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A breakthrough in digital drawing: Weekly Art Dispatch, No. 20 🎨

11 May 2021 - Reading time: 8 minutes

This Dispatch is a bit late as I've been AFK for a lot of this weekend. (Amongst other things, I spent all Sunday bouldering with a friend - it was a great deal of fun, but I am a great deal unfit.  I'm still feeling the post-workout ache!)

Not as much art this week as I've been trying to juggle Drawabox homework with traditional drawing with digital art... but I made an important breakthrough.

Study Art

I resumed Lesson 5 of Drawabox this week - it's about drawing animals using dynamic sketching/construction methods.  A long time ago I learned to draw animals using construction**, so it was a matter of dusting off some very old skills, while building on drawing principles taught by Drawabox's earlier lessons.

A scrub turkey and a ferret.  The ferret has a long neck!  It's a lot harder to establish proportions through strict construction, instead of more gestural approaches which I'd otherwise use.

**Aside: As a kid, I learned how to draw using several children's how-to-draw books published by Disney, which showed how Disney's animators drew characters from The Lion King and Pocahontas for the films.  Little did I know then that I was learning constructional drawing and techniques that are actually used by professional artists.  Now I'm grateful for how those Disney how-to-draw books gave me pretty strong drawing foundations, which I'm still building on today.

A fellow artist on the Drawabox Discord server roped me into doing a 50 Bird Challenge: just draw 50 birds, in whatever ways you want. I'm using this chance to try art techniques that I haven't really tried before, or am too nervous to try on my illustrations.

I'm starting easy with Birds 1-10: drawing in pencil, but with a focus on shading and bringing out more values from the pencil. I definitely need to shade more boldly and develop my understanding of values!

Fun Art

I only managed one fun piece this week, but it was a much bigger work than usual: on A3 paper, with all 4 of my original characters. (For lack of a better collective noun, I'm going to call them the 'Crossroads Squad', for now.

From left: Vega, obligatory cute lizard critter, Zhael, Rann, Faiye.

It was a good experience to think about each character's personalities and relationship dynamics, and use that sort of character development to compose their poses and show a "story" between them.  To keep it simple, I kept a square-on composition/perspective and the Squad in relatively static poses, but I want to add more dynamism to these areas in future. But I'm still shading too timidly!

In any case, this is a step towards the kind of art I want to end up drawing.  And bigger is better: I'll be working in A3 from now on.

The Art Life

On the digital art front, in my last Dispatch I mentioned how I was wrestling through a mental block in the digital drawing process.  This week I had a breakthrough in this area.

It all began when I was doodling in Clip Studio Paint (CSP) while complaining about my digital drawing struggles to my art buddy.  He then made an observation that I was using multiple layers for the sketch.  This was a technique I picked up from Ctrl+Paint (specifically this video series), and I'd been using it as a starting point for drawing since I didn't know any better.

Just a passing comment from my art buddy, but it got me thinking.  Traditional drawing is effectively drawing on a single "layer" (the sketchpaper), and I rely heavily on erasing and redrawing to adjust and "sculpt" lines; but the Ctrl+Paint method used on multiple layers and partitioned out every sketch stage into its own layer.  This is not remotely like what I do for pencil drawings, so why was I using this unsuitable method?  Shouldn't I try something more akin to my drawing?

So I adjusted my workflow and started drawing on a single layer.

My current CSP "Sub-tool" setup: I made a separate sub-tool for my brushes, and a sub-tool category within Erasers for my erasers.  CSP's colour coding option is handy here.

Furthermore, I realized I had to use multiple brushes to reproduce the kind of specific effects I usually make with a single pencil or eraser.  (A single digital brush does a specific job but doesn't have the versatility of a single traditional drawing tool; it's both strength and weakness.)  It took a bit of experimenting, but I identified two brushes and two erasers from CSP's default tools that could approximate my traditional drawing style.

Then came the "mise-en-place step" where I customized CSP's user interface, toolbar selections (the "Sub-tool" feature) and keyboard shortcuts, to make those brushes/erasers easily accessible. Now I have the beginnings of a workflow that can use to replicate my pencil drawings in the digital medium.

Testing the method out with a drawing prompt ("Overalls").

What a difference that made!  Drawing on a single layer while rapidly switching between brushes and erasers is much more in line with my traditional drawing workflow.  My obstacles in digital drawing were indeed workflow- and mindset-related.  But it took an astute observation from my art buddy to break me out of an unhelpful approach that I didn't even realize I had.

I'll stress-test this workflow some more this week, but I was already experiencing much less frustration when drawing a sketch above.  This is a very promising development -- and good lesson to me about how important it is to draw in community.  I don't think I would've made this breakthrough as quickly without another person's feedback.

Next week's topics: progress report on this digital drawing workflow; continuing Drawabox Lesson 5 and 50 Bird Challenge.

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Written by Emera on 12 May 2021
Love all the confident, liquid shapes inside the ferret, and love seeing all your characters in one place, with the little hints of personality and narrative. Agreed that it's good practice, at least to start, to keep your digital workflow as simple and parallel to your traditional workflow as possible. It's way too easy to overwhelm yourself with layers and options, working digitally. Sometimes it is creatively helpful to try to do something completely paradigm-breaking digitally, of course, but especially if you're building up your fundamental process, it's really helpful to keep reinforcing it wherever you're working.

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