Archive for category Hand rendered digital art.

Warming up.

In art, like in physical exercise and other activities, warming up is often recommended.  Whether in a formal art class, or in text references, there is almost always some attempt to get the students to get in the habit of skating the page with scribbles.  This helps get a tactile sense of pressure, resistance, and speed of the substrate as marks are being laid down.  Mike Mattesi, in his books and video lectures (which you can find links to in my reference tab above) also has a variation on this, where the purpose isn’t just to get a feel for the surface, but also as a quick reminder to the brain to be conscious of how curvature works with speed, and how the sharper the curve, the slower the speed.  He uses the analogy of a car driving around a track, speeding up in the straight sections and slowing down to make the bends.

The result of that kind of exercise usually looks something like this:

All of this is extremely helpful, but I’ve been adding to my ‘warm-up’ routine as of late, because seriously, who ever warms up with just one stretch?  But there has to be a purpose behind the warm-up and in this case, it’s about putting the mind in a place where it sees form and structure in addition to line.  Taking Mr. Mattesi’s lead a bit, we draw two curved and forceful arcs, such as per his rule, that one of the forces leads directionally into the apex of the next, forming a rhythm.  The key here is that I’m not looking to draw anything real.  I’m just placing lines at this point.

Just two lines, right?  Well, because of what we know of force from the references mentioned, the next step is to see form, and one of the keys to generating form is overlap, so let’s throw an example of that into the mix.

Now you can almost start to see the shape of something dimensional forming in the mind.   Now keep in mind that though I’m not specifically planning any of these marks, I am still trying to be aware of space.  If I put the marks too close together, seeing form and volume develop might be more difficult.

In any case, let’s go ahead and add a couple of straight lines to add some structure and contrast to the curves.

Mind you the order I’m doing this in is not gospel.  Straights followed by overlap works just as well, but in the very beginning it helps to use the two curved lines in some kind of forceful arrangement.  We can go further by adding some marks indicating volume:

Not my best endeavor, but that’s what warm ups are for, to work out the kinks and set your mind working right.  I went ahead and did a little more to this one and added tone for effect, but not that you have to, unless you want to practice using tone to indicate depth at the same time, which is great, but as I’ve been told and instructed myself, it’s probably best to learn depth through line first, and tone later.

Anything you come up with here may end up looking rather surreal, but at the same time you may find yourself inadvertently drawing part of a figure.  It’s whatever comes into your head on the spur of the moment.  These are quick exercises, and doing them has helped me look for and see these same qualities in the representational work I go on to do after the warm-up.

That’s pretty much it.  Sorry for the delay in updates the last couple of weeks, but I hoped to make it up a bit with a double post this week.

Until next time.


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That’s deep.

Awhile back, I started to occasionally render out images in Maya with a z-depth version intended for adding a depth of field effect in post-production with Photoshop.  There are a couple of different options in Photoshop, which utilize the black/white/gray information in the alpha channel to calculate how far away from the ‘camera plane’ the depth of field is most in focus.  One, is the filter native to Photoshop, under Filters>Blur>Lens Blur, and the other is a proprietary add-on I’ve discovered made by Frischluft called Lenscare.  They each have their strengths and weaknesses, but for the purpose of this entry, I’ll stick with the native Photoshop version.
I started wondering to myself, what it would look like to apply the filter to achieve a sort of similar effect to hand drawn art, or photographs, as an additional method to draw the attention of the eye to where you want it to be.


Here’s a drawing I did last year, and it’s oriented in a turned position, so it seemed appropriate to use this one for a test of this idea.  So I proceeded to select the white space around the horse with the magic wand tool, refine the edges of the selection, inverted the selection so it highlighted the positive rather than the negative space, and moved over to the channels palette where I created a new alpha channel.

So, knowing that the lens blur filter utilizes gradations of black and white to delineate depth, with white being near and black being far, then for an abbreviated and quick design, let’s create a black/white gradient from left to right, so that the horse’s head and forelegs are brought ‘nearer’ to the viewer.

