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 The Artistic Process.
A Step by Step Lesson.......


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It all starts with the doodle....
    One comment I've often heard when showing my bigger art pieces is "I couldn't do that", often followed with "I don't have the patience to do that!" My first response is usually "Well, that's okay, I've already done it. Now you go do something else!" (My first response is always kind of smart-ass. Fortunately, I usually (usually) keep that first response silently in my head. Usually.) What I do say is that I don't believe I have any more patience than the average person. What I have learned to accept is that it is not necessary to finish a drawing in one rush. If you hit a dead end with a piece, for whatever reason, you can set it aside and come back to it later. You don't have to work on it every day. If you feel like drawing, then pull it out and work on it. If you don't, leave it in a drawer until you do feel like it. There is no deadline for a piece of art you are creating for yourself. This should be fun, not a job!
    I know, I started out with the same mind set. I didn't think I could draw really detailed things, most especially realistic animals. I mean, all those tiny little hairs! Then in college I met a young lady who did such drawings, exquisitely so. She gave me the best advice on how to get your head around doing big, detailed, labor intensive drawings: don't think of the entire thing as having to be done, but just think of it as doing only one line. When that one is done, do the next one. Some days you'll do one line, some days you'll do thousands. Eventually, one line at a time, the finished drawing will emerge.
    There are days when I can sit at the drawing board for hours, laying down marks. Other days, I couldn't make a straight line with a ruler. You just can't force it. But don't think if you can't finish the piece in one go, it's no good. Some of my drawings have literally been done over years and years of time. Often the initial idea just doesn't work out. Don't toss it away, come back to it later with a fresh eye.

    A word of advice: There are artists who have great skill, but they tend to produce only variations on the same basic idea, over and over. After working out that one idea, they just gave up trying to think creatively. To me that is death for an artist. Try new stuff, try to draw things you "know" you can't, or that your realize you are avoiding. As a young artist, I would draw people with their hands hidden, because I drew horrible looking hands. I drew hair as either solid black, or simple outline. I had to force myself to try to learn to draw those things. Which meant studying how other artists did it, and then just practice, practice, practice. Don't be afraid of trying something new or different, when it will be a great opportunity to put your own twist on it. If you are truly advancing as an artist, you will continue to make bad drawings the rest of your life, because you will always be trying something new. But that shows you are trying new things, learning new things. And you will never, ever be bored. Trust me. (Have I ever lied to you before?)

    By the by, there are a lot of how-to-draw books out there, many of which are full of pretty pictures showing you how well the artist can draw, but of little help in learning anything. The very best I've found are a series by the same artist, first published about forty years ago, and still in print to this day. I still use these myself, even after years of drawing. So, right now, go get these books, all by artist Jack Hamm: "Drawing the Head and Figure", "How To Draw Animals", "Cartooning the Head and Figure" and "Drawing Scenery: Landscapes and Seascapes". I'll wait...
    ... okay, got those? Great, let's continue then...
    On this page I'll run you through a drawing from the first rough sketch to the finished piece. This may not be the "right" way, but it's my way. My hope is by seeing my process you might get an idea or two you can apply to your own process. Or, if not that, at least be inspired to continue drawing. We all pick up little bits of ideas from here and there, filter them through our own brains and hands, and come up with something new. If what I show here helps you in any way in your own creative work, that would be great!

    My own method of drawing in pen and ink has evolved over the years into a very specific set of stages. It all starts with the rough sketches, then developing those into clean outline forms. I refer to that as the "drawing a coloring book page" stage. There's no point in doing lots of cool shading and detail work on some tiny element of a picture when you still haven't worked out what the rest will look like, then end up realizing you want to change that "cool" part because it no longer fits in with the new ideas you are getting. Once that outline of form is completed, solid blacks are added. After that, cast shadows are all placed. Then, the final shading and tonal work are done. It breaks down to four distinct phases: Sketch / Flat / Levels / Rounding.

