This week I was trying to get some drawings done. Drawings for my “Message Tee” comic. My original concept for that comic was to make 52 drawings of people in T-shirts, put messages on the shirts, and then reuse the the drawings and put new messages on them the next year. Instead of just the 52 drawings I ended up making 52 drawings a year for three years. I then repeated those drawing three times each over six more years. So that’s 156 Message Tee drawings and 468 total comics in nine years. A solid run.

This year I decided I wanted some new Message Tee drawings. The main problem with that is 52 drawings is a lot of work. I usually first draw them in pencil and then ink them. The old ones I made were on 9×12 paper. At least the finished inks were. The pencils may have been smaller. I’m sure at least one batch of 52 had smaller pencil drawings.

I wasn’t sure if I had the energy to do another 52 new drawings. I pictured it taking me all summer to do. NI wouldn’t work on them everyday but only now and again. That’s how I did them the first three times. Plus, as I’ve written before, things have a way of taking way longer than I think they should. I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to start on the 52 drawings. It was a big hill.

That’s what I came up with a different approach. The drawings in the Message Tee strip aren’t really the point of the comic. The messages are what it’s really about. I wanted to make nice drawings but I didn’t think it was a good idea to be so precious with them. So I wanted to think of a better way to do them.

It started with the paper. I had a sketchbook that I got last year as a party favor at a friend’s Bar Mitzvah. It’s about 5×7 inches. The paper in the sketchbook was generic drawing paper. Not bad at all but not high quality paper. But it was just the kind of paper I wanted. Generic drawing paper is less forgiving then high quality drawing paper. You can’t attack generic paper with reckless abandon and erase on it over and over. You have to take it easy on the paper to not ruin it. I was looking to take it easy.

The next decision I made was to use a pencil. Since I wanted to keep thing simple in order to get things done I almost was going to draw these directly in ink. Often when I use a pencil I spend a lot of time getting things just so. A pencil with its sharp point and ability to be erased lends itself to that. Sometimes working with a pencil gets frustrating because I get caught up in details that really don’t matter but at the moment they seem to. When working directly in ink it’s easier to move on, even from a mistake, because there is no erasing. It can be a freeing way to draw.

The pencil I decided to use was a General’s Sketching Pencil. That’s a big wide pencil that doesn’t come to a point. The lead is a rectangle about a quarter inch wide by a eighth of an inch thick. I chose that one because I can’t draw details with it. I’d sketch in the general shape of the character without worrying about the details. I’d put them in when I hit the ink stage.

This turned out to be a good system for getting things done. I avoided being bogged down. The first day I did this I aimed to get ten drawings one. First I’d sketch one out then I’d finish it with my Sign Pen and Sharpie. I avoided my brush and fancy tools in order to keep things simple. I used the Sign Pen (refilled with India ink) to draw in the details and the Sharpie to add some thickness to the lines. It all worked out oaky. It took all day but I got ten drawings down the first day. Yet I still wasn’t sure I could get anymore done.

The next morning I decided to give it a go again. Except this time I’d do it slightly differently. In stead of alternating between pencils and inks I decided to sketch out ten drawings first. This made all the difference. The sketching is actually the most creative part of the process and instead of moving in and out of that mode, as I did the day before, I stayed there. I found that easier. I got the drawings done much faster. Ten that day in about two thirds the time of the first day.

Even with the success of that second day I still was expecting these drawing to take me a month or two. I wanted to spend my time doing more fun stuff. Plus after doing the twenty drawings I took the time to scan them in and set them up to be colored digitally. That took more time and was no fun. It had to be done though.

It’s odd but I only got the rest of the drawings done because I wasn’t in a good mood. I don’t know why but I wasn’t feeling creative nor did I want to do anything. But even when I’m not it the mood I’m still in the habit of getting things done. After all my other choice was to do nothing and I’m not a fan of that.

So I stood at my desk and drew some Message Tee people. For two days that I barely remember I drew and got another twenty drawings done. I was worried that I wouldn’t get this batch of drawings done because it’s a fairly mindless (and not very fun) process but the fact that it’s mindless is what helped me get them done. I didn’t have the energy to get something super creative done but I could get something mildly creative done. I scanned in and set up those twenty drawing too.

On the last day my mood cleared and I was only twelve drawings away from finishing. That actually got me excited. I knocked out twelve sketches and then knocked out twelve ink drawings. Those last twelve were fun to do because I knew I was at the end. I scanned in the last of them and set them up for color.

As I was drawing these figures I was also writing the messages for their shirts. I usually write a “Four Talking Boxes” comic strip first thing in the morning as I get ready for my day but I’m far ahead with them so I decided to write some Message Tees. I need 52 pithy sayings but it’s my habit to write 104 of them and then pick the best 52. So I wrote five at breakfast time and five more at night. I’ve almost got my 104 done. I’ve got nine left.

Six days. That’s the time the 52 drawings took me. I had one day of not working on them in there. I never dreamed I’d get them done that fast but I’m glad I did. Now I wonder how much time it’s going to take me to color them.