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Coloring the L Jamal Way
6 December 2009

One of the many things that I do is color. I learned coloring by reading all the tutorials out there and then finding my own way. This is my way of giving back. So I'm taking a panel from one of my Thomas strips and taking you through my process.

First let's start with my hardware and software. My home computer is a desktop used almost solely for comic book production and web design. It's very, very basic exactly for those needs. It has 7 hard drives. One is 4 GB  and devoted solely to the operating system. 3 Hard drives are 10GB and mostly empty. I use these as Photoshop's scratch drives. The others are used for programs and storage. All total, I have 150GB of hard drive space. This is enough for me to hold most projects from 2-3 months before moving them into storage elsewhere.

My operating system is Windows 2000. It's now obsolete, but it's relatively small compared to Windows XP, Vista and 7. Most importantly it's not such a resource hog. I store it on a 5GB hard drive and let it do it's thing. Because I use Windows 2000, I also use Photoshop 7.0. I have CS4 laying around somewhere but just don't have the time to upgrade and transfer all my shortcuts and actions right now. Some day, I'll get a new machine to run Windows 7 and then start using CS4 until then, I'm cool with what I have. Since I'm running Windows 2000, I'm running with 1 GB of RAM which is more than enough for my needs.

It all starts with lineart. In this case, I'm working on a comic strip, so I set up my file as follows. The file is converted to CMYK mode as I color exclusively in CMYK. The lineart is placed in a layer and set to multiply. Above it is a layer called letters which holds the lettering. It is set to normal. I do all the coloring for lettering in Illustrator and for strips, I import it into Photoshop and place it over the lineart. This way, I can color under the lettering and not have to worry about it, but the balloons and everything lettering related has already been done. Under the lineart layer is Layer 1. This is where I start my coloring.

My file set up.

Now that everything is set-up in the file and ready for me to start coloring, I open up my color swatches. This particular swatch is one that I developed from old school comic printer. The older comics used screens that represented 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. I've found that using K values produces muddy colors, so I make sure my colors use no K values at all. All my coloring starts there and I make changes as I need to along the way.

This is where I differ from a lot of colorists. I very rarely use flats. I just start coloring with a basic idea of the the color scheme in my head. This is really simple panel, but I know that Maika has purple skin, so I'm using a yellow to brown gradient for the background. This shot gives you a very good look at my PS window as I move through the panel. I like to keep my palettes visible, but I very rarely use the tools palette as I use keyboard shortcuts.

Most of my coloring style is a variation of cell shading (especially for strips). As such,, I use the pen tool more than the brush tools. I tend to start with the largest shapes and work down to the details so that I only have to worry about edges as a drill down. As you see above, I worry about the edges on the hand but color over the areas of the torso.

This is what my colors for Maika's skin looks like without the lineart.

I'm going with a very simple cell shading style, so I pick a dark version of the base color. My darker version is usually the color with C,M and Y each increased by 10-15. Some times, it's just C and Y by 10-15. It really depends on the images and the look I'm trying to capture. Most of the Thomas strip use direct local lighting, so I'm not doing anything too experimental.

I chose a light source. This time upper left and I place my shadows on the opposite side of that light source. Light most things with art, this doesn't have to be absolutely correct, it just has to look correct. You could spend hours make it absolutely correct, but this is a case where good enough is good enough.

This is my colors with shadows without the lineart. For the most part, I do my shadows on the same layers as my base colors. I've been doing this long enough that I really don't make many edits after the fact, so I'm confident enough to do them on the same line. If you don't have that confidence then feel free to use different layers.

I use a combination of the pen tool and the standard brush of all my cell shading.

Above, I'm beginning to add the colors on her shirt. Note that I am now going over and overlapping the skin color I laid down before. This guarantees that all my colors meet under the lines and there are no uncolored areas.

I simply repeat those techniques over and over and over again until I've finished the image.

This is what the colors look like under the line art. Note that I save a lot of time with her hair by only coloring the area that actually shows,

Here I've created a lighter shade of the skin color and went in an added highlights on the nose and right side of the face. The lighter shade is used for highlight on the base color. The base color is use to highlight areas in the shadows (like over her left eye).

One of my pet peeves is when the inside of the hands match the color of the outside of the hands. So I go on all my figures and on a new layer I color the palms solid white.

This is the layer with the palm colored white. After I'm done coloring the palms white, I set the opacity of the layer to 50% and then I'm done.

So I save the layered image one last time and then I flatten the entire image.

See it's all on one layer now.

Then I go into my channels and select the black channel. I copy this in to memory. This gives me just the black lineart of the file. If this is not pure black and white. Then I paste the lineart into a new file and use bitmap mode to create lineart that is pure black and white.

I need pure black and white lineart in order to run my underprinting action.

Above is my underprinting action. It was created from an email that Matt Webb supplied to me a long time ago when I started coloring. Basically, it creates a rich black color layer (underprinting) of color under the solid black (100% K) layer.

This is the Cyan layer before.

This is the Magenta layer before.

This is the Yellow layer before.

Cyan after.

Magenta after.

Yellow after

CYM layers after. The muted grey color is the underprint base that sits under the solid black (100%K).

This is how the final image will appear.

Note that the solid black areas of the image are now all 63C, 52M, 51Y, 100K. That is the rich black color that I use.

...and now the final image. If you download this image from the web, then you will note that black is not the rich black noted above. That's because the image is now RGB rather than CMYK and the colors have migrated from print colors (CMYK) to screen colors (RGB).

The strip featuring this panel can be seen at Warmageddon.com.

TAGS : coloring, tutorial

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