Inking and Painting my first Art Cel

It’s hard to believe that not long ago, almost all cartoons were traditionally animated using hand-painted cels. Real people – responsible for sketching, inking, painting and animating every frame! I’m still not sure what’s more impressive as a whole, the art or the process? Before getting into what I’ve created, I will try my best to summarise the basics of cel animation. I also recorded a vlog on cel animation a while back, with more information about the history of the art form.



The term ‘cel’ is an abbreviation of ‘cellulose’ acetate. (The transparent paper which is used to paint on) The paper is clear so it can be laid against other separate cels to create various backgrounds and allow for movement. Inking and painting a cel is the most time-consuming part of the whole process. Usually, twelve frames are combined to create one second of animation so it takes teams of people for the process to work effectively. For this piece, I chose to create a single frame using some basic materials. I settled with a black marker pen, a few Posca pens, some standard acrylic paint, a sheet of acetate transparency paper (OHP Paper) and a small paintbrush.

The inspiration for this piece came after watching the anime series Hajime no Ippo (arguably one of the best sports mangas of all time). Using my coffee mug as a guide, I managed to outline Ippo’s posture while repainting his facial expression for a less angry look. I also added a secondary character (Miyata) to fill the space. It was pretty tough getting used to sketching with a pen on acetate, I realised later that by drawing directly onto the cel I was making things tougher than necessary. Most artists draw on regular paper first and then trace the drawing using a sheet of cel paper afterwards. (This original sketch is known as a ‘Genga’ or just as the ‘Key Frame’)

Note: For the first sketch, I used a whiteboard marker so I could rub out any unnecessary lines or mistakes, I then later went over the outline with a permanent marker once I was happy with the final look. The whole outline process took about 2-3 hours, possibly longer than a regular sketch but it felt safer this way.

Through painting this one cel and lightly researching the art form, I have gained some useful insight into the process of cel animation, a medium I will definitely revisit again sometime. While the piece is far from perfect, I’m happy with the overall results.

The materials worked pretty well and I know I can add to this and create frame number two in the future, perhaps another character or a detailed background. Until then… I’ll continue the wait for Hajime no Ippo season 4!

Adam J. El-Sharawy, December 2018