials, or books.  This scholarship is applicable to both in-person and online art education.

The funds for this scholarship were kindly donated by Joseph Coco, who also handled the arrangements with Going Merry. Promotion, portfolio, and essay assessment will be handled primarily by me, Becca Hillburn.

"I set up a small scholarship fund (on behalf of +Becca Hillburn) called the National Art & Trade Tuition Opportunity. It's for any artist interested in sequential art (comics, animation, storyboards) who wants to study art in college (undergrad or grad). You can apply if you have an online portfolio before July 1st, and should expect to hear back sometime in July. You don't need to be the best to win, so if you're on the fence about submitting, please do and help spread the word if you have any artists in your life. College is too expensive, so here's hoping I can help an artist not go into too much debt."


What is Going Merry? GoingMerry is a new company which hopes to not only simplify and aggregate the process of applying for scholarships, but also to allow individuals and corporations to easily create scholarships. Its founders are courteous people who were fed up with the existing hunt-and-peck system of applying for scholarships and saddened by the number of students required to reject college acceptance letters due to financial concerns.

Who can apply? Anyone looking to return to school or resume education with a strong interest in sequential art—comics, children's books, animation, storyboarding.

What schools are eligible?  Any school with an art program, including online art courses such as Schoolism.

However, this is not for one off, inexpensive online education services like Skillshare. As an example of eligible schools, check this list. Applicable MoMa classes and SVA classes, as well as Watts Atelier would also be acceptable, as well as local community college classes.

What we're looking for:

A portfolio of work (hosted through a website, do not send us images) with up to 12 pieces of art.  Portfolio should include examples of sequential work, but this is not necessary for submission. Some example free portfolio sites include: DA Portfolio; Webflow; Tumblr.

A short essay of no more htan 500 words on the type of sequential art you hope to make or to continue making in the future. Please mind spelling and grammatical errors when submitting through Going Merry.

Deadline: June 30th, 2017

How to apply:
  1. Go to
  2. Click "Apply Now", enter your e-mail address and click "Notify Me"
  3. You will receive an e-mail shortly after from our host site, Going Merry. Please click on the invitation link in the e-mail.
  4. This will take you to a sign up page. Complete the information on there and click "Sign Up"
  5. Go to "Qualified Awards" and select the National Art and Trade Tuition Opportunity Scholarship.
I'm having trouble submitting:
Going Merry has a brief waiting list for account creation, but they have been responsive to any issues which arise. They can be contacted through email via

Monday, May 22, 2017

Guest Post: Ally Rom Colthoff of Chirault and Prepping for Print

Hello! My name is Ally Rom Colthoff and for the last 10 years I’ve been working on a webcomic called Chirault-- a high fantasy adventure story with lots of magic and monster battles. I’m currently in the process of bringing the third collected volume of the story in the print (there’s a Kickstarter running here for anyone interested), and it’s been an interesting path making sure the pages are ready.

At the time I started, I had no notion of eventually printing it; the story was meant to be a fast practice run for ‘something bigger’ (lol), but it quickly took on a life of its own as I became attached to the characters and world. Seven years after first launching it, after some interest from my readers and the arrival of Kickstarter as a fundraising tool, I decided to try taking it to print… but those early pages desperately needed to be updated.

(for several reasons)

There are four major issues that tend to hit webcomic artists bringing their work to print; this article will cover the ones that affected me in particular, and how I dealt with them.

◾Page layout


◾Colour conversion


I will disclaim that for the processes I outline below, I use Adobe Photoshop CS5. The steps may be replicable in other software such as Clip Studio, but for this article I’ll be sticking to my own approach, which is admittedly idiosyncratic. This article is also dealing with how to retro-fit an existing body of work for print, rather than how to make it compatible from the outset-- really, on my next project I’m going to do my best to make sure I compensate for these things BEFORE I start work on my pages, which will save me a lot of work going forward. There are almost certainly more efficient ways to streamline the process that I haven’t discovered yet, so I welcome input on it! I hope that by writing about the issues I faced, I can help others who may end up dealing with similar ones.

My comic is monochromatic and mostly neutral earth-tones, which are easy to convert, so that wasn’t an aspect that gave me trouble. The conversion process is a concern for most digital artists, so I’ll link to a couple of articles: here’s one by Print Ninja outlining the basics of colour conversion and giving some tips, and here’s another by Christianne Goudreau with some more advanced advice on optimizing digital artwork for print.

I also managed to dodge problems with resolution (that is, the pixels per inch and size of the files), in large part because as my comic is illustrated traditionally and then scanned in; my pages were already at 300DPI. Saving pages at low-res is an unfortunately common issue for a lot of digital web-cartoonists working on their first comic; for this reason, even for artists who have no intention of bringing their story to print, I strongly encourage everyone to draw their pages at 300DPI. If you change your mind later, you won’t want to yell at your past self!

