Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday diary, part 6: in which we break everything and go home

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

This is the very final episode in our Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday. If this is the first page you’ve seen, you probably want to start at part 1, actually.

 

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Ha! I only wrote that page (above) out a few days ago, and several new things have happened in politics. It’s as if someone has pressed the fast forward button by mistake.

This map (below) was available free, all over the town, for tourists to pick up — and it was drawn by Hugh, our B&B proprietor. Taking a proper look at it, it’s clear that there is still plenty to do in Lyme Regis, so we will have to return.

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

We were sad to come home, but drawing it all has, as always, helped me relive the holiday. Hope you’ve enjoyed it too!

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary, part 5: Beatrix Potter’s windswept hair

Myfanwy Tristram sketch diary - Totnes and Lyme Regis

This is part 5 of our holiday in Totnes and Lyme Regis. If you haven’t seen prior episodes, you’ll want to begin from the beginning, so start here.

We’re nearly at the end of the holiday now: just one more installment after this.

As before, click on any image and then click again to see it at a larger scale.

Myfanwy Tristram sketch diary - Totnes and Lyme Regis

Myfanwy Tristram sketch diary - Totnes and Lyme Regis

Myfanwy Tristram sketch diary - Totnes and Lyme Regis

The final episode is here.

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary, part 4: cows, worms, moles & other animals

The image at the top of this post is a happy accident which happened on Photoshop, as I was trying to clean up the picture of the bookshop that appears in the third page below. I like it better than the actual painting, so here it is as a header.

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here and part 3 is here. If you’d like to see the pages at a larger scale, click on the image and then click again.

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Totnes and Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

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Totnes and Lyme Regis sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Totnes and Lyme Regis sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

 

Totnes & Lyme Regis holiday sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Episode 5 is here.

My complete Hourly Comic Day 2016

Hourly Comic Day 2016 by Myfanwy Tristram p4

Hourly Comic Day 2016 by Myfanwy Tristram p1

Hourly Comic Day 2016 by Myfanwy Tristram p2

Hourly Comic Day 2016 by Myfanwy Tristram p3

Hourly Comic Day 2016 by Myfanwy Tristram p4

So – was it more difficult completing Hourly Comic Day on a working day?

You bet it was. There’s not very much of visual interest to draw, and it means you have to do a full day’s work and then put in several hours drawing into the night.

I saw a few canny people shifted theirs to Sunday, and I’m beginning to see what a good idea that is. If you were really clever, you could even draw your frames on the Sunday and then schedule them to go out once an hour on Twitter the next day… or is that just too duplicitous?

I was really looking forward to Hourly Comic Day but actually… I’d forgotten that it can be quite stressful, what with aching shoulders as you hunch over your pages, the insecurity of seeing everyone else’s work pouring out (and of course it’s *all excellent*), and the hardest thing for me, which is trying to keep up a decent standard of drawing in real time. It’s a real test of just how well you can extemporise, and that, for me, is a real challenge.

But enough moaning. Ignore my insecurities. I hope you enjoyed these cartoons. :)

Can I be a mother and a successful artist? Hmm, let’s see

mother artist

This piece of graffiti is a fairly new addition to an underpass on one of my running routes. I enjoy graffiti and street art well enough, but my goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of it that spoke so directly to my own concerns. I’d like to meet whoever scrawled this and have a good long chat with her.

I’m not sure whether the big ‘NO’ underneath it is in answer, or whether it’s part of a previous piece of graffiti. Either way, it adds some hollow humour that I also enjoy.

Anyway, with all of that in mind, here’s my review of how I did on the ‘artist’ side for 2015 (the parenting side is always a work in progress, and another matter).

Comics

wild flowers by Myfanwy TristramLots of my work comes directly from motherhood and this year that was reflected in two cartoons: one about the school run, and one about my own mum.

In 2014, I drew Underdog, which relates a true experience of sewing with my daughter, and this year it was placed second in a prize, which is very gratifying.

I once again had a shot at the Cape/Comica/Observer graphic short story contest, but feel more and more resigned to the fact that I’ll never make a dent in that one.

I made a four-page comic about what happens when you take synchronised swimming to an extreme.

Feb 3rd brings the annual challenge of Hourly Comics Day. I’m looking forward to this year’s, although as it’s a working day, I’m a bit concerned as to how I’ll manage it…

Clothes

Clovember - illustration by Myfanwy TristramThe 30-pictures-in-30-days Clovember project was also a motherhood project: I drew everything my daughter wore (far more interesting than my own outfits).

