The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Steven Sanders

Steven Sanders

Illustrator, concept artist (Marvel, Image)

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Steven Sanders, I'm an illustrator and concept artist working out of Kansas City, MO. I'm probably most well known for my comic work for Marvel and Image, working on titles such as Wolverine and the X-Men (Marvel) and Our Love is Real (Image).

I'm currently working on a Creative Commons world-building book called Symbiosis. It's basically 1940s bio-punk.

What hardware do you use?

When working with natural media, I tend to use printer paper for small sketches, for final art I tend to use cold press bristol paper, usually 11x17. I'll use a mechanical pencil with blue lead for initial sketching, and then a 3B mechanical pencil and a Pentel brush pen (the cheap one, I forget what kind it is exactly.) for inking/shading. I'll then scan it in on my Epson A4 size scanner.

When working completely digitally, or coloring in scanned line art, I work on a Cintiq 22HD, with two other monitors (24" and 19") on a dual-mount VESA arm. I use a converted drawing table as a computer desk, as it was the only thing I could find that would hold the Cintiq at the right height. My main computer is a 2006 Mac Pro, (Two 3GHz dual core Xeons) 14 gig of ram, an SSD as my boot disk, another SSD for a Photoshop scratch disk and two more internal hard drives of various sizes for data storage, and for a Windows 7 Boot Camp install. I use an external SATA hard drive for backup. This old Mac model, while still being a good workhorse, has the disadvantage of requiring server grade memory, something that they dropped from later models. So I have to pay out the nose for RAM, or look around really hard for server grade memory that is compatible with that model Mac. It took some researching but I finally found a place that had some in a limited supply and bought them out. I just swapped the old Apple heat sinks over to the new memory, which didn't come with heat sinks.

I also have a Ten-Tec RX-320D software-controlled shortwave radio that I listen to sometimes while working. I put a folded dipole antenna in my attic to feed it. I feed all of my audio (and get most of my music to work to from) via a Sonos Connect hooked up to the Mac's optical-out port.

And what software?

Photoshop CS5, Dreamweaver CS5 (on the rare occasion I make updates to my website), Sketchbook Pro 6, and SketchUp Pro 7. I use the Image Capture built into OS X for scanning. When working with natural media, I use the Photomerge automated action in Photoshop to stitch my pages together. (My scanner cannot scan an 11x17 page in one go.) I'll frequently do the coloring in there. The main brush that I use is a plain round brush, set to have opacity and size change with pen pressure. It essentially lets me mimic thin wash techniques of natural media. The Liquify function is helpful in making any adjustments to the line art. If, say, I have facial features out of proportion, rather than erasing and drawing it again, I can push it around using liquify until things are where they should be.

I use Sketchup mostly in comics, in situations where there is some kind of place or object that shows up repeatedly I can find or make a model of it in Sketchup, pose it to match the scene, and have it render as line art. I then import that directly into the art if I am working purely digitally, or if I'm working on paper, I can print it out and draw over it using a light table. This saves a great deal of time vs. drawing the object or objects from scratch in each panel.

I've just recently started using Sketchbook Pro. For whatever reason, it seems to be more suited to drawing on the Cintiq than Photoshop. It has a number of interesting brush tools that replicate natural media (like oil paint) better than any that I have found in Photoshop. (Although I can easily paint in Photoshop, and it is still currently my preferred painting program.) The only real downside to Sketchbook Pro is that there seems to be a maximum pixel size for any given document, and I am unable to draw at 11x17 at 600 DPI. I'm forced to have a pixel ceiling of around 400 DPI at that size.

What would be your dream setup?

Probably my current setup, just swapping out the old Mac Pro for the latest model. The EFI on my current Mac is preventing me from upgrading to the latest version of OS X, and that will cause me trouble eventually. I'd get the 12 core model, max out the memory to 64GB (Although I think it will go up to 128. It's not listed in the Apple store, though.) It seems that Photoshop can never have enough memory. I used to use Windows, but then got into the Hackintosh scene, developed a respect for the Mac OS, and then made the switch to Apple hardware when I had some spare money. I like the Mac Pros over the other models since I like to modify and upgrade computers that I own, and the Mac Pro is the only Mac model that really lends itself to that. I bought mine used, though, because they are insanely expensive new.

I should note that I'm not an Apple fanboy, though. I think Windows machines are perfectly capable computers. I see OS X as more of a "luxury" OS than a "superior" one.

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