Corban Wilkin: Illustrator


Wabi-sabi

“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Comics has a spontaneity problem.

Chris ware said that, unlike writing prose or playing music, it isn’t really possible to get into a creative flow when making comics, that the technical demands are too complex and the rate of creation too slow.

The classic way of drawing comics is pretty convoluted. Script, thumbnails, roughs, underdrawing, inking. In fact, almost all comics were traditionally made by teams of three, four, five, or more people all doing their own separate bit to cobble it together.

But what really matters? I care about dialogue and relationships between characters more than anything. Do I care about comics having stunningly beautiful artwork? Well, yes, to an extent. But most of the time, artwork that is too involved, too complex and eye-catching, actually distracts the reader from the story. In a comic, the drawings should be in the service of the story, not in the service of themselves. So when we agonise over every panel, trying to make it a work of art in its own right, we may actually be doing more harm than good.

In trying to find a way to make art without being neurotic about it, I’m making myself work in ways that force me to embrace imperfection. The way I see it, however hard one tries, the result is bound to contain imperfections.

In fact, the acheivement of ‘perfection’ in art is asymptotic, i.e. you can approach it, but never reach it, and as you get closer, exponentially more energy is required to make further progress.

Or in other words: the first 90% requires 10% of the work, and the last 10% of the work requires 90% of the effort.

So maybe it’s better to embrace imperfections rather than engaging in the desperate struggle to overcome them all.

I’m starting to realise that the attempt to iron out all kinks in a piece of writing or drawing is mostly a barrier to progress.

Wab-sabi is a concept originating from Japan that embraces the transience and necessary incompleteless of anything humans create. Starting from this idea leads one to principles of simplicity and finding natural approaches to creation.

I’m having a go at drawing comics with the most natural approach that I possibly can. Two projects I’m currently working on, my graphic novel Amy & Kay and a daily comic strip Faith in Strangers, are both drawn in pencil without much planning or any underdrawing, and with the intent to embrace imperfection as far as I can bring myself to do so.

When things go right, drawing this way looks more spontaneous and interesting than any laboured-over drawing. When it goes wrong, it’s imperfect, but somehow hangs together with everything else, and balances with the parts that are more successful or complete.

Make the unfinished and imperfect nature of the work part of its essence, like a painting with areas of blank canvas, or a song that cuts off in the middle of the climactic moment.

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Painter’s Daughters With a Cat. Unfinished, and all the more beautiful because of it. The loosely-sketched areas create a contrast that allows you to really see the more fully-realised areas. (This was probably not left intentionally unfinished, but still.)
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Faith in Strangers

On Monday 25th April, I’m starting a serial graphic novel.

Every day, I’ll be posting a new episode on my Instagram and my Twitter.

FAITH IN STRANGERS is a serial graphic novel made up of short scenes from a space base in the remotest regions of the solar system, where three entry-level astronauts are stuck together having strange conversations, getting ignored by mission control, and trying not to be driven mad by jealousy and social isolation.

It’s kind of science fiction, but not really. It’s more like a drama that just happens to be set on an icy dwarf planet in the trans-Neptunian outer reaches of the solar system.

Imagine being stuck somewhere so remote that there’s a 24-hour delay to communicate with anyone back on Earth. Now imagine being stuck there with two of your co-workers. Well now they’re your best friends, and your closest family, and the people you rely upon for your continued existence each and every day. So let’s hope you get along.

This is an experiment in drawing an ongoing comic and sharing the results online every day. I’ve never done this before. Let’s see what happens.

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A Graphic Sketchbook Novel
March 21, 2022, 15:09
Filed under: illustrations | Tags: , , , , , ,

The great cartoonist Seth subtitled his brilliant Wimbledon Green with the words, “A story from the sketchbook of the cartoonist Seth.”

Wanting an excuse to make some fun comics just for himself, he decided to put aside a bit of time each morning to draw a little comic in his sketchbook. Without planning ahead, he drew what came most naturally to him, and gradually a story emerged, eventually ending up as the complete book.