    If there is anything I really want to emphasize in how I work, even over emphasize, is the importance of the sketching phase, of getting the rough idea in your head onto the page. This will often take the most time and effort, as this is where the core of the image will be worked out, where you will have to do the most creative work.
    Sketches for the basic idea can be small, large, super detailed, or just scribbles. Often mine will start as written notes with a few rough lines. It's called brainstorming, and you put down every idea and variation you can think of. No one has to see any of these, it's where you "think out loud", in a way. You might end up taking a piece of one sketch, a piece of another, add something new, put it all together. Just get all those ideas down and see where they take you.
    I always keep piles of cheap/free paper on hand to doodle and work out ideas on. I save computer print outs, mail flyers, anything that is blank on the back. I use ballpoint pens that I pick up for free at various businesses. By doing this, I'm not concerned I'm using up my "good" (i.e., paid for) paper and pens. So I'm free to sketch and doodle and change ideas and throw stuff away and cut out the good parts and trace in new ones. You need that freedom at this point to work out your ideas. I'll have a bit of a good idea on one page, a bit on another, so I get a third sheet and trace those two good ones in place... or even cut them out and tape them to the third, move them around. A complicated idea could end up being worked out in a dozen or so separate pages, all brought together at the end.
First rough sketch... STEP 1: The First Rough Sketch
   The idea here was to continue my JazzCats series (You can see the first four in that series at the bottom of this other page.) on with other instruments and animals, creating an entire orchestra, and maintaining the overall "feel" of the previous images so as to make them all part of a coherent series. I knew a few things up front: I wanted to put two characters in this design, unlike the previous solo shots. I wanted to do horn instruments. And I felt that horned animals playing them would be, while kind of obvious, also the way to go. As with previous characters in the series, I wanted to base these on actual jazz performers, and ended up selecting Miles Davis and Bill Watrous. I did some research, finding photos of the performers to get a feel for how they held their instruments, and after a couple of roughs, selected this one as the best to work with. I liked the idea of the figures centered and pointing their instruments out in opposite directions.
   As you'll see, things can (and most likely will) still change as you progress from this point. The sketch here has a note indicating my idea to make the trombone player a bison, but I felt I could get better balance with the large design at the bottom by making it a moose, with larger antlers. Note also the symmetry of the top background elements, rising up large on both sides. that is part of trying to play off the "horn" theme, even into the background. As I get more into developing the actual characters, I will have to adjust many elements, large and small, to make it all work together. I feel my method here allows me to make those changes and adjustments with the least amount of wasted time and effort.

Studies for the Moose head... STEP 2: Moose Head Studies
   So, if I want a Moose, it's time for research again. Even though the style here is cartoony, I want to base my design on what the animal really looks like. I pull out any reference books I have on hand that might have photos of mooses...er, meeses...um, several moose... You can build up a great visual reference library by hitting those $1 close out bins at used book stores, and keeping an eye out for local library sales. Many older encyclopedias and reference books will be for sale for next to nothing, as the scientific information in them might be out of date- but the images are what you're looking for!
   Again, these are just the last of a number of rough sketches, always trying to keep to the pose and direction I want this figure to be taking in the final piece. The second image here was developed from the one above it, tightening details, etc.

Studies for the Ram head... STEP 3: Ram Head Studies
   As with the moose, I did some research and sketching to get the basic idea of the ram's head down, and these are the last two of those sketches. At this point I also realized I would have to manipulate the faces to have these characters actually blowing into their horns, but would do those subtler adjustments later when combined these head studies with the full body poses. Remember, there's no need to do more detail work than you need to at this point, still working out shapes and sizes, and if you spend a lot of time on making it "pretty", could be a waste if you have to change it all later in the final design.
   Another note on reference material. Aside from having some hard-copy, ink-and-paper reference works on hand, the Image Search capability of search engines like Google and Ask can also be of great help. You don't want to simply copy someone else's work, but you can get inspiration from various sources, then put all that together with your own style to improve and advance your work. (Like how you are, I hope, getting one or two good ideas from reading this page!)

Study of Trombone Player... STEP 4: Trombone Player Study
   More research to do again. Since I wanted the pose to be based as much as possible on how this actual player held his instrument, I found all the photos I could of him. As well, I gathered together photos of other trombone players, plus pictures and diagrams of just the instrument by itself for details. It is rare to find a single source that shows you all the details you want. Some may be in a pose you don't want, but there are aspects of the picture that help in developing your image. With a basic pose in my head, I then gather all the research I need to be able to draw it correctly. Put all together, I end up with this headless horn player.
   (To emphasize using scratch paper at this stage, note the text at the left side of this sketch. This was a piece of leftover computer printer paper that only had a few lines on it, but was otherwise blank. If you work anywhere they do a lot of printing from the computers, or get in a lot of faxes, it is likely there is a lot of paper that will just be thrown away, but you can save and use for sketching paper! If anyone asks, just tell them you're recycling what was trash into artwork. And, after use, you can still toss those sketches into the recycle bin.)

