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Discussion: Cartooning without the pencil

I’ve enjoyed reading Marshall Ramsey’s blog everyday. He posts several times through out the day and while I don’t have the background on many his comments of Jackson MS politics, I like his friendly conversational writing and insights into the work he does for the Clarion-Ledger.

He recently wrote:

Mike Luckovich (The Atlanta cartoonist who won the Pulitzer this year) doesn’t pencil first. He draws directly with ink. And I can see why. I just wish I had the artistic confidence to do it, too. When I look at my pencil drawings, they are much more fluid and dynamic. And they lose something by the time I ink them. I will never be a great inker, but I try (I knew a guy in college that went on to work at Marvel as an inker — he traces over other artists’ pencil sketches.)

I can’t remember whether I had this conversation with Pat Bagley, of the Salt Lake Tribune, or Cal Grondahl of the Standard Examiner, but one of them admitted that they just pick up their pen and start drawing (this was before they both moved to using the computer). If he messed up, he’d pull out another piece of paper and start over.

How many cartoonists can draw the final cartoon without first penciling a draft? Is it something only editorial cartoonist are known to do?

Discuss.

Community Comments

#1 Marc
July/14/2006
@ 2:03 pm

If I’m using ink, I’ll sketch out the strip first. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work on the computer. I still prefer the quality I get from pen and ink, but it’s fun trying to get the same quality from computer.

When people look at my comics and can’t tell the difference (except maybe the lettering), then I know I’m getting closer.

#2 Marc
July/14/2006
@ 8:03 am

If I’m using ink, I’ll sketch out the strip first. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of work on the computer. I still prefer the quality I get from pen and ink, but it’s fun trying to get the same quality from computer.

When people look at my comics and can’t tell the difference (except maybe the lettering), then I know I’m getting closer.

#3 Norman Feuti
July/14/2006
@ 3:30 pm

I pencil first.

I’m not skilled/confident enough to go straight to ink.

#4 Norman Feuti
July/14/2006
@ 9:30 am

I pencil first.

I’m not skilled/confident enough to go straight to ink.

#5 Alan
July/14/2006
@ 4:34 pm

I wonder if editorial cartoons are better for going straight to ink – you only have to draw the individual/object once so you don’t have to worry about the object looking the same from panel to panel – then again, ofter several years of the same characters, you’d think you could draw them exactly from one panel to the next.

I’d be interested to know if there is a comic strip cartoonist that can go straight to ink. I can’t think of one.

#6 Alan
July/14/2006
@ 10:34 am

I wonder if editorial cartoons are better for going straight to ink – you only have to draw the individual/object once so you don’t have to worry about the object looking the same from panel to panel – then again, ofter several years of the same characters, you’d think you could draw them exactly from one panel to the next.

I’d be interested to know if there is a comic strip cartoonist that can go straight to ink. I can’t think of one.

#7 Alex
July/14/2006
@ 7:40 pm

I believe Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) still does his art directly in ink. I know for a fact he did when he first started. I can’t think of anyone else who works that way though.

As for me, I second Norman’s emotion in that I don’t feel confident enough going directly to ink. I actually tend to pencil quite tightly and loosen it up once I apply the ink. I’m kind of an oddball.

#8 Alex
July/14/2006
@ 1:40 pm

I believe Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine) still does his art directly in ink. I know for a fact he did when he first started. I can’t think of anyone else who works that way though.

As for me, I second Norman’s emotion in that I don’t feel confident enough going directly to ink. I actually tend to pencil quite tightly and loosen it up once I apply the ink. I’m kind of an oddball.

#9 R Thompson
July/15/2006
@ 1:06 am

A couple of the best drawings I ever did were in ink without pencilling, but usually I chicken out. Then I pencil it, put it on a lightbox, and try to make it look like I did it directly in ink.

Edward Sorel and Barry Blitt both draw direct in ink, which gives their work that immediate, fresh-from-the-brain quality . It takes a combination of zen and cojones. Which is also, I believe, a rum-basednovelty drink.

#10 R Thompson
July/14/2006
@ 7:06 pm

A couple of the best drawings I ever did were in ink without pencilling, but usually I chicken out. Then I pencil it, put it on a lightbox, and try to make it look like I did it directly in ink.

