8 July 2015

Manga Drawing Evolution from 2005 to 2015 - How I became a Manga Artist

Hello everybody! I REALLY wanted to do this post! My journey on how I became a Mangaka or mange artist...

It's been a decade since I've started drawing comics/manga, so let's see how literally everything changed!

And maybe I can give you some advice on how to draw manga along the way~

manga illustration art mangagirl lost ctrl
Uploaded this comparison image some months ago on my facebook page,
and wanted to create a blog post since then. Didn't have a blog, though, ahaha.
First, some general information on my starting position.
As so many other artists, I've 'always' been drawing. I've loved creating my own toys by drawing and cutting dolls out of paper as a child, I've created small illustrated stories as soon as I was able to spell (badly) and just generally liked to draw through my school years. 

But I loved writing more than drawing! Creating stories was always more important to me, so when I discovered manga I immediately knew that this was perfect for me. Compared to the comics I'd seen up till then - my father collected Asterix, Lagaffe and other comics (I'd previously drawn my own version of Asterix comics, haha) - there was no color, which made it seem comparably easier to my young, naive self. 

Little did I know about contrasts and the difficulties of black-and-white drawings, but color had always intimidated me and, more importantly, slowed me down...

My first manga was One Piece, followed by Angel Sactuary and the works of Arina Tanemura. I copied their styles, which resulted in the strangest art mix ever. I started drawing individual panels, cutting them out and glueing them into small self-made comic books. I printed gray patterns to use as screentones because I had literally no idea about anything. I just knew I loved it.

On the right: 2005
On the left: 2006
Redraw of the same page half a year later (believe it or not)
Motivated and fascinated, I immediately started drawing what I thought of as my epic life work, 'Panorama', and published it on an online plattform popular in the German manga-sphere at that time. The good thing about one's first drawings: Everything improves a lot in a short time! I learned new things about drawing, digital lettering and screentones every day (back then I used the freeware program GIMP) and that motivated me even more in turn. 

Which brings me to my biggest advice for anyone just getting started with drawing manga, comics or actually just telling stories of any kind:
Finish your stories! 
Don't stop after three pages and redraw - just keep going. Because one month later, even the re-drawn pages will look like crap to your improved eyes, you'll want to re-draw once again and thus the cycle never ends. 
I do believe that there's a lot to be learned from redrawing old works, as you can look at your own drawings more objectively after some time has passed.
But I also believe that one can learn a lot MORE by drawing new things, all the time.

Your art will improve, steadily. Tutorials, 'How to Draw Manga' instructions, just general drawing practice, it will all help, but mostly just keeping on drawing will be the determining factor. Your art will improve automatically with time, but your storytelling skills will profit a lot more from telling stories instead of retelling the same thing over and over with slightly improved art. 

While I had previously drawn a lot as a hobby, I had never created something completely from my imagination on this level. I had drawn from references, drawn portraits of friends and ridiculously bad portraits of more or less every Lord of the Rings character, but manga challenged me to learn the very basics. Anatomy, face proportions, perspective, hands... I'm still not done learning, but still, I've come far in these 10 years.

Color page for my first 16-page competition entry.
Loved watercolors even back then! (2006)

While I kept working on chapter after chapter of 'Panorama', I also started to create short stories for manga competitions. Manga drawing competitions were quite frequently held in Germany back then, with most if not all of the big publishers and manga/book fairs being involved. I knew I wasn't on any level to win, but I loved the time pressure provided by a deadline and I noticed how I could learn a lot about storytelling in short stories that I'd previously done on 'instinct'. 

I tried out different genres and started to learn how to make pages suited for printing.

So here's my second piece of advice:
Do short projects on a deadline.
Set yourself a goal (preferably a realistic one, though there's something to be said for crazy deadline challenges...) and actually finish that story.
It can be eight pages long. Sixteen pages. Maybe longer, maybe anything in between, though I would advise you to pick the smallest amount of pages necessary for the story in question. 
It's hard to draw a manga story that is coherent, moving, suspenseful or even just interesting on such a limited amount of pages. And it's hard to finish something on a deadline.
But nothing feels better than actually getting something done, and I've actually learnt a lot more during short projects than long ones, just because it's a more focused experience!

(still 2006) another competition entry, drawn in my personal record time of some 16 pages in two days. The very same characters re-appeared ten years later in my second published manga, 'Lost CTRL'. 

I did some crazy stunts back there with all those deadlines, drawing entire stories in a matter of three days, skipping classes to draw, skipping sleep to draw - I just had so many ideas and stories I wanted to tell. And I knew that every page I drew made me a bit better (or... less bad haha) which really made me all fired up!

 (Example pages of two more competition entries around 2008) 
I really wanted to try some different art styles, going for more patterns, and then for a more minimalistic look. 