Study of Trumpet Player... STEP 5: Trumpet Player Study
   When I first knew I would have a trumpet player in this image, I also knew it had to be Miles Davis. I also wanted to base the pose from his "later" period, where he often played holding the horn straight down in front of him (and usually with his back to the audience!). While that was too cool for school, it also turned out to be too static for the arrangement of the figures I eventually ended up with. However, I was lucky to find a pose of him from younger days, putting his whole body behind the playing. Hand and finger details were again among the important things I was looking to nail down at this stage, and I ended up making the body arc a bit more exaggerated to put in the energy I was looking for.

Study of Complete Trombone Player... STEP 6: Trombone Player Sketch Completed
   Here I've combined the body and head sketches. Sometimes you'll have to adjust the size of some elements from separate sketches when bringing them together to get all the proportions in balance. Note how the angle of the horn is slightly lower now, to allow for the larger moose head and for proper mouth placement. At this point I've also roughed in some more ideas on the costuming. I also played with the mouth a bit, going for a combination smile and "puffed cheek" while he is blowing the horn that I like.

Study of Complete Trumpet Player... STEP 7: Trumpet Player Sketch Completed
   Again, you can see the changes I made in body weight and position of the arms and horn to make this work with the larger animal head, and working on giving the right "pursed lips" touch to the horn valve. Also worked more on getting the proper pattern into the horns themselves.

 

Both Figures Combined... STEP 8: Combining the Figures
   Still working on scratch paper, I first measured and laid out the correct proportions for the final drawing to fit into. I then moved the two images around until I had them placed in what looked like a good relation to each other, and traced them into place.
   Now that I have the figures finished, I can see that a completely symmetrical background element, as I had in the first rough sketch, won't work. The top figure is more to the left than I had planned, to make room for the horn. So I've now sketched a large, sweeping element coming up on the left and overhead, pulling in the moose figure. Then just roughed in a few basic curving forms at the bottom. Plus, I still want to work in some musical notes, as in the previous JazzCats images. Here I've roughed in an idea of having those move in waves, like on the bars of musical notations, across the page.

Starting to work out the design at bottom of the image... STEP 9: Starting on Bottom Design Elements
   Yes, this is yet another sheet of paper. Since I now want to concentrate on the decorative design elements, and I've got the figure placement on the previous sketch, I've only roughly traced in the figures as a guide. I start sketching in flowing curves at the bottom, going for a mix of large and small forms, again working to keep an overall balance to the composition.
   At the point of the sketch scanned here, the lower right shows the curves roughed in, while on the left I've moved to the next stage, now using heavier pencil line and some ink to tighten up the forms, deciding where overlaps will go, etc. This is a good example of how you can add more detail at each stage of this method. The tighter work at the left started over rough layouts exactly as on the right. You can compare them to see how, while tightening the designs up, I also added still more detail.
   The idea of the musical notes from the previous sketch is just not working for me, as it breaks up the flow of the other forms too much. I want everything to curve in and around, lots of flow. So I've roughed in a circle within the arc of that large upper curve and placed a few notes. I like this better. Also note the designs being roughed into the costumes, to tie their forms into the rest of the image.

More of the details are worked out and tighened up... STEP 10: More Details Are Tightened Up
   Working my way up up the left side now, tightening the forms, adding detail. I've also now started to trace in the figures as I work on the details of their costumes, and making subtle changes in curves so that the figures and background elements flow in and with each other. (For example note the collar of the trombone player is now a more graceful curve up to the neck, to join in the flow of the large arc behind him. Also, note the details of his costume at shoulder and cuff, changed from the previous sketch, now with more rows of lines as the prime design element, reflecting and balancing that same line work in the horns of the ram.)

 

The sketch phase is now completed... STEP 11: Sketch Phase Completed
   The last of the design is tightened up enough that I feel I now have all the basics in place. There is no need to do any more work on the details at the lower right, as most of that will mirror the left side. I can just flip the sketch and use that other side as a guide for the transfer to the final drawing surface.

 

Final pencils... STEP 12: Final Pencils Laid Down
   So now I get out the good paper, and make sure my hands are clean, 'cause from here on in, it's all final art. I double check the outside dimensions, then start tracing in, as tight and controlled as possible, all the information from the final sketch, making subtle adjustments as I feel is needed. Everything is transferred freehand, and done as lightly as possible, as I will need to erase lines after the next phase of inking is completed. (I had to manipulate the scan of this image to make the pencil lines darker so you could even see them here, as they are very lightly placed on the paper.)

