craigtaillefer.comThe Official Blog of Craig A. Taillefer: News, Art, Comics, Music, Ramblings, and more!

The Drawing Table!

* This article was originally written in 1999 for the first incarnation of, included in the section dedicated to the artist – me! I was scrolling through the archive I have of that old site and discovered a number of articles that I thought might be of some interest. Most of the information in this Studio Tour is still up-to-date, so thought it might be fun to move it over here. Any major changes to my process will be annotated in Italics.*

Hi, and welcome to my work space! In the next few paragraphs I will give you a walking tour of my studio – showing you some of the varied tools and techniques I use in the production of my comic books. This is by no means meant to be a “How To Create Comics” guide but instead just a quick look at my particular work space and habits.


I have come to the conclusion that I have a fetish for small, cramped, and overcrowded spaces. Even when I have an abundance of room I tend to surround my work area with a multitude of tables, shelving units, and storage paraphernalia – not to mention the little knick-knacks, toys, stuffed animals, and other assorted junk scattered about the studio. (While this hasn’t changed, I’m still a pack-rat, I have spread out some moving the studio into a larger room.)
The cornerstone of my studio is – of course – my drawing table. Given an I.O.U. for a drawing table from my parents on my 15th birthday, I was told to choose which ever table I wanted – a rather extravagent offer from my folks! Of all the tables in the art store my eye settled on a rather old fashioned solid wood drafting table, hidden behind the mass of green formica monstrosities. I’m sure my parents were sweating bullets – until they looked at the price, that is. It was the cheapest table in the store! I am still amazed by that. I have always found those formica tables with the curved aluminum legs to be rather flimsy and unstable. I’ve worked on a lot of so called ‘top of the line’ drafting tables in my time, and they always make me appreciate my trusty old table all the more.
An invaluable addition to the table is a custom light box my dad installed as a Christmas present a few years later. I have to admit that I felt a HUGE amount of trepidation when he announced that he was going to cut a hole in the top of my beloved table and place a custom fit piece of glass on top as the new working surface. My fears were unfounded though, as the light table has since become an integral part of my work tools.
Flanking the drawing table on the left is a beat up old dresser I used to have in my room as a child. In the two top drawers I store miscelaneous drawing and office supplies. In the bottom I store original comic pages – currently a stack of unpublished pages that I am considering using in a one-shot anthology at some point in the future. On top of the dresser is a slotted shelving unit I custom made to hold individual comic pages in progress. It has enough slots to hold up to an entire issue (plus a few extra pages) as well as a few big slots to hold my paper supplies, zip-a-tone supply, templates, etc. Precariously balanced on top of that is my Fax machine – an absolute necessity today for a working illustrator and small publisher. (Ha, ha, ha! Oh the poor obsolete fax machine. I still have it and use it as a spare phone, and it comes in handy once in a blue moon, but most business is done by email these days!) On the right hand side of the drawing table, tucked in part-way underneath, is a small knee-high table where a ‘lazy susan’ holds brushes, pens, inks, glue, whiteout, and other small items I like to keep handy. Here I keep my open ink bottle as well as the water filled jars I use to wash my pens and brushes in. Beside that is a two drawer filing cabinet – where I keep my records and important documents – with a small book shelf on top. The shelf holds notes, scripts and layouts, as well as my reference materials – books, encyclopedias, music magazines – and the all important dictionary and thesaurus. Right beside that is yet another filing cabinet – four drawers this time – packed full of back issues of my freelance comics work – someone take them off my hands, Please! I have 40 copies of Elflord #6 alone! – a few minor changes in the setup have occurred; The small filing cabinet is now tucked in the corner on the left side with the slotted shelving unit on top of it; The small bookshelf has been moved to the top of the white dresser.


My method for creating comics is relatively commonplace. Once all the brainstorming, pulling of hair and beating my head against the wall is done – I sit down and write a script. I first write a basic breakdown of the action and then begin to flesh it out refining the dialogue as I go. – sometimes a script is written ‘visually’ first, meaning I draw sketches of what I want to happen and then refine from there. Once the script is broken down into pages I can start doing rough layouts. I do these on typing paper, fairly loosely just to give me an idea of how my script will translate into pictures. – I am starting to experiment with doing layouts digitally as I have a lot more flexibility in editing and refining them. I still haven’t done digital layouts for a project I’ve then drawn on paper, but the idea is to print them out and then trace them off or print the layouts directly onto the paper in a non-photo blue. I’ll need a larger printer first! Once I am happy with that I then begin the pencils…..


The paper I use is the most vital ingrediant in the mix. I have experimented with a wide variety of paper stocks trying to find one with a consistent surface and quality. As soon as I found one I liked, the company would stop making it or switch the quality. After a very frustrating summer of being unable to work because of the humidity’s affect on my paper, I finally broke down and tried a sheet of Strathmore’s Series 500
tools_pencilVellum Bristol. I had always avoided it because of the price (about $2 a page!) but I am now a convert. Not only does it have a wonderful surface to pencil on – you can erase almost indefinitely and still ink on top of it with no bleeding! – but it works wonderfully with ink and wet media like water colours and dyes.
As far as penciling goes I don’t use anything too unique in the way of supplies. I buy inexpensive pencils in bulk (the ones with the little pink eraser on the end) from a business supply store. Depending on what I am working on – layouts or tightening up the details – I will switch between a 2H, an H, or an F pencil. The humidity can be a factor in which pencil I use. I tend to progress towards softer pencils during summer as the air, and paper, get wetter – and back towards harder pencils as the air drys out in winter. For erasers, in addition to the little pink ones on the end of my pencils, I use a Staedtler white eraser – great for large areas and big mistakes! – I have since started using a kneaded eraser as well. It is great for lightening up sketches before going back in and tightening things up.
One of my more useful purchases of the last few years has been an electric pencil sharpener. It is an incredible time saver. It sits at the top of my table within easy reach and I find it has become reflex to touch up the point of a pencil without even thinking about it. And I can still remember when I was a kid having to go down three flights of stairs to use the wall mounted sharpener every time I wanted a sharp pencil!


