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Photorealism technique with pen and ink part 1

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By Jason Thibault,

This article was originally posted on Myspace back in 2006. It was sitting lost in their archives not doing anyone any good so I ported it over here to our homepage. This was one of the techniques that I was playing around with a few years ago. I now use a digital camera to take most of my reference these days and miss using my old Nikon FM but I still do everything else by hand.

A Word on Technique,
I’ve gotten a couple of dozen emails asking how we do what we do. Rich has his techniques and I have mine. I utilize at least 3 if not 4 different ways to achieve my end results and I thought I’d shed some light on one of them. This took me 5 years to figure out. I read every interview I could find with the masters, Tim Bradstreet and John Van Fleet. Whatever knowledge I was missing, I emailed artists directly with specific questions and several of them graciously took time out of their day to fill in my gaps.

Photo Reference: I use an old Nikon FM manual camera with 28mm & 50mm lenses to take reference photos. I’ll sometimes use T-Max 400 ASA film for clarity, but more often Ill shoot high-speed black and white film, usually 1600 Fuji or 3200 Ilford Delta. I’m experimenting with digital cameras, but as of yet haven’t used one for the comic.

The Toolbox: I mainly lay down lines with a Hunts 102 crow quill nib, and thicker lines with a 108. I also use a variety of others for different effects and a mechanical pencil for initial work. For mopping in blacks I use an old shitty $3-dollar brush and for finer feathering I’ll employ a much costlier Windsor & Newton Series 7 NUMBER 2. Ink is strictly supplied by Koh-I-Noor. I swear by it.
Pictured above from top to bottom. Windsor and Newton Series 7 Number 2, holder with Hunts 108 nib, holder with wide flat edged calligraphy nib (for panels borders), cheapo number 2 watercolor brush, holder with Hunts 107 nib, Staedtler Mars 780 mechanical pencil.
Paper: 2-ply illustration board, usually Canson acid-free smooth, or if I’m feeling particularly rich I’ll buy Strathmore 500 series boards and have them cut down to 11″ by 17″ sheets.
I take the reference photos and grab the elements I want from them. I consider this my “first stage” and get the outline down tight. Then the madness ensues. Filling in every little shadow and detail. But this is the path that I took.
I grabbed this photo of a demolished hospital in Montreal.
I did the outline, which in this case almost drove me insane (the brick work in the background).
Then I composited in the SWAT team during the final stage.
Theres a dozen different ways to go about it, and this is just one of them. Here are 2 more examples with original photo, first stage outline and final illustration.


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About Jason Thibault

Jason Thibault is a writer, artist and founder of the micro digital content agency Massive Kontent. He can often be found showing other artists and creatives how to market and brand themselves. Follow Jason on Twitter.

5 Other Comments


  1. Not much of a tutorial is it.

  2. No it doesn’t go into intense detail but we’re just getting warmed up. The next few will be in much more of a step by step approach.

  3. I reckon it’s O.K. the outline captures the feel of the photo and the filling in completes the scenario

  4. I think this had some good insight into how you make your work.

    What’s amazing is that you use film! I think there must about million advantages working that way that some digital folks might now see. I think the downside maybe cost but with what your getting out, that negligible

  5. We’re using mostly digital these days as well. The cost became too much. But I still output to film as much as possible. Just on a printer as opposed to going to a photolab.

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