 

Inking the base... STEP 13: Basic Line Ink Started
   This shows the ink lines now in on the bottom half of the image. Most of this is done freehand, since the lines, though curving, are of short lengths. For longer curving lines, I'll use a French Curve for a guide. I use Rapidiograph pens for my inking, and once it is dried, a white eraser to gently remove any visible pencil lines.

 

All of the lines now finished in ink... STEP 14: All Lines Finished in Ink
   Everything has now been traced over in clean, sharp ink line. This is what I sometimes refer to as the "Coloring book page" phase, as everything is there, but only in simple outline. What's interesting is, at this point, the vast majority of the real "work" of design has been completed. From this point on adding in all the details, which is what impresses most people, is where the fun begins for me as an artist. I now have the design nailed down, and can enjoy the process of really bringing it to life. And, there is a very specific order to do these final steps...

 

Putting in the solid blacks... STEP 15: Placement of Solid Blacks
   First, I fill in anything that is to be a solid black. In the case of this image, only the outfits of the musicians and the musical notes get this treatment. Everything else will be done at some level of shading. I use the pens for filling in, though for very large areas, such as on the costumes, I might come back and put a second layer of ink on using a small brush, to smooth and even out those areas.

 

Lightsource and Shadows... STEP 16: Decide On Light Sources,
Then Drop in Hard Shadows
   Putting in shadows is what will separate the various elements from each other in space, moving things that had all been flat in the same plane now to the front, middle, or rear. You need to pick a light source, then figure where shadows would fall given that source. You can have multiple light sources (a friend referred to this as "doing Hollywood lighting") in the same shot to emphasize different points. Just try to keep it to a reasonable number. Here I've decided to point a light directly at each figure, while the design elements at the base are being lit from the center out, so that the shadow affects are mirrored to each side.
   Things to keep in mind are how far away an item is from the one behind it, the angle of the light and thus how long or short a shadow would fall, and the shape of the surface the shadow is falling on. Here, for the moose head, there are shadows under the jaw cast onto the neck, then further back onto the design element behind his head. At the angle I've chosen, only the tip of the ear would be casting a shadow, etc. This is all up to your own design sense, and you can adjust things slightly to serve the overall look of the piece, as long as you keep it all to within a certain "realistic" framework. Also, note among the shadows of the base, the placement of the shadow makes some elements loop out quite higher than those behind them, in affect freeing them from the surface of the page.
   If you're not sure about laying in these shadows, you can make a copy of the line art and play with that first. Use a pencil to rough in shadow areas, erasing and changing until it looks right to you. Then trace those off onto the final art. It's like doing the preliminary sketching, freeing you up to play around without worrying you have to get it "right" the first time.

Starting in on the final shading... STEP 17: Starting On The Final Shading
   The previous step went from flat lines to moving elements away from each other, giving "layers of depth". This stage will now use both textures and shading to further separate elements visually from each other, as well as giving a roundness to the pieces.
   Still using the same light sources, shading is added with either line, dot, or a combination of both. Less on the side of the item closest to light source, more toward the side away from the light. In this scan, note the shading that has been added to the head and horns of the ram. The shading on the horns emphasizes the curve of the horns up and out from the head. Also at the center bottom, shading is adding roundness and depth to the forms.

 

More shading being added... STEP 18: More Shading Added
   Afer shading in the moose antlers, I realized the background element there would end up making for a confused mixture of shapes if I tried to simply shade it as well. So I "colored" it with tightly spaced lines, drawn to curve around and define the shape. This now gives it an overall neutral gray tone to help separate it from the "white" antlers over it. I also added this line shading to several other elements elsewhere in the design to keep an overall balance to the full composition. (A nice side affect I didn't plan, but will certainly take credit for, is this line shading also reflects the feeling of the line in the ram's horns.) More work has been done on the ram figure and bottom elements as well.

 

Almost done... STEP 19: Almost Done...
   Getting near the end, and it's really starting to come alive, getting that 3D feel of rounded pieces, anchored to the page with the shade and shadow.
   Here note specifically the crosshatch line shading on the large curving element at the upper left, which establishes the shadow side of the piece. I will often leave the very back edge of the shadow side white or "light", putting a line there to draw your eye and define the back edge of the element being shaded. You can also see this "white line edge" in some of the shadows of the bottom design elements.

 

The finished drawing STEP 20: The Finished Drawing
   A few more little dots and lines to add in and then... ta-DAH, it's done! Now, go draw a picture yourself!

 


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