Now, going back to the RGB Layers palette, load the newly created alpha channel as your selection, and use the Lens Blur filter.  The following window pops up, allowing you to adjust the location of the focal distance and the amount of blur.


And that’s pretty much it.  With a little more effort on applying the lights and darks in the alpha channel, an even better approximation could be reached.  Or, a diorama look could be applied by using only solid shapes of varying shades of gray to different objects in the work.

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Sculpting with Force

As mentioned in my resources page, one of my most significant go-to books for drawing is the Force series, illustrating brilliantly how throughout living organisms, there is a rhythm, a path where metaphorical ‘force’ ricochets from one part of the body to the next.  Keeping this in mind, I decided to see if there was a way to more directly translate or ‘sculpt’ in CGI modeling software (Maya, for the purposes of this entry) this concept, by starting with drawings that were produced using this method, but then arriving at a model by mimicking those methods using standard modelling tools in Maya.

Here’s where I started:

Just a very quickly sketched out leg.  In retrospect, I could have pushed the forces a lot more, but you can still clearly see them sweep from the front thigh through the knee, into the back of the calf, into the heel.

Most modeling tutorials I’ve seen will either instruct the student to start with stock cylindrical objects and continue to push and pull vertices to match the geometry until you’re ready to peel back your eyelids from the sheer inanity, or create one edge loop at a time, bridging the new one with the previous.  It’s an improvement, but a slight one.

I think, however, that I have found a way to more easily construct limbs and bodies for characters relying almost entirely on your sketches in the creation of the geometry rather than hammering stock geometry into your desired form.  At the very least, it should minimize the amount of that kind of irritation.

Anyway, here we go…

I’ve imported the two views of the leg into Maya’s front and Side camera views respectively.  In the Perspective view, that looks like this:
Now, in the Side and Front views, I use my choice of curve tools (in this case, a combination of EP curve and Bezier curve tools to trace the front and back side of the leg in the Side view, and the inside and outside profiles of the leg in the Front view.  You’ll notice that they probably won’t line up the way they should, as the centerline of the limb is not necessarily plumb vertical the way the planes you’ve been drawing your curves on, are.  With a few rotations and translations, you’ll get something that looks like this:

Also shown above are two loops that connect the tops and bottoms of the curves.  These are important for the tool I ended up using to create the surfaces.  Starting with the line towards the back (the heel side) and with curve-snap on, I used the EP curve tool to make the loops, and I moved in a counterclockwise (from above) direction in both.  Consistency in creating the top and bottom loops is critical.
Next, I select the Birail 3+ tool from the Edit Curves menu and set it to the following settings:

Using the general tesselation setting here allows you to build the leg in four surface wedges that have the same number of polys along each edge and have them mostly line up closely enough that they can be merged more easily together in the following steps.  Take note here!  The number of polygons in the U and V directions will be one less than the number indicated in the initial tesselation controls.  So if you want your limb to be 30 units long, enter 31 into the U field.  You might also want to take note at this point of how many polygons you want your limb to be around as this will come in handy when modeling the torso and how many polys around the opening is for your limb to connect into.  We’ll be doing this four times to bring the limb surface to a full 360 degrees before stitching all four together, so take the number in your V field, subtract one from it, and multiply by four.  That will be the number to remember for attaching these limbs more easily later.

Starting again from the place where you started your loops, start the birail 3+ tool and follow its instructions, moving counterclockwise as before, one segment at a time until you’re at the last segment.  Caution!  Have two-sided lighting turned off here, so you can easily detect if the normals of the surfaces you’re creating in these steps are facing outward the way they should be!  Also, in between each use of the birail 3+ tool, make absolutely sureyou remember to delete history on the surfaces.

1/4 done. Remember to check normals and delete history!

1/2 done. Remember to check normals and delete history!

3/4 done. Remember to... yeah, I don't have to say it again, right?


