Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 4, 2017

Illustrator Saturday – Ryan Andrews

After graduating high school, Ryan Andrews moved to Southern California to find fame and fortune. He found neither, but he did score an internship at a 3d animation company. He also attended Watts Atelier of the Arts and Studio Second Street for a bit, where he drew lots of naked people while studying foundational drawing. During this time he lived off peanut butter sandwiches and tap water. He now lives in Fukuoka, Japan, where he tries hard to blend in.

Two of his comics, Sarah and the Seed, and Our Blood Stained Roof have been honored with an Eisner Award nominations in the Best Digital Comic category.

Here is Ryan discussing his process:

This Was Our Pact, a story about a group of boys setting off to find the truth behind a town legend, will be published by FirstSecond in late 2016. This one’ll be in legit bookstores, so go look for it . . . in a couple years.

I spent a good deal of time sketching out the whole story in my sketchbook. I try to keep my thumbnails as small as I can possibly draw them. These are for me to understand, so they can be super tiny. Probably even smaller than I did them here.

Once I’ve got the whole thing figured out (I think that’s the most important part), I just copy my thumbnails onto a bigger piece of paper, and make ‘em look a little prettier.

So, my materials! There aren’t many!

Bristol board, and my absolute favorite thing in the world, my Kuretake brush pen. This bad boy glides around the paper smooth and easy. On some papers though it looks like garbage. For example it doesn’t take well to the paper in moleskin sketchbooks.

On the bristol board I sketch out the basic layout of the thumbnail in pencil to make sure I have the composition right. I keep this really really simple. I know what it’s supposed to be in the end, so it can seriously just be a few lines to give me an idea of placement. Then I just go for it with the ink.

Now the bad thing about this is, when I try to use watercolor on top of this, the ink smears all over the place. I also tend to ruin bristol board when I paint on it with watercolor.

So I do it with the magic of Photoshop.

If you’re using watercolor to create the background textures, its best to use water color paper. Try different weights, different brands, different presses, they’ll all give you different effects.

I use Windsor and Newton watercolors, but I suppose any would work fine. I also use yogurt container lids for my palettes so I wouldn’t take my advice too seriously.

There’s no real technique to this. Just experiment. This is actually the most relaxing part of the entire process. Just let go. Use the force. Use rags, salt, whatever brushes you can find laying around.

You want to scan this in REALLY high resolution or it’ll look like junk against your drawing.

If you don’t have watercolors, or don’t feel like spending the money on all the paper and stuff, you can find lots of awesome watercolor textures online if you search for them. Just make sure you get some good high resolution ones. Make sure you ask the owners before you use them!

Ideally you’ll have a lot of these so you can browse through to find the best shapes and textures possible that match your illustration. I think about 20 or 30 would be plenty.

So then you pick out an area that you think looks nice. You drag this onto your scanned in drawing, turn the layer to multiply, and you have THIS:

I didn’t want the first layer to be too dark so I brightened it a bit with Image > Adjust > Levels. Oh but before you do that, make sure you make a copy of the original layer in case you ever want to go back to it.

So now I’m going to use that copied layer of the watercolor texture(also set to multiply) to make the tree stand out and make the image overall a little darker cause its supposed to be night. I don’t want to just bust out the eraser though and erase the tree, cause then if I want to make corrections later I can’t. So I add a layer mask.
Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal all
This allows me to hide parts of the layer by just using the paintbrush.

So I want to add another texture element on the bottom right to make it a bit more shadowy and mysterious.

This’ll do.

Again using a layer mask with a black gradient to hide the edges of this new addition. It’s not much, but it adds a little something.

Next up, my horrible trees (I got a lot better at drawing tree silhouettes as time went on) Don’t laugh at them.

Ok you can laugh. they really are pretty bad. So I drew these trees with the selection tool, and then use a black to transparent gradient on them.

When I put them in the image though they don’t look so bad. They’re a background element, and just there to give the idea that this is a forest and not just a single tree. I like to think they atleast do that.

Then you have the final image! Only like a million more to go!

Another glimpse of process:


Adding values

Finished piece.

I made a short time lapse video of my drawing process for these pages I’ve been working on. I’d like to make more of these, but I may wait until I can get a better tripod for my phone (I taped it to a wobbly desk lamp for this).
It’s missing the first bit where I use a light box to draw the lines from a rough sketch I did in Photoshop.

