Over the last two weeks I’ve been doing more lettering and drawing some new pages.

On the 23rd, 24th and 25th November I assigned three full days to work on The Hollow Man, and chose a new scene to draw. This is one of the earliest forest scenes, where Jay and Pippa meet to walk through it together for the first time since they were kids. The mood and atmosphere of the forest is key to the whole book: the dappled light, the sense of ethereal ancient beauty with a sinister edge. I also wanted to capture the slower pace of life, the smaller scale of events at the level of bugs, buds, streams and wind in the trees.

There was also the question of simply how to draw trees, lots of trees, and wangle the characters and locations into shape in a timely way.  ‘Suggestion’ is the key. Simplification is my mantra at all times (though the pages still look far more detailed than they could be) so I started with some silhouettes. Silhouettes of grass, flowers, bushes and trees.

I’ve gathered a fair bit of photo ref over the years, from visits to the Dingle and other ancient woods, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts found I could render a credible tree in a few minutes using my trusty Belgian Brush and a grass nib I modified in Photoshop to rotate randomly. Grass isn’t leaf-shaped but it looks natural enough in clumps to pass for leaves, at least at the level of detail I require.

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It’s either black or white. Simple.

With that established it was fairly quick to draw the rest of this page, a couple walking, and some aspect to aspect panels reinforcing the “mossy stone”, “knot of a tree” and “scent of leaves” in the narration. The simplicity of this captures the mood I’m after.

I laid out all the text elements first of course, before deciding how to divide up the page into panels and what to draw. I’m generally looking for no more than two, possibly three, short captions or balloons in a panel. But as I looked at the flow of balloons and captions I removed more and more of the prose description, which seemed spurious, and realised that the dialogue would work well in a Bendis style flow down the page (though I’m nowhere near as busy and verbose as he is). This appealed to me because nothing was going convey the timeless beauty of the forest better than a large splash panel with lots of atmospheric light coming through the trees, and a few small inset panels at the bottom highlighting the natural details. So by the end of the day, I had finished the page:

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I’ve switched the lettering off so you can see the art.

The rest of the forest is going to be part of the colouring process.

The page opening this scene I’d decided to do as a three page wide panel intro to the scene, focussing on some small aspect of nature, slowing things down, changing the mood from the suburban scenes which precede: perhaps a frog eating a bug.  When I sketched that out I decided it was a bit too pat, too ‘on the nose’, so decided instead to draw a butterfly in close up before pulling back as it flies off to reveal Pippa’s feet walking towards us. This captured the aesthetic mood and pace I wanted. Originally I saw it as a silent page, but in the end I felt it flowed better if Jay greeted Pippa as she approached in the bottom panel.

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Nature in action. Fairly simple to draw.

That took a day, though most of that was deciding what to do rather than doing it.

Finally on Friday I turned to  the middle page, which links these two pages together, more of a nuts and bolts storytelling page with establishing shot, midshot, closeup and so on. No big panels or moody micro-close ups, just a solid bit of five panel storytelling. Here I’m more interested in establishing character, and relationships, body language, facial expression, that kind of thing, though the mood of the forest is still important.

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Nuts and bolts character work. The colouring will be key to generating an atmospheric forest mood.

I divided this page up based on how the text flowed when I typed it out into the Photoshop document. Again, I removed some superfluous dialogue about how hot it was and why she was late, as it’s either self-evident or irrelevant. I was quite pleased with how Pippa enters and leads us out of the page. It’s not brilliant, but it does the job, and I got this one done in a longer day too, working into the evening after dinner.

Colouring and doing final balloons and dialogue boxes took a further two days. This was mainly because I experimented with how to portray the light through the forest. I kept the flat colour approach from the previous pages but added some lighting effects and blurry leaves and trees in the background. I’m still not 100% sure of the balance between flat colour and more painterly elements, and I might also dampen the saturation and contrast a little – but overall it generates the right mood. I’ll do more forest scenes before making any tweaks

So five days, three pages finished: drawn, lettered and coloured. Fairly happy with that.

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