Minnie The Westie's cartooning process

Do you wonder how Minnie The Westie cartoons are created? Here's a step by step overview of what's involved in creating your favourite cartoon dog!

{The cartooning process} 1. Materials + rough sketches

{The cartooning process} 1. Materials + rough sketches

Woofings!

Things have been busy here, especially as mum is busy with drawing the cartoons for my second book!

We often get asked what’s involved in drawing the cartoons, so I have convinced mum to show you how she does it.

There are various stages, so we will blog about each stage separately.

Making sure you have the right materials

The very first thing you need to do when cartooning is to make sure you have the right materials. And it can take a little bit of trial and error to find out what suits your own style.

Mum likes to draw the cartoons on holiday or when she’s out and about. Other cartoonists may do all their work at the compawter, but mum doesn’t want to do that, she enjoys hand-drawing.

Here’s what mum uses for the hand-drawing:

Cartooning materials for Minnie The Westie cartoons

Cartooning materials for Minnie The Westie cartoons

  • Pad: mum uses an A5 spiral-bound drawing pad. Why A5 size? It fits into her handbag. 😉 She likes the texture of the paper of these particular pads from her local art shop.
  • Pencils: mum uses a 3B pencil for sketching. That’s a reasonably soft pencil, so it’s easy to erase if needed. (Hard pencils can score lines into the surface of the paper, and that really bugs mum!)
  • Eraser: not all erasers are created equal, apparently. Mum likes this Staedtler Rasoplast eraser.
  • Pencil sharpener: one which catches all the shavings to avoid making a mess!
  • Tracing paper: later on in the cartooning process, mum uses tracing paper. It is impawtant that the tracing paper is reasonably thick, as thinner papers tend to wrinkle. These wrinkles show up on the compawter scans… not ideal!
  • Pens: it is impawtant that the outlining pens do not smudge on the tracing paper – they need to use Indian Ink. Mum uses a variety of pen thicknesses, from 0.1mm to 1.0mm. She is really enjoying these Staedtler pigment liner pens.
  • Fold-back clips (not in photograph): impawtant for keeping the tracing paper in place at the outlining stage.

After the hand-drawing stages are complete, some of the work is carried out on a compawter. We’ll talk about compawter resources later in this series, we’ll just look at the hand-drawing work to begin with. And the first hand-drawing step is to make some rough sketches.

Step 1: Rough sketches

Mum says that doing these rough sketches is one of the hardest part of the cartooning. She has to:

  • Figure out how many frames (or ‘boxes’) are needed for each page of cartoons. Ideally, a gag should fit all onto one page – unless it’s part of a story sequence. Some of my cartoons are one-page gags; others are sequences.
  • Figure out how large each frame needs to be. The amount of text can be a deciding factor, so mum often begins by writing the text first, and then figuring out the rest.
  • Decide on the composition of each frame. Making sure that each frame is well-composed is important.

Examples of a rough cartoon sketch

Here’s an example of one of mum’s rough sketches. And as you can see, some of it is very “ruff” indeed – and also very faint. The faintness is on purpose; the sketch will be improved upon later in Step 2 of the cartooning process.

Step 1 of the cartooning process for Minnie The Westie cartoons: the rough sketch.

Step 1 of the cartooning process for Minnie The Westie cartoons: the rough sketch.

We’ll watch this particular cartoon (for my new book!) evolve. The next blog post in this mini-series will look at the next step: fine sketches.

Do come back and see how the cartoon takes shape!

Love ‘n’ licks,

Minnie x

 

To link to this post, use: http://www.minniethewestie.com/the-cartooning-process-1-materials-rough-sketches

 

{The cartooning process} 2. Fine sketches

{The cartooning process} 2. Fine sketches

Woofings and welcome back to my mini-series on how mum draws my cartoons!

Last time we looked at the materials mum uses, and the rough sketches she makes.

This time we’ll look at the next stage in the process: turning those rough sketches into finer sketches.

Step 2: Fine sketches

The purpose of the rough sketch was to make sure that everything fits onto the page in a pleasing way. But many aspects of the sketch are just too rough and need to be improved up. That’s what happens next.

Now, many of the things mum has to draw are things she’s never drawn before. That can be challenging! This is why she often does practice sketches.

Practice sketches

When mum has to draw something she’s never drawn before, first of all she finds reference drawings on the internet (Google Images is a great tool). Then mum practices sketching them, and adds her own touch, to make the sketch unique. Mum often draws pages and pages of practice sketches before working on the actual cartoon.

Mum's practice sketches of a moo-moo (yes, there will be moo-moos in my next book!). Notice how she is practicing the body shapes and also the facial expressions. Mum also writes notes about what she likes and doesn't like in the sketches.

Mum’s practice sketches of a moo-moo (yes, there will be moo-moos in my next book!). Notice how she is practicing the body shapes and also the facial expressions. Mum also writes notes about what she likes and doesn’t like in the sketches.

