Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Dyeing for Color, Cerebus Covers, and More

Sean Michael Robinson:

Greetings Cerebus patrons!

This will be a quickie, and I won't be discussing anything I'm actually working on at the moment. (What I am doing but won't be discussing—prepping Cerebus in Hell? #1! Starting into the cleanup for Jaka's Story! Waiting for a package from Jeff S so I can finally put Cerebus Volume One to bed, where it will await the word from Diamond to enter the print qeue!)

Instead, I'd like to talk just a bit about color.

Cerebus always had striking color(colour) covers. Dave's strong design sense and ability to tell a complex story in a single image made the early covers of the book a continually evolving highlight of the book. (as you can now see collected under one cover, courtesty of the recently-released IDW book CEREBUS Cover Art Treasury. Here's an excellent preview of the book!)

But the covers took off to another level when Gerhard joined the book. Not surprising, since it was Gerhard's pen and ink and colour pieces that started their collaboration in the first place.

And unlike Gerhard's (in retrospect) comparatively shaky start working for reproduction and blending his pen technique with Dave's, his color, to my eyes, seemed spot-on from the go. Comics in general have had a strong tradition of local color only, that is, coloring objects by their named object color (or "true color" as viewed in pure white light), and for the most part disregarding the varying effects of atmosphere and varying qualities light and shadow on those local colors.(I'm sure someone more enterprising than myself could write an entire history of the comics industry through the lens of color handling and reproduction, for instance, noting that process color was incredibly rare for comics until rather late in the proceedings, and that, say, dulling the blue of Superman's outfit because he's backlit by a radiant orange sunset is, uh, bad business. Gotta get that blue, man.)

Not so for the Cerebus color work, whether that be from the early Epic shorts, or the collaborative covers. The color carries light quality and atmosphere and texture in equal amounts, while furthering and expanding the striking design of the early covers.

But really, why do you need me to tell you this? Just go get the book, eh?

Well, I thought I might be able to contribute a bit to the discussion.

Two weeks ago, on impulse, I purchased a set of the illustration "watercolours" that Gerhard used  to paint those beautiful covers throughout the run of the book.

They're called Designer Brilliant Watercolours, and they were made by Winsor & Newton sometime in the early 1980's. I used scare quotes around "watercolours" before because they're actually aniline dyes, and thus more sensitive to fading from direct exposure to sunlight than the most robust traditional watercolors. 

As best I can tell, Winsor & Newton made them to compete with (and emulate) the successful product of their rival, Dr. Ph Martin's, whose products "Radiant Concentrated Watercolours" and "Synchromatic Transparent Watercolours" are very similar to the Winsor & Newton set. These "liquid watercolors" became very popular in the seventies and eighties because they had fine enough pigments to be used in airbrushes, and enough flow to be used with rapidographs or nibs as well.

But after ten days of actually painting with these, the real take-away for me is how vivid the colors are, and how the transparency leads to very different strategies for building up color.

Anyone who's ever attempted complex color rendering with watercolor can tell you that they can be a real pain in the ass. Not only do the pigments have exotic names, mostly labeling them based on the minerals or locations of the minerals historically used to create the pigment for that particular color—they're extremely variable from brand to brand, and even batch to batch. Worse, they don't just vary in color, but in transparency as well, so if you want to really effectively work in layers, you not only need to know the exact color of every tube in your possession, but their relative opacity as well (not even getting into if they mineralize in washes, and other handling concerns).

From Dave and Gerhard's original collaboration, "His First Fifth." Still nuclear yellow after all these years.

As opposed to all of that esoterica, we have these designer dyes. Extremely transparent, uniform in brush feel and handling, and radiant in color and permanently staining, and thus able to be layered over and over to create effects that would be nigh-impossible in watercolor, like, say, wet-in-wet atop of more wet-in-wet, which, with a traditional watercolor, would lift the earlier washes and leave you with a muddy mess.

Anyway, I'm enjoying the heck out of these, and if you paint, I think you might as well.

And we've reached the end of this public service announcement! See you next week, God willing and the creek don't rise.


Carson Grubaugh said...

Never used these Windsor Newton brand dyes but Dr. Martin PH Dyes are awesome.

Another benefit of the dyes is that unlike traditional watercolors you can paint over line-work and not leave a chalky fog over the blacks.

Sean R said...

Yeah, these are very very similar, even down to the names of the colors. If someone's reading this and considering a purchase, unless you get a screaming deal on the W + Ds, I'd just try out the different Dr Martin PH lines and make a choice from there instead. Although they were in good shape considering they're 30 years old, I had to replace a few stoppers that had cracked and glued themselves to the bottle (which was a chore and a half!)

Travis Pelkie said...

Ooh, pretty!

In other news, Cerebus in Hell? #0 IS listed for next week! YAY! for the book itself (still saying the last week of the year)

and for the list with CIH?0 on it.


And I'm hoping that after I get to the comic shop in a bit, I'll be picking up the newly released Covers book, and hopefully get a review of my own up at the place where you go when you clicky on my name. Over the weekend, possibly!

Travis Pelkie said...

Or not. Apparently my guy hadn't actually put in the order prior to now, or somehow it got lost by Diamond's system. He got it ordered for me now, though, and I should be getting the Covers book in the next few weeks.

I did have the new version of Reads come in, but I had a lot of stuff and opted to purchase that in the future. Cover looked good, anyway!