Edward Sorel and Barry Blitt both draw direct in ink, which gives their work that immediate, fresh-from-the-brain quality . It takes a combination of zen and cojones. Which is also, I believe, a rum-basednovelty drink.

#11 Alan
July/15/2006
@ 4:25 am

I’m not familiar with Edward Sorel or Barry Blitt, so I googled them. Here’s URL’s to their web sites:
http://www.edwardsorel.com/
http://barryblitt.com/

#12 Alan
July/14/2006
@ 10:25 pm

I’m not familiar with Edward Sorel or Barry Blitt, so I googled them. Here’s URL’s to their web sites:
http://www.edwardsorel.com/
http://barryblitt.com/

#13 Lefitte
July/15/2006
@ 5:02 am

Are you the R THOMPSON of the Post? When will you grace us with a daily?

#14 Lefitte
July/14/2006
@ 11:02 pm

Are you the R THOMPSON of the Post? When will you grace us with a daily?

#15 R Thompson
July/15/2006
@ 6:27 am

Well, I’m working on it, slowly, and thanks for asking.

Blitt and Sorel are fabulous draftsmen; watch the New Yorker for their work, and Sorel’s got several book collections out. He works quite large and his line has a velocity and deftness that no one else’s approaches. Bltt draws quite small, and his line moves more deliberately, as though he were drawing a map. And look at John Cuneo’s stuff at johncuneo.com. He draws almost direct, with some lightboxing. All three of them are master watercolorists, too. I look at their work when I need to feel simultaneously inspired and ham-handed, which is pretty often.

#16 R Thompson
July/15/2006
@ 12:27 am

Well, I’m working on it, slowly, and thanks for asking.

Blitt and Sorel are fabulous draftsmen; watch the New Yorker for their work, and Sorel’s got several book collections out. He works quite large and his line has a velocity and deftness that no one else’s approaches. Bltt draws quite small, and his line moves more deliberately, as though he were drawing a map. And look at John Cuneo’s stuff at johncuneo.com. He draws almost direct, with some lightboxing. All three of them are master watercolorists, too. I look at their work when I need to feel simultaneously inspired and ham-handed, which is pretty often.

#17 Bob
July/15/2006
@ 4:25 pm

I remember reading years ago that the late Alex Toth “pencil[led] in ink,” which I interpreted to mean that he dove right in with pen and brush.

#18 Bob
July/15/2006
@ 10:25 am

I remember reading years ago that the late Alex Toth “pencil[led] in ink,” which I interpreted to mean that he dove right in with pen and brush.

#19 m wuerker
July/16/2006
@ 9:46 pm

I needed to jump in and second Mssr Thompson’s accolade for Sorel, an under recognized american master in some circles, but if you follow the New Yorker and the Nation you’ve seen his brilliant, lush pen and ink work for years. The loose line and flowing shading has been aped by others but like Miles Davis lines coming out of a trumpet, Sorel’s crosshatch is pure unique jazz.

Sorel did a kids book back in the early sixties, Gwendelon the Miracle Hen, that I can still conjure pretty clearly in my head that I loved and also first turned me on to cross hatching.

#20 m wuerker
July/16/2006
@ 3:46 pm

I needed to jump in and second Mssr Thompson’s accolade for Sorel, an under recognized american master in some circles, but if you follow the New Yorker and the Nation you’ve seen his brilliant, lush pen and ink work for years. The loose line and flowing shading has been aped by others but like Miles Davis lines coming out of a trumpet, Sorel’s crosshatch is pure unique jazz.

Sorel did a kids book back in the early sixties, Gwendelon the Miracle Hen, that I can still conjure pretty clearly in my head that I loved and also first turned me on to cross hatching.

#21 Clay Bennett
July/17/2006
@ 8:11 pm

I’m far too insecure to start out drawing in ink. In fact, starting out in pencil even intimidates me a bit.

Usually, I’ll go through 4 or 5 pencil sketches (on tracing paper) before I have a drawing to the stage where I think it’s ready to ink. If that’s not neurotic enough, I’ll then draw the cartoon a few more times in ink before getting it to the stage where it’s ready to scan. Even then I’m only 25% done because I’ll spend several more hours working the drawing in PhotoShop.

