George Webber of NoCashComics is a well know freelance cartoonist and award winning sketch card artist in San Francisco. Here, he walks us through his sketch card creation process, giving tips and tricks along the way.
I’m often asked, “What are Sketch cards?”. Most people know what baseball cards or trading cards are, so I often refer to those as a starting point. Then, I explain that Sketch Cards are the same size ( 2.5 wide x 3.5 tall) and general format, with the major difference being that they’re original, ‘one-of-a kind’ pieces of art – not mass produced printed images – and, that they’re generally based on licensed characters like superheroes. Sketch cards are generally marketed by a trading card companies such as Topps, 5FINITY, Cryptozoic, Axebone Studios and sometimes by the artist themselves.
Now that we know what a sketch card is, let’s take a look at how they’re created and give you some tips along the way so you can be more successful in creating your first cards.
The first thing you need to know about creating sketch cards is that there are as many ways to do it as with any other art form, inks, markers, color pencils, watercolors, acrylics and so on. For this tutorial we’ll be focusing on inks and Copic markers. As you can see from my collection above, a sketch card can be anything from a quick character sketch to an all out artwork.
My first tip is to let you know that the paper stock used by different companies varies widely – even from set-to-set for the same company, as they try new paper stock. Some of these paper stocks have a soft surface and others a hard one, some color and blend very smoothly. Others may look blotchy when colored.
TIP: Do one complete card from inks to color before doing a full set to see what works and if there are any issues with the paper stock and your tools.
Not every sketch card artist works the same way or in the same style, some like the comic book style with black outlines, while others prefer a more painterly style without lines.
I like the comic book style and there are a couple of ways to accomplish it. One is using marker type lining pens such as Copic Multiliners. The other is using bottled inks with a quill nib dip pen, or with a brush or brush pen. Personally, I use bottled inks and a brush pen as I feel the line is much more lively, but a marker type liner pen is going to be much, much easier for beginners.
If you plan on coloring with Copic markers like I do, the pen or ink you choose really matters. Copic Multiliner SPs are the best choice, as the color markers don’t smear or feather the black ink.
TIP: The Copic Multiliner SP, while costing a little more than disposable pens, comes in the widest range of tip sizes. Both the tips and ink cartridge are replaceable.
Only a few of bottled inks I’ve found will resist the alcohol-based Copics. Within that few, only two have a nice solid black color – most others look very gray. My choice (as of this writing) is the Kaimei Drawing Sol K. It is the blackest ink I’ve found to date, and is very resistant to the markers. It also works well with nib pens, brushes and my brush pen.
Now that we have some background on sketch cards and some pen choices made, let’s jump into the tutorial and some more tips while we look at how I create sketch cards:
TIP: Keep your hands clean, handle cards by their edges to keep finger oils off of the card face.
The first step is to pencil sketch your character. Try not to bear down on your pencil or it may leave grooves in the paper stock that will foul you up later, remember the paper can have a soft surface. I use a 0.5 mechanical pencil and B2 leads. I don’t use hard leads because cleanup can be more difficult.
TIP: Use a soft touch with soft pencil leads.
You’ll need a few erasers of different types. A kneaded eraser, a couple of vinyl white erasers, a block type and a small eraser pencil are handy. I find the kneaded eraser covers 90% of my needs for doing cards and I reserve the vinyl eraser if there are some tuff pencil lines to deal with.
TIP: Once your pencil work is done, literally roll over it with your kneaded eraser to soften the pencil lines. This will do two things: help the ink adhere better, and make clean up after inking a breeze.
The next step is inking. Be sure to vary line weights by using a few different pen sizes. This is also very quick to do when using a brush pen. Some cards may have printed borders or logos on the front (drawing side). Those printed areas might not take ink or color very well, make sure to test it!
TIP: You can sometimes leave out some of the small details and put them in after coloring. You’ll see and example of that in this tutorial when I add eye details and clothing textures after coloring.
TIP: Let your ink lines dry for at the very least an hour – I prefer over night – before erasing the leftover pencil lines or coloring.
