The Vault Keeper and Drusilla

I thought I’d do a note on my process for doing the style of illustrations that I’ve been keeping myself busy with lately, i.e. the more cartoony colourful magazine type stuff that I oh so clearly ripped off from actual artists like Mort Drucker, Wally Wood and Jack Davis. I’m a big fan of old comics, especially the stuff published by EC, the people that published Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror and the Haunt of Fear before ditching horror completely to break new ground in humour with Mad Magazine.

First of all, this is just the way I do things. It kinda works for me (until I find a better way, that is), so don’t take any of this as gospel and please let me know if you have any suggestions on where improvement can be made. If you want to see a real pro at work I highly recommend Mort Drucker’s video (link below).

Now, I thought I’d use my take of The Vault Keepr and Drusilla (of Vault of Horror fame) as an example.

I start with a rough thumbnail sketch to get an idea of how the characters will be placed and try and come up with some sort of angle or gag to give it some sort of message in line with their personalities. I don’t see much point in drawing a character just striking a pose without any further context. It could end up being a great drawing with fine rendering, but lacking in the sort of meaning and context needed to keep me interested as an artist (Ok, the image below is in fact a thumbnail for a different sketch featuring the Crypt Keeper and pals, but I'm sure you get the idea) 

Once I’m happy with the thumbnail, I do a pencil sketch with shading to give me a guide for how the values will work. I decide where light sources will be and give some details to the characters’ expressions and postures. I usually do this on this 80gsm copier paper (usually A3). A more seasoned artist will probably skip this step completely, but I still need my training wheels. A good tip is to draw holding a mirror to the one side. That way you can check if the drawing balances or whether you need to work on symmetry. If you’re attempting this digitally just flip the image horizontally from time to time.

Finished pencil sketch
Now that you have your pencils done, you may want the final drawing to be at a larger scale for the sake of fitting in more detail. I use the Rasterbator application (link below) to create a pdf split up into smaller pieces for printing on A4 pages. I then trim and stick the pieces together with transparent tape.

Tip: If you don't want to work in Units of A4 you can set the width and height values to fractions in Rasterbator.
Greats like Mort Drucker use 3 ply Strathmore 500. That’s the best paper for this kind of art. It’s very heavy so as not to warp when applying layers and layers of dyes. Unfortunately, living in the UK and having to pay a premium for US goods, I only ever get to use 2ply Strathmore 500. Whatever ply you get, it needs to be the vellum (‘kid’) surface. The smooth (‘plate’) version is great for black and white inking but doesn’t work for washes given that it’s less absorbant and has less tooth than the vellum variety.

So now you need to trace your enlarged image from your reassembled print out. You really need a lightbox for this using a hard graphite pencil (3H will do). The softer the pencil, the more wayward lines will find their way into the finished art and you’ll find yourself having to erase more, which gets messy. Also, you can’t erase pencil lines that have been covered by the colour inks, and they will shine through. More on that later.

For the tracing I use an LED lightbox, but I’m sure you could get away with using a glass pane with a bulb beneath it or a flat computer monitor with a white desktop background if you don’t want to shell out. So, I trace out the shape laying down as little graphite as I can get away with.

Again, like Drucker and Davis, I use Dr Phil Martin’s Bombay inks. These have a high colour saturation and can be diluted with water. You can mix them together to create new colours. They play well with black line art because, like watercolour paint, the colour ink has a high level of transparency, but unlike watercolours, once dry it will remain in place and will not reactivate with the application of more water. This is handy because you can lay it down in layers to build up your values without worrying about it being washed away later.

    Colour scheme guide with notes

DIY swatch
Now, to start with the inks I apply diluted black ink to the areas that I know will have shades. I try and replicate the shades using my pencil sketch as refrence. Btw, this is the stuff that comes with the set and not the ‘Black Star’ ink that is best used for line art on its own.

The next step is to decide on a colour scheme. I found it handy to create a swatch from the available unmixed colours and choose from there (I bought both 12 colour sets for which I paid about £80 at the time. It was well worth it because this stuff goes a long way). So, I print off 4 copies of the pencil sketch onto 1 A4 sheet and play around until I have laid down a colour scheme that works for me. Again, while pro guys probably shoot from the hip and apply the colours straight to the page using their considerable experience and superior artistic sensibilities, I like to avoid disappointment as far as possible by making a little guide for myself with notes of what colour laid down where.

Now to start painting/inking whatever you wanna call it. I lay down a layer of the dilluted colour as per the guide, covering the shaded grey areas. Now, this is where the hard part comes in. You need to keep applying pigment until the dark parts are suffieciently dark to create enough contrast for the composition to work in such a way for the reader’s eye to be drawn to the important bits of the drawing. I create brighter hues by using colour pencils. I also use gouache to here and there to create completely black areas or to create areas with solid colour where needed. I think this part is worthy of its own blog post (or series of posts even), so I won’t go further into it for now.

I hope someone finds this useful. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Til next time, take it EC!