Example of a fine sketch

Once mum is happy that she knows how to draw everything in the cartoon, she can get on with fining up the cartoon.

Here’s the rough sketch from last time, tidied up. Mum had never drawn a person swimming before so she found reference photographs to help her draw that.

Step 2 of the cartooning process for Minnie The Westie cartoons: the fine sketch.

Step 2 of the cartooning process for Minnie The Westie cartoons: the fine sketch.

 

The cartoon is looking much more presentable now! But the hand-drawing isn’t over. The next job will be for mum to ink the outline in a black pen, so that it’s suitable for scanning onto the compawter.

We’ll look at the outlining and inking stage next time.

Do come back and see how the cartoon takes shape!

Love ‘n’ licks,

Minnie x

 

To link to this post, use:  http://www.minniethewestie.com/the-cartooning-process-2-fine-sketches

 

{The cartooning process} 3. Outlining

{The cartooning process} 3. Outlining

Woofings! Welcome back to my mini-series on how mum draws my cartoons.

Here’s what we’ve covered previously:

Now we’ll look at the step 3: outlining the cartoons.

This is all about adding a black outline to the cartoons – after all, so far they’re pencil sketches, and they need to have that black line to stand out.

Mum says she has mixed feelings about outlining the cartoons…

…On one hand mum always has a chuckle as she wields her black outlining pens. You see, mum’s art teacher at secondary school told her off for always drawing black outlines around things. Apparently, according to this teacher (we’ll call her Miss Hards, ‘cos (a) that’s her name, and (b) she was quite hard on her students!), things in real life don’t have a black outline around them. I dispute that! *rolls eyes*

However, drawing this black line is quite tricky; one needs to be very steady-of-hand. Which mum is not. Her unsteady hands are great for belly rubs; but not so great for cartooning!

Here’s how mum approaches cartoon outlining with her not-so-steady hands

To get around her shaky hands, mum does the outlining on tracing paper, rather than directly on the cartoon. This means that if she makes a mistake, she hasn’t ruined her sketching work.

Here’s a list of materials mum uses for cartoon outlining:

  • Sketch book with pencil sketches.
  • Tracing paper cut to size. She uses quite thick tracing paper; the thin stuff wrinkles and moves. And the wrinkles show on the scanner (we’ll cover the cartoon digitising stage next time).
  • Fold-back clips to hold the tracing paper in place. She uses two very small ones.
  • Black outlining pens with nib widths ranging from 0.1mm to 1.0mm. These have quick-drying Indian Ink and she bought them from a local art shop. The brand she’s currently using is Staedtler.
The materials used for outlining Minnie The Westie cartoons include tracing paper, fold-back clips and Indian Ink pens.

The materials used for outlining Minnie The Westie cartoons include tracing paper, fold-back clips and Indian Ink pens.

 

When mum outlines, she draws the rectangular frames first of all; then adds the words and speech bubbles; and then she draws the rest of the cartoon.

This usually happens in a few stages; even though the pens are quite quick-drying, they still take a while to dry completely on the thick tracing paper. So mum has to be careful not to smudge the ink.

Has mum always done the outlining this way?

No, mum hasn’t always done the outlining this way. For my first book, she did the outlining directly onto the sketch, and then erased the pencil markings as best she could.

However, despite lots of rubbing out, she could never get rid of all the pencil marks, and that created a lot of PhotoShop work for her further down the track. (You’ll learn about PhotoShop and digitising cartoons in the next blog post in this series.)

Worst of all, sometimes she’d end up crumpling the paper when she got too carried away with the rubber! Horrors! So the tracing paper technique is saving a lot of time and frustration.

Anything else about outlining cartoons?

The only other thing I have to say about  outlining cartoons is that mum is doing a lot of it at the moment! I am happy to report that she is making good progress on the cartoons for my second book… watch this space!

Anyway, next time we’ll look at the digitising stage, i.e. getting these hand-drawn cartoons onto the compawter.

Till next time!

Love ‘n’ licks,

Minnie x

 

To link to this post, use: http://www.minniethewestie.com/the-cartooning-process-3-outlining

 

{The cartooning process} 4. Digitising the hand-drawn cartoons

{The cartooning process} 4. Digitising the hand-drawn cartoons

Woofings! Welcome to the final instalment of my mini-series on how mum draws my cartoons.

Here’s what we’ve covered previously:

Now we’ll look at the step 4: turning the hand-drawn cartoons into a high quality digital file.

This is an impawtant step, because the cartoons have to be in a digital (computer) format in order to put the cartoons on this website, and to print them in my books.

Equipment for digitising cartoons

So far the equipment that’s been used has been simple and inexpensive: paper, pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener, tracing paper, outlining pens, and so on.

