offset \ˈȯf-ˌset\ noun

a force or influence that makes an opposing force ineffective or less effective

Thread the Needle

I cannot get my mind to turn off. There is always something, like a plethora of problems that I need to solve. Not the world ones. I get to think about my own. Be it from what to eat the next day, over trivial things regarding programming issues at work, to the more difficult, existential ones. What I am trying to say is that there is always something. Always.

My hiatus of not drawing and painting has been too long and it has to stop. There is always something to throw the proverbial spanner in the machine and right now I need to find the time to address it. Expressing myself visually can provide that much needed meditative state where I can just do things with a small amount of problem solving. Music can help there. Align my thoughts and fill the void of silence.

Then a week goes by and it goes untouched

Then two, then three, then a month

So let's do something about it. First stop, get some coffee. Second one, play some music. Third one, get my sketchbook and label it "...bad drawings". Check. That should be a psychological trick to let go of the perfection that is the enemy of productivity, or so they say. Feels weird to hold a pencil and write letters again instead of typing. So to continue writing this.

I don't plan to focus that much on the traditional aspect so the sketchbook will most likely be a doodling aid. I plan to focus more on digital. After all, I have the conditions, aside from proper desk space, but I can make do.

My hardware and software stack consists of Wacom Cintiq, Corel Painter and Krita for now.

One of the other bits of software I'd like to mention is Lazy Nezumi Pro. It can help a lot with its ruler and smoothing systems.

I listened to Vilppu interview ages ago. He mentioned that he rarely measures and does things by eyeballing. The crux of the matter, as I see it, is that you analyze when you're doing something. It's usually inseparable. We're our own worst critic. We'll recognize what's wrong and all we need to do is fix it. So iterate on the process.

Don't just copy things, but think them through. Analyze why something is the way it is and if you need to understand something, then get a reference. References are not a cop-out. They are the key to good research. We cannot know everything, but our visual library will improve in our heads, and if you keep things on your drive, then there, too. One of the applications that is good for displaying references is PureRef. I am using it to arrange references when doing art and I store some images on the external drive.

But before getting to the whole photography reference, try to draw from life. Especially when you can go around and see the subject. It is actually easier to study it.

Another advice would be to treat every artwork as a study. It ties in with that "bad drawings" thing above. It doesn't have to be made really carefully with expensive materials. Especially digitally today. So just do things, a 15 minute session at least. Then continue doing it every day.

Art is never finished. Only abandoned. We draw and paint until we feel it's good enough. We shouldn't stop until that moment. The internet is filled with "it took me three hours". Yeah, right. Don't lock yourself in that mode of thinking. Art takes time.

Artists differentiate between something that is done and the process to get there. I frequently need to remind myself that doing artwork is solving problems. The resulting solution is a done artwork.

So to summarize and expand (and read the list all the way because it's not in some specific order):

