I tried something.
I recognized that drawing environments and inking intimidated me. I generally avoided doing “backgrounds,” and I’d only ink drawings I had first drawn in great detail with pencil. Both of these things really inhibited my work, limiting my storytelling abilities and lengthening the time it took me to create.
Then I got a great piece of advice: learn how to navigate the obstacles in your creative work by looking to the artists to whom you most aspire.
Given other recent work of mine, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I think Calvin & Hobbes‘ Bill Watterson is the bees’ knees. In his ten-year strip he implied environments with elegant simplicity and created a very genuine world. Based on a brief discussion of his process in The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book, I know that he also did very little pencil work before inking, if any. His work struck me as a great place to begin facing my drawing inhibitions.
Each day for four weeks I pulled environmental shots from Calvin & Hobbes and drew them as close to Watterson’s technique and style as possible. This meant no pencil prep, except for pieces with more complex compositions. It also meant using only specific tools. From The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book I also learned that Watterson used a red sable brush and a pen nib for a few finer details before finishing his drawings.
While it had its challenges, drawing from Watterson was a great experience—read more about it here. It was also the start of an ongoing series of sketchbooks based on my favorite cartoonists, including Jeff Smith. I later compared the two styles.