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Drawing Harley Quinn - Part 2


Firstly, a big THANK YOU for your incredible patience in getting this out to you. (It’s been a busy few months). 

I’ve just wrapped up on Part 2 of the Harley Quinn series, which shows you how to create a Comic Book Illustration, all the way from rough draft to finished pencils. 

Here’s what you’ll learn in part 2.

Continuing straight on from where we left off I’ll show you how to turn a roughly defined foundational sketch into a slickly polished piece of line art. Throughout the video you’ll discover how to –

• Use Line Weight variations to create an array of varying visual effects that deliver maximum appeal to your art work. 
• Define Interconnecting and Overlapping Lines to enhance depth within your scene.
• Use Reference material to accurately define the elements that make up your illustration. 

Thanks for watching!

Software Used: Manga Studio

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Overview of the Refinement Process

In part one we discovered how to sketch out the initial idea for a comic book illustration literally from the ground up. Now we’re going take that sketch and line-smith it into a clean, crisply crafted finished drawing.

Picking the Right Lines to Refine

To start off with I’m going to give this sketch a slick new upgrade by tightening up those wobbly lines. For the most part, this will be a breeze thanks to the extra love and care I took to get everything placed and proportioned into perspective using my diligent drafting skills. My only job now is to trace over what’s already on there the page. Since I’m working digitally, that’s easily done too by creating a brand new layer for the new and improved Line drawing.  This virtual peace of tracing paper slides right in over the top of the lower Draft layer which has had its Opacity toned down a little to help me discern the sketch from the finished drawing. Now given the defining phase requires a little less stress then the technically challenging drafting phase, I will say now, it’s not quite a complete home run just yet.

Last Minute Edits

You see in this video our main focus will still be on how to spit shine a rough and nasty sketch into a beautifully polished piece of line art. But before I get too ahead of myself, it’s important to note that an extra dash of drafting is still necessary here. In fact besides Harley Quinn herself, I’m going to need to turn my focus back to the background. Right now it’s just looking a little too barren and honestly could do with a touch more attention. Admittingly I have put the horse before the cart here so to speak by finalising Harley before properly wrapping up the rest of the preliminary drawing. As a result I’ve found myself at this awkward halfway point between drafting and solidification. The process ideally should be much more linear then this. Luckily however I’ve got most of the overall composition for this illustration already sorted. Now it’s really just a matter of me filling in the blanks by bulking up the background with additional elements. 

Filling in the Background Elements

I’ve managed to track down a frankly over indulgent amount of Arkham Asylum references to aid me in doing just that. Skimming through and picking out the elements that catch my eye, my aim here is to fill out the background with some enticingly grungy environmental props that’ll help add interest and atmosphere to the illustration. At this point, I like to put on the hat of set designer, deciding how best to populate the backdrop in a way that helps to make it, and the story I’m trying to convey more believable. To ensure this entire process runs a whole lot more smoothly I’m going to take a quick moment here to create a soundly constructed perspective grid guide so that I can get everything placed and spaced accurately on the page in relation to one another.

If I’m communicating my idea clearly, the viewer should know without a doubt that Harley’s surrounding environment is based on Arkham Asylum, even at first glance. So I’m looking to incorporate visual, generalised queues that they’ll be able to connect with straight away. Smashed floor tiles, brittle plaster walls, complete with rusty pipes and fluorescent lights are some of the key ingredients I’m looking for here to hit that artificially sterile yet, murky feel Arkham Asylum is so well recognized for.

Common Drawing Problems

Remember that nothing is necessarily set in stone up until this stage. If what’s already there is making me feel a little uneasy, it’s not too late to tweek it as needed. Take the Prison Guard, lying on the floor behind Harley for example. In the preliminary draft sketch I’d managed to capture the general direction I wanted to take his pose and positioning. Now coming to the defining phase, where I’m forced to analyse the drawing more closely, there are particular areas that simply do not look right to me. And it’s essential that I address them now, before actually running over the drawing with a final pass. Because once the bed is made, I’ll have to sleep in it.

Line Weights

When it comes to the polished pencils of a finished piece of comic book art what it really comes down to is how the Lines that make up that drawing are presented. Initially it’s reasonable to say that if that’s the case, every Line in the final drawing should be as neat and consistent as possible in terms of thickness, and smoothness. And if you’ve ever gone down that route you’ll probably already know that it leads to a surprisingly flat, uninteresting and kinda bland looking piece of comic art. Rather than being dynamic, the Lines appear about as generic as they could get. And it’s the lack of variations in thickness, and heaviness within them that are to blame for that. That’s why you might have noticed that the Lines I’m drawing here actually transition from thick to thin along their trajectory. It’s not random either; the way they transition is intended to create a particular effect. This is a very special technique I learned originally from David Finch called ‘Line Weighting'.

