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How to Draw a Digital Comic: The Creative Process

At Winged Canvas, we’re passionate about mentoring and supporting artists, especially local young artists who are at the beginning of their creative journey. We do this in many ways, such as our Art Mentorship program, informative blogs (like this one!) and Art Portfolio Development events. We also have a unique co-op student program for artsy high school students in York Region. Our goal is to provide awesome and creative experiences that give students real-world skills, tailored to their goals and interests, to help prepare them for their future artistic endeavours.  

Jessie Chang is a Markham-based Art Nerd and has been a co-op student here for the past few months. She created an incredible comic that showcases what Winged Canvas is all about as one of her projects and let’s just say that is is everything our artsy hearts could have desired. But how does a comic like this come together? We asked Jessie to share her creative process, from conceptualization to completed piece. So meet Jessie:

Jessica Chang, Digital Comic Artist and Illustrator, Winged Canvas

Hi everyone, Jessie here! Let’s do this. Okay, so a comic like this isn’t thrown together on a whim. A long string of events takes place before a finalized version comes to fruition. Here, I’ll walk you through my creative process steps for this comic, from initial concepts to the final touches.

Conceptualization is one of the most important parts of the creative process. It helps guide your creative process — that way, you don’t start with wanting to draw, say, a basic cityscape, and end off with a setting that looks like it belongs in an H.P. Lovecraft novel. This conceptualization stage was no different. I got straight to work with imagining varying ideas within the given guidelines:

  • The comic should be in a maximum of 8 panels

  • It should show off the ‘spirit of an Art Nerd’ and ‘the spirit of Winged Canvas’

  • The comic should include things we’re best known for/what makes us different in comparison to other art galleries (life drawing from models, having studio dogs, being an eco-friendly studio, having an Art Mentorship program, etc.)

Rough sketches of ideas for the comic by Jessie
Phase 1: Rough ideas and sketches made during the first all-important conceptualization phase

I adore the conceptualization phase. I tend to have too many ideas to count! Sometimes I’ll catch myself conceptualizing for a personal project as I wash my hair in the shower, or my mind will create crazy, unfiltered ideas fueled by the fever dream-like lucidity that comes with 3 am art sessions. However, while attempting to conceptualize for this comic, I was almost immediately stumped. I thought up a single idea, and then suddenly it was as if someone reached out and flicked the little gerbil off the wheel that powered my creativity. So, as many artists might, I freaked out a little, wondering where that little gerbil ran off to. However, I knew how to fix this issue. I got out of my seat, grabbed a glass of water, wandered the studio a bit, bothered my fellow co-op student, and then sat back down after a short break of pondering. The gerbil returned to his wheel and got back to work.

I thought more about what made Winged Canvas “Winged Canvas.” For other projects, I’d been told to refer back to the Art Nerd Manifesto on our website. So I did just that, reading and re-reading it. I plucked out little bits of imagery and branding and mixed it in with my given guidelines. A few of my ideas included: 

  • A studio tour led by the studio dogs

  • A comic where all the staff were different characters in a fantasy setting

  • A comic where Fei (the founder) would lead you through the studio, the comic itself set up in the same shape as the studio, each room being a different panel

  • Panels of the comic would be dedicated to different classes we teach (a panel would be in the style of cartooning and anime, a panel would be watercolour, etc.)

ideas and sketches for the comic by Jessie Chang
Sketches of some of my fantasy theme ideas that ultimately were not used (but so fun to create!)

In the end, with some assistance from Winged Canvas founder and creative director Fei Lu (never be shy to ask fellow artists for their feedback!), a good old-fashioned comic that detailed what Winged Canvas is well known for in each panel was decided upon. The final idea went through a few more stages of conceptualization, tying up the loose ends and fixing what didn’t fit quite as well. Some of this included issues with the art itself, some ideas that didn’t quite fit our brand, and some panels where the imagery might be a little misleading. For instance, in order to show off we are an eco-friendly studio, I drew a few recycling bins with little flowers growing in them. However, I was told that we usually don’t keep many plants in the studio. So, maybe not the best idea to show off plants. Once the final sketch was complete, the final drawing process began.

Now, you know I’m a high school co-op student and this was one of my projects, But this project was important — it was also my Rich Performance Task (RPT). In other words, this comic was for my final assessment, where I would present my creative process to my teacher and some of the Winged Canvas staff. So, when exactly was the final sketch approved, you ask?

Oh, only the day before the presentation. Which is pretty common in the world of graphic design, advertising, etc. So this definitely prepared me for what I might expect in a future career in the arts.

Luckily for me, I’m well known for my speed when it comes to completing art pieces. I already had the sketch laid out; all I needed to finish was the line art, colour, shading, overlays, speech bubbles, and script. It may sound like a lot, but don’t worry. I don’t mess around when it comes to deadlines.

sketch of welcome to winged canvas comic by Jessie Chang
Phase 2: The initial sketch - now all it needed was...everything else.

From the time I got home that day, it took me about an hour to get the entire comic’s line art finished. Line art is one of my favourite things to do when illustrating, so finishing that fast was no challenge for me. I went to eat dinner and got back to work half an hour after that. It took me another hour to finish my flat colouring. For flat colouring, I like to use Photoshop and select everything outside of the line art layer (making sure all the line art doesn’t have any gaps in it), expand the selection, and then inverse it. That way, on a layer underneath the line art layer, I can paint bucket in a solid colour inside all of the line art. Deselecting and locking the layer allows me to stay colouring inside the lines much easier.

The comic by Jessie Chang with only the linework completed.
Phase 3: One of my favourite parts of illustration: line art

I had some other assignments to complete that night as well. I finished those up and did a little more work on the comic, but 3 am was approaching so it was time to call it quits to get some sleep. I knew that I would have an hour the next day before my teacher arrived at Winged Canvas for my assessment. That would be more than enough time to cell shade, do some colour overlays, make the speech bubbles and write the script in time for the presentation.

The comic by Jessie Chang with only the linework and flat colouring completed.
Phase 4: Oh hey there colour, welcome to the comic!

The next day, my fellow co-op student and I arrived at Winged Canvas around 11:40 am. My teacher would be coming at 1:30 pm, so that left me more than enough time. Cell shading took me about half an hour, overlays took 10 minutes, and laying down the speech bubbles took 10 minutes. Then came the script. Am I very experienced with script writing, you ask? No. No, I am not. But it was nearly 1:00 pm and I had to come up with something, So I quickly came up with a nursery rhyme-like script, saved a JPEG for the presentation, and copy-pasted it into my document. I didn’t record the script writing or properly laying down some of the items, but my final time for creating the initial final comic was around 3.5 to 4 hours.

I did really well on my presentation (in case you’re wondering).

Because it was more rushed than it should have been, it needed more revisions afterwards, though not as many as I had expected there to be. A day or two of more light edits later and the comic is finally complete. While stressful at times, I had tons of fun working on it! Here is the final completed comic:

final welcome to Winged Canvas comic strip by Jessie Chang
Phase 5: Adding finishing touches, text, and revisions.

We’re so proud of Jessie. Her comic captures the Winged Canvas spirit, what we stand for, and it feels very authentic! Her passion for art and the creative process makes her an Art Nerd through and through. In fact, Jessie will be staying on as a member of the Winged Canvas family as a teacher this summer! She’ll be teaching our Digital Art course and Cartooning & Anime course.

Want to learn more about the comic creation process with Jessie? Check out her Digital Illustration mentorship class, where she teaches detailed lessons about the comic creation process!

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