The most frequent question I get about my work is: “What do you use to do that?”
With the wide array of tablets, computers, drawing apps, and expensive (cough, Adobe) programs out there, it might be daunting for an illustrator to start drawing digitally. So I’m going to share the set-up I’ve been using for the last several years!
First, I should tell you that I don’t have a state-of-the-art set-up, and it’s certainly not anything particularly fancy.
I work on a cluttered desk with dual monitors hooked up to a Windows desktop. I highly recommend getting a graphics card with dual output, since it gives you flexibility for all sorts of configurations!
One of the monitors is a Yiynova MSP19U, which is what I draw on for hours and hours every day. It’s an obscure Chinese brand, and I think it’s only available in the US through a small importing business that sells them on Amazon. (I don’t know anything about the larger model, the MVP22U, except that it costs more.)
There are much bigger, fancier, and expensive options out there. The Wacom Cintiq is the most widely-known tablet monitor, but the current desktop models run from $1,799 to…. $2,799? That’s… that’s a lot of money.
I bought my Yiynova MSP19U two years ago based on Ray Frenden’s review. He’s become an amazing resource for information about digital illustration tools, and he also sells gorgeous brush sets to use in a variety of graphics programs.
In any case, the Yiynova MSP19u costs $549 on Amazon, plus $30 shipping. It’s not perfect, but despite its flaws, I’ve come to love the damn thing.
It’s a decent size for me, especially since I’m squeezing an additional monitor onto my desk space. It’s not especially high resolution (just 1440 x 900) but it feels fine to me. It has an extremely bright LED display with a glossy glass surface. There aren’t any “hot buttons” along the side, but I’ve never been a big fan of those, so I don’t particularly care.
I really like drawing on this thing. It just feels good! Drawing on the glassy surface will probably take you a while to get used to, but I’m a big fan. The pressure sensitivity is a good match for my drawing style, too. That’s something to watch out for when looking at different devices for digital illustration – using a basic stylus on your iPad won’t offer pressure sensitivity, which is crucial for any serious linework.
It has a very simple stand while will allow you to angle it as needed – I like to get right up on there, bathing my eyes in its intense radiance. It’s a little too hefty for me to comfortably hold in my lap, but I wouldn’t want to, anyway. When I’m working, I draw with my right hand and occasionally tap in keyboard shortcuts with my left.
If you couldn’t tell, I like the Yiynova’s hardware quite a lot! But it’s the driver that will get you.
If you’re interested in the monitor, I would recommend googling around regarding how it will work with your particular set-up. One particularly weird technical quirk is that it requires VGA input, which is fairly outdated. I use a VGA to DVI adapter without any problems. It also requires a USB connection.
If you look around online, you’ll probably read about all sorts of weird problems people have with the device’s drivers. Yup. I installed mine without any problem using the installation software that came with the product. I had read about problems with the newer versions of the software, so I’ve just stuck with the older stuff. But I do regularly come across problems, and yeah, they’re annoying. If I’m working in one graphics program, then open a different one, the tablet’s pressure sensitivity often stops working. If I “wake up” my computer after putting it to sleep, the tablet often won’t work at all, until I restart the entire computer. Stupid problems like this come up all the time. So, be warned.
You draw on the Yiynova with a fairly bulky stylus that requires AAA batteries. I generally enjoy using the stylus, but it’s fairly flimsy, and it’s prone to breaking or warping if it so much as rolls off your desk and falls to the floor. The batteries last quite a while, though, so that won’t be costly. A replacement stylus, however, costs $40. And no, I haven’t gotten any other styli to work on the monitor.
If you’re looking for a cheaper way to break into digital illustration, you can definitely look into drawing tablets, which come in a variety of sizes, and at much lower price points. (The Wacom Intuos is worth checking out!) I used them extensively in my early days as an artist, though there’s a serious disconnect between drawing on something in your lap that only shows up on your desktop monitor.
Okay, if you’re still reading this after getting through all that boring tech talk, let me tell you the good news about MANGA STUDIO 5 EX. I’ve become sort of an evangelist for this program, but it’s because I have a deep, deep love for it, and I’ve spent countless hours producing nearly all my art with it.
