Have Some Good Ref Near By

As of this writing, I work with a 15 inch screen at 2048 x 1280. What this means is that there’s not enough space to fill the screen with references, and because of that, I have a habit of doing things from memories. I’m a bit lazy to open up references when all I’m doing is experimental sculpting on the fly. For me, one way to counter this is to have an actual figure sitting on my desk. There. No more excuses for not getting the neck right. You simply can’t trust your memories as evidenced in the fact that people still forget where they put their keys (pun intended).

Also, take advantage of that empty wall of yours. Whatever you’re struggling with or needed to be reminded of, print them and stick it.

Experimenting with Environments

I spent two days just experimenting with these environment concepts. These were quick thumbnail sketches using just one brush throughout the entire experiment. Two things I’m not good at are: Environment and Mech. With these experiments, I’m trying out something new that is outside of my comfort zone.

Casual Perspective

One of the excuses that I had for not getting into environmental concept at first was that I didn’t know perspective that well. But when you think about it, most people that do character concepts don’t know perspective that well either (just enough to get by). When you start to have realism in mind and placing them in an environment or finishing that masterpiece of yours, that’s when it really matters. Same thing goes for muscle names in your studies. The major muscles and bones are enough, and you can always learn more later down the road, but it’s not necessary to start off learning every muscle and bone (you’re an artist, not a medical student).

How often do you see artists on the street have their rulers out when sketching/drawing from life? I don’t remember seeing one. Which means most of them are doing it casually. Not everything has to be perfectly lined up. It’s okay if your perspective is off when you’re quickly fleshing out your ideas. Afterall, these initial sketches aren’t meant to be final. They’re there to get [the point across]. This is the mindset or attitude that you perfectionists (speaking to myself as well) need to adopt. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have carried out this experiment and learned something in the process.

Having said all that, here’s another thing to keep in mind: If you’re a [digital] artist, you don’t have to master perspective (you can if you want, if you got the time), anatomy or even lightning. Blender (or any 3d app) will help you with that. If you think that’s cheating, then you might as well go back to traditional medium :). The fact that you use the “undo” button and layers to assist you already say something.


All the examples in this post were done freehand. And I quickly ran out of ideas because I’m inexperience in this area. Roughly 1-4 minutes each. Take note of the brush strokes…


When you have nothing to look at, and you haven’t done environment that much, you will quickly run out of ideas. Scribbling is one of the ways that ideas can be quickly generated. To make it even more random, I did it with both eyes closed. Then I opened my eyes, duplicated that chaotic mess. And painted it over. Take note of the brush strokes. Notice how the last part of this second set is very different from all the previous ones. The first part of this second set is bold and straight to the point, with high contrast (dark/light). The brush’s opacity was at 50%. The second part of this second set has a lot more light values (brush’s opacity range from 10% to 50%). I was more relaxed and confident in the last part of this experiment, and it shows in the brush strokes.

Features I wish Krita has…

I keep a personal list as I explore and work with Krita. I’m sure more will come up in the future, but for now this is what I have on my list:

1) Fit to Height: Currently, we have “Reset Zoom to 100%”, “Fit to Width” but “Fit to Height” is missing. Sometimes knowing where I am on the Canvas height-wise is more important than width-wise.

2) Hotkey to toggle on/off the below or above’s layer’s visibility, and still remain on the current layer while working on it: Useful for inking and working with reference images.

3) Hotkey to toggle on/off “Snap to Assistants”: This will definitely speed things up a bit when using perspective guides.

4) Visual Feedback: In fullscreen mode, it’s hard to tell what opacity level my brush is when I increase/decrease the brush’s opacity via a hotkey. When resizing the brush, we have an idea, but opacity, no clue.

5) Hotkey to change a brush’s size like how it’s done in Blender when sculpting: For artists who use both Krita and Blender’s Sculpting, sometimes it can be very confusing. In Blender, it’s “F” and then you move a mouse (not dragging) to change the size, click to confirm. In Krita, you hold down “Shift” and you drag the pen and then release the “Shift” to confirm. I try my best to make both Krita and Blender work in harmony, which means sometimes I have to change things in Blender to match Krita and vice-versa. Then there are times that it’s not possible.

6) Brush’s Tips selection: This is a bit more advanced stuff. Right now we can select colors, but what if we can select different brush tip on the fly? Instead of having 5 brushes with the same setting and everything, why not have just one and then change the brush tip as needed? Great for quick thumbnailing, working with texture brushes etc…

7) Expand Canvas in any of the four directions (Left, Right, Bottom, Top) via the arrow keys without. A quick way to get more space for drawing/painting during a study session without moving the Canvas away.


Krita is a bit buggy on Mac. Sometimes I can’t pan my Canvas or draw anything on it without tabbing out to my desktop and back into Krita. In severe case, I would have to restart Krita. I have learned to put up with this minor problem because Krita is the best free drawing/painting program at the moment. The problem I just described will occur more often when I’m using “Subwindows” mode. The more documents to manage at once, the more likely these glitches will occur. Which is why I prefer (not the only reason) to stay in “Tabs” mode.

