Friday, September 28, 2018

Intro to Comic Craft Stitching Together a Double Page Spread

In most comics, a double page spread is fairly unusual.  It can really mess up the pagination of your comic, and has to be carefully planned in order to fit.  As someone who does kidlit comics and all ages comics though, I like using double page spreads as an opportunity to explore large spaces, large concepts, or create an opportunity for the reader to relax for a moment and get pulled into the world.  Some chapters of 7" Kara have multiple double pages spreads (shock and horror, I know!), particularly Chapter 7, when Kara is immersed in Naomi's human world for the first time.

This spread from Chapter 6 began its life as two watercolor pages stretched on one large board- a common situation for my double page spreads.  I have a couple videos that demonstrate the process for painting watercolor spreads for those curious- but it only differs from painting regular pages in a couple ways-

1. Your Stretcher Board is double size, so the painting's footprint is HUGE
2. Although there's a space between the two pages, you're trying to continue your painting across that gap, so it's easier to stitch together.

This will probably only be relevant to creators who:
  • Work in traditional media 
  • Work at a size that would necessitate splitting your spread over two pages

So for this type of spread, this is really a crossover post- a little Watercolor Basics, a little Intro to Comic Craft, but I hope regardless of your camp, you will enjoy! 

Painting Pages- Working on a Double Page Comic Spread

Watercolor In Progress: Painting 7 Inch Kara

Now that our spread is painted, we need to digitize it and stitch it together for display and sharing as a webcomic page.  Generally, for print, I don't worry too much about stitching a spread together- there's usually a fold to hide all but the most glaring errors, and I simply focus on color correcting the pages so they make sense as a continuous image.  For web desplay (such as sharing the spread as a webcomic), I keep two considerations in mind:

While these are two pages, they're shared and displayed as one image
I need to remove the center seam, and stitch the pages together so that they are as seamless as possible.

These techniques are also applicable if you have to scan a large image in pieces and need to stitch them together.  Photoshop does have a Merge function under Automate, but it doesn't always work well, and sometimes you're doing your stitching manually.

In this example, we're going to begin with a piece that's already nearly assembled- the two individual comic pages have been merged onto one document, the color correction has been completed, and we just need to make a few corrections to finish this piece.

Correcting blemishes/Sewing Pages Together:

Favorite Techniques:
Clone (utilizing the Clone Tool)

Manual Clone- Select the area you want to duplicate on your image, copy and paste it onto a separate layer, erase excess until it blends in.

Things to correct: 
Remove center seam 
Fix the stairs

When making corrections, do NOT correct the original- always make copies, and hide or lock your originals.  This sort of correction can be quite destructive, so you want to protect your originals.  Also, always make your corrections on a new layer- you may need to erase or soften edges.

Correcting the center seam is simple- you can either copy and paste areas of grass and drag them over, or you can use the clone tool to clone areas you like to cover the seam.  Fixing the stairs is a little more difficult- there's a lot of light and shadow, stairs require more precision than grass, and sloppiness will stand out more.

For the stairs, I used a combination of copying over areas that worked, playing with Multiply, and cloning areas, as well as reestablishing the lines on the stairs using a custom Pencil Color brush.

The Finished Spread:

Let's take an in depth look at stitching together a double page spread with my SCBWI 2018 Illustrator's Contest entry.

Double Page Spread Painting Progress: 

As you can see, most of the process is completed with about a 2" gap between the pages, forcing me to extrapolate information.  I wasn't as careful as I should have been- lining up your spread so it's continuous makes it much easier to paint as though it is actually continuous.

The finished kidlit art comic spread

Opening Our Base Scans:

The first step in stitching together a double page spread is to get your spreads in a single file.  I open both spreads and create a new, huge document that's more than large enough to contain both files.  This allows me room to reposition my halves.

Make sure you save your original two halves on seperate layers.  We will want to work with a file that's one continuous layer at some point, but remember- never alter your originals.

Creating the Master File

We also want to crop the scanned border from around these pages.

Stitching Pages Together

The black border between the pages was a mistake- I wasn't thinking as I was inking, and I knew I wouldn't be able to correct it without damaging the painting surface, so I opted to wait until post to fix it.  For the original, I simply trimmed it out with a paper trimmer, and in Photoshop, I can simply overlay the second half on top.

Although I tried to paint carefully, there's still a noticable difference at the seam that will need some care and correction.

Alignment Corrections

NOTE:  You NEVER want to make corrections on the original- only on copies!

I create a new folder and drag my two halves into it, then copy that folder.  I turn off visibility on the original, and merge the folder so the two layers are now one layer.

Now I have the file I'm going to start working with.

Cloning and Masking

The Clone Tool is great for correcting small areas, the selection tool and copy is great for correcting larger mistakes

I make a copy of my working layer

The first thing I want to work on fixing is the tree nearest the viewers- there's a pretty visible gap between the two halves.

