Digital sketching with Mischief and Wacom Cintiq

For the digital sketcher there really is no finer tool than Mischief, in my opinion. It’s inexpensive, lightweight and packed with the drawing power to produce quality visuals that scale beautifully due to its use of vector rendering.


I’ve written about the merits of cartooning with Mischief before.

My early morning ‘warm up exercises’ generally involve writing or drawing based on first thoughts as I wake. Coffee fuelled scribbling is a favourite dawn activity of mine and I frequently turn to Mischief.

It’s fast, reliable and completely flexible for the artist that just wants to ‘dive in’ and draw.

Today I drew Llamas. Not randomly I hasten to add but as part of a client’s project for a children’s picture book. It’s a fun story and the Llama that stars is a pretty funny if decidedly laid back character.

2016101032-spitting 2016101044-lottie2

For these sketches I drew from a simple reference photo that I’d found on the internet.

On Mac you can hit Cmd+W and Mischief drops into a semi-transparent mode. You can still draw but it shows the window beneath such that you can use it for reference – or trace if you’re so inclined. A neat feature and something I’ve used a great deal.


Semi transparent mode in Mischief

On iMac ( I can’t comment for Windows) there’s little difference to firing up Mischief and drawing in under 3 seconds than opening up a sketchbook and finding a blank page.


Presenting my illustrations in a mock paperback format

I draw so much that I sometimes find it hard to maintain a particular style. So many different styles resonate with me and I often enjoy turning my hand to them to see how they work.

As an illustrator in search of an agent I’m always looking at different ways to present my work. So I crafted a paperback spread using Photoshop and applied some of my more recent drawings.


Paperback spread created with Photoshop (click to view / download)

The drawings I wanted to present are from a collection I’ve been working on that involve a young boy and his dog in a fantasy realm. Here’s an example. It’s a linear style that I enjoy using when creating some interesting textures, such as wood or a gravelly floor.

barter for the bird

Here’s another one. This drawing was created using Mischief. It’s a much looser style and perhaps a bit more fun.


I took a couple of images using each style and placed them onto the paper background.


Line art on a paperback background


Loose cartoon style on a paperback background

I honestly like both styles. Which to present?
Or both, even!

To create the desired effect I used Multiply from the layer blends in Photoshop. It renders neatly against the paper backdrop.

The type is Georgia.

Creating a school storybook at Weston Primary School

I really do have to pinch myself sometimes.

Next week I am thrilled to be attending Weston Primary School where I will be working with the children to illustrate a story that they’ve written.

This is a story that the entire school has contributed to and it’s a real privilege to be invited to spend time with them.

The way that the day will pan out is that, following a quick introduction during assembly, I generally meet with various children from key stage 1 in the morning and key stage 2 in the afternoon.
We work together in sketching out some visual ideas for their story and defining the characters.
Of course the children have their own thoughts and ideas as to how their story should look and this is perfect.


Wacom Cintiq Companion 2

I always take my full technical kit with me.
This is a Mac Mini with a Wacom Companion plugged into it. I project from there through an Epson projector onto a large screen in the school hall. My drawing app of choice is always Mischief.

The children sit with pencil and paper and we all have a huge amount of fun bashing out ideas. It’s essentially a storyboarding session and I enjoy getting the children excited about sketching.

What’s essential to this process is that the children cannot make a mistake. It’s just ideas. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. All ideas are welcomed and all contributions explored.

I have a range of coffee table books that focus on story development and conceptual art and I will always take those with me.
Books such as PIXAR’s FUNNY! which I heartily recommend to anybody with an interest in storyboarding.

What falls out of the bottom of the process is a series of sketches that the children can then go away and work with during class time.

I’ll sit with children individually to help them where they need it. I love listening to the children’s ideas and I love to see them expressing themselves visually.

Following what will probably be an extremely productive few days or weeks in class I will take all of their artwork and assemble the book using InDesign. The PDF book is handed back to the school for review and then it’s uploaded to an online publisher (usually Amazon’s CreateSpace) and a book is produced.

If you are involved with schools and this sounds interesting to you there is much more information available over at my Cartoon Academy website.

Sketching and drawing a cartoon using Mischief

I am a huge fan of digital sketching. I remember almost 20 years ago playing around with my very first drawing tablet – a Wacom Intuos. It was superb and I must have created enough artwork to fit on a handful of floppy disks :-)


Back then I probably used Paint Shop Pro. A wonderful application that allowed for some fine details. I couldn’t afford Photoshop.
These days I have the full suite of applications from Photoshop through Corel Painter to Manga Studio. They are all superb.

I run an Apple iMac 27″ and have a Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch plugged into it. What a difference 20 years makes in technology. The combination of Mac and Wacom is a digital artist’s dream.