Defining Depth and Focal Elements

Line Weighting put simply involves the stylisation of the contour Lines inside your drawing to insure they’re distinctly defined and visually appealing. In turn this allows your drawings to leap off the page with the amount of impact you’d expect within a comic book illustration. On top of that, Line Weights keep the drawing looking slick, smooth and stream lined in that seasoned pro kind of way. The width of the Lines can vary between thick and thin to achieve the desired result you’re looking for. As an example, to create a sense of depth within the drawing, heavier lines come in handy for bringing objects inside the scene forward, while lighter lines tend to push them further back into the distance. The reason this optical, depth inducing illusion works so well is because the more intense a line is, the more it stands out from the rest of the image. Because it demands the most focus, it’s first in line be get gazed upon. As the viewer works their way through the que of progressively lighter lined elements, that transition from dark to light creates the impression of spacial depth. 

Thickened contours might also be used to draw attention to one or two areas of interest, or to separate and distinguish one part of the drawing from the other.

Using Line Weights to Define a Light Source

But one of the coolest things about Line Weights is their knack for being able to suggest a sense lighting direction within your scene, even in the absence of shadows and rendering. And it’s surprsingly easy to pull off. All you got to remember is to thicken up the Lines facing away from your light source, while keeping the closer contours thin. Sometimes, if part of your character is directly under your light source, you might not even need to draw it in there since some of the details would likely appear washed out due to over exposure. This makes sense in a way because comic art is typically drawn out using flat, black and white, highly contrasting values. So rather than defining every single line on the page the trick is only to define or thicken up the areas of your drawing furthest from the light source.

Oddly enough you’ll find after taking the time to apply Line Weights to your drawing, your figures really do begin to look lit, even without any actual shadowing or rendering.

Using Line Weights at Connecting Points

Finally, Line Weights come into play where one line connects to or intersects with another line. This can also help to show that one form is in front of another.

Once you get used to using Line Weight’s it’ll actually begin to feel very natural as you begin to apply them automatically throughout the refinement phase.  

Now some might argue that I’m making Line Weights out to be a bigger deal then what they actually are. After all, isn’t line weighting part of the Inkers job? Well that’s true. In fact the concept of Line Weighting is originally derived from the sacred ways of the Inker. But as a penciller if you really want to keep your work consistant to the vision you have for it, you might want to take the time to Weight the drawing yourself. Sure, we’re not all inkers and colorers but the more you leave it up to others the more control you give away in how your drawing will ultimately end up looking. Though I ink my own work, if I were to pass it onto someone else to take care of the inking for me, they’d need to do very little guess work when it came to creating and inked replica of the original drawing.

Accurately Refining Elements Using Reference Material

When the initial sketch for Harley was drawn out I mentioned the importance of using reference material. As you’ve probably already gathered, if it was important to work from then, it is even more so now. And here’s why – The elements that make up our idea are already there, and clear enough for us to know what’s going on inside the illustration. Well if that foundational phase is all about establishing those elements, then the refinement stage is about bringing them into razor sharp focus to the point that it would be near impossible for the audience to misinterpret the idea we’re trying to communicate. Reference material allows you to do exactly that, to clarify the individual elements that make up your illustration, accurately.

So here is the process. Harley, being the key point of focus of course has her own source of reference, since she’s already an established comic book character. Of course, that helps immensely here. But it’s also her individual parts that make her up as a whole. Looking at her attire alone she’s got her puff sleeved top, the corset wrapping tightly around her waist, her skirt and belt, the suspenders on her stockings. Then of course there’s her hair, face and the rest of her anatomy. Not to mention her humongous hammer. And so though I will embark on a mission to track down multiple reference images of the Harley Quinn character, I’ll also do the same for each of these elements. Because I simply do not remember, do not know, or worse think I know, what they should look like in reality. They might be stored as vague symbols inside my memory bank, but that will rarely be enough to project them down onto paper at full resolution.

In saying that here’s where reference material is really going to back you up. Your brain, especially as a creative thinker, is extremely effective at relating one idea, to another idea. So as long as you give it something to work with, a single source of reference could potentially spawn multiple new ideas. This means instead of drawing the generic, existing perception I have of Harley, I can use a multitude of references to manifest countless new and unique interpretations. It’s basically the equivalent to firing off a bucket load of creative fireworks inside your head, each exploding into new sparks of inspiration.

That about wraps up the refining phase for this illustration. Next we’ll jump deep into the details as we finish up the series with rendering and shadowing.

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