Pencil vs. Stylus... Round 2! More "Traditional" Art Practice with a Page of Sarah Studies

in comics •  last year

Round 2 - Ding Goes the Bell!

If you haven't been following along, it's kind of a "Rockyesque" tale. I found my old friend Pencil milling around in the bottom drawer, an area other art tools might call "the docks." Pencil was there, breaking some legs for a loan shark and occasionally fighting a Micron or Prismacolor for a bit of beer money. I looked Pencil straight in the graphite and told him he might have a chance at the title again, going up against that flashy newcomer Stylus. He's been working the heavy bag like a champ ever since.

Ok, maybe it's nothing like that.

...But I am liking "Pencil."

After an encouraging first doodle a couple nights ago, I finally had the day off today and spent several hours filling a fresh sheet of paper.


head studies of Sarah from "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..."
mechanical pencil, 2H lead on 2 ply smooth Bristol board; 11" x 17"

Find more of me recently trying to define Sarah's character here and Pencil's first round of battle here.

I'm not sure what it is, the texture, the scale of the workspace compared to a tablet, the lack of digital tools as a crutch... but I'm very happy with today's sketches. I'm fully rethinking my comic making process from here.

1. I need to incorporate more traditional pencil and possibly ink work into my production.

2. I need to incorporate more photo reference and preparation work into my production.

Reference Is Not A Dirty Word!

Truthfully, I never thought reference was a dirty word... I've just been too lazy to do it right.

I am not very skilled when it comes to drawing from the imagination or even "cartooning." I've been looking at other artist's work and attempting to learn and emulate. However, when I sit down with a photo reference and start drawing, as I did with these studies, I feel like it's the closest to my natural style. It's formed from years of reading comics and drawing, and clearly I have learned ways to reduce people and objects to the basic linework of the classic comic book style.

I far prefer my results when I have a good reference to draw from. Perhaps that was instilled in me by my high school art teacher Mrs. Lutick. I can still hear the sound of her voice from across the room calling out to different students... "Find a reference!" She'd spot someone from 50 feet away, struggling to draw a tree from memory or imagination with middling to poor results. Unless you're a master and have drawn trees a thousand times, you better be studying and looking at that tree as you work! I never would have pulled off these images of Sarah this well without solid reference.

Many great working artists use reference extensively, often shooting their own, to get the images they want to capture and not risk copying another artist.

ross reference.jpg

Artist Alex Ross using himself as a model for the Joker and taking a custom reference photo for his work

Fortunately for me, should I venture down a more photo referenced path... I've actually based the lead characters of my comic "I Thought It Would Be Zombies..." on friends. They've been very supportive and agreed to have characters based on them in the book! Now I'll just have to propose hanging out and shooting some pictures! That extends to background settings and objects too.

For some, drawing from imagination may be best, but it doesn't give me the results I want. I'm just being lazy and short sighted when I know that I'm drawing a scene in the woods for a half dozen pages and don't take a half a day to go to the freakin' woods, wander around, get inspired, and shoot some reference photos of my own. Relying on Google image search or just winging it... (I just heard Mrs. Lutick scream at me from a few hundred miles away) isn't cutting it for what I want to achieve.

So is Pencil going to win the fight? No art tool every really wins a fight... Boxing is best when filled with good sportsmanship and camaraderie, as is art! I think Pencil and Stylus will find many ways to work together on this comic project...

-Bryan "the Imp" Imhoff

Follow me @bryan-imhoff and view some of my comics @spottyproduction and reviews @exploreunlimited!
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These look great! Honestly, I use a bunch of references images when I draw. My brother was better at drawing from his imagination but the image in my head fades much faster. I’m prepping my mind to going back to my ‘real’ pencil for a watercolor contest. 😅 I’m a little worried since I’m used to the punch and zoom.


Thank you! I don’t think my images ever really crystallize sharply in my head to have a chance to fade. It’s always a haze of intent but I just haven’t sharpened my skills of observation and recall enough to invent great expressions, poses, textures, etc.

You will definitely try to pinch and tap. I totally experienced it! 😂 But you’ll do great.

Crazy to read this. Tonight, I was drawing something I had been drawing on and off now for months (I started so long ago, the top left hand corner still had an old Steemit logo I drew in). I had been doing this on one sheet when I started. Then I was on a second sheet the next time I toyed around with the drawing. Tonight, onto the third sheet. The whole time I was thinking for this particular thing I am drawing, I am going to have to end up hand drawing half of it and then digitally tweaking elements to it otherwise I'm going to go through a whole pad. Random rant done, glad to see your pencil drawings and also you enjoying working with pencil again, the face on Sarah at the bottom is so awesome (all of them are, but great expression on that one in particular)

Photo reference is great, just remember to be careful not to go down the Greg Land path. See:


I’m just glad you’re still plugging away at it and won’t let a drawing beat you!

I was really happy with that more extreme expression too. A perfect example of what I want the tone of the comic to be at times, but a look I never would have gotten out of my imagination. Luckily all my friends are very expressive! I plan on doing practice sheets like this of Julie and Dave as well. I imagine sitting them down for a “table read” of the script & capturing some very helpful pics. I want my characters to act! ... not have a Liefeldesque grit teeth in every panel.

I loved Greg Lands run on Sojourn but was aware of his reference controversy at the time! A great reason to shoot my own reference, as the Land path I do fear when I’m leaning on the internet too much for visuals.


