Barrington Farm Comic Workshop

In winter 2014 I was invited by the Senior Events Coordinator at Barrington Farm, a day service centre for adults with learning difficulties, to hold a Sequential Art Workshop in their fantastic Art Barn.

I was given 3 days to show them how to write a script, draw, ink and colour a comic page each.

Their comic pages would then get professionally lettered and printed as an A5 comic so they could all have a copy with some left over for distribution or sale.

So, at the end of Feb 2015, I rolled up with my box of paper, pens and drawing boards ready to make some comics!

Download a comic from a recent workshop

What goes on at the Barrington Farm Art Barn?

Barrington Farm is an independent day services centre project near Walcott in North Norfolk.  It’s an amazing place encouraging integration into the community for people with a wide range of learning difficulties.

The Art Barn itself is a beautifully renovated farm building (a barn, unsurprisingly!) – a really pleasant and inspiring space to work in.

The group of clients I  worked with comprised a range of abilities – all active and motivated artists, regularly exhibiting and selling work at local and national events.

Day 1: Writing a comic script

A clear, simple script of what each comic panel needs to show and say is essential.

This can be the trickiest part of the workshop (artists tend to want to dive in with the drawing!) but it can also be loads of fun and really exciting!

Some workshops I hold each artist works on a story told over multiple pages, but in this case everyone was doing a self-contained story on just a single page.

It sounds simple, but it requires great focus!

comic workshop story worksheets
The story writing worksheets

Using the odd worksheet and a lot of wild gesticulation (mainly emanating from me), the group started work on deciding the following things about their story:

  • Where and when will the story take place?
  • Who will the story involve or happen to?
  • What will happen to them?

Once everyone had that information down we moved onto planning a beginning, middle and end for each story – remembering that it would need to be told in a maximum of 8 or 9 panels!

At the end of the session, by hook or by crook,  everybody had a simple script for their comic book page describing what images and text were required in each panel.

An amazing range of stories resulted – ranging from Beano-style superhero pastiche to childhood recollections.  One of the stories could safely be described as Diehard On A Plane in 6 panels!

Day 2: Pencilling the comic strip

Final comic page pencils
Chris’ final pencil drawing for his comic book page

Day two involved a lot of drawing!

Often in large scale comic production each part of the process is done by different people – The “Penciller” (the artist who does the initial pencil drawing) is often not responsible for the ink drawing that you see in the final printed copy (this is done by the “Inker”).

With a big group working on a long, continuous story I might use this production-line approach, but for Barrington farm it was important that each client felt ownership of their page – so each artist did it all!

  • Script writing
  • Pencilling
  • Inking and colouring

I always encourage everyone to start drawing as roughly as possible – planning out the characters or objects appearing in each panel as rudimentary shapes, remembering to take account of any captions or text which also needs to appear in the panel.

The size of these initial rough sketches range from actual size of the final comic page (A5) down to quarter of that size (Often called a thumbnail sketch) – whatever works best for the artist.

The rough sketch is then photocopied, expanded and printed out on an A3 sheet which can then be traced, adding details and refining the drawing.

This process of starting rough then copying & resizing and then redrawing & refining is crucial to the comic creation process and a valuable discipline which students can apply to other areas of their work and lives.

Day three: Inking and colouring

In order to come out looking really good in print, comics need a bit more contrast than just pencil on paper –  this is where Inking comes in.

By the end of Day 2 all the artists had a final A3 pencil drawing of their comic book page ready for inking using some fantastic pens that I bring along to every workshop.

But wait! – If you start drawing in pen straight onto a lovely pencil version and make a mistake or don’t like the end result, you’d have to start all over again with a new pencil drawing!

To get around this I scan the A3 pencil drawings and, using a bit of Photoshop jiggery-pokery (that’s a technical term), convert all the black pencil lines to a nice blue colour.

comic page pencils and blue version
The original pencil drawing (left) and blue line version (middle) & final inked image (right) ready for inking.

There are a couple of reasons for creating a blue line version of the pencil drawing;

  1. Black ink can be applied over the top of the blue line version, and if any accidents occur another Blue line copy can be printed out.
  2. Once the inking is complete, the final sheet can be scanned and then (again, using Photoshop jiggery-pokery) any blue still remaining can be removed, leaving only the black ink!

The client’s final inked pages were scanned and printed out again (rest assured, I only use recycled or Carbon neutral paper!), with the contrast turned down, ready for colouring done using some more pretty cool pens which I brought along with me.

By the end of the day everyone had inked and coloured their comic book pages ready for lettering.

final comic coloured artwork
The final coloured comic artwork still on drawing boards

Lettering the Final Comic Book

Back in my lair, during an extended period of tea drinking and postproduction, all the final inked and coloured pages were cleaned up, composited, lettered and arranged in a comic book layout ready to be sent to the printers.

The great thing about these workshops is that I think I probably learn as much as those I’m teaching!

Here’s a few pages of the comic book to give you a flavour of what the group achieved.

Download your Free copy of the finished Comic Now!

If you’d like to see the end result of the workshop in all it’s glory you can download a Free PDF copy of the Barrington Farm Comic now!

Interested in attending or holding a Comics Drawing workshop?