Guest Post: Laurissa Hughes: Page Process for Tess and Jack
Hello! My name is Laurissa Hughes and I make a webcomic called Tess and Jack. It’s about a cowgirl named Tess and her robot partner Jack who live in a futuristic Old West. They take odd (very odd) jobs to keep themselves afloat. It’s a serial comic, so each issue can be read independently of the others and each covers a different job.
This whole thing started as an experiment in 2014: I wanted to try and repaint a digital painting I’d done in 2011 and decided to do it in a comic because I enjoy narrative art, I wanted to see how well I could hold to an update schedule, I wanted to experiment with different techniques for making comics so I’d be ready to make a longer story that I’ve wanted to tell for a long time. Due to the experimental nature of the whole thing, the process I go through to create each page has changed in every issue.
Painting from 2011, and the frame from the comic in 2014.
Issue 1: Work for Hire
I had literally no idea what I was doing when I started this, but I went for it anyway. I feel like there’s no “right” way to make comics and everyone should find their own techniques that make them comfortable. My process has changed several times throughout the issues because I’m still experimenting with the ways I most enjoy making comics and that get me the best end product!
I start out my whole process with a rough outline (mostly in my head), and I draw the thumbnails. I do most of my detailed writing and solid dialogue while I thumbnail, seeing the flow of the page helps me think of how actions will play out in more detail. The thumbnails are also pretty scribbly because I’m trying to get ideas out quickly. I want to spend the majority of my time on the finished pages. My process for this part has stayed pretty much the same over the years, except now I thumbnail with page layouts in mind.
There’s some organization on the page, but I would just draw where I had space, sometimes on random sheets of extra paper lying about.
Still pretty scribbly and kind of messy, but things are laid out as if they were spreads in books. I also started to draw in a spiral notebook with lined paper because it’s cheaper!
I then take the thumbnails and draw the final page at size. I draw at 7” x 10.5”, which is a pretty standard size for American comics. It’s usually a good idea to draw at 1.5 times or 2 times the size of the final page, because when they’re shrunk down for print, all of the lines look really sharp and nice. I’ve been drawing at size for all the issues, so I keep doing it for consistency throughout. If I’m drawing for a publication I usually draw and ink at 2 times the size.
Whether or not I draw a really detailed vs. rough sketch depends on my mood or how much time I have to complete a page. Sometimes I’ll deviate pretty far from my sketch when I ink.
In “Work for Hire”, I drew each page with a regular lead pencil and then erased it after inking and before scanning everything into Photoshop because I hate trying to remove pencil lines or blue pencil in Photoshop.
No pencil lines!
To color Tess and Jack, I start with flat colors. I used to use Photoshop for the pages, but switched to Clip Studio in Issue Two. The flatting process has stayed pretty much the same in every issue, but became more streamlined after I got Clip Studio. More on that later.
Flatting is a process where only the solid base color is laid down on the page. After this, all the fancy painting and effects are added on. I usually start out with flats when I do a full digital painting as well!
For “Work for Hire”, after the flat stage, I would add two shading layers set to the “Multiply” blend mode. I would then take these two layers and “blend” them together where they met using the Pen Tool in Photoshop with the Opacity set to pen pressure. I never really liked the way this looked, and it always felt like a needlessly time-consuming process, but I kept it throughout the first issue for the sake of consistency.
Issue 2: “Lost and Found”
In the second issue of Tess and Jack, I really wanted to focus on making the colors really nice and lush, and experiment with that.
Once again, I started with my scribbly thumbnails, and then moved on to the sketching stage. I got Clip Studio pretty early on in making the second issue, and I really like the program for making comics and other illustrations. It’s nice, because it has a lot of tools specific to making comics, so it makes parts of the process more streamlined. Also, drawing digitally in Clip Studio feels much closer to drawing traditionally for me than a lot of other programs I’ve found. So that’s exactly what I did for Issue 2; I drew everything digitally, and then printed it out to ink it traditionally.
After I finished inking, I scanned everything in and removed the colored lines digitally. This was much easier that erasing all of the pencil after inking every page, plus there wasn’t as much risk of smearing the ink. I also like the look of the sketch under the ink, it’s fun to look back at and see where I’ve come from in terms of drawing improvement.
Here is the page with the blue lines still there.
In Clip Studio, I go to Edit → Tonal Correction → Binarization
This opens the Binarization menu. I go with the default settings that open up in the window as, you can see here, it does a good job of getting rid of the blue lines.
Then, in the Layer Properties window, I toggle the Expression Color to Monochrome. This makes the page channels black and white, which helps with the next step.
In the Layer Properties window, I toggle the Monochrome to just Black. It gets rid of the white background and makes it transparent.
I then create a new layer and combine them.
Here is the final combined layer.
The reason I combine the layers to make the default layer is because it changes the Expression Color back to Color. If it were to remain Monochrome, then any color it interprets as white presents as transparent, and any color it interprets as black is black instead of the color selected.
The Fill Tool is filling in transparent instead of a color!
Now that the layers are combined and the Expression Mode is back to Color, it’s filling in with green instead of transparent.
This also helps me do flat colors, because I can make the Ink layer a Reference Layer using a handy little toggle in the upper part of the Layer menu. This makes all of the black lines solid barriers, so when I fill in solid colors it won’t bleed past the black ink lines!
The handle little toggle in question.
Now I’m ready to flat everything, just like in the first issue. I started out just shading with Multiply layers on top of the flats and not blending them together, but then I started out experimenting with gradients. I don’t usually like to use a lot of gradients because I think they can look really jarring, but I liked how they looked using them on the Multiply layer and then breaking them up with the Pen Tool.
I started to heavily use this effect on the base color layers underneath the Multiply layer instead. I thought it worked especially well with the bushes and trees in the alternate world in the second issue. I would lay down gradients and then take the Pen Tool and draw pen strokes on top to break it up and create foliage, bark, or other effects.
A few more examples of the broken up gradients from another page.
I kept using the solid Multiply layers on top, but I tried switching the colors to fit the mood of the scenes, and I liked using different shades of the colors to create more depth in the drawings.
Issue 3: Tess of All Trades (Currently Updating)
With this issue I decided to do the pages entirely digitally because it’s less time-consuming, and I wanted to get better at inking digitally. I was worried about inking digitally because I prefer inking traditionally so much, and I think my digital inks can turn out looking stiff. There were definitely a few bumps, but I have a tablet monitor, which I think helps a lot because it feels a lot more natural. Just like any tool, it takes practice to get used to using it.
For the coloring, I didn’t really have any goals in mind for experiments, so I started out just using the same gradient technique from the previous issue. I decided after a few pages to try and use the Brush Tool instead of the Pen Tool to break up the gradients and make the backgrounds look a little more painterly. I also occasionally end up painting a little bit on the multiply layer to add a little more depth. The characters are just a flat color underneath the Multiply layers.
A detail with the “Multiply” blend mode toggled off and on to show the painterly look more clearly.
My goal with this issue right now is to figure out how to cut production time down a little bit, especially on the coloring. It’s all an ever evolving process.
One of my favorite things about webcomics is how they tend to evolve as they go. I like to see people’s art as it advances and gets better and better! It’s also one of my favorite things about making a webcomic, I enjoy the process and it makes me feel a little more free to experiment and grow as an artist and storyteller!
Thank you for reading! Feel free to check out my:
This post was sponsored by my Patrons on Patreon. Guest posts are paid $30 per post and Laurissa REALLY knocked it out of the park with this one. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge, Laurissa!