Ground Level aka Where I Start

I spent a good chunk of yesterday watching YouTube tutorial videos – Draw with Jazza – and he was sketching these examples while he talked, showing what to do, and it was incredible. His rough ‘first attempts’ (which he apologized for) were coming out much better than anything I’ve ever drawn. I tried to follow along and mimic what he was doing, comparing my attempt with his was laughable.

Now at this point it would be easy to get discouraged BUT it’s Day One. This guy has been drawing for twenty years, it’s his job, obviously I’m not going to produce anything like what he can anytime soon. The point isn’t to compare my work with his, we’re different people for a start and so will naturally have different styles – there is no comparison. The point is to compare my work against my previous work. See how far I’ve come and then see where I want to go next.

In this post I’ll be looking at the art I’ve drawn over the past year, talking about the techniques I used, and then at the end say what the plan is for the next week or two. Let’s get started!

October – Drawing One

This drawing was achieved by finding a stock photo that looked … pretty much exactly like this. From the season two premiere there was a screencap of the two characters in question (Rumple and Belle) kissing at this kind of angle, so I pasted their heads onto the stock bodies and then traced round everything. The clothes are the same the stock people were wearing, I just made them different colors and the lady was holding a bunch of wildflowers, I found a stock photo of a rose because that was more appropriate for Belle. However basically I just traced over everything. The only part that I did “by eye” was Belle’s hand holding Gideon’s. I got two gloves so I could see that hand-holding angle, and then corrected the fingers as the stock photo was too pixelated to get it correct.

For the shading I used gradients and simple ones at that. I did the outer edges and that’s pretty much it. The hair was achieved by scribbling, cloning the layer and moving it slightly, changing the color and blurring a few layers.

February – Drawing Two

Once again this drawing was achieved by tracing around a stock image BUT it is an improvement on the last one. What I did differently here was the heads were from separate images. I suppose that’s not a huge thing because unlike the last one the heads aren’t connected so to speak. The real jump is that the stock people weren’t wearing clothes anything like these. I was particularly proud at the time of the job I did on Belle’s dress. I was also pleased with where they are holding hands. Gold’s hand on her back isn’t as good. The hair used the same method as last time but no matter what I did I couldn’t make it work.

For the shading I used gradients again. I tried using them a little more freely and not just on the edges which I think is what helped the dress look reasonable. For the faces I confess I cheated and there is a slight overlay on the actual screencaps in addition to the gradients. I was tired, this was for an event and I was running out of time, and it just really sucked before. That was a one-time cheat which I hadn’t used before and haven’t used since. I felt kinda dirty having done it.

June – Drawing Three

You could also call this the drawing I did when I first started taking drawing a bit more seriously. This was a massive leap forward in several ways.

For a start I manufactured the pose with a program called Design Doll. I’d found some fanart that absolutely blew me away on tumblr by eclecticmuses and I sort of stalked their blog for a while desperate to learn their secrets.

The chair, table and mugs all came from google images and I traced round them. However, they were separate images and I had to put everything together. It was quite tricky making it look like Gold and Belle were actually sitting on the chair, I had to alter the angles a few times.

I drew the clothing completely by eye, looking at pictures of when they had worn those outfits on the show. I tried really hard with the hair, unlike the previous ones I attempted to make the edges ragged so it looked more natural. It was still scribbling and colors, along with some added gradients this time for the light bouncing.

Shading was done with gradients but for the skin I used two different shadow colors rather than just one. I confess I used a color picker to get the colors from one of eclecticmuses pieces as appropriate skin color is something I struggle with. I also used a lot of gradients, not just on the edges but I tried for the contours, there’s probably over twenty gradients on some bits. The tights were tricky as I wanted to put the texture on them, that was an overlay and easy enough, but getting the color right afterwards wasn’t easy.

September – Drawing Four

Otherwise known as the drawing which made me decide “I want to do more of this” rather than make it a couple of times a year venture.

The pose was again done with Design Doll and the clothes were done by eye. So it started off very much like a retread of the previous drawing but then I got an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil which proved to be a bit of a revelation. Although when I tell you why you might laugh.

All the previous drawings, and indeed the foundation of this one, were done with a single Photoshop brush. The default hard brush at varying different sizes. Ten years ago I used to make wallpapers and icons etc. so I knew about different brushes – I had a folder with hundreds BUT they weren’t drawing brushes. They were images mostly for adding crime scene tape or bullet holes, that kind of thing. It had never occurred to me that brushes would make a difference in drawing. I know, sort of a doh moment right? Like how could I possibly have missed that?

I got this drawing program on the iPad called Procreate and on this drawing I did the grass, the fire, the trees – and the hair! – within the app. It can export to photoshop, upload it to google drive and within a couple of minutes I can open the file on the computer and work on there. I did all of those things using different brushes. They have three brushes for hair included! Short, long, flowing and I played around with them amazed at the difference.

Anyway the shading was once again done by gradients. Truthfully I copied a chunk of the faces from the previous drawing, I was running out of time and noses are hard. With the clothing though I expanded on what I did with the tights in the previous drawing to add texture to more items. I also discovered the ‘multiply’ function for making things darker. The stitching on Gold’s tunic used the bevel and emboss function and I added drop shadow to try and make them and the sword look less pasted in.