Before you do the last quarter of the leg, Maya needs for the direction on the loops to be reversed (otherwise, it will span the paths opposite to the direction we need).  I can’t say it enough, but make sure you’ve deleted the history on the other three surfaces you’ve already created or when you reverse the direction on the paths, it will affect your work, and when I say ‘affect’, I mean ‘make it look screwy’.
All right, once you’ve reversed the direction on the paths (Edit Curves—>Reverse Curve Direction) then you can finish off the last quarter by repeating the above process going clockwise this time.

We’re in the home stretch now.  If you’re familiar with the basics of Maya, then you know how to combine objects, merge vertices, etc.  It also can’t hurt to make sure once more that all the surface normals are facing outward before doing that.

Once that’s done, and with less than 30 seconds worth of smoothing and sculpting with the surface sculpting tools, here’s the final result, lit and rendered.

Fra-gee-lay. Must be Italian...

Now, you can tell this is still somewhat unrefined, but your starting shape is much closer to the end result than it would be using more traditional techniques.  All the polys are quads, so they’ll deform quite well when animated, and using this method you can plan out your other limbs and the torso ahead of time more easily than (what personal experience has taught me) freewheeling lets you do.

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Photoshop and Perspective part II: Creating reusable tools.

First of all, belated happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrated it last week.  I’m back now, and ready to pick up where we left off.

Not fully satisfied with the lengths I took previously in exploring the possibilities of perspective tools in Photoshop, I decided to create some more that hopefully have broader application.

For example, what about 4-point unlimited perspective?  Creating scenes with wide angles is immensely useful for fitting in a large amount of information in a confined space.  In addition, unlike drawing with two-point or 3-point perspective, there is no fussing about where to put the vanishing points (maintaining a believable perspective with those techniques as one moves and adjusts the vanishing points is more difficult as the distance between them changes non-linearly.  4-point perspective maintains  the same distance between VP’s by curving perspective lines).

Doing this exercise once and well, provides a digital artist with a reusable tool that can be dragged, dropped and scaled into frame ready for composition.

We’re going to be operating in Photoshop again, so bring up a window and create a new, high resolution file and guide layout similar to what you see here:

The horizontal and vertical guides should cut across and down the middle and bisect the workspace.  The horizontal line is your horizon, so draw a line across it using whatever method you prefer, as long as its straight.

Now, create a new layer and using the shape tool, make a perfectly circular path that touches the four edges.  Turning on the grid helps here.  Make sure the output is set to paths (not shape layers or fill pixels) in the options bar.  Briefly switch out to your brush tool and check the size of the brush as it’s the one that we’ll be stroking the paths with.  If it’s satisfactory, switch to the direct selection tool, select the path, right click on it and select ‘stroke path’ followed by making sure the brush tool is selected from the drop down menu in the pop-up.  Now the screen looks like this:

Before going on, let’s rename the path to something more specific than “work path”.  Doing this is also just good  practice as the work path gets overwritten each time a new path is made and we’ll be wanting to reuse this circle over and over again as we will see shortly.

Now, let’s move the circle precisely by selecting the path using Edit: Free Transform Path tool, and clicking the Use Relative Positioning option  represented by the small triangle icon in the options bar, zeroing out the x and y position values.  Pick a value for changing the vertical (Y) position and enter it into the Y position in the options bar.  Remember, this gap you are creating between the circle you just traced and the current one you are about to will be the constant unit of distance/depth in the resulting perspective template represented by all future circles, so keep this in mind.  I’m using -375 pixels in this case (though yours may vary) because I’m going to concentrate on creating the graph on the lower half of the image and then mirroring it upwards after I’m done.  If you want to approach it the other way from the top down, that’s fine, just enter your displacing values as positive numbers rather than negative.

Before proceeding, check to make sure that you’ve fixed the aspect ratio option (chain icon) in the options bar, and while clicking and dragging over the W: or H: scale entry, dynamically scale the circle path so it again passes through the points where the horizon and side image boundaries meet.  Like this:

After confirming the transformation, go back to the direct selection tool, right click on the path and stroke it again as before.