At that time, the German manga scene (combined with the Swiss and Austrian scene, as the same works were published in all three countries thanks to the common language) was already very active, with a lot artists being published in monthly magazines and/or own books. A lot of independent publishing was also getting started, though I didn't know about it back then. Living in Switzerland I had no easy access to all the events and fairs held in Germany and mostly didn't yet care - I just wanted to practice. 

I had never thought of publishing in any form but online before stumbling upon some of these German/Austrian artists in book stores! I was so happy to see their work, and it really inspired me and gave me a new perspective and goal: I wanted to publish my works, somehow!

Most obvious piece of advice ever:
Read a lot! Manga, novels, novellas. Watch movies or series. Take notes: What do you like, what to you want to try? Make miniature sketches of manga pages created by other artists to analyse how they do their paneling, their perspectives, their contrast. 
Read textbooks on storytelling. 
You can't just stay in your own bubble of creativity without, sooner or later, stagnating.
If you want to draw manga, if you want to tell stories, stay informed and stay inspired!

>50 page story with lots of drama and lots of drawing improvement!

The big turning point came in 2009, when a friend I'd met through drawing and I decided to publish a book together. We named our project 'A Story to Tell' and each created manga stories, as well as adding three guest artists.

Another piece of adivice that may be obvious, but is SO important:
Find critics. Maybe publish your work online to find commentors. Maybe an artist-friend would like to exchange long, constructive criticism. Be it forums, online plattforms, real-life contacts: Find yourself some good, strict (!) commentors to tell you what you can't see yourself.
And give constructive criticism in return, of course! Analysing and helping with works of other artists helps in reflecting on your own work.

So, I took a break from working on 'Panorama' (which by then had over 150 pages) and instead created my first long but finished story.

The challenge wasn't only to meet the deadline - I'd gotten used to that - but to keep my still evolving and changing style consistent over 50 pages. 

(Color pages from 'Panorama' in 2010)

This led to a big jump in my skills, actually! When I returned to drawing Panorama, my style had become more consistent, I was a LOT faster and efficient, and I'd finally gotten the hang of Photoshop for screentones, color correction and lettering. 

I started to focus on specific problems in my art in 2010. For example, the lack of backgrounds. It wasn't that I generally struggled with perspective, I'd just kind of... ignored backgrounds?

This might be some time-consuming advice, but it really helps to write down your own weak points (according to your own judgement or according to other people's opinions), and then to decide which of these you should work on. Maybe, instead of dedicating entire stories to practicing something, you can focus on individual pages. 
For example, I once did three color manga pages for Panorama, each done in a different media (colored pencils, copics, watercolor) just to practice these.

So when our independently published manga anthology went into it's second round, I created a short story with it's focus on backgrounds and more varied character designs. (as I had - and still have - something often called the 'same-face-syndrome')

Follow up to 'A Story to Tell': another short story in 2010!
Through all this independent publishing work, the continued uploading of pages for 'Panorama' and some more competition entries (............ I drew a lot.) I got my first 'real' publishing opportunity for the 'Schwarzer Turm' publishing company.

As the anthology I was to be published in was targeted to romance readers/girls ('shoujo manga') I focused on details, screentones and tried to bring a more whimsical flair to my page layouts. 

In the meantime, I'd also switched my education focus to art and design and went to a preparational school for art university, as I'd previously been focused on Biology/Chemistry and couldn't enter an art university with my highschool degree because of that. 

While I don't think that an education in design or art is necessary to create manga, it sure helped me! I learned new techniques, became more and more Photoshop-savvy and more comfortable in presenting my art. 

I also continued my online manga Panorama during all this time~ Where my published works had to be double-checked with editors, corrected, drawn to (my current attempt at) perfection, I was able to experiment a lot with Panorama. During 2010, I started focusing on more interesting page designs and paneling.

Everything started to happen really fast after that!
I got into art school in  (Scientific Illustration) and got my first big publishing deal with Carlsen!

So I juggled work on 'Feed me Poison' and my university classes in 2011.

Drawing 180 pages in one consistent style, with one fluently told story, over a relative short amount of time was a challenge. I didn't want to compromise on university, as I loved the classes there too much - Science Illustration focuses heavily on realistic, detailed drawing and painting, so I was advancing in a completely different direction from manga. Many sleepless nights and a lot of hard work finally paid of, and I was able to hold my own published book in hand - published by the same company who's artists and publications had inspired and motivated me so much seven years before. 

Illustration for Feed Me Poison, created in 2011.

2011 had also been the year when my anonymity was lost. While previously only my closest friends in 'real life' knew what I was doing, I became a lot more open about my hobby and my passion. The happiness over being given this opportunity to get published, of telling my stories to a much wider audience, and all the support from my university classmates made me proud of my 'job' and passion.

