Inevitably, in every group that I speak to, there’s at least one person who asks the question “Are there any secret insider tips or tricks that you can share with us?” Every once in a while I’ll get a brave soul who asks “Are there any ways to cheat or get the computer to do the work for you?”
Let me answer that by saying both “yes” and “no.” First of all, there is no replacement for doing the work of building up the skill and technique by actually creating the artwork. There is no replacement for experience and skill. A computer is a tool, not an intelligence. At least at this point. There is no software that is going to create original artwork or do the work for you. There are a number of time-saving advantages from using software and computers or mobile tablets that help make the process efficient and faster. When it comes down to it, you have to do the work and if you have the passion for the art form, you shouldn’t need to be convinced to do the work. If you have to be poked and prodded to convince you to put the effort in, then you probably need to go back and read the previous chapter in this book on following your passion.
That being said, there are a few handy apps and pieces of software that can help you reduce the time it takes to produce your amazing artwork.
Handy: Literally called Handy. This is a neat little app that you can get on your phone or iPad that I was first informed about by Jonathan Standing, an amazing concept artist and a colleague in education at Max the Mutt College of Animation, Art & Design in Toronto, Canada. You can, for a few dollars, get an interactive three-dimensional highly detailed model for…are you ready? Hands! One of the most difficult things that artists struggle with is drawing properly proportioned hands. Hands that look realistic and are shaped well. In Handy you can pick male or female CGI templates of hands in various positions and arrangements. The app will let you rotate the hand in any direction or angle you want and you can even move the light source. It’s a great reference for seeing what hands look like and drawing them. I wish this thing had feet too. It doesn’t. What it does have though are male and female heads as well as a human skull; all of which can be turned or rotated on any angle and have adjustable light sources, just like the hands do. It’s a great drawing reference resource. You can find Handy in your device’s App Store.
Sketchup: A great resource software with both free and paid options. Geared towards draftsmen who need to make floor plans and blueprints, Sketchup is a great resource for all artists and designers. Why? Pre-made objects. Whether you use them as drawing reference or paste them into the background scenes of your work, Sketchup has a vast library of complex objects, pre-made and ready to use from houses, office buildings, cars, spiral staircases and more. They can all be found in the image library. All of the objects are in crisp black and white, so they look like an inked drawing. If your conscience gets the best of you and you feel like this is too easy, you can always use the Sketchup object as a base layer and add digital ink enhancements yourself on a layer on top of it. You could also get really good at working in the Sketchup environment yourself and start using the software to create your own original and complex shapes. Visit Sketchup.com for more details.
Adobe Shape: Adobe Shape is one of those amazing time-saving breakthrough apps. It’s another app developed by Adobe, like the ones mentioned earlier in this book, but I saved it for this section. The reason I’m singling out Adobe Shape on its own is because it can save you a ton of time during your art creation process. Shape is a free app that you can get on almost any mobile device. Here’s why it’s so useful: it cuts down the time it takes to digitally ink your artwork. How? Well Adobe Shape will let you take a photo of anything in your environment. It has a slider to change sensitivity, which changes the level of detail the images have and how many edges are detected in a picture. When you’ve got the image just right, you can choose elements to remove or include them very easily. Then simply by touching a button on your screen it will take that photographic image and convert it to look like a pen and ink drawing. Now you could take the easy way out and just take photos of everything in your environment in the hopes that photographic reference exists for every single thing or person you want to draw, but I think that would probably drive you insane. Where I find this app really handy is starting the inks for my traditionally pencilled pages. This app works perfectly with my hybrid system because I often pencil traditionally and ink digitally. So what you do in order to cut down your inking time with Adobe Shape is instead of taking a photo of a background or room or person, take a photo of your finished pencil page. The app will convert it to look like a black-and-white, pen-and-ink drawing. Now you could stop there if you want, but that’s really lazy and I do not encourage laziness. So how can we get the best out of our work and still use the time saving features of Adobe Shape? Well, what I generally do is take a picture of my pencils with Adobe Shape, convert it to a black-and-white ink-style drawing. Now here’s the thing—it’s an app. I mentioned earlier that software and computers are a tool. They will not do the creative work. They will not figure it out for you and they will not create the kind of enhancement that only a real living person can add. Keep in mind that no piece of software is ever perfect or glitch free and so I find that the pen and ink style illustrations created by Adobe Shape are never perfect. It’s very hard to hit that exact spot where all of the edges and all the lines you want are either included or removed as desired. So for me, Adobe Shape is only a starting point and it’s never exactly perfect. It saves me time, but my work isn’t done there. I take that Adobe Shape image drawing and import it into whatever software I’m using, which is really easy if you’re using Adobe software since you can open the files in almost any other app or program. So I take that pen and ink drawing from Adobe Shape and I place it on a layer in my illustration software. I also include a photo of my original pencils as the bottom layer so I’ve got a pencil, my Adobe Shape ink layer and then a layer on top where I make additional digital inking enhancements, corrections, changes and embellishments. This means that my digital inking time is cut in half because the groundwork has been done by Adobe Shape for me. The reason I do this is simple: it just looks better. Visit Adobe.com or the App Store.