This year I was lucky enough to work on a couple of projects with the Swedish fashion label Gudrun Sjoden, purveyors of beautiful, sustainable clothes. In March, I painted customers in their shop, and then of course in August I had an amazing two days pretending to be a model. This has to be the wildest and most incredible reward that drawing has brought me yet.

The sketch diary I made around that trip has had an amazing amount of comments, likes and shares: it’s wonderful to have had it enjoyed by so many. And that’s not the last of it: I’ll be working with Gudrun Sjoden again this year, and I’ll share more details when that happens.

Travel

Barcelona SagradaFamilia by Myfanwy TristramWe had family holidays in Frome and Barcelona, and I drew a sketch diary for each (16 pages and 26 pages respectively). The Stockholm diary added another 12 pages.

I also recorded a trip to Madrid for work (26 pages). I was particularly pleased to find a way to combine my very interesting day job, and my drawing.

I love having my sketch diaries, and I do enjoy the process of making them, but as my drawing ability improves, so do my ambitions, until I am in the silly situation of having to spend a couple of hours a day on them for weeks after our return.

This time could be used for other types of drawing, so this year I will have to think carefully about whether to continue.

As it happens, my favourite type of sketchbook appears to be really thin on the ground at the moment: I haven’t been able to find any in TK Maxx and Homesense, where I usually pick up two or three at a time.

I have two unused ones in a drawer at home and after that it’s entirely possible I won’t be able to find any more, which is a real shame as I’ve never seen any other sketch book that’s quite as well-suited to sketch diaries. Maybe it’s a sign that it really is time to give up.

Other stuff

petting party birthday invitation by Myfanwy TristramAs I only just posted, I drew my daughter’s stocking and all its contents (twice in one year, as it turned out, as I only completed 2014’s stocking on January 3rd 2015).

I also made my daughter’s party invitation – more happy combining of parenthood and drawing.

People and events

This blog was given an incredible boost by WordPress when they featured it in a round-up post at the beginning of the year, and then in a couple of subsequent features. That recognition has brought almost 5,000 subscribers to my blog. That’s great, and makes me think of ‘success’ and ‘exposure’ in entirely new ways.

But sometimes you also have to meet people in the real world, right? Even if parenthood has put you in the habit of staying in of an evening.

I went to a few excellent drawing-related events this year: an talk put on by the Lewes Children’s Book Group, and the inspiring Graphic Brighton conference.

Then there was the Brighton Illustration Fair which had a strong comics slant. This year, I’m going to try and be on the other side of a table.

Finally, I rediscovered Cartoon County, a group specifically for cartoonists, and right on my doorstep – I really should make more effort to go.

So, can you be a successful artist and a mother? To answer that question quite seriously, I’d say that yes, you can.

I’m not pretending that I’m a successful artist myself – that must depend on your definition of ‘successful’, but I’d bet that most people’s definitions would include making a living from it. I am an artist who’s becoming more content with her work, and enjoying a burgeoning readership though, so that must be a good thing.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the anonymous graffiti artist is probably in the early stages of motherhood (or maybe even pregnant, and thinking ahead?). If that’s so, then my answer would be to hang on in there. The first few years of motherhood do not allow for very much else, but that’s not a permanent state. And motherhood will inspire your art in new ways.

 

 

Illustration for a petting party invitation

petting party birthday invitation by Myfanwy Tristram

Sorry – you’re not actually invited, which is why I’ve deleted the time, date and venue details from this image (you’ll have to imagine how they are in the same lettering, to her right).

I just wanted to show you the most recent results of my favourite annual job: designing invitations for my daughter’s birthday party.

You can see some previous invitations here (the year she had a party at Lush) and here (ice skating).

Tabs did have the nice idea that we could display them all framed up on a wall at home, so that’s something I might try and get organised over the holidays. She also said that she’d definitely wear a t-shirt like the one I invented for this illustration. :)

petting party birthday invitation by Myfanwy Tristram

A week in Barcelona, final part: rainbows, closed doors and iconic pavements

Barcelona SagradaFamilia by Myfanwy Tristram

Here’s the final pages of my Barcelona sketch diary.
You can see part 1 here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

And part 4 is here.

