Category: sketching

Homework: Concept Art Starter Kit – Design Basics

I’ve recently started up CtrlPaint’s Concept Art Starter Kit with artist, Matt Kohr, as a way to brush up my own character design skills.  While I’m not quite going into Concept Art as a profession (yet?), I still think the basic skills will improve my artist’s eye, overall.  Plus, it’s just tons of fun designing characters for my own personal projects!

Since I’m coming mainly from an illustrator’s background, I felt like I needed to start at level 0.  I’ve read a lot of tutorials on concept design, but almost all of them assumed prior knowledge of industry jargon and familiarity.  It’s been refreshing to see something that starts off very simple with tons of visual examples.  The videos thus far are more lecture with examples than they are technique, but that’s just what I wanted and needed at this point. (Expect a review of the course kit over at The Muse’s Library once I’ve completed it!)

Shape Design covers the fundamentals of interpreting shape language and image recognition.  I tried out the suggested exercise of taking reference photos and not merely copying what I see, but trying to get a better idea about how the subject works via closer study and contouring.  The cat on the bottom right corner was drawn from memory after my studies were complete.

Exercise - Reference Studies

While this method does take longer, I think Kohr’s on to something with this more scientific approach, as I seemed to retain more info this way.  Admittedly, I’m used to copying and pasting references to get my final art done quicker.  Creating more in-depth studies is a good habit I need to get back into!

Next, I tried another suggested exercise where I took what I learned from doing my studies and drew a ‘good’ version and an ‘evil’ version of the same animal from memory using no reference.  Can you tell which one is which?

Exercise - Good vs Bad

If you guessed evil for the cat on the left and good for the cat on the right, I have succeeded!

For the evil cat, I went with the ‘modern’ body style of Siamese cat, which is sleeker and more pointed than the rounded ‘classical’ body style I used for the cat on the right.  I also made intentional choices to give the evil cat claws, pointed ears, pointed eyes, and to be showing his teeth while good cat is softer with rounded eyes and an overlarge head.  Both were drawn from memory based on what I’ve retained from my studies.

I’m looking forward to the next lesson!  Delving into the psychology of shape is utterly fascinating to me.  I think most of us understand this language instinctively, but learning how to purposefully implement it in our art can bring it to a whole other level.

Next Lesson: Design Basics 2

Sketch Diary: Angel of January Part 2

You all might remember my last sketch diary entry for this image? If not, go check it out for idea development and thumbnail sketches. Wow, has it really been nearly a YEAR since I’ve come back to this piece? Guess that burnout wave hit me harder than I thought! (More on that later, as it’s been on my mind a lot lately)

My favorite thumbnail sketch.

Next up, developing the final draft! With my favorite thumbnail sketch out of the many in mind, I shot some stock reference for myself with the idea of a veiled or draped figure stepping into sunlight to echo the themes of the emergence of Persephone (which is associated with the gemstone for January with its pomegranate seed-like clusters of garnets).

January is also named for Janus, the god of doorways and transitions, signaling the coming of the new season and new year.

This particular stock pose caught my eye most with the inquisitive angle of the head, the assymetrical sweep of the arms, and the idea of ‘stepping into the sunlight’ echoed in the pose.:

More poses at my stock gallery.
The first base sketch. The wings cover too much of the
stained glass window.

With that stock pose in mind, I did several rough sketches in Photoshop and finally arrived at a base figure, with all of my background elements on separate layers so I could tweak them individually.  This phase also involved doing a rough sketch of the stained glass window pane with its Snow Drop and Carnations motif with no attention paid to exact symmetry just yet, but rather scribbles filling out the main idea of the design and how it might integrate with the figure first.

However, I kept running into a problem with the wings.  They seemed either covered up too much of the lovely window, were too flat, or too cramped into the space I had in mind.

Too cramped and thin…
Much better flow that leads the viewer’s
eye through the figure!

With the main figure taken care of, I refined the window by copying, pasting, and flipping parts of the window as needed to create a more symmetrical shape.  I then transferred the sketch to illustration board, refining the details as I went along until I arrived at this:

Very light pencil sketch…
…which morphed into color pencil outline!

