As a comics reader myself, and a generally curious person, one of my favorite things is seeing an artist’s process. A couple of readers have asked — one pushy little snot in particular (you know who you are, Mike) — so here’s a walkthrough of how I created a page of Eleanor. (In addition to this simple walkthrough, I sometimes broadcast a live video stream while I work on Eleanor pages. Those videos are archived here.)
This is how I created page 56 of Eleanor, from Chapter 2. (Click on any of the images below to see them in greater detail.)
Every page of course starts with pencils, but let’s skip that part. We’ll start with the inks instead. Let’s also skip the details of how to scan an original page, adjust the levels, isolate the linework — that’s a whole other process, and maybe I’ll walk through that in a separate post sometime. For me, every new page starts with the scanned inks, and a colored background. Each chapter of Eleanor has a different-colored theme — the Prologue was blue, Chapter 1 was red, and Chapter 2 is this lovely green.
Some artists simply place their inks on a page and adjust the blend mode to Multiply, but I prefer to isolate the inks, for a few reasons. But mostly I just don’t like shortcuts or trickery. (Well, maybe trickery.)
After the inks are placed where I like them — in this case, the page is a full bleed — then I begin ‘flatting’. Now, probably most artists take a better approach to flatting than I do, but this seems to work for me. Flatting is simply filling the page with solid colors, for two reasons — first, it isolates each unique element on the page, making it easier to add detail and depth later; and second, it helps me set a general tonal range for the page. This is probably my least favorite part of the process.
Once flatting is complete, then I start the fun stuff. I’ll usually select one panel to begin working on, and start adding depth and detail to the drawing. Here, I couldn’t wait to start on the water, so that’s where I began. I’ve added gradients and lighting to suggest depth and reflective properties, and you’ll notice that any object that occurs above the water and below it (e.g. the large branch or the leaves) has a different opacity. Little details like this help to suggest the murkiness of the water.
Once I’m mostly satisfied with the water, I move on to the background, adding simple shapes and color gradation to suggest the depth of the forest. Here I don’t really want the background to be too complicated, as it needs to shove the two inset panels into the foreground.
Another reason for keeping the forest background simple is what I’m going to do to the foreground, which is add rain. The rain layer needs to distort the forest enough to suggest velocity and force. Also, you’ll see that I’ve further adjusted the tone of the rising water. The more progress I make in a page, the more obvious the need for color adjustments become. In this case, the water was too blue. Since this is a flood that’s carrying around debris from the valley floor, it needed to appear grimier. I’ve also reduced the opacity of the bubbles beneath the surface, which adds a bit more murk to the water. And for a final touch, some rain spatter rings on the surface of the flood give it that little extra bit of believability.
Satisfied with the full page flood scene, which is essentially just one large panel all by itself, I move on now to the three inset panels, which tell a juxtaposed story. (That story probably doesn’t make sense without the context of the pages before it, but those will be published soon enough.) Here I add shadow, detail and depth to the garage scene that’s playing out. A little drywall texture, some shadow, and we’re moving on to the next step.
When all panels are completed, I tweak the overall page value. Chapter 2 has a consistent visual style, so I run my pages through some simple color filters when I’m finished, just to bring out a range of color that is cohesive from one page to the next. I’m not the most accomplished artist in this case, so I actually — don’t giggle — use a set of Photoshop filters that are designed to mimic the photo effects of the iOS app Instagram. In most cases, I’m using the Brannan filter, which increases contrast and adds a nice dusky wash to the palette. (Here’s a link to the filters, which are designed as Photoshop actions.)
Sometimes the result isn’t quite what I’m looking for, so a few hue, saturation and levels adjustments later, we’re good to go.
The last step is adding letters to the page — narration, dialogue, sound effects. Eleanor’s script is largely skimmed from a novel I spent a decade writing before turning her story into a comic. I loosely script the pages at the beginning of each chapter, when I do thumbnail sketches of each page I’ll be making. But the script is a fluid thing that evolves as I complete each new page, and sometimes steers itself in a completely unexpected direction.
And with that, the page is complete, and it’s time to move on to the next one. This was page 56, which means there are only… hrm… about 200 pages left to create.