PhotoSketch: PhotoSketch is one of those really tricky, sort of handy apps that can help cut down your production time. Just don’t fall into the trap of being tempted to use it to do your creative work and not use your own skills to add the finishing touches yourself. So what is PhotoSketch and what does it do? Simple. It’s a mobile app you can install on your phone or on your iPad. What it does is take photos of the real world or environment and apply filters that make them look like pencil sketches, manga panels, paintings, colored pencil drawings, and other forms of art. So let’s say you got a friend and they agreed to be the model for a character in your upcoming book. Great. Instead of having them sit in the room and stand and hold a pose while you draw every individual panel, you can have them come over for an hour and either stand in the background setting of your story or, if you’re really lucky, stand in front of a blank wall or green screen and take a whole bunch of pictures, imagining all the different poses and scenes that you want to include in your book. You can then open those photos in PhotoSketch and convert them to look like pencil drawings. This is also touchy and not perfect like many apps. Because of that, there are several different adjustment sliders that will change the quality and detail in the pencil sketch. What I will do with this sometimes, if I’m lucky enough to have a model willing to take a series of photos with me, is convert some of these photos to pencil sketches and then do my digital inks on a layer on top and work just as if I was inking on top of traditional or digital pencils. Again, you can’t just replace all the creative steps with an app, but this is one way to help if you have a lack of penciling skills and your strengths lie in writing, coloring or inking. You can cut down on the time it takes to do the pencils or the money it would cost to hire someone else to do them. Another fun little experiment that I’ve tried with this app is taking a photo and converting it to a watercolor or oil painting look, then converting the same original photo to look like a pen and ink drawing, then laying those two versions of the photo over top each other to look like an inked watercolor image. It’s a fun experiment, but so far I haven’t found anything that turns out perfectly enough to use in any of my published work. As I’ve said before though, you never know what the future holds, right?
Also, be aware that PhotoSketch is a really generic name and there are several apps out there from different developers using the same name. The best way to identify the one I’m referring to now is to know that it is one word and there’s a capital “P” on photo and capital “S” on sketch. Also the app icon is a photo of a little Asian boy that’s been converted to a sketch. It seems really weird having those words come out of my mouth as a description to an iPad app, but that’s what it is. I don’t know why, but that’s how you can identify the app.
None of these methods are meant to completely replace your creative process, but they will help you save time and make the creative process for your graphic novel go faster. That means that it saves time which saves you money, so you can use the time you save for other things that are more profitable and you can complete the work yourself faster and cheaper rather than hiring someone else to do it for you.
Floor plans: There are also a number of free and cheap floor plan designer apps that are worth a look at. Simply search floor plan apps. Many of them now have a feature where you can view the room on the floor plan in a three-dimensional model, allowing you to walk through the room. Some of them even let you change things like wallpaper or flooring. This can be a handy tool when you want to create detailed backgrounds and environments. You can use them as 3D model images or you can use them as a reference for drawing your backgrounds. Search the App Store on your device for more details and developer info.