Things get a little more complex here! For my cartoons, mum uses:

  • Scanner
  • Compawter with PhotoShop software
  • Wacom Intuos 2 drawing tablet.
A drawing tablet and scanner are Minnie The Westie cartooning essentials.

A drawing tablet and scanner are Minnie The Westie cartooning essentials.

 

Here are the steps mum works through to digitise my cartoons:

1. Scanning the cartoon outline

Mum scans my cartoons by putting the tracing paper (with the inked outline) on the scanner. The glass of the scanner must be super clean, so it’s a good idea to keep a cleaning cloth handy to wipe away dust and fingerprints.

The scanner is set at its highest resolution (600dpi), and the cartoons are scanned as black and white documents and saved as JPEG files.

2. Tidying up the scanned cartoon

This is how a cartoon looks after scanning… as you can see, it is faint and doesn’t look very tidy. It also needs cropping, and many of the cartoons need to be straightened (rotated) too.

The scanned cartoon isn't as crisp as it could be... plus it needs to be cropped and tidied.

The scanned cartoon isn’t as crisp as it could be… plus it needs to be cropped and tidied.

 

This is where the PhotoShop software and Wacom drawing tablet come in handy to tidy up the cartoons!

When mum first started cartooning, she didn’t have the drawing tablet. It took her many hours to tidy up just one cartoon in PhotoShop, and her hand got very saw! She bought the drawing tablet secondhand and absolutely loves it.

Figuring out how to use PhotoShop has taken mum quite a while though. For my first book, it took mum about 3 hours to work on each cartoon… multiply that by the 85 cartoons in the book, and you get an idea of how long it all took to put together!

Obviously mum needed to get more efficient. Here’s what she did…

(a) Using a PhotoShop ‘Action’ to automate the most time-consuming work

The way mum used to tidy up my cartoons in PhotoShop was time-consuming and also very boring. Just think, she could have been spending that time giving me belly rubs instead! Something had to be done!

Thankfully mum’s web designer friend Trisha in Australia came to the rescue. She wrote a customised PhotoShop Action for mum… this does in 3 seconds what used to take mum an hour or two! No exaggeration!

The screenshot below gives you an idea of what the script does. All mum has to do is click the “play” button, and PhotoShop does all of this in seconds:

These PhotoShop actions do in 3 seconds what used to take mum  1 to 2 hours!

These PhotoShop actions do in 3 seconds what used to take mum 1 to 2 hours!

 

Mum does make some manual edits to the cartoon as well, for example to tidy up wonky lines or insert something she forgot to draw initially. She is a pawfectionist!

(b) Using a custom font for the lettering

In my first book, mum did all the handwriting in pen and then tidied it up in PhotoShop. She’s insistent that the lettering must be easy to read, but alas she is not gifted with naturally neat handwriting. (She says she was the only kid at Primary School who had to do handwriting homework!)

So for my first book, mum spent about an hour tidying up the writing on each cartoon… that’s an hour on top of the two hours she’s already spent PhotoShopping!

Again, this work was time-consuming and boring, so a better way had to be found! So for my second book, she had a font made from her very neatest handwriting from YourFonts… this was just US$10-15, so very well worth it!

NB: Mum has retained some of her handwriting in some instances. For example, the cartoon you’ve seen evolving on this page maintains mum’s handwriting for my zzzzzs and also the SPLASH!

So now all she has to do is white-out the handwriting that’s been scanned, and type it in the “Minnie Cartoon” font. Not only is this much quicker, but it is much easier to read, too. (And it means mum can spend more time giving me belly rubs, yeahhh!)

(c) Inserting the blurbs

Now the cartoon is nearly finished! Mum now adds the following to make the cartoons look all professional ‘n’ stuff:

  • Numbering: each cartoon has a unique number to identify it by. This is usually in the bottom left hand corner of the bottom frame.
  • Signature: mum’s surname, Luethi, usually appears in the bottom right hand corner of the bottom frame.
  • Website address: so people know where to find my cartoons!
  • Copyright details: to identify mum’s company as the legal owner of my cartoons.

And that’s it!

Here’s the finished cartoon:

The finished Minnie The Westie cartoon.

The finished Minnie The Westie cartoon.

 

Or if the cartoon is going to be used on my website, Minnie Mail or elsewhere, mum adds my masthead to it. Again, she does this in PhotoShop, and is very quick.

Here’s the cartoon with the masthead added:

When you see my cartoons on my website or in Minnie Mail, they will usually have my masthead at the top, for that extra "Minnie The Westie" touch!

When you see my cartoons on my website or in Minnie Mail, they will usually have my masthead at the top, for that extra “Minnie The Westie” touch!

 

So now you’ve seen the creation process of my dog cartoons from start to finish!

Wags ‘n’ licks,

Minnie x

 

To link to this post, use: http://www.minniethewestie.com/the-cartooning-process-4-digitising-the-hand-drawn-cartoons