Keep repeating this process until the number of desired units measured towards the horizon is reached.  I’ll show eight iterations here for illustration:

Now this produces a bunch of pixels outside of the image plane that both take up extra space, and will hamper our attempts to mirror these lines up to the top half, so using a box selection, take everything below the horizon (snaps-on helps) and create a layer mask for the layer we’ve just put all these lovely lines on, then right click on the layer mask in the layer palette, and hit apply layer mask.  This should get rid of all the excess information we don’t need.
Duplicating the layer, mirroring the part below the horizon to the part above yields:

Not too far to go now.  Merge the two curve layers together and duplicate that layer, and follow that by enlarging the canvas size horizontally by 150%.  Move the newly duplicated layer so that the left vanishing point is now directly over the center of the original circle (where the guides meet) and create a new guide marking the center of the circle in the duplicate layer just shifted.

Repeat the process again, expanding the horizontal canvas size, this time by 133.3333% and duplicating  another circle layer.  Move it the same as before with the vanishing point of the new circle aligning with the center of the previous.
Now you have vanishing points for all directions, North, South, East, and West, with the sides of the canvas and the VP’s landing on them, the same direction in a 360 degree panorama.

For appearances and for added usefulness, we can duplicate the circle layer twice more and center them on the left and right borders of the image.

Just the cleanup remains.  Flatten all the circle layers to one, select all, create layer mask, and apply layer mask.

This is a quick and dirty example, but with a little more time and care, I produced a higher resolution one a couple weeks ago…

Once done, you can drop this into any background in your drawing program that you like, and move it around to get just the right composition.  Distracting distortions in drawing only become evident if you raise or lower the horizon too far from the center of the drawing you’re working on, exposing too much of the lower or upper planes.  Otherwise, panning left to right provides innumerable opportunities to utilize.

Information and sources of inspiration for this post came in part from Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics From the Ground Up.

Good luck and keep drawing.

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Photoshop and Perspective

Every now and then, a question plagues my mind over why something hasn’t been explained before, or if it has, why nobody seems to have thought to share it with others that it could be found with a little Google-fu.
One of those that keeps coming back to me is why hasn’t anyone put out a means of quickly finding perspective planes and features using Photoshop?  Sure there are bits and pieces of information about using perspective in Photoshop as it pertains to painting on perspective planes inside existing photos, like picking off data points for the side of a barn and then using the brush tool to draw as if you’re drawing on the wall itself, but this isn’t so helpful when you’re starting from scratch.

Now if all you’re after is a quick 2-pt perspective for a single object with one orientation, then you can rough in perspective lines fairly well just by picking out two vanishing points at a reasonable distance and drawing a bunch of lines emanating from them like this:

Freebird! I mean "freehand"...

…and putting it on its own layer to keep it separate from the drawing proper.  I picked that one up from Michael Matessi’s Drawing Force website, but it’s a fairly standard trick, and a good one.
But say you’re constructing a scene where not everything is oriented along the same perspective lines.  Reality is more varied than that and if you’re creating a scene that incorporates more than one set of  VP’s (vanishing points)  for different objects/characters, then I have figured out relatively quick means of establishing some guides to quickly get you on your way.

Open up Photoshop and begin by making sure the rulers and snaps are turned on, then drag a guide down from the top ruler and use this as your horizon line.  Place it wherever your scene dictates it should be.

Next, use the pen tool in its ‘shape layers’ mode to draw a triangle with two of its points located along the horizon/guide and the third located below (or above depending on the need) in such a way that the angle it forms is eyeballed as close to 90 degrees as you can, like this:

Note that it’s important to keep one VP inside the print image area at this point because of a Photoshop quirk I’ll get into later.