You can make a lot of comparisons between Manga Studio and Photoshop. But here’s the thing: Photoshop is made for editing photos. Manga Studio is for making comics, glorious COMICS! I had used Photoshop exclusively for years and years, but when I tried out Manga Studio, I realized what a huge improvement it was to be making comics in a program made for making comics. Plus, it’s so much more affordable than Adobe products. The basic version of Manga Studio 5 is available on Amazon for $40! The professional version, 5 EX, is $123, and worth every penny. (I’ll try to discuss some of the features in the pro version later, but you can find an exhaustive comparison chart here.)
My very favorite thing to do in Manga Studio is draw. Its tools for linework are glorious! The biggest problem with doing any digital illustration in any program is that drawing with a plastic nib on a monitor just isn’t the same as using a nib or pencil or marker on paper. The texture isn’t there, nor is the fabulous, steadying friction of the surface. That can lead to really wobbly lines, which can make you feel like a child again, struggling with basic issues of hand-eye coordination.
But Manga Studio offers a huge array of stabilization settings – you can leave them turned off for a really natural, organic line, or you can utilize moderate stabilization for smoother lines. When I’m drawing something that needs to look especially geometric or architectural, I turn the “correction” settings way up so that I can draw subtle curves and straight lines effortlessly!
Manga Studio comes with a wide array of pencil, brush, and pen tools, but you can supplement those with Ray Frenden’s gorgeous custom brushes. You can also dig into the settings of any tool to customize them exactly as you like – even adjusting the pressure curves, which I love to get just right.
MS5’s coloring and painting tools are quite lovely, too, but if you’re making comics, the essential features are its panel tools and the Story Creator! MS5 has fairly intuitive tools to make panels and create nice, clean borders for your comics. (I used to give myself painful wrist problems holding my ruler steady when drawing them on paper!)
If you’re more interested in doing digital illustration rather than actual comic books, the cheaper Manga Studio 5 package might work for you. And you can even experiment with a trial version if you’re curious about it! But if you’re working on multiple page comics, you’ll need Manga Studio 5 EX. The Story Creator is exclusive to the pro version, and it’s become an absolutely essential component of all my comics projects.
With MS5 EX, you can create multiple page projects, meaning that you can view all the pages in your comic, move them around as needed, and simply click one to start drawing in it. From my earliest rough drafts, I’m working page-by-page in Manga Studio, blocking out pages and working on the panel breakdowns. As I develop the story, I can switch out pages, try different configurations, and even establish double-page spreads wherever I like! You can even export the entire project (or whichever pages you want) as layered PSD files or flattened images for printing!
I’d be happy to discuss some of Manga Studio’s features in more depth for future tutorials, so let me know what you’d like to hear about!
Joining me for the Drag Race’s final week is Ariel Italic, a friend of mine from NYC! She performs there and writes RPDR recaps for Queerty!
Chad: So, it’s been a long season. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like to me. After drawing and discussing the show week after week, I’m usually pretty burnt out by the end. How are you feeling about it?
Ariel: Similarly. I host AND recap, so I watch every episode at least twice. There were a lot of queens, but also this season didn’t have the punch of some of the others, so it felt even longer than it was.
Chad: Yeah, and the pacing is always weird — the way that the “RuCap Week” slows things down, the long wait to find out who actually won. The show has more padding than Pearl ever did on the runway!
Ariel: Having the clip show right before the reunion is a terrible choice, honestly. Like, we spend a whole hour recapping the past ten weeks, and then… bring the eliminated queens back to recap the past ten weeks again.
Chad: Yeah, that’s totally true. SO MANY MONTAGES! I mean, some of them are fun, but still. How many times do we need to hear “WAKE UP, PEARL?”
Ariel: I think this season was trying to impose storylines where there were none. Like, there were so many attempts at manufacturing feuds, or giving Pearl that “growth” plotline even though she’s clearly just as sleepy as ever, or making Violet a horrendous villain early on only to steer her toward quick, friendly redemption… it all felt much more forced than usual.
Chad: Yeah, everyone talks about how Pearl “came out of her shell,” but she’s still the same as ever, for better or worse. She DID get a little more energetic and earnest with the challenges, but she’s the same quirky queen we love and ridicule.
Ariel: That really shows the divide between reality and reality TV. Pearl is extremely fashionable and has a weird sense of humor and is a fantastic drag queen overall, but she doesn’t come across to the audience in the structure of the series. Jasmine Masters may not have the same eye for fashion, but she’s so much more watchable.