...Well, that’s a lie, I still wanted to yell at my past self sometimes too for the potholes I DID step into. Here’s what I faced:


photo of open sketchbook with bleed page, beside a PS screencap with guides

I made a very basic error when drawing my early pages: I didn’t keep my page margins (the amount of white space between the edge of my panels and the edge of the page) consistent from page to page. Not only that, but the shape the panels took up slowly morphed over time; initially I had wide white margins on both sides, but as I drew them in an 8x11 sketchbook the panel borders slowly expanded until by page 400 I was using more horizontal space.

two pages side by side, and then overlaid at 50% opacity

I did not want to redraw all of the pages (as there are over 1000 pages total in the story that would be a monumental task), but I did have to find a way to balance the pages so that they were consistent. So the first step was to choose the dimensions that the physical book would be printed at.

I ended up going with 6”x8”; a nonstandard (but roughly manga-sized) book that could accommodate both my narrowest and my widest pages without looking too unbalanced. With that in mind, knowing the exact pixel dimensions my files needed to be saved at (2550x3500 pixels, to be precise), I created an Action in Photoshop so that I could reproduce the same steps on every single page.

Here are the steps in my Action:

◾Converting the file to CMYK. As my colours are very neutral and monochromatic, and my scans are a single layer, this was generally the only colour-related step I needed to take. For digitally-coloured artwork, it’s a good idea to flatten the layers before converting-- CMYK will change the way layer blend modes work, particularly Multiply and Overlay layers.

◾Set Background Colour. In this case, it was making sure my background colour was set to white.

◾Canvas Size. I didn’t use Image Size because that will resize the entire image (possibly distorting it vertically or horizontally if the aspect ratio was not already the same as the new dimensions); instead I used Canvas Size, which will extend the edges of the page or crop into it in the event that the new size is smaller. In every case I was adding to the pages, because I hadn’t accounted for Bleed in my working files-- more on that later. The Photoshop Action will remember the exact numbers you plug into the dialogue box, so they’ll all be the same.

◾Make. The 4 ‘Make’ commands refer to creating guides (the blue lines visible in the screencap below)-- these help me make sure my panels are staying a consistent distance from the edge of the page. The area within the guides is known as the Safe Zone-- most comic page printing templates will include some notation on this, and Making Comics has a breakdown of it here.

screencap of page with guides

With all of these steps done, I can start to identify problem cases. Pages whose panels extend too far outside of the guides may need to be shrunk slightly; pages whose panels are too far inside may need to be expanded so that the margins aren’t noticeably different if two such cases were to be laid side by side.

This is also where I can address bleed. That’s the term for the buffer of space allotted to the very edge of the page, outside of the trim line (where the page will be cut, the final size of the book). Whenever there’s artwork that expands all the way to the very edge of the page it’s important to add about 1/8th of an inch (0.125”) to the edges of the page and continue the artwork into this zone. This is because of the way books are created: the art is printed, and then cut down to size, and then assembled. If the artwork ends at the point that the page is cut, the machinery may leave a thin white line at the very edge of the page, which will not look very good.

For pages where all the panels are nearly contained and the margins are all left empty, Bleed isn’t a worry; however, I did have a number of sequences with art extending to the edge of the page, and I had to address it there.

[insert picture 008]- a shot of that one page with the branches in v3 (yes that one)-- showing white edges

My strategy, after the page had been resized with bleed added, was to use the regular brush tool to supplement the lineart or any structure that was needed, and then to fill in the rest with the Clone Brush. Because the art is all traditional, matching the texture and tonality was very important-- so I’d use the Clone Brush on a section close to the blank space and try to match it as seamlessly as possible, to give the impression that it was a continuation of the same art.

Where there was detailed lineart, I created a layer over top and sketched in the extensions of the lineart, as it’s very finnicky trying to continue precise angles or curves with the Clone Brush.

closeup of one of the edges, screencap including the layer structure

It’s a time-consuming and finnicky process to repeat these steps for every page that needs it, but it pays off once the book is in print; inconsistent formatting can be distracting.


When I started my comic, I didn’t know very much about lettering, and I used Comic Sans for all of the text. A year or two later, I started hanging out more with other webcomic artists, and learned that Comic Sans is terrible, so I found another font and switched to it. Then, I found out how to make a font of my own handwriting, and started using that. And THEN I decided (I thought it was faster, or something) to try to actually really hand-letter right on the page itself-- after 100 pages or so, with decreasing legibility, I switched back to the font based on my handwriting, and that is what stuck.

I wanted the print volume to be as consistent as possible, so of course addressing the inconsistent lettering was one of my first priorities when I started work on Volume 1. I had saved all my original files as flattened JPEGs (do not do this), so updating the lettering required me to access every single page, erase the text, and re-type it in full with the new font. To ensure it was a consistent size across every page, it was important to do this AFTER I had done all the layout steps above, so that the text wouldn’t be scaled in any way.

