When we last left page page 29 of Isle of Elsi I had just completed the layout stage; adding the panel borders and speech balloons. The next step in my cartooning process is to pencil the page.
Almost all cartoonists pencil their pages before inking them. This allows the cartoonist to make corrections to the drawings, or move elements around by erasing and redrawing, before committing to the final drawing with a layer of ink. To help facilitate this process of drawing, erasing and redrawing, cartoonists use a thick paper called Bristol board which can withstand lots and lots of erasing and corrections and still provide a nice surface to ink on.
I use 300 Series Strathmore Bristol with a smooth surface. "300 series" refers to the thickness of the paper. Many of my cartoonist friends prefer 500 series which is thicker, but it's also more expensive. I've been using 300 series for more than 15 years now with no problems, so I just stick with it.
There are two main surface variations for Bristol: smooth and vellum. Vellum has a "tooth" to it, which means that the paper is slightly textured. This is especially useful if you are inking with a brush, because those tiny bumps in the paper give the brush a better surface to grab onto. I ink entirely with nibs, which is much easier when the bristol has a smooth surface.
Growing up, most of us think there is only one kind of pencil - the ubiquitous "#2 pencil" that we use in grade school and for all our standardized tests. Actually, there is a whole range of lead, from 8B (the very softest lead, which is very rich and dark), through 7B-3B which gets less and less soft, up to 2B which is the lead rating on a standard #2 pencil, to B. Then there is HB, which begins to get a bit harder and lighter, then H all the way up to 8H which is extremely light and hard. You have to really push to get any kind of distinguishable mark with 8H lead!
Here are the penciling tools I use, which are all "mechanical" so that no wood has to be used to house the lead. First up is a blue lead holder (with blue tape) with 2mm "non-repro blue" lead which does not need to be erased after inking. I often use this for complicated background elements because the blue is easy to see against the gray lead on the rest of the page.
Next is a 0.5mm H lead that I use in a turquoise mechanical pencil that was given to me by one of my college professors. I have used this tool to pencil just about every comic I've ever drawn. The small lead size lets me be very precise with my penciling.
I use the red lead holder shown above for most of my lettering. It has a light 2H 2mm lead that is easy to erase after the lettering has been inked.
Last but not least is another blue lead holder (with black tape) which has HB 2mm lead in it. I use this for panel border layout, because the dark lead is easy to see through the lightbox, and I also use this pencil to do all of my scripting. The soft lead flows easily and is not too precise, so I can keep things loose.
I also use two erasers: 1) The "Magic Rub" block eraser for erasing large areas (usually going over the whole page when it is done) and 2) A Staedtler vinyl stick eraser for spot-erasing while I draw. I probably do more erasing than drawing!
In the time-lapse video that is attached to this post, you will see 6 hours of penciling in under 2 minutes. Note how I often start by roughing in the various shapes and then move them around a few times before I tighten things up. For the video, I used my HB pencil, so that it would be easier for you all to see the drawing. Below is a scan of the page, which has been slightly darkened so that you can see some of the more subtle marks.
In the next process post I will ink this page!