SCBWI Canada East Blog

October 29, 2014
An Interview with Christie Harkin

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I had the great pleasure of interviewing Christie Harkin.  She and Solange Messier have opened their own publishing house, Clockwise Press.  I find her answers enlightening and encouraging.  Please enjoy.


Congratulations on the creation of your new publishing house, Clockwise Press, with Ms. Solange Messier.  What motivated you to create Clockwise Press?

I went away for a weekend at a cottage with my daughter this summer and had some time to stare at a lake and really reflect on what I wanted to do with my career. I started fantasizing about starting my own press, imagining what I’d like to do, and who I’d like to work with. I thought, “It would be great to get Solange to help with non-fiction.” When I got back, I received a text from Solange – out of the blue – saying, “I want to quit my job and try branching out on my own. Am I crazy?” It’s like the universe was telling us to take the leap at the exact same time.

How did you get your first break in publishing and what important lessons have you learned along the way?
After many years as a teacher and tutor, I went back to university for a year in my late 30s and then enrolled in the publishing program at Ryerson. At the end of my first semester, I landed an internship at Fitzhenry & Whiteside which turned into a full-time job. I’d say my first big break came when I was handed a manuscript for a non-fiction book about hockey: “Hockey Talk: The Language of Hockey from A-Z”. I’m a long-time hockey mom so I think the other “non-hockey” folks were relieved that there was someone in the office who could do something with the manuscript. It was a chance for me to prove that I could handle the job of looking after a project, from the substantive stage to the final proof, even finding and directing the illustrator. It was quite an experience.
As for what I’ve learned along the way…whew. That first year was an incredibly steep learning curve, that’s for sure. I learned about acquisitions and editing. Then I learned about cover and interior design, and about art direction. My first picture book, Kiss Me, I’m a Prince! by Heather McLeod and Brooke Kerrigan was a real trial by fire – I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest – but it turned out beautifully and was a Blue Spruce Honour Book.
Over the years, I was given the chance to work with contracts, grant proposals, foreign rights sales, translations, and other aspects of the publishing industry outside of the nuts-and-bolts of editorial. I know that I was very lucky to have had that sort of opportunity to grow as an editor and publisher in such a short period of time.
After 5.5 years at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, I moved to James Lorimer & Co. where I learned a lot about editing hi-lo novels and about marketing, especially as it pertains to schools and libraries. It was a completely different skill set.

Who have been some of your most significant mentors?
Gail Winskill, Ann Featherstone, and Cathy Sandusky were my mentors at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today without them. This will be a total surprise if she ever reads this piece, but Shelley Tanaka (the editor at Groundwood) has been a huge influence as well, even though we’ve barely met. When I went back to university, I took Deirdre Baker’s seminar course in Canadian Children’s Literature and we studied a whole whack of Groundwood books. Shelley even came in to speak to our class. I wanted to be HER and I wanted to edit and produce books that were as good as the ones we studied in class. That’s a bar I’m always reaching for.

Which books from your childhood do you still have on your shelf today?
OK – that question made me laugh. Were it not for a flood that destroyed a huge number of my books when I was 16, I’d be able to say ALL of them. As it is, I still have a couple hundred of my childhood books. Some are a little water-damaged but I’ve got LOTS. I didn’t own many picture books as a child but I do still have my copy of Disney’s Cinderella. And I have the Frog & Toad books and a biography of Helen Keller with the braille on the back cover that I pretty much learned to read from. I also have my mom’s childhood copies of A House at Pooh Corner, Bambi, and Peter Pan.

Name some of your favourite children’s book characters and explain what makes them so memorable.
Growing up, I loved Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and Laura Ingalls. Those were the characters I wanted most as best friends. I identified with Anne and Emily’s imagination and ambitions. And I admired the resourcefulness and practicality of Laura’s pioneer life in the Little House books. When I was older, I really liked Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time. That was one of the first female characters that I read who had to overcome her insecurities and embrace her role as a smart, strong girl on a mission to save the world. Those angels were pretty cool too.


Describe the process of creating a children’s book at Clockwise Press. What are the various stages involved in the journey?