I think my obsession to overwork a cartoon comes from my own insecurity as a cartoonist. I figure, if you can’t come up with a good idea, at least you can come up with a good drawing.

#22 Clay Bennett
July/17/2006
@ 2:11 pm

I’m far too insecure to start out drawing in ink. In fact, starting out in pencil even intimidates me a bit.

Usually, I’ll go through 4 or 5 pencil sketches (on tracing paper) before I have a drawing to the stage where I think it’s ready to ink. If that’s not neurotic enough, I’ll then draw the cartoon a few more times in ink before getting it to the stage where it’s ready to scan. Even then I’m only 25% done because I’ll spend several more hours working the drawing in PhotoShop.

I think my obsession to overwork a cartoon comes from my own insecurity as a cartoonist. I figure, if you can’t come up with a good idea, at least you can come up with a good drawing.

#23 m wuerker
July/17/2006
@ 10:45 pm

” I figure, if you can?t come up with a good idea, at least you can come up with a good drawing.”–C. Bennett

Oh yeah– that’s why they gave you that little Pulitzer– just for the pretty drawings…..

As someone else who believes in this overworked, lightboxed approach to cartooning I think it has more to do with Protestant guilt for getting to draw for a living. If all you did was fire off a lovely loose poetically simple cartoon that didn’t take much time,how could you look yourself in the mirror?

I really do admire both approaches. But sticking to the topic of this thread, it is impressive to see the stuff that those free of this “must spend at least four hours rendering the hell out this idea complex” pull off with their cahones and their zen. I really love the Sorel’s and Blitt’s and Thompson’s cartoons that keep it so loose. Someday, when I grow up, I’ll learn to loosen my wingnut….

I believe David Levine is also one of those zen masters who skips the pencil.

#24 m wuerker
July/17/2006
@ 4:45 pm

” I figure, if you can?t come up with a good idea, at least you can come up with a good drawing.”–C. Bennett

Oh yeah– that’s why they gave you that little Pulitzer– just for the pretty drawings…..

As someone else who believes in this overworked, lightboxed approach to cartooning I think it has more to do with Protestant guilt for getting to draw for a living. If all you did was fire off a lovely loose poetically simple cartoon that didn’t take much time,how could you look yourself in the mirror?

I really do admire both approaches. But sticking to the topic of this thread, it is impressive to see the stuff that those free of this “must spend at least four hours rendering the hell out this idea complex” pull off with their cahones and their zen. I really love the Sorel’s and Blitt’s and Thompson’s cartoons that keep it so loose. Someday, when I grow up, I’ll learn to loosen my wingnut….

I believe David Levine is also one of those zen masters who skips the pencil.

#25 R Thompson
July/17/2006
@ 11:37 pm

I’ve found that I either shake something out of the pen Boom just like that, with minimal thought, and right or wrong it works great. Or I draw twelve pencil roughs and then do a thirteenth before the ink bottle’s opened. There’s no in-between. And the latter dominates the former by at least 50 to 1. What I really cannot do is ink over pencil. It has to be on a lightbox. Otherwise I get a mental cramp and spoil the nice expensive paper. Cheaper paper may be the answer. In the meantime, Mssrs. Wuerker and Bennett; where do you get your nice, loose, fearless ideas? That’s the real hard part.

Heinrich Kley! He barely pencilled at all, just a sort of grid to indicate the layout or perspective.

We went down to the National Portrait/American Art Gallery yesterday. Ooh, they had some nice stuff; a coupla Sorels, Davises, Druckers & Oliphants, drawings and sculpture. Also some Gilbert Stuarts, but they weren’t funny until I added the mustaches.

#26 R Thompson
July/17/2006
@ 5:37 pm

I’ve found that I either shake something out of the pen Boom just like that, with minimal thought, and right or wrong it works great. Or I draw twelve pencil roughs and then do a thirteenth before the ink bottle’s opened. There’s no in-between. And the latter dominates the former by at least 50 to 1. What I really cannot do is ink over pencil. It has to be on a lightbox. Otherwise I get a mental cramp and spoil the nice expensive paper. Cheaper paper may be the answer. In the meantime, Mssrs. Wuerker and Bennett; where do you get your nice, loose, fearless ideas? That’s the real hard part.

