Inking styles

As a character artist I divide my heroes and inspirations a few ways.
From a structural perspective I adore the work of Disney. Especially the grand masters such as Fred Moore and Milt Kahl. Those guys I have studied in some detail but of course any of the “nine old men’s” work is worthy of closer inspection. I just love the way that their characters have a solidity to them. A real sense of weight and presence.

Moving on to the actual presentation of such characters I look more to the work of some renowned cartoonists.
In particular Bill Watterson ( and the Belgian artist Janry. (

Both those artists have a wonderful style to their inking. A kind of thick and very dark ink stroke that tapers beautifully. The thicker lines help to depict strength. Watterson uses these strokes in environmental elements such as trees and rocks. His Spaceman Spiff adventures often show Calvin as Spiff confronting an enormous space monster. The monster is generally quite jelly-like and the lines that depict it are varied and perfect for adding interest to the finished illustration.

I strive for this same impact in my work. I want the lines in the drawing to be interesting. For me a line with little or no variation if size or weight is pretty dull.
I also like the line to look like ink. I cannot deal with the vector style often found in contemporary picture books. It’s far too clean and round and just a bit dull.

In my own work I opt for the Round Tip Pen in Painter X3. I modify it to have a slightly firmer grain.
I find that this gives me something like the same ink style as the artists that I mentioned above.

Colour is still a bit of a mystery to me. I love to colour my art but I’ve tried so many different styles over the last few months and not settled.
Flat colour is for me a little dull. Much better to see some texture. Watercolour is great for this. But so is a thicker oil with pastel or chalk.
Watterson uses a fairly flat colour style for his characters and reserves the watercolour for the environment. This is neat but not such an easy thing to pull off.

I’m enjoying the process of establishing a consistent style.

Quentin Blake

I have tremendous respect and admiration for several illustrators, but none more so than Quentin Blake (below).

My childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s was set against a backdrop painted by Blake. Largely of course through the writings of Roald Dahl.

In my pursuit for my own signature style I am looking to the works of author / illustrators in the same field. Blake is an obvious starting point since he is possibly one of the most well known children’s illustrators. Certainly in the UK.

What I love about Blake’s work is its energy. Its simplicity and juvenile style do well to disguise a real skill in crafting the perfect scene to visualise a piece of text.

His skill in adding character, expression and attitude with such few lines is remarkable. I love his choice of pen. Indeed his work is purely interesting because his lines are not clean and crisp. Unlike many illustrators who opt for clean, digital lines Blake masterfully creates texture and variation with a single sweep of the pen. The end result is an optimum amount of detail. Not too much and not too little.
A fair amount of Blake’s work is available without colour. For me this is equally as effective. I love colour. Love it a lot. But simple line drawings where each stroke has such “character” also works.

I imagine that many people who assume they can draw look at children’s illustration buoyed by what they see in Quentin Blake’s work and then fall flat. Why? Because it’s really not that easy. In order to draw the way he does you have to understand pose and composition. You have to understand the character and essentially exaggerate every feature for the maximum effect.

This is where I’ve learned most from Blake. It’s not just that I want to draw a character. I want the character to be “real”. I want the character to be alive.
Blake achieves this through the energy that he applies to each stroke but also by the way that he poses his characters. Rarely are characters simply standing rigid in any scenario. Even if the text describes it I imagine Blake would inject some energy somewhere. Not necessarily in the character stood firm but elsewhere. Your eye will be drawn in to the subject via a source of energy somewhere.
He really is a masterful illustrator.

In his own writing, notably Mr Magnolia (above), he continues to explore the maximum that you can stretch a character. A pose is a pose is a pose. But in Blake’s hands a pose has energy. His ink work has energy.
Mr Magnolia is a wonderful book and a simple story.
Therein lies another lesson to be learned. Don’t over-complicate the text. Certainly for a younger audience. Keep the story simple, the message clear and allow your illustrations to do the rest.

I love the way Roald Dahl created fascinating characters. Yes they were absurd, grotesque and often downright evil. But they were intriguing and you really wanted to “see” them. An illustrator’s dream in every respect.
Quentin Blake worked his magic on each of Dahl’s 17 children’s books.

There are of course many other illustrator’s of children’s fiction that deserve a mention but it is Blake that I turn to for the most professional guidance.

Learning to paint a portrait

I would love to be an effective portrait artist.
The complexities of facial expression, composition and lighting baffle and terrify me in equal measures.

Once upon a time I owned a book by the artist Don Seegmiller. I don’t remember the title but it was a fairly comprehensive study of how to construct a portrait using digital media. Corel’s Painter was the software of choice if I remember correct.

Don Seegmiller

I remember being blown away by the art that he produced and from that point forward decided that I would ditch trying to be a traditional painter. I just didn’t have the discipline for it. I tried really hard and failed to understand the dynamics of working with wet media.

I can identify the things that I like and dislike in art quite easily.
I like to see evidence of a brush’s stroke and dislike the over smoothing and airbushed effect common in digital art.
Comic books held far more appeal to me when they weren’t coloured using Photoshop. Far too much smoothing and blurring for my liking.
In photography I love to see those well lit black and white paintings that highlight the rugged, weather-beaten features of ageing rock stars.
I would love to create a similar feel to my digital art.

It’s possible that a huge part of my problem is that I don’t know which tools to use. I like texture for sure but do I start with a heavily textured brush or maybe chalk? Or do I simply block in the colour with any old bruch and rely on some textured blending with the damp brush?

Is Procreate the right app for this? Should I be looking at something like Art Rage?

Art Rage is a wonderful app but it’s somewhat less user friendly than Procreate. Everything with Procreate is smooth and you can paint at the same rate as you think. With
Art Rage is less easy and there can be some delays whilst the app “catches up”.
I use an iPad Air.

So I grabbed some coffee and scoured the web for a handful of images that could represent what it is I’m aiming for.
Punching “portrait painting” in to Google Images seemed like a good starting point.
Here’s three images that go some way to explaining for me what it is I’m trying to achieve.

Original image

I love the colours in the DeNiro portrait. The use of vibrant yellow through orange / tan to blue as a replacement for a darker shading colour. It’s effective and for me reminicsent of Van Gogh or artists of his time.
Artist’s link:


Again I love the colours being used here. It’s how these colours are selected more than the overall composition that interests me. This is clearly the work of a seasoned and confident artist. I’m a way of that yet but it’s certainly something to strive for.


I almost want to refer to the above painting as “crude” in its execution. But that really does misrepresent the artist’s clear ability to compose an image with a true understanding of form, tone and application.
I love to see the marks of the brush and I love to see such bold colours being laid down with confidence.
This is again what I strive for.

You have to love the web :)