Tools – Photoshop and Illustrator

post by Michael Lagocki

A quick word about artistic process and tools. I’ve become a huge fan of Adobe’s programs Illustrator and Photoshop over the years. The combination of these two is incredibly powerful and allows for an artist to maximize their time by offering a mind boggling array of tools for skteching, drawing and coloring.

I’m gonna use this sketch I stole from Khalid Robertson (who also worked on our new entry page: see the post before this one).

The sketch was done with a pencil and it was the only part of this process that was done physically. Every thing after this was done inside a computer.

The next step happens in Illustrator. Illustrator is a vector tool, meaning it’s based on measuring lines, not on pixels. Open in a vector program, Illustrator images will never pixelate or lose quality no matter how large you blow them up. This is why it’s perfect for things like logos or getting a clean crisp line for a cartoon.

Using a Wacom tablet, I placed Khalid’s sketch on one layer and “inked” the drawing on the second. The tablet and pen allow me to get a line quality similar to a brush. If you look closely at the image to the left, you’ll see the lines have all kinds of line variance. Line variance means the lines go from thin to thick and vice versa, they change their thickness when they’re rounding off corners or coming to a point. Without this, the drawing will look too flat and not be dynamic enough. Illustrator leaves me with an absolutely clean drawing.

note- I honestly still think a sable brush is the best inking tool in the world. But when you take out the time of scanning it, and using messy tools that don’t transport easy, and cleaning up the image after… it’s hard not to go with a digital method on most of my projects these days.

Now that the image is inked, it’s time to take it into photoshop.

Photoshop is not a vector program, it’s pixel based. What it does so wonderfully though is soft coloring effects, gradiants, washes, tonality. I could color in Illustrator too (just as I could ink in Photoshop), but each tool is stronger in one aspect and I use them accordingly.

Selecting various areas, I begin to lay colors in, saving each selection so I can use it later. For example, once I have the entire area of his skin colored with one flat color, I might save it as a selection called “skintone”. That way I can call it up at any time I just want to work with the skin without affecting the rest of the drawing. This will become hugely important below.

I often color the lines themselves too. Especially when cartooning, this can give parts of the image a real lightness, what the whipper snappers might call today an “anime” flavor.

Coloring is usually pretty fun for me, although it can be time consuming. Professional colorists in the comic book world often hire assistants to “flat” their images for them (flat= to lay in flat colors and save all the various selections). That way they just come in later and adjust the colors and add effects.

Speaking of adding effects I needed to do something with the wand and that weird energy pack this guys was holding. I did this in the middle of the night and hadn’t talked to Khalid about any of it, so I made up my own solution. Taking the drawing back into Illustrator I created the weird energy beam that connects his wand to the backpack.

Finally I brought that energy beam back into Photoshop, placing it on a separate layer above the colored image. Putting it own it’s own layer allowed me to handle it separately from the rest of the drawing (meaning I could add that noisy gradient energy over it easily. On this particular image that’s really the only layer work I do. On a more complex image (like a full comic page), I may have dozens of layers before the image is complete.

And we’re done….

…ooops wait a minute.

So the next morning I look at it again, and I’m less sure about my color choices. That garish yellow I put in the background was a last minute decision and I liked it a lot better at midnight than I did the next morning at 10am. Fortunately, if you’ll remember, I saved all those old selections (like “skintone”) in my Photoshop file. A re-color is only a few shifts in color tone away. Using Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation tool I alter the colors one by one. This is EASY and in a  matter of minutes I have a complete recolor of the image.

Ha! And there you have it. Full inking and coloring in a digital method, complete with easy fixes when you change your mind.

If you’d like to see more posts on our blog that talk about artistic processes like this, let us know and we’ll conjure a few more local artists up to do them.

Keep Drawing!

6 Responses to “Tools – Photoshop and Illustrator”

  1. philosophersphone Says:

    Peace Artist/Lover/Magician,

    Great post. Totally understand the last-minute change. Adobe has been a welcome addition to my toolbox. Preshate the lesson.


  2. Dope. I like the change to more muted pallet. I like the original one too, but i like “garish” LOL

    great stuff!

  3. awesome!!! I need all the help I can get with photoshop/illustrator

  4. This is just too cool. – Deb

  5. I love Illustrator and Photoshop, especially when combined with the awesome pen power of the Wacom tablet. I have been using these programs for over 13 years now and wouldn’t give them up for anything.
    You did an awesome job Mike in your explanations!

  6. Thanks, all. I’ve been using a PS and AI and a wacom for awhile as well, but it’s only recently that I’m actually using it to DRAW and not just color. It’s still a bit sketchy for me, but I’m putting more and more into learning it.

    Maybe ArtLoveMagic needs to put together a Photoshop/Illustrator workshop someday.

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