A note about tools
I’m very fortunate because I already have amazing tools to work with. Nearly a decade ago I bought myself a Wacom Intuos graphics tablet because I’d started drawing. I’m not going to post any of those because if you think Drawing One is bad – those are so much worse. They used the same general principles as drawing one but on a much simpler scale, and that’s all I’ll say on the matter. Around the same time I also got a copy of Adobe Photoshop CS3 which is what I used to produce all of these drawings.

The hardware is still fantastic but the software is more than a little out of date. Fortunately as a student I can get 65% this year (and 50% in subsequent years) off Adobe’s creative cloud subscription. I can’t remember if I made that clear in my previous post or not but that’s a good part of the reason I quit Warcraft. I can use my gaming sub money to pay the sub for the software. Now I have compatible software I bought Jazza’s photoshop brushes so I have the right starting point.

I played with them a little already and it’s amazing what a difference it makes. As I said using a different brushes is a complete revelation and it proves that the right tools really are needed for the job. I was essentially banging my head against a brick wall before with the single default brush I was using. Now I could have modified the existing brushes and produced something similar to Jazza’s for free, but for less than $6 I thought it was worth starting on a solid footing.

So what’s next?
I spent a good chunk of yesterday puzzling over that very thing. The current version of photoshop is a decade newer than my CS3 copy and it looks like a completely different program. Some things I recognize but a lot of things I don’t, so I have a learning curve on that and I don’t know where to start. There’s hundreds of tutorials on Jazza’s channel alone, thousands on YouTube plus whatever google kicks out. There’s so many different art styles and … deep breath.

That is the problem, and another reason why I’m making this post – where do I start?

Everything seems to assume a certain level of competence already. I searched Jazza’s channel because he seems friendly to newbies, which is why I’ve mainly focused on what he offers so far. However even he doesn’t cover the absolute basics of starting from pretty much nothing, or at least I haven’t found a video which covers that.

I think it’s like being at a crossroads. My style at the moment has been … I don’t even know what it is, and I need to pick something to aim for so I can then target the areas for improvement. To demonstrate what I mean here are three examples from Jazza’s portfolio.

As you can see the painting style on the first drawing is more ‘basic’ than the others. There are strong lines around the body and the hair, and for the clothing contours. The painting for the shading is rough and not very graduated.

With the second drawing there are still strong lines but more of the details are picked out. The nose, lips and eyes in the first drawing were basically just lines. On the second drawing they are done semi-realistically. The panting is also done in several steps (this image is taken from a 5 step painting tutorial) so the shading is a lot more gradual. I’ve called both of them ‘comic book style’ but truthfully I’m not sure. They might both be too complex for that.

Finally we come to the third drawing. There is no line art on this one. Everything is done by panting and shading so it looks realistic. It’s not photo-realism (which I’m not even going to touch right now) but it’s definitely a huge step towards a more complex and detailed style.

Looking at these examples I think my current ‘style’ falls somewhere between the first two examples. The smart thing would probably be to aim for the second example and then work my way up to the third. Alternatively I could reverse direction so to speak and go for a more comic book style. Again to link to one of Jazza’s videos he did one called “How to Develop Your Own Style” which if nothing else was interesting because of the background, which showed dozens of different styles.

I promise I’ll stop linking to Jazza soon but I want to give credit where it’s due. He did a video called “How to practice the smart way” which as I understood it basically boiled down to three ways:

  • Just keep drawing whatever you want, the more you do, the better you’ll get
  • Try and replicate something that inspires from a tutorial or another artist
  • Practicing on purpose e.g. drawing the same picture over and over. Focusing on the same aspect e.g. hands and drawing tons of different hands. Taking a piece of finished art and breaking it down. Taking a simple piece of art and making it more complex etc.

Thus far I’ve just been drawing projects when I’ve had an idea and I’ve run with it. I think I’ll probably continue with that to shape my drawing time but I might input the other two methods when appropriate. For example if I’m struggling with the hands, I might draw lots of hands until I get it right, or I might take a photo (as I often do) and break it down and then manipulate it to make a different pose.

So really, get to the point, what’s next?
I want to draw a Regina and Henry picture, set during the curse when Henry was maybe five years old. There was that really sweet shot of Regina holding Roland’s hand while he was eating an icecream during the season three finale. There was also the scene where Regina took Henry for ice cream when he didn’t remember her during season three. He didn’t get his memories back for another five episodes, and then they broke the second dark curse with true loves kiss.

Both of those scenes were in winter. I thought I would use the “going out for icecream” premise but make it summer, and of course Henry much younger. It would contrast nicely with the angsty version that was in the show, maybe suggesting that Regina took him for icecream, as she had done many times before, in the hope of jogging his memory. Plus it would just be sweet.

The next post will be after I’ve finished that picture. I’ll show the stages it went through from start to completion, I’ll talk about what techniques I used and basically what I learned. Then I’ll set my next task heh. Until next time!