Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Loosey Goosey with Ben Clanton

My favorite part of the book making process is when the book first starts to take shape. I love drawing character sketches and creating that first dummy book. For me it is the most creative part of the process and it is when the book with all its potential has the most life. But then comes final art (a.k.a. FARTS) and I find myself wanting to make the book perfect and struggling to keep the art alive. I tighten up because I want it all to be just so. I imagine this is something that will always be difficult for me, but there are some tips, tricks and general tidbits that I have learned. These are the ones that come to mind . . .


And now I have that song stuck in my head and because I mentioned it you probably do to. You're welcome! This is the hardest advice to actually apply. I treat it as a sort of mantra. It can be easy (at least for me) to get fixated on trying to get a line just so, that wing or eye or whatsit to match up with the other perfectly, and making sure everything is consistent. While a degree of this is needed when creating final art it can stifle the work. Finding a balance is the tricky thing . . . allowing what you might think of as a mistake to remain and to embrace happy accidents. I find it helpful to step away from my desk. I'm far too good at butt in chair. And so I try to keep a mindset of letting things be and while not entirely avoiding reworking . . . avoiding overworking. I'm definitely not good at this. I post little phrases on occasion above my work such as "keep moving forward" as reminders.


Some of these tips definitely don't apply to all styles but I've found this one helpful. I try and avoid media that give me too much control. For many years my go-to for doodling has been the micron pens. I think I gravitated to them early on because they did give me more control and I already felt I had so little because I didn't have much muscle memory for drawing yet. But the line from such pens is very consistent and not that dynamic. I often use a 6B pencil or colored pencils for line-work now and have been dabbling in dip pens and bamboo pens. 


A trick I learned from fellow Whatsit Jennifer K. Mann is to render the line-work at a smaller size. Jen works as small as 50% and then scans at a high resolution in order to get a larger looser line. I've often worked at 75% or 85% since Jen told me about this. Look how wonderful these wiggly-ish lines of Jen's are!


Recently I've discovered some brushes for photoshop that I can use to distress the work. There are many grunge brushes too that can help add character and texture. They can be great for forcing yourself to lose a bit of control over the piece.


It can be easy for me to zoom in on a detail or spot of an illustration and spend too much time trying to fix something that doesn't look quite right to me. When I then zoom out I often find that for starters that detail didn't matter quite so much and that by actually "fixing" it I actually took something away
from the piece when seen as a whole. 


I've got to confess I often add mess. I'll do splatter paint or splotches of ink on a paper scan it in and set it on top of my illustration. It adds in some of that frenetic aspect of the initial sketch. What is ridiculous is that I then sometimes might move a splatter because I'n not happy with where it landed. 


I've noticed that there is a trend toward having the color of a piece purposefully offset. I'm all for it! And also for allowing bits of paint and color to generally go outside the lines. Any way to keep the human hand present I think helps to keep a piece alive and interesting. Again, I realize this doesn't apply to all styles but I've been trying to apply it to my work recently and finding it effective.


I find my work suffers if I dive right in. If I allow myself a doodle or two before working on a piece for a book I start out much looser. Also, breaks can be super helpful. Taking a moment to stretch or step outside and then reproaching a pice helps give fresh perspective and can force you to reevaluate. 


Perhaps a sketch can be integrated into the final art? Perhaps not all of it but maybe a piece or two can be collaged in. I've also started to sometimes keep my sketch layers in photoshop and just reduce the opacity with the final art on top. 


I went to a talk by Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet) and he talked about how he did the paperback Harry Potter covers all on one layer in photoshop. He treated it as a physical canvas. I think this can be helpful in forcing yourself to live with the marks you make. Though, I do appreciate how being able to get rid of a layer or tamper with just one part of a drawing because it is in a separate layer can be freeing.

Got any tips or tricks? I'd love to hear about them!


  1. Lovely! Thanks, Ben. And welcome back!

  2. I loved this, thanks Ben! I am often frustrated with Photoshop because I am self taught and it took me like several years to even figure out how to use more than one layer...but I have started to appreciate that rough understanding and my own unique use of Photoshop may be a good thing as it reflects my own style needs rather than just a correct use of Photoshop...

  3. Thanks for writing this Ben. I can relate. We put so much added expectations on ourselves when working on a "real" project. My spur of moment "for fun" illustrations always look so much better to me. I paint traditionally but I often find myself zooming way in on a piece of client art in Photoshop and seeing a mess. Then I basically repaint it in PSD only to zoom back to normal size and realize I was working on an area that was only about a half inch and none of the flaws I saw at 5000% would have shown up!