Tips for Doujinshi/Indy Artists

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Retired Moderator, Linguistics


Calgon, take me away~!


So, I was informed that wikispaces will no longer be free, so in an effort to save the information from the page, I decided to create it as a thread here. Please feel free to add to any of the suggestions.... Unfortunately some of the hot links are no longer working. :(
The information on this site is a collaborative effort by members of the Doujinshi Support Club on Minitokyo. Enjoy!

Basic Preparations for All Artists

1. Music ON!
Music is always useful when you're trying to set a mood when you're drawing. Music can even serve as the inspiration for a piece. If you've got Artists' Block, try putting on one of your favorite songs and see where it takes you!

2. Plan Accordingly:
Have all of the necessary tools near you and plan your time. If you've already set the proper mood for something that you're going to draw and you don't have everything ready, getting up to retrieve something could ruin the atmosphere. Some impatient people tend to say things like.. "Planning is so troublesome~", but it is worth it in the long run.

3. Acknowledge, Think, and Imagine
Acknowledge to yourself what you're going to draw. Try to think and imagine, imagine wildly, as far and wide as possible. This is a very important step in producing good doujinshi.

4. Inspiration Resources
If you can't think of anything to draw, try to look around your environment. Look at the landscapes outside your window. Look through an artbook or flip through your manga. Heck, even magazines or photographs can provide inspiration!

5. Concentration and Patience
Concentration is needed so you can draw a good, high quality piece of work. Patience will push you to the limits. Great artwork is not made in 10 minutes. Be patient and take your time.

6. Effort, and MORE effort!
Put a lot of effort into drawing it. Even if you're just doodling make it look like the best doodle ever! In case you're getting bored halfway, drink some coffee, take a shower, take a walk outside, or take a short nap to refresh your mind. Never, EVER let boredom control you.

7. Anti-Distraction Field
Sometimes you tend to get distracted when drawing. This happens to people a lot, I assure you. If you don't want to get distracted, keep away from any place that is noisy. You can do this by confining yourself to your room, grab the headphones, or just draw in silence.

8: And finally, always remember the p-cubed rule: PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! No artist has ever created a masterpiece on their first try, so if you are not satisfied with your first try don't get discouraged and keep trying!

Working with Pencils (Graphite)

This is written for artists who use pencils/graphite to draw.

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1. Make sure you have lots and lots of pencils, lead, sharpeners and erasers for your work. (Staedtler or kneaded erasers work best) Watch out for smudges! Try starting from the top left of the page to reduce smudging, but it's handy have a box of tissues ready just in case. (Note*: Don't draw with a ruler unless you're drawing buildings. Unless you're trying to draw a robot, that's fine. But for humans, NEVER!)

2. First, sketch your reference line lightly across the page. If you're fine without reference lines, then you can start constructing your character ROUGHLY and LIGHTLY on the paper so you won't ruin the whole work.

3. After you've done with your rough sketch, you can now use darker pencils or just press harder than before to form the actual figure of your work. This is the time where details come in, so pay attention to the little tiny details, and scan for corrections. If you want to make a good simple outlined drawing, avoid making frequent stops along the way. It'll make your drawing look jagged. Practice to draw certain parts with a single stroke. Especially the hair. That way it'll make the drawing look more smooth.

4. Done outlining your drawings? Well, it's time to make it more realistic, or could I say... manga-like? Grab your previous pencil, and darken the foldings and the areas hidden from sunlight. You have to know where the light is coming from before you do this, so imagine. You might have good lining skills, but if you don't do this part, your drawing's still going to look empty. So start shading!

5. Satisfied? Well, that's for you to say. If you still don't like the result, grab yourself a tissue and smudge it all over your work. (*Note: NEVER smudge your work with your fingers! Sometimes it's true that you will accidentally smudged your work for being so concentrated, but just be conscious about where you put your fingers.) If you think that you've smudged your work too much, grab your eraser and erase off the part you think is appropriate to erase. After that, you're done!

