Apr 19, 2010

The Hobbit, part three: process

Here I am now, one quarter of the way through this project. Things are coming together pretty nicely, though I'm about to pass the point to which I have concept drawings. Goblins are next on the docket, and I am still designing them, so....things should be getting interesting!


I spent a lot of time thumbnailing this piece. I very consciously spent more time than usual at the thumbnailing stage in an attempt to make things easier on myself this time. It certainly made some things easier, or at least not as stressful when drawing didn't go well. It's easier to settle down after doing a lot of bad thumbnails than after doing a lot of bad full-scale drawings. LESSON LEARNED.

I actually ended up putting the drawing down for awhile at this point, which was great, although it pinched the deadline a little. I was struggling through the thumbnailing process and wasn't getting anywhere, so I needed something to kickstart my brain.
I took some time to really put things together in my head a lot more than I usually do and drew this almost immediately upon returning to work after my short breather. I really like to draw my environment by hand and then place figures in digitally, since I can move and resize them easily. I also don't risk irreparably mucking up the drawing.

Alright, at this point I'm drawing on drafting vellum (more on that later) at 8.5x11" to get things more finalized. Trees are great to draw since you can place branches basically anywhere you need them to shore up your composition. On the other hand, it's also shockingly difficult to draw a convincing tree that doesn't specifically look like you calculated exactly where you needed to place branches. It's a tight balance. I had sycamores on the mind when I drew this, but the trees are described as being either Beech or Oak, so I tried to hit it somewhere in the middle.
Once again, I'm combining my drawing with Photoshop to decide where things need to go. I ended up eliminating the male elf on the left almost entirely, since he threw off the balance. Photoshop also made it really easy to block in where I wanted the leaves to be so I could draw them more spontaneously when it came to the final.
I'm drawing on rag marker paper at full size here, one step before the final drawing. I spent most of the time here further blocking in the leaf clusters and decided what the main elf's face would be like. I have a book of Klimt's drawings on my desk that nine times out of ten I reach to whenever I'm having trouble drawing women.
Here is the final drawing before it's scanned. This was my first time using pencil on duralar, which I mentioned in the previous blog entry. I'll touch on my paper preferences later on in the post. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to add more tone into the drawing and work in less layers than I usually do. It was a little disorganized but ended up giving me a real sense of satisfaction when everything was in its place. I ended up redrawing a bit of the girl's hair digitally, since the movement was off.
My flats on the left and the colors I worked with on the right. I try to keep the flats on my own work pretty wacky colors so I don't subconsciously start to think about my final colors while I'm doing them. It's really to make sure that my selections are clean and simple. This is the first blue sky I've drawn in recent memory.
I've mentioned in previous process posts how I texture my shapes, represented here on the left. This is the main point at which depth and richness get pushed into the colors. The middle image is a new step for me, which I'll incorporate into future pieces. I took scans of a few different pieces of ratty old paper and combined them into one texture. I erased parts of it out where I wanted the texture to be cleaner and then set the layer to Soft Light over my rendered layer. The change is subtle, but it ends up adding a lot of fun little irregularities.
I'm coloring my lines less and less in these illustrations, and leaving a lot of the original black in the finals. I mentioned in the first process post how I isolate my lines to color them, so I won't reiterate that here. The image on the left shows my lines and the one on the right shows how they look over the drawing at this point.
This is another texture layer I applied, made with powdered graphite and a wide brush (and my fingers). I erased about 50% of the texture from the main tree trunk, since I liked how things looked already. The rest of it was colored based on what it sits on and the opacity was turned down to about 25%. This just breaks up some of the obviously "digital-looking" paint strokes and unifies the colors a bit.
Here I've added a layer of light, desaturated purple set to multiply to add some simple shadows.
This is a separate drawing of some leaves that went over everything. I did it separately so it could be colored simply and quickly.

And here is the final image after a few adjustment layers. I also added a small design to the wind chimes.
On paper types:

Here are the four paper types I typically use, laid out to show their different opacities. I also sometimes use vellum bristol, which you already know is totally opaque.

-The copy paper is super cheap and crummy. I use it for sketching outside of my notebook.

-The rag marker paper comes from Borden and Riley and I buy it in pads of 11x14 and 14x17". My local art store doesn't carry it anymore, so I have to buy it online and so use it less than I used to. It's tough and semi-translucent with a medium tooth. It's a bit light and tends to crinkle a little more than I care for, but it's solid and takes pencil very well. It scans fairly well, but I typically add a piece of opaque paper behind it when I put it on the scan bed.

-The drafting vellum (sometimes called design vellum) I buy is the closest paper I could find to the Borden and Riley rag marker paper. It's slightly more translucent and a little less liable to crinkle, though the tooth is slightly different and it doesn't erase quite as well. I buy it in pads of 9x12" and go through it quickly. It's great for comping images together and I sometimes use it for finals.

-Duralar is the newest addition to the bunch for me, and so far I like it a lot. It's tougher and heavier than the other papers and more translucent, though there is almost no tooth to it and it tends to smudge easily (which also means that it erases very easily). I buy it in large sheets and cut it down. It tends to smooth out pencil lines, which I like, and registers faint lines very well. I'd compare its surface to the surface of a Wacom tablet (to the point where I got deja vu while flatting my image). It scans very well.

I can't say how these surfaces react to other media, since I really only draw in pencil outside of my sketchbook.


  1. I usually just use pencil with the duralar, but I'll also play around with crayon and ink-washes. Since the duralar is synthetic, it doesn't absorb the way normal paper would, and it dries slower, so you can push it around more and do some fun effects.

    For example:

    Nice post - it's always fun to see your steps. I know the final colors make a lot more sense for the image, but I also really like the saturated psychedelia of your original flats layer.

  2. Really interesting how early on your final colors are chosen. Or did you just luck out with this particular piece? Colors are spot on as always.

    One thing I will say is that the black lines on the main elf figure is a little jarring. I think it feels inconsistent to me, especially when the entirety of her arms are outlined quite thick while her legs aren't at all. You mentioned that you're leaving a lot of the black lines in there lately, but maybe she would benefit from adding a bit of color to soften her out a bit?

    Other than that, it looks great!

  3. Awesome man, you're a man of your craft.

    Ps. Thanks again for e-mailing me back last weekend.

    looking forward to the next post!


  4. I actually really like your flat colors. Maybe consider keeping some of them in your final to make things a little more unexpected?

    But then again, I do love crazy colors :)

  5. Thanks for this awesome tutorial Sam!!!

  6. Always interesting to see your process posts! A little tip though: when you say that you covered separating the lines in your first process post, how 'bout a little link? I found it, but on the interwebs we like to have it there and then. ;D

  7. i find your process so interesting and i've always loved loved loved that you work in pencil.

  8. i am also interested in this line separating link you speak of - although i'm attempting some google reader archeology right now...

    seriously, thank you for such interesting informative posts. i think the new "soft light" texture technique looks really swell.

  9. wow! i loved seeing the work in progress, neat!