Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Sketches - an evolution

Hello, somewhat faithful readers!

Well, I'm back, and it hasn't even been several months. I'm on a roll now. :) Actually, I have something to write about, which doesn't happen just every day.

Today I'd like to discuss the rough sketch for an illustration. That sketch has two reasons to exist: of course the first is that you need to create a rough road map of the illustration you are going to create. That means getting the composition and basic drawing done to the point where you are confident that the final art will be effective and at least mostly non-embarrassing.

But second,and perhaps every bit as important, you are attempting to sell your idea to the Art Director on a given job. That means it needs to look good enough that you won't have to re-do it completely because it's uninteresting, incorrect for the brief, or just plain bad. So it has to be exciting, easy to "read", and far enough along that the AD can easily imagine the final picture from what you send.

But the other part of that equation is that you don't want to put too much work into it, especially if it's not a high-paying job. (Pro tip: if you spend a lot of time on a rough sketch that isn't accepted, you just threw away an hour or more of your time, and that's money you'll never get back!)

Well. For the first *cough* several *cough* years of my career, I've used the method of doing a rough sketch in pencil, for the most part. Sometimes felt pen, or even ball-point, but usually pencil and always a DRAWING. However, lately, that's been changing. I've always known that the large areas of light and shadow were important, but I'd never really thought about streamlining my process, to concentrate less on the *drawing* and more on the *forms*.

So, I decided a few months back to try something different. And, it seems to be a success!

Basically, I'm starting with either an incredibly simple pencil drawing - like, just a few lines, really - or nothing at all, and sketching straight into Photoshop with a large round brush. This forces me to sketch with areas instead of lines, and gives the picture more punchy light-and-dark areas, and more structural solidity. Plus, it's a lot quicker! I'm enjoying the results.

Of course, I didn't come up with this method on my own, far from it! Many great artists have been working this way for years on the computer, and even longer using paints. However, I've only recently started to experiment with it, which is why I thought I'd share.

For simplicity, let me demonstrate with some pictures that are all for Wizards of the Coast, so I can say:

All finished pictures in this post are © 2012 Wizards of the Coast. All sketches © 2012 Patrick McEvoy.


OK, so here's one I did last year where I did a pencil sketch, and then you can see the final:

Now, as you can see, I paid attention to the usual things in the sketch: the composition, the lighting, and the basic forms. And I did it all in pencil, which I've always been comfortable with. But it actually takes a while to draw - I come up with the areas, and then fill them in with pencil scribbles to create my shadows.

OK, then here is an example of what I've been doing more recently:

Here, I'm blocking in lights and darks here using fairly large brushes (set to 80 or 90 percent opacity in Photoshop). There are several reasons I like this:

- Looser drawing. It's not tight and over-rendered.

- Easier to pay attention to the large forms and areas of value, for stronger shapes.

- Quicker!

- I only have to draw details ONCE, when I'm doing the final.

Here are a couple more examples:

One thing to keep in mind is that I'm not even doing a final drawing for these: I'm doing all the final drawing work and details directly on to the final painting! Why draw details twice? Now that I'm more confident with my drawing than when I was younger, this makes a lot more sense. It's all about confidence, really.

And just for fun, here's one that I'm working on now. No final yet (it's in to the AD for approval, currently). I'll post the final after it's been printed..

This gets everything across to the AD that needs to be shown. It's punchy, has JUST enough detail to show what's going on, it was quick, and it doesn't bog down in unimportant details (well, unimportant to the composition).

That's it for now - let me know what you think!



Sam Manley (MidnightIllustration) said...

I've just discovered this post, maybe a little late!

Sketching for clients is something I've been thinking about quite a lot lately (and wrote a blog post on recently). Certainly, it takes some time. How do you find ADs respond to greyscale sketches for colour pieces? It's not something I've done, as I figured that giving them something close to the final look will limit the need for revisions, at least as far as colour is concerned. How do you indicate what colours you're going to go with? Do the ADs just trust you to get it right?

I'm never sure about the time taken vs clarity offered & revisions anticipated balance.

Patrick said...

Thanks for commenting, Sam!

You know, in all my time doing this I've only sent in a color sketch a handful of times. It's mostly storytelling and composition at that phase, and I don't think color could really add anything to the process. And quite often I go through several color schemes before I get it just right, so I'd hate to get locked into anything so early in the process. After all, the painting/coloring is my favorite part!

Luckily, I guess most of them just trust me! ;)