Heinrich Kley! He barely pencilled at all, just a sort of grid to indicate the layout or perspective.

We went down to the National Portrait/American Art Gallery yesterday. Ooh, they had some nice stuff; a coupla Sorels, Davises, Druckers & Oliphants, drawings and sculpture. Also some Gilbert Stuarts, but they weren’t funny until I added the mustaches.

#27 m wuerker
July/18/2006
@ 2:55 pm

But if you are one of those uptight types who needs to rely on pencil lines what i want to know is what is the best eraser in the universe? that’s what it really comes down to. lots of people can use pencil and ink but it’s the erasing that really separates the titans from the mortals…..

Moi? I’m pretty loose and adept and sure with a Staedtler Mars White with that blue cardboard wrapper.

#28 m wuerker
July/18/2006
@ 8:55 am

But if you are one of those uptight types who needs to rely on pencil lines what i want to know is what is the best eraser in the universe? that’s what it really comes down to. lots of people can use pencil and ink but it’s the erasing that really separates the titans from the mortals…..

Moi? I’m pretty loose and adept and sure with a Staedtler Mars White with that blue cardboard wrapper.

#29 Daryl Cagle
July/18/2006
@ 4:32 pm

Interesting that there seems to be a premise here that drawing directly in ink, without a sketch, is somehow a virtue.

#30 Daryl Cagle
July/18/2006
@ 10:32 am

Interesting that there seems to be a premise here that drawing directly in ink, without a sketch, is somehow a virtue.

#31 R Thompson
July/18/2006
@ 4:38 pm

I’m still stuck on the blue gum erasers. They have several advantages over the white erasers; they don’t leave crumbs, they can be cleaned, and they can be molded into little animal pals when you’re bored or avoiding a deadline. What I can’t stand are those big bricky yellowish erasers that look like congealed suet.

Back a little OT, I think the trick is to develop a way of drawing where the odd mistake is half the charm, like you’re witnessing the artist’s thought process. Sorel can half-start a limb or a nose, then move it over a bit and finish it and it looks wonderful, like he’s carved the whole thing into the paper with crosshatching. Or, Ralph Steadman, an id in ink; I doubt he worries much about stray lines.

#32 R Thompson
July/18/2006
@ 10:38 am

I’m still stuck on the blue gum erasers. They have several advantages over the white erasers; they don’t leave crumbs, they can be cleaned, and they can be molded into little animal pals when you’re bored or avoiding a deadline. What I can’t stand are those big bricky yellowish erasers that look like congealed suet.

Back a little OT, I think the trick is to develop a way of drawing where the odd mistake is half the charm, like you’re witnessing the artist’s thought process. Sorel can half-start a limb or a nose, then move it over a bit and finish it and it looks wonderful, like he’s carved the whole thing into the paper with crosshatching. Or, Ralph Steadman, an id in ink; I doubt he worries much about stray lines.

#33 Alan
July/18/2006
@ 5:02 pm

Inking is a completely different skill set than penciling, lettering, shading, etc. and I don’t think it is often recognized as such. I for one, am intrigued by those who have above average inking skills that allows them to skip the pencil process and still have a final product that is as good or even exceeds those who toil with a pencil.

#34 Alan
July/18/2006
@ 11:02 am

Inking is a completely different skill set than penciling, lettering, shading, etc. and I don’t think it is often recognized as such. I for one, am intrigued by those who have above average inking skills that allows them to skip the pencil process and still have a final product that is as good or even exceeds those who toil with a pencil.

#35 Alex
July/18/2006
@ 6:43 pm

Going back to what Mr. Thompson was saying about the odd mistake being half the charm, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure who coined the phrase but “happy accidents” can even sometimes enhance a drawing creating a line that you had not previously envisioned. Yes sometimes it can also just be a mistake, however, this can lend to an overall loose and spontaneous feel.

As for erasers, I use the classic pink pearl. Sure they’re messy and leave crumbs everywhere but I use Non-Photo Blue pencils which don’t call for much erasing anyway.

#36 Alex
July/18/2006
@ 12:43 pm

Going back to what Mr. Thompson was saying about the odd mistake being half the charm, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure who coined the phrase but “happy accidents” can even sometimes enhance a drawing creating a line that you had not previously envisioned. Yes sometimes it can also just be a mistake, however, this can lend to an overall loose and spontaneous feel.