Click this link to see a time-lapse video of the above illustration:

Tools used:
Staedtler Mars Lumograph 7B pencil
Holbein black watercolor
Arches hot pressed watercolor paper

The original is for sale:

Different time lapse video:

Interview with Ryan Andrews:

How long have you been illustrating?

Professionally for about 5…no, 6 years?

What and when was the first piece of art that someone paid you to do?

When I was fresh out of high school a family friend hired me to do a flier for a YMCA summer program. I had no idea what I was doing. That was my last illustration job for about 12 years.

Watts Atelier of the Arts and Studio Second Street?

Studio Second Street isn’t around anymore, but I believe that Ron and Vanessa Lemen, who are two fantastic instructors, are now teaching at REV Art Academy. Watt’s Atelier is a small school that focuses primarily on foundational drawing and painting techniques. I wish I could have attended longer, but after my first year of school I got the travel bug and started working overtime to pay for extended trips around the world.

Did you have the internship job with the 3d animation company while attending school?

The internship was something I got before I really knew what direction I wanted to go in. I actually found out about the school from a client we had. We did a job we did where we made a 3d model of a massive sculpture by the late A Wasil that was proposed for a park in San Diego. While visiting his studio he mentioned this little school that he occasionally taught at and encouraged me to take a class.

Did you think working at the animation company influenced your style?

I don’t know that it influenced my style since we did mostly architectural visualization, and very little drawing if any. I did learn a lot about what it’s like to work in a production studio. Unfortunately I no longer work in 3d, though I imagine the software has changed so much since then that I wouldn’t even be able to use it.

Is that when you got interested in illustrating comic books?

I’ve been drawing comics since I was a kid. I wanted to do stuff for Marvel. Maybe draw Wolverine or my own superhero stories. But I lost interest in that world, and since I’m no good at drawing muscles, I gave up on that dream. I didn’t get back into drawing comics until I was in my late twenties. I read “The Beast Mother” and “Thomas the Leader” by Eleanor Davis and it completely changed my idea of what comics could be and really got me thinking about making my own comic.

What made you move to Japan?

I wanted to be a farmer. Really! I still kind of do, but work has made it hard to find the time to do anything beyond having a garden. Plus, I adore the Japanese countryside.

What type of work are you doing there?

I work as a freelance illustrator and a cartoonist. My time is pretty evenly split between doing work for clients (mostly from the US), and doing personal projects, like my comics.

What is the difference between a comic and a graphic novel?

I don’t know that there is a difference. Not to me anyway. A graphic novel is longer? And in a bound book? I’m not really sure.

Did you write and illustrate Sarah and the Seed?


How did that come about?

I’m always working on some story or another. That one came about after telling my wife about a horror story idea where this newlywed couple moves into a house in the countryside and are eaten by a creature living under the house. Since we were newlyweds who had just moved into the countryside, she didn’t like the idea and suggested I write something a little more light hearted.

How long after that did you do Our Blood Stained Roof?

Our Bloodstained Roof was done before that actually. I think I did them about 4 or 5 months apart.

Were both of these books self-published?

Yes, through Kickstarter in an anthology of my short stories.

Was it hard to navigate self-publishing to get that job done?

The whole process was difficult, but I learned a lot about printing, which really helped me in my client work. I also now know not to work at web resolution on my comics because I might want to print them one day!

How did you get the two books noticed to be nominated for the Eisne Award in the Best Digital Comic category?

Mostly through social media like Twitter and Tumblr. They just kind of took off.

Has This Was Our Pact hit the bookshelves yet?

Sadly no. It’s taken a LOT longer than I anticipated. Who would have thought that finishing a 330 page story would be harder than a 40 page one?

Do you feel there are more opportunities in Japan for graphic novels?

Oh I don’t know the first thing about the comics market here, but I would guess so. Japan has a comic about every subject you could imagine, and new stuff is coming out every day. I guess you’d have to speak pretty good Japanese though.

Do you want to do more animation work?

I’m currently working as a background artist on a show called Costume Quest with Frederator. I love working in animation. Lots of really short deadlines. There’s really no time to tweak the work, so you have to work fast and just move on, even if you’re not happy with the end result. I typically do 2-3 backgrounds a day. It’s nice to look back at all the work you’ve done at the end of the month.

