Have you ever sketched the shape of the head lightly, and then went over it more boldly? You were tracing, whether you realized it or not. Tracing in and of itself is neither bad nor good. Here’s an example of how tracing can be put to good use. This kind of tracing is highly recommended, but the kind where you trace to capture everything perfectly, with the intent/desire to improve your skill, then it’s not recommended.
In the examples above, the first two started off with scribbling. I didn’t have an idea for a pose and just wanted to see what randomness would give me. The last two examples, I knew the poses I wanted to draw, and used these ovals as rough guide. There are many ways to approach this. From random scribbling, to gestures, oval shapes, etc… The anatomy and foreshortening might be incorrect, but not bad for a 1-5 mins rough sketch done freehand.
Last night while playing around with the bean shape, it suddenly hit me that I was overthinking it. No wonder why I was struggling with the Cube! Instead of starting with a plane, I was thinking of the Cube in 3D, trying to visualize all sides at once (not recommended if you’re just starting out like me!)
Obviously, drawing a single cube isn’t the problem. For me, it becomes a problem when I try to visualize the Torso as two Cubes, because now the perspective has to be right, whereas with spheres and cylinders, I don’t think too much about perspective. There are many ways to approach this Cube problem that I have found out since last night while playing around in Krita. Here’s what works for me:
Start with bean shape with centerline, and then draw the Cube on top of it afterward using the bean shape/centerline as guide.
Or, skip the bean shape all together and just draw the centerline and then use that as a guide to draw the cube.
Or, skip all that and just think purely in plane, not cube, but PLANE. When you draw the plane, think of it as the “frontal” plane of the Torso. Once you have down the frontal plane, you can add depth/dimension and turn it into a cube as shown in the examples below:
I’m jumping ahead of myself with this post, but it’s something that finally clicked for me and I can’t wait to explore it after I’m done with my cylinder exercises. More on this later!
Sometimes I can visualize a pose in my head and sketch it out. Other time I struggle with it. Then there are times where the pelvis or leg (started off as circle / loose cylinder) dictates the rest and everything just flows out smoothly without much thinking. I believe the reason for my struggle is not drawing enough different poses from references.
Quickly capturing a pose from a photo is a useful skill to have when you can’t think of an interesting pose [or] you have a hard time visualizing it in your head. I believe that the more you copy poses from photos, the more your mind will grow in this area, which will later help you to draw a variety of poses from imagination… that muscle memory will kick in.
Personally, I find cube hard to visualize freehandly at the moment. Currently I’m thinking with Cylinders and Spheres, but will eventually want to think with Cube to be more perspective-minded. I was experimenting with cross-contour and came to realize that this just might be the bridge to thinking in Cube!
I find cylinder to be a lot easier (than the cube) to visualize (might have to work on cube sense later on). This is me taking a break from my cylindrical limbs exercise. I alternate between the two: cylindrical exercises (using photos) and then freehand cylinders (making things up with cylinders).
Sometimes you’re in the middle of practicing in a state of relaxation, where you don’t think much. You might get something that looks nice, but find that it’s impossible to replicate the result. That certainly happened to me.
The purpose of practicing is to get better and to really improve your skill. We don’t do it so that we can say, “I have done it!” and then move on to the next target. Slow down and be intentional. Be aware of your thought process.
Once you got the essence of the pose, you can try it from memory.
Sooner or later you’ll run into this thing called foreshortening. It’s very difficult to draw poses that have a lot of distortion like this. Knowing that foreshortening is difficult and hard to get it right when you’re just beginning to explore it, I wanted to do more than one test to make sure that the first one wasn’t just a fluke. Don’t expect perfection at first. Aim for “just right.”
I started off with the right arm, then left, head and upward. I imagined the limbs as cylinders.
Taking a break from my goal of 300 pose photos. Only completed 60 so far, 240 more to go. After you do that photo exercise, things will start to click. For me to do these from imagination at this stage means that not everything is accurate (anatomically speaking). Accuracy is not what I’m aiming with these. All that comes later when I look closely at muscles and bones and how they attach together. In the meantime, I just want to be able to pose these cylinders from imagination, to make it look like a figure, good enough, but not necessarily accurate.
Another experimental piece. One brush (not counting the screen tone one), one color (black) and an eraser. First time doing hair, and it took a lot of time trying to figure out… so it was guesswork and it turned out alright.
These are studies conducted today. Using only one brush throughout the entire process. Only black and an eraser, no opacity changes. That’s about it! Based on references found on gumroad. In both of these experiments, I started out by scribbling. And slowly divided and conquered through the process of refinement (erase, draw, erase draw: repeat until desired result is reached. This process feels like digital sculpting, with ink!).
This was just another fun piece playing around with the screen tone.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” — Bruce Lee
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to practice these basic shapes/forms. They’re the key to drawing from imagination. With that said and out of the way, let me share a few thoughts on this.
I have read many books, and they all say the same thing: Learn to simplify. Practice these forms. The disadvantage with being a self-taught is that you’re on your own, left to figure out the rest. Limbs can be seen as cylinders. But how do you begin practicing? From imagination? That’s what I thought. Yes, you can start from scratch and just do it from imagination, but a much better way to get there is with photos. I have never done it before until last night.
So far, I have practiced the cylinder 20 times (20 different pose photos). I’m aiming for 300, then I move to the torso. If you’re doing it from imagination, anything goes. If you’re doing it from photos, you have a specific goal, and mistakes can be identified and skill can be improved. So it’s better that you start with photos.
