Working with a colourist

May 19th, 2018


The upcoming Kun-ghur: Kuma's Hero is the first time I've worked with a dedicated colourist. It's been an interesting learning experience. In the past, when I've coloured my own art, the colours have been an instinctive and automatic process. The mood, the emphasis, focal points, and the effects - they all came for free as I imagined each panel.

Now these decisions have to be consciously transformed into words for another artist to work from. They need to be clear and concise, yet leave room for another artist to work with freedom and autonomy. Give it a crack some time, peeps. Words about pictures for another artist is ... you know the sound of a metal spoon in an in-sink garbage disposal? Yeah.

The pressure to get the colouring briefs correct was surprising. I haaaaaate wasting time creating art which is incorrect, so the prospect of wasting another artist's time..? That's a pressure I wasn't expecting.

Before I hired a colourist, I prepared:

  • an art direction document, to set the overall tone of the book
  • coloured model sheets for key characters
  • a brief for the set of five pages
  • mood boards
  • all of the individual panels for five pages, without text laid over the top
  • the same five pages, complete with text

I met Darko Stojanovic via Upwork.com. His painterly style has a warmth to it; and his brush-stroke textures somewhat similar to the background paintings which appeared in the old He-Man cartoons and comics.

Art direction

Some colours have special meaning in the Kun-ghur universe. Purple is reserved exclusively for the villain; ordinary people are superstitious about it. Etorea City is famous for its pink lava, and so it's the colour of its royalty. These are important things to communicate to Darko before he starts colouring.

I talk about the overall tone of the book. I want the Kun-ghur books to have a slightly surreal colour palette. Trees are just as likely to be blue or red as they are green. The ground might be dirty, or it might look soapy. And so Darko needs to know about this freedom before he begins. There are several carefully-chosen images to demonstrate my intentions; because while words are good, pictures are way better at communicating art.

The art direction also mentions lighting, textures, blending, and skin colours. Mood board images are included for all of these considerations, and in some cases, non-examples to illustrate distinctions.

Model sheets

Before I started work on Kun-ghur: Kuma's Hero, I never used model sheets. But because this book took a long time to produce, model sheets became invaluable - for myself! Over time, small changes to Kun-ghur's costume started to creep in. A model sheet meant I had a fixed reference point. For future books, I'll revisit the model sheets; I want to avoid changing a character's look during a story.

Speaking of changing a character's look, in Kuma's Hero, several characters change costumes throughout the book to illustrate the passage of time. For each of these characters, I had to create a separate layer in the model sheet for each costume, named for the day of the week in which it appears. It felt like overkill, doing all of this work, but it meant I could feel confident Darko had unambiguous instructions to work from.

Briefings

While the art direction document spoke to the overall tone of the book, the briefing documents address individual pages and sometimes even individual panels. I'll mention which characters (and their costumes) are being used, which locations, what time of day, and environmental conditions. Where relevant, I'll link to model sheets or mood
boards.

During the production of Kuma's Hero, this is where I felt I needed to back off the most. Early briefing documents were too prescriptive. I need to give Darko space to be an artist too. There's a balance between clarity and controlling; I hope I'm getting better at that balance.

Mood boards

A folder containing an assortment of images from travel sites, interior design feeds, and architecture magazines (great for locations), and other artists and comics (often useful for communicating colour, mood, texture, or special effects).

Things I've learned

Along the way, I learned about the relative "cost" of a page. The time to colour a page isn't the same as the time to colour the next page. Although he's colouring the same physical amount of space, a page with lots of panels is often harder work because there is often more precise detail to navigate. Bigger pages tend to be more efficient, as there's often more space between the details.

For the next project, I want to send the colourist a Photoshop layer of construction pencils so they can safely infer perspective for background details. For example, in some instances, Darko had to guess how to fill backgrounds with the corners of an interior room. He shouldn't have to guess that stuff, because I hadn't inked in the background. #shrugs You live and learn, and then tell people about it in your blog...

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