How I write “Hill” …

I’m figuring this out, with lots of help from other online resources. The challenge I set for myself is to get a page online once a week in under an hour (the original goal was 30 min, but that proved to be impossible for anything but the simplest pages), with no preparation. I come to the page with some thoughts about where the story is going, but whatever makes it to the page is a result of that hour and nothing else. Obviously I want to make the process as quick as possible, so I’m refining this as I go along.

First Steps

I’m using a cheap light table (these are so cool!) and a 1/5″ grid I found online. That’s taped to the light table, with some guide marks.

Now that I’ve been doing this for a bit, I know that each page is mini story with a beginning, middle and end. So, I draw a thumbnail of the page first. This usually has an overall organizing graphical element (like the hill in 28 Sept 2018 page), or a repeated element to move the story along (like the car driving down the hill on the 28 Sept 2018 page). The thumbnail includes panels. I’m usually focused on the first, second and last elements of the composition, because that’s where the story resides. The rest of the panels have to tell the ‘how’, but the story is really established in panels 1, 2 and ‘last’. I fill in the panels and ink the drawings in place. I scan it on an old HP Photosmart C4280 All-in-one scanner/printer at 600dpi, then run the following ImageMagick commands (I have them in a python script, but they work on the command line) to convert it to a line drawing. The script cuts a few minutes off the workflow.

# remove the white background, with a little error bar around what is white
convert scan.png -fuzz 10% -transparent white out.png

# convert to all black pixels
convert out.png -alpha extract -threshold 0 -negate -transparent white black.png

Then I clean the lines up in GIMP import the line art into Adobe Illustrator for quick color fills (including black, which I no longer fill in with Sharpies by hand). After that, I upload it to WordPress, and edit a few lines on a page to get it online.

Improved Steps

  • I wrote a script to take the scanned artwork to transparent line art. It’s here if you’d like to use it. Let me know if you can think of ways to improve it.
  • I used to snap a picture of the artwork with Microsoft’s Office Lens with my phone, then convert it to line art. This is fine, but since I had an old scanner, and that would make things the same size each time, I switched to that. Plus, it was time consuming to transfer the scan from my phone to the computer (a few more steps and waiting, and every second counts), so the scanner is more efficient.
  • Larger bristol paper, to get more detail (larger), and better lines.

No more inking blacks. On the left, an earlier panel with blacks filled in. On the right, mostly line art, with blacks filled in where I’ve made a slight mistake in the drawing. Blacks are now filled in in Illustrator, saving time and making the drawing more flexible (I can fill with other colors on the fly). 10/13/2018: Three changes: using Zebra Fude Brush Pen (Fine), larger (9/12) and different paper (Strathmore Bristol). This didn’t quite work out the way I wanted, with the line weights and all, but it was a good start in getting a little character in the line.