As always, click and click again to see each page at a larger size. Now read on…

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

A week in Barcelona, part 4: giant heads, small press comics, and food colouring

This is part 4.

Part 1 is here

Part 2 is here

Part 3 is here

Click each image and then click them again to see them at a larger size.

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

That blue sketchbook ends up being the one I did my Clovember drawings in.

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Tomorrow: the final installment.

A week in Barcelona, part 3: flea market, Parc Guell and a gypsy’s arm

Click each page and then click again to see bigger.
This is part 3 – part one is here
and part two is here
Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram

Tomorrow: an incredible stationery shop and a nice bit of Miró.

A week in Barcelona, part 2: Gaudi, selfie sticks and a rainbow of shoes

Here’s the second installment of our holiday in Barcelona. Part one is here.

Click each image and then click again if you’d like to see them in more detail.

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram - page 5b

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram - page 6

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram - page 7

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram - page 8

In case you can’t see that very clearly, I learned that Peppa Pig is Peppa la Cerdita in Spain – Peppa Piggy.

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram - page 9

Tune in tomorrow for the flea market, Spanish sweets, Parc Guell, more friends and a hamster that stole Tabs’ heart.

A week in Barcelona, part 1: it smells of wee

In autumn half term we rented an Air BnB in Barcelona. It was a nice holiday – it gave us an extra little burst of summer weather when the UK was just starting to turn grey and damp.

As usual, I made a sketch diary of our activities; as usual, it took me several weeks after our return to complete it. But finally, here it is.

It’s twenty-something pages long, so, in order to spread the pain of scanning, I’m dividing it into five parts. Here’s the first, which just covers our arrival and a quick stroll around the neighbourhood.

Hope you enjoy it. As always, click and then click again on any image to see it larger.

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram page 1

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram page 2

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram page 3

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram page 4

Barcelona sketch diary by Myfanwy Tristram page 5

Tomorrow: a bit of Gaudi, a trilingual boy, and lots of shoes.

Clovember part 4: the final week of drawing my daughter’s clothes

Here are the drawings of my daughter’s clothes for the final nine days of November (you can see the other weeks here: part one, part two, part three).

Click any of the small pictures below to see them at full size.

And here are all 30 pictures, nicely arranged in a Flickr album:

I did also make an Instagram stop-motion video of myself flicking through the whole sketchbook, but I can’t figure out how to embed that without losing quality, so meh, you can see it here if you are that fussed. :)

What have we learned?

Being a parent, I can’t finish off a project without asking that question. And every art project definitely teaches you something (or reteaches you the same thing you thought you’d learned previously, which is useful too…).

Here are a few key things I learned from this month:

What my weak points are: I definitely need to practice hands more. And I know that I’m no expert at skin tones, from the way my heart sank every time I had to paint a face.

Watercolour techniques: Doesn’t matter how many books you read about ‘wet on wet’ or ‘wet on dry’ – there’s no substitute for actually using the darn things to remind you what you can do and what gives the best effects. In fact, I think those books tend to be rather intimidating: it’s odd when you suddenly realise that you’re using a recommended technique, without ever having thought of it as such.

The first attempt isn’t always perfect: I didn’t actually go horribly wrong and start any of these pictures again (although there are a couple I can see glaring faults in), but I definitely saw myself getting better as the month progressed.

I always seem to need to remember that when I start on a project, it takes time to get into the swing of it, and that it’s actually fine to give yourself the time to find the right style and techniques.

Nothing about lettering: Lettering was not the main point of this project, but it’s an area I’d like to get better at.

You can see that my lettering did not improve or progress through the month. I didn’t experiment with it and really it was just a functional step to get through before I could start painting.

Sketchbooks: I really liked the small Crok’book sketchbook I picked up on impulse on holiday in Barcelona, but to be honest I could have done with something about twice the size (it’s 17x11cm).

I am quite used to doing tiny little pictures with a very fine pen, but it’s a habit I should probably attempt to break out of.

That aside though, it’s a lovely size to flick through, and the paper (despite not having any particular texture) took the watercolour well.

Clothes: As before when I did this, it’s been an education about just how many clothes we have in the wardrobe — and also, their provenance. I was genuinely surprised to see the handful of brands that we favour, and even more so to see what a very large proportion are hand-me-downs, or sourced from charity shops and boot sales.