I’m always drawing. When I’m feeling technical I fire up one of the drawing apps and start sketching. My first choice application for sketching is Mischief. A wonderfully versatile and lightweight app that just lets you draw. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s layers but there’s no layer effects. There’s no filters and no fancy text functionality. There isn’t even a paint bucket. It’s just a drawing app. You create your canvas, select a brush and start drawing.


In this step by step tutorial I want to share with you my approach to creating a cartoon (above) in Mischief.


The brush palette is pretty basic but has everything that you’d need to start sketching. For my sketch I chose a pencil and modified it slightly to be less broad. I like the texture that the pencil provides.


Drawing in Mischief is a pleasure. The canvas is infinite which means that you don’t start by defining your image file’s dimensions. You simply launch a new canvas. When you export your image you can select the entire canvas or just a portion of it. More on that a little later.

For now I just want to lay down some marks to help establish the structure of my cartoon.

My main character is rather excitedly controlling a remote-controlled BB-8. He’s leaning back but is stood firm.
I indicate this with a broad red arc. Everything that I draw around this character will now have this red arc at its core.

I also indicate the light source. Later, when I’m inking I’ll reference this light source to apply some darker areas to BB-8 and to also throw a couple of shadows down.


The character’s torso and basic body shape are added. You can see that I’ve also given some consideration to his gaze. I’ve got him staring straight down at the droid. Though I’ve not drawn the arms and hands yet I’ve indicated where I want the controller to be.

In the back of my mind I can picture the character’s facial expression. I know I want him to be smiling but at this point it’s not so important. I just want to create the basic composition.

BB-8 will be in motion and heading from left to right away from my character.


Before I add some detail to BB-8 I want to complete the structure of the character that is controlling him. I add the arms, hands, controller and facial expression.

It makes perfect sense that the guy has a smile on his face. He’s in control.

It’s now time to focus a little on the subject itself.


BB-8 is whizzing along. I angle him back and add some motion marks. In this sketch I place his antenna vertically on his head.
Later, on reflection, I decided that to further emphasise the motion I’d angle them back a little.


To allow me to start inking the lines in I drop the opacity of the sketch layer to around 10 – 12%. A pretty neat onion skin effect that allows me to see just enough of the sketch to add the inked detail.

I confess I love this part the most. It’s a wonderful thrill to be able to add some firm ink lines and start to construct the final image.


From the detail above you can see how satisfying the line is with its varied weight. With just a little pressure I can get a very fine line. As I increase the pressure the weight of the line increases and I get that wonderful variation. Particularly noticeable around the eyes.

Whereas before, whilst sketching, I was ‘zoomed out’ (i.e. I could see the entire sketch), I now enjoy zooming in and adding the detail. This is, of course, something that is a key feature of producing digital art. That ability to fine tune your work right down to the pixel.

I occasionally add extra features such as tiny freckles and fine hair lines.

As the cartoon takes shape it throws up opportunities to add things that I’d not considered while sketching. The cheeky little grin, for example.


Once the cartoon is inked I’m done with the lower layer. One of my signature effects is to ‘black out’ the far side of a character and also those areas immediately underneath something. So in the cartoon above you can see that I’ve blacked out the left leg and shaded the left arm and area beneath the right arm. It adds a little depth to the image and a little more interest.

Also, on BB-8, I’ve added some black to the area just beneath his head.

The cartoon is now ready for colour.


For the colour I use the same pen. It gives a satisfyingly solid finish and I find myself simply ‘colouring in’.

To help emphasise the motion with the droid I white out the motion lines against its body. I could almost write the word ‘WHIZZZ’ alongside it.

For some extra interest I erase some of the colour on the main character to show a little white area. You can see these around the face, sweater and pants.

And that’s it!

Mischief is a wonderful tool for conceptual work but as you can see it is also a perfectly adequate application for producing finished art.

To export the image I have some options.

Hitting ‘M’ on the keyboard places me in Marquee mode. I can drag a rectangular marquee around the image. Specifically the region that I want to export.


Thanks to Mischief’s infinite canvas I can draw without boundaries. But this also means that I need to specify which area of the image I want to export. By default Mischief stores its artwork in .art format files. Obviously this format is not something I can work with on the web or in Photoshop. Not yet, anyway! Mischief uses a vector based model for creating the art, hence its versatility and ability to scale.

So I need to export to a format that I can use.

Hitting CMD+E (Mac) I can then export the selected area.


The dialogue box that appears allows me to specifically capture the selection and alter the dimensions of the exported file. It also allows me to specify a DPI and file format.

For the web I’m happy with 72DPI and PNG format, but using the same .art file I can also export to 300DPI which is perfect for print. Extremely powerful and perfect for any digital artist concerned with both web and print production.

If you’ve not already, I heartily encourage you to give Mischief a whirl. It’s free of charge to evaluate (15 days) and inexpensive to purchase. ($25USD, approx £17GBP)

Download Mischief.

Download the original .art file used in this tutorial.