Missing Steps (Part 2)

Following on from yesterday, I’ve tried to break down the gaps into specific skills I can focus on learning/practising/re-learning.

Copying Accurately: Seeing and replicating the exact angles and proportions and measurements that make something what it is is pretty central to being able to take the good of a sketch and build on it in a later drawing.

Exercises:

  • Accurate observational drawing from life
  • Copy my own simple arrangements of shapes
  • Memory drawing exercises (look, cover, draw, check etc)

Refining a Composition: Taking a basic idea and testing out various compositions to find an arrangement that works well is the only way I’m going to make illustrations I really like. In a workflow I’ll want to draw lots of tiny thumbnails of the one idea – changing one aspect at a time. Hopefully these exercises will help my brain to do that without panicking.

Exercises:

  • Draw an object/still life from a different viewpoint than the one I’m looking at. (Simplify: Draw it twice, changing viewpoint in between)
  • Draw an object/still life with different lighting (and hence shadows) than reality. (Simplify: Draw it twice, changing the lighting in between.)
  • Draw a still life. Then redraw a more pleasing arrangement of those objects, without rearranging the physical objects.
  • Draw a rough sketch of an imagined interior, or other angular setting. Fix the perspective, and redraw basically but accurately.

Refining Details and Adding Information: The final stage is to add details, and make things feel right and complete, without losing any of the energy of the previous steps. Accurate copying should help with this step. But there’s also the fact that at this, the most precise step, I often use the undo button when working digitally. I need to practise being deliberate.

Exercises:

  • Draw a rough sketch of anything simple (animal, plant, prop, hand) and then refine/stylise using reference or memory, without losing overall shape.
  • Draw a composition of broad shapes. Turn into 3 different scenes by changing the details/objects.
  • Design a character. Roughly sketch different expressions/poses and refine each into the designed character.

There’s a lot to do here. I probably won’t even end up doing all of these exercises, but I hope they’ll start my brain and hands moving in the right direction.

Missing Steps

That’s the usual state of affairs. See the other pictures for this story here.

Research: First I research and read the context: in this case a piece about Nikola Tesla and his cat, so I spent some time sketching Tesla, and cats.

Ideas: Then I come up with a bunch of scribbly ideas. Usually, but not always, in my sketchbook.

Rough Sketches: After that I take a few of my ideas and turn them into rough sketches digitally. I check any large important research, like period appropriate buildings or the layout of a ship. I make sure I’m using the right dimensions and determine the rough final composition. In this case it was as simple as adding a shelf and lamp to the background of the picture, but sometimes I might change the viewing angle a lot, or add a foreground element or something. By the end of this step, all the big pieces are in place.

Underdrawing: This is when I zoom in on all the pieces of the puzzle and make them work. I fix the anatomy and character consistency. I make sure the clothing is right. I add smaller details – particularly in larger and more complex illustrations. For this one I make sure the style of lamp is period appropriate and worry about the cat’s expression, and the placement of buttons. I’ll usually do a colour sketch too, though I haven’t here.

Final Illustration: Most of the thinking is done, but there are subtleties of texture, expression, and colour to tend to here. I have a lot of fun adding shadows and highlights, and generally less fun just blocking in colours. And then ta da! It’s done!

For this art study time, I wanted to take this whole process traditional. And I was really focussed on the Final Illustration stage, because of course that’s where the real difference comes in. But I’ve realised that I need to start much earlier. It turns out that I’m having a lot of trouble developing my composition on paper, without the digital tools of cut, paste, scale, rotate, etc. It turns out that I’m having a lot of trouble developing my underdrawing, without the ability to redraw a more refined version directly over a rough version. It turns out I’m having trouble with the drawing, full stop.

There are two main directions I could go from that realisation:

  1. Continue to develop my underdrawings digitally, but otherwise continue as planned, working with traditional media for the final step only.
  2. Switch my learning focus to the earlier stage of refining my drawing traditionally, and don’t worry about the final step in the process yet.
  3. (Bonus: Give up and go back to digital art altogether.)

To me, the second option seems the more fundamental and useful skill, so that’s what I’m going to put my focus for the time being. More on the specifics of that in a future post 🙂

Zoo Trips – Week 1

Even before I knew I was doing for the rest of Blaugust, I already had one plan in place: to visit the zoo every (week)day.

I narrowed in on lemurs as my main sketching subject because there are lots of them and they’re usually easy to see. One week in and I now have pages and pages of lemur sketches, from which I’ve pulled out just a few to share here.

The main purpose of the project was simply to get used to having my sketchbook out, and to use it more often. It has already been a complete success. I also sketched while out and about on the weekend and in a lull while volunteering today (for the Melbourne Writers Festival).

My focus for the next week is to really watch the lemurs and then sketch my impressions of them. Less direct observational drawing and more short term memory of specific poses or personalities.

After that, maybe I’ll focus on particular anatomy: how do their hands and feet work, perhaps. We’ll see. It’s been really nice, anyway. I think I’m just gonna wanna visit the zoo every day forever.

A 30 Day Project

Earlier in the year, I did a month-long evening drawing project. It could, perhaps, be seen as a precursor to this project, so I want to share it.

Task: draw people from reference photos.* Materials: brown paper and coloured pencils. Successfully completed daily: yes.

