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Tutorial: Character Illustration Basics

Tags: #Broken Gallery  #Tutorial 
  • November 12, 2013

    Hey Everyone. I'm here to take you through how I draw and color artwork for my character builds. I rarely aim for significant levels of detail so I think by following along with me you will have a fairly decent base to begin your own work and developing your own style.

    To any experienced artists out here I encourage you to post your own methods here as well. Learning from the real experts is what will help me as well as my readers become better artists. My methods aren't the best or the most efficient, they're just what I've developed so far from self teaching. 

    I encourage everyone, experienced or novice, to post any picture you might draw of your character build or your favorite builds here and discuss your methods. Without further delay here is my tutorial.

    Character Illustration Basics

    This tag team is just all kinds of unfair for the opposing team

    Materials Needed:

    Sketch Pad -

    You can find these pretty easily and they're usually pretty cheap. Since my ultimate goal is to get the image on computer I don't put a whole lot of thought into the kind of paper used. Just ensure its coarse enough to retain the markings you make on it with your pencil.

    Pencils & Erasers -

    You can buy a rather inexpensive pack of pencils for sketching and shading, but I prefer working with a simple mechanical pencil. I don't have to worry about shading in the sketching phase since you can just as easily shade with color while painting.

    Digital Sketch Tablet -

    Ok. This is where it can get a bit pricey. My pad cost $75. Some of the more advanced ones will cost a few hundred. Unless you create digital art for a living, I think you can manage perfectly fine with the cheapest pads available. While not an absolute necessity (Some of my earlier work was completed using a mouse) It does help a lot. It works perfectly fine with any digital art program and you're offered so much more precision than working with a mouse.

    Digital Art Program -

    Free! if you know where to find it. No, I don't suggest pirating software. You catch the wrong worm or virus and you'll have bigger problems than affording a digital tablet. The most commonly used programs I know of are GIMP and photoshop CS (what are they up to like 7 now?). CS2 can be downloaded for free, now and forever, from Adobe's website. GIMP is and will always be free. Whatever you use, ensure you are able to work in layers and you're good to go.

    Scanner - If you're proficient enough with the digital pad you can skip this entirely. I personally prefer pencil sketching first. I feel like I have better control with a simple pencil and sketch pad that with the digital material.

    Lets Get Started:

    Right about now I should be giving you a boring anatomy lesson to help you learn proportions so your Dovahkiin doesnt end up looking like a hermit crab. I'm not. I believe a much more effective way of picking that stuff up is working with references.

    For the infiltrator build preview I posted recently, I used this picture. I think its from Metal Gear Solid. I wouldnt know, I've never played the series. (Odds of this side tracking the discussing is high)

    Using references are great because they give you guides to work with as you develop and take much of the guess work out of creating proper proportions.

    You should never ever feel like you're cheating by using references. I think one would be hard pressed to find a digital artist at any level who does not take advantage of visual aids in their work. Unless you possess perfect photographic memory ( you dont), don't hesitate to use as many references as you like. Anything from poses, faces, lighting, to hands (notoriously hard to draw for many), search for images to use as a reference.

    I start off with some basic shapes just to capture the character's pose. I'm only using the color red so you can clearly see what I did here. Its important to draw very lightly at this stage. The easiest way to approach any drawing is to capture the basic shapes and angles of what it is you're seeing. The next step is cleaning it up a bit and removing the excess lines. At this point I got what looks like a nude figure (stop laughing).

    From here I can start to add the basic details of the character's gear. I find this approach works well because it allows me to get a better grasp of how the character would wear a set of cloths or armor on their body. You can draw the armor or cloth pieces right over the character's body and erase as needed.

    After adding the basics of the character outfit I usually drop my work in a scanner and continue to work on it from photoshop. With a digital program I can incorporate much more detail with much less erasing and messiness.

    Duplicate your line art layer. It best to get into the habit of duplicating when making major, possibly irreversible changes.

    Select the eraser tool. You can set your eraser to the shape of any brush you have available. Set it to a soft brush. and begin erasing all the messy dark smudges around the lines.