In my previous post, I talked about importing images as Reference Image. They are very helpful if you’re composing an image. But for practicing, that setup is not the best. I needed to have my reference images on the left at all time, while I scroll/expand my image to the right. There are two ways you can accomplish this:

  1. Import all your images as Reference Image, anywhere outside your Canvas. And then make a new window view (Windows -> New View) of your current document. Organize/position this new view, and then in this new view, zoom in to your reference images. Now you can switch to your main document and start drawing. Pan as much as you want and the images will stay there. OR you can create a completely new document and use this document to hold all your reference images. The same logic applies to this new document.
  2. In order for that to work, you need to be in “Subwindows” mode. And if you’re on Mac, forget it. I came across PureRef.com while researching my problem and that’s the best solution for a Mac user at the moment. Actually, even if you’re not on Mac and even if you’re not using Krita, PureRef is a very handy program to have. So check it out! It’s a pay what you can app. If you want to try out for free, just put in “0” for the price.

Krita’s Dark Theme

macOS Dark65 Theme: Works best with Canvas Border Color: 66,66,66 (which becomes 65,65,65). Don’t know why Krita minus 1, but that’s just the way it is.

KDE doesn’t look that great on Mac. And since I use Krita a lot these days, I have taken the time to put together a dark theme to make it looks a bit nicer. Feel free to modify it to your liking. Right click on the file and save it to your computer. Put it inside this folder: ~/Library/Application Support/krita/color-schemes


If you want a darker selection, look for 106,107,134 and replace it with: 70,70,77. This is so the window bar doesn’t stand out when Krita is in “Subwindows” mode. There doesn’t seem to be anyway to change just the color for the window’s title bar. You either change all, which affects the selection. When choosing a selection color for the theme, I avoid the color that is available for the Layer’s color.

Date/Time Stamp

Last night I found out that each time you saved your document while working in Krita, the original date/time stamp for the file you’re working on will be override. Other softwares keep the original stamp. This is good if you’re the kind of person that likes to keep track of your progress and like to go back in time to discuss certain things. I cropped a few files to clear the empty space and the original stamp got replaced with the new stamp. My only way around this at the moment is to rename the bottom layer of a new document and input the date/time into its layer title.

Where to find references

Photo references are very helpful when you’re just starting out. However, there are a few things to keep in mind so that you don’t get into trouble. https://www.arttutor.com/blog/201611/where-find-legally-free-reference-photos-your-art-part-1-2

Personally, what I do is look for CC0 images of Sculptures to practice observational drawing method. And for painting, I would search for old paintings done by old masters of the past. Last night before bed I fired up Krita and did four iterations (four different attempts at the same photo) of a Sculpture done by Michelangelo. I haven’t learned proper methods yet, so this is just something I did on the fly.

Krita on macOS

I’m currently using Krita 4.1.7 on Mojave. Not sure if this problem is universal, but the dialog window is crippled, and floating windows can’t be resized. Which means at higher monitor resolution, you will have a hard time with color picker (for example).

NOTE: A simple fix for the dialog window being crippled (only showing half) on macOS as of this writing is to make sure you open it. And let it remain open at all times. Even when you’re not using the pop palette. Relaunch Krita (exit/open) and the app will automatically adjust the dialog. Don’t close that dialog via the Pop Palette. You’ll have to repeat this step if you do.

Toggle Layer’s Visibility

As of this writing, I do not know whether Krita has this ability or not (my guess is that it doesn’t). But I notice that I find myself turning on/off the layer beneath manually with a mouse click. This is so I can see how my inking looks like without the marker layer below. I hope there’s a way to put it into a shortcut so that I can toggle the below/above layer (or group) on and off. If not in this version, then future versions. 🙂

The Naming of Clouds

An insightful video on how clouds got their names. Knowing the name of something allows us to tackle it. It allows us to search it out for more and in depth understanding of the subject that at first seems to be mysterious.

Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

The ability to customize your keyboard shortcuts is essential because every Artist’s workflow is different. If the software you’re using doesn’t give you the option to customize or it’s limited in its ability to customize, then consider these apps (both are free):

I have used AutoHotkey back when I was on Windows, and all I can say is that it’s a powerful scripting language for getting things done on Windows. I would say a lot more powerful than Karabiner! Examples: Detecting pixels on screen, working with files etc… At the moment I don’t know of an equivalent for Mac.

If you’re on Mac and all you want to do is customize keyboard shortcuts then Karabiner is all you need (look into AppleScript if you want to go beyond keyboard customization). It’ll take a bit of reading and once you understand the file’s format/structure you can easily customize keyboard shortcuts for ANY application.

You have a lot to learn about typography

One of the other most common challenges for designers stems from a question we get asked constantly — how do I grow my eye for great type? What makes one font work with another, what makes one font better than another? How do I approach this in a systematic process beyond subjective whims, like “I really like this font”, with a more in-depth understanding of type? (Link to Article)

Step by step

I have always struggled with English Grammar (English is my second langauge in case you’re wondering), and in some way I still do. When it comes to visual art, I find that I am more at home with it, and this is true for a lot of us when it comes to learning. There are area of studies where we easily excel and then there are subjects that make us just want to pull our hair out of frustation for not getting it. On and off I have tried to better my understanding of grammar so that I can communicate better—both in writing and in art—and it has been a frustrating experience, but now I’m slowly getting it because I see a parallel with art. Looking back I can now see that I was impatient, forgetting that the key to learning anything new and foreign is patience and perseverance.