After a rocky start, I realised a few things.

  1. I needed to limit my palette. The colours were overwhelming. Once I realised that, I chose a limited selection of pencils at the start of the drawing (based on the main colours in the reference photo), and used only those. It made everything easier and more fun. Also it looked better.
  2. The material I was using was important. There was no point using coloured pencils as if they were paint – I was better off enjoying them for what they were. This led to me leaving much more of the paper blank, actually using pencil textures, and creating more interesting illustrations.

After these realisations it was fairly smooth sailing. I had pictures I liked and pictures I hated, but overall I was learning. And that was the main thing.

*I created a selection of pictures before starting and just worked my way through them in order. Taking away my choice of subject and material was a really useful technique that helped me actually sit down and do the work. Credit to Roz Stendahl for the idea. I really recommend her blog posts on projects and goal setting and the internal critic if you want to get better at something (anything) but struggle to stick at it.

Happy Blaugust!

It’s Blaugust again. I am already nearly a week deep in an artistic development project, of a slightly different sort than last year. It’s inspired by last year, but far more practical and hands on. I am learning to create illustrations traditionally. That is, with paints, pencils, collage, etc. And no computer.

It’s something I’ve made a few attempts at throughout the last year, but each time I’ve given up thinking I want this picture to look good and I know I can make it look better on the computer so I’m gonna just do that. This time is different because, well, these illustrations aren’t for anything in particular. They will be what they will be, even though that likely means they won’t fit into my portfolio.

This time is also different because I’ve set myself a bunch of very specific activities, assignments and tasks to hopefully break it all down. I’ve unfortunately already realised I might need to change/add some tasks, but we can talk about that another day.

Along with recording and analysing my progress, I’ll also use these Blaugust posts to talk about what I’ve been up to in the last year, and probably to dissect some cool artists I like.

Bye friends, see you tomorrow 🙂

Process: SCBWI Entry

I posted my entry a few days ago, and mentioned that my process had become kinda shaken up, in a good way, by Blaugust, so I wanted to document it in a little detail.

The idea of the contest was to illustrate a story in three images. The story must be on the theme ‘misunderstood monsters’ (inspired by Frankenstein), and it must show: dilemma, conflict and resolution.

I started during Blaugust, with a general brainstorm of monster characters and plot points. What type of monster can I have? What kind of story do I want? I latched onto the idea of a monster protecting its babies (or eggs) from human action and being misunderstood as simply hating humans. From there I got excited about princesses and dragons and different ways that humans and dragons could come up against one another (mining etc). I researched different historical views on dragons and got sidetracked learning about King Tamar and medieval Georgia and just focussed on learning about that to spark ideas. Here are my sketches at this stage:

dilemmageorgia
New regent is faced with killing an old ally to protect her people.

conflictgeorgia
Going off to battle.

resolutiongeorgia
Messier, but the idea is that she’s looking at a hatching dragon egg. The dragon has taken pity on the foolish young regent and decided to explain her actions.

(You can see that a lot of the compositional ideas stayed with me even as the setting changed dramatically.) At this point I considered adding an advisor character, got a little frustrated by the ‘why’ of the story and – inspired by Shaun Tan – decided to write some accompanying words to clarify it all in my head. These words actually stayed through the whole process and you can see an alternate version of my entry on tumblr.

betrayal comes as questions

how could she?

why would she?

they are rhetorical, but you do not notice

it’s only later you realise

there may have been answers

Then I threw the whole thing up in the air and tried to work backwards from the text, creating a different story in a different world. I no longer wanted to be working in a medieval setting and I kinda wanted a modern or steam/cyberpunk story. I write a lot of notes in my sketchbook when I’m brainstorming, which is kinda cool because I can follow back my thought process later.

“dragon was useful because it’s a crest and also a monster. the juxtaposition is built in.”

“I can’t quite figure a way to give it the gravitas of medieval royalty”

and then on the next page:

“it’s her own invention! it IS Frankenstein (…) she created life that could create life.”

And that was basically the final key to the ideas in the narrative. A few more pages of sketches and miscellaneous ideas (what kind of monster, again) and I sketched something that set a visual tone for me and created my main character:

IMG_8407

I designed the robot from pterosaurs (the true dragons) and bats and birds. And then I finalised the compositions using ideas I’d already generated earlier.

At this point I also had to actually render the pieces. And this was the most scary part, but also maybe the best news of the whole project, because it was more fun than rendering has been for me for a long time, much quicker and less stressful on my body, and I liked how free it felt when finished. It’s mostly made of watercolour elements that have been scanned in, resized/rotated and layered over (and sometimes inverted). On top of that I added the main characters in digital paint with digital pencils over the top.

I still have a lot of experimentation to do, and I don’t think I’m going to render every picture this way from here on out. But it was an enjoyable way to build a piece and I liked the sort of photo-negative vibe it gave off, leading me to feel like the whole thing was taking place in an industrial cold-war type setting.

Taking my time to let ideas percolate was really useful and led me down paths I wouldn’t have otherwise gone. Using words to help me attach emotions to the pictures was also interesting, and I think it really helped me distill the concept in my head. And I’m excited by the prospect of using traditional materials more in my work. So, good stuff all round 🙂