If your reading this your probably one of two types of people.
You may be looking to start sketching or want to get into digital painting but aren’t sure of how to go about it, or even where to begin.
Alternatively, you may be like I was a few years ago. I used to draw all the time, but once my career in game development began, my focus then shifted from pens and pencils to polygons and vertices and I rarely, if ever, picked up a pencil.
Each year my new year’s resolution would be to draw more but I never really stuck to it, that was until a few years ago when I decided enough was enough, and that would be the year I got back into sketching.
So, what I want to do with this post is share the process I went through to get to where I am now. You can see a comparison below showing where I began and one of my recent paintings, although I’m not saying this is perfect, far from it, but you can’t deny there’s been a significant improvement in my skills.
What I also want to do is share some hints and tips along the way, just a few things I discovered while I was developing both my style and my technique. And I’ll conclude the post by offering a plan of action which will help you to become the painter you’ve always wanted to be.
Well, I decided that rather than jumping right into trying to create a fully realised illustration, something which would inevitably end with me not being happy and giving up, I would start with the basics and do some gesture drawings. So I set aside an hour a day, which ended up being my lunch hour back then, and did some basic sketches. My thought behind this was that it would get my hand used to holding a pen and drawing again, while also improving my observation skills.
To help I used a figure drawing website which unfortunately is no longer live, but there are a few alternatives linked at the end of this post. These sites show random photographs of life drawing models over a defined period, you can also specify how long each photo is shown. So as an example, you can work for half an hour but with each photo only being displayed for thirty seconds. This means that because you only have a short amount of time on each photo, you focus more on form and proportions than details.
This approach worked quite well, and I stuck to this for a month before the momentum slowed…so this was the first attempt I mentioned, which ultimately failed.
I did try and compensate afterwards by buying various books and tools to help me get back into it, but these didn’t work either and instead just sat on my shelf. What did work, was investing in a Sketch Wallet, which meant while I was out and had some time to spare, I could doodle, which helped keep me drawing for a time, but it was never constant.
Fast forward to 2016, another year and another resolution but this time I’m determined to stick to it. I decided that I would sit with a sketch pad in front of me and an iPad to the side, and simply draw anything for half an hour a day. The idea being to fill a page a week with different subjects on each page. So, one week could maybe be anatomy, the next animals or comic book characters…anything just to get me drawing.
This worked quite well, and I found that after the first month I was in a nice routine.
It was around this time that I made my first big investment and bought an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. Even though I had them, I didn’t initially switch over to them completely because I wasn’t comfortable with the tools, so I kept working on the sketchbook but also began some face studies on the iPad as well, using Adobe Draw.
I worked on three pages, the aim being to fill each one just as I had with my sketchbook, and I found over time each page looked better than the previous one, so I decided to move over and focus purely on the iPad.
With my confidence growing I wanted to push myself, so I switched to Procreate and began another page of face studies, this time though they were in full colour.
I continued working on the iPad for a time, focusing more on portraits. Just finding interesting photos and trying to replicate them. What I liked about the iPad was that I could take it anywhere with me, but I did get to a stage where I felt I was being held back by it.
In 2017 I upgraded my hardware again, this time moving to the Wacom MobileStudioPro, which is what I continue to use today.
I jumped right into Photoshop, purely because I already owned this application and had experience using it, and started painting, just following on from what I’d been doing previously, finding interesting photos and replicating them.
After a couple of paintings, I decided to take a step back. Painting directly in colour felt like it was taking longer than it should, so I decided to paint in greyscale first and add the colour later. This would allow me to focus on the levels and proportions, without being distracted by tones.
This approach felt so liberating, it was nice to ignore skin tones for a while and get the foundations of each painting done before then adding colour back in, a process I will create a separate tutorial to demonstrate.
Now I was growing more confident with painting the next issue I found was with realism itself and how It just wasn’t working for me. Its not that I didn’t feel like I could achieve it eventually, it was more that it wasn’t what I wanted to paint, so I started on my next challenge and that was to experiment with style.
