Essential Digital Inking Techniques with Tank Girl's Brett Parson




Hi! My name is Brett Parson AKA Blitz Cadet. I’m a freelance cartoonist and illustrator from Massachusetts and for the best part of 10 years, I've been immersed in the world of comics, working on publications such as Tank Girl, The Goon, 2000AD and others.

While I try to work traditionally as much as possible, balancing life as a full time comic artist and full time dad means I need to be able to work whenever and wherever I can. With that in mind, the iPad Pro has been a total life saver, allowing me to ink at the kitchen table, pencil on the couch or lay out pages at a picnic table.

In this tutorial I'm going to walk you through some of my favorite inking techniques whilst showing you my entire process for creating a comic book cover in Procreate with a selection brushes from The Rusty Nib inking brush pack.



True Grit Tools & Apps Used:

✓ Watery Brush No 8 - Smooth
✓ Smooth Natural Nib
✓ Thick & Greasy / Flat Greaser
✓ Flat Dry Grainy / Flat Dry Wide
✓ Dynamic Watercolor Wash
(Note: brush names may vary between apps).

✓ Halftone 1A Med Dot
✓ Halftone 1D Med Dot


Software skill level:

If you love to sketch and have a basic knowledge of Procreate, this one’s for you. You can follow along in any other desktop or iPad-based app as well.  All of the brushes mentioned are available for Procreate, Photoshop, Clip Studio Paint, and Affinity.


PART 01:

When I start laying out a cover (or a comic page), I always start super rough. I’ve found that getting rid of that blank page and just putting anything down helps to really jump start the creative juices and take the edge off.

Sometimes I’ll scribble something down on paper traditionally, then take a photo with my iPad and open it in Procreate. Other times I’ll just start doodling ideas straight in Procreate on a starting layer, using different colored lines as I go to make changes and help define the different characters or elements of the composition.

Once things start to click, I’ll drop down the opacity of my first rough layer and start refining and polishing things up on a new layer. I’ll do this two or three times until I have all my lines cleaned up and everything’s looking pretty tight.

Don't get too precious here. Remember it's a sketch, not a finished artwork. 



PART 02:

Just like inking traditionally - how you hold the pencil, and how you move your hand (or arm) while drawing will have a huge impact on the way the line goes down.

For example - I find that choking up on the pencil, and holding it closer to the tip works best for small curves and tight shapes, while turning the canvas as needed so that I’m drawing with the natural curve of my hand.



Easing off on the pencil, and holding it further down the barrel will help create a larger curve while still maintaining some control but not as much.



For longer sweeping lines, I’ll try to keep my forearm and wrist as stiff as possible and draw with my shoulder (picture the arm pivoting on the shoulder like a giant compass).




PART 03:

One of the things I find so satisfying about black and white line art, is that there’s a million different ways you can go at it and none of them are wrong. What feels comfortable and right to one artist, might feel totally awkward and weird to another.

Combining different strokes and marks in different ways can create of an endless amount of textures and patterns. Experimenting with combinations and techniques is one of the best ways to find your creative voice and develop your own unique style.

Here's a few different line styles and texture techniques that I like to use in my work.


It's also a great idea to explore the different types of brushes at your disposal. Brush packs like The Rusty Nib have a huge variety of brush styles so a little time spent getting to know them by doodling on a canvas, expands your repertoire and makes it easier to find the right combination of brushes when you're on a tight deadline. 


Personally I like to use a wide variety of line weights when I’m inking. Using the heavier lines to show shadow or make forms pop out, and the thinner, more delicate lines for details, shading, feathering, and that kind of stuff.

I rely on my pencil pressure to draw different stroke weights, rather than constantly changing my brush size, much like I would with a traditional brush. 

This speeds up my inking and helps create consistency, especially when using textured or distressed brushes.


Sometimes though, it's more effective to ink thicker lines with multiple strokes, rather than trying to rely on heavier, harder to control pen pressure to achieve the same line weight.

In the (slightly exaggerated) example below, the left eyelid is inked with heavy pen pressure in an attempt to create a thick line in a single stroke. It's quick, but the result is a little clunky, and the ink texture doesn't sit well next to the lighter strokes beside it. 

On the right, I've used light pressure and multiple strokes which gives a much more refined result which more closely replicates traditional inking techniques.



Developing a knack for making a range of line weights with one brush size takes time, practice and decent brushes. You can also adjust Procreate's pressure curve to suit your style so don't be afraid to let the tech do some of the heavy lifting.  



PART 04:

Two of my favorite brushes from the Rusty Nib set to ink with are the “Watery Brush No 8 - Smooth” and the “Smooth Natural Nib”.



For whatever reason these two just feel the most like a traditional sable brush, and a nice flexible nib / brush pen to me. And just like with traditional tools, the way you move these brushes, and the amount of pressure you apply will create different marks and line weights.

Layer Up!

I always ink my drawing on several different layers. This allows me to fix mistakes quickly, and also makes life SO much easier when it comes time to color. I’ll draw the foreground characters on the top layer, the characters behind those on another layer, and the background broken up into one or two layers under those (depending on how complicated the drawing is).

You might choose to ink each character on separate layers, or even separate individual features of each character (eg body, clothing, hair). The point is, layers are your friend, especially when you're starting out and want maximum editability. 




Procreate's QuickShape tool smooths rough shapes, curves and lines into more refined geometry. If you need to draw a perfect circle, straight line, or even a dodecahedron, it's a real game changer.

How to use QuickShape

  1. Draw a rough shape, curved, or straight line.
  2. With your pencil still touching the screen, pause for a second or so.
  3. Watch as your rough shape transforms into a more geometric form.
  4. To refine your shape, tap the Editing bar at the top of your screen then adjust the blue nodes to suit. 


Use it, but don't abuse it.

Over-using QuickShape can often rob a drawing of some of the human error that might give it a little more soul. So I try my best to make as many of the lines as I can myself (even if they’re a little shaken), only falling back on Procreate’s helping hand when I really need it.

Again there’s no wrong or right way to do it, and there’s also nothing wrong with relying on Procreate’s help if you’re not getting the lines and shapes you want on your own. 



PART 05:

Adding blacks and shadows is tough as hell! It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a kid. But like anything else, the more you do it the more confident you’ll become. It adds contrast to make things pop, creating depth, mood, and form without the help of any color.

I usually try to think of where important shadows might fall, and also where I can add blacks to help make characters or elements stand out more. Sometimes squinting your eyes and looking at the page can help show where you may want to add some more blacks to balance things out.

This is also the stage where I like to play around more with some of the grittier textured brushes that The Rusty Nib set has to offer. 





PART 06:

Just like spotting blacks, adding a bit of halftone shading to a black and white drawing at the end can help certain elements stand out and read more clearly.

When doing this in Procreate, I’ll usually go through and fill a few areas with solid shades of grey first (this is often referred to as "flatting"). Then I using the greys to make a selection and create layer masks on one or two different layers where I’m going to add screen tones.

Using the Beat Tones halftone brushes, I’ll start trying out different halftones, keeping the dot scale consistent throughout and trying to find a nice balance of shades that creates contrast and helps define the characters in my composition.





Well there you have it, for whatever it’s worth! Remember that inking, be it traditional or digital takes tons of practice. I’ve been at it for decades now and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. But I can say that the more you do it, the easier and faster it will get. So try not to get too frustrated or discouraged, and just have some FUN!! 

More about Brett Parson

Website  | Instagram 
Featured music: Above The Law, Matt Large

Get The Rusty Nib Here.