Chad: Yes, absolutely. And it’s just not clear whether America’s Next Drag Superstar is supposed to be the queen who makes the best TV, the fan favorite, or the queen who is actually just… the best.
Ariel: Exactly. Like, the challenges this season were almost all performance-related, which made Ginger seem like the clear front-runner. Then the clip show made this “the season of fashion” and all of a sudden Violet was the one to beat, even though the sewing challenges were minimal, and the ones that they did have were often edited almost completely out.
Chad: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I wonder why they went back and forth like that. Because Ginger seemed like the strongest contender from early on — she was charismatic, funny, and a great performer! What went wrong for Ginger?
Ariel: For me, it seemed unfair to give Ginger the win when Katya exceeds her in pretty much every area except singing. Katya is funny, a great dancer, and has a phenomenal eye for fashion. You could tell by the audience reaction to her that she was the true winner this season. Violet, I think, took the win because she is different from Katya. Ginger is just LESS than Katya.
Chad: I see. A harsh comparison, but… I see it.
Ariel: I don’t mean to be anti-Ginger, I’m still bitter about Katya’s elimination.
Chad: The show has developed SUCH a strange, incestuous relationship with its fans. From the constant call-outs to reddit, to the social media whoring for the crown, to the jaw-dropping moment when Ru called out Katya to the stage. It was a clear acknowledgment that, ultimately, her winning would have been the most satisfying!
Ariel: I think this season must have been difficult for the producers in that sense, because the fan reactions seem to have been wildly different from what was predicted. Plus, the eliminated queens got so much hatred on social media that Ru even called it out during the finale. And I’ll admit, it was stuff like that that kept me from making an audition tape for next season.
Chad: Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about: the last few seasons, the generational divide between the older (pre-RPDR) queens and the younger ones has been a constant source of tension and drama. Do you think there might be a similar generational gap between the show’s creators and its fans?
Ariel: Oh definitely. The fans get younger every year as a new group gets interested in drag and as acceptance for gay culture permeates further into the mainstream. It says a lot that the two oldest queens were eliminated quite early, and the remaining elders were positioned as bitter villains.
Chad: Well, with Katya caught in the middle! She stood apart — although she seemed closest with the older queens, she never threw the younger ones any shade. I think the Drag Race is fostering a whole new fandom of drag culture, and the art form might go in new directions faster than the show can keep up with. Or has that already happened?
Ariel: Gosh, I don’t even know. I do think it’s interesting that the contestants are increasingly constrained by the format. Fame has make-up and runway skills that set her miles ahead of the other girls, Violet can do aerial acrobatics on silks… even Katya’s Russian character had limited opportunity to come out and play. There’s a diversity to drag that the show has never been 100% equipped to represent. But again, this is the divide between reality and reality TV, and that’s always going to be a weird space they navigate.
Chad: The reunion shows are always interesting — the live presentation gives it a different kind of spontaneity, but then there are scripted elements that often do a disservice to some of the queens who are relegated to a punchline. Which queens *didn’t* want to be there?
Ariel: That’s tough to say, since everyone besides the top 3 was given precious little screen time. I think people seemed relatively game. Why, did you sense some lingering ambivalence in someone?
Chad: I thought, for the most part, the queens were treated fairly well. Fame doesn’t seem to mind the constant chicken jokes, and even Tempest doesn’t seem that ticked about her early departure. But I do wonder about Max. What do you make of her?
Ariel: I thought it was interesting that she got almost no screen time. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the beginning, and was honestly hoping she’d make Top 3. She has a clear aesthetic and point of view, and I find her specialized nature more compelling than the producers do, apparently.
Chad: I adore her approach to fashion, to her conceptualizing of the runway challenges. But I wonder about her strategy on the show. It seemed like her character only served to distance the other queens from her, as well as a lot of fans. There are times when she comes across as eloquent and lovely (like when she was recounting boosting Jaidynn’s morale) and then others when she seems like an awkward teenager who’s over-compensating for something. Which could probably be summed up as… being a young artist.
Ariel: Yeah, that’s my take, too. She’s kind-hearted but ultimately kind of weird. I have known so many Maxes in my day. Sometimes I’m a Max myself. I think in a parallel universe she could have been given a whole arc about learning to interact with the other queens even though they initially found her tough to deal with. Like, she could have been a less villainous Violet if the editors felt like it.