Next, open up Photoshop’s measurement tool and draw a measurement line from the left VP down to the bottom vertex of the triangle.  Alt-click over the same vertex and extend a second measurement  line back up to the horizon line near where the right VP is.  It should snap to the horizon.  Adjust the position of the measurement endpoint left or right along the horizon until the angle it reads on the options bar reads 90 degrees and then snap a new guide to this location as seen here:

You can’t skip this step, because the moment you switch to the Direct Selection tool (next step), the measurement tool lines disappear.

Now you can switch to the Direct Selection tool, pick the triangle shape itself, and adjust the right VP to the intersection of the horizon guide and the vertical guide you just created.  Your triangle has now been ‘calibrated’.

At this point, you may want to establish the Diagonal Vanishing point (as it’s very useful to have as you already know if you’ve worked in perspective drawing for any length of time)  by bisecting the bottom angle of the triangle and finding where that meets the horizon line.  You can do this easily now by repeating the process above with the measuring tool but using 45 degrees as your target angle to hit.  Like this:

You can mark any of these points on their own layer now and label them if need be.  I used circle shape layers to mark these points, but you’re free to use a different marking method as you like it.  I would however, use layer-linking to ensure that all the work you just did on creating that triangle shape stays oriented with the labeling layer(s).  Just makes sense.  Also good for keeping all of this organized is creating a folder to store the layers in, which keeps clutter and layer-searching to a minimum.  This is how my screen looks now:

Now, what’s really great about this setup is that you can scale all of this prep work, move it to new locations and pretty much duplicate and dissect individual elements to create new perspective guidelines.  However, I would hold off on moving and scaling all of the components together until you’re finished establishing all the different perspective sets you need.  The objects scale, but the guides you’ve been using do not.  Keep this in mind.

If for example,  you wish to have a different set of points set up for an object oriented differently, copy the triangle you created earlier, and change its color to distinguish it from the first.  Next, use the transform path tool to rotate the new triangle to the orientation you want to draw the second object in, but just remember to move the center of the transformation to the triangle’s base.  This keeps all the elements in the final piece looking like they belong in the same space.  If it helps, you can pull a new set of guides off of the rulers to maintain the same bottom vertex for the triangle as seen here:

Notice that by rotating the triangle like this, one leg ends up crossing the horizon line while the other one drops below it.   Using the Direct Selection tool, select the two endpoints of this line and scale them similarly to how we rotated it above, by moving the center of scaling to the bottom vertex.  Make sure you keep scaling it until it too crosses the horizon line.  Remember, we’re only scaling the one leg and it should scale only along it’s length, like this:

Create a new pair of vertical guides that as closely as possible locates the intersection between the legs of the triangle and the horizon line.  Move the two upper vertices of the triangle to these intersection points and your new perspective orientation has been established, seen here along with the first orientation in grey:

At some point along the way, if it makes it easier, you can expand the canvas size so that all of your construction triangles fall within the canvas boundaries.  This makes it easier to use the measurement tool, as it sometimes has issues measuring angles for points outside of the canvas.

Now you can find the new Diagonal Vanishing Point (DVP) for the new triangle using the same method used above.

Fully labeled and organized, you should end up with something looking like this:

All of the layers are linked, to keep them consistent.  Now using the line tool, and snapping to the guide intersections, I can now freehand a grid for both orientations on respective layers thus:

This is still somewhat confusing as it’s currently set up, so let’s create a new group to hold both sets of perspective orientations, and create a vector mask for that group in the proportions of our final page output.  In this case, 8.5×11.  I’ve cropped the overall image for clarity but because of the abundant usage of vectors, there is minimal information lost.  Notice how the vector mask allows you to search for optimal framing.  It’s never a bad idea to experiment with different framing schemes even if you started out with something specific in mind earlier.  You can always find something better and unexpected.  Here’s what our final setup looks like:

Now we can finally start drawing with our new references, turning the relevant layers on and off to suit the object we’re drawing at any given time, and we can also adjust the opacity so the visual stimulus doesn’t become overwhelming.
Here’s a quick doodle completed with the aid of the setup.  The red box was done with the second perspective points and the figure and steps done with the first set.

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Secondary lessons.