I had an additional concern with the text: because I had chosen to print with a 4-colour (offset) process instead of a digital process (here is an article explaining the differences between them), I had to ensure that the black colour of my type was True Black rather than Rich Black. This means, if you pull up the colour swatch in the Colour Picker, the CMYK value will be expressed as 0, 0, 0, 100. In other words, it only uses black ink, rather than being built up from all 4 inks.

On the screen true black tends to look a little greyish and can have a reddish tint, but it will print using black ink in the 4-colour process, and so will come out fine on the page. I should note that for people who intend to use a digital printer this step is less important-- thanks to the way the equipment works, the issues that using true black is intended to prevent (notably, a ‘halo’ or fog of ink around text or fine lineart) don’t tend to appear in digital prints. Most artists doing a short run of books (less than 500 copies) will be using a Print-On-Demand service, and those tend to be digital only.

There are other steps to take in printing a book-- using InDesign for layout, adding page numbering, or design basics like creating a cover. But I wanted to cover these two parts of the process, as I haven’t seen many other tutorials talking about these steps.

That’s all for now, thanks for your time! If you’re interested in checking out my books, Chirault’s Volume 3 Kickstarter is live until the 24th of May, and you can buy one or two or all three of the books, as well as a short full-colour minicomic set in the same universe.

You can also find me on Twitter, Tumblr, or via the Chirault webcomic main page

Friday, May 19, 2017

Tabling at Your First FCBD

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This was my second Free Comic Book Day as a tabling artist, you can read about my first experience with FBCD here.

What is Free Comic Book Day:

For Retailers:

On Free Comic Book Day, participating comic book store retailers give away specially printed copies of free comic books, and some offer special deals and creator signings to those visiting their establishments.[9] However, retailers do not receive the issues for free; they pay 12–50 cents per copy for the comics they give away during the event.[10][11] In addition to comic books, some stores also give away other merchandise, such as mini posters and other movie tie-in memorabilia.[

For Artists:

Free Comic Book Day is an opportunity to table at your local comic shop, and sell comics, commissions, and originals.  Many comic shops offer this space free of charge, so this is a great opportunity for your first table experience.  Most Free Comic Book Day events tend to be low key with an initial rush early in the day that peters off.

This is primarily aimed at local comic creators, but your local shop may also be interested in your work if you have novels, children's books, a video game to demo, board games, or other geeky media for sale.

My Setup:

For a recap of Free Comic Book Day 2017, and a look at what I had for sale, check out this video:

My local store:

This year, my local comic shop, Rick's Comic City, rented out the large empty storefront next door for FBCD.  This seemed like a great change- there is plenty of room to grow, and I know there are many Nashville-area artists who are interested in tabling at local events.

The people in the back are digging through the stacks- 50cent issues of old Marvel, DC, Vertigo titles.

Tabling at Free Comic Book Day

Ok, so you've decided you want to give Free Comic Book Day a shot.  Here's what you'll need to do:

Before the show:
  • Check the Free Comic Book Day site to see if stores in your area are participating
  • Call or email your local store to request a table approx 2 weeks ahead of time
  • Decide what you want to bring and what you'll need to prepare
  • Promote your appearance on your favorite social networks- Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, even YouTube- make sure you tag Free Comic Book Day, FBCD, and your city to help people find you!
Check out this post on my top asked questions about tabling at conventions for a primer on what you'll need to get started.

At the show:
  • Show up on time
  • Be prepared to engage the crowd
  • Design an engaging setup.  You can check out How to be a Con Artist for advice!
Keep in mind:

  • Your venue may not have bathroom facilities- we had to leave the premises and drive over to a McDonald's to use the bathroom.
  • Your venue may have terrible lighting- if this is something you're sensitive to, make sure to take frequent breaks to rest your eyes.
  • There's a huge rush initially to grab the best 'free' comics, this tapers off as the day goes on if the shop doesn't have events planned to keep people around.
  • If FCBD is new to your area, people may not realize artists are selling their wares there, and may not bring money.
  • Retailers have to pay for their Free Comic Book Day samples, so try to purchase something from the store, and make sure you thank the owner for hosting.

Things that sell well at Free Comic Book Day:

  • Perfect bound, professionally printed comics
  • Mini comics
  • Small things for kids- charms, stickers, mini prints
  • Original art
If you're a comic artist, and you can't participate at a physical store location, there are still ways you can celebrate Free Comic Book Day

  • Use Free Comic Book Day to promote your webcomic on Twitter and Instagram!  Make sure you use the hashtag #freecomicbookday and #fcbd when plugging your comic- and don't forget to include a link and a visual
  • Consider putting your mini comics up on Gumroad or for Pay What You Want.  You can then promote this using the #FreeComicBookDay and #fcbd tags.

More about Free Comic Book Day