Mixing Traditional and Digital Techniques When Creating Caricatures

Posted: Saturday, April 30, 2016

Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins

1. It’s good to constantly be expanding your skills by learning new techniques.
2. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different techniques; being uncomfortable is good because it means growth and not stagnation.
3. Focus on what you can take away from learning something new even if you never plan on using that technique again.
4. You’re not going to win an award for being a purist to one technique or style, so you might as well try new things and see where it goes.

At my day job this week I was tasked with flatting artwork that was to be colored. I was going to be doing something that has become an industry standard in comics (at least with the ones being colored digitally).

Flatting is a process that I myself just learned what the meaning of. The line art is given to the person who flatting and they lay down a base color inside all of the line work. The colors they use don’t necessarily have to be the ones that will be on the final colored piece. The main purpose of flatting artwork is to create colors that are easy to select so that the final colors can be made.

If I had to put it really simply, flatting is a lot like creating paint-by-numbers. The artist who is flatting it creating the numbers (so-to-speak).

I wanted to experiment a bit with this new technique a bit on my personal work. This past Thursday, April 21 it was a friend of mine’s birthday — Toronto-based actress and artist Alana Pancyr. So I did a quick caricature of her (since she was top of mind) and decided to use it as my test in flatting my personal work.

Alana Pancyr. Actress. Artist. Ginger. Choker-Enthusiast.

I drew out the sketch on some regular copy paper and based it off of one of her photos. Her eyes, nose and lips are the main things I tried to focus on when creating the impression of her.

Quick sketch completed on regular, 100lb copy paper, using non-photo red pencil and Pentel Brush Pen for inks.

I use red non-photo pencil in laying out the initial cartoon and do a quick ink-pass with my Kuretake and Pentel brush pens.

I then scanned the image and brought it into photoshop for some quick editing (because I totally smudged the ink under her right eye — thank goodness for editing tools).

Using the Magic Wand Tool in Photoshop I removed any blemishes and pencil lines, and also multiplied the black.

I cut out all of the pencil marks using the magic want tool, with the tolerance set to 50%, and contiguous checked. After that I also cut out all the white of the paper and replaced it with an all white color fill on a layer below it.

This is the flat layer (top inks not shown).

I began flatting using the Lasso Tool with the tolerance set to 0% and contiguous unchecked. Once a selection is made with the Lasso Tool I fill the area with a selected color.

PRO-TIP: I am applying techniques from Hi*Fi Color for Comics. I didn’t know thing about color flatting, but the chapter on it was very easy to understand (especially for someone who doesn’t really fancy working in Photoshop). The steps that outline the process are broken down simply. I recommend picking it up and doing the steps in there.

This book is really cool and a resource I’m just starting to explore, but already value greatly.

This section explains the flatting process and also gives you downloadable tutorials.

I filled all of the different sections with color and viola! — she is colored.

Here is the “final” artwork. It’s a rough-test in color flatting, but is going to get me closer to coloring more frequently (and more skillfully) in Photoshop.

I wanted to experiment in this because I either hand-render caricatures using my brush pens or I digitally re-render a piece using Adobe Illustrator — which is vector graphics.

I was noticing that when I re-render caricatures using Adobe Illustrator that much of the organic-feel of the hand-rendered caricatures was being lost. One of the reasons I like working in Adobe Illustrator is because vector graphics make things clean and precise. But lately that is the reason why I have been not enjoying it as much.

Over the past few years I have been experimenting with brush pens and illustrating caricatures in a more traditional way. Since then I have really liked the organic and rough look of using a brush. My overall artistic style isn’t that different but I was really like the subtle differences and nuances that are not captured in using vector graphics.

I have been fighting the use of photoshop for sometime because frankly it is unknown and therefore scary to me. I also have seen work done in photoshop done by peers and colleagues of mine who are brilliant with it and when you’ve never used it before it’s very intimidating because of the possibilities.

However, I have been encouraged greatly by my friend and colleague Jonathan Beistline (who purchased the Hi-Fi book for me and was a contributor on it).

I recalled that when I was starting caricatures in college I only did hand-rendered artwork but I was forced into using Adobe Illustrator because I had to reproduce artwork by screen printing on a shirt. Vector graphics work very well for this process and I fought it the whole way, but eventually I got comfortable with it and it became my go-to tool. I was afraid to try using that tool back then, but after getting over that hump it changed and improved my work in so many ways.

So even though this illustration of Ms. Alana Pancyr is, in my opinion, very rough and unfinished, I know it’s one step closer into expanding my toolkit with new skills.

I’ve been creating caricatures since I was knee-high to a duck. I want to help you create them as well and tell a good visual story with caricatures. I believe every face has a story to tell and I want to teach you how to tell it.


Resources: Hi*Fi Color for Comics (Revised & Updated Edition), by Brian & Kristy Miller. (pages 28–39 section on Color Flatting)