One of the most frequent questions I ask when meeting other creators at conventions is “do you draw traditionally or digitally?” meaning do you draw on paper, or do you draw on your computer. This usually leads to some pretty interesting discussion (often times the rare kind that doesn’t end in debate or argument. Hard to imagine, I know). And, as I sat reading a book about cartooning, I thought it would make for a nice blog topic (and even if it doesn’t don’t tell me, I just can’t take it!)
I should clarify that I draw by digital and traditional means, so I do have bit of perspective from both sides. That being said, I’m not going to talk about which one is “better,” just going to do some pros and cons type reflections.
Now, primarily I would say that I draw digitally. Using my Wacom tablet and Photoshop, I draw most of my comics. I draw Egghead completely digitally. My biggest reason for this was that the scanner I own is just not that good. It was too small and the scanned art did not look strong. I keep meaning to replace it, but that costs money! Thus my biggest motivator was cutting out the process of scanning altogether, and so I went digital.
From the time I started making comics regularly, I began to explore the world of making comics digitally. It is not as intuitive as drawing traditionally (in the beginning), because even from a young age we can pick up a pencil and draw on paper. Easy. So drawing with Photoshop, there were a lot of things I had to teach myself. I had to learn shortcuts and tools etc. etc. and I still learn a lot as I go. But, I had also never used any of this software very seriously up this point. Besides, many comics that you read are all drawn digitally now. It is becoming the norm.
Once you learn your way around Photoshop, you find that there are all sorts of new, exciting things you can do with your comic (but you have to be careful not to overload your story with these possibilities). Using computers to create comics makes sense to me because technology is really there to make life easier. Granted, it won’t make the comic for you (not that I’d ever want that), but it does give you a little leg up.
For example, my best friend, control+z. For the uninitiated, that’s the “undo” button when working in Photoshop. Using the computer, it’s much easier to fix a mistake. I have used that function so many times, I might as well have “Ctrl+Z” tattooed on me somehow. This is good for me because as I continue to learn the art of cartooning, I make a lot of mistakes. And that’s natural, but now I don’t have to start over. Of course, I guess you could also say that’s a bad thing, because than we can edit our track records so to speak. But personally, I remember the plethora of times I drew the curve to Egghead wrong and had to undo it, so don’t worry. Plus plenty of art mistakes still make it through and I only notice them after a couple weeks.
Another interesting idea a friend of mine (who also works digitally a lot), put forth was the difference in line work philosophy. Once you put a line down in ink, it’s there to stay. You can probably fix it, but it will require work. However, digitally, you can undo it. That sounds pretty obvious, sure, but it causes the artist to strive for unattainable perfection. That is, if you put the line down in ink, the line is down, time to move on. But digitally, you can decide it doesn’t look right, and find yourself hitting the undo button dozens of times, getting caught up on every line as you go. There is a certain abuse of this convenience, as I do it all the time.
But, on the other hand, drawing panels by hand takes far more work. Thanks computer!
I will say, though, that drawing by hand does feel more intuitive, more natural. Of course, that’s because as kids, we all drew (well, probably all of us). So it’s instinctual. I mean, when you think of drawing, do you think of pen on paper, or stylus on computer? For most people, it’s probably the former. Of course, I use a Wacom, so I don’t draw directly on the screen. This is probably what stops it from feeling completely natural. But nonetheless, we are accustomed to drawing by hand. While we afforded more conveniences when drawing on a computer, sometimes you just want to draw by hand. The feel of the paper is a very good guide, and often gets the best out of our humble wrists.
Obviously, there are other factors to consider; drawing by hand will see you go through art supplies like a mad person. My subscription to Photoshop may be money, but I’ll never run out of ink. You will have better mobility with a sketchpad and paper then a computer (unless you have a drawing tablet, but even then, better to drop a sketchpad in the mud than a tablet). Then there’s the injured wrist. You’ll probably get this either way, but I find that I’m far more aware of my grip when on a physical pen/pencil. I have legit hurt my wrist using my Wacom. Yes, take my lunch money and shove me in a locker.
There are the people who are stalwart physical artists, and those who scoff at the old ways. But here’s what I say: try both, see what works for you. I think drawing digitally is the industry standard, but drawing traditionally has produced some of the greatest comics ever made. Try a little bit of everything and find what makes your best art. Maybe you draw pencils physically, then ink and color digitally. There’s no reason you can’t integrate technique. Don’t get too caught up in drawing this way or that, just draw so you can make comics, because that’s what it’s all about.
You know, I’m over the usual word limit here, and I still find this to a very interesting and robust topic (I only said that to put my English degree to use). So, I think in the future, I might take this topic and look at it from both sides separately. Of course, only if you’re interested in this type of subject. I am, after all, a man of the people (no matter how many times I say “this is my website, too bad!”).