Well, we haven’t actually created any books at Clockwise Press yet! But when Solange and I were at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, we worked together acquiring and publishing books. Now, we decide jointly on what to accept, although Solange is primarily responsible for non-fiction and I look after fiction. The key for us is making sure that the project fits with our mandate and that it is well-written. We are both going to be doing the bulk of the editorial work on our own projects and then probably proofreading each other’s work. We have enlisted the talents of some excellent designers, including Tanya St. Amand, whom we’ve both worked with in the past.
Clockwise Press will be publishing one teen novel in the spring of 2015, followed by a hi-lo fantasy novel, a work of creative non-fiction, and a picture book and in the fall. As far as the process is concerned thus far: We acquired the fantasy and the non-fiction by approaching the authors with some concepts and then working with them to develop the proposals. The other two were projects that the authors and I were sort of having conversations about long before Clockwise was a twinkle in our eyes.


What does your workspace look like?
I shuffled a few things around in my home and took over my older son’s bedroom as an office, actually. There is still some of his hockey paraphernalia on the walls. But I’ve also got a corkboard with lots of illustrator promo postcards, artwork and book covers from many of the books I’ve worked on, a little bamboo skink, original art by Francesco Paonessa, Suzanne Del Rizzo (Skink on the Brink) and Peggy Collins (Tooter’s Stinky Wish), and some kidlit characters on the bookshelf. I also have a reading nook with lots of pillows, inspired by Helaine Becker’s back-deck reading nook. And my desk and chair (so far) are an old-timey wooden pair that you can actually see on the cover of The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard.


Tell us a little about the projects you are working on now.
I can only tell you about one project right now because the others are still in the contract stage. But our first non-fiction book will introduce a series that will focus on recent immigrant success stories. Natalie Hyde is an award-winning author with a long history of writing excellent books for young people, both fiction and non-fiction. She was a natural fit for our vision for this series since we want the story of our first subject to be told like a story. So many people who come to Canada face incredible challenges, both before and after they immigrate. Both my parents are immigrants themselves. CWP’s mandate is to promote diversity and global awareness. We hope that this series will also encourage empathy and tolerance among young people for newcomers who are trying to put down roots in a strange new land. And we hope that young immigrants will be able to see themselves and their struggles in our stories, and be encouraged that they too can succeed.
As for our next few projects, stay tuned! There will be some press releases in the near future.


Are you interested in author/illustrators or do you prefer to marry up a manuscript with an illustrator of your choice?
I don’t really give that a whole lot of thought. I’ve worked with author/illustrators and with pairings. The important questions that have to be considered are (a) is the story good and (b) are the illustrations good for the story? Sometimes I’ll get an author/illustrator submission and love the art but not the story, so I’ll keep the illustrations on file in case another suitable project comes up. Or the story is good but the illustrations don’t work, so I’ll take the story but not the illustrations. It’s hard to be a “double threat,” I think, but it certainly is wonderful when someone can pull it off. I know that a growing number of agents and editors, especially in the US, prefer to have one person take care of both jobs, but that’s not really all that important to me.


May you please let our readers know how they may submit to Clockwise Press?
Solange and I spent a good deal of time working on our “Submissions” page on the Clockwise Press website. It has its own tab and everything! We STRONGLY recommend that anyone who wants to submit a proposal to us should go to the Submissions page and read it very carefully. As a small, emerging press, we have a limited list at the moment ― only four books per year ― so we are having to be extremely selective. www.clockwisepress.com/submissions.


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October 27, 2014
Using a Graphic Tablet

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I have always drawn traditionally and loved every bit of the experience. Traditionally drawn art is still appreciated but when I started freelancing my work, I learned that many clients demanded digital art.
I work with a group of freelance artists on different children’s educational tools and my art director sent me a graphic tablet. I knew he had promised to send me one a while ago but I was still surprised when it came in the mail. I guess I wasn’t expecting it at the time. 



This is the Intuos Pro Medium Professional Pen Tablet. You can get access to more info about it by clicking on this link.