First, learn to walk before you try to run. Don’t try to be cool by curving your cylinders (using curve lines). You can do that afterward once you’re comfortable with straight lines (walk). When you’re starting out, your cylinders will look robotic and rigid because everything is straight, no curve. This exercise/practice will help build cylinder’s vocabulary and muscle memories. Keep practicing from photos and soon they’ll find their way to superimposed it into your memories, and become part of you.
Pick a photo
See the limbs as cylinders
Draw the cylinders: Connect the ellipses together with straight lines
You don’t have to draw the legs together as one body part. You can separate them. This exercise isn’t about having the proportion right or have the limbs attached together. It’s about simplifying the limbs. But for the legs, I recommend that you draw them together. If it’s too challenging, then do them separately until you’re comfortable and then try them together.
Once you’re comfortable capturing the pose of the limbs, start being more expressive to give life to your cylinders. Instead of using pure straight lines to connect the ellipses together, use curvy lines.
Do that with a lot of photos. That’s it for now. I might write part 2 to this when I have time, explaining the mindset behind curvy lines.
Remember to slow down and enjoy, and make art just for you. It’s not always about having everything down perfectly. This piece was done with the ink brushes that come with Krita. Inspired by an abstract impressionism piece that I saw from a book I was reading.
Another piece done entirely with the Ink brush set. Just having fun.
As of this writing, the one thing in Blender that throws me off is the Ortho / Perspective switch. I sculpt in both modes, and usually have the Perspective at 120mm Focal Length. If I’m up closed on the mesh in Ortho mode and rotate the viewport, the mesh will vanish out of sight. To bring it back to view, I would have to scroll the mouse wheel up. This is solved by turning off the perspective auto switch in the preferences. The problem is that you would have to manually switch to perspective mode, and when you do, the mesh will vanish out of sight again, and then you would have to try to bring it back to view. That’s a lot of hassle. I can’t seem to find a way around this so that I can work with perspective autoswitch on.
Last night I took the time to mapped out the sculpting brushes so that I can easily get to it in future experiments. Blender sculpting is fun once you know the shortcuts to each individual brush. By logically organizing them, I’m able to experiment and try out more brushes on the fly.
Here’s another experiment earlier, and as you can tell, it’s based on a reference this time so it looks a bit more real, and not creaturely. In this test, I found myself using the “Clay” brush more, a lot more, because it’s a female head and things need to be round and smooth.
Clay Strips gives a rough look, and it’s a good brush to block in the form in the earlier stage of sculpting. It also gives you the clay effect. Yet at the same time, it can mess up the details that you have worked very hard on, if you’re not careful. When you already have a lot of details in place, use the Clay. If details don’t matter, use Clay Strips. If you want to be subtle, use Clay. I tend to use both the Clay/Clay Strips at 100% strength. At 100% strength, Clay Strips allow me to easily block in the form. I can still manage the strength via pressure sensitivity, but it’s at 100% strength that I use these two brushes. The SculptDraw brush on the other hand is very extreme. I would put both the Blob and SculptDraw in the same category.
I use the Grab brush a lot throughout my sculpting session. Earlier stage to fix the overall shape / proportion. Mid stage to adjust / fix the proportion of the nose, mouth, etc… When the proportion or shape doesn’t look right, the Grab brush is your friend. A lot of time we tend to be so fixated on detailing our mesh that once we zoom out, things look off! This is normal by the way. That’s why the Grab brush will be used throughout. For subtle changes, we have the Thumb and Nudge brush. Thumb and Nudge works a bit differently, but both are there for minor and subtle changes that does not affect other area of the mesh. If the jawline is too high, you can bring it down with the Thumb brush.
More can be said about Scrape, Pinch, and the Crease brush. That’s for another post.
The hand is a challenge to draw, model and sculpt (digitally). Earlier I decided to give it a try, starting with a sphere. I didn’t bother to finish it because it’s way too much work to manually move and reposition the fingers. I enjoy sculpting things manually, and for those that do, Blender really need a way to quickly bend / rotate the mesh—something like the Transpose tool in ZBrush.
Here’s my tip if you want to sculpt the hand: Let the palm face you (front view, “1” on the numpad). That way, you can use your left hand as a reference.
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.
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.
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.
Modeling or sculpting creatures is a great way to learn the 3d app you’re using. Creatures allows you to make mistakes, and to be free and relaxed in your experimentation. With humanoid, you have to keep the anatomy in mind otherwise people can look at it and know that it’s off.
Sculpting this piece from a sphere was quick and easy. It’s also my first attempt at retopologizing. Blender by default has all the options and features that make this easy, but the actual process of retoplogizing (manually) can be long and tedious! I might have to look into RetopoFlow later on.
Completed in 55 minutes. No reference. Forced myself to improvise. I was a bit nervous before I hit the clock and wasn’t sure if I could pull it off because 1) My knowledge of anatomy is still lacking (the neck gives it away, I think), 2) Still learning what each brush does. Would love to experiment with other brushes, but I stuck to what I know best: Clay Strips. My left hand was hitting a lot of hotkeys and I was going as fast as I could. There were a lot of hiccups in between as I reached the numpad keys with my right hand and that kind of slowed down a bit. I’m a keyboard cowboy and haven’t fully mapped Blender’s keys to my liking yet.
Anyway, I’m very surprised by the result. Let’s just say I got lucky!