Working with Ink Pens

This is for artists who use pen to outline their work after they've finished sketching with pencils.

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1. You already have a rough sketch ouf what you're going to draw? Not yet? Basically, this part is the same as the Tips for pencil artist, just that you can stop till Step 3. After that, jump down to this part. So first you must have a proper pen for outlining. You CAN'T just grab a ballpen from your dad's drawer and outline; you need a proper pen. (ex: Artline: Drawing System pens.) Also, if possible try to buy pens with different point/tip size. (For example: 0.1, 0.4 and 0.8). It'll make things easier when you have to draw thicker or thinner lines.

2. If you already have everything ready, adjust yourself in a proper position coz this really needs lots of concentration. First, start with the part you think which is hard to outline. Usually I go for the hair first, since the lines in this region is usually narrow. Start off slowly, finishing every lines carefully. If you want a better outlined work, finish outlining them in ONE SINGLE STROKE so they look smoother. You should be confident when inking. Ink with a steady hand.

3. So after you've done with the hardest part, move on to another part which you think is less harder than the hair. And then move on, until you're finished with the whole thing.

4. After that, scan through your work to see if you have already outlined all the parts. Sometimes my eyes can't catch all the tiny parts, so what I do is check again. But if your work is a little messy, grab your eraser and rub your work. (Make sure the ink is already dry, wait for 3-5 minutes before you rub your work)

5. After erasing the pencil lines, and if you feel satisfied with your final piece, congrats! But if you miss out lots of the tiny parts (like what happens to me), take your pen and add in a little more correction. After that, you're done!

Working with Tablets/Styluses/Mice

Since there do not seem to be any significant differences between the cheapest and the most expensive tablet, go buy the cheapest one!

Using the tablet is as simple as using a pencil. Just imagine that the tip is the graphite and the back part is the eraser. For first-time tablet users, just start writing something or drawing simple things to get into the groove.

Adding Color to your Artwork

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1. Start with a clean drawing, one that you are satisfied with. A good painting starts with a good foundation to work from.

2. Apply your base colors. This is a light (very light!) application of the colors you're considering for the final product. Think of this stage as the painting on it's lowest setting. If you go too heavy at this stage, you'll have a lot to compensate for later (if you stick it out).

3. Add a little more color to your palette and apply color carefully to areas to add dimension (shadowed edges and such).

4. Take a break. Taking a step back from your work might help you see things that you'd otherwise miss.

5. Gradually increase the color of your palette ("turning up the volume of your colors"). This should be in waves until you feel you have enough vibrancy in the work. DO BE CAREFUL: it's easy to go from great to overworked when using watercolors!

Computer Graphics (CG)

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You can use many image editing software to change, touch up or add color to your handcrafted artwork! To name a few popularly used by doujinshi artists: Photoshop, openCanvas, Painter, oekaki (a message board-Java applet). You'll probably need to acquaint yourself with terms like "layers", "brushes" and such to start using these programs.

1. Be sure that the lineart layer is on the top of all layers.
2. Have a different layer for separate colors. (Ex: 4 big layers: skin, hair, clothes, and background)
3. Begin by coloring only with the base colors. Do NOT shade first.
4. After you have finished filling in all of the base colors you can move onto shading.
5. On the top of the base color, create a new layer and press Ctrl+G so that the layers are grouped. Pick a darker color and began shading. On some parts, you may want to use the smudge and blur tool. But they aren't needed on all parts. A picture reference is recommended for shading so that you know where the lights come from and where to shade.
Lastly, the most important thing is practice. And use tutorials for detailed way in shading.

Black and White Artwork

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CROSS HATCHING: Using parallel (and/or perpendicular) lines to create shading. Some good examples are: Slam Dunk (also Real and Vagabond), Zetman (by Katsura Masakazu), Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita by Yukito Kishiro).