It’s nice to see my daughter’s personal sense of style writ large, and I’m glad I have this record for the future. Right now, the clothes she wears are as much to do with my taste as hers: it will be very interesting to see how that changes.

Next year, she will be going to secondary school, and will be wearing a uniform every weekday, so this may well be the last Clovember I do for quite a few years.

 

Drawing all my daughter’s clothes for #Clovember (week three)

A tricky week: I was away on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday – and as a result, found myself catching up by drawing and colouring  four of these images this morning.

The result is that I’m not very happy with a few of them, but never mind. Part of the #Clovember challenge, I think, like any of the ‘draw every day’ challenges, is that you get used to showing your work, whether it makes you cringe or fills you with quiet pride.

You can guess for yourself which is which in this batch. Click each image if you’d like to see them bigger.

Next week – find out what happens when you embark on a 31-day project using a 24-page sketchbook.

See week four

Drawing my daughter’s clothes for Clovember (week 2)

Here are the pictures of my daughter’s clothes this week (see last week’s here).

Next week is going to be more challenging, because I’m away tomorrow and then again for a couple of days, with work. My husband has been charged with taking the photos, and we’ll see when I have the time to do the actual drawings…

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

image by Myfanwy Nixon

See week three

Clovember 2015 – drawing my daughter’s clothes

Clovember is a project in which you photograph (or draw) the clothes you wear, each day in November.

A few years ago, I drew both myself and my daughter’s clothes.

But these days, I work from home, and I go for a run almost every weekday. Plus winter’s coming and it’s cold sitting in an unheated house all day.

Drawing endless pictures of myself in my running gear, topped with a rather ratty old fleece and woolly hat does not really appeal (albeit it’s the look I inflict on my poor colleagues during video calls).

So instead I’m concentrating purely on my daughter’s clothes this year. Here’s the first week. Click to see them bigger.

1st Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram 1st Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram

3rd Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram4th Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram

5th Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram6th Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram

7th Clovember by Myfanwy Tristram

See week 2

How I experienced the life of a model, with Gudrun Sjoden

I haven’t exactly been blessed with the looks of a model, so no-one was more surprised than me to receive an offer to be photographed for a fashion catalogue. In fact, my first reaction may have been a snort.

But it all makes sense when you find out that the invitation came from Gudrun Sjoden. They regularly photograph their clothes on models who are “non-industry standard” — older, more characterful or larger than most brands would touch with a bargepole. (Makes perfect sense to me: their clothes are made for all ages and spread across a massive range of sizes, so why not reflect customers’ own looks?)

In this case, the shoot was to feature ‘friends of Gudrun’: bloggers, artists, novelists and other creative types. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with some events in Gudrun’s London store, and that’s what put me on the early plane to Stockholm for two of the most pleasurable days I’ve had in a long time!

Drawing this sketch diary allowed me to relive the whole 36 hours, bringing back all the enjoyment again. Massive thanks to Gudrun Sjoden for such a fun trip, and wonderful memories. Oh and by the way, the friend D you see in these pictures is http://www.ivyarch.co.uk. Visit her blog to see the amazing clothes she makes!

Click on any of the images to see them larger.

Stockholm Diary p1 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p2 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p3 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p4 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p5 Myfanwy Tristram

Stockholm Diary p6 Myfanwy Tristram

Graphic Brighton: Drawing in the Margins

On Friday night and all of Saturday, I was at Graphic Brighton, a conference about graphic novels and comics creation.

The overarching theme of the conference was “Drawing in the Margins”, and it brought together practitioners who represent some form of minority or marginalised group.

Brighton living up to its name

“I’m going out to a discussion on gay manga” may be the kind of archetypical Brighton sentence that makes most of the country mock us mercilessly, but it was very interesting, and I say that as someone with very little knowledge of the form.

mangapanel2sfwNote: I think I got Inko and Chie mixed up in this picture – apologies

There was quite a bit of talk about Yaoi, comics about gay men, usually drawn by women and aimed at a female readership.

One apparent contradiction I found very interesting: it was said that these comics grew from the longstanding cultural repression of women in Japan, and represent women taking control of their own fantasies.

I asked whether women who drew these comics would be frowned upon, but I was assured that that’s not the case; on the contrary, they are celebrated. The comics are available everywhere, even in corner shops.

And yet, I was told, although ‘everyone reads them, no-one talks about it’. I think there’s something cultural there that I haven’t entirely understood.

