Step 0: yes, there is a level zero. I keep a template set up with my bleed outline, overlay textures, signature and type set. Also folders for separating layers -because I am the worst at excessive layering. Which helps keep everything the same and beautiful.
Step 1: Sketch out draft panels & layouts. I usually go through several different drafts before it feels like it meets the pacing and conveys the right emotions/message of the script. Lots of face-planting involved. I also try to decide how my light source & atmosphere work at this stage, and put in the speech bubbles.
Step 2: Line art. This is the most time consuming part for me, especially when heavy backgrounds are involved because I get stuck in the little details. Reference pics help A LOT, in keeping with consistency or perspective, etc., whether they're from previous pages or inspiration pictures -i.e.: castle architecture. For brush, I use the default Photoshop "30" with a custom texture setting to give it some roughness. Once finished with the line art, I change the color from black to a soft grey-brown and set the layer on multiply. It softens the outline and lets some of the color bleed through.
Step 3: Flats. I will have died at least six times by this stage. I keep palettes of reoccurring characters so I don't have to go back to previous pages and eye-drop somebody's hair color every time. The flats go all on one single layer and any patterns on varying separate layers.
4: Shading. This is my favorite part because it brings both me and the page to life! My current method is rather tedious and needs to be streamlined for time's sake. But until then,
I use the lasso & gradient tools to varying degrees of layers, transparency & effect settings. I use off white for highlights and soft grey-brown for shadows set to color-dodge and multiply. For reflections on armor or silky fabrics i set the layer on Hard-light and stack it underneath.
5. Field blur. At this stage everything should be finalized, and I go to town with the field blur tool. I feel like it gives panels a cinematic feel, creating the sense of depth and movement.
(important: I save a merged image of the page and blur that, I always keep my original layers)
6. Extras. Shortly after I've merged it all and blurred it to heck and back, I realize I've missed or forgotten details. Like, to draw an entire person...(true story. happened on page 5)...
so I usually end up with an "oops" folder on top, and repeat steps 2 through 5 as necessary. Will add in extra details like action swooshes and what not here too.
7.FINALE. Walk away, cry a little, come back. I add the last layer affect: LE CURVES FILTER! adjusted to increase the depth of the shading and overall vibrancy.
Honestly it's the icing on the cake and just makes everything pop. Lastly, I finesse the type and readjust any speech bubbles, add my signature, and upload the dang thing.
Achievement unlocked: comic updated.