LINE WEIGHT: "Line weight refers to how thick a line is. Manga artists typically vary the thickness of their lines depending on what those lines have to do with the picture they're drawing. They use line weight as an illusion of depth without actually shading. It helps certain objects to stand out and helps our brains organize what we see" (taken from TOKYOPOP.COM) Basically lines not directly hit by light should have thicker lines. The characters should have thicker outlines than the background. (Examples would be: Air Gear and most shoujo manga)


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Your scanner is probably going to be one of your worst enemies because it will never be able to capture all of your artwork's glory. (sob, sob, sob...) Anyway, try fiddling with the scanner's software settings marked "Brightness/Contrast" and "Hue/Saturation" if you don't have any other image editing software. Photoshop has some nifty tools to help you deal with scanning woes. After scanning your doujinshi, you can try out these methods:

** Automatic: Go to Photoshop and hit Image > adjustments > auto levels / auto color / auto contrast. This handy feature automatically adjusts the levels of lighting and color of your doujin, but if something gets distorted or unwanted hit ctrl+Z. This will revert your image back one step.

** Manual: Go to image > adjustments > Levels / curves / brightness and contrast / hue and saturation. All of this lets you play with light and color in a special and different way. Curves is used to lighten up you drawing, and Levels to adjust the whole composition with the main colors (RGB).

Hue and Saturation have an extra plus. Blue and yellow bars appearing over the drawing can be taken out in Hue and Saturation without ruining the drawing. To do this, just adjust the lightness to maximim with each color. For example, if there are yellow bars, just go the feature choose yellows and adjust the bar to full lightness. The black of the line remains, but the yelow goes away like magic.

Miscellaneous Tips

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Perspectives, References, etc.

Proportions: Learn some realism and basic human anatomy first. Try learning the "Mannequin form" (Ball and Socket). This is the most basic form of drawing, but it is the basis for everything from why the arm is where it is and why the torso twists a certain way.
References: To improve your skills try drawing from references-- Looking at photos, HQ scans, or screenshots (not YouTube-esque ones) are good places to start. It is always a good place to look if you need help to get that shade you are looking for, or the right color and light to improve your work. Image banks are always a good thing to search for references for the human body. A note for references though: Don't just copy characters mindlessly, understand the form and proportions!**

During (or after) drawing, look at your drawing from the back of the paper (or face it in a mirror). It'll help you see errors and imbalances to your drawing

Balance: When you make a drawing or graphic try to get it inside a balance point to make it equal in some ways. When you look to a drawing it is usualy set to be in the middle of the sheet. Usually we read a sheet from left to right , up to down, making a Z form in the main axis of reading... that means that almost everything in these lines will be seen in the first time. Considering the balance, it would be wise to place your character in the middle of the sheet in a line from the right top to the left bottom. This means that the whole doujin will be seen. Also, do not over do a piece of art with loads of details in some parts and the others are less detailed. Balance would ask to redimension it to get a mid term in the levels of efforts. Like, you shouldn't draw a woman with the top of her body full of stuff, details, folds (in clothes) and her legs get nothing. Of course you can draw a girl in a shirt but paintless as long as you call attention to the right parts.. just try not to over explode the shirt with details... all have to merge in a single piece.

Weight: We're not saying that you can't draw a fat or a thin girl/boy. It's about something related to balance. You can check the weight by looking at the whole drawing to see if your attention goes to points that are not right, or if you have too many items in one place. It can be solved by distributing these items in different areas of the doujinshi.

Distance and Depth: Most of the time the lines will have a main point in it. When you are to highlight an area of the doujinshi you should make the lineart thicker. This brings the area forward from the whole composition depending on the thickness you use. You can add a dramatic amount of depth and dimension by making the foreground lines thicker and stronger and the background lines lighter and thinner. Be consistant in your lineart. Take care not to make a thicker line in one point and another in a distant point or else the attention will be lost to different places.

To expand your style, try using different media. For example, if you only use graphite, try using something-similar-but slightly-different medium (like charcoal or watercolor pencils). It'll give your composition a totally different look!

If you find any mistakes or errors, corrections are always appreciated. ^^ Additions are always welcome too!

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