An Interview with Cameron Stewart: Drawing with Tech in a Digital Age

Cameron Stewart is an Eisner and Shuster Award winner, illustrator of the sequels to Chuck Palahniuk’s famed graphic novel Fight Club, and wrote and drew Assassin’s Creed: The Fall and The Chain.  Cameron has written and/or illustrated works such as BPRD, Batman & Robin, Seaguy, The Other Side, and many more.

He led DC Comics’ pop art, young adult revamp of Batgirl, which became popular with fans both in books and merchandising, and is known for illustrating Catwoman.

Cameron Stewart has been drawing all of his life – first on paper – and through the years and with the advent of technology – he now finds himself using digital technology to draw rather than traditional ink and paper.

Below is our recent interview with comic artist, Cameron Stewart.

How is digital drawing different from traditional art?  Is one better than the other?

Cameron Stewart: The major difference between digital and traditional artwork is flexibility. With traditional artwork and physical materials you are bound to the marks made on the paper or canvas – which often means a much greater discipline or developed skill to truly consider and take care with the strokes you make. If you make a mistake or are unsatisfied with the work, you must spend extra time reworking it, erasing or repainting it until you arrive at the desired result. When working with physical materials I would often find myself spending a lot of time fixing mistakes that I’d made.

Digital artwork is mutable, it can be manipulated to fine-tune the image. If I am unsatisfied with a line that I’ve made or a choice of colour, I can easily undo it and try again, or adjust it to get it exactly what I intended.  I also frequently work on separate “layers” – if I am unsure of the line I want to make, or want to experiment, I can do it on a new layer and avoid spoiling the work I’ve already done. I also find that with the ability to instantly undo any mistakes, I am far more confident in the lines that I make – working on paper meant that I was often much more timid about drawing as I was afraid to make any bold choices that could backfire and be difficult to correct.

There are times when I do miss having actual tangible pieces of artwork. There are purists that think that digital artwork is inferior to traditional media but I don’t really agree, I just think that they are two different approaches. For me, the final printed book is the actual art object, and whether you are drawing on paper or on a screen, that’s all just process.

What tools and software do you use to do your sketches and how do they help the creation process go faster?

Cameron Stewart: For many years I used Photoshop and a Wacom tablet. My initial process was to do all of the sketching – the foundational drawing – in Photoshop, and then alter the linework to a non-reproducible blue and print that out on paper, to ink with a physical brush.  Once the inking was complete I would then scan the artwork back into Photoshop and then make small corrections and adjustments. Eventually, I found myself doing more and more alterations in that stage, resizing and shifting characters, redrawing a face here and there, so that often the final printed page looked quite different from the original hand-drawn artwork. 

I also started experimenting with a program called Manga Studio (eventually renamed Clip Studio) that was software similar to Photoshop but specifically made for making comics, complete with a variety of extremely useful comics-specific tools.  This changed everything for me, as I no longer had to scan physical artwork, I could just draw final pages directly with the software. Without the need to scan and clean up physical pages, which alone could often take hours, I could send the artwork to my publisher within seconds after completion.  Recently, I have been using the Apple iPad Pro and using software called Procreate, which has a variety of simple and intuitive hand gestures and so far is the experience closest to drawing on a pad of paper, not to mention the portability.

Obviously, as a comic book artist you do a lot of character sketching. How do you capture your subject’s personality and bring them to life in your illustrations? 

 Cameron Stewart: First of all it’s having a clear idea of the character, understanding their personality traits and quirks and trying to express them in physical features. If a character is sunny and cheerful, softer, rounder shapes help. If a character is gruff and cynical maybe they have harder, sharper edges to their facial features. I often will try to think of famous people, such as actors, that I think embody the attitude and personality of the character and then use them as a springboard – not an exact caricature, but use them as a guide to create something similar.  I believe that to be a great comics artist you must also be a good actor – you need to know what facial expressions or body language can convey a character’s thoughts and feelings, even if there is no dialogue to reveal them. I will often use photographs of myself or look in a mirror to get the “acting” of a character correct.

At what age were you when you started drawing and what comics were you reading at that time?

Cameron Stewart: I was very young when I started drawing – I think most people drew when they were young children, it’s one of the first things that you do before you can even write. So I don’t think that I was very unique in drawing at a young age. But most people abandon drawing once they hit a certain age and start to feel like they aren’t “good” at it. I think it’s frustrating for many people that the drawings start to look bad to their eyes. The people who remain artists into adulthood are just the people who never gave up on it, who pushed through the frustration and disappointment – and tedium! – of it, in order to get better and better at it.

I grew up partly in Canada and partly in the United Kingdom, so I had a strange mix of both cultures comics. In Canada, I was reading a lot of American superhero comics, like X-Men and Batman, Spider-Man, etc. And in the UK, I was reading a lot of either science fiction stuff like Judge Dredd and 2000AD or the kids comics like the Beano and the Dandy, most of which had a kind of cynical, dry humour to them and were often about kids getting one over on authority figures, humiliating parents or schoolmasters.  Maybe the combination of the two influences informed my perspective – I rarely analyze my own work!

What’s the weirdest assignment you ever had? Has any of your finished work surprised you?

Cameron Stewart: I once illustrated a couple of children’s books – intended for very young children, ages 6-8 – that were based on the Dark Knight film, which if you’ve seen you’d know is not really a film for kids that young. It was very bizarre and frustrating to take the complex adult themes and violence of that film and sanitize it for a child. I don’t think it was very successful!

It’s always a delightful moment when a piece of artwork surprises me – my favourite pieces that I’ve done are often pieces that, to my eyes, don’t look like I drew them. I think that when that happens, when something looks new to me rather than typical of the work I usually do, that is usually an indicator that I am on the verge of a breakthrough in my work and that it’s evolving in a positive way.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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