Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A drawing process

I got the drawing itch today and realised I've never posted about my 'process'. Hopefully this will be helpful/interesting to someone.

Step One : The idea

The first thing to do, obviously, is decide what to draw. I've been on a bit of a D&D kick recently so I decided I was going to draw a nice piece of fantasy art. I decided on a sorceress, because boobies are fun to draw.

Of course 'a sorceress' could be almost anything. which brings me to:

Step Two : Concepts and gesture sketch.
Depending on the idea, I'll draw anywhere from one or two to twenty or thirty of these to come up with a basic idea to build on. Mostly at this stage I'm just trying to work out the basic composition and pose. This idea arrived almost fully formed in my head, so this was only about one of three quick concept sketches I came up with. . My sorceress was going to be standing in a heroic pose holding a magical staff. To add a lot more interest, I decided she was going to be a 'windswept heroine', with long hair and a costume that would billow in the wind.

Just to clear up a few questions I've been asked, a gesture sketch is simply to nail ideas down and see if the pose works etc. It's not supposed to be detailed or pretty. If this was a story I was writing instead of an image I was drawing, a gesture sketch is the equivalent of those few rough noes before the first draft. The goal is to get your idea down as quickly and in as few lines as possible. As rough as this is, if you look at the final image you see that all the main elements and features that make up the drawing are here in this sketch.

In case you're wondering, this sketch is barely a couple of inches high on a piece of plain old printer paper and took less than thirty seconds to draw.

Step Three : A Tighter Concept Sketch
Depending on what the drawing is and how detailed I'm being this step can vary by a hell of a lot. As this was just a fairly quick drawing I was doing for fun, this one stayed very loose and sketchy. However, depending on how much time I'm taking, this step can become almost as involved as rendering the final image. I may take a few pages of my sketchbook and work out exactly what the staff looks like, or what the design on the broach that holds her coat together looks like, etc

This is also where an idea evolves and some 'happy accidents' can happen. For example, in my original idea, she was going to be wearing a long, flowing dress/gown but I quickly realized that this meant 99% of her figure would be covered and I'd essentially be drawing a flag with hands and I decided on an open-fronted coat, which evolved into a half-dress half coat...and she was originally wearing trousers and boots, but as I put down the line to signify a crease where her legs meet her pelvis, it suddenly looked like she was wearing shorts...and as everyone knows, Fantasy Art females never wear anything even remotely practical (Fantasy art is the home of the female warrior in the chainmail bikini.)

Again, this sketch is only a couple of inches high and if you look closely you can see the basic shapes and 'stick figure' I used to build up the pose. This one I spent about two or three minutes on...any more than that and you're just wasting time.

Step Four : Tight Pencils
Ok, I have a confession to make, it was only after I got to this point that I decided to write this post, so I missed out a huge chunk of how I actually draw. However, my main drawing process is similar to what you see above at the concept stage in that this drawing started out as a lot of basic shapes. I generally start by blocking in the head, then the spine and ribcage, then the pelvis, before adding the limbs. Basically, you work out the structure with simple shapes and then build up the drawing from there.

In case you're wondering, at this point I'm working with a very hard 4h lead on 11x14 smooth surface Bristol board, a very thick, high-quality paper hat takes ink really well. I use a very hard lead and draw as lightly as possible because all of what you see here is going to be erased after I ink over it and as well as leftover pencil marks being ugly, the lead can actually dig into and crease the paper if you press oo hard.

Step Five : The Inks
No matter what anyone tells you, inking is NOT tracing, and it's jus as important and difficult to do as drawing in the first place. As you can tell from the above, if I'm a novice drawer, I'm an absolute beginner as an inker.

I use a crow-quill inking pen with a Hunt #102 nib for inking because it offers such an awesome amount of line variation. They're extremely tricky to use (for example, do anything other than pull the pen towards you and the nib digs into the paper and just vomits ink all over he page), but they add something you just can't get with PITT or Micron pens (fine-liners, essentially).

I have a really annoying habit of deciding to change elements of my drawing at this stage and this usually ends badly. I was always going to draw her with tattooed dots above her left eye, but for some reason I decided to add more as I was inking...and it was only after I put down the very permanent and indelible ink that I realised the dots on her chin make it look a lot like she has the beginnings of a goatee.

The inking process is one of those things that's easy in the same way chess is easy. You can grasp the basics in a matter of hours but it can take a lifetime to's why I get really annoyed when I hear people talking about inking as if it's just tracing.

Basically, you start in the upper left and work your way down to the lower right, because unlike PITT or Micron pens, India Ink from a crow-quill can take a few minutes to dry and there's nothing like getting to the end of your drawing an accidentally dragging your hand through the ink. (I managed to do this once on this drawing, which is why I keep a supply of white-out handy.

I've found that 99% of inking comes down to practice and confidence. It's a real balancing act because inking a line too slowly and deliberately results in the line showing every slight shake of your hand...and while inking a line quickly and confidently results in a nice smooth line, it also increases the chances of you ending up with a perfectly smooth line in completely the wrong place.

Step Six : Learn!

This is the most important step that most people completely ignore. This is where I've finished my drawing, took a nice long break and then I go over it to see what worked, what didn't and what I'd do differently next time. To be completely honest I think at times I'm a little too self critical as I almost universally end up hating anything I've drawn!

For example, on this image I really didn't spend nearly enough time on the hair, the eyes are a little wonky and I'll certainly never do facial tattoos again without penciling them first. I also feel that the way her coat is billowing looks a little weak. With the way the wind is affecting her hair, the tail of the coat should be almost completely horizontal. This drawing also highlighted to me that I need to work on drawing fabric and realistic folds as the sleeves and where the boots 'crumple' at her knees just looks wonky.

Anyway, that's how I draw. If anyone's interested I may post another one of these showing everything I missed out between the gesture sketch and the final pencils.