Do you have any interest in illustrating picture books?

I’ve done a few YA novels, but no picture books yet. It’s something I’d like to try out one day.

How did you connect with Jennifer Linnan to represent you? How long have you been with her?

She contacted me after seeing my comic, Nothing is Forgotten. She’s been my agent for about 6 years now I think.

Have you done any book covers?

A few, and I’m actually working on 2 right now.

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?

If I ever have an idea that I think would make a good children’s book, then absolutely. But so far no such idea exists in my head.

Would you be open to illustrating a book for an author who wants to self-publish?

That can make things tricky with contracts, but I’m not opposed to it.

You do a lot of line and B&W illustrations. Is there a bigger market for that?

I’m not sure. Most of my client work is done in color. I work in black and white for personal stuff because I prefer it.

Have you worked with educational publishers?

Not yet.

What is your favorite medium to use?

Pencil, charcoal, and black ink wash.

Has that changed over time?

I don’t think so. I’ve always preferred working in black and white.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?

If a table with a computer on it in a room full of boxes counts as a studio, then yes I do.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I used to, but now that I have two kids and a lot of work, I don’t really get much time to do proper studies anymore. I’m hoping to change that once I finish up a few of my current projects and my schedule opens up a bit.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

I do research when needed, but usually just through Google. I’m sure if you looked you’d find the occasional picture of my hand in strange positions on my phone.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Absolutely. If it weren’t for the internet I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Most of my work comes from people who’ve seen my work on Twitter or some other social media.

Do you use Photoshop or Painter with your illustrations?

I use Photoshop. I’m sure there’s better software out there for drawing, but I’ve been using it for 20 years now so I’m too comfortable with it to try anything else.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

I use an old Cintiq for all of my digital work, but prefer drawing on paper.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

Still dreaming about being a farmer…maybe one day!

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up my comic, This Was Our Pact (title pending), which will be published by First Second sometime in 2019 I think, doing some illustrations for HardieGrant Egmont, on a YA horror series called The Witching Hours, animation backgrounds on Costume Quest, and a illustrations for a YA novel with Penguin called Mightier than the Sword. I’ve got a pretty full plate at the moment!

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

Lately I’ve been drawing on Arches hot pressed paper. It’s pricy, but I love the feel of it. I draw with these Mitsubishi pencils that they sell at my local grocery store, but I imagine you could find them online, though maybe not outside of Japan?

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

The best advice I can give to someone who wants to write or illustrate a story is to just do it. Start with something small. Give yourself a deadline of a week or a month. Your first story might not be very good, but that’s okay. It only took you a month. Learn from it, and make another. And another. And another. Finish them all. Even the bad ones. Finishing is the hardest part, but one you do it a few times, it gets a lot easier. Also don’t be afraid to show your work online. You’ll never know if anyone likes it unless you show someone.

Look at process:

light box

Rough sketch


Finished black and white sketch

Finished piece with color. My process is pretty simple. I draw my roughs on the computer, print them out and use my lightbox to draw the finished linework. Sometimes I apply black watercolor or an ink wash on top of that. I then scan that in and color it in Photoshop by putting the linework on the top layer set the multiply.

Thank you Ryan for sharing your talent, process, journey, and expertise with us. Please make sure you keep in touch and share your future successes with us. To see more of Ryan’s work, you can visit him at his website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Ryan. I am sure he’d love it and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Beautifully composed & drawn – wonderful work. Really appreciate your explanation of your process, Ryan.


  2. Cool illustrations!! Thank you for sharing!


  3. Amazing work! Loved hearing about Ryan’s process.


  4. Very impressive illustrations here.

    Kathy, I received the copy of “The Adventures of Caveboy” today from Sudipta. Thanks

    On Sat, Nov 4, 2017 at 12:05 AM, Writing and Illustrating wrote:

    > Kathy Temean posted: ” After graduating high school, Ryan Andrews moved to > Southern California to find fame and fortune. He found neither, but he did > score an internship at a 3d animation company. He also attended Watts > Atelier of the Arts and Studio Second Street for a bit” >


    • Yay! Thanks for letting me know. I can cross that off my “To do” list.


  5. Very nice illustrations and process, and super excited to get to know more about Ryan’s work. Passing this along to some friends who will love his style and content!


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