I’m working on something with a similar approach: a graphic novel called Amy & Kay.

Every page of this comic is drawn without any under-drawing. It’s just me and a pencil, drawing it as I go along.

Working this way permits a lot of spontaneity to come out in the drawings. The standard way of drawing comics, and the way I’ve usually done it (as detailed in my last post), is to create a careful underdrawing and then ink over the top of it. This is a tried-and-true method that’s served people well for countless great comics, but the results can look a little overwrought, and lacking in the focus and emotional immediacy that a spontaneous drawing can give to a character’s expression and gesture.

When I noticed that a lot of my sketchbook drawings and doodles were stronger than my more careful illustrations, I knew I had to find a way to make my comics more like my sketches.

I’m quite deep into this book, and I’m starting to see the result: a story in pictures where the drawings may not be technically perfect, but where the immediacy of the drawing hangs together in a natural way and seems to give more life and character to the story than I’ve managed to acheive before.

More info on the book coming soon! Until then, here’s a few snapshots from the drawing board in the last few weeks.

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Making a Comics Page, Start to Finish
March 21, 2022, 11:16
Filed under: illustrations | Tags: , , , , , ,

When I was giving school talks about Dino Detectives I spoke a bit about the process of going from script to full-colour artwork when making a page of comics. I thought I’d share here the examples that I used from the book, going from a script, to thumbnails, to scrappy roughs, to blue-line underdrawing, to the final line drawing. Then the process of layering the colour on, from background, to characters, then adding details, then shadows, and finally a few special lighting effects.

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Primary Colouring
July 1, 2016, 09:00
Filed under: illustrations, politics | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

trump-sanders-low

Just created this set of designs in the style of face cards from a deck of playing cards for T.J. Kirkpatrick‘s upcoming Primary Colors project.

T.J.’s photographed beautiful portraits of such significant political figures as Newt Gingrich and Christine Lagarde, but in this project he focuses on ordinary voters and the reasons they had for rallying behind their candidate, be it Clinton, Cruz, Sanders, or Trump, the eventual leaders in these races which, of course, has now been whittled down to just the big two.

But I don’t know, the way Gary Johnson’s polling right now, I may have to make a bonus card for him as the joker in the pack. Or maybe that card you get with the rules of poker on it.

cruz-clinton-low



Inkin’ it Large

lowcarbonfuture

I’ve been in the habit, for a long time, of drawing TOO SMALL! So right now, working on the Low Carbon Future graphic novel project with Leeds University, I’m drawing these pages at the largest scale I’ve ever done for a comic, and I have to say, it’s very refreshing.

These pages I’m doing are to be printed around A4 size (210x297mm), which is large, so I’m drawing them at something like 500x720mm, not far off A2, which is gargantuan. I think people used to draw comics on paper that large, to be printed on big full newspaper pages, and they scanned them with those massive old drum scanners you don’t see anymore.

Admittedly, I am making this easier for myself by using the ‘french graphic album method’ of drawing two half-pages and then printing them together. It makes having the thing on your drawing board a lot less cumbersome. Anyway, more on this when it’s looking finished.



A Way That Works

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My graphic novel project with G. Neri has been in progress for a year now. The end may or may not be in sight, however.

I’m actually now redrawing a number of early pages. I started drawing the book at too-small a size, and I decided I wasn’t happy with it, and reformatted to a weird paper size I’m cutting myself (I’m envious of US paper sizes, since the standard formats we get here in the UK never feel quite right (or maybe I’m just that picky)). So I knew I needed to come back to those pages. Since I’ve had something of a deadline extension, I’m able now to go over some of this huge project and spend a bit more time on what’s be2en some truly tricky drawing.

In addition, I’ve been writing a ton of comics short stories, which has been a lot of fun.
Redraughting and drawing them up is a different matter, though. That’s the curse of comics: it’s all so time intensive, but I’d love to find a way to draw my comics quick n’ dirty in a way that works. At least I’m not an animator.

