UK-based Frenchman Mcbess, aka Matthieu Bessudo (mcbess.com), produces old-school cartoon-style pieces notable for the use of cream rather than white to add warmth, in a manner reminiscent of some of the work of the American cartoonist Robert Crumb.

Mcbess starts by doing a very rough sketch with a basic shape, then a second one to place props and characters. Finally he uses a Rotring pen and Indian ink on cream paper, or else he scans in his work and inks it in Photoshop using a tablet.

Work by Emily Forgot for the Swedish magazine Res

“Most of my work is shaded – I like reflection and highlights,” he says. “Depending on how I want the subject to feel, if I want it integrated into a scene, I will shade the shadow of something near to it, or the reflection of a source of light which will tie everything together.”

Mcbess says he doesn’t use a lot of different shading styles – he mostly goes for small strokes or dots. Sometimes he avoids shading completely if a piece needs to stand out, whether to serve as a logo or to have a more iconic look.

Another artist with a dark cartoonish sensibility is Steven Silverwood (stevensilverwood.com), whose inked artwork 666 graced the cover of our January 2011 issue. He adds depth using varying pen line widths, giving thicker lines to foreground objects.

Steven has his own take on shading. “I like to have a strong contrast, so I don’t shade that much. The main focus is to capture the different textures,” he says.

Caged Presents, a design on a ceramic plate, also by Emily Forgot

Swindon-based illustrator Iain Macarthur (iainmacarthur.carbonmade.com) uses both pencil and ink, but for most of his commissions he achieves shading “with different sizes of pigment pens”.

“Whether it’s cartoon-type images or elegant pieces, I will always ‘overdo’ the drawing with patterns and shading,” he says. “To add depth, I experiment on different sizes of patterns to add tone. Also, not adding any shading on some elements of the drawing makes the image stand out.”

All these artists agree on one thing: that “any type of image can be done in black and white”, as Iain says. “I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t do.”

“I don’t think there’s anything you can’t reproduce convincingly in black and white,” agrees Steven. “The moods you can transfer are enough to overcome any obstacles that not having colour could throw in the way, and will even challenge you to find new and interesting solutions.”

Michael Ostermann often works bxy randomly placing elements, as was the case with Skull

This print by Mcbess, full of allusions to geeky happenings of last year, was done for the UK creative agency Syzygy. The sparing use of colour in the corner draws attention to that element without detracting from the overall black and white aesthetic

Ready for output?

You might assume black-and-white artwork would be simple to print – but in fact, things can easily go wrong. The high contrast means that imperfections, especially compression artefacts, are more obvious than when printing a full-colour piece.

Steven Bonner recommends you save vector projects as an uncompressed flattened file, merged into one element so as to get rid of any paths you don’t need. “If it’s a hand-drawn flat piece with no tone,” says Steven, “I save it as a TIFF file in bitmap mode, usually at 600dpi at least to allow for scaling later if need be.”

A 100 per cent black will appear dull, so use a rich black – one incorporating other colours for a more lustrous look. Steven recommends C40 M40 Y0 K100, while Digital Arts art editor Johann Chan prefers C40 M40 Y40 K100. “What works best depends on the printer or press being used,” says Johann, “so for the best results, experiment with your in-house printer or talk to your print company.”

In the past, artists and designers avoided rich blacks when working with fine lines (of black or white), as any misregistration when the layers of cyan, magenta and yellow are laid down with the black was very obvious. Modern printers and presses should print accurately, but for very fine lines or running copy, use a standard C0 M0 Y0 K100.