Not able to contain myself, I did create several more short stories (for the fourth installment of 'A Story to Tell', an international competition by the japanese Jump magazine and also, of course, more Panorama pages...)

2012 was filled with such smaller projects. I experimented with combining my Science Illustration education with manga, resulting in a lot more detailed backgrounds and more realistic elements. 

...but at the same time, I wanted to experiment with a more minimalistic look, focusing on black and white contrasts in my manga pages instead of detailed structures and screentones. 

Giving myself these 'style homework' assignments for different projects made my art improve a lot!
Make sure to balance out the whole 'How to Draw Manga' art improvement stuff with storytelling practice.

Panorama continued, as well, with me finishing the second 'book' in 2013. A total of 360 pages since I'd started in 2005.

In the end, though, 2012 and 2013 were focused on university and getting my bachelor in Scientific Visualization. 

I handed in my next manga concept to Carlsen and got accepted during my bachelor year, which YAY, but we had to move the actual drawing and publishing into the future so I could finish university.

Image from my concept for 'Lost CTRL' that I handed in for publication...

I was also preparing my move to Korea (where I'd traveled before and where my then-boyfriend-now-husband lived), so I had to live out my passion for drawing manga with story planning instead of drawing. I focused on storyboards for Lost CTRL, and only drew one very short 8-pager for the Silent Manga Competition in 2013 (that I then didn't upload correctly, duh.)

Title page of my Silent Manga entry.

As you can guess, drawing a 'Silent Manga' without any text was another new challenge to my skills, and I really wanted to dedicate some time to practicing the non-textual part of manga storytelling, as my normal work is often very, VERY text-heavy.

Seriously, if you ever really need to practice your paneling and drawing skills, try a super-short silent manga! It really forces you to focus on facial expressions, poses, atmosphere...
You can even participate in the next Silent Manga Audition!

Then, after moving to Korea, I started working on Lost CTRL. 

Despite some challenges like not having all my art supplies over there, or not having a TABLE for the better part of a year (we were moving around a lot... yeah.) I finished the first book by summer 2014.

The second book was easier, as we had moved into our own house, actually owned furniture and, small detail, didn't have big events like getting married and all the legal entanglements that come with international marriages to occupy all our time.

Lost CTRL was a very long project. I'd first created its main characters back in 2006 (for one of the manga competitions) and to finally finish the story in 2015 was a big step.

What I didn't like about the result, stylistically, was the loss of black and white contrast. It wasn't done fully consciously - though I thought that the focus on screentone did fit the futuristic concept - so in an attempt to take a step towards more contrast-heavy artwork, I participated once more in the Silent Manga Competition (can't show pages from that project yet, as they're still in the evaluation process).

I've also started to work on my illustration and coloring skills. I've never been great at individual illustrations, and have always focused on manga pages.

At the moment, I'm also working as a freelance illustrator, finally (?) putting to use my science illustration background to actually work for clients.

As for the future?

While I do want to branch out into new directions - I love having time to do commission work, freelance as a 'normal' illustrator, and do things like actually write a blog and doing more random stuff, all while working in the Cafe/Bistro my husband and I have opened last year - I'm forever in love with manga. 

I've got two concepts I'm currently working on, one on the shorter, one on the longer side. Also, I'm considering on redrawing and finishing Panorama. The difference quality and all the changes to the original story make it impossible to continue without some big, fat overhaul.

I've discovered NaNoWriMo last year (National Novel Writing Month), which rekindled my love for writing stories as opposed to only dialogues and sketches. Since that discovery, I've participated (and won, haha) in NaNoWriMo 2014, CampNaNo in Spring 2015 and now, in July, again, I'm working to finish a project for Camp.

Writing these stories in the form of novels really helps me with discovering new storytelling techniques and lets me focus on the story and the characters only - though my fingers already itch to bring it all to life in drawings!

I know that I could be better. 
I know that other artists improve a lot more during 10 years. 
I know that there's still a lot I need to learn.

But I'm happy to look back and see how far I've come.

So, as a final word of advice (to myself and anybody who's interested):
Try new things, set yourself goals and force yourself to sit down and actually work.


