Analog Vs. Digital

“Do you create by hand or do you use the computer…?”

This is the question that everyone asks the first time they see my work. 

This is my answer to that question… “Yes.” 

Whether I use a pencil, pen & ink and paper, or the computer, everything is manipulated with my two hands. The computer is just a medium, a conduit through which I work my craft and realize my vision.

This is how I create my art… 


1. Rough Pencils

Here is Legacy from the Celtic Clan created by my good friends Nigel Flood & Frank J. Right. She will be my model for this discussion.

Legacy Rough Pencils

It all begins with drawing on paper. I use a mechanical pencil filled with non-photo blue lead and comic book grade Bristol board to create my initial drawing. I start with a quick gesture and build up the drawing using simple shapes. I don’t begin to think about clothing, hair, or even facial features until the mannequin’s anatomy feels correct. 

All great drawing is built on the fundamental understanding of anatomy, proportion and perspective. Without the foundation, the drawing will fail. No amount of rendering can correct fundamentally bad drawing.

2. Tight Pencils

Once the rough pencils are complete. I double-check the drawing to make sure that my anatomy and construction are on point. If I’m comfortable with the structure, I then move onto the final pencil rendering.

Legacy Tight Pencils

I use a .05 mechanical pencil filled with HB lead. I’ve been drawing with mechanical pencils since I was 9 years old. It’s simply the tool I’m most comfortable using.

In the tight pencils phase, I concentrate on my line quality, shadow placement and rendering of form. I tend to be a very tight penciller, even when I’m inking my own work, I like work out these aspects of the piece before I put ink to paper… It’s easier to erase pencil lines than bad ink strokes.

3. Inks

I am always trying to perfect my inking technique. I spent years trying to find the right tools that best fit my sensibilities.

I discovered that I work best with a combination of Micron ink pens (.03,
.05, .08), Faber-Casell Pitt Brush pens and a fat black Sharpie marker for filling large black areas.

Legacy Final Inks

I’m influenced by the work of Terry Austin, Paul Neary and Joe Rubenstein when it comes to ink work. I learned more about inking when I saw Mr. Rubenstein’s inks over my pencils to the cover of The Horsemen: Book of Olorun #2 than from all the books I collected about the subject.


1. Flat Color

I scan the work using the “Black and White” mode of my scanner at 600dpi.
This ensures the quality of the illustration for print.

Legacy Flat Colors

Opening the image in Photoshop, I then switch the mode to “Grayscale” and reduce the file size to 300dpi (print quality) and switch the mode again to RGB. I make a duplicate layer of the linework and label the bottom layer “Flat Color” and re-name the top layer “Line art.” I switch the blending mode of the “Line Art” layer to “Multiply” and lock the “Line Art” layer. Going to the “Flat Color” layer, I begin coloring.

In this stage, you will primarily use the paint bucket tool to fill in the color. Any open areas in your drawing should first be filled using the lasso and paintbrush tools in Photoshop.

2. Shadows

In between my “Line Art” layer and “Flat Color” layer are three layers: “Shadows (above Flat Color),” “Darken (above “Shadows”),” and “Lights (above “Darken”).”

Legacy Flat Colors w/ Shadows

This allows me to work in a very logical manner, making changes only in the areas that matter in the evolution of the piece.

I’ve always told my students that Photoshop is just another medium and that they should learn how to manipulate color through “analog” means (i.e. watercolor, oils, gouache, markers, colored pencils, etc.) before painting in Photoshop.

3. “Darken”

After I’ve painted my shadows in this piece, I go to work on the “Darken” layer.

The “Darken” layer is set at 50% opacity and I basically use the color closest to black in the “Flat Color” layer. It’s akin to turning a stark, black and white ink drawing into a gray wash illustration and gives an extra sense of depth to the shadows in the painting.

Legacy w/ Shadows & Darken Layer

As you can see in the piece, these elements are already giving the lovely Legacy more depth and a real sense of three-dimensional form.

4. Lights

With the lights, of course we go to the lighter colors in the spectrum. The “Flat Color” layer has given me all the information I need for rendering and my black and white line work provided the light source I needed.

If I had worked contrary in painting to the foundation established in the line work, the painting would fall apart.

Legacy almost completely finished…

There is no “make pretty” command key on the computer. The computer is not the key to great art. It is not creative. You must master classic art techniques in order to be a good artist.

5. Glow

Here’s a little bonus info. Above the “Line Art” layer is a layer called “Glow.” It’s the reason why my artwork’s got that “bling.” It’s a layer filled with black and the blending tool option is set at “Screen.”

“Glow” Layer in its “Normal” state…

I leave certain spots uncolored as I know they will receive the “Glow” treatment. Using the “magic wand,” in the Photoshop tool box, I select the areas that will “glow.” With those areas selected, I click on the glow layer and pick a color.

Legacy in all of her glory!

Next, I go to “Select” in the menu and click expand, expanding the pixels by an arbitrary number (usually 4-6 pixels). Then, I go to “Select” again, choose “Feather,” and feather my selection by the same number of pixels that it was expanded. Finally, I just fill the selected area with my chosen color and voila! Onto the next character!

The Celtic Clan is © 2012 Nigel Flood & Frank J. Right.

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