This post has been brewing for a while, a decision I grudgingly knew I’d have to make at some point as the problems became increasingly difficult to ignore. Having just redrafted my statement of intent for the MA’s final module, now seems as good a time as any to set things straight and confirm a significant change in my approach.
Branch is suffering from an identity crisis. Not in the sense I don’t know what to say with the story or that the characters aren’t clearly defined, no it’s in the style where the problem lies.
Starting out with the firm intention of keeping it hand drawn, I took my time penciling and inking the imagery with only colour being done digitally for the sake of feasibility. This method was not without its drawbacks; countless attempts have concluded with slam dunks in the nearest bin while the knife-edge “tremble and you’re screwed” nature of indelible ink often reduced me to a meticulous crawl, still there’s a lot I love about traditional art.
The imperfections often give it a warmth which is lacking from clearcut Photoshop lines, while certain techniques such as crosshatching just don’t seem to translate across the computer screen divide. Irrational as it may sound, perhaps my biggest hesitation to embracing an all digital approach was the feeling of bringing a machine between me and what I’m trying to express, introducing a technique which strips away a significant portion of the humanity the work projects.
At least, that’s how I felt at first.
As I planned out the 12th page and began to introduce my promised noir stylings the first real signs of dissonance appeared. I quickly realised that the hatching I’d been using so extensively up to that point detracted from clearcut heavy black shadowing and highlights I was starting to use, creating something closer to an indecipherable mess than a satisfying image. The two techniques simply cannot occupy the same page without looking odd. I initially assumed this could be dealt with by separating the two looks according to the lighting of scenes and dramatic intensity, but the root of the problem is inescapable. The styles are in a tug of war and until I give myself over to one whole heartedly the end results will always be conflicted.
Also weighing in on this matter is my increasing lean towards digital inking over the last few pages; it started out as an experiment with a single panel on page 13 before being applied to whole pages in the last few. In spite of my initial impressions the process works remarkably well with light and shadow imagery, making it more a process of cutting out highlights than awkwardly planning out shadow on paper (I only have so much ink to waste after all).
More than anything though it makes production fundamentally easier and quicker all round. Being accident prone with both life and drawing, inking over my pencil plans in Corel lets me make mistakes without having to start again, attempt a messy correction or be forced to settle for something I’m seriously unhappy with. I can work at something that’s easy to erase or modify parts of until I have a satisfactory result. Furthermore, applying colour to lines which are already clean and digital feels like a far smoother transition than scanning linework from paper and performing awkward cut and paste actions.
I can’t deny that some things will be lost in this transition, though there are pros and cons to either method; the big difference with using digital linework and a more economical style being that I expect increased productivity and a higher page count by the conclusion of the MA. Hand drawings will continue to play a significant role in my pencil plans and help preserve my general style (as seen above) but thus far everything suggests this new approach will mean far nicer looking pages appearing sooner.
I might also add that it seems bizarrely appropriate that I’m letting machines take a progressively larger role in my production process when the graphic is all about human-machine symbiosis. It’s a bittersweet farewell but I guess this is goodbye to excessive crosshatching and hello to Corel.
I’m sure I’ll pick up my pen again here and there, but I think the machine has won this round…