Wrecked Cars

posted in: Art Making, Era of Great Wonders | 10

So I just posted a new chapter cover for Era of Great Wonders, and I was talking to a friend how I put it all together. Depending on your point of view when it comes to these things, I’m either a big fluffy cheater-cheater, or I’m just using references.

A note on references: in art class, it’s not uncommon to use a projector to cast an image onto a canvas and then paint it from there. In comic book circles, this is called “tracing,” and is a bit of a dirty word. What is considered okay to do in fine art is considered tacky and talentless in the illustrator world.

Luckily for me: I stand in both worlds, and don’t really worry about these things too much. (I mean, I do, but only a little.) Also, I have no illusions as to my inability to draw cars. I’m terrible at them.

I used these two references to create this art:

I googled "broken tank"
I googled “broken tank”

and for the cars

I searched for "car pile up"
I searched for “car pile up”

I copied these two images into Manga Studio, and then traced bits and pieces of them. I didn’t want all the details, and I didn’t quite like the “modern” shape of the cars, so in many places I made them curvier and/or boxier – I wanted something that looked like it could have been from 60’s or 80’s in there.

I ended up with these pencils:

Pretty sparse pencils
Pretty sparse pencils

Again, I just really wanted the basic “shapes” of the cars to help with perspective. Also, I wanted to figure out where to put in wheels and lights and things like that. I then deleted the source images from the file because I didn’t want them to influence the “details” stage of the drawing. (Also known as “inking.”)

While inking the image I didn’t worry about getting the lines straight. In fact, letting them wiggle a bit and veer off into wrong angles helped create an illusion of wreckage and bent metal. I don’t have any screen shots showing the inking process, but I started with the tank wheels (and I googled “tank wheels” to see what they looked like. I only looked though, because I didn’t want to get them too perfect.) Then I followed various lines to create shadows.

I really wanted a “bent metal” effect and was really pleased by how it looks like parts of the tank’s top are “peeled” open and showing the insides of the tank. That was all pure luck, but I went with it, and I think it worked.

Finished Inks
Finished Inks

I know it looks like I jumped from really rough pencils to a finished image, but I sort of did. I’ve been drawing a lot of wreckage these days, and I’ve developed a sort of “short hand” for it. It doesn’t hold up if you really LOOK at the drawing, you’ll notice I have angles off, proportions (even with references) are off, and defining shadows aren’t necessarily there.

A lot of what you see in the finished inks is this short hand. Anywhere I could add a “plate” of warped metal, or a squiggly dent in a car, I did. “Tires” are pretty readable, so I threw a lot of those in, or I would put them near areas where I thought it would read as if they’d been “ripped off” the hub. I also added spiderweb/cracked glass in all the windows that were still “intact” (as in, I didn’t draw the interiors of the cars, and I didn’t want to do anymore than I had to.)

Someday I really will show my method of drawing from crappy sketches to finished art, but that requires more planning than I’ve yet done.

I’m just not there yet.

10 Responses

  1. Honestly, I think that you’re doing what could be considered the perfect example of “working from reference” in comic form. You might be tracing general forms when blocking out your image, sure, but when you actually get down to the final details and forms you’re just looking at reference images, not tracing all the contours.

    Honestly, I’ve never really understood the angry illustrator taboo that is “tracing”. In my mind, there’s nothing wrong with working from real life – that’s how you get things looking right! I usually carry a camera around with me and take my own reference photos of stuff. Then again, my formal art education comes from the fine arts field and not the illustration field, so that might explain it.

    Great information, Jenn! It’s fun to see your process!


    • Thanks Nathan!

      You’re a crazy supportive guy, you know that, right?

      I really hesitated before putting this post together. Tracing is such a bad word in comic circles that even admitting to doing ANY tracing is like admitting that you can’t draw at all. I’ve noticed some pretty big disconnects between “fine artists,” “comic artists,” and even “graphic designers,” in how they approach a project, and their attitudes while creating and finishing an art piece. (I went to school for the first and the last, but ended up doing the second with my life. Go figure!)

      I wish I’d recorded more of my process, to show how I went from sketches to finished inks, but it’s almost exactly as what you see above, except slower than you’d probably imagine, with frequent erasing and deleting. At some point I will learn how to videocap my work without my computer shutting down on me.

      • Well, I’m just glad to help. 😀

        I know what you mean. I ran into the “tracing” taboo several years ago in conversations with other comic artists. My classical training was in the areas of photography and fine metalworking (jewelry). In fields where the world IS what you capture precisely, I didn’t know there was such a stigma against working from reference.