Remembering How to Sketch

After all the deadlines and all the projects, when you sit down at the end of the day, do you remember what it was like to do this thing you love for fun?

I know for awhile now that I forgot.  Or rather, I just couldn’t get motivated. I escaped to the world of beading and leathercrafting because it was a way to enjoy the act of creating without doing the same thing I had been doing for the 8-12 hours beforehand.  Hobbies are essential to preserving this little thing called sanity when you’re doing what you love for a living…but find yourself at the end of the day unable to do what you love because are are just out of energy to do it.  Sad to say that most of us are not endless wells (Ursala Vernon did a wonderful article that perfectly describes this feeling)

Then I discovered SKETCHAVEMBER thanks to the talented Croaky.  It’s like NaNoWriMo, but for artists, in which we draw every day of this month in hopes of making it a continuing habit.  I finally sat down and stopped thinking so damned much about what I wanted to draw! I finally figured it out. I was placing too much on the thought of drawing. I had a mental block.

If I was going to draw, I couldn’t waste a minute on ‘fun’ things!  EVERY. Single. Thing. had to be for a prospective portfolio piece or mastering a new technicque or for a commission.  Instead, I sat down (nearly) every single night this month so far and sketched without expectation or fear.  I sketched for fun and to channel all the random ideas floating around my brain.  I went with the flow instead of wondering how every little piece would further my career or projects or portfolios.

I’ve also found it so much easier to teach myself Photoshop when I wasn’t expecting to master it in a few hours.  I could just sketch for me, and nobody else, and therefore revel in the little triumphs of discovering how this or that digital brush worked for me instead of comparing myself to others who seem to speedpaint masterpieces.

So here’s to the midpoint in SKETCHAVEMBER!  I’m so happy I discovered it and that Jen got the ball rolling for all of us. Now, have a sketch flood from this month so far!

Confessions of an Artist 5 – Why Sketch?

It’s been a long time since my last confession, where we talked about the nightmares of storing art incorrectly. Lately, I’ve come to realize a bad habit about myself that I’m desperately trying to break.

I don’t sketch.

By ‘don’t sketch’ I mean, instead of doing thumbnails or studies, I like to hop right onto the canvas and sketch, let the drawing go where it wants to, and then paint away! While this may work for some folks, more often than not, it’s led to the too-late realization of compositional problems, anatomy errors, or dysfunctional color schemes that made me not as satisfied with my work as I wanted to be or should be.

You may ask yourself, why take the time to sketch when you already know what you want to do? Why bother with sketching at all when it’s not guaranteed that you’ll use a sketch for anything? Just go straight to the finish line!

Only recently have I started to do more thumbnail drawings to figure out the best composition for an idea (a practice my college professors always pushed on me and one which I always rebelled against). But I’m not on my own time anymore, I’m on the clock. When my work is for a company, I just can’t let the pencil loose and trust it’s going to be the best it can be. I have more than just myself to satisfy and even then I shouldn’t just let my standards slip when I AM working for myself, either because I’m in a rush or just don’t feel like doing preliminary sketches thanks to the impatient niggling of my muse.

This realization was especially reinforced when I saw Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Major Arcana Tarot book, a lovely compilation including her thought processes and the many sketch revisions she did for each card in the Majors suit. I was amazed by the fact she went through so many sketches before arriving at any single figure.

For instance, in the Justice card, she went through multiple figural sketches. In each sketch, she evolved her symbols and improved her composition, from a sword to a feather (for truth), from a classical blindfolded Justice to a figure with blind eyes. Sketching and toying with the concept helped her to arrive at something more profound and dynamic, in the end, than it would have been if she merely sped through the concept. Even then, many of her ‘discarded’ sketches ended up being used for later work, making it even more worth it to play around with sketch ideas because it helped to prompt even more ideas for future artwork.

So while I may get fussy at the idea of not being able to explode into drawing the final composition that’s bursting to get out of my head, sometimes the muse needs to sloow down. Enjoy a nice cup of tea and coax that coy idea out with thumbnails and sweet nothings.

How about yourselves? Do you find it hard to sketch? How do you go about developing your ideas for a concept? My confessional is always open!

“Justice” by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law