Rich and I both approached artist Rob Moran for an interview last November. Neither of us knew that the other had done so. That should tell you just how much his art affected both of us individually. Rob is an extremely busy creator and was gracious enough to answer over 20 of our questions. He labours over every brushstroke that he lays down on paper formulating hard-edged timeless illustrations. This interview will be broken up into 2 parts.
In this first part he dives pretty deeply into tools and his technique. Part two will appear tomorrow.
What inspired you to first start drawing? Did you struggle in your formative years or did it come easy to you?
ROB: Comics were definitely my inspiration to draw. I could read and write from the age of four and learned to read using comics before I went to school; I started with the weekly comics published here in the UK and very quickly discovered the joys of American books… The artwork in comic books hooked me right away and from very young I learned to recognize the different styles of various artists.
I feel as if I have struggled for most of my artistic career, never mind ‘formative years’. Art is struggle, essentially…if you are doing it right. It’s only in recent times have I felt I was achieving about 95% of what I was trying to do with each page or piece of work…I’m finally getting what I see in my head down on the paper. I’ve also stopped doubting and second-guessing myself as much; both of which plagued my early years. As for coming easy to me…that’s complicated; I was born with a modicum of ability to draw – or ‘talent’ if you will, but so are a lot of people…talent is as common as salt. What makes the difference is having the focus, determination and application to work hard and refine that talent; to wear down the rough edges and polish it until it shines brightly enough for people to notice you.
When I was a teenager I showed my art to a pro comics artist who rather dismissively and snarkily said, “Your ambition exceeds your ability!” Well you know what, so it damn well should…if it doesn’t how are you ever going to strive to be better?
First professional work (piece / year) and maybe a quick story behind it.
ROB: Oh Lord! Now you’re asking for the impossible; I have trouble remembering last week, never mind that long ago. Very first pro work was when I was sixteen; a series of cartoon illustrations for a local newspaper. I learned a valuable lesson on that job…never piss off your editor by drawing a cartoon of them looking like a drunken bum or they sack you. A sad truism of this business is that some editors have no sense of humor…especially the ones dealing with cartoons.
Were you self-taught or formally educated? (or mixture of both, mentors etc…)
ROB: Self-taught, I’m afraid; a complete autodidact. A self-made man, if you will…and I think it’s damned nice of me to take the blame. No mentors or teachers; frankly, I never met a teacher I didn’t want to punch.
Tools of the trade: Taking a quick glance over at your pens, brushes etc…what tools have you mainly been using over the last few years?
ROB: Ah, on to the good stuff; I could talk tools for a year and never get tired of it. When it comes to basic drawing or penciling I don’t use anything special; mostly mechanical pencils with a plain HB lead, though more often these days I use a mechanical filled with non-repro blue leads.
Since I believe most of the work is done in the inking the tools get a bit more specific here; my primary weapon of mass inkstruction is the Gilot steel pen nib, the kind you put in a pen holder and dip into a bottle of ink. I use mostly the 303 nib but occasionally vary that with a 404 or 1950; have to say though I LOVE the 303 – you can use it and abuse it. I buy them mail order; they are pretty inexpensive which is good ‘cos I go through a ton of them. You need a lot of practice to make these pens work for you, years of it; people worry that they spit and splatter ink, that’s mostly inexperience talking. Using them at the correct angle with a good flowing ink of the right paper cancels out that concern. Also don’t just draw with the point of the pen, use the edge, even the back of the tip to vary your lines.
As for brushes…for most of my career I have used the traditional sable brush but just recently I started using nylon brushes and I like them; they hold their point well and you can scub them into the paper for dry-brush techniques without fear of damage.
I also have what I call my ‘SFX Tray’ which is filled with all sorts of weird stuff; wax pencils, sponges, strips of leather, dried leaves…anything that will create a texture effect. I even use the stalks from millet plants, these dipped in ink are great for drawing grass or tree branches. I pretty much will try anything that makes a mark.
How has your toolbox evolved compared to when you first started out?
ROB: My toolbox seems to have gone in a strange evolutionary cycle; it started out quite simply like most artists’ do, I acquired and tried nearly every tool you can think of searching for that magic instrument – you know, the one that will suddenly make your drawing brilliant (they don’t exist BTW). So my toolbox has devolved back to the traditional tools I started out using; pen, brush etc.
Favorite brand of ink:
ROB: Used to be Higgins Black Magic but the quality has declined in recent years. I’m constantly searching for good NEW inks; currently using Speedball Super Black on the recommendation of some artist friend from the US and Canada and it is mighty fine.
Type of paper:
ROB: I drew on Bristol board for years but sadly the quality of that has declined, too; has a tendency to bleed and not take a line the way it used to. These days I use Norfolk cartridge paper which I buy in bulk from an online supplier; it comes in huge sheets that give me four US comic sized pages per sheet and is considerably cheaper than Bristol. The Norfolk has a good surface for pen or brush and will go through my A3 (10 x 15”) printer easily…I like to print my pencils out in non-repro blue for inking as I hate the effect erasing has on my inks.
Which artists or creators do you return to for a quick boost of inspiration? Who are the masters of ink?
ROB: OMG! Seriously? You really want to go there? Okay, on your own head be it – THE GRAND MASTERS: Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, Hal Foster, Alex Toth, Joe Kubert, Angelo Torres, Frank Robbins, Milt Caniff, Noel Sickles, Jim Aparo, Dino Battaglia, Sergio Toppi, Hugo Pratt, Jesus Blasco, Luis Garcia, Fernando Fernandez, Esteban Maroto, Alberto Breccia, Frank Hampson, Frank Bellamy, Jim Holdaway, Don Lawrence, John Burns…I could go on and on but I won’t.
Current artists who inspire me are, Paul Gulacy, Phil Winslade, Butch Guice, Gianluca and Raul Cestaro, Francisco Francovilla, Mike Perkins, Mike Deodato and my absolute favorite contemporary comic artist – Corrado Roi!
I have left DOZENS out, BTW and that’s only the comic artists, don’t get me started on illustrators of fine artists.
Once a client has handed off an illustration job to you, how do you first tackle the job. Could you give us a quick overview of your process?
ROB: This process differs depending on whether we are talking about comics or illustration work. Since I primarily do the former these days I will address that.
First up, it’s always a good idea to read the script – that definitely helps. I read it at least twice; once to get the story down – then to start breaking it up into pages. I usually draw small thumbnails onto the actual script page, sometimes I pencil straight from those, sometimes if the editor desires it I will draw up more fully realized layouts (I’m doing this with my current gig), before going to pencils.
The ‘pre-process’ after thumbs/layouts and before penciling is very important to me and often the most time consuming; being a stickler for getting thing right I tend to reference EVERYTHING. This often includes shooting tons of reference photos for costume, poses, lighting, vehicles, animals whatever. I even go to the length of building model sets to get the lighting right.
Once all the reference is in place I start penciling, getting everything down as quickly as possible, usually the pencils are not so detailed unless I really need to nail an expression or stance.
INKING: this is the most enjoyable part of the whole business; I tend to zone out when inking…it has become a very Zen-like for me and the thing I enjoy most. For years I stressed over my inking, concentrating so hard on getting every line right I tightened up and never achieved the results I wanted. In the past couple of years I discovered the secret is to let go, relax, let the inks just flow from your hand as easily and naturally as you can…like handwriting. Mind you, it took me years and hundreds of hours of inking practice to achieve this state so I’m not saying it’s easy to do.
Visit Rob Moran’s website.