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Digital Inking Demonstration 02

Written on June 1, 2010 at 6:25 pm, by Doug Lefler

Here’s a follow up to my follow up on “My Process of Complication“.  The final version of this image can be found in “Nocturnal Battle“.

Digital Inking Demonstration 01

Written on May 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm, by Doug Lefler

As a follow up to “My Process of Complication”, here is a video showing how I ink.  Although it was recorded while I was creating a drawing of Ziggy (featured in “Nocturnal Battle“) I used a similar process for Seven Extraordinary Things.  It also demonstrates an idea I wrote about in “Rough Sketches and Rehearsals” of leaving some of the drawing to be discovered in the inking stage, so your line retains a sense of spontaneity.

My Process of Complication

Written on April 12, 2010 at 6:41 am, by Doug Lefler

When I started Seven Extraordinary Things I told myself to establish a style of drawing and inking that was simple and quick to execute.

With that in mind I kept my initial drawings uncluttered…


…my first ink lines were clean…


…and unadventurous.  So far so good.


I added blacks to separate foreground from background…


…and thought, “It might be nice to cut some detail into the black areas with an erasure tool”…


…Hmmm.  That’s fun.  Sorta like scratchboard.  Now maybe I’ll add a bit of local texture and some shading on the figures…


…ah, what the hell?  May as well put some shading in the background.


Now I’ve managed to complicate it.  This work flow quickly led me to creating panels like this:


I remember hearing someone say it takes two people to paint a picture: the artist holding the paint brush, and someone standing next to him with a stick to make him stop when the painting was finished.

Rough Sketches and Rehearsals

Written on February 22, 2010 at 12:36 pm, by Doug Lefler

I once had a conversation with a director who just completed a frustrating day on the set.  A young actress he was working with had delivered a heart-wrenching performance in a scene where she watched her father die. Unfortunately she did this during the rehearsal and was never able to recapture the moment when filming began.

“It was stupid of me to let that happen,” the director said.  “Rehearsals are not performances!”


On set in a Slovakian castle

It was a lesson I took to heart when I started directing.

It’s also one I think about frequently when I’m at the drawing board.  I’m fascinated by parallelism in art; how principals from one discipline can be applied to another.  For instance, if your intention is to create inked drawings, then the inks are the performance and the roughs are the rehearsals. Artists have different opinions on how tight they should make their roughs before the finishing work begins.  If someone else is inking your pencil drawings then the answer is usually “pretty damn tight”.  Even if you’re inking your own work, a lot of professionals feel it best to leave nothing to chance. Others think you can save valuable time by doing the cleanup work last.  But the most compelling argument to me is that by leaving something to be discovered in the inking stage, your line can have more vitality.  The ink line is the version of your work most people are going to see.  It’s essentially the same as saving the performance for when the cameras are rolling.

How much work should you put into a rough sketch, or a rehearsal?  The answer to both questions is relative to your level of experience.  In the above mentioned example of the frustrated director, the actress he was working with was talented, but hadn’t done a lot of professional work. I believe she was anxious to show she could deliver the emotion. And she did. But only the people on set that day got the benefit of witnessing it.  She learned from this incident (I directed her many times in the years that followed and never saw her make the same mistake again).

Seven Extraordinary Things was my first graphic novel (although I’ve been drawing professionally for decades) and I wasn’t confident about inking.  I tended to refine the drawing before I committed to the final line.


Oddly enough, I didn’t refine the shading. Most of the black and white contrast in the panels came as a surprise to me. It had been my intention to keep the inking simple. I didn’t succeed.

The objectives for sketches and rehearsals are exploration and structure.


Rehearsing a scene with Colin Firth and Aishwarya Rai

When working with actors you spend time exploring possibilities.  What might the character have been doing before the scene began? What if this sequence was about revenge?  Maybe these two characters had been sweethearts in grade school. You discuss options and opportunities with your cast before, during and after the time you work on the staging.  I find I get the best results when I give actors precise blocking (enter on this word, turn to face her at the end of this sentence, leave the room as soon as he starts to reply) but with the disclaimer that it is only a starting point.  In most cases this kind of dictatorial staging frees actors from the mechanics of a scene and allows them to concentrate on their performances, but it works best when your cast knows you’ll be flexible and not force them into something that feels awkward.

With drawing you want to explore poses and compositional placement.  You can try drawing an arm in three different positions to see which one feels strongest.  The structure are the things like perspective, anatomy, the folds in clothing, and those difficult ellipses that will make that coffee cup look like it’s sitting on the kitchen table.  Work out all of the mechanics, but leave a little to be discovered in the final stages, so finished art looks both spontaneous and solid.




An actor came to me right before we were going to shoot a scene where he had been captured by three beautiful female spies (it was that kind of a show). “Do you think I’ve slept with any of them?” he asked.

“Every one,” I replied.

He nodded and stepped in front of the camera.

The Peril of Originality

Written on December 21, 2009 at 6:00 am, by Doug Lefler


I’ve known would-be writers who never got their first sentence on paper because they couldn’t find an opening line that had not been written before.  The problem with originality is that it is an adjective other people use to describe your work.  You shouldn’t use it yourself.  If you are writing with words (as opposed to pictures) it’s a good practice to curtail the use of adjectives and adverbs in favor of verbs and nouns.  To understand why adjectives are the enemy of creativity let’s look at the subject of directing actors.

When you work with actors you shouldn’t tell them what to feel.  Asking an actor to be sad, or frustrated, or excited is called result directing.  If you are a director, or plan on becoming one, it’s good to remember this simple formula: result directing=bad.  As human beings we don’t have control over our emotions; they are spontaneous reactions to stimuli.  When you attempt to force an emotion it leads to affectation and false performances.  So how do you direct actors if you can’t tell them what to feel?

The answer: by telling them what to do.

Here’s an example.  I’ll make it quick since this post is about visual writing, not how to be a movie director (I’ll get to that subject later).  Let’s say you have a scene where a woman is trying to get a loan from a bank official.  The script says the woman is “angry” and the official is “blasé”.  You could take the actress aside and tell her that she has never asked for help before, but it is vital that she gets the money now; she must convince the bank official how dire her situation is.  And then you take the actor aside and say: “this woman comes in every week with a different hard luck story.  She’s always trying to cheat the system. Be polite, but ignore her pretense of desperation.”  Now get out of the way and let them play the scene.  Although you haven’t told the woman to be angry, anger is likely to come out, but in a spontaneous and natural way.

Telling yourself to be original is like giving yourself result directing.  It will lead to affectation.  If you succeed in coming up with an opening sentence no one has written before you’re likely to find out why.  Instead of trying to be original when you write and when you draw strive for being honest and specific.  Honesty means that the characters you create are real in your mind; that they do things you believe they would do, and not things that are convenient for the plot.  Specific means avoiding cliché; that when you write a description, or draw an expression, it belongs to that moment in your story and is not interchangeable with any other.

On the subject of opening sentences, here’s one of my favorites: “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” It’s from Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grownups and it has found its way into many people’s lists of the best first lines from novels.  It works for me because it belongs to the story that follows and is true to the character it describes.

If you succeed in being honest and specific, originality is likely to be the byproduct.

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