Coloring Comics with Chris Sotomayor

Hi, I'm Andy Schmidt and I'm the founder of Comics Experience - an educational institution about comics. We've been teaching sold-out classes in New York City for the last couple of years. We started them off with both "Introduction to Comics Writing" and "Introduction to Comic Book Art." We later expanded to include advanced courses for both of those - but now we've got something completely new.

What Chris and I have pulled together CBR readers is a quick overview of the coloring process. Boiled down, a colorist's job is to take black and white line-art that has been scanned and exists as a digital file and then color the file on a computer. For this article, we're not going to get too technical, but please do take the time to read the Chris' comments that accompany the following samples for the real nuts and bolts of what he's doing! It's through these steps that different looks are achieved on the work, and some are more quickly done than others. But slow doesn't always mean good and fast doesn't always mean bad either.

As an editor and a writer, I prefer different coloring approaches depending on the project I'm working on. Different coloring approaches can greatly enhance (or detract from) any and all projects. And for a colorist, what editors really want are artists, not technicians. That is to say that I need someone who understands color theory, depth of field, how to manipulate the planes, render shadows, and most importantly someone who can read the line art and extrapolate the correct coloring choices from it. To be blunt, the color artist has to be a storyteller too.

Christ Sotomayor: The first thing I have to do is give a shout-out to my bud (and amazing inker & artist) Jonathan Glapion, who was kind enough to donate the B&W artwork from a commission he did (inked over Dave Finch). Check out his site over at www.jonathanglapion.com. He's a fountain of art knowledge, and we constantly have great art discussions and bounce work off of each other.

Okay, the first place I start is with a flatted image. I usually hire someone else to do my "flats," because it takes time away from doing the actual painting, and in a business with constant tight deadlines, I'd rather spend every bit of time I have on the more creative aspects.

The flatter's job is to block out the different elements of a page and/or character. In this case, I'm sure the flatter knows that Cap doesn't wear trunks, but he took the step to block it out in case I wanted to treat it differently than the rest of his pants.

The fact is, the flatter's choice of colors are almost never accurate. That's not the function of the flats. The function is basic separation. All the elements or areas that need to be colored first need to be separated and turned into distinct shapes that I can work on one at a time without effecting any of the surrounding areas.

From here, I go into the flats, and replace them with the colors I want.

Deep blue here, red center stripe (always!), and a suitable background color to make it all pop. Clarity is always key in coloring a page, and the color choices are where you start laying out your plan. This is pretty straightforward, so I'm keeping it simple.

One of the first things you have to do is define a light source. For that, you have to take your cues from the Black & White artwork. I dropped in some light (and texture, to make it a little interesting) on the opposite side of the heavier black areas that are on the character, layering it and adding more intensity here and there.

Then I drop in some complimentary shadow colors starting from the bottom.

I start playing more shadows and light against each other, until things are properly defined and I get something I like. Since the ground is ambiguous here, I kind of left it alone and did some minimal suggesting in the shadow there.

With the background finally settled, I can go in and start airbrushing in basic lighting on the main figure. Broad strokes to help me keep it all together, and build a more natural lighting look.

I keep building up the light/rendering on the main parts of the body, making calculated decisions about the anatomy and how the penciler structured the body.

I go back and forth, adding more highlights and shadows here in an effort to make the figure seem solid and build form. I also sample a little bit of my background color and add it into the shadows to bring in a little bounced light from the environment.

I apply the same techniques throughout the other areas of the figure, layering in highlights, shadows and a little ambient light, all to build and unify the form. All based on the direction and color of the light source.

After all the real coloring/painting is done, it's nice to go back and add some kind of FX to the image. I try to keep it simple so as not to over power anything - just enough to add something special to the image, without distracting the reader's eye. In this piece, I just added a slight glare from Cap's shield.

As you can see in some of the detail images, this is all done with brushes. The background is done with custom brushes, and the rest is done with the default PhotoShop brushes.

Andy Schmidt: If you've enjoyed the article or have any interest in learning how to color comics from one of the industry's best colorists, check out our website at Comics Experience!

If you're a colorist already and you're looking to step your game up, this is the right place for you as well. We're covering things like how to make paintbrushes and patterns, effects and all kinds of great tools and techniques for you to use. Check the site out at Comics Experience.com.

And if you're a fan who is just interested in how it all works, we start from the bottom up, so that anyone should be able to understand. We're giving you everything we've got, right here in one course. Discussions on how to break in as a colorist, how to stay in as a colorist, what page rates can look like and how to increase yours, everything you can think of - we cover.

What we've done for Comics Experience is created a way for our coloring students to meet online and in real time with the two of us and take them step-by-step through how this all works. They'll be given professional pages from the big publishers to use as practice (thanks for the donated artwork, Marvel Comics and DC Comics). Their work will be reviewed as we go through the course. They'll be introduced to our system of how to approach coloring. Above, you see the technical with hints of the artistry. In the class, we certainly do cover how to use Photoshop properly, but we talk about how to break into comics, where to go, how to read the art. All the things you don't get from your Photoshop guidebooks!

We hope you've enjoyed our little article and you'll join us in the best thing ever - making comics! You can sign up right now for "Introduction to Comic Book Coloring" by clicking here! We hope to hear from you soon!

-- Andy and Chris

About Andy Schmidt:

During his nearly six years at Marvel Comics, Andy edited such popular comic books as "X-Men," "X-Factor," "Alias," "Secret War," and the "Annihilation" saga. As an assistant and associate editor, Andy worked on nearly every major character in the Marvel canon--from Spider-Man to the Avengers and Fantastic Four, and gave him the incredible opportunity to work with the industries brightest stars. Andy is currently the Senior Editor at IDW Publishing and is in charge of such popular franchises as G.I. Joe and Transformers for the publishing company. Additionally, he still finds the time to write for IDW, maintain his comics blog, and has written an authoritative book about making comics: "The Insider's Guide to Creating Comics and Graphic Novels," published by Impact Books. Andy founded Comics Experience in 2007 to help fresh talent find their strengths, improve upon their storytelling skills, and build their own success!

About Chris Sotomayor

Chris Sotomayor has a reputation of being the fastest color artist in the business, and has been a mainstay at Marvel Comics since 1996. He's proven himself time and again having worked on their top properties, including Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers, Daredevil, Captain America, Hulk, and many others, as well as working on titles for DC Comics, Image Comics and Humanoids. Past breakout works include "Supreme Power/Squadron Supreme" and "Captain Marvel."

Tags: andy schmidt, comic coloring, chris sotomayor, Comix Experience

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