This is a pretty simple fix- I select an area on the right half, copy it, and drag it over so that the inked edge meets.  I then erase what isn't working- what stands out as 'wrong' to the viewer.

This tree was pretty problematic- normally I would use the clone tool to sorta fill in that gap, but since the area I was working with was narrow but long, I couldn't get enough material for a believable clone.  Instead, I copied an area from the right side of the tree, stretched it to patch the area, and erased the excess.

The sidewalk presented the same problem as the stairs from Chapter 6- noticable discrepencies AND lineart that doesn't match up.

I use both strategies- the clone tool and copying sections, to try and improve alignment and make the stitch less noticable.

I ended up futzing around with the sidewalk a lot, as it presented quite a challenge to get right. 

Now that I have the image mostly stitched together, I can do some color correction and color adjustment, which I'll cover in my next post, as it's a fairly sizable topic.

Stitching an image together takes patience and time, but it isn't a challenging task.  I encourage you guys to experiment with your own methods for correction, and share them with me using the handy form in the sidebar to the left!

As always, this post was made possible thanks to the generosity of my Artnerds on!  If you enjoy what I do, and find it helpful, why not join us?  Artnerds get early access to near-daily videos, as well as backer exclusive comparisons. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Building Up Color and Contrast: Watercolor Basics

Recently we talked about layering, glazing, and blends as being the foundation for watercolor comic pages.  Knowing how to execute and utilize these techniques, as well as having the patience to do so, is a huge part of being able to paint comic pages. Today I want to talk about some of those concepts in a bit more depth- using fills, glazes, and flat planes of color to develop color, contrast, and volume.

Fills, Glazes, and Flat Planes of Color
  • Useful for defining forms on boxy shapes
  • Useful for creating contrast and defining forms on architectural backgrounds
  • Useful for building up volume
In the following photos, I build up form and shadow on a small flight of concrete stairs very simply just by adding layers of the same color!

This builds on the cube form tutorial introduced in our Watercolor Basics post.  Missed it?  Check out that tutorial here.   Plane by plane, layer by layer, we're able to build form by creating planes of shadow.

Adding Texture

There are other ways to build up form, value, and contrast.  Using paint to create texture is a great way to achieve this goal, while rendering a more believable world.

In these cheap watercolor field tests, a knit texture is used to help create and define form.

In this Distress Marker Opaque White test, layers and saturations of white ink are used to build up a lace texture for an overdress.

In this Spectrum Aqua field test, several textures are utilized, from small half moons on the fish to create scales, to a splatter effect to give the impression of water spray.

And a soft, velvety moss texture is created by utilizing both blends and layers to create verdant transitions.

In this example, we're painting carpet, which is fairly simple and straightforward.

Something to keep in mind:
  • Each layer should cover less than the last
  • Let your brush do the work
  • Utilize a variety of marks for visual interest

Other Types of Textures: 

Painting Seagrass

Basic Textures-Brings and Stones

Painting Textures-Wood Grain

Painting Textures- Fur

Painting Textures- Glass

Painting Textures- Metal and Metallic

Developing Depth of Color

What do I mean by developing depth of color?


Layers of color of varying saturations and intensities can help build up shape and form, as well as create visual interest.  This can be achieved through a number of techniques including wet into wet blending (allowing your colors to mix, while wet, on the paper), wet over dry, negative painting, and glazes.

Creating Volume:

Layers of color can be used to create volume, either by developing form through layers of a single color (as demonstrated in my Lighting and Contrast mini series)

Distinguishing Shadow:

In the lighting and contrast mini series, we talked about using a single color to build up form.  Shadows are of two varieties- cast shadows (something directly blocking the light) and shadows caused by a lack of light hitting the surface of the object.  Lighting and Contrast discusses the second, but it's also important to understand and utilize the first as well.

Cast shadows can utilize a contrasting color to help neutralize the saturation of the initial color (such as a red violet over yellow), or can utilize a neutral color (generally a purplish indigo) for shadow. 

Using contrasting and cool colors to push forms back:

Similar to using distinguishing shadow, using contrasting colors to push forms back creates a layer or transition to desaturated color, which feels further away to the viewer.  Cool colors have a similar effect.

Delineating and defining form:

This can be done with traditional forms of inking (adding a black or colored ink to your art to create lineart), but it can also be done by 'inking' with your watercolors, adding final details with color pencils or watercolor pencils, or adding details with gouache.

Negative Painting Demonstration:

In this example, we're going to use grass, a subject that's always been difficult for me to execute, but is an important, reoccuring theme in 7" Kara.

Before we dive into the still images, here's a demonstration that shows how I think about rendering grass at a macro level.  It demonstrates the rendering of grass by using

Fluid 100 Paper Field Test: 

Complex forms such as grass (which is made of up individual blades) or darker objects such as Pancake the kitten benefit from the careful buildup of layers and colors to achieve depth and form.  For grass, we start out with a light yellow green, and add progressively blue layers of watercolor until we achieve believably lush grass.  For Pancake, we start out with grey and build up progressively dark layers until we have a believable black.