Today was my first time using it. I used Adobe Photoshop to paint a drawing that I have been meaning to draw for a week or two. Although I didn’t use several tools making this drawing, I can imagine what a vast field to explore this should be, especially using a graphic tablet.

How was my experience? Let’s just say it was mind blowing!   

I had heard it took 2-3 weeks getting use to it, but I can see myself using it comfortably even now. The hand and eye coordination is not too hard.
I always thought using a tablet would not give me the satisfaction I get drawing by hand but it’s not true. It gives the same feel.
A stylus (pen) is provided with the tablet, which is used just like any tool (a brush, a pen or a pencil) you would use to draw by hand. It even touches on the tablet’s surface the same way a pencil would on paper. It produces the same sound. The texture is very similar. The stylus has an eraser look-alike at the back just as a pencil does, and you can go in settings to set it to be used as an eraser to fulfill the same purpose. I thought that was really neat!

There are tabs on the left side of the tablet that are used for navigation and formatting the drawing. You can also navigate by natural gestures on the multi-touch screen.
The size of the tablet is just perfect. It’s not too small but also not too large to handle. It’s very light and can easily fit in a laptop bag for travel purposes. The best feature is that you have the freedom of working wirelessly, incase you don’t want to carry the cord everywhere you go.


This is a highly recommended piece of technology for illustrators. I am having a lot of fun with it! It is compatible with both operating systems, Windows and MAC OS.   

Here is an image of what I drew using my Intuos Pro. It has been inspired by one of my favourite TV series, Bates Motel. 


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October 20, 2014
SCBWI Canada East Fall Conference 2014

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I had the honour and priviledge of spending this past weekend (October 17-19 2014)  at SCBWI Canada East Conference in Ottawa, Ontario.  And all I can say WOW!

I had the opportunity to meet with some of the movers and shakers of the Children's Literature World.  I wish I could have split myself in two so that I could be at all the presentations.

Caroline Pignat, a Governor General Award winning author, gave a stellar message of the creative process.  Although, I am sure as artists we all have our own way of writing, she seemed to know me better than I know myself.  It was comforting to see that a writer of her calibre shares the same challenges as I do, except that my procrastinating takes the form of procrastiknitting.  But I suspect we all have a procrasti-something.

Lin Oliver, a co-founder and present executive director of SCBWI, gave a quick synopsis of its birth. I have known that I am part of an exceptional organization, but now I know that I am also in the company of some of the trailblazers in this precarious business.

Lin shared her knowledge of screenwriting and adapted it so that it can be applied to writing a novel.  As all intelligent people do, she took a seemly complicated process and made it simple.  I learned that some of the strange things I do, such as eavesdropping on the conversations of my teens, is actually good and important for my novel.  And I thought I was just being an overprotective mother.

Kelsey Murphy, of Balzer + Bray of Harper Collins, shared her insight on developing a strong character, be it protagonist or villain. I learned how knowing and understanding my characters wants and emotions, allows me to create someone believable.  Also that including subtext and consistent reactions give a character complexity.  Such a character could gain a enthusiastic following from his or her readers.

Ruben Pfeffer, of Pfeffer Content, LLC, taught his audience the keys  to a successful submission.  Although we may all be in a rush to get our manuscript in the hands of an agent or publisher, it is important to make your work as good as it can get.  Show a commitment to your craft.  Also, as writers, we must know what we are writing.  Is it a picture book or a novel, or something in between?

Reuben also shared, from an agent point of view, that a manuscript may be rejected, not because it was bad and that the rejection should not be taken personally.  It may not be what the house wants at the time.  There can be logistical issues.  Do not be discouraged. 

I almost forgot Laura Whitaker from Boomsbury Children's Book. She presented a way to make an editor fall in love with you. She taught us the important parts of a query with her whimsical uniqueness. With a handout that mimicked an on line dating form, we learned how to concisely but effectively get ourselves and thus our manuscript noticed. Let's all avoid the dreaded slush pile. 

These were just the formal parts of the conference.  If you missed it, there was a pub crawl and a "Come as your Favourite Children's Literature Character" costume party.  Both were opportunities to meet all of these people not just professionally but to get to know them as people.

I cannot encourage any writer enough to join us at our next conference in Montreal in the Spring of 2015.  It is a chance to share your strengths and learn how to push through your challenges.  No matter if you are a published author, new to writing with the goal of publication, or like me, still looking for that first "YES" to your manuscript, there is something for you to learn and teach.

I look forward to meeting you in Montreal 2015.
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October 9, 2014
Creating a Graphic Novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art

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My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at www.zoesparks.ca To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.

1. Writing/thumbnailing
I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I'm very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I'm happy with the story.

2. Penciling
Once I have the thumbnailed pages - these are usually drawn very small at 1.25" x 2.5" - I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.

The following is a step by step process for two pages...

Hand drawn thumbnails:

Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:

Inks in Manga Studio: 

Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:

Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:

And that's basically my process.

Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:

And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:

Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:

Concept artwork:

 

Creating a graphic novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art


My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at www.zoesparks.ca To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.
1. Writing/thumbnailing
I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I’m very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I’m happy with the story.



zoe-blog-process-thumbs
2. Penciling
Once I have the thumbnailed pages – these are usually drawn very small at 1.25″ x 2.5″ – I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.
The following is a step by step process for two pages…
Hand drawn thumbnails:



zoe-blog-process-1
Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:



zoe-blog-process-2
Inks in Manga Studio:



zoe-blog-process-3
Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:



zoe-blog-process-4
Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:



zoe-blog-process-5
And that’s basically my process.
Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:



zoe-blog-1
And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:



zoe-blog-2
Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:



zoe-blog-4
Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:



zoe-blog-6
Concept artwork:



zoe-blog-3
I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look into my process.

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October 1, 2014
Rising to the Challenge

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Chris Jones is right.  Personal projects are fulfilling, build skills, and build confidence.  But what if all of your projects are personal ones?  As an aspiring illustrator, mine certainly are. Yet I long for commissions, contracts, and yes, even deadlines set by others.
How do I stay motivated and inspired when trying to break into kidlit illustration? Here's a glimpse at what is working for me:

Join a challenge
There are many online illustration challenges. Find one that interests you and join in the fun.  I am participating in the 52 Week Illustration Challenge. The weekly prompts provide inspiration. Sometimes it's a topic I would otherwise never choose on my own.  It gives me a sense of working with a deadline and it's a way to send my art out into the world in a non-competitive manner.

Enter a contest
The Tomie dePaola Award is an excellent opportunity to build your portfolio.  It's also a chance to work with someone else's specifications and with a deadline.
Take a course
Not feeling quite ready to send out those self-promotion postcards?  An illustration course might be a fun way to improve your skills and confidence.  Just be sure to weigh the costs and benefits before you invest.

Seek out critiques
Sign up for a portfolio critique at a conference or join an illustration critique group.   I can meet a deadline, I'm just not great at setting my own deadlines.  So I use my illustration critique group dates as deadlines. The constructive criticism is great for building skill.

I've seen myself grow as an artist thanks to these personal projects. I've gained skills and enough confidence that I finally feel ready to send out promotional postcards. 

You can see my 52 Week Illustration Challenge entries at www.MarlaLesage.com.
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September 26, 2014
Why Are Personal Projects Important?

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As artists and illustrators you've probably heard it before -  working on your own projects outside of client work is really important for your development.

Let's face it, working in the field of illustration can be difficult and discouraging at times. Finding client work, submitting to publishers, trying to find an agent - it's a constant grind for most of us, so it's important to set aside time to work on personal projects. This can be anything - a single illustration, a series of illustrations on a theme, a comic, a picture book, the possibilities are endless.

A personal project will be something that excites or inspires you - something you are passionate about. Working on a project that means something to you will give you the fulfillment and satisfaction you can't get from client work alone. And this is vital over the long term in maintaining your creative energy levels and personal artistic happiness that will spread out into all other areas of your work and life.

I think the importance of personal projects can be summed up into three main points:

Skill Building
Personal projects are a great way to build your skills and discover new techniques. When working on something for yourself you'll push yourself harder, and often find you produce your best work. Creating something that has personal meaning almost always gives you better results than something you create for a client.

Gain Confidence
Building skills with personal projects will also help grow your confidence. It's a good idea to start out with smaller projects at first, so you can see them through to completion. Completing your projects is key, because that gives you the confidence that you can see them through, and will give you a sense of accomplishment. This will in turn motivate you to start another project - perhaps bigger or more ambitious that the last.

Personal Fulfillment
Have a picture book or comic idea that you are excited about? Instead of submitting it to agents or publishers and playing the waiting game, you may want to consider working on it for yourself. There are many options for self publishing these days, even if you just decide to simply publish your project on the internet. There is a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing your project complete, and you may even find you can build yourself an audience along the way. I myself have published quite a few projects this way, and I have found it very fulfilling and motivating.

A Final Word
With the openness of the internet and social media right now, there are minimal barriers to getting your work out there. Of course the challenge is in getting your work noticed, but that's part of the fun in building an audience. There’s never been a better time to be an independent creator. There are so many creative ways to get your work in front of people, and many artists are already doing just that - side stepping the traditional publishing routes and building audiences for themselves. I think we will see this trend continue to grow in the future.
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September 6, 2014
Exciting (Gorilla) Times

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I'm not as active as I used to be in the picture book space, given some older audience books that I've been working on more recently (Fantasy YA, see www.adriancross.ca), but I've decided to shift gears a little and start a new picture book dummy, something I haven't done in a long time. It's for a PB story that I've been coming back to on and off for a couple of years and finally think I have found the tweak that makes me happy with it. Finally. :) It's about a little gorilla that gets big. Very big! I'm looking forward to it and may post the odd image from the process (either here or at www.croftcreations.ca). Should be fun. :)

The featured image was originally inspired by the story, but I never carved out the time to take if further. Done in watercolor, using various real life photo references blended together.

All the best!
Adrian.
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September 3, 2014
Illustrating Characters: Personality Goes a Long Way

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No matter what type of illustration you are working on, it will probably include a character. When illustrating characters - animals, children, or adults - one of the most basic and essential elements is conveying their personality. Characters are the heart of great stories, and you are telling stories with your pictures, so being able to portray them as unique and interesting is an important and valuable skill.

When you are putting together your illustration portfolio, it's a good idea to show a variety of different character and personality types. This helps give your portfolio variety and interest, and shows your skill in capturing different moods and emotions through your characters. Designing them so they are unique, and breathing personality into them makes them more interesting and engages the viewer.

There are many ways to breathe personality into your characters - shape of the face, facial features, hairstyle, body shape, clothing, line variety, colour - all of these can contribute to the overall feel of the character. The following are some of the things I've learned on how to achieve uniqueness in your character designs:

Line Quality
If your illustration technique includes line work, varying your line can help accentuate the personality of your character. Your lines can be soft and round, sharp, jagged, thick or thin. Think about what type of character you are illustrating, and experiment with different weights and characteristics of line.







Exaggeration
You can also exaggerate certain characteristics to help define your character's personality. Perhaps your character has very large eyes or ears, or a very long neck, or very big hair, etc. Figure out who your character is, and push and pull their various attributes to really reinforce who they are. In your initial sketches experiment with exaggeration - you can always pull back later if it gets too wild, but it's good to see how far you can take things. This is a great way to come up with some really fun sketches, and you may even stumble upon something you hadn't considered initially!


Body Shape
Body shape is another one of the really great ways to capture your character's personality. Is your character hunched over? Do they stand tall and proud? Are they very large and round? Do they have really short legs, or long legs and a wiggly back? The possibilities are endless! You can reveal so much about your character by the way they carry themselves. For fun, go out to a crowded place and watch people as they walk by - pay attention to how they carry themselves as they walk, stand, or sit. Try observing and sketching the variety of body shapes and poses. It's great practice (and a lot of fun!), and you will learn a lot about how to convey a sense of character through the way you draw their body poses. It's also great to use line variation for your poses - quick and sharp strokes for action poses, or round heavy strokes for those slumpy sitting poses. Just stay loose and have fun with it.



Clothing
Clothing is another good way to reveal your character's personality. Is their clothing loose and baggy, too tight, messy, formal, or do they wear a uniform? A great way to get ideas for your character designs is to look through books on costumes, or a quick google image search for any type of period dress.



Facial Features and Expressions
I often think that the face is one of the best ways to really nail the personality of your characters. The face is usually where your eyes are first drawn to, so if you can capture a character's personality in the face, the rest is just reinforcing that. Character in the face comes from the expressions and the shapes used. Is the head angular or round? Are the eyes small or large? From expression lines to the shape of the nose - there are an infinite number of combinations you can make to capture the uniqueness of your character's face.

I find that one of the best ways to get good at capturing facial expressions is to draw while holding up a small mirror in front of yourself. Make different expressions and practice drawing them. Try to understand the muscles in the face and how they push and pull making different lines and wrinkles. When I'm drawing a face, even though I'm not looking in  a mirror I always make the expression I'm trying to draw. It's just an unconscious habit I've gotten into. "Becoming" the expression somehow makes it easier for me to channel it into my drawings.




Colour
The way you approach the colours used for your character also plays an important role. Using bright and vibrant colours may suggest a fun or playful character, while using very pale or soft and subtle colours may suggest a more thoughtful quiet personality. Darks, lights, and combinations in between - colour is a very powerful tool. Try experimenting with different colour schemes to see how it changes the look and feel of your characters.

Now go Draw!
There are some great resources out there for helping you practice drawing characters. One of the books that I used to refer to a lot was "Cartooning the Head and Figure", by Jack Haam. It is jammed packed with helpful illustrations on body types and poses and has a fantastic section on facial features and expressions.

One of the best resources for practicing drawing characters and different personalities is life. Draw people in your sketchbook, and study your own face in the mirror to practice capturing different emotions. The best advice I can give is to draw, draw draw, and then draw some more!
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August 18, 2014
Streamline your Workflow with Manga Studio Story Editor

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I think it's fair to say we're all looking for ways to be more productive. We want to make our workflow as streamlined as possible so we can get more done in a day. Well, if you do any comic or graphic novel work and have yet to try out the Story Editor in Manga Studio, you may want to read this mini review - it could help improve your workflow and increase your productivity.

While working on my current graphic novel, I decided to try the Story Editor in Manga Studio EX 4 to see if it could help me save time and make the whole process easier.

One of the main benefits I've found in using the Story Editor is that it’s helped me focus more on working out the flow and pacing of the story and less time managing different files. I can quickly lay out my rough sketch pages, add in dialogue, and move pages or scenes around to fine tune the flow and pacing of the story - all from one application.

The Story Editor - Overview

When creating a new file in Manga Studio, you have the option of creating either a page or a story. Basically, a story is a file that groups all of your individual pages together in one place (think Adobe Bridge but with a lot more functionality). With the Story Editor you can easily write or import all your dialogue, view and edit all your pages, make global changes to dialogue or font styles, and export your pages to individual files or as a PDF (great for creating a book dummy).

Creating a new story

When creating a new story file you are presented with a window where you can set the dimensions of all the pages (you can set your own or choose from a number of templates), margin guides, output resolution, and indicate the number of pages you would like to set up for your story. You are also given the option to add some footer information to all of your pages (title, copyright info, and position of page numbering). All of these settings can easily be changed later if you need to adjust things.

Setting up individual pages in your story

After you create a new story file, you will see a thumbnail grid of blank pages. From here you can double click on any page to open it. Once you have a page open you can work on it as any normal page. At this point, I like to import my thumbnail sketch for the page (this acts as my sketch layer). Once I have all of my pages prepared with the sketch artwork (which I will use as a guide when I do my inking on a new layer), I am ready to add in the dialogue for each page.

Adding and working with dialogue

The Story Editor window is where you can either manually type in all of your dialogue or import it from a separate file. Manually entering dialogue is really easy. All the pages are shown, and you simply pick a page, click in the box under the page number, and start typing your dialogue. Then, your next line of dialogue for that page would be typed in the box underneath that, and so on. What’s really handy here is that you can easily drag the lines of dialogue around to reorder them, or click between lines of dialogue to insert additional dialogue. You can even insert new pages here, and they will created in your story file when you go back to your thumbnail view.



From this Story Editor window you can also apply global font styles which you can apply to all your pages or only certain pages or lines of dialogue. You can also search and replace text (this can come in handy if you need to change a character’s name in your story).

Once you are finished entering all of your dialogue in this window, the story editor will automatically place the dialogue text on all of the individual pages for you. Then, you can go into each individual page and edit or move the text as you need, or even go back into the Story Editor Window to make text changes, and the changes will be automatically applied on the individual pages.

Adding word balloons

Once you have your dialogue placed on your individual pages you can now move it into position and place it in word balloons. Manga Studio has a nice feature where you can auto generate a word balloon for each line of dialogue. This balloon can be the standard ellipse or you can choose from custom word balloons in the materials library. (you can also add your own custom balloons to the materials library). Another useful feature when generating a balloon for your dialogue -  you can indicate that you want the balloon to resize to fit the dialogue - this is handy if you end up adding or removing text as the balloon will automatically resize to fit.

There are quite a few more options and features for the word balloons, but I won't go into detail on them here.

Editing and reordering pages in your story

When viewing all your page thumbnails in the story editor, all you need to do to edit a page is double-click to open it, make your changes, and save it (or you can set it to auto save when you close the page). You can also quickly and easily reorder or move pages, or whole groups of pages. It’s as easy as dragging and dropping them where you want them. Adding or removing a pages is simple as well - just click where you want to insert/remove and choose the insert/delete command. All of your pages will automatically be renumbered to accommodate the new or removed pages. This can come in handy when you are working on your story and want to move certain scenes around or add some new pages within a scene.



Zooming & previewing

In the thumbnail view of all your pages, you can easily zoom in and out. Zoom out so you can preview all of you pages at once, or zoom in a little so you can read the dialogue as you check the pacing of your story.

Page List view

When you click on one of your pages to work on it, you can choose to open a little sidebar window on your screen which will show the thumbnail view all your pages at the same time. This can be handy if you need to refer to some lines of dialogue that are on adjacent pages while you are editing your page.



Panel Ruler Tool

While not part of the story editor, I want to quickly mention the Panel Ruler tool. Once you use this tool you’ll never want to hand draw your panels again! The panel ruler tool allows you to quickly make panel guides for your page, and you can easily set up the thickness of your panel lines and gutters in the preferences screen. All you need to do is create a new Panel Ruler layer from the new layer dialog box. This will create a ruler border that snaps to the margins of your page. Then, all you need to do is use the Panel Ruler Cutter tool to cut out your panels. With this tool you can easily make straight cuts, diagonal cuts, or create custom panel shapes using the object selector tool. After you have your panels cut out how you want them, you simply rasterize the Panel Ruler layer, and you now have an inked line layer based on the ruler lines. If you drag this layer above your artwork layer it will automatically crop any page content that falls outside of the panels (love this!)

Exporting your story or pages

One of the great benefits of using the story editor is that you can very quickly export the whole story. So, in a matter of seconds you can export all pages to one PDF file if you need to create a book dummy for previewing. Or, after you have inked your pages - you can export them all as layered Photoshop files (with panels, text, inks all on separate layers if you want). You can choose to export only one page, or specific pages of your choosing.

Final thoughts

Even if you prefer to work traditionally, there are still many ways you can use the Story Editor to help your process. You could simply use it to import your page sketches, place your dialogue, and fine tune your scenes and pacing before exporting everything to ink your pages traditionally.

If you are reluctant to try out Manga Studio due to the somewhat clunky and confusing UI, I urge you to give it a try. After a bit of time you will get used to the interface, and I believe the benefits of using the Story Editor are well worth the initial learning curve. Plus, Manga Studio comes with a huge (over 400 page) PDF user guide that is quite easy to follow.
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