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Drawing on Comics: Developing My Visual Communication Skills

Contributor Chris Jones stops back in to give us more insight into his journey into graphic storytelling as well as how it has positively effected his drawing and storytelling skills.

We’ll showcase part one today and the second half of his discussion next Friday! Enjoy!

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Early Influence

I grew up reading comics. Every Saturday my buddies and I would ride our bikes to the local comic shop and pick up the new issues. It was a ritual. I remember the small sweaty store loaded with wonderful artwork— posters, figurines, graphic novels, and the colourful display of comics with the awesome smell of fresh ink. I remember the camaraderie, and the simple joy of it all. We’d go back home to read the comics, then sit around the kitchen table drawing our own comic adventures for the rest of the afternoon. It was wonderful.

I loved reading comics, and I enjoyed creating them even more— developing characters, creating the environment, and bringing it all together by combining words and pictures to take the reader on an immersive journey.

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Over the years I’ve had a lot of fun creating comics, publishing some online and in print: Whisky Sours, Grumps, Captain Stupendous (with Zach Weiner), Byron Pinkleton, and most recently, Snowflakes.

After completing Snowflakes, (An all-ages comic collaboration with Zach Weiner and James Ashby) I started thinking about the many ways illustrating comics has helped me develop my visual communication skills.

I first started drawing comics because I found them less intimidating than working on a single illustration. On a comic page there are many smaller images that go together to make up the whole— so it felt like it mattered less that each image was perfect. Less pressure! I could do this! I think the fact that there was less riding on each individual drawing made it easier for me to just dive in and start drawing.

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Drawing Skills

As artists and illustrators, we all experience those feelings of impatience or frustration when it seems like our skill level is improving too slowly. We want to be better now! Well, we all know that the only way to improve is to practice, and I think that composing and drawing comic pages is like a crash course compared to working on a single illustration!

Comic pages can contain a lot of elements. Maybe you need to show a number of characters interacting, and in some panels you need to show some from different angles or distances. Or, maybe a scene calls for a wide establishing shot, and subsequent panels on the same page need to show a lot of action or interaction between characters and environment. Sometimes it can involve a lot of drawing on a single page. I’ve always thought of it as excellent concentrated and consistent drawing practice, especially if you commit to producing new pages on a regular schedule. If you are working on new pages regularly, you will be drawing more— and the more you draw, the more your skills will level up!

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Composition Skills

When planning out a page, overall composition of the page is one of the first things I think about. The layout of the panels, the shapes and angles of forms within each panel, and how they flow from one panel to another— this is the underlying structure, and it’s arguably one of the  most important steps. Just like sketching in the basic forms and shapes for a drawing before you move into the details, a comic page needs to be planned so the overall flow and composition of the page works well to move the reader through the story. If the layout doesn’t work well or is confusing, the page won’t be enjoyable to read.

I find composing a page a really enjoyable part of the process— this is where I have the most control over how the story is told, how well it flows, what you show to the reader, and how you’re going to show it.

The more practice I had in composing comic pages, the easier it was to approach the composition for a single illustration.

Learning What to Emphasize

When you create a drawing you are telling a story visually. In any story there will be parts you want to emphasize to tell it as effectively as possible.

I’ve found that creating a comic page is great practice for knowing what moments to emphasize, and how best to focus the reader’s attention. For example— Do you need a close up on a character’s face or a certain object? Do you need to pull back to show a wide establishing shot? When deciding what to show in a panel, I like to think of myself as the camera moving around, and I try to visualize in my mind’s eye where the best angle would be, and how close to the action I should be. I’ve found that visualizing a scene this way is very helpful when I work on any composition, be it a panel on a comic page, or a single illustration.

Come back next Friday for more from Chris! You can also check out more of his work on his website and see more of his articles with us here.

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