        The problem is this… there’s tracing, and then there’s TRACING. In my mind, it’s one thing to take an image and block out forms based on it. I do that all the time with my work. I love using things like maquettes to block out general forms and angles to make sure my pieces look accurate. The only time I have issues with detailed tracing is when people ONLY copy their details directly from photos and don’t work from anything else.

        There are some ways to record art progress without bogging down your system. But for me, I’ve been trying (with newer pieces, at least) to save out a flattened image every hour or so. That’s where my “art progression” pieces I’ve been sharing have been coming from. In fact, I have several pictures of the stages of my inking on my book cover that I should probably dig out and put into an animated GIF or something.

        As always, great stuff! And honestly… I think your finally inked piece looked incredible. And looking at the reference photos you used, I can only vaguely picture where they actually went in the final illustration. You would never know that any “tracing” had gone on.


        • Ugh, jewelry making! I had never experienced existential ennui until I tried to put together a copper puzzle box once. It was as if there was no meaning behind the world, as if what we experienced as “reality” was a thin veneer of self imposed values, hanging over a meaningless void, empty of gods and science both!

          Jewelry making can break a person!

  2. Great stuff Jenn. Yes…. I always feel weird about using reference stuff or even doing a little tracing shapes now and then. With the fast pace of comics, and the amount of time we have to spend on each of these panels, you almost have to resort to some whatever cheats you can in order to get to the finish line. It’s funny, when I was younger, and learning how to draw, I would NEVER ever trace anything at all, because I was trying to get away from that, as I get older tho’, I’ve noticed that I’ve sorta relaxed from that… and I recognize my own strengths and weaknesses. I know where I need work, and will look for that help when I need it. But as you said, I try to find that balance between, and keep it my own, even if I use it for reference!

    We’re all trying to make art. As long as you make it yours… it’s still art. Heck, inking is essentially just ‘tracing’ anyway… (That line from Chasing Amy always comes to mind). YOU as the artist pick the lines that you keep and leave behind, and where you add depth and shading.

    I saw this panel the other day and was REALLY blown away at how great this turned out… your stamp is all over this, and whether you used reference or not, it’s all you, and it’s fantastic image. Great stuff as usual!

    • I saw this panel the other day and was REALLY blown away at how great this turned out… your stamp is all over this, and whether you used reference or not, it’s all you, and it’s fantastic image. Great stuff as usual!

      I know, right? It’s gorgeous!

      I’m totally with you, Ben. When it comes to doing art at the speed we need to do it for comics, sometimes you have to resort to “speed-up” techniques. Case-in-point is the handy 3D mannequin feature now included in MS5. I can set up a reference male or female figure and pose it how I want my character to be posed if I’m getting frustrated when working on an illustration. It really speeds up my process.

      • I was showing Ben this guy who uses Cinema 4D to create shading and background work for his concept paintings. It’s pretty incredible! About mid-way through this video he starts to put texture it with his own sort of texture mashups!

        I’ve read about how some painters will do that, and I started thinking that it’d be an interesting idea to build 3D settings so that you could easily trace and recreate them from any angle in your comics – it’s neat to hear that MS5 already has something like that!

      • OMG! Jenn’s stuff is ALWAYS amazing… and this panel just knocked it outta the park. Jenn, I love your sense of scale, and how you make these panels feel like they have so much depth! One of the pages you did a while back from Era with the wrecked building and all the windows broken out was one of my favorites. It felt alive and lived in… like a real place! And some of the cavern scenes form ATGT.

        I’ve heard of that tool in MS… but I really need to check into that!! That could be invaluable for penciling, just to get the shapes and scale right when blocking out panels…

        Man… I’m really looking forward to a sit down with you guys soon! There is still SO MUCH left for me to learn about MS.

        • Well, we’re cherry picking the good images to talk about! I have plenty where things went wrong!

          As for the broken buildings, yeah, there were some (like where they’re lost in the sewer system) where I got dumb lucky (you know, where as the artist you’re like “how the hell did I draw that?!) and I do that a lot with Era. I don’t know what it is, but this project is really coming together for me in a way that Vagus, Namio, and Growing Things haven’t in the past.

    • Yeah, I get pretty cautious when it comes to tracing, even though I’ll reference (look but not trace) quite a bit. I actually got in trouble a bit in my fine art classes because I’d not look carefully enough, or I’d veer away from using every single detail in a reference photo. I would usually use key elements and then avoid the rest. Looking back, I think many of my school paintings would have been better if I’d done what the teacher asked, but I had to learn it the hard way: by doing it my way first.

      That line “inking is just tracing” used to drive me nuts, because when I was a kid, people thought it was funny to tell me that (I was way into being an inker, more than a penciler – as you can probably tell by my chicken scratch pencils!)

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