Now that the ink lines are dry, clean up any left over pencil lines using the kneaded eraser. Use the vinyl erasers only if needed, on some papers they tend to pull up some of the ink. Be careful with the card edges and corners.
TIP: Don’t rush – and don’t bend the card. The worst thing you can do is accidently bend a card! Bent cards will often be rejected because they get hung-up in the sorting shooter machine. This can cause other cards to get ruined.
When using Copic markers, there are so many possible color combinations one can use to color sketch cards. In my daily work I do a lot of Pin-Up Girl type art so that means I have a lot of skin tones. For this tutorial I’ll show you my most common color blending techniques for skin tones along with all the other coloring steps.
I start with E000 Pale Fruit Pink as a base leaving blank white areas for highlights. For an even lighter skin tone I’ll sometimes start with a base of E0000 Floral White or use the E0000 Floral White to blend into the white areas more.
Next I’ll use the E000 Pale Fruit Pink in combination with R20 Blush, I use a wet-on-wet technique. I put down the E000 and while it’s still wet put in the R20 Blush and going back over with E000 to soften the color and create a blend. In some case I’ll use a “tip-to-tip” color transfer technique. I simply touch the R20 to the E000 tip. This works best for small areas where you just want to wipe in some blush.
TIP: When using the R20 Blush, put the color down in such a way as to shape the cheek or area you’re working on. Switch between the E000 and R20 quickly while wet. Blend, Blend, Blend!
Next I’ll add shadows using the same techniques using BV00 Mauve Shadow to create my shadow areas. Put down the BV00 and then go over it with E000 Pale Fruit Pink or E00 Skin White (for a slightly darker tone) to soften and blend the shadows.
You can soften and blend everything even a bit more by going over the whole area with E0000 Floral White or the E000 Pale Fruit Pink blending back to the white highlights.
TIP: A bit of the E000 Pale Fruit Pink and BV00 Mauve Shadow in the eye whites will help them have shape, depth and more natural look as eye whites are not pure white.
TIP: Practice these coloring techniques on a similar card stock before working on a real job.
Our character is pretty young, so instead of red lipstick, I’ll use a hint of RV13 Tender Pink. Even that is a pretty strong color so not too much!
I’m using Y11 Pale Yellow, YG03 Yellow Green, G05 Emerald Green and BV00 Mauve Shadow To color the eyes. I’m layering each on top of the other starting with the Y11 Pale Yellow. Touch the edge of each color with the prior lighter color to blend a little.
TIP: You can use G28 Ocean Green after the G05 Emerald Green to make the top of the iris even darker.
I’ll be making our character blonde, and in this case I’ll be coloring in reverse – starting with a darker color (but not the darkest) and going to lighter and then darker colors again. I’m starting with Y17 Golden Yellow as my base and leaving some fairly large white areas for blending with Y06 Yellow using the wet-on-wet technique.
After that, I’ll blend some more with Y11 Pale Yellow and finish by adding lines with the Y17 Golden Yellow. Next, I’m adding shadows and lines with E33 Sand and a final blend where needed with Y11 Pale Yellow again.
I start the collar and ribbons with the darker RV04 Shock Pink, then blend with the RV13 Tender Pink and finish with some BV00 Mauve Shadow.
For the blouse, I’ve started with the BV00 Mauve Shadow to prep the folds.
Next I add B12 Ice Blue leaving plenty of white space for blending.
I’ll blend the B12 Ice Blue into the white space using B00 Frost Blue leaving some smaller white highlights. Ill also add some slightly darker shadow areas with the BV00 Mauve Shadow again.
For a simple yet striking background I used YR16 Apricot and then finished off with some detailing.
For a final touch I add all the highlights. If you prefer working with brushes, Copic makes an Opaque White for adding highlights.
TIP: Use quick strokes when working over the black, DO NOT repeat a stroke as the white will melt back into itself and melt the black ink as well, and can make a mess of things.
That’s it! That’s how I do it. I hope you find this tutorial helpful!
Visit George on the web at NoCashComics.com.