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^ Setting up your drawing area ^ Choosing a worktable ^ Purchasing the necessary supplies ^ Deciding on a computer and other equipment ^ Getting the right software m n order to be able to draw cartoons on a regular basis, you need a little area devoted to your craft. Although drawing cartoons at the kitchen table is perfectly okay, having a dedicated area set up for drawing is not only more efficient — it's also more fun! The right lighting, a well-appointed drawing table, a comfortable chair, and the proper tools and supplies — which today include a good computer and artist-oriented software — make cartooning easier and the results more professional. This chapter helps you set up your workspace and helps you decide which tools to buy to make your cartooning simpler and more enjoyable.

Searching for a Workspace

Setting up an organized and well-equipped workspace is an important task for every artist. Locating the right workspace can go a long way toward increasing your efficiency and creative output when it's time to get down to work. But even more important, you want to create a location that's a fun place to spend a lot of time doing what you love to do . . . draw!

So, where do you even begin your search for a workspace? A workspace should be a place in your home that allows you to escape the distractions and interruptions of daily life so that you can concentrate on getting down to work. This section walks you through the options available to you when setting up a place to get creative, even if you don't have a lot of space available. You don't have to break the bank when setting up your workspace, either; the following sections tell you what you should spend big on, and when skimping is okay.

Looking at your options

When creating a designated work space, you're limited only by the size of your house and the amount of empty space you have available. Of course, the best workspace is one where you can go in and shut the door. A spare bedroom or den makes a great office studio; utilizing these spaces, you'll almost certainly have a way to shut out the outside world and may even have your own bathroom!

If you aren't fortunate enough to have an unused spare room, a corner of the basement or even a garage that doesn't get used by cars can make a great workspace. You may need to do a little remodeling or updating in order to make these areas comfortable to work in, like improving the lighting, heating, or esthetics of the areas. No one wants to work in a space that's physically depressing! If you're also a good handyman type, putting in some simple creature comforts can give you a place to work at little cost.

Utilizing a small space

If you live in an apartment or dorm and designating a separate space for a studio isn't an option, don't despair — a workspace can fit into the smallest of living situations! Setting up a studio in the corner of your bedroom is a great solution if you're short on space. A walk-in closet may make a great small studio and may even have its own light fixture and door.

The fact of the matter is, any available corner or wall space in a small apartment can be a good designated place to set up a small art table and file cabinet. You're limited only by your imagination and ingenuity.

Setting Up Your Workspace

After you decide where you want your workspace, you need to set it up so that you can begin drawing. However, before you head out to the store, take some time and do some planning. Make a list of what you need for your workspace. Although everyone's list will be a little different, most artists' workspaces include some of the basic equipment I discuss in this section.

Making your workspace ergonomic

When you're setting up the actual layout and design of your office, think ergonomically. No, not economically — although that's not a bad idea either. Ergonomics is the design process that involves arranging the environment to fit the individual using it. Ergonomics, also called human engineering, is essentially the science of creating an environment that makes work enjoyable by reducing stress and strain on your body. An ergonomic environment should increase output and decrease frustration.

To make your workspace ergonomic, try the following:

✓ Place your equipment, art supplies, and drawing area within easy reach and access. You don't want to constantly have to reach, bend, or twist to reach your supplies.

✓ Buy the right chair. You can buy a chair made specifically for working at a desk or drawing table, and if you can afford one, go for it. The money spent is a good investment. Make sure you try out several chairs before choosing one, because what fits someone else may not fit you comfortably at all. If you can't afford a well-engineered but expensive chair, make sure the chair you're using is comfortable for long time periods. (Check out the "Buying a chair that won't break your back" section later in this chapter for more information.)

✓ Check your body position. The way you sit in the chair in relation to the angle of the table top and the access to the equipment you use often makes a big difference in your overall comfort. If your chair is comfortable but it sits at right angles to your workspace, you're going to end up with a sore back and a stiff neck!

✓ Sit up at the table. Hunching over your workspace will have your back screaming for mercy in no time.

✓ Adjust the angle of your table. If you have a table that can be angled, adjust it so that you can place your paper on top and work comfortably, but not on so much of an angle that your work constantly slides off onto the floor. Obviously, this won't work if the kitchen table is your workspace!

Choosing a practical workspace surface

Selecting the right workspace surface is paramount. This surface is the heart and center of all the things you create, even in the digital age. If you have space in your home or apartment, the ideal way to go is a table devoted specifically to drawing.

You basically have two types of options when picking a worktable: an art table or a professional drafting table (see Figure 3-1). This section takes a closer look at these two types and touches on some pros and cons for each kind of table.

