Always, always always, my preferred mode for illustration is pencil and paper, with inking. Of course in our ultra-modern age, that doesn’t always work; Illustrator has taught many to expect very clean, slick graphics that are more or less entirely vector-based.
There’s nothing wrong with the look per se; certainly I can work in that format myself.
I guess what I dislike about it is that it feels so damned sterile. Lines with precision-adjusted thickness, perfectly smooth solid-color and gradient fills, and curves created with mathematical precision do have a certain aesthetic value to them, but they also lose any sense of organic creation.
I’ve tried to deal with that by combining the process of drawing with converting the art to vectors in Illustrator. I begin with a pencil sketch — sometimes using blueline, other times not — that I then ink over. I scan the art into Photoshop, clean up the occasional bits of crud or damaged line, and pull the black-and-white line drawing into Illustrator. The art begins with this:
(I could maybe just run with that — but Photoshop’s fill tool is simply teh sukc when it comes to lots of shapes, particularly if they’re not closed, and especially at the edges. The fill always wants to anti-alias.)
So then I suck the art into Illustrator and use Live Trace to convert it to vectors. The out-of-the-box settings are workable but always yield generic results. I developed a couple of custom settings called Ink to Calligraphy and the imaginatively-named followup, Ink to Calligraphy 2, which yield different results depending on line thickness. Sometimes one produces good visual results; sometimes it’s the other.
Here’s the bitmap image vectorized in Live Trace using my Ink to Calligraphy setting. The settings themselves are in the succeeding screenshot.
This is how it looks with Ink to Calligraphy 2 applied:
…and here are the settings for that:
So once I’ve got my art looking inkish and more or less human-created, I add the colors. The fills I do with Live Paint, since it can do some gap detection (though I almost invariably have to add colorless curves to close some of the shapes). The shading and highlights I do with the pen tool in separate layers.
This would be pretty easy to do with markers on paper. But the problem I run into there is that it doesn’t scan very well. I almost always end up with underlying noise — paper texture or colors, and of course lots of smudging.
And if I want to have things like exposed non-repro blueline, or some pencil sketching, I get into serious problems because if the scan is sensitive enough to pick up those subtleties, it also gets all the smudges and streaks and variations in the paper colors — things I do not want in the artwork.
Some of us are just impossible, no?
Poking around on Apple’s software download site a couple weeks back I stumbled across something that looks promising. It’s called TabletDraw, and it’s a pencil and marker input method for graphic tablets, but designed for them from the get-go rather than retrofitted to them as an afterthought.
The software comes with a minimalistic suite of tool presets: A pencil, markers in one of three thicknesses, and three color choices. There are two variations on erasers as well. But what’s cool about these tools is that you can design your own, very quickly — and they can even inherit settings.
So I did a modification of the pencil, gave it a bit more thickness and pressure, and allowed it to inherit colors from other tools. Now I’ve got something that acts like a soft colored pencil, not a hard drafting pencil.
Also, the software integrates marvelously with my Wacom. It recognizes the sensitivity, understands the eraser (flip the stylus over, and you’ve got an eraser), is programmable, etc.
TabletDraw has the ability to have multiple layers, so I can add elements to the art without having to worry about hosing it; and it will even export to PSD. There are infinite undos, too.
But what I think is probably the single coolest thing about TabletDraw is its ability to rotate the canvas, nondestructively. This is precisely what everyone in the universe does when they draw on paper: Turn the sheet to draw lines or fills more easily.
TabletDraw not only permits this, but it doesn’t try to anti-alias the art, so the rotation actually has no effect at all on the image. (You can’t do that with Photoshop, as far as I know; rotating art will, over time, alter its pixels, particularly at any edges.)
I’m still bonking around with it but I’m already intrigued by the possibilities of being able to use naturalistic pencil-like tools without having to scan anything in and end up with all the artifacting that always results from scans.
So far, I have to say I like it, and I have a feeling it’s going to end up a tool I use pretty regularly.
EDIT: To be clear I’m not bashing Photoshop. It’s a superb bitmap editing and image modification tool. What it is not, however, is a primary image creation tool. That’s why it’s called Photoshop, not Box of Pencils, Brushes and Paper.
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