ziggy9911 said: Just curious on how you approach composition and perspective. I feel as if sometimes I think too hard, not really about what to draw but how to draw it and make it look interesting. The comic panels you have been doing are amazing. Any tips/references on improving my knowledge of composition and perspective? What do you think about as you lay your pencil on the drawing paper? what goes through your mind?
*STANDARD DISCLAIMER* I’m not handing down life lessons or trying to assert that there’s a ‘correct way’ to draw. I’m just trying to make perspective more approachable for thems that want to tackle it.
Okay. Let’s do this.
1. Understand what perspective is and what it’s for. Stay away from rulers while you get comfortable.
Everyone struggles with perspective because 1. it’s not well or widely taught and 2. artists tend to see linear perspective as a set of rules rather than a set of tools.
Linear perspective is a TOOL we use to create and depict SPACE. That’s it. That’s all it is. Your goal is not to draw in ‘accurate linear perspective.’ Stay away from the ruler and precision for as long as you can. Your goal is to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Perspective is just a tool to help you construct and correct that space.
2. Know in your bones that you can ONLY learn to draw in perspective through physical practice. There is no other way.
Grab some paper and draw with me. If you match me drawing for drawing you will be more fluent in linear perspective and spatial drawing by the end of this post. Unfortunately if you don’t, you won’t be.
3. Sketch around in rough perspective. NO RULERS.
So let’s make some simple space. let’s start with a two dimensional surface…
K. We have a flat, 2D surface. Let’s create some depth by putting a vanishing point in the middle, and having parallel lines converge towards it. Make a gridded plane inside that space.
Good. Let’s make that space meaningful by adding a dude and a road or something. (Again, parallel ‘depth lines’ will converge into the vanishing point along the horizon)
And now we have the rough illusion of some space. I didn’t use any rulers, and it’s not perfectly accurate, but we got our depth from that vanishing point right in the middle of the page. And since we have a little dude in there, we’ve got human scale, which allows us to gauge the size of the space we’ve created. Gives it meaning.
You need people or cars or some recognizable, human-scale THING in there as a frame of reference or your space won’t mean much to your viewer. Watch. We can make that same basic space a whole lot bigger like this:
Same vanishing point in the same place, completely different scale, and a totally different feeling of space. Cool, right?
3. Sketch around in rough perspective MORE. STAY LOOSE.
See what sort of spaces and feelings you can create with vanishing points and gridded planes on a post-it or something. Super small, super rough. Feel it out. Pick a vanishing point or lay out a grid in perspective, and MAKE SOME SPACE. Do it. Draw, I don’t know, a lady and her dog in a desert. I’ll do it, too.
Good job. LOOK AT YOU creating the illusion of space! This is how you’ll thumbnail and plan anything you want to draw in space. All of my drawings start this way. I think about how I want the viewer to feel and then play around with space and composition until I find something that works.
Once you have a sketch you like, and space that you feel, THEN you can take out the ruler and make it more accurate and convincing.
4. Draw environments from life.
I cannot stress this enough. Draw the world around you, try to draw the shapes and angles as you see them, and you will ‘get’ how and why perspective is used. Use something permanent so that you’ll move fast and commit. I usually use black prismacolor pencil.
You’ll learn or reinforce something with every drawing. I learned a lot about multiple vanishing points from this drawing:
Learned from the receding, winding space I tired to draw here:
Layered, interior spaces:
You get the idea.
Life drawing will also help you develop your own shorthand and language for depicting textures, materials, details, natural and architectural features, etc. Do it. Do it all the time. Go to pretty or interesting places just to draw them.
Take a second and just draw a quick sketch of whatever room you’re in.
5. Perspective in formal Illustration: apply what you’ve learned.
1. I always start with research. For this particular location I looked at Angkor Wat.
2. Once I had enough reference, I did a bunch of little thumbnail sketches with a very loose sense of space and picked the one I liked best.
3. Scanned the thumbnail and drew a little more clearly over it. Worked out the rough space before using formal perspective.
4. Reinforced the space with formal perspective. I dropped in pre-made vanishing points over my drawing. If I were drawing in real media here’s where I’d get out the ruler to sketch in some accurate space.
5. Drew the damn thing. Because I do my research, draw from life, and am comfortable drawing in perspective, I can wing it. I just sort of ‘build’ the ruins freehand in the space I’ve established, keeping it more or less accurate, experimenting and playing with details along the way. I erase a lot, too, both in PS and when drawing in pencil. Keeps it fun for me.
And that’s what I know about composition and perspective. If you want more formal instruction on perspective and it’s uses, you can use John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Or If you want to get really intense about it, Andrew Loomis can help you.
All these pages are 8.5x11, 300 dpi. Feel free to print it out in full size if you like physical copies
Comics and Comic Artists
Scott McCloud’s “Making Comics” (entirely done in comic format)
Drawing perspective is considered one of the hardest things in art, except the mistakes usually done are pretty much always the same and can be avoided with a little care.
1. Lines not reaching the vanishing point
Well this is pretty simple to avoid but it’s the most common mistake. It’s probably due to either carelessness or really not having understood the basic of perspective. I encourage you to go back and find some basic tutorial for this.