Figure 3-1:

An art table (left) and a professional drafting table (right).

Figure 3-1:

An art table (left) and a professional drafting table (right).

Angular Movable Art Desk

If you simply don't have the space in your small living area for an art table, I suggest you use a portable drafting top that can be placed on any table top. These are available at bigger art supply stores, or you can order one online. If you're handy, you can get creative and build your own. Use a smooth surface material that's strong enough to support your working on it. Cut it down to about 2 x 2 feet and place some books behind it to prop it up so that it's tilted at an angle.

Option No. 1: Smaller art table

Art tables tend to be compact, with small surfaces. You can usually find a smaller art table at most art supply stores for under $200.

If you're contemplating purchasing an art table, consider these advantages:

✓ Affordability: They tend to be less expensive than professional drafting tables.

✓ Space saving: Because they tend to be smaller, they work well in the corner of a small room.

✓ Ability to tilt: They can be tilted to your convenience; some can tilt up to 90 degrees, allowing you more flexibility.

Some disadvantages to using an art table include:

■ ✓ Small surface area: Their tops are small, which means a restricted work area.

✓ Lack of stability: Their construction can be flimsy, and they can move under hard erasing.

✓ No storage space: They typically have no drawer for storage. Option No. 2: Professional drafting table

Professional drafting tables are larger and heavier and used in more commercial applications. The larger drafting tables are available only in higher end art supply stores and design supply centers. They range in cost from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars.

If you're considering a professional drafting table, keep the following advantages in mind:

✓ Large surface area: Their tops are large, which means a bigger area to draw.

✓ Stability: They're sturdily constructed and usually made out of solid oak or steel.

✓ Storage: They usually have many options for storage, like built-in drawers and/or shelves.

The cons of a professional drafting table include:

✓ Expense: They cost more than smaller art tables.

✓ Weight: They're heavy and hard to move around.

✓ Bulkiness: They're large and bulky and usually work best in a designated room or area.

If you're serious about making cartooning a career or even a serious hobby, invest in the best table you can afford. If you want something that will last for years to come, I recommend buying a sturdy, commercial-type table. The long-term benefits will outweigh any initial costs.

Buying a chair that won't break your back

When you furnish your workspace with a chair, you want to make sure you find one that's comfortable. The good news: Most drafting chairs are designed with ergonomics in mind. As you look for different chairs, make sure you sit in each and give it a whirl. Try it out and experiment with it. Ask yourself how you feel. Are you relaxed? Would you like sitting in this chair for long periods of time?

If you're comfortable sitting in the chair despite working for long hours, then the chair is probably right for you. However, after sitting for hours don't forget to take a few breaks and stretch out your legs. This may even help your creativity so that when you come back you're refreshed and ready to go.

When shopping for a chair, keep the following characteristics in mind. A good work chair

✓ Provides ample support for the muscles of the back, the arms, and the legs. You're going to be sitting in the chair sometimes for hours, so it's important that it's comfortable and doesn't create any extra fatigue on your body.

✓ Avoids restricting pressure points. Restricting pressure points can hamper blood circulation and cause cramps or nerve damage. For example, avoid a chair that digs into your back or legs, or that has an armrest that leaves dents or creases on your arm when you rest on it.

✓ Is well constructed. Look at how sturdy the weld is that holds the seat plate to the seat post. In the past, I've had chairs that break at the weld area and I've had to have them re-welded. This is partly because I spend a lot of time in the chair in different positions — sitting, leaning back, rolling around. The welds crack and I have to fix them — and I'm a skinny guy!

✓ Is movable. Get a chair with good wheels and one that rotates and spins effortlessly so that you can move around and reach other areas of your studio without much strain.

Lighting your Way

Good lighting is important because you have to be able to see what you're drawing and you don't want to strain your eyes more than you have to. You also don't want to cast shadows on your drawing. To ensure your workspace has appropriate lighting to help you see, a good swivel arm lamp that attaches to your drafting table is the best way to go. In my workspace, I use two adjustable swing arm lamps that you can purchase at any art supply store.

Bulbs with 60 to 100 watts can provide you with plenty of light to suit your needs in your workspace. The best type and least expensive to use is a simple incandescent light bulb. Use a lower wattage bulb if your workspace is small to avoid too much heat, and stay away from halogen lights, because they get especially hot.

Organizing your space

Trying to keep your workspace neat and organized is important. Doing so is particularly important when drawing cartoons and comics, because you don't want to waste time looking for things when you could be drawing, especially if you're under a deadline. You'll notice I said try, because the papers and clutter can get out of control rather quickly and build up around you before you know it. It was once said that a messy office is a sign of genius . . . in that case, I'm Albert Einstein!

Keep yourself organized by following these simple-sounding but not always easy-to-apply ideas:

✓ Have a place for everything. Visit a container store or the storage section of any big box store and you'll be amazed at the number of different storage containers available. Pens, pencils, brushes, and ink should have their own storage areas. These can be as simple or as elaborate as you want to make them. Label each container so you can easily determine the contents. You may also consider having a divider in each container so that you can separate things like brushes and pens from each other.

✓ Clean. Get out your cleaning supplies and go to it. Clean your monitor, keyboard, desk, and any other work areas.

✓ Clear away the clutter. Throw away any unnecessary papers or other mess from your desk. If some paperwork is important but you don't need it right now, file it in well-marked folders.

✓ Use filing cabinets or storage drawers to keep your cartoons and other art organized. They're a good idea because they can help you protect your original art.

✓ Use traditional, blueprint-style drafting cabinets with wide, shallow drawers to hold large sheets of paper. Often called flat files, they're perfect for storing original art because the drawers aren't deep and you can easily access the art you're searching for.

Getting the Right Supplies

Having the necessary drawing supplies at hand is as important to a cartoonist as having the right equipment in the operating room is to a surgeon. Various types of pens and pencils, art charcoal, pastels, art markers, and inks are available and cover a wide artistic range when it comes to drawing.

When you walk into an arts and crafts store, you'll see tons of different options. You want to be versatile with the tools you practice and sketch with so that you continue experimenting and improving. However, you don't want to overdo it and buy too much. Some supplies can be expensive, so when first starting out, purchase just what you need. As you get more experience, you can buy the supplies that you really want.

Not sure what basic supplies to purchase when setting up your workspace? No worries. This section walks you through the supplies you need to get your workspace up and running.

Picking pens and pencils

Start off with pens and pencils, the most basic drawing tools. Explore the numerous types on the market to see what you're comfortable drawing with, starting with some of the following:

✓ Pencils: Pencils are great for sketching because they provide a nice soft line that you can easily go over with ink. Don't use a pencil that's too dark, because you want the pencil lines to be easy to erase and you don't want them to be noticeable when the cartoon is reproduced, scanned, or copied. In fact, a simple, everyday pencil can do the job, though I prefer to use nonphoto blue pencils, because I don't have to erase my lines after I ink them.

When choosing a pencil, keep in mind that the higher the B# of a pencil, the softer the graphite and the harder it is to erase. The higher H# of a pencil, the harder the graphite is.

However, if your style is such that you want to just use a pencil and not ink over the lines, then the computer can come in handy. You can draw with a pencil, scan that drawing into the computer, and convert the lines to true black. This technique also allows your work to have a nice sketchy look as opposed to the smoother, cleaner look of inked lines. Take time to experiment.

✓ Dip pens: Dip pens have a metal nib and are usually mounted on a wooden handle. You dip the metal end nib into a bottle of ink. The dip pen has been a standard among cartoonists throughout history. This type of pen works well and produces nice dark lines, although you must be careful not to smear the lines before they dry.

✓ Pigma Micron pens: Most cartoonists use these pens in some capacity, for drawing or for lettering. They come in a variety of sizes and contain a long-lasting, nonfading archival ink.

iBE# Cartooning is a commercial style of art, and professionals must always consider how their art will reproduce when choosing a drawing tool. For example, it's probably not practical to use a charcoal pencil to draw cartoons with, as charcoal doesn't reproduce as well as a sharp pen or a brush and ink does.

Other drawing supplies

Writing utensils aren't the only thing on your shopping list when stocking your work station. You also need a few other supplies specific to drawing, such as the items in this section.

The right paper

Paper to use for drawing is imperative to have on hand, and different papers produce different results. Having good drawing paper is essential because its performance is crucial to the line art you end up producing.

The industry standard for drawing paper is Strathmore Bristol drawing paper. This paper is heavy and provides a strong surface to work on without the need for mounting. Bristol comes in a variety of finishes that are best suited for different types of media. Smooth finish is good for pen and ink and allows for the use of washes and even airburshing. The vellum is good for all pencil work as well as charcoal or pastels.

These come in pads of usually 20-25 sheets and range in sizes from 9 x 12 up to over 22 x 28 inches. Generally, the smooth finish is best for drawing cartoons. The only drawback can be cost in relation to the number of actual sheets of paper you get.

If you're just starting out, you may want to consider drawing on copy paper. You can get 500 sheets of copy paper for half the cost of 20 sheets of Bristol drawing paper, so if you make a mistake or change your mind, it won't cost you much to throw the sheet away and start over (but do be good to Mother Nature and recycle). I used to use Bristol drawing paper but switched to using cheap copy paper. I made this decision several years ago when I realized that it really didn't matter what kind of paper I drew on because I was going to scan it into the computer, and the computer file would ultimately be the final piece of art.


Most professional artists and cartoonists use a brush, although no brushes are made specifically for cartooning. Many cartoonists commonly use watercolor brushes. More specifically, the Winsor & Newton Sceptre Gold II brushes work best for inking and are relatively inexpensive. They're made for watercolors but work great for use with ink.

When shopping for a brush, ask other cartoonists what they like to use. You can also ask the clerk in the arts and crafts store for a recommendation. Before you make a purchase, try out a couple of different brushes. Find a brush whose bristles don't fray and that can hold a nice sharp point.

Inking, the term for going over a pencil sketch with black ink, is typically the final step in the drawing process. Inking gives that final spark of life to the drawing and makes the art crisp and tight. Inking over your work with a nice black line creates artwork that can be easily reproduced. Higgins waterproof black India ink is pretty much the standard ink used by most cartoonists. You can get it in small bottles or larger 32-ounce bottles that you can use to pour into a small bottle to dip your brush in.

You may also want to take the cap off and let it set out for a while. Like a good wine, ink that's allowed to breathe tends to perform better.

Visiting the Computer Store

When you think about cartooning, a computer may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But computers in today's cartoon world are as important a tool as the pencil. Although you may still draw all your art on paper using the traditional pen and ink technique, a computer enables you to scan in your cartoons, e-mail art files, and color your comics.

Furthermore, many artists, cartoonists, and graphic designers don't use paper at all anymore — they actually draw right in the computer! In this section, I look at several hardware devices and software programs that cartoonists and artists commonly use.

Selecting the right computer

Choosing the right computer is a crucial decision that's based on many factors, including size, speed, power, and, of course, cost. When choosing a computer, you need to consider its reliability, memory and CPU speed, and storage.

Although personal computers (PCs) dominate the business world, Apple Macintosh computers dominate the creative art world, including the world of cartooning and comics. Macs tend to be a bit more user-friendly than PCs and geared toward a more creative user, with a more colorful and easy-to-understand desktop.

Macs also plug and play more easily than PCs. Plug and play basically means that you can just plug in an external device like a printer or scanner without having to do any extensive programming to get the device to work, other than loading the manufacturer's software. Although you can plug and play using a PC, Mac's plug and play capacities are more user-friendly.

If you're interested in buying a Mac computer, the best resource for more information or to place an order is the Apple Web site ( You can also visit any one of the numerous Apple stores to try out one of the computers in person.

Customizing your hardware

If you're under 30, you were seemingly born hardwired to use computers. If you're a little older, though, or if you really want to get the most out of your computer, you need to know some hardware fundamentals.

Hard drives

Computers hold a tremendous amount of information, which has to be stored someplace. That's what hard drives are for — they permanently store your computer's information — at least until you decide to delete it. Obviously, a larger hard drive can hold more information, including more high resolution cartoon files that, over time, can take up lots and lots of space. Hard drive space comes in what's known as gigs, which is short for gigabyte (abbreviated GB). When you're starting out, I suggest you get an 80GB hard drive; it should last you many years.

External hard drive

If you need additional storage space, an external hard drive for around $100 can provide you with hundreds of GBs of storage. More important, you need to buy an external hard drive so that you can back up all your files. Backing up files means making a copy of them onto another hard drive. Doing so can save your life if you misplace a file or, heaven forbid, your main hard drive crashes and you can't access it. If you have an external drive you have everything saved, which gives you peace of mind.

Random access memory, or RAM for short, is like your computer's short-term memory bank. Information stored as RAM includes application programs, operating systems, and current data. RAM is much faster to read from and write to than the other kinds of storage in a computer, like the hard disk or a CD-ROM, but when you turn your computer off, the data in RAM is lost and has to be reloaded from the hard drive by your computer when you turn it back on.

The more RAM your computer has, the faster it can process things — like commands in Photoshop, for example. You should start out with at least 2GB of RAM; you can purchase additional RAM pretty cheap these days, so I'd recommend not skimping on it. If you want more memory than the computer comes with, you can get a GB of RAM for under $100 and install it yourself in most modern Macs. A good online resource for ordering additional RAM is a company called Crucial (

CPU speed

A Central Processing Unit, or CPU, is usually known simply as your computer's processor. You can upload files, surf the Internet, and work in a program like Photoshop all at the same time if your computer has a fast CPU. CPU speed is generally measured in gigahertz, or GHz. The current crop of Macs range from 1.6 GHz all the way up to 3.2 GHz, which is pretty darn fast. This kind of speed can handle full video or animation without any problems.

If you're just starting out it's best to begin with a computer that may have too much CPU speed and memory. You will eventually use it up, trust me!

CD/DVD drives

CD/DVD drives are devices used to store and back up your work, especially if you need to copy an image onto a disc and send it to a potential editor or freelance client. You can either order a CD/DVD drive at the time you order your computer or buy an aftermarket portable drive. Disc drives are indis-pensible for burning files on a compact disc for storage or for sending art files to clients, for example. Blank CDs are cheap (as little as 15 cents apiece if you buy in bulk), so you can send them out to clients without worrying about getting them back. If your computer has a DVD drive, you can use DVDs to store backup files, as they have a lot more storage than CDs.

The best thing to do is get a combo drive, which can read and write CDs and read (and sometimes write) DVDs, because you get the best of both worlds in one drive. On all Macs except the entry-level Mac Mini, the SuperDrive, a CD/ DVD reader/writer, comes standard.

Modem or wireless Internet connection

You gotta stay connected in today's global market. Fast, reliable Internet access is a must for staying in contact with clients and other contacts, uploading and downloading files, and research. Today, most computers come with built-in internal modems and wireless capability, so you can stay connected wherever you are. Check with your local Internet service provider (ISP) to see what modem and access connection options are available in your area and for remote connections.


As far as cartoonists are concerned, a scanner is an absolute must. A scanner is a handy computer peripheral designed to transform images from real-life photos, drawings, and text into a digitized document. A scanner reads an image and converts it into a collection of dots that can be stored as a file on a hard disk. With special software like Photoshop, you can edit and manipulate the image.

A scanner works on the principle of light reflection. Imagine, for instance, a light shining on a page of a magazine. The white background reflects light, the black text absorbs it, and the shades of gray (or colors) in a photograph reflect the light in varying degrees, depending on their densities. Think of a scanner as a digital copy machine that, instead of copying the image on a piece of paper that pops out of the slot on the side of the machine, copies the image and it pops up on the computer screen instead.

See Chapter 16 for more information about cartooning using scanners and computer equipment.


A printer is an incredibly important tool for your cartooning work station. After you finish scanning in your sketches and reworking them on your computer, you need to have a hard copy. A printer allows you to print out your work that you may have colored using a computer program so that you can have something to show people. You can also print out samples to send to potential editors or freelance clients.

When choosing a printer, you basically have two choices:

✓ Color ink jet printer: This option remains the best all-around choice for many casual users. Ink jet printers are ideal for home users who need to print text pages, color graphics (such as greeting cards or flyers), and color photos. An ink jet printer is an especially good choice if you already own a flatbed color scanner. With a scanner, you suddenly have the equivalent of a multifunction printer — for a whole lot less.

✓ Laser printer: A laser printer is another option. Much like the ink jet printer, the laser printer is capable of printing out nice clean copies of your work. Choosing a printer also depends on the hardware you're using and which printers are most compatible with your particular computer.

Rather than take up valuable office space with multiple individual pieces of equipment, consider saving both money and space by buying an all-in-one device that combines a printer, copier, scanner, and fax machine into one handy unit.


A computer monitor can be expensive, but it's well worth it to invest in a good one that offers the best resolution and is large enough to use as a working desktop. Computer monitors have evolved in recent years, and just like TVs, they come in a variety of formats.

You basically have two types of configurations to look for when purchasing a computer monitor:

✓ Cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor: CRT monitors are an affordable solution; however, they're bulky and very heavy.

✓ Flat panel/Liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor: These monitors are similar to what you'd find on a laptop computer. Bottom line: Go with the LCD because, overall, they generally display sharper images, are lighter, and are more space-efficient because they're thin, like a plasma TV. Despite these advantages, they're a little more expensive, although costs are coming down all the time.


A tablet is a device that has a flat plastic surface which you draw on with a stylus. The stylus is an instrument that you hold in your hand, just like you would a pen. The stylus leaves no mark on the tablet, but the tablet is sensitive to the position of the stylus and moves a cursor on the computer monitor, which acts as a brush or pencil and can fill in areas of color on a page.

Although tricky to get the hang of at first, the hand and eye quickly get used to this drawing method, and most cartoonists enjoy working this way (it's far easier to draw this way than with a mouse). You can achieve very similar effects to traditional ways of drawing with a tablet. One of the most popular and common models of tablets is the Wacom Tablet, which costs between $300 to $5,000 depending on the model and options you choose.

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