Anatomy of a digital drawing
June 20, 2006
Being a part-time illustrator, the first question many people ask when they visit my website is: what software/hardware do you use to make your illustrations? While the answer contains nothing new for people who are in the business, I thought I will settle this for others once and for all by writing up a short tutorial about the process I use to make a simple illustration. Hopefully this will encouarge other potential artists to start their own digital drawings. After reading this tutorial, you can check out some of my other drawings here.
With the world cup fever running high, I thought it's appropriate to use a football-related illustration for this tutorial: I'm going to illustrate Ali Karimi, explaining the process step-by-step.
First, and this is the most important step in the entire process, is coming up with a sketch you are satisfied with. Here, you don't need anything but a good old-fashioned paper and pencil. Here's where the bulk of your creativity juice is used. The golden rule is "practice, practice, practice". If you're just starting, this can be the most frustrating part. You might keep sketching and sketching and not be happy with any of your sketches. Practicing from real-life is key, and you can't expect to become a master sketch artist overnight. Finding good references can also go a long way in helping you understand anatomy. Once you have a sketch you are satisfied with, you can proceed to the next step: inking.
There are two ways to ink your pencil drawing: you can do it digitally or the old-fashioned way. Note that if your pencil sketch is clean enough, sometimes you don't even have to ink it and you can skip this entire step. for digital inking, you need to scan your penciled drawing into the computer, and then "trace" your pencil sketch in a program like Photoshop using the Brush tool. This is much easier if you have a graphic tablet. Alternatively, you can do it the old-fashioned way by tracing your pencils using a pigment liner or a simple pen (which is what I do). You can then erase the pencil drawing underneath to get a clean inked version of your original sketch. Now that you have your nice inked drawing, you can scan it and get ready for the fun part: coloring!
I use Photoshop for most of my illustrations, so that's what I am going to focus on in this tutorial. Coloring is much easier if you have a graphic tablet. You can still do it without one; by using the mouse and the "fill tool" to get most of the job done, and then the "brush tool" to take care of the details, but it's way more cumbersome. A graphics tablet makes life much easier. Basically, a graphics tablet is like a digital pen and paper. You draw by moving the digital pen over and on the "tablet", and your lines and drawings get translated into the computer. Most tablets are also pressure sensitive, so the harder you press, the thicker your line gets. Before you invest in a tablet, you should remember that a graphics tablet is not going to magically transform you into a better artist, and working with it takes some time to get used to. However, with some practice it could be a great tool that you don't want to live without.
Now we're ready to put some color on the drawing. After you scan your line-art, you should create a layer with only your lines on it and set the layer blending mode to "multiply" (see figure). Now, create a new layer underneath this layer and call it "colors". This is where you want to do all your coloring on.
With the "colors" layer active, I start by putting base colors using the "brush tool". Don't worry if you color out of bounds, you can always erase and clean the image later, and since your lines are on a different layer they are safe.
The image looks flat. To bring it to life, you can start playing with light and shadows. First you need to determine where your light source will be, and how it would cast shadows on the object. Next, you can use lighter and darker versions of the base colors you have chosen to draw the light/shadows. You can draw the light/shadows on the same layer as you did all the other colors, or you can create a new layer on top of the "colors" layer and do it there. That way your base colors will remain intact. After drawing the lights and shadows, and cleaning up the image by erasing the colors that are out of bounds, you end up with something like this:
Finally, you can add some bells and whistles to it. For example, you can draw ball on a separate layer. You can also create a layer underneath everything else and put the number 8 on it. It all comes down to your taste and creativity and how you want to compose your image. My final image looks like this:
That's it! Pretty simple wasn't it? All you need is a pencil and some papers, and a little imagination. Ok you need a scanner as well, and a graphic tablet can help you a great deal. But still, you get the point. You can check out some of my other drawings including Daei, Zandi, and Mahdavikia on this page, or some of my older illustrations on my sketchpad.