Anyway, be ALWAYS careful about where to ‘send’ your lines, they NEED to go towards the correct vanishing point or it will just look awkward. Double check if necessary.
And always, ALWAYS use a ruler.
If your style requires lines that are a bit less geometrical (as mine do, I have a style of inking that’s sketchy so ‘perfect’ lines drawn with a ruler usually don’t fit well in the picture) use a ruler anyway for the pencils and then ink later by freehand. At least you’ll have correct guidelines underneath.
For traditional drawing be sure you have a ruler and be sure to use it for each one of your lines.
Modern drawing software will help you a lot with this if you draw directly on computer: painting software such as Clip Studio Paint or Manga Studio 4EX or 5 have perspective tools that will automatically snap your lines towards the vanishing point.
it’s quite a long tutorial, you’ll find the rest under the Read More or you can download the pdf file here
Character design and drawing are tome-sized topics and even if I had all the answers (I don’t - I have a lot to learn), I’m not sure I could communicate them effectively. I’ve gathered some thoughts and ideas here, though, in case they’re helpful.
First, some general things:
- Relax and let some of that anxiety go. This isn’t a hard science. There’s no wrong way, no rigid process you must adhere to, no shoulds or shouldn’ts except those you designate for yourself. This is one of the fun parts of being an artist, really - have a heddy good time with it.
- Be patient. A design is something gradually arrived at. It takes time and iteration and revision. You’ll throw a lot of stuff away, and you’ll inevitably get frustrated, but bear in mind the process is both inductive and deductive. Drawing the wrong things is part of the path toward drawing the right thing.
- Learn to draw. It might seem perfunctory to say, but I’m not sure everyone’s on the same page about what this means. Learning to draw isn’t a sort of rote memorization process in which, one by one, you learn a recipe for humans, horses, pokemon, cars, etc. It’s much more about learning to think like an artist, to develop the sort of spacial intelligence that lets you observe and effectively translate to paper, whatever the subject matter. When you’re really learning to draw, you’re learning to draw anything and everything. Observing and sketching trains you to understand dimension, form, gesture, mood, how anatomy works, economy of line; all of the foundational stuff you will also rely on to draw characters from your imagination.
Spend some time honing your drawing ability. Hone it with observational sketching. Hone it good.
- I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do this sort of thing better than Claire Wendling. In fact, character designs emerge almost seamlessly from her gestural sketches. It’d be worth looking her up.
- Gather Inspiration like a crazed magpie. What will ultimately be your trademark style and technique is a sort of snowball accumulation of the various things you expose yourself to, learn and draw influence from. To that effect, Google images, tumblr, pinterest and stock photo sites are your friends. When something tingles your artsy senses - a style, a shape, a texture, an appealing palette, a composition, a pose, a cool looking animal, a unique piece of apparel, whatever - grab it. Looking at a lot of material through a creative lens will make you a better artist the same way reading a lot of material makes a better writer.
It’ll also devour your hard drive and you will try and fail many times to organize it, but more importantly, it’ll give you a lovely library of ideas and motivational shinies to peruse as you’re conjuring characters.
- Imitation is a powerful learning tool. Probably for many of us, drawing popular cartoon characters was the gateway habit that lured us into the depraved world of character design to begin with. I wouldn’t suggest limiting yourself to one style or neglecting your own inventions to do this, but it’s an effective way to limber up, to get comfortable drawing characters in general, and to glean something from the thought processes of other artists.
- Use references. Don’t leave it all up to guessing. Whether you’re trying to design something with realistic anatomy or something rather profoundly abstracted from reality, it’s helpful in a multitude of ways to look at pictures. When designing characters, you can infer a lot personality from photos, too.
And despite what you might have heard, having eyeballs and using them to look at things doesn’t constitute cheating. There’s no shame in reference material. There’s at least a little shame in unintentional abstractions, though.
Concepts and Approach:
- Break it down. Sometimes you have the look of a character fleshed out in your mind before putting it to paper, but usually not. That doesn’t mean you have to blow your cortical fuses trying conceive multiple diverse designs all at the same time, though. You don’t even have to design the body shape, poses, face, and expressions of a single character all at once. Tackle it a little at a time.
The cartoony, googly eyed style was pre-established for this simple mobile game character, but I still broke it into phases. Start with concepts, filter out what you like until you arrive at a look, experiment with colors, gestures and expressions.
- Start with the general and work toward the specific. Scribbling out scads of little thumbnails and silhouettes to capture an overall character shape is an effective way begin - it’s like jotting down visual notes. When you’re working at a small scale without agonizing over precision and details, there’s no risk of having to toss out a bunch of hard work, so go nuts with it. Give yourself a lot of options.
Here’s are some sample silhouettes from an old cancelled project in which I was tasked with designing some kind of cyber monkey death bot. I scratched out some solid black shapes then refined some of them a step or two further.
- Here’s an instructional video by Feng Zhu about doing much the same thing (only way better).