  1. Ich liebe diesen Eintrag - lang, aber sowas von informativ und auch anschaulich.
    Ich meinte ja schon, dass ich's sehr interessant finde, wenn man solche Entwicklungen sieht - aber davon mal abgesehen ist es für mich fast noch spannender zu lesen, wie man überhaupt zu dem kam, was man erreicht hat.
    Zum einen zeigt es eben, dass einfach überall viel Arbeit hinter steckt und kaum einer einfach mal so auf Anhieb wirklich auf Profiniveau zeichnen kann, zum anderen gibt es so natürlich auch Motivation und Ansporn.
    In einigen Dingen sehe ich mich selbst wieder... das "Ignorieren" der Hintergründe, zum Beispiel, haha. :'D
    Oder eben auch das typische Lernen durch Imitieren von anderen Stilen und was dabei für ein Gemisch entsteht. Und die schlaflosen Nächte, um unbedingt die Deadline von 30 kolorierten Seiten in 2 Wochen einzuhalten (war für mich 2005 ein Horrorerlebnis - ich hatte nie zuvor 11h am Tag gezeichnet... und dann auch noch am PC koloriert... letzten Endes war ich danach krank, aber ich bereue es bis heute nicht, haha)

    Vielen Dank für diesen tollen Eintrag! :)

    1. Oh, danke vielmals fuer die lieben Worte! :3
      Ich hatte Angst, dass ich echt zuviel schreibe, aber ich denke, das musste jetzt einfach einmal so raus - fuer die Ewigkeit! :D
      Freut mich, dass ich dich motivieren kann! Gerade solche Sachen wie Hintergruende sind ja eigentlich nur ne Geduld- und Motivationssache! Und hilfe, KOLORIERTE Seiten? 30? Respekt! Ich steh drauf, wenn sich Leute so crazy Ziele setzen! <3
      Achte auf deine Gesundheit (...das war meine gelernte Lektion nach zehn Jahren XDD) und hau rein!

  2. Wow! It was really wonderful to see your progress over the years! You're so talented! I've been wanting to get more out of my "comfort zone" when it comes to drawing and sketching. I've recently taken up doing "studies" and furiously doodling or sketching one particular thing and practicing on perfecting that in my own style. Loved your beginning works, and your works now are wonderful, I'm sure you're only going to improve and get better! <3 ^__^b

    1. Thank you :3 Though after looking at my early work and at the fact that it took me ten years to get to this level, I'd say it's not talent but practice XDD
      Getting out of your own comfort zone is the best thing to do! Challenging yourself makes for the biggest changes~ I'm really curious to see your sketches and maybe soon a before-after comparison, too? :3

  3. Can I just stay you are amazing! the dedication you have is just astounding. I studied art but I find it hard to make it my habit! (I'm working on a collab with a friend at the mo but I don't know where it will go!lol) anyway I love your idea of mixing art with blogging! I tried to do that by illustrating kpop/beauty and blogging but I spend sooo long on each piece..I get sucked into the zone! And then have no time to write lol. Anyway I look forward to all your updates!!!

    1. Thank you! It really takes a lot of practice, but in the end, what I love about art is that even when I was really, really 'bad', there were people reading along and encouraging me. It's not about perfection, but passion! *word* I hope the collab goes well! Working with friends is the best!
      Yes, I'm still trying to find a balance! Small sketches are quick to do, but I'd love to do more realistic, how-to makeup illustrations, too! But like you say: TIME.
      I'd love to see your kpop/kbeauty illustrations! There should be more of those out there! :D

  4. You progress is amazing ! I love your drawings, they are soo beautiful. It must be a very difficult and time consuming job but fulfilling :). I enjoyed reading your story, thanks for sharing

    X Maya

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! And yes, you're right, it might be time consuming and sometimes very tiring, but at the same time I'm just so grateful that I was able to make this dream job come true! ^_^

  5. Ein sehr interessanter und vorallem gelungener Beitrag (Durch ein Bild/Kommentar von Instagram bin ich auf deine Seite gestoßen.) Das zeigt mir, immer am Ball zu bleiben und neue Dinge auszuprobieren. Ich habe früher, vor knapp 4 Jahren, als ich noch auf ein Internat gewohnt habe, jeden Tag gezeichnet. Selbst in den Stunden, wenn nichts mher zu tun war & ich auch dürfte ;) Leider ist mir das Interesse, aber wohl auch die Motibation flöten gegangen, ich wendete mich anderen Dingen zu. Erst jetzt, im August habe ich endlich wieder den Anstoß gefunden, jeden Tag zu üben. Durch anschauen von "simplen" KAKAO-Karten. Die letzten paar Jahre, habe ich dagegen nur sporadisch gezeichnet, 1-2 die Woche, wenns hoch kam. Und ich möchte mich auch verbessern. Sei´s anatomisch, verschiedene Frisuren, Augen ... einfach alles, was es zu entdecken gibt.
    Dein Beitrag motiviert mich sehr, auch kleinere Geschichten zu schreiben und zu zeichnen. Herzlichen Dank (⌒▽⌒)☆ Wenn du nichts dagegen hast,würde ich deinen Blog demnächst auf meine Linkliste setzen.

    Liebe Grüße,
    Kaji ♥ Blackberry Cream