Over the next few months I tried various things. I made the neck longer and tried to exaggerate the proportions, but I felt I was veering back towards realism in a way, except for the necks which ended up with the portraits just looking weird. Don’t get me wrong, I liked that they had a creepy feeling to them, but just having one element wasn’t working so I continued to experiment.
After about a year of painting in greyscale first I could feel my confidence had grown, plus I was now looking for ways to sped up the process. Each portrait was taking me about twelve hours to create so the logical step was to drop the greyscale version all together and work in colour from the outset.
I do feel that I had to wait until I felt ready to do this, if I’d tried it earlier, I may have scared myself off painting for good, but taking the leap was a good decision.
With each painting my confidence grows even more, and I feel like I may have finally settled on a style that I like, although this is still in development but I’m getting there and having fun while I’m doing it. I still have a routine of an hour a day set aside for painting because for me, at present, this is just a hobby. I don’t earn money from it, so its something I do along side my client work.
There are three main things that I realise now that I wish I knew when I started on my journey, plus there was a clearer path I should have taken.
Firstly, art takes time. The portraits I do now average at around eight hours each, and they tend to evolve from the initial drawing, so I can relax and enjoy the process confident I will be mostly happy with the result, whereas previously I would get caught up in trying to get the perfect sketch.
Second, don’t get caught up in trying to define a style. This comes with time and experimentation. I’ve tried all sorts of things, some worked, some looked awful, but that’s how you find what works for you. Just because other artists have a unique style doesn’t mean your life should be dedicated to finding your own. Just have fun.
Third, take things slowly. Don’t jump right in and try and create a complex masterpiece, this will never work, and it will only end up with you being disheartened. Start small, draw anything you like, and I know everyone says this but do a little each day and over time your skills and confidence will gradually build up.
With any kind of artwork, its all about building confidence. Confidence in your skills, confidence in the tools you use and also confidence in yourself, knowing that over time you will improve.
Well this is what I would recommend to anyone who wants to start painting.
Get a sketchbook and start drawing. Set aside half an hour a day and sketch anything. Find a photo online and sketch it, start up a Pinterest board and add things you find interesting. I would do this for at least a month, but I would suggest a few if you can.
Move to digital. Now, the device you choose to use is up to you but work on something you are comfortable with. Don’t rush into working in colour, start with sketches just like you had been doing but get used to how the device feels to use. You may need to experiment with brushes or the applications settings but restrict yourself to sketches.
Now is the time to move to painting but keep working in black and white. Do this for as long as you can, but certainly try and do it for a few months. After that time you can continue to work in greyscale but then start to experiment with adding colour. If your not sure how, as mentioned previously, I will be recording a tutorial on how to do this later.
You should now be confident enough with the tools and your own skills to start working in colour. Again, don’t rush ahead, just keep doing what you have been until again, you feel confident enough to move to the next stage.
Now is the time you can start to think about creating your own style, if that’s what you want, or you may find that you have already discovered it as you have been working. What I would say is that a style isn’t something you should stress about, you will find that over time it will come naturally. Just have fun, experiment and see what works and what doesn’t but most of all do what’s right for you, not what other people tell you to do.
My final piece of advice is to start a blog. Now, this isn’t to show off your work, its mainly for you to keep track of your own progress. Its easy to fall into the trap of feeling like your going nowhere, but a quick look back at a post you added a few weeks ago will show you how well you’ve progressed. Also, once people start following you, their encouragement will inspire you to keep going.
I started one on Tumblr, you can find is HERE. Now I don’t think anyone even follows it but its there purely as a record for me.
So that’s the lecture over and what I need to make clear is that this process worked for me, it may not work for everyone and it may be that some of you begin following this but then branch off onto your own path. There’s nothing wrong with that, just do what feels right and as I said earlier, so long as you persevere you will see great results in no time.
Thanks for making it to the end of this post, now grab that sketchbook and start drawing!