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drawing meta: my latest drawing, step-by-step
In my previous post a couple of commenters said that they find commentary on the process for art and fic interesting, and don't mind the creator expressing their "these things suck in my work" lists as part of that as long as that isn't all they talk about.

So in light of that I decided to do a kind of commentary on my recent picture of Dresden Files' Bob, which is also interesting to do for me, because I worked a bit differently here than usual. I did more of the work and also effects digitally than I usually do, resulting in some things that worked and others that didn't.


I started from this description from chapter six of Proven Guilty: "Other books, notebooks, envelopes, paper bags, pencils, and apparently random objects of many kinds crowd each other for space on the shelves--all except for one plain, homemade wooden shelf, which held only candles at either end, four romance novels, a Victoria's Secret catalog, and a bleached human skull." so that pretty much listed what was going to be in the image.

I wanted to practice doing more drawing in GIMP directly, so my initial pencil sketch was very lacking in detail, really more of a starting point. It turned out that this way is rather less efficient for me than having done more on paper. I don't know whether that is because just I lack practice with tablet drawing, but I think part of it also is that all this working with layers and being able to rearrange things leads to more work. For example I did the brick background everywhere on an extra layer not just where you can see it in the end, so I could freely work of the layers above by rearranging things there, so I drew and colored a lot of bricks that you can't even see.

Anyway, my initial pencil sketch was like this (only much larger, I did all of the work on 300dpi DIN A4 size, i.e. over 3500x2450 pixel, and towards the end I also found out that you probably should only work on a drawing of that size with the ridiculous number of 30 or so layers eventually, if you have a better computer with more memory than mine):

pencils

I decided to work on fleshing it out from the background forward, first the inks, then later the colors. For the bricks I googled for large photos of brick walls, and pretty much picked one at random. It was still smaller than my image, I think it was a 1600x1200 desktop wallpaper photo or something, but since I didn't want to use it directly but just as a basis for linework that lesser resolution didn't matter. So I took it, pasted it as a new layer into my image, distorted it to match the size and perspective, and then inked the whole background of brick lines. Later when I colored the wall, I actually accidentally set the opacity of my tool to less than 100% which gave a nice subtle structure effect because the photo still shone through, so I let that layer be rather than deleting it. Next I drew the lines for the shelves, then I searched for an image with a skull roughly in the same perspective as the one I needed, found this photo and added and resized that as basis for more details of my skull, though I obviously had to add the missing teeth and simplified it when I inked over it.

I then inked the candles and the books, and changed them a bit based on various candle holder images I used as reference. I wanted them to be mismatched to give some indication of the clutter and eclectic nature of Harry's possessions that isn't directly visible on the *least cluttered shelf* so I made all the candle holders look different but put the same basic kind of plain candles in them, because I figure Harry would buy those in a cheap bulk packages, rather than have lots of different fancy ones. Also I looked up what Harlequin spines and covers look like, and to get the VS catalog to look like one I took a cover photo and resized and distorted it and then inked over that. So the inks looked like this.

inks

Mind the bricks, the skull, the candles and such are all on different layers so the overlap doesn't matter when you work on them. At that time I didn't notice but towards the end I found that the the candelabra on the right is a bit small compared to the candle holder in front of it, but it didn't seem like that when I looked at it in pieces. I think that's part of the problem I had with this one that I didn't look at the whole frequently enough early on, in part because before coloring all the overlapping layers were distracting, and I only had the one I was working on visible at any time.

I then colored the brick wall, first filling all with a gray then coloring the bricks one at a time with a bunch of red-brown and then adding a bunch of gray spots. Like I said above the accident with the opacity led to the photo still shining through a bit for structure, which I liked.

with colored bricks

I then colored the shelves, and had the problem to make it look like wood grain but still fit with my more "comic" coloring style. What I mean is, if I were to take a wood texture from a photo and use it for color, it looks like wood, but not like the rest of my coloring, but just a uniform brown doesn't look like wood at all. In the end I did a solid color layer at full opacity and added a wood picture I distorted to fit the perspective at 50% opacity over it for some wood effect. It doesn't look too great but better than other things I tried to create "wood effect" that doesn't look like you c&p'ed a photo in your drawing, like filling an area with random noise and do a motion blur to turn it into a "grain" and other things you turn up if you google combinations of "photoshop + wood + tutorial" and the like. Anyway, I still kind of suck with textures and such, but with the shelves it then looked like this:

with colored shelves

I then did the base colors of the objects. The VS catalog looks really different, because I basically colored over the cover photograph, basing my colors on it, and I reduced the shading and realism level too little, i.e. picked too many colors from the photo, so it looks more 3D than the rest of the picture. At the time I thought that because I planned to add gradients and shadows to the rest later, but just have the plain colors in the catalog it would end up looking flatter by comparison, but that didn't work out like it. I now wonder whether I could have added some uniform lightening gradient or something to make the cover look like one surface.