“To know ten thousand things, know one well.” — Miyamoto Musashi

If you know one thing, and just one thing, then know it well. That one thing that you know so well will help you to move on to the next—it will unlock new information and open your mind to see with more clarity. You see, intead of just focusing on Nouns and Pronouns, I was all over the places reading stuff on adjectives, verbs etc… Basically, I was trying to take in more than I could handle and confused myself in the process. Not to mention that there were missing links that made it hard to understand more advanced concepts. Now I take it step by step and I don’t frustrate myself with advanced concepts. I want to know Nouns, both its form and usage, and I want to know them well before I move on to the next on the list of The Eight Parts of Speech.

Friends, you who are struggling with art, be patient. Stay focused on the basics and fundamentals. Don’t skip them. Study them and know them well.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee

Calibrating Stylus Pressure

I didn’t know anything about calibrating your stylus pressure until I read this article that I came across today. I used to press hard on my tablet but thanks to Krita’s built-in curve editor that is now a thing of the past. Now my hand can really relax! You should check out these two articles if you want to learn more:


Copying What You See is a Skill

Back in the old days, I started off by copying other images/photos and it was a time consuming process (eye / hand coordination) because I didn’t know any method or technique to help me with (I was all on my own), so it was a trial and error thing. As I got older I didn’t like the idea of copying. I wanted to be able to draw things from my imagination and so I practiced a bit more and got to a point where I can improvise (somewhat). However, I now come to see that observational drawing is a skill that needs to be learned. Even if copying a photograph is not your thing, it is still a very useful skill to have! Something I’m currently trying to grow in.

On the positive side of thing, even though I didn’t learn proper observational skill for drawing, my eye and hand coordination that I practiced back then now helps me with 3d modelling!

Here’s the thing: We all have strengths and weaknesses. My weakness right now is in copying a photography. I could do it, but it’s very time-consuming because I didn’t start off with proper methodologies. For some of you, your strength might be in copying a photography, but have a hard time doing things without it.

There is no manual: We must learn to observe

I have been very busy trying to setup my workspace so I can get back to exploring traditional media. This means that I have to go to and fro looking for materials and stuff and that takes time. Work also keeps me busy so I didn’t really have a chance to really sit down to practice anything yet. With that said, I want to write a quick post to share something that I have been pondering today while walking.

As Artists, life for us doesn’t come with a manual. Most of what we know, we know by observing. We study life, we dissect and break things down and that is how we come to know the thing that we seek to bring to life through art. Rembrandt once said: “If you want to paint an apple, you’ve got to be an apple!” You’ve got to carefully study an apple, and get really intimate with it so that you can come to know it and know it well.

Suppose you have never drawn human eyes before, where would you begin? These days with the internet we can look for tutorials. But how did these artists come to know how to draw human eyes? You can say that they also looked up tutorials but if you keep going with this question, eventually someone somewhere had studied the human eyes, had carefully observed it and deconstructed it. One Artist did it this way, and another that way. I say this to encourage you to observe and not be afraid. We can only draw what we know. As our knowledge and understanding of our subject grows, so will our drawing grows and improves. If you have only three photo references of the human eyes, and if you study these three photo references then your drawing will reflect your understanding of the human eyes based on these three photo references alone. That is okay! Your vocabulary is limited because you have only three photo references to study from. Now suppose you have 100+ photo references of the human eyes, ranging from male to female and with many different races. Soon you’ll see patterns and similarities and your vocabulary will grow. You might even come up with your own constructions, and when you sit down to draw, all the knowledge that you have gathered through observations will help you in your drawing.

NA: “Why do you draw the female eye like that?”

AN: “I have gone through 100+ photo references of the female eye and I notice that they all look like that.”

NA: “But I notice that there are female eyes that don’t look like that. In fact, some male eyes look like female.”

AN: “True. We can say the same with other parts of the body. Some male’s hands look like female’s hand. But this doesn’t mean that we should start drawing male hand that look like female hand (unless that is your intention to begin with and you have a reason for it!). The whole purpose of studying and observing is to know what a thing is [generally], not what a thing is in rare and exceptional cases. On the flip side, we know that an average male is roughly 7-8 heads tall, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make him 10 heads tall if we wanted to. Before we improvise, know what a thing is generally and common.”

Failed Art, We All Have Them!

Here’s a word of encouragement if you’re struggling. This is the spirit behind this weblog that I am running.

I think it’s such a disservice to the public that galleries and museums display only artists’ successes, but never their failures. There should be a Museum of Failed Art. It would exhibit all the terrible art that would have ended up in trash bins and garbage cans, lost and unknown to the public. My museum would give a true picture of the artist’s life, and provide much consolation to fellow artists. — R. O. Blechman (Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator)