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Illustrating your own Graphic Novels: Can You Do It?

Sponge Bob Toon Cast

Sponge Bob - much harder than it looks!

Of course you can. Can you do it well? Maybe.

What do you need? Well, art classes are helpful but you could manage without them also.

What you do need is a good imagination and a pretty fair artist’s eye.

Finally, you have to know your audience. The last part is a given for any artistic venture done for someone besides yourself. It’s also the easiest part. All you have to do is read what they read. Pay attention to the text and the pictures. If you’ve always been good at taking photographs or decorating cakes are doing anything else considered artistic, then you probably have a pretty good artists eye.

Imagination, well curiosity, is the best part of that and you know if you have it. Again, you need to go out and have a look at the kind of graphic novels your target audience reads.


Now let’s look at illustration. Graphic novel illustration looks very simple. It is not. It takes a lot of attention to detail to get it just right. You are working with only the three primary colors and black and white, so color is not your major tool.

Graphic novel illustration is akin to Impressionism, because it’s not realistic and uses lines to give the impression of what you’re illustrating.

Lines for movement, facial expression, angles and curves are your major tools. You do not only want to entice the reader in. Looking more closely at your illustration, you want to lead them to the focal point and then lead them to the next illustration. This has to be planned.

For example, if your heroine has found a poisonous weed, you want to lead the reader’s eye to what is in her hand. Then, perhaps, the next illustration should be a small close-up of the plant. You will of course have some monologue or dialogue with both of these.

But let’s not just think about the theory behind graphic novel illustration.

What about the practice? That is easier than you think.

There are a number of different software programs from free to very expensive. They can help you learn to illustrate graphic novels. If you have the imagination, the story and the eye, then you should start trying the free illustration programs, especially those aimed at people wanting to learn to illustrate comics or cartoons.

Personally, I favor some of the offerings by Smith micro, such as Toon and Anime (links at bottom). Any of these that have a free trial you should try. Set up to do your free trial when you have lots of time and practice, practice, practice.

You might want to try doing pencil drawings on cheap tablets and work from those in your software. If you could afford to buy a tablet for drawing that would be even better.

There are several good ones on the market and they range from around $70 up. Most of them come with accompanying software.

One thing about trying to illustrate your own graphic novels, if you find you don’t like it or cannot do it, you can always hire somebody or partner with someone. But you will never know unless you try.

Karena A Dec 2012

See also The structure of the narrative which is the partner to this article.

Toon Essentials from Smith Micro >

One Comment

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