Rowhouse Residency Report – Ian Densford

Ian Densford is a cartoonist based in New York state. He joined us in Pittsburgh for a weeklong Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency in July of 2017. Here are his thoughts about visiting the city and his Rowhouse Residency experience.

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The cover of the original version of Trench Dogs

Ian Densford here: The Rowhouse Residency is great opportunity to get away from the all your distractions and focus on your work. You will be exposed to excellent comics, find interesting reading material on subjects like sacred geometry and interviews with cartoonists, and you will hold interesting conversations with both Frank & Sally, as they are both passionate, intelligent, and creative. You will learn new skills, discover new influences, and talk about comics history in contrast to today’s sphere.

In the summer of 2017, from August 23-26, I briefly held a room at the Rowhouse Residency in Pittsburgh, PA. I drove seven hours from the NYC area, and it was a hot week! I shared the house with fellow Comics Workbook Correspondence alum Andrew White, and we spent our time drawing, talking with Frank & Sally, and diving into books from Frank’s unique collection. I came to the residency with a halfway-finished project called Trench Dogs, a collection of first hand accounts from soldiers in World War One. It was something that had originally been created for the Comics Workbook tumblr around 2015, a simple 16 page mini that was now becoming a 180 page book, so it felt like completing the circle to me. During my time there, I inked about 16 pages of naval warfare, big steel hulks exploding and sinking, full of sailors. It was some pretty dark stuff. I can still vividly recall being hunched over a lamplit desk, on one of those hot nights with the fan on, inking the creepy submarine interiors from a reference image. I loved it.

Pittsburgh is a strange land, the steep tree covered hills and countless stairs amongst the winding rivers and old buildings. The Residency is a two story rowhouse on a small street by the train tracks. Since I had a large project to focus on, I mostly chose to lock myself in, though the Residency is essentially tailored to your wishes, including exercises and lessons if you want. But the city has alot of great exploring to offer. Sally and Frank also provided occasional outings in the city, such as a visit to Copacetic Comics, or the pool if its hot; and while I was there the library held a special talk with Jim Rugg and Ed Piskor that we attended. During these excursions, the conversations we had were in depth and revealing, everyone had so much experience and knowledge, and those were some of my favorite moments. Frank is indeed a wealth of knowledge, and understands a great deal about the craft and its history up until now. Ask him about numerology, its great. I really connected with Sally too, we had a lot of similar interests and inspiration, and I really appreciated having her voice and insight alongside Frank during my final critique.

During that final critique, as we discussed all kinds of things, Frank suggested I share certain details about my creative process. Here is my attempt to do so:

I was going for a handmade look, so I inked with a single 1 size brush, and the pages are close to 1:1 ratio with the final print size. I prefer to work on pages together as a two page spread on a single sheet. Trench Dogs was drawn on 11 x 17 watercolor paper, using Frank’s layout template to make sure every page had good balance and movement throughout the spread. I copy each panel from my sketches, but I do not trace. I find tracing makes things very stiff and lifeless, I prefer artists that have some movement and excitement in their line work, so I aspire towards that. I like to keep the pencil drawing very loose, with few details, blocking in the space and characters with simple boxes and circles mostly, very basic “puppet-like” figures, making sure everything has enough room to breathe. Frank thought this aspect was important to mention: I save the actual “drawing” for the inking part of the process, I enjoy the spontaneity and mark making. Its ok to be messy, its fun, plus I like being able to see the artists hand in the work.

I used watercolors to paint everything, I love how quick and messy they are, the soft colors and texture. With everything colored in the appropriate solid, I would go back and do two layers of shadows. One layer was dark blue and applied everywhere, the second was dark purple and only applied to the foreground. This helped pull my foreground elements towards the front, because they were darker with a second shadow color, plus the warmer tones of the purple come forward while the cooler ones get pushed back. I was also conscious of my overall color key, and tried to make each section have different tones, so there is a progression of color through the story. After scanning a page, I would add a layer of white highlights in photoshop here and there, which helped the foreground stand out even more, and would focus the eye on certain important details. I also did my sound effects on the same overlaying white layer, which was a nice pop, as it was the only true white on the page.

A page from Trench Dogs (Dead Reckoning, Sept. 15th 2018)

Drawing from reference was great, and almost every panel had at least one ref picture to go along with it. Deciding how to turn everything “toonsy” was a fun challenge, to simplify and reduce to lumpy shapes. I like how drawings by John Pham or Ben Sears look like simple little clay sculptures, with nice curves, and characters like Andrea Falkas, and the carefree linework of Gipi. I chose animal people as a nod to Art Spiegelman, but reaching back to Richard Scarry’s Busy Town and PD Eastman’s Go Dog Go, with strong influences from Herge’s TinTin and Miyazaki’s Dream Diary Hobby Magazine war comics. Animal type was a fun way to distinguish the different armies, but you also feel a different kind of pity for these animal people, I think.

That is all I have for this report. I had a blast, got a lot of drawing accomplished, expanded my knowledge and influences, and learned more than I expected. This has been Ian Densford, signing off.

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Trench Dogs by Ian Densford will debut at NY Comic Con 2018 – find it at the Dead Reckoning table and in stores after Sept. 15th 2018. 184 pages, color, $18.95 – you can preorder it from Dead Reckoning HERE (use Discount Code FALL18 to get 25% off!)

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Ian Densford is a cartoonist living in New York state with his wife, Tae, and their son, Anderson. When not animating on the computer, or drawing in his sketchbook, you can find him frolicking in the nearby forest and rocky hillsides. 

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For more information about the Comics Workbook Rowhouse Residency visit this page or email santoroschoolATgmail

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