Some of My Favorite Colors.

Added on by Tyler Crook.

Recently I've been getting a lot of questions about how I keep my watercolors vibrant and saturated. Initially, I didn't have a very good answer but after thinking about it for a while I have a few ideas. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; it's just a few things to keep in mind.

1) Use WHITE paper.

That might sound obvious but a lot of watercolor paper is a little on the creamy side. That'll dull your colors a bit right off the bat. I use Strathmore 400 Series Mixed Media paper for almost everything. It's not super white but it's good enough to get nice saturation. 

3) Use high quality, professional paint.

For years I used Windsor & Newton Cotman colors and thought they were great but as soon as I tried a few pro quality brands I never used Cotman paint again. The Cotman colors were very affordable but tended to have less pigment and looked dull and desaturated compared to professional paints. The professional colors cost a lot more ($10 - $30 for a 14ml tube) but it's totally worth it. I mostly use Winsor & Newton Professional and M. Graham and Co. watercolor paint. But I am constantly trying new brands and pigments in search of the perfect mix.

3) Use clean water and be cautious and intentional with your color mixing.

It's real easy to desaturate your colors if you mix with a dirty brush. Especially when working with very strong pigments and little color contamination will go a long way to muddying your colors. 

4) Use Vibrant Colors!

The most obvious and most important tip. If you want vibrant colors, USE VIBRANT COLORS. I know that sounds dumb. I KNOW! I'M SORRY!! But it took me a long to time to figure that out. There are a few pigments that I adore and use whenever I want to get a real intense color. 

  • PRUSSIAN BLUE - This is a rich navy blue color. This pigment was developed in German in the 1700's as a replacement for lapis lazuli. I use it constantly. I probably use this color more than any other because it's usually the basis for my shadow colors.
  • SCARLET PYRROL - This is an intense warm red. It's an organic, synthetic pigment that was developed for the automotive industry. I use it a lot when I need an orange or when I need a red to look more intensely red. 
  • INDIAN YELLOW - This color is a strong, warm, yellow color. Originally This pigment was made in India by collecting and drying the urine of cows that were fed only Mango leaves and water. That's super bad for cows, I guess, so nowadays they make it by mixing a few different yellow pigments. I'll often use this to get an intense green by laying down an area of Indian Yellow, letting it dry and going over it with different levels of green and blue. The yellow shows through and adds intensity to the green.

5) Use a Computer.

Adjust your hue, saturation, and curves in PhotoShop so your colors are the vibrancy you are after. When it comes to making art for reproduction there is no such thing as cheating. Use all the digital tools at your disposal and make sure the printed product is as good as possible. 

Harrow County Process - Layout

Added on by Tyler Crook.

I thought it would be fun this week to start a deep dive into my process for Harrow County. I'm a firm believer in having a clearly defined process. I'm also a firm believer that the instant a process stops working it should be abandoned and a new process should be established. The important thing is that I never want to be in a situation where I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish and I always want to know what I'm going to be doing next.

With that in mind let's dig into the first step in my process: the rough layout.

It can take me anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours to do the rough layout for a page. I think this is the hardest part of the comics making process. It's the part of the process where I am interpreting the script, deciding on compositions, working out staging, figuring out the basics of the acting and making sure that everything is not only clear but fun to read. It's a lot like those plate jugglers who do somersaults while keeping a dozen plates spinning on the ends of sticks. 

It starts with reading the script that Cullen Bunn sends me. His scripts are wonderfully easy to read. Each scene pretty much always has a clear purpose within the overall story and is designed for clarity and emotional impact. Cullen is rad. He's a really good writer. So I go over the script until I have a clear understanding of what I need to accomplish on a page. Then I grab a pencil and start working out my panel layout.

One of the less glamorous things that has a huge affect on my layouts is the number of panels on a page. If there are 4 panels on a page (like the one shown above) there are actually a limited number of ways that you can layout the panels and have them still be readable. I may have missed some but I think this is all of them:

The relative sizes of the panel might change but there are not that many ways that the panels can fit together and still conform to the basic English rules of reading (left-to-right, top-to-bottom). So for this page I chose the layout highlighted above. The idea on this page is that Kammi and her butler are approaching an derelict barn and talking to a monster called the Abandoned.  So I built the flow of the page around the approach of the barn. In each panel we get closer and closer until we are peaking in through the crack in the door and see the eyes of the abandoned peeking back. As we get closer to the door, I wanted the panels to get smaller. In fact, I kind of wish I had made that last panel a bit smaller. My idea was that the reader would feel like they were tightening their focus a little bit more with each panel.