Chad: Right. If you had been on a reality TV show at 21, 22, whatever age Max is, what would YOU have done?
Ariel: Oof, I shudder to think. I already spend too much time anticipating the many ways I would spectacularly fuck up if I were on the show NOW.
Chad: So, you’d be a Katya?
Ariel: I’d never make it that far.
Chad: I do have to say that my very most favoritest moment of the whole night was Katya talking with Ru. That was RIDICULOUS!
Ariel: Katya brings me infinite amounts of joy. I wish I understood what was going on in her brain. It literally does not matter what question you ask her, she will just respond with hilarious nonsense. It’s like if Miss Fame were possessed by Robin Williams.
Chad: Hearing Katya so crudely and creatively and candidly describe her feelings about Ru? Sheer gold.
Ariel: And Ru is equipped to roll with the joke, which is why she is the supreme leader.
Chad: Granted, Katya wants everyone and everything to pee on her. Still.
Ariel: Hey, everyone has a wheelhouse. Dumpster comedy works for Katya.
Chad: Yeah, she’s doing alright. If Katya couldn’t win, would Violet have been your next pick?
Ariel: Absolutely. I think she grew throughout the competition, she served incredible fashions (that she often sewed herself), she has legitimate performance talent, and against all odds I ended up kind of liking her. As a queen who started on the internet, I understand her personality.I have been mistaken for a jerk simply because I am socially awkward in front of other queens. It happens.
Chad: Yeah, I think she’s a flawless queen with impeccable taste. Her performances don’t always leave me gagging, but she deserved the crown. Part of me wants her to find a good financial planner and put away that prize money. But I’d also love to see her spend $100,000 on one REALLY amazing gown.
Ariel: HAHAHA she would pick a good one for sure. I think she’s the right choice after Bianca. Ginger would never have lived up to Bianca’s standard in terms of comedic performance, so they had to go with someone who wasn’t aiming to be funny. Plus, Bianca always gets called out on wearing the same dress in different fabrics, and Violet won’t have that problem.
Chad: I feel like the Drag Race takes over so much of queer pop culture each season. For good and bad. Now that it’s over, what are you going to be talking about with all your squirrelfriends?
Ariel: Well, Season 3 of Reddit’s LSFYL competition is about to get started, so that’ll hold me over for a few months. After that, my life will be empty again.
Chad: As the winner of its first season, what will your role be? Fangirl?
Ariel: I’m hoping to be the Michelle Visage. Each week I’ll throw on my judging wig and give some feedback on the performances. What about you? What happens to you when you stop drawing drag queens?
Chad: …I haven’t figured that out, yet.
Thanks so much to Ariel Italic for joining me this week, and thanks to all of you for sharing in Season 7 with me!
You can also get a sneak peek at all my other projects on my Patreon page!
Oh! And I’ll be at CAKE in Chicago THIS WEEKEND! It’s an amazing, free comics show catering to the quirky, queer side of the spectrum.
Thanks again, everyone! You’re the best!
So, the “RuCap” week of each season always offers a break from the frantic pace of the show. It’s a chance to reflect on the highs and lows of the past few months, and most importantly, to get a whole lot of catty commentary from all our favorite queens of past seasons.
Has Season 7 felt a little weird? Yes. Do most viewers really care who wins? I don’t, not really. But over the course of the season, we have gotten to meet some really stellar characters on this show, and I wanted to take some time this week to reflect on my own experience drawing them.
In past years, I’ve used the RuCap episode as a chance to go back and illustrate any of the important runway looks that I might have missed. But this season, I illustrated a lot of them, and there’s only one outfit left that I was dying to draw:
I actually had a ton of fun illustrating Kennedy’s look. Crazy feather/fur stuff! That mug! The blood! It may have been a totally crazy choice, and her story for the runway might not have made any sense, but it sure burned an image into our minds that will stay crystallized forever. (do you see what I did there?)
There have been plenty of complaints about this season’s emphasis on scripted acting challenges, and rightfully so. But looking back, there were some legendary runway themes, too. Both the “Death Becomes Her” and “Bearded Beauty” ones just gave me life, so many stunning concepts and costumes that inspired some of my favorite Drag Race illustrations ever!
The “Conjoined Queens” and “Dancing Queens” challenges were trickier for me to draw, but I loved them. Such crazy creativity and just, well, craziness on that runway.