I will finish this stupid drawing I have had in mind. While tinkering with it tonight already found like two elements about it that were missing, I keep toying with a cartoony look versus a more traditional comic book style. This is where the tablet would come in amazingly, one layer for each style I could go back and forth on, seriously was funny when checking Steemit right quick and seeing your post on this topic comic up again.

Also, dude, sounds like you gave yourself something fun on the side to draw, your characters holding scripts at a little fake table read, good opportunity to draw them in a casual setting and mouths moving plus some maybe reacting to others reading. Something fun on the side = more work lol.

Photos you take yourself for reference i think is definitely the way to go. Unless it is a specific object or a particular person, after seeing the extent of Greg Land's situation, no hate on him, but hopefully he will be the last person to have a position he did in comics using what seemed to be very easily findable poses from not only magazines, but other comics as well. I had met him at cons not wanting to like the guy, ended up feeling for him, his art is really kick ass, I believe he got dealt a bad hand but I think the levels of reference he did rides the line of reference and straight up copying.


I liked Land’s end result and I still respect the work he did... but it does feel a bit wrong. He was essentially more of a collage artist than anything!

That table read scene is noted! It would be very “meta” having the in comic characters doing it. I actually want to make an issue after the first arc that is an “end credits” issue. Complete with manufactured outtakes (like Pixar), a cast sing along, & after credit teaser scene. The table read could fit in... 🤔

It's all with the preference of the artist. I will always prefer pencil over a stylus. For me I can feel the artwork as the pencil glides across the paper. It's hard to explain.


Hard to explain indeed. I know just what you mean as I’m having a difficult time even pinpointing for myself just why I’m enjoying & more satisfied with the traditional over the digital lately.

Side question for you... do you have a large format scanner by any chance or have any recommendations? I had one years ago because I always hated piecing together 2 scan passes for 10” x 15” work. Looking to get one again now & it seems Plustek brand may be the only game in town...


I used to own a plustex brand also. Now days I have a brother mfc-j6510dw.


Nice. Thanks for the recommendation! It looks like it’s discontinued but there’s a 6535 now and it also led me to reviews of a comparable HP. I hadn’t really looked at the all in ones, but these are very well priced!

Does your printer handle printing on Bristol board? I have a large format Epson that works well for that currently but it would be nice not to have both on the desktop!

I love how you did the faces and the different gestures, you should do a kind of tutorial for me to learn to make different gestures for the same characters.

I also use photos as references most of the time ;)


Thank you! I would struggle to do a tutorial as I am really not that good at it! I credit using the photo references. You did an excellent job on the portrait piece you shared today.
The expressions and gestures are good simply because I’m lucky to have friends who make great faces! 😄


oh ok you're going to have to lend me those good friends hehehehe ... for me if you're very good or at least you're better than me. ;)

Thank you, I'm glad you liked the work I did yesterday.

Your pencil work is great. If it gives you less of a headache, stick to it. Ad basing characters on your friends sounds like a great idea.

I've been thinking of doing less digital work... but it's just soo convenient to not have to lug around a sketch book and pens/pencils. I just carry my tablet, and save everything on Dropbox. So I can continue at work, or at home.!
Great drawings btw! I find that reference always makes a huge difference in my art. It helps me find more exciting angles too when story boarding my comic. I just search google though, I don't take mine own usually


It’s funny, I’ve never really been an “on the go” artist type. Even drawing on my iPad I almost always sit down at a drafting table to work. I just don’t get comfortable or feel like I have good control with a sketchbook in my lap.


I'm that way when I do finished art, but when sketching, I kind of like a little loss of control because sometimes I like the mistakes, or they will take me in a different direction. It keeps me loose. Plus, I do alot of my sketching while on the bus or train going to and from work.
But I agree, if I'm working on my finals, I want a stable service that I can lean over and get into.

There is nothing like using a pencil. It has that look. Great job!


Thanks. It definitely has a look & feel I’ve been unable to replicate digitally, although I’ve seen many artists do a better job of it than I’ve been able to capture.

It’s also nice to have a physical piece at the end, for both sentimental and potentially financial benefits!

Most of the time I use the stylus instead of the pencil, because it's "easier" if you have to erase, or correct parts of the drawing... But it will never replace the sensation of the pencil on a paper. I prefer using the pencil, but the stylus is more practical... :-) The solution I chose is to draw a first sketch on paper, scan it, and re work it on Photoshop!
And I also use references when I draw... You have to be incredibly gifted and talented to draw all from imagination... Some artist can do it, and I admire them! But most of us use photo ref an Google to help :-)

Your drawings came out really great and the faces are so expressive, you really nailed it! I'm so lost without references. I can draw well enough without them but you can totally see the difference in my work with references to my work without them. Especially for things I already struggle drawing like advanced perspective, fabric folding, foreshortening, any and all cars...the list goes on!


Yep. I have this feeling like an artist should be able to just sit down & draw but I know it’s complete rubbish! I just don’t do my prep like I should (references, thumbnails, iterating character designs) and it leads to sub par results. I’m gonna work on that.

I use heavy reference for poses or whatever. I like to make 3d models pose and go off of that sometimes, or else a photo. You're minds eye is what it is, kind of like how high you can jump or how fast you can run. I've heard Neal Adams can draw from his minds eye instantly and quickly, but I think, to a certain extent that's something you are born with.

By the way Alex Ross always blows my mind.


Frank Frazetta was one of those “minds eye” artists too. I do believe it’s something you can practice and train, even if some have a natural inclination toward it.

Wow. Nice narrative.

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