For a long while, I’ve struggled with the issue of leaving traces of pencil on my breakdowns (or rough drawings) before inking. There has also been a longing for lines that both flow free and fast. How to do this without the dreaded trace?

There is of course the possibility of Photoshop and various other software to electronically manipulate, but I like to work ‘digit’- ally with my fingers (a nice pun that I have heard both cartoonist Lynda Barry and graphic-notetaker Pen Mendonça use). Is there a non-digital solution?

For a while, I was practising repeating quick sketches over and over with the notion that this would mean that the final drawing could happen freehand. This did not work. It could work for abstract drawing or life drawing, but the tiniest of lines matter in comics. These tiny lines change expressions and evoke different meanings.

So? Drumroll….here is the solution (at least if you have Apple tech) – the app ‘Trace Table’. This was developed by Kevin Mangan, basically for his wife to quickly draw cartoons for their son’s lunchbox (such a cute story). It costs 99p and it is AMAZING! It basically functions as a light box, but it is even better with extra functions of sizing and darkening lines.

It has meant that I can experiment with Quentin Blake’s process of illustrating, which is:

1. Draw rough idea / breakdown
2. Put it on the light box (on Trace Table)
3. Cover it with your paper
4. Draw directly over the image fast and free

Blake liked to only just be able to see the image, so that he could keep the lines rough, jagged and alive. For me, it is lovely to flow with the lines with dip pen, while paying attention to the little lines that count for comics communication.

This week, I did a ‘bird-hat’ challenge, based on a suggestion from Dulcie Ball (the founder and leader of the ‘Sketchy Bitches’ drawing group) on Instagram. She suggested we all try a ‘cat-hat’ after popular illustrator Terry Runyan, 



As I like birds more than cats, I thought, what about ‘bird-hats’ and did a search for these on Instagram. Oddly, these only exist as actual couture hats with birds and feathers. Part of me wondered if this meant that the idea was a hiding into nowhere, but I gave it a shot anyway.

First, I did my ‘non-doing’ practice of sitting in silence and having ‘no-idea’ for 20 minutes (just an intention to work on this). Afterwards, I played around with ideas and easily came up with a few dozen ideas, of which I drew up 21 panels. It was silly – it was fun and a couple even have a potential gag.

A few favourites are below (see the homepage for all bird-hat manifestations) to illustrate the wonder of working without trace! The first one is to illustrate that ‘no birds were harmed in the making of these bird hats’  (and the last one is Simone Lia’s favourite as she could see herself wearing this one).