Tips and More

Illustration Training x 3 with Composition Collages

Perhaps some of you remember my older post about training composing your images with the “compo-game”. Well I have to admit it can get boring after a while, so here’s an alternative from which your skills can profit double!

The next time you paint something simply scan it (or take a picture and print it out, if you don’t have access to a scanner). Now open it with any program that can process images and zoom in (you could use a magnifying glass for the printed pic, I guess). Now scroll around and search for interesting parts. If something catches your eye don’t hesitate and copy just what you see on the monitor in that very moment (the zoomed-in part). Gather all parts in a different file and when you feel like there’s nothing more to add start freely moving them around. Your aim is to create a good balance between the parts themselves AND in regard to the negative space.

Here’s an example:

At the end of the day you’ve created a painting, used it as a basis for a second image and you improved your composing skills. WIN! WIN! WIN!

Learn from our Four Legged Friends

One of my drawing class’s homework is to study the tiger’s anatomy.  When you learn to draw one four legged animal it’s really much easier to handle other similar animals! Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually you’ll have to invest a lot of effort into it, because it’s not enough to know only the anatomy, but the daunting part is to know how the animal moves and behaves. Believe me, there’s no use to drawing a tiger in the same standard position over and over again, what brings it to life is its pose or movement. Unfortunately for some this is nothing you can learn through googled images. Here are a few things I can recommend:

  • The best and often easiest (and cheapest) way to learn a lot about animals is to observe living ones. If we’re talking about exotic examples like tigers the only place to go is obviously the zoo 🙂 There are some important things you should do when doing observations: Make sketches on site, take photos, and take footage. Sometimes it’s really difficult to sketch the animal (it’s moving fast, it’s very timid) so I highly recommend photos AND filming. Needless to say, the better the quality, the better the results. Try not to use a cell phone camera (like I did), you can hardly work with the created material. Films are especially good for movement studies.
  • Watch some documentaries and read research work. Your background knowledge can always use new information and your drawings are going to profit from it a lot.
  • If possible you could also use a 3D model. Either it’s a model in a video game or you can get access to a professional program like Poser or DAZ Studio. You should pay attention to the model’s anatomy though. They could be either altered (videogame) or of poor quality (some programs seem to use the same basic anatomy and simply give you different textures to apply). This choice can be really tricky so you shouldn’t solely rely on it. The real thing is always the best!

Well, my zoo excursion was really interesting and it paid out. I’ve made some sketches and a lot of filming (though the quality is poor it’s enough for movement studies)

That’s all for this week’s tip 😉

This Week’s Tip is…

…have a nice Christmas time and take some time for yourself and your family. No seriously, this is an important tip! Learn to take time-outs from being an artist. Doing something entirely different and not art-related is going to give you the opportunity to relax and learn new things that can give you a whole new perspective during your creative processes.

Well, enough talk, time to have some fun 🙂

Merry Christmas!

Reverse Story Board

Here is a tip our drawing professor gave us concerning comics/manga:

If you want to improve your panels in a way that you show action more dramatically and/or well-placed, you should study some movies. Since every movie starts with a story board (basically a comic) you get a nice perspective on what’s possible and what works well for the artist (director). If you need some action panels analyze heavy action movies, if you need romance check out the sentimental section, and so on.

Here is a concrete exercise you can do (suggested by our professor): “The Reverse Story Board”

  • Pick a movie you like
  • Find an interesting part no longer than 2 minutes(action scenes are often full of cuts and exciting camera shots and scenes)
  • Now try to copy all scenes in your own story board including movement-arrows and notes on the camera work, zooms, special effects, music etc.
  • Don’t forget to use movie story board standards: all images in one and the same format (since screens don’t change their formats either), very clear drawing style, show only the key frames etc.

Here is an example for you: These are two pages of my “Resident Evil” reverse story board I made one year ago. It’s the part where Milla Jovovich is chased by the undead dogs 🙂

resident evil storyboard part 1

resident evil storyboard part 2

I used only black and grey markers (and a tiny bit sepia, too). There are notes on the technical stuff under the images and story relevant ones (including music and SFX) on the right. Notice that this is the European story board standard.

Using Shape Templates

Drawing circles and ellipses on the computer is fairly easy but drawing them freehand and in the right perspective is a skill you’ll really have to train for a lot!

