Many of you have been waiting for the much-anticipated Nao of Brown to hit the shelves (we certainly have!); we’ve mentioned Glyn Dillon‘s work in progress several times on here previously, it’s certainly a book that’s been on our must-read radar for some time. Now with the book coming out from SelfMadeHero this month I’m delighted to say Glyn has kindly taken the time to be our latest Director’s Commentary guest, taking us a little into the creation of Nao of Brown:
I love Photoshop.
When I was last drawing comics, (about 17 years ago), I didn’t have a computer, I don’t think I even had a mobile phone.
So returning to comics after all that time, meant the process of making comics was very different compared to how I’d previously struggled.
Back then I felt restricted in so many ways, I wanted more than anything to be able to draw like Hugo Pratt or Jean Giraud/Moebius… I wanted my work to look relaxed, easy, full of life like theirs. Instead, whenever I inked anything it felt like I’d sucked the life out of the pencils, killing them with a forced line. And I could never quite settle on a style, never felt comfortable with anything I did.
I stopped drawing comics, harbouring fancy ideas of becoming a film director, I thought I’d try and make my way into that world via storyboarding. I didn’t end up directing much, just a few bits and bobs but what I did end up doing in that time, was a shed load of storyboards.
What’s the great thing about doing storyboards? They’re not the end product… They’re just a cog in the much bigger film (or commercial) making machine, only a handful of people get to see them and there’s no time to dwell on them before you’re off on another job.
Those conditions make for a very ‘free’ drawing experience. As well as having to be fast, you have to be able to draw on the spot, in front of people, often people you’ve not met before. You have to be able to make things up, because there’s no reference (although that happens less these days). All these ingredients meant a big learning curve, a seventeen year long ‘drawing bootcamp’.
So when I did finally come back to the idea of drawing a comic, I actually felt comfortable to some degree, much more so than before anyway. With my storyboarding I’d developed a technique of just using a HB retractable pencil and darkening it up on whatever photocopier the production company had. I got to know my way round a few different photocopiers and how to get the darkest, yet cleanest copies out of them. Then in the mid to late nineties, working at Jim Henson’s I met the amazingly talented Dermot Power and Rob Bliss, who were both already working on computers in their concept designer capacity. Rob taught me Photoshop by hitting my hand with his ruler if I forgot something or asked a stupid question, so I learnt pretty fast.
Darkening a pencil line in Photoshop is so easy, it just freed everything up… With my drawing no longer under the threat of my inking, I started to feel more comfortable.
So when it came to having an idea for a book, I knew I wanted to draw it in the same way as I did my storyboards. As it turned out… I did tighten up a bit, they’re not as loose as my boards are… but I do feel like I’m closer to where I’d like to get to.
So, illustrated here are the two processes for the two different styles that appear in the The Nao of Brown. The first one is the water colour one, and the majority of the book is done this way. The second, coloured digitally is supposed to be done by a fictional artist, a character who’s based on Moebius and Hayao Miyazaki combined… There are about sixteen pages done in this style.
(Glyn’s process for the first scene he is discussing here, click to view the larger image which you can scroll down to visually follow his process; images by and (c) Glyn Dillon)
Both of them start with a thumbnail sketch, which is usually about an inch wide. After I’d written the script, in film format (no page breaks), I thumbnailed the whole thing, like this. Some more detailed than others but I’d say these are pretty average… indecipherable to most people, but shorthand for me, well, mostly… I didn’t always know who was who when I went back to them.
With the water colour pages, I would print out the panel borders I’d made up in Photoshop, onto a sheet of A4 copy paper, mostly with the lettering already in place. I would then draw the roughly pencilled page, trying to get all the ‘acting’ in at this stage whilst keeping it lively and spontaneous but leaving out a lot of details at this stage so that in the following stage there would still be things to draw from scratch, this would help in retaining that look of spontaneity.
Then I would use a light box to re-draw the page, on a new sheet of A4 copy paper (no fancy expensive stuff), and tighten it all up a bit as I went. Basically this is the equivalent of inking the page, except with the added bonus that I don’t get to feel all uptight because I’ve got a pen in my hand. At some point, I’d seen a short clip of Quentin Blake using a similar process and that definitely inspired this method.
These two drawing stages would generally take no more than a day, maybe a day and a half at most.
Now with the page ‘inked’ (scanned in and darkened up using the levels in Photoshop) I would then lower the opacity to 10% and print out two versions on to water colour paper.
On one version I would paint the colours straight , keeping everything pretty flat, but all the time keeping in mind what the next stage would be.
That next stage would consist of using only Payne’s Grey to paint the ‘lighting layer’, giving everything some form and solidity, through light & shade. I found Payne’s Grey was the best to paint with because it went down so well and would retain it’s texture when altered in the levels or Hue & Saturation.
Then I’d combine all these layers, panel by panel because the scanner would always distort things slightly, making it impossible to do it as a whole page.
For the last eight months or so I was having to paint two pages a day using this process, in order to get it done on time. They were long days (9:00am – 3:00am)… and seven days a week.
For the first thirty odd pages of the book I was having fun but I hadn’t settled on this method, I hadn’t really worked in water colours before, so I had to find my way a bit, get to know them and find a ‘system’, but by about pg. 40 I’d settled on this method, which may be a bit long winded for some, but in a way it saved time, it gave me confidence, I didn’t really have time to make mistakes so having the safety net of printing out another page of water colour paper if necessary felt good.
The second style, the ‘ichi’ pages, were put together in a similar way, except I wanted them all to be much tighter and cleaner, which meant they would often take two or three days to draw, but colouring them digitally was much quicker than all the faffing about with water colour layers.
In this example you can see I wasn’t happy with the foreground foliage, it seemed too flat. It took a few goes to get closer to what I was after.
(a second scrolling sheet showing Glyn’s process through the scene from sketch to inks to colours, click for the larger version you can scroll through; art by and (c) Glyn Dillon)
Colouring digitally is so much easier by comparison, it’s what I’ve been doing on and off for the last fifteen years or so, so although I’m far from being an expert, I know my way round the tools that I do use.
With these pages I thought it would be good to set some restrictions colour-wise, and the thing that really kicked me off in that direction was seeing Jordie Bellaire’s colour palettes that she’d extract from film stills. Seeing them, after such a long time stuck writing and then drawing just in black and white, got my ‘colour brain’ going again.
I really love drawing with a pencil and paper, I’m pretty sure I’ll never go completely ‘digital’, with a Cintiq or whatever, but at the same time ‘digital’ has changed the way I make comics.
And I can definitely say I’m much happier for it.
I love Photoshop.