with base colors

I then added textures to the candle holders and the bookend, for that I used a mix of a random plasma cloud effect overlay (both directly and with various motion blurs and desaturation), bits of metal textures from photos sometimes blurred set to multiply, other random noise effects, I just experimented a bit, since I never really tried metal textures. That's why I made one candle holder shiny, the other ones dull with different textures and one more wood-like, because I wanted to try different things.

with added textures

Next came the hard part, that is to try to introduce some shadows and light. I'm really bad with that. I understand in theory the physics behind it, but I don't have an intuitive feel for it, especially not how shadows fall with multiple and/or diffuse light sources and I'm not patient enough to really do modelling or construction to figure it out the tedious way. I guess I could go look for photos of rooms/scenes with light conditions I want and orientate myself that way, but often I have no luck finding any.

I try to fudge it by deciding on a main light direction for some drop shadows and some diffuse gradient things and such, because in my experience even some vaguely random and wrong shadows look better than *no shadows* in a drawing, but unfortunately I'm also really afraid of just making areas boldly dark, which I actually like in inking of others who add character, mood, etc. that way and get a more balanced composition out of it, and I read tutorials and chapters in books about inking, but somehow I can never quite bring myself to just make an area black. I have no idea why, I'm just timid that way, maybe I don't want to obscure things I had drawn, maybe it seems somehow drastic, I don't know, I try working on my issues, but without success so far, so my lightening always looks really wimpy and has neither proper realism nor does it work as a more abstract composition/mood thing.

For example in this drawing I had a vague idea that there is some more central light source in the room to the upper left so shadows would fall to the right mostly and not be that long and then later on I would add some glow for the candles, so then it occurred to me that with the candles to the right of the catalog it would need a shadow that falls on the books, but I wasn't sure whether the skull shadow from the several candles would be visible on the catalog nor how much that light would diffuse the other shadow and nothing I tried immediately made it look better.... so I just let it be after I added some drop shadows on a level set to 65% opacity (again with my fear to have anything *really* black, heh) and added a couple of (also somewhat timid) shading gradients on a "soft light" mode layer. I did the skull in a similar way, but on an extra layer, because I did its shadows in shades of brown and at different opacities from the main shadows, and for its "soft light" layer I used a merged copy of the plain colors+shadows skull layers set to a slightly warmer tone rather than trying to use gradients on the skull. Actually I think I tried the gradient thing, but the look sucked, because at most I managed the lightening to look like a sphere and it looked all wrong on the skull. Finally I added a "hard light" layer mostly for the metallic highlights on the polished candelabra (candelabrum?) At that point I also added a layer with the flames of the candles, but no glow from them yet.

with added light/shadow

Somewhere inbetween I had added the text for the romance novels (I'm not quite as methodical as this progress meta makes it look, basically I'd get sick of doing one thing and then worked a bit on the other and googling for looks and titles of Harlequin novels is a good distraction *g*). For the second one from the left I actually used the title/author text image from a high resolution cover, just rotated and distorted for perspective, and then I used a similar font to type the others. I didn't have the exact font, so there's some differences in the look, but I didn't have the patience to look for and install a better font match, and I figured that even in the same sub-series cover designs may subtly vary over time. I also used their logo to paste it in there.

Then I added the glowing eyes, basically I just drew two orange circles/ellipses and tried various glow effects until I found one that made them look like I wanted, then I dumped those glowing orbs on a "hard light" layer over the skull and erased the overlap. At that point the drawing was mostly finished, but I wasn't satisfied with the color mood beyond the still missing candle glow, also I thought that there was too little overall light/shadow contrast in it, and the lower left corner in particular was too bright.

almost finished

So first I added a background texture that was darker in the lower left (actually I think I mirrored or rotated the original somehow) and as a fortuitous coincidence also had a slightly brighter spot in the rough area of the left candle, set it to multiply at 70% opacity, and set the layer above the bricks and the shelves, but below all the objects (btw, since I always forget where I found textures I save for later use but didn't make myself, I tend to only save those that state they are free to use and don't require credit/link back in the final piece, as to not run into problems or be unfair to texture creators who do want that link back, so that's why there are no links to any texture sites despite me using some):

with background texture

That was better with the shadows, but still too cold, so I picked another lightening texture with warm red and oranges and used it as a softlight filter over the whole thing. I think I may have blurred it a bit too, but I'm not sure about that. Actually I tried a whole biunch of things before settling on that texture overlay. First I just tried a warm yellow filter, then I think I tried some gradient thing, but I liked the effect that I could rotate the texture to get a darker spot to the left where the shelf is adding a bit more shadow there.

