Be they traditional or digital, your tools are an extension of yourself. They are the vehicle that communicates story, expresses feelings or ideas, and connects you to the humanity at the core of us all. I’m not going to tell you what tools are the better than others, or whether I think you should focus your efforts on digital over print. I’m not opinionated enough for that kind of talk. I am, however, very passionate about comics. I will therefore discuss my thoughts on tools, with the understanding that these are choices that were formed based on personal experience.
It’s important that you experiment with as many materials as possible to determine what works for you. If you use unfamiliar tools, it will strengthen your eye for color, value, and line. For example: watercolor, gouache, and acrylic paint all afford different ways of applying color to a canvas. Try mixed mediums. Allow yourself to have an honest reaction to the materials you use, and try not to worry too much about style.
This spirit of experimentation is vital to improving as an artist — never stop.
Tools can get expensive, so consider some alternative methods of procurement. Try to befriend other artists, if you can, and propose a swap. If they order their materials online, maybe you can save on shipping by placing a group order. And pay attention to coupons! Many art supply stores release them and the savings really add up. Stretch the life of your tools whenever possible.
The materials you choose to work in are important because they reveal a lot about yourself. Until your brush/pencil/charcoal hits the canvas, your comic only exists as an idea. What is revealed when you begin to place your mark? Not only the comic, but your skill as an artist. And something human as well — the best tools offer a glimpse into the inner life of the artist. This undefinable thing, this emotion, is what connects you (the artist) to the viewer. This is what I love about comics! These thoughts keep me up at night and greet me with a silly grin every morning. Forming a deep connection with the audience on an emotional level is a transcendent experience.
Not all tools are physical; you will discover that many of the tools in your arsenal are mental ones.
J’ai la patience d’un bœuf [I have the patience of an ox] -Gustav Dore
I printed out this quote and have it taped on my drawing board. After a trying day of work, when my hand accidentally smears a nearly complete page, I see it and breathe (after swearing and nearly punching a hole through the wall).
The strongest mental tool that you can develop is patience, not just in yourself but also in the family of artists that walk the path with you. Everyone deals with the same frustrations and everyone has an ego. So be patient and understanding with all concerned. Instead of succumbing to the frustration, try and grow from it.
That said, the most common frustrations deal with the disparity between what you think you should be able to do and what you can actually accomplish. Improvement arrives like a snail on an icy, uphill walk – very slowly. But it will come. Your passion will be rewarded in the long run. Or in the words I will someday have engraved on my tombstone: be sweet to each other but moreover, be sweet to yourself.
Tools Versus Story
Your creativity may be what gets the job done, but as I said, it’s the choice of materials that makes it happen. Feel free to choose whatever tools strike your fancy; picking a dip pen like a Hunt 102 over working digitally on a Cintiq tablet won’t matter to your story. And it’s story that matters above all else. Every art decision you make will either help or hurt the flow of the story — every line, panel composition, camera angle, color choice, and character expression. Simplicity and clarity is the goal. Make your decisions accordingly.