Difficult lives make good comics

After the panel, there were five-minute talks by 14 different cartoonists. These also acted as a series of enticing previews of comics I’d like to read (I’ve pinned many of the comics mentioned throughout the event on Pinterest, if you’re interested in doing the same).

5mintalkssfw

Subjects here included working with people with learning difficulties (Brighton’s own Joe Decie); having a child with Down Syndrome (Henny Beaumont, of whom more later); being brought up by a single mum (Wallis Eates); working with the elderly as a doctor (Ian Williams), and motherhood and birthing (kudos to Kate Evans for pointing out that this is not really a minority pursuit, although one can certainly see the case for calling aspects of motherhood marginalised).

fivemintalks2sfw

There was only one downside to listening to people talk about all these fascinating, human-interest topics for their work, and that was being left feeling that my own life isn’t troubled enough to base a graphic novel on!

karrieFreesmansfw

Hustling

The next morning, I met up with my friend (and super-talented illustrator herself) Zara for the luxury of another full day of comics chat.

This began with Karrie Fransman in conversation with Tim Pilcher. Most relevant to the topic was Karrie’s cartoon about a refugee, Over Under Sideways Down, but I also really want to read her The House That Groaned and Death of the Artist now.

I did find Fransman’s approach to getting work interesting: it could basically be summed up the single word, “hustle”. She describes sending her cartoons (which she says, in retrospect, were just scrawls in biro) to every national newspaper in the country, then following up with an email a week later. This bagged her a strip in the Guardian.

She also tried pitching for comic versions of newspaper standbys such as book reviews and articles, but found that papers didn’t want to pay any more than they would a written-word journalist, so that was a non-goer in the end. Pilcher also pointed out that these days, we’re used to a much quicker turnaround on a news story than an artist can provide.

Cartoons by the elderly, about the elderly, and for everyone

Next up was a sessions about the representation of old age in comics, with Corinne Pearlman (a cartoonist herself, and also Creative Director at Myriad Editions), Julian Hanshaw (The Art of Pho, mentioned in a previous blog entry) and Muna Al Jawad, who works as a Consultant in Elderly Medicine (the new word for Geriatrics?) and uses comics to educate both colleagues and the wider world about associated issues.

Books I’d like to check out following Corinne’s talk include Paco Roca’s Wrinkles and Roz Chast’s best-seller Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

“Ageing is the new black”, said Corinne, and made the point that a generation of comics artists is entering old age, having become used to chronicling every other stage of life. Meanwhile, Hanshaw pointed out that the subject need not have a limited audience: we middle-aged readers are happy to read comics from younger makers, and there’s no reason that that shouldn’t go both ways.

The Yes! project

yes projectsfw

After lunch, Laura Malacart and Dan Locke talked about a project they’d collaborated on. As you can see from the image above, I found Malacart’s look (and especially her hair) really beguiling to draw, but I just could not quite get it down on paper!

Malacart was commissioned to make a film about a real-life case of a non-verbal person with autism who was found to be able to vocalise through singing.

After filming the footage, she decided that actually, film wasn’t the right format. That’s when she found Locke and they worked together, instead, on a graphic novel, which can be read online at the Yes! project website.

 Challenging the motherhood narrative

motherhood panelsfw

In the final presentation of the day, three women came together to talk about representing motherhood in comics.

Henny Beaumont will shortly have a book out which tells her story of having a child with Down Syndrome. From the excerpts she read and showed in this session and on Friday night, it looks very funny as well as beautifully-rendered.

Beaumont used the Brushes app on her iPad to draw much of the book. Previously, she has worked as a portrait artist, and this showed. There were times when she was standing in front of one of her pictures of herself on the screen, and the posture, face and expression were identical.

This book, like the one about autism, has an interesting side-purpose in that it will inform medical practitioners about how better to approach such scenarios.

Evans (who, I ought to mention, I know from way back when, when we both lived in a Brighton housing co-operative) and Cassavetti both had a similar point to make, really, and that is that motherhood/parenthood can be a massive shock, a time of extreme worry, and an opportunity for everyone to prescribe the One True Way of birthing a baby, keeping them safe, and getting them to sleep through the night.

Given the harsh realities of everything from morning sickness to poopy nappies, it does seem extraordinary, they pointed out, that mainstream publishers still insist on selling us the image of motherhood as a constant source of delight. I have to say, if I’d read Bump instead of Gina Ford, Jools Oliver et al, I might have side-stepped a lot of misery and self-flagellation about the fact that my daughter barely went to sleep for about three years after she was born.

The day ended with a wrapping-up session (plus the question of what topic people might like next year – ‘war’ being mooted), and then I made Kate and Zara come home with me to eat cake and meet the kitten. These being modern times, I knew that the pair of them had hit it off when they followed one another on Twitter.

I could easily have sat through another full day of talks, but it’s probably a good thing that the event ended where it did, as this blog post is already probably longer than anyone will read all the way through.

Finally: my Frome holiday sketch diary

summer dresses by Myfawy TristramWell, this has to be some kind of record: I’ve only just finished my holiday sketch diary, 22 days after returning home. I think we can safely say that it’s time for another holiday now!

I’ve been thinking about why it’s taken so long, and my best guess is that I broke my own guidelines for making sketch diaries: I hardly collected any labels/leaflets/tickets this time, and did a lot more painting. I cared too much about pictures looking right (not that this means they all ended up perfect – far from it!)

Never mind, it’s done now, so here it is, a week in Frome (Somerset, UK).

Continue reading “Finally: my Frome holiday sketch diary”

Why I’m not out to play much this month: nine steps to make a comic strip

coloured in comic by Myfanwy Tristram

 

As you know, because I’m always moaning about it, cartoons are a really labour intensive form of artwork.

Back when I first got into comics, I’d draw directly onto the page with pen. “The page” was often the back of an A4 letter, or a cheap pad.

Sometimes I hadn’t even figured out the end of the strip when I was drawing the beginning. But that’s ok, because it was the days of Riot Grrls and photocopied zines and so many people *weren’t* drawing comics that you were way ahead just because you were.

The end result was a strip in which there might be some pleasing parts, but where there would always, always be at least one frame that made me cringe. The only thing this ‘method’ (if you can call it that) has to recommend it is that it’s quick – but as we all know, a little preparation goes a long way.

Time passed and I got a little more ‘fancy’ (ha). I started drawing my strips out in pencil first, then drawing with pen over the top and erasing the pencil lines.

This obviously has the advantage that you can rub out and redraw if your first pictures don’t look quite right, all before you start inking. You can also start thinking about layout and composition across the whole page, while you still have time to incorporate any great ideas that may crop up.

But there are disadvantages to this method, too: smudged ink, or pencil lines that just won’t erase, no matter how hard you try. I started drawing this way long before computers and Photoshop came into my life, so it’s not as if I could tidy things up digitally, either.

It’s really only relatively recently that I have refined my comic-drawing process. In part, I have to thank generous artists like Sarah McIntyre and Dan Berry, who talk a lot about their own processes (and in the case of Dan, produce a podcast talking to many other cartoon artists about their processes). It’s all gradually sunk in.

I’m working on a piece at the moment which, by the end, will have gone through, let me see… nine different stages, I think. Let’s count them out.

1. The initial idea

Inspired by a vintage photo I saw, I decided I wanted to do something around the idea of synchronised swimming.

So that I wouldn’t forget it, I noted the idea down on my phone.

2. The script

I knew I wanted this cartoon to be four pages long. I knew I could make the story fit nicely into that length. But how do you get from a subject and the desired length to an an actual script?

In between steps 1 and 2, there’s a period of time which consists of forcing myself really hard to think about the topic until a story pops to the surface. I think the last two lines of that note on the phone came later, during this process.

Writing the script down is a way of consolidating the story and making sure it can be spread across the length of cartoon that I want to make.

3. Character studies

Character studies by Myfanwy TristramI’m a bit impatient about this stage; once I have an idea, I often want to dive right in.

But drawing your characters (in many different ways, often, and then you pick the look you prefer) is a really useful step.

It means that their faces or hairstyles won’t change as the cartoon progresses, because I’ve already made all the decisions and I’ll have my  studies to refer to from the very off.

4. Thumbnails 1

Scratch thumbnails by Myfanwy TristramI think that this is one stage more than most cartoonists would do, and it does annoy me, but it turns out this is the way I have to work, and so be it.

First, I take a biro and a really scrappy bit of paper. This is a psychological way of telling myself that it’s fine to make mistakes, which I seem to need.

I already have the script I wrote, and that has pretty well divided the story into pages and frames within each page. What this first set of thumbnails does is help me make sure that those divisions are right.

This would also be the time to figure out any fancy layouts: not that there are any in this particular piece of work, but, say there was going to be a big plane flying across the page, or a large boot stomping down, now is the time I can work through all the difficulties I’ve given myself with that decision.

5: Thumbnails 2

Better thumbnails by Myfanwy TristramMy second set of thumbnails is larger, and transposes these decisions (which often contain lots of scribbling and notes) into a more coherent page. I use a big felt tip or a brush pen, again just to try and concentrate on basics rather than fine drawing.

At this stage I’m also trying to ensure that any words will fit into the speech bubbles and frames I’ve allocated them.

And, once that’s finished, I hunt down my husband and (if age-appropriate) my daughter and I read it through to them. If it makes sense to them, great. If they have questions, I know there’s still work to do.

6: Pencils

Margins by Myfanwy TristramNow is the point where I have to measure pages, frames and margins and make sure the finished work is going to be the right size for whatever printed medium it will end up on (I might work 1.5 size or even double size, in which case there’s even more maths involved).

Drawing comics continues to be a learning process for me, and this time around I added two new practices that I hope will pay off.

First: after drawing the first page’s outer margins, I stuck it on the lightbox and traced the other three pages, so I know they will be exactly the same size.

For some reason, no matter how carefully I measure, I *always* seem to end up with differing size pages (I blame the ruler, which is obviously changing length while I’m not looking at it), so hopefully this will see the end of that for good.

Second: Long-time readers will know that I’m forever moaning about trying to scan, and then fit together, pages that are larger than my A4 scanner.

This time, thinking ahead, I made sure that every page has a good clear break somewhere within the zone where A4 pages (ie, the size of my scanner) overlap. Hopefully, this will mean that I can scan the page in two goes, crop to this clear line, and fit them together without my usual issues of trying to precisely fit the page together in the middle of a figure or a piece of text.

pencils by Myfanwy Tristram Once the margins are drawn, I start drawing the cartoon in pencil, in its entirety. I do this on a page of not-so-good sketch paper: it won’t be seen, so there’s no point in wasting the expensive stuff.

Notice that this was the *very first* thing I did in the olden days. So everything that has come before represents just how much longer the process is now. It’s worth it though. My cartoons still aren’t as good as I’d like them to be, but they look a whole lot more professional.

I’m not the sort of artist who can always summon up figures and poses off the top of my head, so there’s a lot of rubbing out involved, and sometimes I have to google for images as a reference.

Sometimes there’s so much rubbing out involved that I have to start a frame again on a new piece of paper – the beauty of this method is that I can.

7: Line

cartoon before colouring by Myfanwy TristramThe cartoon I’m working on is line drawings with ink colouring.

First I put down the pen lines. I put the pencilled page on the lightbox, put a sheet of better-quality paper on top, and trace the drawings and frames with pen.

8: Inks

coloured in comic by Myfanwy TristramAnd then I add the colour.

9: Scan

Does this count as a step? I guess so: the cartoon takes on a different format, a digital one. And there’s often more work involved, too: I clean it up digitally, before sharing it online or in print.

And then, finally, it’s done.

The takeaway

No wonder it all takes such a long time! You might frown at all this and call it the death of spontaneity.

I wouldn’t go back to my old ways though… well, unless I suddenly became an amazing artist who could conjure up perfect pictures first time, every time. Or, y’know, on Hourly Comics Day.

This method breaks the process into such small steps that none of them feels too daunting. It also allows for the possibility of something going wrong at every single step.

Measured up your pages wrong? You’ll notice before you start inking, not, disastrously, once you’ve finished. Spill ink all over your page? No worries, you still have your pencilled sheets. And so on.

Multi-step processes like this can look really off-putting, I know. I still blanch at bookbinding or screenprinting, terribly afraid that I’m going to miss out a crucial step, and lose all my work.

For me, cartooning feels different, because I learned and tried out every step along the way. Also, there’s no expensive equipment involved (the most expensive part is the lightbox, but you can easily use a window on a sunny day, or a glass table with a light under it), and no-one to tut at you if you don’t follow a prescribed method.

My method’s changed a lot over the years, as I’ve described, and I expect it’ll continue to do so. How do you draw comics? Give me your tips and who knows, maybe they’ll also become part of my process.