As for erasers, I use the classic pink pearl. Sure they’re messy and leave crumbs everywhere but I use Non-Photo Blue pencils which don’t call for much erasing anyway.

#37 R Thompson
July/19/2006
@ 3:02 am

I don’t know if it’s a “virtue”, but I do think it’s an admirable skill, beyond all the cojones and zen jokes, and I wish I could pull it off successfully more often.

No, wait, I do think it’s a virtue.

#38 R Thompson
July/18/2006
@ 9:02 pm

I don’t know if it’s a “virtue”, but I do think it’s an admirable skill, beyond all the cojones and zen jokes, and I wish I could pull it off successfully more often.

No, wait, I do think it’s a virtue.

#39 m wuerker
July/19/2006
@ 2:46 pm

I think it’s a virute with cojones.

I had a teacher in the fifth grade, Mr Pinski, who would entertain the class by very theatrically drawing a perfect circle on the chalk board. They were perfect. The room full of 12 olds understood the innate zen master aspects and the beauty of the act and were always amazed. We’d all try it during recess and couldn’t get them perfectly round.

It’s like that –drawing cartoons straight to ink.

#40 m wuerker
July/19/2006
@ 8:46 am

I think it’s a virute with cojones.

I had a teacher in the fifth grade, Mr Pinski, who would entertain the class by very theatrically drawing a perfect circle on the chalk board. They were perfect. The room full of 12 olds understood the innate zen master aspects and the beauty of the act and were always amazed. We’d all try it during recess and couldn’t get them perfectly round.

It’s like that –drawing cartoons straight to ink.

#41 m wuerker
July/19/2006
@ 3:05 pm

….you know all these romanticized statues you see around DC, like in front of the Supreme Court?

“Virtue with Cojones” conjures something along those lines.

Richard- you got any marble lying around?

#42 m wuerker
July/19/2006
@ 9:05 am

….you know all these romanticized statues you see around DC, like in front of the Supreme Court?

“Virtue with Cojones” conjures something along those lines.

Richard- you got any marble lying around?

#43 R Thompson
July/19/2006
@ 4:52 pm

I lost my marbles years ago.

HA!! Wow, who expected that joke?!

I never had a teacher with enough zen to produce a perfect circle, but I do remember my middle-school art teacher, Mr Hoagland, watching me laboriously inking a pencilled drawing and saying c’mon, what’re you, chicken? don’t be afraid of it, skip the pencil stuff. He was a very kind man, so no doubt he said it more gently than that.

#44 R Thompson
July/19/2006
@ 10:52 am

I lost my marbles years ago.

HA!! Wow, who expected that joke?!

I never had a teacher with enough zen to produce a perfect circle, but I do remember my middle-school art teacher, Mr Hoagland, watching me laboriously inking a pencilled drawing and saying c’mon, what’re you, chicken? don’t be afraid of it, skip the pencil stuff. He was a very kind man, so no doubt he said it more gently than that.

#45 Monty Rohde
July/20/2006
@ 4:14 pm

Want to ink without penciling first?
Just practice it enough times and eventually you get over it.
I’m currently working with several live caricature artists who can churn out a good clean pencil(without erasing) or marker drawing in five to ten minutes. The key to it all? Doing it a few thousand times. It is a skill like any other. You need to know what you’re going to draw and how you’re going to draw it before you put the pencil or pen to the paper. However I suppose if you have a sketchy pen style like Sorrel you don’t need to be so deliberate.
There is nothing quite like watching a master caricaturist like Tom Richmond draw.

#46 Monty Rohde
July/20/2006
@ 10:14 am

Want to ink without penciling first?
Just practice it enough times and eventually you get over it.
I’m currently working with several live caricature artists who can churn out a good clean pencil(without erasing) or marker drawing in five to ten minutes. The key to it all? Doing it a few thousand times. It is a skill like any other. You need to know what you’re going to draw and how you’re going to draw it before you put the pencil or pen to the paper. However I suppose if you have a sketchy pen style like Sorrel you don’t need to be so deliberate.
There is nothing quite like watching a master caricaturist like Tom Richmond draw.

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