There are various ways you can build forms using watercolor, and there's no single solution to any problem.  What's important is that you experiment with watercolor to find methods that work for the sort of stories you wish to tell.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Skate On By- SCBWI Illustrators Contest Process

kidlit art, comic, kids comics, watercolor comic, watercolor art, comic artist

I've always had digital steps to my traditional process.  There's always scanning and resizing, corrections and bluelines done digitally.  But this year, I've begun working even more mixed media- with several of my pieces starting life entirely digital, or the majority of my sketching and planning done digitally.  The reason for this is simple- it's very easy to correct things digitally.  I can easily salvage a head that I liked, but was too small, or too large, reposition a hand that has a beautiful gesture but not quite the intended angle, slide a panel over just a smidge to make room.  I've never tried to hide the digital aspects to my process, and I've written about my comic making process extensively over the years.

As an illustrator and member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, I've participated in the Illustrator's contest every year of my membership.  Although the contest is aimed at picture book illustration, given the lack of other options, I've always submitted a comic spread.  The pieces are judged on their readiness for publication, and I know I'm significantly lowering my chances by submitting a comic spread, as none of the judges have been involved with the kids comics industry.  It's still a risk I'm willing to take, as I would prefer to be known for what I love, and I can only hope that someone looking for a comic artist for kids comics will take notice.

The SCBWI Midsouth's Illustrator's contest has a few rules:
  • $20 application fee at registration
  • Mounted on black foamcore or matboard
  • Max size of 18"x12"
  • Can be any medium

We were given this prompt:

As soon as Emma saw Ruby she knew they would NEVER be friends.

Which is from the picture book Ruby the Copycat, and is a continuation on last year's prompt. 

I had a lot of difficulty getting out of last year's mindset, and brainstormed all sorts of options- having the two girls as swamp animals (a bullfrog and a alligator), cat and mouse, and finally settled on humans, as while I'm decent at drawing anthros at conventions, I'm fairly awful at drawing cute animal characters for children's books, and wanted to play to my strengths.

Prior Entries

Character Generation:

Original Designs:


Thumbnail Sketch:

You guys may recognize this thumbnail from my Intro to Comic Craft post on creating rapid iterations of a thumbnail from base sketches.

Tight Thumbnail:

This was completed digitally, converted to bluelines, and printed onto two sheets of printer paper.

Tight Rough:

These were refined with blue lead (Color Eno in soft blue) and graphite, then scanned as a whole.

These were again converted to bluelines, and printed onto Moulin du Roy watercolor paper.


Based on feedback I've gotten from a couple of kidlit comic editors, I've been pushing my non-Kara kidlit comic art towards simple+inked watercolor.  Before inking, I needed to pencil this and refine a few details!

Before beginning my pencils, I inked my borders using Sakura's Calligrapher Pens.  These pigment based, broad line pens are great for borders on watercolor comics.


This spread was inked as individual pages.  I used a Sakura Pigma FB- one of my favorite small, pigment ink brush pens.

Although this is the final page, I scanned and stitched together the inks so I have the option of playing with this digitally in the future.

I have a video tutorial for this spread coming up in the future!

Painting spreads always requires special considerations, and considerable space.  I use an uncut sheet of 24"x36" gatorboard, and stretch each half individually, trying to place them as close as possible.  When painting a spread like this, you want to try and paint the two sides as close to identical as possible, at least around the join, to make stitching the spread together easier.

Toning Individual Panels: 

Yellow, Grey, Ultramarine

Blocking in Background and Major Shapes:

I wanted to keep the grass light and cartoony, as I have a tendency of overworking grass and it becoming swampy.  I decided to limit my grass to about three layers.

Blocking In The Trees:

Trees are always something I struggle to draw and paint, so I worked closely from photo reference, paying close attention to the lighting in the photos.

For the trees, I worked from yellow-sap green-phtalo blue

Blocking in the Characters:

I wanted Ruby's design to feel like a little girl who dresses herself, but also a girl with a vision- she envisions herself as an ice skater (hence the tutu).

For Emma, I wanted to depict a more subdued girl- someone who usually keeps to herself, so while I didn't go entirely muted with my color selection, I kept it more primary- a nice orange, a dark red, and bluejeans.

Blocking in and rendering characters is when the piece really starts to come alive!

Removing the blue tape and removing the watercolor from the board: 

Trimming the watercolor for mounting: 

This piece needed to be mounted on a piece of mat or foamcore for submission, so I trimmed the original down (quelle horror, I know), and used double stick tape (even worse, apologize) to adhere it to my matboard (which was recycled from last year- I'm just the worst).

The finished, stitched together scan: 

Although a clean, stitched together scan wasn't necessary for submission, as I'm forever building my kidlit art and kidlit comic portfolio, it was certainly necessary for me.  I have a tutorial on stitching together a double page spread coming soon as part of my Intro to Comic Craft series!