How to Ink Darth Vader

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Oh, hi internet. I drew a Darth Vader.

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Want to know how I inked it? Okay, this is a great image to practice with. I did this in Manga Studio 5, but I used the same techniques I’ve used on paper for this image. If you are using traditional mediums, a brush or brush pen would be a good choice here because they’ll let you fill in the large black areas quickly.

I started with the simple drawing you’ll see below, which is similar to what you’d see in a coloring book, only messier. I usually go light and sketchy with my pencils (or pencil layers), and refine the art in the inking stage. I made this picture for an inking workshop for kids. It’s admittedly kinda difficult and intimidating for beginners, but the kids in my classes are super smart and willing to take on challenges. I trace it onto a large paper and have everyone work on it as a group and take turns inking parts of it with different tools. They always see me slop ink all over it first, so they know not to worry about making it perfect. ūüôā Of course, it doesn’t turn out like the one above, but the point is just to get everyone thinking about where to put the ink to make the drawing easy to read, and which tools are best for the job.

What’s great about Darth Vader for practice is that he forces you to pay attention to light and contour. Since so much of the image is filled with black ink, it’s really the uninked areas that become the grammar and syntax of the drawing, and you have to pay attention to the play between ink and negative space to make it look really polished.

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These pencil lines are just guides, and I will ignore some of them later.

So first I decide where the light source is. In this drawing, it will be the light saber. I sketch in some guides (shown in red) to help me visualize which direction the light is going, and how it will hit Vader’s body.

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Then I make a new layer, below the original pencil layer, and use gray to figure out how I want the shading to look. If I were working on paper, I’d just shade it lightly with my pencil here. Since the light source is on our left (or Vader’s right), that side of his body will be more illuminated. I fill in the places where core shadows and some of the wrinkles will be, and leave a little rim of light on the other side.

Some artists will think this blasphemous, but I’m not thinking in terms of realistic lighting here. While artists should have an understanding of how light plays off objects (it’s a very useful basic skill that requires study, practice¬†and observation), comic artists need to be able to work quickly, and it’s not practical to make every drawing a realistic study of light and shadow. In the real world, lighting is complicated. It can come from multiple sources and cast too many shadows. It bounces off some things and¬†filters through others. Such nuances are fascinating in a photo or Renaissance painting, but on a comic page, they can potentially overcomplicate the art, reduce overall clarity, and slow you down. I want the lighting to generally make sense, but what I’m¬†really focusing on here is contour: the shape and volume of each part of the body, and which parts need to pop out in stark white to make¬†it easy to read.

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Again, this is a guide layer, and I will make other decisions when I do the actual inking

A lot of times, your first instinct is to start inking right over the pencil lines, but that’s NOT what I want to do here. For an image like this that has lots of black fills, I like to start by painting in the largest solid black areas first. In this case, that means working from back to front. I filled in the starry sky in the background before doing anything else, going juuust up to Vader’s outline. I left a blank area around the light saber, which I will work on later. After filling in the sky, I used white to add stars. If I were working on paper, I’d use white gouache to dot in the stars with the wrong end of a paintbrush.

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Next I fill in the shadows on the cape. I let the inside of the cape catch some light so it won’t end up looking too flat. And again, I’m taking care to go right up to the outline of Vader’s body without encroaching on it.

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The mask and helmet¬†were next, and were¬†really the most difficult parts to tackle. There are a lot of planes and angles on that mask, and¬†I found¬†them¬†tricky to navigate.¬†If you look closely here, you can see¬†I’m not just going over the pencil lines. On¬†many of the sections of the¬†mask, I ink up to the pencil line, and leave a white line above it, so it looks like light is reflecting off¬†the sharp edges.¬†I use wavy lines on some areas. If the inked areas follow the outline too closely, they look a bit stiff. Using some judiciously-placed irregular shapes allows for more highlights, which help your eyes interpret the art. They also make it look like the light is rippling across the surface of the helmet, giving it a sense of movement.

For the mesh part of the breathing apparatus, I filled those bits with solid black and then hatched the lines in white. Using paper, you could do that with white paint or a white-out pen.

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On the torso, again you can see I’m using the pencil lines only as guides, and not following them exactly. His suit has a bit of texture to it, so I feather in lots of little wrinkles.

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Then the gloves, belt and underoos. You can see here that I changed the saber hilt in this stage. I drew a generic-looking handle when I was penciling, and later changed it to look like Vader’s actual light saber.

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Okay, I know that outstretched hand looks tricky, so here’s a close-up. It’s not really so bad.

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Now I’m ready to fill in the area around the light saber. I usually use Kirby Krackle here, because it works really well, and it gives me a chance to demonstrate it to workshop students. They’ve usually seen it before, but not drawn it or heard it named.
It’s pretty simple: the dots of varying size make an irregular outline, and create a bit of figure-ground reversal, so it reads as a kind of weird elemental glow.

If you know comics, you know that normally Kirby dots are smoother and rounder than what you see here, but for whatever reason I made them rough and scribbly this time. It’s just what felt right to me when I was working on this version of the inks. I kinda like the contrast between the pebbly, scribbly crackle and the smooth, shiny look of Vader’s costume.

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Next the legs and boots

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Last of all, I add some details to this moon/space station/asteroid/whatevs.

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And that’s that. Obviously, the way you approach any artwork varies depending on the subject and content, and there’s more than one right way to do anything. This is what works for me for this image, but I use an entirely method for other things I do (like my webcomic, for example.) The most important thing is to figure out what tools and techniques are most comfortable in your own hands.

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