The other big consideration I have is the speaking order of the characters. With this page it's not really an issue because there is only one person speaking in each panel. But in most cases, I work to get the character's heads to line up so that the first person speaking is on the left and the last person speaking is on the right. I will often break the "180 rule" to achieve this because I think speaking order is more important than the 180 rule in every instance I have run into. This can get pretty tricky when the speaking order keeps changing and there are three or more characters speaking in each panel. 

Here's what the final page looked like. Maybe I could have picked a better page to illustrate all the thinking that goes into my layouts. But I picked this page because I liked how this one turned out and there's nothing worse than ruminating on a lousy page. There's probably a lot more that I could say about the way I do layouts. It's a deep and interesting part of the process. But I'm going to stop there.

Next week I'll dig into my penciling process. I've been getting a few questions about that on Instagram so hopefully folks will find it an interesting topic.

Thanks! Bye!


Weird Tools #4 - The Spikey Comber

Added on by Tyler Crook.

This week's weird tool is the Spikey Comber! This is a special effects brush that I got from Rosemary & Co. It's basically a flat synthetic hair brush that has small clumps of hair that reach out past the tip of the main body of bristles. The result is that it makes a rough, streaky mark.

It's great when you need a bunch of roughly parallel lines but don't want to spend all day making one line at a time. The only drawback is that it can be hard to control the beginning and end of the line. It's the kind of tool that's really helpful when you want to make a big mess. I've used these brushes with ink when I want to have a sort of impressionistic or out of focus looking background.

It's also a great way to build up interesting layers of grass or foliage with watercolor. It has come in handy many times while working on Harrow County. In the image below, I laid down a flat area of green and then went over it in darker colors with my spikey comber, building up layers of grass. 

These brushes cost between $5.50 and $12.50 depending on the size. It's not a tool that I use every day but it's a tool that I always enjoy when I do use it. 

Weird Tools #3 - Omni Grid Quilter's Square

Added on by Tyler Crook.

This thing is rad. I was in a fabric store a few years ago and came across a big display of quilter's squares. They are used to trim and square-up quilt blocks. Here's a nice video on how they are typically used. But I use mine to measure out panel borders when I'm penciling. 

Quilter's squares come in various sizes and ratios but the one I use is 12.5 inches x 12.5 inches. It has marks every 1/8 inch. It's made out of plexiglass about an 1/8 inch thick. It's kind of heavy for a ruler, very rigid and it's transparent. 

When I layout my panel borders with a regular ruler it's a process of measuring one side of the page, making a tic mark, then measuring the other side of the page making another tic mark and finally lining up my ruler between the two tic marks and drawing a line. With the quilters square it's just a matter of lining up the square and drawing a line. 

I don't use it for inking panel borders because it's a little too thick to comfortably run my paint pen against. And it doesn't have that little cork riser that prevents the ink from wicking under the ruler. 

So that's my quilter's square. I guess I only use it to pencil panel borders but it works great at that task.

Weird Tools #2 - 10-Point Divider

Added on by Tyler Crook.

I love my 10-Point divider. It's a silly, overpriced tool but I use it a lot. I first learned that these things existed from this interview with Paolo Rivera on YouTube. About a year after I saw that I blew $140 and bought mine in a fit of perspective grid rage. 

This tool will give you 11 evenly spaced points (but it's still called a 10 point divider for some reason) that can be set at any arbitrary distance between 1/8 inch to 3/4 inch.  It stretches kinda like a really good Wile E. Coyote trap.

When laying out perspective grids, it's often the case that the vanishing point is off the page. Sometimes it's WAY off the page. What I used to do was tape down my art board. Then I would stick a little piece of tape on my desk way off to one side where my vanishing point should be. Then I would rule out a grid with my longest ruler. It was irritating and it sucked and I hated it. 

A 10-point divider solves the problem by letting you just use the sides of the panel or the edge of the page to lay out a grid. It's quick and easy. You just mark points on one side, stretch or contract your 10-point divider and mark points on the other side. Then you can connect the dots.

It should be noted that you can do the same thing with a regular divider for about three bucks. But my 10 point divider is so cool that I don't even care. So I guess the point is don't buy one of these unless you want to play with something super overpriced and awesome.