  1. You don't have to show your sketchbook to anyone. The sketches will look bad, but they will get better. Canvas is not supposed to be blank. It's supposed to be filled out. Better start now. It's a lifetime process that never ends. Try to have fun with it.
  2. Research the subject you're about to work on. Gather references. Put them in one location and use PureRef software to present them on one screen. The other one you can use to do art. Remember that a lot of the problem solving is seeing and understanding things.
  3. Warm up with some simple exercises. It will help with being afraid to start.
  4. Do thumbnails all the time. You can even scale them up digitally to work over them if needed. Remember you can layer things and save and undo digitally.
  5. Treat your art as a study instead of aiming for a finished product. You will be more daring and push more. Art cannot be grokked. It has to be acquired through repetition.
  6. Don't fall victim to getting a "great" work in a small amount of time. Sure, you can try speedpainting, but don't beat yourself up if things don't end up the way you intended. Speed will come eventually. Work on one thing as long as you like. When you start feeling bad, go to the next one. Don't associate bad feelings with doing art.
  7. When starting a new image, double the target resolution. For instance, I start with a 3840x2400 resolution that I can scale down to 1920x1200 at the end. Scaling things down makes them look better. The magic happens when you move away from a painting in a gallery and see it from a distance. You can and should also zoom out when doing art to see if the composition holds. Also flip and return.
  8. Depending on the process, you can start with either a white background to get the lines, or, if painting, start with a 50% gray background (or in some hue as well) to see where the middle of the contrast spectrum is located. Remember that you can always adjust brightness and contrast in the end.
  9. I start with a worn-out marker to not think about the details.
  10. The gesture based sketch is there to draw forces. That should come first. Don't be afraid to be messy.
  11. After the gesture is laid down, then comes the form. Form follows force, or force influences (conditions) form. Do it on another layer if needed.
  12. At this point, I switch to the real 2H drafting pencil and start on another layer. Try to make as little lines as possible to convey a concept. Less is more. Beholder will fill in the details. Your job is to make it look believable.
  13. Think before you make a line. Try drawing above the paper or graphics tablet to see where to put the line first, then place it afterwards. Be confident about placing it. You can always adjust, undo, or help yourself with smoothing in your application or with Lazy Nezumi Pro.
  14. Don't use the eraser until the last possible time when you're ready to clean up things. That is, don't use it until very late in the art process.
  15. If you want to do inking, you can do it digitally. I tend to use the thick and thin pen to draw lines to establish which bit is important. There are some techniques like stippling and crosshatching for this, if you want, of course. Corel Painter has some great inking tools, too. Ink behaves really nice if you want to experiment with that category. Do pens and inks above the pencil layer.
  16. This is a good point to start thinking about the light source. Thick lines are away from light, thin lines are close to it. Establishing gravity can also help in doing line weight. Cel shading uses edge detection. That algorithm comes from the real world thinking. In essence, where you can see two facets join, you put a thin line on that edge. Where you can see only one facet, do a thick one on that edge. All black areas are where the hardest shadows are located.
  17. Once you clean up the lineart the way you want, you can lock that layer and put it above all with the multiply blending mode on it. If you want to do comic-book art style.
  18. A side note: this is where the process diverges. If painting, you probably want to get rid of the lineart as soon as possible. Masking of the portions of the lineart layer is a good way to go about it because it's not destructive. Pinching lines also works. By removing the lineart, you remove the lower part of the value spectrum from an image so it tends to look bad, so do it as soon as possible when painting. Lines are just where areas meet. There is no line in reality. You work as you go. Paint in an area and hide the lines where needed.
  19. If continuing with the pencil, after initial contours, you can try to do white pencil to try to establish where light is located. For this, you'll need to see what background your image has. A white background won't work here, but doing values might be better with that 50% gray.
  20. Don't think about the color just yet. I will explain that in more detail in another post. Do values in grayscale instead, but limit your palette so it's not too dark or too light. Three values is usually enough. You get everything in between by blending. Corel Painter has some nice blenders for that. You can always correct the value range in the post processing.
  21. Eraser is usually used with a technique of soft brush/hard eraser to block in values. You can also do the soft brush/hard eraser to establish some textures. Remember, hard and soft are focal points. Hard and dark is close, soft and light is far away.
  22. Alphonso Dunn mentioned in one of his videos that you can do texture over your values if that helps you think. Of course, you will start skipping steps in time to get a more unified feel in your art. That holds true for color as well.
  23. If doing texture, remember it follows form, as in, it wraps around the subject. Draw it like that, not flat. Shadows and lights do this, too.
  24. Always go from rough to refined. From big blocks to small details.
  25. If the value and texture are done with grayscale, you can glaze the color on top of it in a new layer with the colorize blending mode and a soft brush. The process can be a bit disjointed from the texture and brush strokes, but it can work.
  26. If you don't want to do textures and values just yet, after the initial sketch is done (with Corel Painter, but you can help yourself with Krita), you can do the flats or key colors. Flats are most often local color fills of various areas. Local color being the base color of the object. For example, an orange is orange. Krita plug-in G'Mic can help here a lot. I usually use the interactive mode.
  27. A multiply layer with the same color area can create simple shadows. Pick a local color area, a new multiply layer. Fill it with the same color. Screen and overlay blending modes are used for light.
  28. Paint with light. Copy an area on top, specify a blending mode, erase the excess. Remember to vary soft and hard brushes and erasers. Scratchboard tool also looks ok here because it can create texture on lower opacities.
  29. When doing color, remember that more illuminated objects also have a hue shift. So things become warmer, not just increase in saturation and value, but also a hue shift happens. HSV is a good model. Local bounced light also happens on objects.
  30. Think in 3D. Arrange things like that, in this order: shape, shadows and lights, textures, local color, specular lights. Of course, adjust where needed, but these are the rough strokes.

I will leave some more specific techniques for future posts as well as explaining the coloring process, once I feel confident about it.

This is where I will stop for the moment. I am finishing with an article about giving up from an illustrator Chris Oatley. I hope to have some results in a month or two and see where to go from there. Wish me luck.