    At this step you're using the smudge tool to smooth out your rough pencil sketch lines. I highly recommend duplicating your line art layer before you continue working.You want to set your smudge strength to no more than 30%. Just enough to move and smooth out lines, but not enough to distort everything. If you notice lines becoming way too light as you smudge them you can darken them with the Burn tool. Any excess darkness around the line can be erased.

    Alternatively you can place another layer on top of your sketch work and trace your work. This will allow you to skip using the eraser to get rid of smudges and will give you cleaner and finer lines to work with. 

    Now on to the fun part! Adding the details! I highly recommend duplicating your line art layer. In fact make a many layers as you wish for as many different details you wish to add. When you're satisfied with what you've added, all you have to do is merge the additions into one layer. Your best friend here is going to be the pen tool. The pen tool will allow you to make precise straight and curved lines.

    With the Pen tool you will want to ensure you have the 'paths' option selected. Also ensure that you take a look at your brush tool and ensure you have the brush thickness and type you want to draw the line out of.

    When you click on the canvas with the pen tool you create an anchor point. Clicking anywhere else will produce a second anchor point and a line that connects them. With this its very easy to create a straight line extending in any direction this way. 

    If you wish to create a curved line, simply click and hold when creating the second point and adjust the line's curvature as you like. Once you un-click the curved line will remain.

    All thats left is to apply your brush stroke along the line you produced. Right click with the pen tool selected then select 'Stroke Path'. Ensure on the next window that 'Apply Pen Pressure' is not selected.

    TL;DR Overview:

    Identify and draw the most basic shapes of your character and from there work your way up to gradually more intricate details. Scan your work and use the smudge, eraser, and if need be dodge and burn tool to smooth out your line art.

    Now onto the second half....

    Coloring and Rendering:

    There are many ways to add color to an image. My method involves laying down a simple flat color then using darker and lighter variations of that flat base color to shade and lighten my image. 

    Here are some tips I keep in the back of my mind when coloring:

    - Things closer to the viewer tend to be lighter. By contrast things further away tend to be darker and less detailed.

    - Various materials reflect light at varying levels. Coarse, rough material such as leather, wood, or soiled and rusty armor will reflect much less light then say wet or slimy surfaces, metal, plastic, etc. To translate that into an illustration there would be far less variation from the flat color of leather body armor than say a sword Your best reference is the world outside your computer screen. As you go about your day observe how light reflects off of various surfaces.

    -Lastly convert your RBG color palette into a HSB palette. HSB stands for Hue Saturation and Boldness. Hue is just what color you're using. Saturation affects how vibrant the color is. The difference between a vibrant or washed out, diluted appearance. Boldness affects how dark the color is. It's just so much easier to work with in this form than having to blend Reds Blues and Greens to get the color you want. 

    Let's Get Started (Again):

    Alright everyone. Count the spikes. Go on. I'll wait.

    I decided to liven things up by taking you through the coloring process with a new image. I figured it'd be easier with a picture that isn't all one color. 

    The first step is a basic process called adding flat color. Its flat because its just one base color giving no impression of depth through either shading or lighting. Your flat colors are just what you want the overall colors of your piece to look like. You can adjust your hue however you want for this.

    It is important that you separate major segments into their own separate layers. It allows you to work individually on segments of the piece without ruining the entire thing if a mistake is made. A good rule of thumb is to have one layer for each different color in the piece. So here for example, the skin would be its on separate layer, and each different color of the brute's torn cloths would get a separate layer, and so on and so forth. 

    Take a hard brush and color away. Its fine to color outside the lines, you can erase it later. A nifty trick with layers is that you can under lap a layer without it affecting your work. 

    I left small pieces of this work still fully rendered so you can see the difference. Notice how the spikey pauldron and knee cap (who wears this kind of stuff?) as well as the rims of the giant hammer pop out at you. By contrast the rest of the image seems flat and two dimensional. Shading and lighting will give your piece the illusion of depth.  