with warm filter

Finally I added a layer with the candle glow. For that I just picked a white-yellow and did a radial gradient from foreground to transparent on an extra layer for each of the candles. Well, actually two gradients per candle, one long for overall light and one short for the glow. I had to reduce the opacity for the right candles because the glow was two overexposed with all the overlapping. (Oh and as a last step added my sig, for which I also had to do a white border because you couldn't see the regular one I insert in the corner.) And that gives the final drawing seen in the previous post (or in high resolution here):

end result

iamza

2007-04-30 02:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

No real comments, except to say this is a fantastic post. I really like that you've shown a step by step guide for how you came up the final image. I've often wondered about coloured images, and how artists go about getting the shading and colours and textures right. It's interesting for me to see how at least one person does it.


ratcreature

2007-04-30 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'm glad to hear you find this interesting! If you're interested in really detailed computer coloring how-tos, there's lots of tutorials from different fanartist who explain their processes and what tools and steps exactly they use, like these:
http://community.livejournal.com/cathydraws/12412.html
http://community.livejournal.com/acciopencil/8935.html
http://sherant.livejournal.com/63721.html
http://gnatkip.livejournal.com/24549.html
http://red-eft.livejournal.com/89379.html

retsuko

2007-04-30 02:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Wow. I had no idea this much work went into it! Thanks for writing such a cool post on your process. You know what's sad? I have that VS catalogue--once you get on that mailing list, you never get off it.

I forgot to mention this earlier--I really do like the picture! Especially all the Harlequin romance novels and the different candle sticks. :-D

ratcreature

2007-04-30 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, I'm glad to hear you like it. :) I have actually no clue about VS, I don't think that store chain exists here.

And yeah, it took rather long for the final look (that's part of my frustration I'm sure. *g*) Before trying it myself I used to think that computer coloring would make things quicker, and I suspect it may if you do it professionally, do lots of similar things repeatedly like when coloring a comic, and maybe have macros for certain proceses, and maybe a library for textures on hand or whatever, but for a single drawing it's not really quicker than doing it with water color or colored pencils, though being able to erase and redo things is certainly nice. I mean, the main reason why I like coloring with the computer in particular when I actually have detailed pencils, not just something like here, is that I'm always afraid to "ruin" the drawing when I color the lineart, and the computer eliminates that fear.

sholio

2007-05-01 09:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Interesting step-by-step! I really love seeing how other artists' and writers' process works.

I'm also really afraid of just making areas boldly dark, which I actually like in inking of others who add character, mood, etc. that way and get a more balanced composition out of it, and I read tutorials and chapters in books about inking, but somehow I can never quite bring myself to just make an area black. I have no idea why, I'm just timid that way, maybe I don't want to obscure things I had drawn, maybe it seems somehow drastic, I don't know, I try working on my issues, but without success so far, so my lightening always looks really wimpy and has neither proper realism nor does it work as a more abstract composition/mood thing.

I really hear you on this; I'm the same way, and I think it's something that a lot of artists have trouble with. The *only* thing that works for me is to plan the blacks at the same time that I do the basic penciling, and block off large black areas at that point. Trying to add them after-the-fact -- nuh-uh, doesn't work. In fact, one of my artistic "areas to work on" is in getting better at doing dramatic lighting and dealing with light & shade.

ratcreature

2007-05-02 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Hmm, maybe I should try that some time. It's just so ridiculous, that I'd have to kind of "trick" myself into it, you know? It shouldn't be his hard to do when you want to have some distinct lighting and know that some actually black shadows will make the inks look better.

sholio

2007-05-02 06:54 am (UTC) (Link)

I don't know ... I'd say it's not ridiculous at all, if you think of the shadows and gray values/lighting as being distinct parts of the scene, just as much as the shapes of the actual subject matter. There's a reason why painters do a value study before they start a painting, after all. It's *hard* to add something at a later stage it wasn't planned in the beginning.

Like I said earlier, lighting is definitely one of my "artistic things to work on". Maybe I'll bump it up the to-do queue ... it might be fun to do some pieces of art that are designed to work on my dealing with light and shade.

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