Currently obsessed with: Toulouse Lautrec’s sketches and drawings. He’s very much an illustrator’s fine-artist. Drawings have to have outlines or my puny mind can’t make sense of them.

Also: Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor. Which I’ve read about four times now and may be the most novel-like comic I’ve ever read. Nothing else I’ve seen by a single creator is as successful as this at giving you the scope and depth of a novel. I understand it divides opinion, mostly due to the kitschy nature of the eponymous sculptor-main-character’s art (according The Comics Journal, anyway), and I’d noted that, too, but in book on this scale, there’s bound to be criticisms of some elements. But the thing as a whole: wow, it’s a great comic.

And that’s Corban’s totally-late-to-the-party review.



Patience is Passion Tamed
June 28, 2015, 16:28
Filed under: comics, graphic novels, sketchbook | Tags: , , , , , ,

One of the things that used to cause me no end of frustration when I would draw outside, from life, would be the necessity, sometimes, of drawing buildings. They’re always there, looming above us, often dominating the field of view. You can ignore them for a while, drawing a person here, a tree there, but if you want to depict any scenes from the modern world, buildings and architecture have to get in on your compositions.

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve actually taken to drawing buildings: somehow having gained enough self-assurance that I can feel comfortable sitting for long periods of time putting together an office block line by line. When you start to embrace it, it becomes something meditative and fulfilling completely in its own right. These days, in fact, I tend to enjoy sketching urban landscapes more than people, who have the highly disagreeable habit of moving around.

Below: a few pages from a small sketchbook that survived a recent trip to the West Highlands with only moderate water damage.

Meanwhile: back to working on the sketches for my graphic novel collaboration with Greg Neri.

scotland sketchbook (1) scotland sketchbook (2) scotland sketchbook (3) scotland sketchbook (4) scotland sketchbook (5) scotland sketchbook (6)



The Icing on the Cake
March 31, 2015, 18:42
Filed under: comics, graphic novels, illustrations | Tags: , , , , ,

courtroom-cake-illustration-vignetted-small

In addition to writing and roughing the ridiculously long and totally gotten-out-of-hand graphic novel that I’ve been wrestling with for some time now, I’ve been doing some work recently with Stargazy Studios, doing character illustrations and frames and even some level concept-design for smartphone games. Take a look at Stargazy Studios’ portfolio page to see some cool stuff.

Below: scattered with abandon across my studio floor, we’ve got some pencils for game-character frames on the left; to the north-east we have just a few of many-(many)-hundreds of pages of notes, thumbnails, and sketches for a story; and in the bottom right: horse-drawing practice.

montage



Live Drawing at the Climate Symposium
October 19, 2014, 12:42
Filed under: exhibitions, illustrations | Tags: , , , ,

darmstadt climate symposium 2014

Just got back from Darmstadt, Germany, where I was attending the week-long 2014 Climate Symposium as a sort of artist-in-residence.

I spent the week responding to themes in the conference lectures and discussions and producing artwork as visual accompaniment right there in the beautiful Darmstadtium Science and Congress Centre. I worked alongside comics artist James McKay who was also painting all week on themes of Climate Science. We were asked to attend after producing the book Dreams of a Low Carbon Future, which debuted at the 2013 Thought Bubble festival. (And right now we’re working on the sequel.)

The whole event was wonderfully organised and although many of the scientists and researchers attending said they’d never seen anything like this at a science conference before, everyone seemed to enjoy watching the process, especially when I spent some time actually drawing at the front of the main conference hall as talks were going on. Nerve-racking at first, but very exciting.

A number of attendees asked about buying the artwork I produced at the symposium. The work is going into an exhibition for a few weeks, but after that I’ll be able to sell the pieces, which are all A1-sized (594 x 841 mm). Feel free to contact me for details.

painting in darmstadt

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