There is a skill and technical level in using any tool for illustration and a lot of that is mastered in applying yourself to create with those tools. I often use a biro as a means to sketch out what I intend to paint onto a canvas but beyond that I’ve never considered using them to create a finished illustration. There are many illustrators who do however and one of them who quickly caught my eye is Jim Ink. I’ve followed Jim’s Instagram account for a while and have marvelled at his biro illustrations so I was very pleased that he agreed to do a guest post and chat to us about his process.
Over 10 years ago, I reached an impasse after studying painting for about 6 years and pretty much stopped doing that. I was starting to do almost all aspects of my professional work digitally, and picking up the ballpoint pen was an attempt to stay in touch with art on a hands on basis. I gravitated to the initial impulses and tools from when I was a kid. I had become quite adept at drawing things in the margins of my notebooks all through school. So I bought a classic composition notebook which I kept for about 10 years. Much of the work I did in keeping it is up on my Instagram page.
They’ve actually come a long way with the range of ballpoint pen colors, and I started to work with all the colors that were available. It turns out, the ball point is a versatile tool, capable of subtle graduations like a pencil, or bold lines like a dip pen. I prefer the bolder line, and create color blending by hatching one color over another. Optical blending occurs when you do this, as with the dots in pointillist painting.
There are downsides to the ballpoint as a tool: they are not archival sound, and will fade if subjected to continuous light. They spit, especially in the warm weather. You end up scraping out little blobs of ink with a razor blade. You have to continuously wipe the tip, but there’s always one or two that happen anyway! The big plus is they are perfect for sketching on the go, and 2 multi pens (Bic being the most easily available with regard to those) can have you walking around with a range of 8 available colors!
Many thanks Jim for sharing your work. You can go see lots more of his fabulous art over at his Instagram page and you can watch more of his movies on his YouTube Channel.
To celebrate my latest cover for Commando Comics being on the shelves here is a post looking at the creation of my second cover for the comic. This post was originally created for my Patreon supporters back in December 2018 and I have decided not to update the text so it reflects my feelings and thoughts at the time.
Four Commando Comics are published every fortnight by DC Thomson & Co Ltd and you can find out more information about them and a free digital trial at their website: https://www.commandocomics.com
You can also buy this issue of Commando ‘Ice-Cold Commando’ digitally over at Comixology.
There was a four month gap between being briefed my first Commando cover and the next. The gap seemed to widen when my first cover was printed and on the shelves without having received the next brief but thankfully back in September a new cover arrived. At that time it was titled ‘Winter Warriors’ and the brief was pretty straightforward with a few supplied visuals.
‘Daytime, Finland. Very snowy. Two German Ski soldiers fire at Len who is jumping over a crevasse. Len is a Commando so he’s in a Commando uniform and he’s scavenged the coat from a dead Russian Lieutenant. To make matters even more confusing, he’s scavenged a German MP 40.’
Having spent some time searching for various references, including your typical ski and ski poles used during WW2, I set about producing the rough that would let the Commando team see what I had in mind. I knew they wanted the character to be the main focus and that it needed to be a good action piece. Just as much for my own use as to show the editorial team I also worked up a colour version of the rough. This helps me make up my mind how I’m going to approach painting the work (and even in what medium) and also lets the the client get a good idea of what the final art will look like. Their only alteration at this point was to move the main figure more to the middle of the cover, an easy enough change and one I quickly changed on the colour rough and re-supplied for their approval.
As is my usual practice I then went onto pencilling a final version of the art but flipped onto tracing paper. As I’ve mentioned many times before flipping the art helps highlight any balancing issues. You can easily draw something like a face that when flipped looks odd and uneven, it is an easy way to spot your balancing mistakes and I recommend every artist should photograph or scan their work as they produce it and flip it to spot any potential mistakes before it’s too late. Also, as I pencil onto tracing paper it makes it much easier to then transfer the final pencils onto your art surface of choice.
Starting the painting I knew I wanted to tackle the overall background first and I also knew I’d be doing this in a mixture of watercolours and gouache. Many brilliant watercolorists can use the negative space left by masking the board to fantastic effect and if I was going to paint this purely in watercolours that is how I’d have approached doing the snow. However I wanted to use gouache for the snow and I started by painting in the mountain and trees in watercolour. The trees look like how I would paint them before the snow storm arrived and that is pretty much what happened.
I outlined a lot of the main character in watercolour in appropriate colour hues to how I was going to paint him. This acts almost as a barrier for the washes of paint I was about to add into the background. Don’t get me wrong it doesn’t stop paint from running over the lines but it does hinder them and with a bit of self control you can make life easier for yourself. All of the background hill and crevice were given a wash of watercolour and then gouache was added in afterwards. Several tones of grey/blue gouache were added as the snowfall on the trees and then a much lighter but not actual pure white was added mostly to the right hand side of the trees to indicate the strongest light source. The snow falling through the motion of the skiing character would be added near the end of painting.
I then painted in the main character and the two German Ski Troopers in watercolour making sure that their white coloured outfits were treated to a different greyish tone to separate them from the whites of the snow. Len’s stolen Russian winter coat was also treated to a brown/yellow hue to fit in with the mountains, the same golden glow right across the middle of the cover.
After finishing the painting the next stage was to scan it in and tidy up the file as it was. Again I knew from the beginning that I wanted to add a motion effect in Photoshop to give Len even more movement. Part of me regrets that some of the lovely snow covered trees became blurred but I think the effect added helps a lot with the action.
The final art was supplied to the client for approval which, I’m pleased to say, was with much enthusiasm. Here is the press release for the comic which should be on the shelves from the 27th of December and for the next two weeks after.
Commando 5187: Home of Heroes – Ice-Cold Commando
Graeme Neil Reid returns for his second ever Commando cover! Fronting Jaume Forns’ icy interiors to ‘Ice-Cold Commando’, Reid’s cover leaps into action with Commando Lieutenant Ron Lamont’s escape across the frozen Russian wasteland. Get your woollies on, troops, it’s time to go skiing!
Story: George Low | Art: Jaume Forns | Cover: Graeme Neil Reid
It’s quite exciting that the press release makes a big deal of the cover art and for myself I’m excited that the story is by an ex-Editor of the Commando Comics range. I haven’t read the story yet myself so I plan to walk into town and hopefully see it on the shelves and buy myself a copy. If you can get a copy yourself please do and let social media know all about it, it helps me get more work from the team if they know folks like it!