With a season of so many stunning creations, I wish their actual construction would have been more of a priority. I wanted to see these queens come up with them, or discuss their collaborators at home. It seems to me like the emphasis in editing was on interpersonal conflict rather than costume construction, and that we rarely saw the best looks being put together in the workroom so that they’d be more of a surprise on the runway. Which is fair, but it seems like a disservice to queens like Max and Violet who display such extraordinary vision and skill in their craft.
I felt like the season’s focus on scripted comedy was a challenge for Trixie, too. Her strength is writing her own comedy, or improvising the bullshit and banter that’s so special about live drag performances. It seemed like the show never knew what to do with Trixie, but I’m so glad that she won over so many new fans in her time on it.
I adore the queen, and I love depicting her shrink-wrapped aesthetic. When she was kicked off (the first time), I wanted to really boil down the essence of Trixie, to commemorate the quirky, ridiculousness of it all. And I’m thrilled that she uses that image on her official tank tops, which you’ve gotta break out for Pride season!
Someone remarked that my best work this season has been of Pearl’s looks, and I can’t really disagree. Going into this season, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of Pearl — I knew her from her time in Chicago, and although I live for her look, I didn’t know whether she’d bring much diversity to the runway or character to the workroom.
But she delivered. I mean, not always. She wasn’t the most polished queen, and she didn’t have the most gorgeous gowns. But there’s something about her deranged approach to beauty that I find irresistible. She might not always pad, she might not always perform, but I always love what she’s going for.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, Katya was my BenDeLaCreme this year — my personal favorite, the one whose comedy and approach to drag just meshed with my own preferences the most. But in both cases, I struggled throughout the season trying to capture their likenesses! Katya’s usual look is so striking, but so hard to pin down — what makes her look like her? Obviously, it’s SO much easier to depict the crazy characters she embodies so well.
Whenever I tried to depict Katya seriously, I struggled. Especially when trying to draw her incredible “Jet Set Eleganza” lip sync performance.
In my first few hours working on that illustration, I was trying to capture both her emotional intensity and her legendary legs as they did those slow-motion splits. But it just looked more and more awkward, and I was sure the piece would be an embarrassment.
I only turned it around at the very end when I realized I needed to crop her illustration differently, focusing solely on the arch of her back and her emotional intensity. But still, I was worried it was too simple, or the colors were too crazy, or…. I don’t know. It was one of those pieces that put me through the wringer, questioning whether I should even share it online. Aside from its own merits as a piece of art, Katya’s actual performance was so magnificent and memorable that it seems to have charged this fairly simple portrait with some of that same intensity. Or maybe it still sucks, I don’t know.
In any case, I wanted to make one last, iconic portrait of my dear Katya. Something befitting her stupid talents and talented stupidity. And this happened:
I collect my favorite art from each season in little art books, (you can see all the previous season collections here) so I’ve been working through some ideas for who and what should be on the cover for Season 7. One of the final 3? I love Ginger, but I’ve been having a hell of a time capturing her likeness this season. Maybe Pearl or Violet? But which one? And then my personal favorites are Trixie and Katya, so…. well, here, take a look at my different sketches and let me know which one you’d like to see on 70 QUEENS!
Right now, in all honesty, I’m leaning toward the Katya one.
Regardless, I’ll be putting together the book collection over the next two weeks, and I’ll make it available for pre-order soon! While you wait, you can check out all my other Drag Race art on Etsy!
Or, if you’d rather not cover your walls with drag queens, you can support me via Patreon! If you’re not familiar with how that works, it’s a way to support your favorite artists by sending a few bucks their way every month. I’ve just set it all up, so I’m going to keep it pretty simple right now, but I’m hoping to offer exclusive sneak peeks and sales to my supporters soon!
Patreon will be an ideal way to help me out once the Drag Race season wraps up, because I’ll be turning my attention to The Cardboard Kingdom, a new collaborative comics project! I’m currently taking story submissions until June 15, then I’ll pick a bunch of them to illustrate as fun, imaginative, socially-conscious kids’ comics!
And FINALLY! If you’re not sick of me after reading all this, you should come meet me at two shows coming up in June! CAKE in Chicago is a totally free and amazing indie comics show, full of talent, incredible art, and cool workshops! It will be June 6-7 at The Center on Halsted!