Recently, the DrawingForce site started putting out tutorials on drawing the figure without a reference and tackling the problems it poses for students using a variety of methods.  One of those methods involved increasing the brush size if you’re working in a drawing program and to use that size to experiment with poses while leaving plenty of room for refinement later on.  In general, it’s a great, worry-free way of finding a pose and planning your work.

example 1

Look ma! No reference!

Now, nowhere in the tutorial did it mention using this technique for drawing with a reference, and if you’re not told you can’t do something you can do it, right?  At least in art you can, anyway.  The thought of actually trying this didn’t strike me until about a month after using the technique on the above imaginative drawing, but after doing it, it turns out that starting with your brush over-sized has it’s advantages whether drawing with or without a ref.

As mentioned in earlier entries, it’s sometimes difficult for the aspiring artist to not get caught up in the details too soon, and losing focus.  In this case however, one potential remedy may be found for a reason that is similar to the one which explains its usefulness in imaginative drawing: the lack of specificity.

Let’s look at how this works with a reference photo taken from AilinStock on Deviantart and the quick, broad-brushed technique applied to it:

First pass

The broader stroke literally forced me to stay at large shapes and only the largest of features.  Had I tried diving into detail, it would reveal itself with indistinguishable, unidentifiable smudges that would throw up warning signs as I was observing the reference with the wrong scale in mind.  Thus, once we obtain all the necessary general information about the pose, we move on to pass #2:

Second Pass

…where I use the first pass as a map, ensuring that I can focus on the extra detail without getting off-track.  And of course, once this far along I could keep refining and refining, for this drawing I stopped at adding a little color…

Final Pass

As it turns out, asking “What if I…” can be one of the most useful questions in the long run, not just for the piece you’re working on in the moment, but for advancing much of your present and future work.

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Lines, ideas and connectedness.

So here’s a couple of examples of some honest-to-goodness hand rendered material I’ve done this past year done about seven months apart.

The first image was arrived at in the span of about half an hour, the second in about one third of that time.  Yet in spite of that, it’s the second one that communicates its ideas more distinctly, with clarity, focus and most of all, economy.  There are few if any unnecessary lines.  Whatever it was that I was thinking during the first drawing, in hindsight it seems that I wanted to keep the pen moving and working, especially on the wrinkles in the clothing, as if  movement itself would produce better work.  I had the overall rhythms of the figures established, and it still works on that level, but breaking it down and honing the ideas once started proved to be an exercise in muddled thoughts.

What appears to be over-thinking in the first drawing is actually not thinking enough about the important ideas in the pose, letting the mind to wander into details that don’t end up contributing very much to the end result.  If each line is an idea, then these ideas weren’t connecting.  Michael Mattesi’s “Force” books and his Drawing Force website go into great detail about how to overcome theses kinds of obstacles.  Even after having gone through those texts, it wasn’t until one of the accompanying videos described the process in slightly different terms that the light was finally shed on what I was doing wrong.  Working smarter in this case, meant treating each change in direction a line took, each alteration in curvature  as a separate line and a separate idea formed as an extension of the previous one.

Look at the line of the outside right leg of the figure on the right in the first drawing.  You can see how it was drawn all at once due to the lack of thought given to the placement of any one curve.  While it ends up being a nice bit of descriptive texture, it remains somewhat disconnected because I wasn’t thinking about each curve as its own idea connecting to the next.  Compare that with the following example,  also created at about the same time as the second drawing above:


Notice the back of the right leg again, still dealing with cloth, but the change in direction the line takes between the hip and thigh and again between the thigh and the backside of the knee are all handled as separate lines each given attention on their own as extensions of the previous one.   Ironically, breaking down the lines in this fashion ends up showing more unity than the first drawing above, helping focus the overall image.

I highly recommend that aspiring artists wanting to hone their craft when drawing the human figure check out and the books of Michael Mattesi.  I expect several future posts may incorporate more of the discoveries I’ve made since reading and watching those references as it relates to hand-drawn work.

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