    I take a bolder variant of the flat green skin color and use that to begin shading. If my flat color had a boldness of 50 I'd drop it down to 45 or 40 for the shades regions. The idea brush is a large soft brush with the flow set to 20 or 25%. Lighter flow equals more control. I repeat the process with the boldness set 5-10 levels lower and with a smaller brush. This creates a smooth color transition from shaded regions to flat and onto lighter regions of the piece.  

    It helps to create what's known as a clipping mask for your shading and lighting. You do this by simply creating a new layer on top of your base, right clicking the new layer and select 'create clipping mask'. Clipping masks are nifty because they allow you to work only within the boundaries of the layer they are attached to. As you can see from the example above you can stack as many clipping layers as you want onto one layer. 

    Different light sources will affect where your shadows will be for this piece. Im imagining the light source to be coming from the front. So things that are further away from the viewer's eye will be shaded darker than regions that re closer. 

    For lighting I do the same thing as I did for shading. Things I wish to have stand out are going to be gradually lighter. Again you only want to adjust the slider only slightly. With either the shading or lighting steps, if it doesnt look smooth enough you can use the smudge tool to rectify this. Remember to keep the smudge tool's strength low so as not t distort everything too greatly. Also if it looks too bright, you can also lower the lighting clip layer's opacity. 

    For something like this where the eyes are hardly the center of attention (the mallet is cartoonishly oversided to draw attention away from the picture's flaws.), I tend to go for something quick and simple. 

    All I do is apply a flat color. In this case red. Then I use the burn tool around the outer edge of the eyeball and the dodge tool around the inside to create a sense of depth. On a second clipped layer I draw and color in black the pupil and add a dab of white for the gleam in the eye. 

    As you progress using these steps you will begin to see your image pop out like so. It may seem like I've skipped a ton of steps but that basic shading and lighting style is what I follow throughout the coloring process. 

    Sometimes you're able to cheat a bit and simply use the burn and dodge tool to create lighting and shading. I usually do this for simple shapes like that giant cylinder shapes hammer here. Once you're pleased with the rendering you can begin to merge your clipping masks to the layers which they are clipped to. Just right click the main layer and select 'merge clipping masks' 

    At this point its easier to add touch ups to various portions of the piece. Here for example I wasnt satisfied with the shading along the brute's left arm. So I took the burn tool and touched that up a bit. if you're nervous about messing up at this stage you can always duplicate the layer you wish to work on and go from there. 

    I hope this tutorial helps you all. I look forward to seeing what yo all can do. If you need assistance or clarification, I'm always around. 

  • November 12, 2013

    Not bad, do you have a DeviantArt account?

    I've been working on some character designs myself but always get lazy when I start working on Photoshop ._.

  • Leader
    November 12, 2013

    Thanks CND, that's a very helpful article.

    I've been playing around with some pencil sketches over recent days, in preparation for starting with some digital art soon. So the article was both timely and helpful

    I hope you will add further articles of this type 

  • Member
    November 12, 2013

    This is a great tutorial Curse, I hope you make more! Really well done!

    I simply can't illustrate so with an approach like this I fall at the first hurdle unfortunately.

  • Member
    November 12, 2013

    Wow, cool! Too bad I have absolutely no talent in the way of the illustration arts so this is pretty much useless to me, guess I'll just go back to requesting screenshots from Zimbu. 

    Still a +1 from me, though!

  • Member
    November 12, 2013

    Might have to start doing this myself. What most people don't know is that whilst I can draw faces quite well, I completely suck at drawing bodies! This is a very helpful tutorial, thank you so much!.

    Time to dig out my digital sketch pad....

  • Member
    November 12, 2013

    Wow, good tutorial. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, I appreciate it When I was younger I draw sketches of my favorite anime characters (Dragonball xD) maybe I can get now into Skyrim art.

  • Member
    November 12, 2013
    Ditto. My father was an incredible artist but it must have skipped me :p
  • Member
    November 12, 2013
    Really good tutorial man! I really wish I could get into photoshop, the only thing I can really do is sketch. I just can't get the hang of photoshop, the most I can do is just add colours and mess with the picture a little.
  • November 12, 2013

    "Alright everyone. Count the spikes. Go on. I'll wait."

    About... 78? I was bored =P