Iconic fantasy encounter
Nicolas Delort shows you how to create a dynamic and dramatic black and white claybord illustration by exploring all the possibilities the medium offers
Monochromatic artwork has always appealed more than colour art, whether it’s charcoal sketches, etchings or pen and ink. While I was still a student, I saw an exhibit of Rembrandt’s engravings at the Louvre. I was blown away by the detail and the dramatic lighting, and it inspired me to try and mimic the look with pen and ink.
My first attempts were messy but I had fun doing them. I worked with pen and ink for a while, trying to replicate the look of wood or copper engravings of other artist I discovered, like Gustave Doré, but I felt limited in terms of detail and it was hard to produce clean, parallel lines the way I wanted them to be.
So I did some research on ways I could mimic the engraving “look” without actually doing engraving and found out about early 20th century illustrator Franklin Booth, who worked on scratchboard. Since then I’ve been working with Ampersand Claybord and haven’t looked back! It’s a fantastic medium that gives you lot of control over your lines.
It comes in two varieties – uninked and pre-inked – and the preinked variety is called Scratchbord. I use the un-inked kind, because it enables me to work both in an additive and substractive manner. The image I’ve created for this workshop will demonstrate how I combine those two methods to achieve the desired effect.
Creating art in black and white can be deceptively simple, because you have less means to create contrast between different elements, so you have to find workarounds. Although it looks like you can correct your mistakes by just scratching them out, in reality things aren’t that simple and claybord is less forgiving than it looks. It’s for that very reason that I work slowly and methodically, to leave as little as possible up to chance. It’s taken a lot of practice to get a steady hand that enables me to create smooth and even lines, but it’s been a rewarding process.
In this workshop, I’ll try to explain my process, showing how I use lines to creature movement, values and texture by rendering a classic scene from The Lord of the Rings: the encounter between Gandalf and the Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-Dûm.
1 Thumbnailing stage
I always start out an illustration by doing very rough thumbnails with a pencil on paper with printed frames. I like having frames already on paper because it helps me focus on composition. I generally start with a pretty good idea of what I want to do, but this phase helps me find the exact composition I want.
2 Cleaning up the sketch
Once I have a thumbnail I like, I scan it, blow it up in Photoshop, colour it light blue and then draw over it on another layer. I use Kyle Webster’s Ultimate Pencil brush, because I love its texture and flow. I don’t worry too much about the details for now, but I make sure that I have everything exactly where I want it to be.
3 Planning out the values
When I’m happy with my sketch, I do a quick digital value study. I keep values simple and not too detailed. It will serve as a reference guide when I do the final, so I know where I’m headed. I focus more on general atmosphere and light source, rather than smaller details.
4 Transferring the sketch to the board
I print out the sketch at the desired size (28x38cm) and use transfer paper to trace it down on the board. I don’t press down too hard on the carbon paper, because it can be hard to erase from the board.
5 Outlining the dark areas
Using a 0.3mm tip Faber Castel Ecco pigment pen, I outline areas that will be rendered in a substractive manner. That means they will be first filled with black ink and then I’ll use a knife to scratch out lines. I generally work from background to foreground, so I start with the Balrog and smoke in the background.
6 Filling in the dark
I use a Faber Castell Pitt “Big brush” pen to fill in large areas and a 0.5mm pigment pen to fill in the smaller areas. At this point it doesn’t really matter if I accidently fill outside the lines because I can always scratch out later, but I still try to be as clean as possible.
7 Working in the first values
At this step, I haven’t used my scratching knife yet. I continue to fill in the areas that will be scratched out later and at the same time, with a 0.5mm pigment pen, I start working on the lighter areas by carefully creating tones with parallel lines. I use the direction of the lines to enhance the flow of the piece.
8 Completing the addition
I continue working in values on the background with the 0.5mm pigment pen, always paying attention to the general flow of my lines and movement that they create when you look at the illustration from afar. The Balrog is made of fire, and so I want it to look like its form is ever-changing.
9 Building values with scratched lines
At this point, the areas in the background that have to be worked in an additive manner are done. I take out my scratching knife and start working in the darker areas, again by creating tones with very thin parallel lines. I can vary the line weight to create different values by applying less or more pressure on the knife.
10 Depicting insubstantial wings
I continue scratching out lines to create values in the background. I want the wings to look like they’re made of smoke or shadow, so I don’t give them definite shapes. The hardest thing at this point is to keep a clear idea of what I want the final values to be.
11 Lightening with counter-scratching
I use my scratching knife to “counter-scratch” some of the pen lines at a 45 degree angle to create dashes. It lightens the values and create subtle gradients. Now the transition between the pen lines and the white looks smoother.
12 Darkening and creating texture
At this point, all the areas in the background are scratched out but to create some darker values, I take my pens and counter-hatch the scratched lines like I did with the knife. Doing this with a pen on the scratched lines darkens the values and also creates an interesting texture.
13 Completing the foreground
Now that the background is finished, I can move on to the foreground. The lines on the rock and bridge are straighter than in the background, so we have a contrast of textures. I wanted the halo from Gandalf’s staff to be stylised and geometrical to contrast with the rest of the piece, where the shapes are more organic.
14 Digital touch-ups
Now that the piece is complete, I scan it in and do some digital touching up. The scan makes the ink look washed out, so I re-adjust levels so that the black is black and the white is white. I also add some subtle levels of grey to add some depth and to give the lighter areas a bit of a glow.