Guide to using illustrator in-what-is-probably-a-very-long-roundabout-way-of-getting-the-result-you-want: Part One

I think last post I said I was teaching myself how to use Illustrator...I have to say is is a great tool and I'm figuring out a workflow which works for me. I think that's pretty important. I was browsing around the web for tutorials and saw loads of different methods to achieve different looks and by plowing through them you get to pick and choose which bits you use and develop your own...still haven't quite figured out the clipping masks and gradients yet though.

Anyways, I got a few things done with it but don't want to post them now...not because I'm embarassed by them or anything like that, but because they're for a specific project which I will hopefully reveal in the next couple of weeks (read:months).

So instead you'll have to be happy with a 'Guide to using illustrator in-what-is-probably-a-very-long-roundabout-way-of-getting-the-result-you-want'. It's also the way I would draw a panel for a comic book.

Step one: Draw something...anything -

It may sound obvious, but I don't just dive straight into illustrator and start clicking away. First, draw something. For example a train station. Personally I work both analog (is that how we refer to pencil and paper now?) and digitally. I have no real preference although the tactileness of paper is nice compared to a cintiq...which I would describe as drawing on silk. The up side to a cintiq is ctrl-z. For this one I did some thumbnails - the scene is Valentina Preti getting off a train. I only did 3 (to my shame) but I already had an idea in my head for what I wanted. It's an establishing shot but I also wanted Ms Preti getting odd the train, so thumb 2 was out because it was too wide, and I prefered thumb 1 to thumb 3. 1 has more depth to where as 3 is flatter an lower...which means that the camera for foreground characters is about crotch level...I don't like draing at crotch level. Anyway if they look like scribbles to you, who cares...they're personal reference and I know what each one is.

So after deciding on thumb one, I blow it up and go over it to get layout and put quick characters in, then go over that (this is one I'll take into illustrator) and also quickly put some tones on and apply blurs etc. This is about the time i would think about what size and shape the panel is on the page. I wouldn't call it a bad habit but I always tend to think of sequences in screen format. Can't for the life of me figure out why that would be. This is a bit different to designing for a comic page where you have to think about speech bubbles and text squares etc. It took me a long time to figure out panel layout and there aren't any hard and fast rules for it. Generally I do the following -
Comic book pages are usually drawn on 11" x 17" (or tabloid size if you look under the american paper sizes in photoshop) with a bleed set at 10" x 15" and a panel border at 9" x 13.5". The panel border is what the panels butt up against. You can put them in the gutter area but you risk it being cut off when the printer cuts the pages. I tend to split the page vertically and horizontally into whole, halfs, thirds, quarters and fifths and mix and match the panels to fit. So if we're looking at the diagram the first page (left) is split into third vertically. The top panel is a whole, the middle third is split half and the bottom panel is thirds. Same idea with the second page but fifths. The third page is a bit different - this is what I meant by mix and match. The whole page is split fifths with the to panel being 2/5 vertically and whole page width. The second panel is 2/5 vertically and half the page with panels 3 and 4 being half the with and only 1/5 vertical. and the botton panel spans the page and is 1/5 high. Thats generally how I go about setting out pages. It's not hard and fast but it works and you can always do elaborate panel layouts, like circle cut aways, if you want.

I think the panel is going to be about 1/4 tall and 3/4 wide giving me a small 1/4 by 1/4 square left over to put a close up in if this was an actual comic. And now I'm going to leave you hanging there as this is still underway...I actually have to do the illustrator bit before I can write about how I did the illustrator bit. I just have to remember to do screen grabs.


  1. Good tutorial-you should write a manual. The example pic is great too.

  2. Awesome tutorial Ash! Makes me wanna give up on animation and become a storyboard artist! : D