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Annie Rodrigue

Some Speedy Fantasy Sketching Tips

posted by marrael 2011-10-24 18:37:44

EMG Sketch Fest for October is just over, and the results are now available for checking out (and in some cases, for purchasing). A quick explanation of how it works: During the 24 hours of the Sketch Fest, any member of the public can post prompts for the artists in the form of phrases, a suggested title, or even links to photos and videos. Artists take up whatever prompt they wish, but are limited to 1 hour of work per sketch, and they are encouraged to post their work to the site. They are also free to complete the work after Sketch Fest and upload the finished work as Finished Work. (Simple, eh?)

With the EMG crowd, you can bet most of the images are in the fantasy theme, and because the artists are drawing from imagination (mostly), I find the rules of fantasy drawing/sketching are always slightly different from ordinary drawing and sketching, because the image you have in mind isn't one you'll find in real life--readily, anyway. So regular suggestions for drawing don't really apply: Using a viewfinder for the best composition? Pfft. Only if you're talking about the viewfinder in your head. Drawing and referencing what you see? When what you see is only in your mind's eye, capturing that ephemeral idea isn't so easy, not to mention ideas can sometimes benefit from further development. Drawing from real life, in comparison, is easy.

But (did you know the "but" was coming?) a fantasy artist will always still benefit from at least the practice that comes from drawing from real life. Personally, I find my sketching speeds up if I do have a reference photo (and during Sketch Fest, the clock is ticking), so, I wind up using my reference photo folders more often during Sketch Fest than not. I could try drawing without visual references, but I always those drawings of mine harder to get right--either proportions will need to be corrected (again, losing time), or the light and shadows would be less interesting than if I had used a photo for inspiration. So, tip number one:

1. Amass folders of reference photo (settings, interesting/dynamic compositions, colours, costumes, poses, people, animals, textures) . If you have time, try a sketch that doesn't use visual reference. But then try another sketch that draws from your photos, and see if those using references doesn't result in better pictures. To save time, keep a small, changing folder of favourite and really inspiring photos.

2. Now, those regular drawing/sketching tips can apply: Trees and foliage, done realistically, shouldn't look like clouds or cotton candy on sticks. (See the examples here: Common drawing mistakes and suggestions. I do recommend Artist's Complete Problem and Solution Handbook by Trudy Friend, as a valuable resource for any artist, fantasy or non.) Draw more masses, not just lines. For looser lines, hold your pencil higher up on its length. Watch your hatching techniques, and make them work to capture textures, not just values. 

3. Because this is fantasy art, know the rules, then break or go beyond them: Pose a figure upside down--because they can fly, or they're in zero-gravity. Tilt the picture plane, because you can! After you've used negative shapes to help draw your central figure, fill those same shapes with a faraway landscape, or more story-telling details. Put in fantasy sources of light: glowing bubbles, tiny fairies, dragon fire, magic. Do the stuff that makes fantasy exciting, but (ideally) get your fundamentals right first, like anatomy, perspective and composition.

If you're curious how to go about getting reference photos without flouting copyright, stay tuned! That will be the topic of a future (though not necessarily the next) post.

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