The Digital Canvas

Posted on April 6th, 2014


I’ve begun work on a new project. It’s some way off a public appearance yet as I’m only really at the pre-production stage, but it’s times like this when I start to think about process, methodology, and all that crap that we really should be aware of because it affects the results we get, but we often just take for granted but it’s just what we do, and maybe we’re all just a little intimidated to examine ourselves so closely. It’s also had me thinking about how I’m trapped working on a canvas made of ones and zeroes.

I do all my artwork digitally. In fact, it’s worse than that – I don’t think I could even do any of my work without a computer. At the very least, it would take a billion times longer and probably look a million times worse, so the math doesn’t really add up. Suits and Frequency were started with pencilling on Bristol Board and inked with black ink (Suits with pen, Frequency with brush). I’ve kept planning to get on with pencilling them traditionally, and I think that’s why I haven’t continued with them for years.

Now, doing things digitally doesn’t make your actual craftsmanship any better – lord knows it’s still quite clear what a shit draftsman I am. It doesn’t magically make the caffeine shakes disappear. It doesn’t make you a more hard-working artist either – if anything there’s more distractions readily available (hey there, internet!). But working digitally does allow you to do a few things which make the artistic process a little more bearable, and maybe make the work produced seem a bit better than it would be by hand.

Firstly, digital production allows you to error with far less consequence. Instead of doing things with paper and ink and requiring whiteout every two minutes (and I would) or destroying your bristol board with an eraser (not to mention having to struggle with palimpsests left behind) you can simply command-Z your mistake away and start afresh. Freedom to mess up can be a liberating thing.

Secondly, it allows you to cheat. It’s entirely possible to do a comic in photoshop entirely with photo reference (such as Ben Dickson’s rather good Falling Sky). Now I don’t photo-trace all that often but pretty much all of the environments in Wounded are traced over exported PNGs from Sketchup, because there’s no way I’d be able to remember to put that much thought into environments and keep them consistent and in continuity otherwise – I’d keep forgetting what is where all the time. I really cannot express my love of Sketchup enough – learning to use it semi-competently (and that’s about where I’d rank my expertise) can be immensely rewarding.


Thirdly, a minor point but worth considering, all my work is self-published digitally, and so the process of making it available has fewer steps. There’s no fiddling about with scanners and the like. It’s a relatively minor thing, but it is nice not having to worry about the transition from page to screen.

Because I rely on cheating so much, I’m bound to the computer. I made my peace with that a long time ago. And yet, there’s a small part of me that feels the slightest tinge of shame at this. It feels not right. I wish that I could do it all with pen and paper, and I suspect that being able to do work non-digitally tends to lead to a better standard of work because you can’t rely on being saved by helping mechanisms. Perhaps I’m still slightly stuck in the idea of the old world, affected by a romantic ideal of physicality that has become increasingly disparate in the modern age.

But it doesn’t matter really, because doing the work digitally allows me to get my work done. It allows me to get my work out there. In the end, that’s the most important thing. Would it be nice to have tangible artwork to pour over and treasure at the end? Sure. But it’s nice having any artwork at all, even if it’s only on a screen.

And with that, I need to get on with it.