I don’t talk much about process aside from throwing photos at my dear readers every so often, so maybe I should! Or maybe just go on a long rambling tangent about how I learned to love drawing with a pencil again. Basically the same thing.
When I was at the Illustration Academy several summers ago, I became a tracing paper convert. Before then, I would take my scribbly messy thumbnails and scan them in, then monkey around with them in Photoshop. Usually by drawing over my sketches in layers and tweaking the rotation of every limb and finger and second-guessing every line I put down. It felt “easier” to me than drawing them with a pencil, but apparently “easy” here just meant “gets quickly overworked with unlimited undos”, usually draining the life right out of my drawings and ideas. My linework was already very clean and tight, but it suddenly became stiff and uninteresting. I tried to force that energy back into it at a point by abandoning my tradition of clean inks and basically using my scribbly sketches as ‘inks’, but everything just became illegible as a result. Which is weird, I thought, that my postage-sized thumbnails could have incredible amounts of energy when my sketches could not.
Then I watched Gary Kelley work through a sketch using tracing paper. He’d just take an enlarged version of his thumbnail and slap a piece of the tissue over it, deftly redraw the sketch without touching his eraser, and then slap a fresh piece over that and do it again. And again. And again. It was like watching a sculptor carve a statue out of this scribbly fog of lines and smudges. The final drawing would simply emerge from beneath the layers and layers, this ocean of trace and tape.
And it was all so goddamn beautiful.
It was there I found myself thinking, “Well, shoot. This is basically what I do in Photoshop already. Just analog. Why am I not getting results like this?”
The next assignment I had, I bought myself a roll of tracing paper and just tried to do exactly what I always did. Command + Shift + N was a taping down a new layer of trace. Command + T, I’d just get up and muck around with the photocopier. The ‘M’ key meant I picked up scissors to cut out the offending crooked eye or whatever it was and move it around with my own two hands. The ‘E’ key was no longer—tracing paper doesn’t erase well, prone to smudging the lead around more than anything else—so “undo” quickly became “redraw”. Again and again.
It was so strangely satisfying. Suddenly, my work was tangible again.
It took me around six years to get comfortable enough working on a tablet to make things I was proud enough of. The biggest problem I had was the disconnect between what I was seeing (i.e. my screen) and what my hand was doing. It’s not that I would stare at my own hand when I was drawing, but I was always subconsciously aware of it in my line of sight and therefore knew how to direct it around on the piece of paper. When you’re working on an Intuos-style tablet, it just…doesn’t work that way. I still don’t think I ever really got “used” to it as much as I just found ways to make my awkward lumbering hand work with it. Linework and inking, though, required finesse and control and energy, which I could not get with my tablet.
So when I first started really making digital work as opposed to using traditional mediums, everything felt weird and backwards and clunky and, as a result, my work lost a lot. It became stiff and restrained as soon as I started working my sketches in Photoshop. My lovely glowing screen promised me so many things that I could never get it to do.
But then I suppose I saw the true light.
trace is your Lord,
trace is your Savior.
Love the trace,
worship the trace,
respect the trace.