Sketch of Terry and lessons learned

I’ve been meaning to sketch Terry for ages, and I finally sat down with the pencil while he was playing on the xbox (Hence his slightly worried look, he’s probably about to be clobbered by some monster). It’s been a while since I drew anyone from life, and every single time, I find it so daunting. When I don’t work from a model, I find that I have to be quite cerebral, building the face or figure in quite a mechanical way, thinking about where everything joins, moves and pivots. It was great to have a break from that.

I’m often disappointed by sketches, usually because I overthink them. This time, I tried not to put myself under pressure, keeping the pencil skipping lightly over the paper, not trying to make the marks too perfect. As usual when I draw, I can here the echoes of various art teachers that I’ve worked with, both formally and informally . For this drawing, the first voice gently urged me not to worry about single, accurate lines, but rather put down several light lines, and the eye would automatically find the right ones. So I resisted my usual urge to be too precious and felt my way round the sketch, almost like sculpting, and not overthink it.

The second voice told me not to worry too much about following the “lumps and bumps”, but rather to get a sense of Terry’s face as a whole, and get in the basic shapes rather than get bogged down in too much detail. I found that was much more useful for getting the sketch to hang together, and that Terry’s features all seemed to relate to one another in a way that usually takes me a lot of measuring to achieve.

The third voice, and this is the most important one that pops up whenever I sketch from life, was the one that says, “look at the subject, not the paper”. It’s pretty true that many people spend so much time looking at the paper, that they barely observe what they are drawing. It’s something that I can easily fall into, and I made myself look at Terry and barely look at the paper at all. Scary? Yes, but also very satisfying when I looked down after 5 minutes or so and to my surprise, it had shaped up pretty well.

All I needed to do at that point was toughen up some of the lines and fill in some others for a bit of tone. And then leave it, before I was tempted to overwork it. That’s always the very hardest part.

I think Terry likes it 😊

Will Guildenstern and backlighting

More digital painting, who’d have ‘thunk it?

I’m trying to set myself a challenge with each one that I do. I’m trying to learn more about painting in general and to develop my technique, so there’s zero point in doing things the same way each time.  This time, I experimented with backlighting, and using a scanned preliminary sketch.

The inspiration for this picture was my pal Matt’s Empire character, Will Guildenstern (yes, it’s no coincidence that Terry’s Empire character is called Rosenkrantz).Sometime last year, WG, a member of the militia, conducted a raid on an eatery, in connection with a slave trading ring. I thought that I’d illustrate his defiant arrest.

For the last two digital paintings, I avoided using a preliminary sketch, as I wanted to keep the feel of the painting spontaneous and loose. I have a tendency to sketch really tightly, which strangles the final work somewhat. However, while I like the sponanteity, I miss the feel of pencil on paper,and I have found it a struggle to get positioning and proportion right when drawing straight onto the laptop.

2015-01-11 18.40.43So, for this one, I tried to get the best of both worlds. I had Terry pose for a reference shot, coming through the kitchen door, and used this as the basis for the sketch. I shot the picture from the ground so that the viewer is looking up at WG, as if they are seated at a table. We found it quite hard initially to get a pose that I liked, until Terry started messing about, sticking his middle finger up (Guildenstern is a cocky fellow), those poses had the most energy to them.

line sketchThen I drew out the character sketch, trying to make a 3D representation of all the shapes. (he did originally have 2 legs, but I forgot to save the orginal scan, this is how it ended up)

Having scanned the sketch, I got on to the fun bit, fleshing him out! I lowered the opacity on the sketch layer, which allowed me the spontaneity that I wanted,with the security of using the sketch as a guide, which gave me even more scope to try things out.

The big challenge was the backlighting, as I couldn’t find a good reference for that. I knew that the daylight would be cold, throwing the front of the figure into shadow, but I didn’t want him to be just a dark blob, so I added a second light source in the form of a candle on the wall. I worked with that light source mostly, but was careful not to paint in too much contrast, as it wasn’t a bright light. I was also careful to keep it fairly monochromatic, mostly varying shades of brown. It was surprising how dark even the lighter shades were when I looked at them on the colour picker. I just played around until I liked the look of it. The painting really came to life when I added the warm highlights on the wall nearest the candle. That’s how I was thinking of this painting, as if I were painting with light. Those online lighting tutorials really came in handy!

When the colours were all in place, I added the backlighting around the edges of the figure and doorframe. I made these really bright, and they really helped to make the figure “pop”. I kept the sketch just about visible, it added a certain structure and definition, then put a bit more oomph into it by brightening the highlights on the sword, armour and mail. Done!

freeze muther'fuckers


Cora and the Butterfly

I’m having a lot of fun with the digital painting. Here’s my latest effort. When I was at Empire last summer, a butterfly landed on my a table and my friend, sitting at the table picked it up on her finger. The butterfly was in her house colours and I thought that it would make a lovely painting.

cora with butterfly

I posed for my own reference shot so that I could get an idea of the way the clothing fell, and how the light (near sunset) threw shadows around. The hard bit was getting the shadows the right colour, they were tending to shift towards purple rather than the blue that they would be in strong daylight. I got there in the end, even if I did have to tweak the colour balance to make it a little warmer. And I also made it my mission to learn about different light sources and how they interact with one another.

I struggled a bit with the shapes and shadows initially, then I hit on a way of thinking that treated each shape as a 3D object, thinking more in terms of sculpting, rather than painting. Sounds rather obvious when I think about it, I guess I just got wrapped up in all the other details. Fabric especially gives me the fear, but I’m pleased with how the thickness of the dress fabric is apparent and the light shining through the chemise cuff.

As with all of these character portraits, I was trying to paint the character rather than the player, but I’ve managed to get a likeness on this one!