Using the Calligraphic Brush for Cartooning in Inkscape

Personal style is going to be the biggest factor in deciding what tools you use to draw your comic, and my personal style is no exception. As you set out to start a new comic, figuring out what that style is, and thus what tools you are going to use is extremely important because:

  • it needs to be a tool you can use effectively, efficiently, and consistently (because you’re going to be using it a lot)
  • it should be simple (because you don’t want something that requires more than a few steps) but versatile (because it’s easy to get trapped by a style that doesn’t give you enough room to express yourself)

I use the Calligraphic Brush as the core tool in my cartooning tool belt.

The Calligraphic Brush

Pros

  • is as close to a real pen/pencil as you can get in Inkscape
  • works with a pressure-sensitive stylus or a mouse
  • creates smooth, hand-drawn look

Cons

  • it is extremely touchy which, adds to artistic inconsistencies
  • uses lots of hardware memory
  • takes a lot of (almost too many) steps

Step 1

First, I use the Calligraphic Brush to rough out a shape.

My personal style is to use a fine brush tip… almost as fine as it can go. This makes it easy to stretch or adjust lines a little bit because at this point I’m not worried about like thickness or other small artifacts. Just like drawing on paper, I might draw many more pieces than I keep… but instead of erasing them, I just delete the lines I don’t like. This is as close to true sketching as I get drawing my comic.

Step 2

When I get to the rough shape I think I want, and I need to start fine-tuning and adjusting details, I use the Edit Paths by Node tool to select all my points. I can do this by single object (which is usually a better practice to getting cleaner results) or select everything in a new object (for efficiency or consistent results.)

Step 3

Next, I smooth and simplify (Path > Simplify) everything. Once. Twice. It’s more of an art than a science. This has two purposes:

First, I feel like it reduces some of the jittery, uneven look that I get from drawing using a mouse or a stylus via a screen. This is particularly noticeable on curves and straight lines… so mostly everything I guess.

Second, my drawings tend to get fairly complex with hundreds of small objects. Simplifying the hand-drawn pieces from the Calligraphic Brush can remove about 50% of the complexity of an object while (barely) affecting what it looks like. This uses a parallel amount of less memory in your computer and let’s you add more complexity down the line.

You should note, like I alluded to above, figuring out your steps is important early on. I’ve got a substantially more powerful computer since starting this comic strip, so that simplify step is much less important… but it’s now part of my style and process, so it will be for the long haul. Choose your tools well!

Step 4

Finally, I rough in a few more details while adding a black (#000000ff) stroke to all my hand-drawn lines. I’ve long-since memorized what all the pixel-widths are for the various magnifications and details are, particularly at this step, because getting your “inking weight” (which this is effectively) right and consistent is a big part of defining your style.

This is, of course, sets me up for the many more steps involved in colouring, framing, lettering and publishing. But that’s for another post.

What techniques define your style? What tool would crush your ability to draw your comic tomorrow as it looks today if it was removed? Is style even important to you? Or are you re-inventing yourself with every piece you make?

Do you Like Web Comics?

Hey! Me too! What a coincidence.

This is Pi Day is an independent web comic about fatherhood, running, video games, science, art, independence, integrity, imagination and just generally ... family adventure. It is created, written, illustrated, and promoted by Brad Salomons from a quiet suburb of a remote Canadian city called Edmonton, Alberta.

Looking for more pi? We regularly celebrate at the great circle of math, science and technology culture. This is Pi Day has been calculated as the product of one geeky dad, one curious kid, and an irrational volume of corny dad jokes.

New full strips are published on Saturday mornings (and shorts, appearing randomly whenever I draw them). This is Pi Day will always be free to read on this site, but if you enjoy it please help me out by sharing the link on social media or supporting in other ways.