January 25th, 2014

The Process

by Terri Libenson

Recently, King Features posted pictures of cartoonists’ work spaces on the KF blog. Really enjoyed seeing everyone’s studios. Included was this photo of myself that my husband took on the spot.

TerDeskI liked the picture, so I also posted it on my Facebook page. I got lots of ribbing for being a neat freak. But it’s true. Even though there’s a huge pile of papers to the right that were cropped out, I am pretty tidy. I know that’s unusual for a creative type. But I honestly can’t work among clutter. I’d rather spend half an hour cleaning up first than diving into a project amid papers and breakfast remains. In fact, I usually start the day by straightening up the kitchen and living room, too. It’s a sickness, I know.

In any case, that blog led me to this post. I thought it would be fun to show the evolution of my creative process. Here’s my routine — brace yourself for more pictures!

In the beginning (2006), there were Microns. And Bristol board. And large rulers, pencils, legal pads, portable light table, and a kitchen table. But the first few processes haven’t changed. I start off by sketching out cartoon ideas on plain old legal paper.


Then I polish up my roughs (sample below). I do this with about 40-50 sketches at once. I then narrow them down to a month’s worth of strips to publish.

Rough-2I did this next step until the beginning of 2013. I penciled out all the selected strips on 14 X 17 Bristol (3 daily strips per sheet), and inked them with various sized Micron pens. All this was done on my kitchen table using a portable light box that I propped up with the Yellow Pages (remember those?).


(Note: This was a publicity shot for an interview — normally my hair is in some kind of messy ponytail and I’m decked out in 10-year-old fleece.)

Anyway, I would then scan the images into Photoshop and color them on my computer using just a mouse. Yes, I tried styluses in the past and found an awkward disconnect between the digital pad and the screen. I was always more comfortable with the mouse.

Last year — after many recommendations — I bit the bullet and bought a Wacom Cintiq, which is a digital drawing pad/computer screen. Once I got used to it, it saved me so much time. I probably earned back 3-4 days/month from penciling and inking (which wasn’t my favorite process, anyway). Now I draw directly on the screen, color the images, and email my work electronically.


So here are examples of a finished strip, created fully using the Cintiq. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of the device, I see no difference between these and my old hand-drawn-and-scanned originals.


These days, cartoonists do both black/white and colored versions of their dailies because more and more daily newspapers are printing in color. Shading/coloring strips is still my favorite part of the job. I find it extremely relaxing.

And that’s it in a nutshell. I’ll spare you the extra little details, like how much cereal milk I splatter on my keyboard after I clear my clutter (and the subsequent cursing).

Some things are just routine.






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