The basic exercise is naturally to draw tons of circles and ellipses (filling up a whole sketchbook is a good idea). In order to see if you’re doing well you can cut your circles in half and see if both parts are perfectly overlapping.  You can do similarly with ellipses (which are nothing more than circles at an angle): Cut them at the minor axis and see if both halves are overlapping well. It’s a good thing to use the minor axis (see picture) for your measurements since the major axis has practically no meaning when working with vanishing points i.e. in perspective. The minor axis is the one going through the perspective centre point of the deformed circle aka ellipse. The centre of shapes is very important when drawing (and modeling on the computer).

ellipse 1

ellipse 2

If you find yourself drawing a lot of ellipses and circles (concept art, vehicles, gadgets, product design) you should consider buying templates. You’re not supposed to stop practicing freehand shapes and you really don’t need templates when sketching! But you can save some time and effort this way. Additionally you can use the templates to check your own ellipses/circles.

The product design specialized drawing class at my university is using templates too 😉


ellipse template

Ways to Learn Anatomy

This week I will share with you a small summary on the different ways you can learn human anatomy.

So let me explain you what advantages and disadvantages the different approaches have:

  • Reference/anatomy books: This is a good and often cheap way to start. You can either buy a book or you can simply go to a nearby library/friend and borrow one (I recommend Gottfried Bammes, Bridgeman and Andrew Loomis). You can even get some good books for free (and legally) on the internet. Learn some theory on the human body and then you will start understanding and using reference better.
  • Videos: You can learn a lot from videos too but don’t expect them to be as thorough as books. On the other hand you are given a nice explanation with real models!
  • 3D images: It’s always nice to have a video of a body part but it’s even better to have a 3D model you can turn and scale whenever you like! In order to use this option you’ll either need a CG (Computer Graphic) program and a model or you can use some video games with 3D character gallery, but make sure the humans are realistically proportioned (that’s why it’s a good idea to learn some theory first!)
  • Nude life drawings: Honestly, I can only recommend you this after learning at least the basic bone and muscle structure of the human body. Most of the times your model’s muscles aren’t going to be that prominent so you’ll be forced to sketch something you don’t really understand. You should use nude drawings to consolidate your knowledge and get a better feeling of proportions and motion.
  • Figures: And finally one really good reference in my point of view. Although you can’t use figures for motion studies you can see and feel the bone/muscle structure. It’s really a different experience than with CG models. Additionally figures can have more pronounced muscle areas than real humans in nude drawing courses.

Unfortunately real good figures are expensive and hard to find but here’s a little trick: You can buy an action figure and use that for reference! But you have to be really careful to pick a realistic one. Here are some examples:

Raiden (MGS4) All rights reserved by Konami.

Raiden (MGS4) All rights reserved by Konami.

A rather bad example with unclear muscle flow

Please don’t forget that it’s always best to try as many different approaches as possible! Learning the human anatomy takes a lot of time and experience and you can use any help you can get 😉

Simulatneously Construct Images

A few days ago I’ve read an interesting interview with a professional concept artist and at the very end he advised all beginners to always keep the whole picture in mind and to work on all its parts simultaneously. This reminded me of my nude study classes 😀 The reason is that a lot of the other students there tend to start drawing a line and then keep following it without making the effort to construct the humans. This approach could work for some but generally is a risky endeavor! In most cases you end up with wrong proportions or, if you’re coloring, with mismatching color combinations and/or values. Additionally you miss to train your image construction skills which can be very useful when drawing without reference (you cannot follow a visible line there!).

From my own experience I can support this thesis but I have to admit that after a lot of training one does get better and better in drawing a reasonable amount of outlines without construction. But whenever more than one object is involved it’s really best to rough everything out and see how the composition and proportions work out. Giving this phase enough space can save you a lot of trouble later on. It’s a lot easier to change proportions in an early stage than when you’re almost done (if it’s possible at all).

So to sum up my tip of the week in one sentence: Constructing your drawing’s objects simultaneously gives you greater control over the outcome and spares you a lot of headache later on!

Aquarelle – The first Step

Tip of the week time 🙂

Here is a quick but handy tip on your very first step when starting to paint with aquarelle (water-colors):

  1. find a rather thick piece of paper, like a post card for example, and get your fine artist’s water-color-set (make sure the paper is not yellowish or beige but really white)
  2. each water-color has an unique number you can find in/on the packaging; write all the numbers in the exact same order as the one your pans have on the paper and make sure to leave enough space between every number – this is going to be your color chart
  3. now you have to apply the corresponding colors in a way you get a nice color gradient; either make long lines giving you a natural gradient or you can fill out one side of a single color chart segment with a plenteous amount of water-color and apply some pure water on the other side, step-by-step connect in the center of the chart segment the water with the still wet water-color to get a nice flow

Now every time you paint you can look up how a certain color will look on paper (assuming you’re using similar paper) once it has dried before applying it. If the paper you’re painting on is really nothing like the one you used for the chart I would advise you to always try the color out on a piece of the same paper before applying it.

By the way, some water-color manufacturers include a color chart draft in their products. Here is how mine looks like:

color chart for water-colors

color chart by “Schminke & Co. GmbH & Co. KG”