- Shapes are language. They come preloaded with all sorts of biological, cultural and personal connotations. They evoke certain things from us too. If you’ve ever stuck about where to go with your design, employ a sort of anthroposcopy along these lines - make a visual free association game out of it. It’ll not only tend to result in a distinguished design, but a design that communicates something about the nature of the character.
Think about what you infer from different shapes. What do they remind you of? What personalities or attitudes come to mind? How does the mood of a soft curve differ from that of a sharp angle? With those attributes attached, how could they be used or incorporated into a body or facial feature shape? What happens when you combine shapes in complementary or contrasting ways? How does changing the weight distribution among a set of shapes affect look and feel? Experiment until a concept starts to resonate with the character you have in mind or until you stumble on something you like.
If you don’t have intent, take the opposite approach - draw some shapes and see where they go. (It’s stupid fun.)
- You might also find it helpful to watch Bobby Chiu’s process videos in which he feels out his character designs as he paints.
- Cohesion and Style. As you move from thumbnails to more refined drawings, you can start extrapolating details from the general form. Look for defining shapes, emergent themes or patterns and tease them out further, repeat them, mirror them, alternate them. Make the character entirely out of boxy shapes, incorporate multiple elements of an architectural style, use rhythmically varying line weights - there are a million ways to do this
Here’s some of the simple shape repetition I’ve used for Lackadaisy characters.
- Expressions - let them emerge from your design. If your various characters have distinguishing features, the expressions they make with those features will distinguish them further. Allow personality to influence expressions too, or vice versa. Often, a bit of both happens as you continue drawing - physiognomy and personality converge somewhere in the middle.
For instance, Viktor’s head is proportioned a little like a big cat. Befitting his personality, his design lets him make rather bestial expressions. Rocky, with his flair for drama, has a bit more cartoon about him. His expressions are more elastic, his cheeks squish and deform and his big eyebrows push the boundaries of his forehead. Mitzi is gentler all around with altogether fewer lines on her face. The combination of her large sleepy eyes and pencil line brow looked a little sad and a little condescending to me when I began working out her design - ultimately those aspects became incorporated into her personality.
- Pose rendering is another one of those things for which observational/gesture drawing comes in handy. Even if you’re essentially scribbling stick figures, you can get a handle on natural looking, communicative poses this way. Stick figure poses make excellent guidelines for plotting out full fledged character drawings too.
Look for the line of action. It’ll be easiest to identify in poses with motions, gestures and moods that are immediately decipherable. When you’ve learned to spot it, you can start reverse engineering your own poses around it.
- Additional resources - here are some related things about drawing poses and constructing characters (click the images for the links).
- Tortured rumination about lack of ability/style/progress is a near universal state of creative affairs. Every artist I have known and worked with falls somewhere on a spectrum between frustration in perpetuity and a shade of fierce contrition Arthur Dimmesdale would be proud of. So, next time you find yourself constructing a scourge out of all those crusty acrylic brushes you failed to clean properly, you loathsome, deluded hack, you, at least remember you’re not alone in feeling that way. When it’s not crushing the will to live out of you, the device does have its uses - it keeps you self-critical and locked in working to improve mode. If we were all quite satisfied with our output, I suppose we’d be out of reasons to try harder next time.
When you need some reassurance, compare old work to new. Evolution is gradual and difficult to perceive if you’re narrowed in on the nearest data point, but if you’ve been steadily working on characters for a few months or a year, you’ll likely see a favorable difference between points A and B.
Most of all, don’t dwell on achieving some sort of endgame in which you’re finally there as a character artist. There’s no such place - wherever you are, there is somewhere else. It’s a moving goal post. Your energy will be better spent just enjoying the process…and that much will show in the results.
- homuzu said: Can I ask, how do you do that colour shifting effect? It’s subtle but looks really cool!
a friend of mine showed me this effect so there might be a tutorial for this already existing somewhere but i’ll show you
have the whole figure or such on one layer and duplicate it
select blending options on the duplicated layer
unselect any one of these channels. unchecking R will give you a red/blue effect, G gives a green/purple effect and B a blue/yellow effect. you can uncheck multiple ones or whatever floats your boat to get different effects
use the move tool and shift the duplicated layer a little bit in whatever direction. now there’s a 3D/weird colour effect on it!
This is really cool! I want to try it.
digital painting. playing with narrative composition. photoshop
Use colour layers sparingly. It’s very easy to go crazy and make it look filtered and gimmicky. I tend to only use multiply, colour burn and overlay layers. Because of this, I’ve gotten use to it enough that I know how certain colours will effect different tones. In the end if your tones are weak and unreadable (lacking contrast etc) then fancy colour layers won’t save you. For this sketch the focus is on the tonal contrast and composition. I wanted to emphasize the moment between the woman and the knight, using the colours to strengthen the somber mood and suggest a narrative. I like to think that the knight is apologizing to the woman. no ref.
gif of the painting process:
Sorry this was so darn long D:. tried to make it as short as possible. I’ve been asked quite a few times on how I paint before now, and I’ve never made an actual tutorial until now. Hope this helps clear some stuff up :).