"Master & Apprentice #2" Coloring is complete! Here's a look at the process...
It’s been a long road juggling a few other projects and trying to stay focused on this, my own personal project, but finally…after THREE YEARS…Master & Apprentice has a second chapter. In many ways its good that I had the time I did to develop this next book. Stylistically my art has stayed the same, but I dare say the quality and craft of the line art, and the colouring, have dramatically improved. And hopefully sooner than later, Master & Apprentice #3 will be available.
For this book, I tried an approach with digital colouring that I’ve been getting more comfortable, and quicker with, over the last few years. There’s a lot to be said about good colouring in comic books. There’s also a lot of ways one can do it wrong, or just not as well. The methods I’ve come to embrace are a little of typical flat-and-render colouring found in most comics, but also using textures and gradients to help make backgrounds more interesting, dynamic, and colourful. I wouldn’t say that my techniques are all that great or up to industry standards, but much like all my artwork, it's a work in process and a process of self-discovery that all artists must make. Here’s some insights into how I (now) handle comic book colouring…
Stage 1: Flat Backgrounds.
When starting to digitally colour a page, I put all the line art in its own Group and lock those layers so I don’t accidentally start colouring on them (it happens to us all). I then set up 4-layers that go in a group BELOW the line art group, called “Colours”. These layers are called “BG”, “BG render”, “Flats”, and “Render”, respectively from bottom to top. Sometimes I’ll also have a “highlights” layer for light effects that may go above all the artwork, which can add a nice dynamic feel to the artwork, but I suggest using it sparingly, as it can make your line art seem over powered by light effects. Really, you can have as many layers as you want for colouring, but I use these four as a means of keeping things better organised and easily accessible.
Unless your panels have clean, white gutters, than you don’t want any white in any of your image, and if you do, you will still want to put it in as a background colour in the “BG” layer. Here, I usually select the whole panel and give it a single, solid colour, one that likely fits with the colour scheme, light, and mood of the panel being coloured. The reason for this is so you don’t have any white gaps between colours. This acts as the “foundation” layer for all your other colouring to “sit” on top of. At this point, I’ll also identify parts of the same panel that will have dramatically different lighting in the background, such as panel 6 of the above page. Here its mostly a dark, low saturation blue with the area closest to the fire being illuminated in an orange light. The reason you want solid colours for your “BG” layer is so you can select the whole area being coloured in with the magic wand tool, which allows you to render individual objects (which we’ll get too soon). After you’ve laid down some simple colours, your page should look something like the above page. When this is done, I also lock this layer.
Stage 2: Flats
At this stage, to avoid having to colour in EVERY single little object as a flat object, I identify things as foreground objects or background objects. Foreground objects will need more rendering than what gets done on the “BG Render” layer, so I treat these differently than background objects. Using the free-lasso tool, I select individual foreground objects and give those a flat colour on the “Flats” layer. The actual quality of the color isn’t so important at this moment, what is important is that each thing being given a flat colour has a different colour, or things that should be the same colour are given that same colour. This is for the same reason mentioned above with backgrounds, so that when it comes time to render and add shadows and light, you can select individual items, such as clothing, arms, rocks, plants, swords, etc, and render them individually.
Much like a colouring book, you want to stay inside the lines as best as you can, because, as mentioned above about being a foundation, where the solid flat colours are will represent the areas that you render. This is more important for the “Render” layer, which sits above the “Flats” layer, but you’ll notice that the objects in the background are left with very flat colouring. For me, this is because I like to actually “paint” in the rendering for backgrounds, and add textures and gradients. For me, this helps the artwork have a very interesting and dynamic feel to it, as well as save a lot of time by not being too literal with the colouring.
Stage 3: Background rendering.
I prefer to do the “flat” colouring before getting into the background rendering, the layer that sits between “BG” and “Flats”. This way I know what will be seen and what will be covered by a flat colour. Also, at this point, its good to get into the habit of LOCKING all other layers, such as the “BG” and “Flats” layers, which you wont actively be working on. Using the magic wand tool, I select from the “BG” layer the area I want to render, and then click on the “BG Render” layer, where I’ll do all my rendering. To render the background area, I select the pencil tool (or brush tool, but I prefer pencil) and choose an angled chisel tip with pressure sensitivity, and turn opacity pressure “on”.
Then I get to it! Much like drawing or painting, I add textures, gradients, or simply light and shadows to elements of the background. This can be a lot of back-and-forth, adding and subtracting, till the background starts to come together. Notice that for panel 1, there wasn’t any other artwork other than the black line art, but when I do the background rendering, I’ll sometimes draw or paint in elements into the panel. This is a little technique I’ve started to work with after studying the extraordinary work of comic book artist Fiona Staples, who has a similar approach to rendering her work (she, of course, is much better). I find that this approach can add uniqueness and an artistic flair to your artwork that simply flatting everything wont.
Stage 4: Final Rendering
Now, its time to do the same with what was previously flat-coloured, except now on the “Render” layer, which will sit on top of all the other colouring layers. Just like before, I lock all the other layers, use the magic wand to select a solid colour from the “Flats” layer, and then start rendering with gradients or with a brush, adding shadows and light on the “Render” layer above it.
When rendering, its best to keep it simple. You can always adjust the flat colour’s value or hue by selecting it and hitting command “U” for Mac (or CTRL “U” for PC) and adjusting the saturation, light, or hue in the menu. When rendering, I usually colour pic the flat colour and then drop it down a little in darkness, or add more light from the colour adjustment panel, and then put down a solid shadow or use opacity pressure sensitivity with my stylus. Also, pay attention to what the object being rendered is. Is it a rock or clothing? A cloud or body of water? The quality of the object will dictate what kind of textures or rendering are needed when colouring it.
That’s about it for my colouring process. Hope this helps you better understand a little more about doing digital art. Stay tuned for more updates on ongoing projects, coming soon in 2019.