Forty years ago today was my last day at college. Here I am with the painting of birds in the Royal College of Art greenhouse, that I’d started three years earlier and which I thought might be a six week job . . .
I find pencil roughs the quickest way to develop my ideas. I’ve got a wonderful program, Manga Studio, which can easily handle this process but pencil, eraser and the occasional spot of Tipp-Ex correction fluid makes for a more hands on, tactile way of working.
Referring back to the script, I’m going through the basic outline of my first storyboard-style roughs, trying to add drama, clarity and a more interesting layout.
We’ve had a little round of appointments to catch up with over the last couple of days, not just the dentist’s and doctor’s, where I made the two sketches in the waiting rooms, but also the opticians where I had a fitting for my new glasses (same frames but with new high tech varifocal 100% UV proof lenses) so we deserved a lunch break at the Seed Room, where I drew the view looking north over Smithy Brook Valley and Thornhill Edge.
I keep imagining that I’m producing a stage play. Mr Simpson is really getting into his character as the villain of the piece, all sneers and sarcasm, but, as an illustrator I’m responsible for the bit part players too; fo their costume, make-up, even their back story, as far as it goes.
I can imagine the extra playing the labourer saying to me ‘What’s my motivation in this scene?’
‘Er . . . could you lean on your shovel and smirk, as if you’re thinking “this should be fun”?’
I’ve learnt a lot about the strategy of producing a comic strip while working on this page. For instance, for those first two panels (which were the last to be completed) I drew them both first and then coloured them together, to save mixing the colours twice.
I realise that a decisive style is going to work best, rather than the soft tentative approach that I use for natural history subjects. Plenty of structure and drama is what’s needed in a comic strip.
Whatever my misgivings about this page, I’m now leaving it until I’ve finished the other eleven pages, then I can come back to it and review it. Hopefully I will feel that it still works in the context of the story.
How do I stop WordPress Compressing my Files?
Having gone to so much trouble, I’m keen that my work comes over as crisply as possible in this blog, allowing for the inevitable loss of sharpness that you’re always going to get between the paper version and the onscreen image. I’ve added a plugin to stop my web page program WordPress compressing my JPGs (which it does in order to save bandwidth) as this is what makes them lose sharpness.
Yes, I know that it’s a marginal loss of sharpness, but I’m an illustrator. We worry about such things!
Unfortunately the plugin that I’m using, WP Resized Image Quality, hasn’t been tested on the latest version of WordPress and, would you believe it, my JPGs, which I’ve already tweaked to perfection in Photoshop, are still getting compressed.
Any tips would be welcome!
Links; WP Resized Image Quality
By the way, I checked with Christine Rondeau who designed Mon Cahier, the theme that I use for my WordPress posts, and she tells me the compression definitely isn’t happening there.
We’ve had record temperatures today and the red-tailed bumblebees in the nestbox near the back door have been making efforts to cool their nest. The bee on the right with its rear end to the nest hole was fanning its wings.
Every time that I looked out there was a bee on duty, acting as a fan. The first time I noticed them doing this, at 11 o’clock this morning, there were two vibrating their wings right next to the hole but the colony was so busy that bees returning or emerging kept pushing them out of the way. After that there was only ever one on duty and there would be breaks when three bees emerged at once.
In the spring we saw blue tits and house sparrows taking an interest in the box. Last year the sparrows ousted a pair of blue tits that had started nesting but the red-tailed bees are definitely in charge this year. Barbara watched them chase off a wasp which was trying to get into the nest.
I can see the influence of decades of scenery painting in these frames for the showdown in my Waterton comic strip. The perspective in the Soap Works in the background is similar to some of the village scenes that I’ve painted over years, except you can’t imagine the principles and chorus breaking into a rendition of On a Wonderful Day like Today with that pall of smoke hanging over the village of Walton.
But, dominating the stage, dressed in black with that stove pipe hat, ‘Soapy’ Simpson makes a very hissable villain. I can picture it now;
SIMPSON: Yes, boys and girls, I’m going to poison every tree in Walton. Ha! ha! Ha!
WATERTON: Oh no you won’t!
SIMPSON: OH YES I WILL!
It’s been a rather mechanical activity producing three almost identical versions of the background but useful practice for me to get myself into the habit of being consistent with colour, line and characters. I look forward to finishing this off tomorrow and dropping the scanned illustrations into the blank frames that I’ve created for the page in Manga Studio.
My feet aren’t as weather-beaten as my hands but when it comes to watercolour I still go mainly for yellow ochre and dashes of permanent rose with neutral tint, burnt sienna and raw umber in the shadows.
The drawing with my foot resting on the arm of the sofa gives more descriptive lighting than the one down on our grey sofa because there’s a secondary light from the patio windows filling in the shadow down the right side of my foot.
I’ll try and use secondary lighting to add a touch of drama to some of the frames in my Waterton comic strip. Waterton went barefoot when he climbing trees, so I’m going to have to include feet at some stage.
After a weekend working on the Waterton comic we head off for the Hope Valley in the Peak District. After a coffee break at the Riverlife Cafe we walk from Hope to Castleton through sheep pastures. The lambs are less playful than they were earlier in the spring. They’re looking quite solid now and are either resting with mum or they’ve got their heads down grazing.
A green woodpecker flies to a treetop causing indignation amongst the jackdaws. A buzzard circles over the slopes of Losehill.
In the gardens of the Rose Cottage Tearooms in Castleton, I draw Bella, a rescue dog from Croatia. Even her owners aren’t sure what breed she is but to me there seems to be a bit of spaniel and border collie in her.
A jackdaw sidesteps along the wires and takes a good look around at the tables below. Amongst the trees and shrubs around the garden, a chiffchaff is singing almost continually, if you can call those monotonous ‘chif-chaf, chif-chaf, chaf’ phrases singing.
It’s a perfect summer’s day. I can get back to my desk tomorrow when the temperature rises and perhaps makes it less attractive to set off walking.
This is the first time that I’ve added a curved tail to a speech balloon. In Manga Studio EX5 this kind of tail is known as a spline. Mathematically, a spline curve is one that moves through a given series of points. Because of lack of headroom in this frame, a straight tail would have to emerge from the side of the balloon, which would look rather awkward.
No wonder Simpson looks so pleased with himself, he’s the first character to get a spline bubble in this comic strip. I don’t blame Waterton for storming off indignantly.
Edward Thornhill Simpson doesn’t pop up in a puff of smoke through a trap door under a green spotlight like a pantomime villain but, for the purposes of my Waterton comic, he comes as close to that as I can manage within the historical context.
I keep thinking of the Dollars Trilogy as I stage my action and, as I draw, find myself concocting unlikely scenarios for a three-way shoot-out by introducing Waterton’s other great rival John James Audubon. It would be more dramatic than the long legal battle that ensued but we’ve got to stick to the historical facts.
I’m probably getting drawn into the imagined world that I’m creating a bit too much for my own good but I think that I need to keep improvising, varying my approach, to bring the story to life.
When I’m designing a set for the local pantomime I sit halfway down the hall, look towards the stage and sketch the scene that I’m conjuring up in my mind. Although I want to be historically convincing, it’s important to keep that element of light-hearted improvisation.