In these days of computer lettering, hand letterers are becoming a rare breed. As much as I have embraced the computer for pre-press work and web building, I still find that it is faster – and more expressive – to letter by hand.
tools_letteringAn Ames lettering guide is an invaluable tool used to rule guidelines for lettering. I no longer use it, though, as I have bypassed having to rule the lines on each page by creating a lettering guide template. I took an 11 x 17 sheet of art board and ruled guidelines on it from top to bottom. When I am ready to letter, I place the template under the page I am working on and turn on the light table – instant lettering guidelines! This method limits my ability to rule guidelines in differing sizes, but I work around that. – I’ve actually gone back to using the Ames Guide as I find my spacing is a little more accurate when inking the letters if the lines are drawn on the page.
To letter I use quill dip pens and india ink. My main pen is a Hunt 513 EF Globe Bowl Pointed nib. I also use a Hunt Speedball B-6 nib for bold letters and ruling page borders, and sometimes a Hunt Speedball A-5 nib for extra bold words. – I still letter WAHOO MORRIS by hand, but I’ve begun lettering a number of other projects on the computer.


I have been using the same basic inking tools for some time now. For fine detail and crosshatching I use a Hunt #102 Crowquil nib. I keep three of them in use at one time ranging from a fresh sharp one – for the detailed work – to a worn in one – for thicker, more brush-like lines. For brush work I use a #3 Windsor & Newton series 101 Sceptre Gold sable / synthetic fibre blend. I find these hold a point better, and last longer, than the all synthetic brushes. Maybe an ‘All Sable’ brush would be that much better, but I can’t bring myself to spend $20 on a single brush. – Well, I finally broke down and paid around $40 for a Windsor & Newton Series 7 size 4 all-sable brush, and it was well worth it.
tools_inkingThree years later and I’m still using the same brush. Now I haven’t cranked out as many pages in that time as I was when I originally wrote this, but I still think it was worth the purchase price!
How, and in what combination I use the pen and brush depends on my mood. Sometimes I will ink a page entirely using pen – sometimes entirely with a brush. Once it is printed I have I hard time telling which is which.
After many years of experimentation, and being very frustrated with the washed out, watery inks I was using, I finally discovered Higgens Black Magic. Actually Wendy Pini turned me on to the stuff. She filled up a bottle for me from her stock when I began inking ‘Hidden Years’ and I haven’t used anything else since. – And one of these days that bottle is going to run out and then I’m screwed because they have changed the formula since it from what everyone tells me the ink is now crap! For touch up and corrections I use Luma White brand whiteout – at least I think that’s what it is called. I have had the same bottle since I worked at Aircel Publishing in 87 and the label is coated in ink and grime. I don’t use a lot of it. The bottle is only 3/4 empty, and one night back at Aircel (at least 10 years ago!) Pat McKeown borrowed it and returned it the next day half empty. I’m still not sure what he did with it all! – I’ve since used it up and am now a tenth of the way through a bottle of Dr. Ph Martins Bleed Proof White.


So far, the only colouring I have done is for comic book covers. I use a combination of P.H. Martins Water Colour Dyes and Kohinoor Coloured Inks. Both are essentially like water colours – they work and mix the same – but unlike watercolours they are not a suspended medium (meaning no sediment in the pigment) and go on clear so as not to cloud the black linework. The advantage of the coloured inks versus the dyes is that they are waterproof and can be layered indefinitely without picking up any of the underlying colour. Unfortunately they dry up in the palette and can’t be remoistened. P.H. Martin’s can be left in the palette and reused again and again!
I colour directly on the original art, so I have to be careful not to make any mistakes while inking the cover. Most inks and dyes will soften and dissolve whiteout, leaving a pastey mess on the page! If I don’t want to risk the original I will make a photo copy onto a sheet of Strathmore’s and color on that instead.
Recently I have begun to use the computer in my colour work. So far it has been limited to editing and touching up hand coloured art before it goes to press, but I am planning an on-line comic for the near future and I imagine I will be colouring it completely on the computer. I’ll let you know how that goes. – I haven’t done any hand colouring since I wrote this article 8 years ago. I’ve since coloured a number of covers on the computer, but my first interior job was finished mid-April and I’m now monkeying around with computer colouring some older stories I want to bring back into print. Not much new to report yet.

The biggest thing that has changed in my whole process is my experimentation with complete digital art. I started playing around with MANGA STUDIO back in the fall of 2007, producing the last two weeks of THE CHELATION KID digitally and switching to inking THE MIGHTY MOTOR SAPIENS digitally. When I took over penciling THE MIGHTY MOTOR SAPIENS I continued with digital production. I’m continuing to experiment with digital art on other projects, though WAHOO MORRIS to date remains a completely hand drawn affair.

Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the ‘five cent’ tour! There is of course all of the pre-press work (adding Logo’s to covers, laying out letters pages and editorials) not to mention the business end of things (dealing with printers and distributors) – but it is all pretty dry stuff and best dealt with elsewhere. Maybe when I start to actually get good at it I will run through it all here. See you then!

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