Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spotting Blacks, part 1

Matt Jenkins resently requested that I jot down and share some of my theories on spotting blacks for the comics page. For those of you not familiar with the term, "spotting blacks" means strategically placing areas of black within a drawing. It's almost a lost artform. Very few comics artists, especially mainstream comics artists spot black areas any more. I suppose in this day of photoshop bells and whistles, it seems an anachronistic way of creating depth for an illustration.
But it is a lovely art. There's a finesse and specialty to spotting blacks. And it doesn't serve exclusively to create the illusion of depth. It can be used to create mood. It can be used as a storytelling tool, a way to specifically focus your reader's eye. And, at it's most ephemeral, it can be used to create a rhythm, and vibration to an entire comic book page.
I love spotting blacks. It's hard to do, but very rewarding. I'm okay at it, and I've gotten quite a lot of good advice about how to do it through the years.
Some notable wisdom:
Almost 20 years ago, Kyle Baker told me that spotting blacks was "adding little images of white in large black fields, or little images of black in large white fields."
Keith Giffen, more than 20 years ago, held up a page of the LEGION he'd just completed, and asked me, "What jumps out at you immediately on this page? The black areas, right?"
And, to that point, Jaime Hernandez, arguably the finest black-spotter in the business today, responded to my asking for advice in this area by saying "Always put your character in black clothes."
Remember, the eye will always go to a black area on the printed page.
There's a lot of complexity to spotting blacks, so I'll try and organize my thoughts to continue onto part two. Anyone with their own theories are certainly welcome to post!


Uncle Phil said...

I love the "dress your character in black theory". I think you pointed this out to me in Segar's earliest Popeye strips. Very cool indeed. It's also why Messmer Felix pages and Little Dot pages look so beautiful in black and white. It's really amazing how powerful black can be on the page. I really look forward to your next posts on the subject.

Chris Mitchell said...

this is really great....post more blogs like this stephen...you're a good teacher!

Peter said...

I'm putting this into effect! I'm making a black and white comic and have been timid about putting down too many spot blacks. Around page 4 I really started loosening up and doing some better things with silhouettes and giving one of the characters a black sweater. I'm going to try and work some more in and make the main character's shirt black too. Thanks for the power tip!

Alisa said...

awesome. I didn't even know there was a term for this! I've been getting much bolder with adding blacks to my little comics and I'm pretty happy with the results so far.

Cedricstudio said...

Spotting blacks is definitely something I'd like to learn more about. I can't wait to see the next part in your series.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)