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03 ART PROCESS
From Photo Reference to Final Drawing
Hello! I said I would show off a bit about my drawing process next time, and here we are. Before I do, though, I’d like to let you know that I’ve collected and pinned the web episodes of THE PHANTOM PLEASURE, you can see the list here.
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OK! Now on to the update. I’ll explain how I got from this goofball phone photo on the left, to the final sketch of Echo on the right:
I hate this part of the process, so I usually rush through it. In this case, I slipped into a moderately shiny suit and boots (not so much fun when we’re in the middle of a heatwave), put the phone on the floor, and just started recording. I have a bunch of different outfits and pieces that I cycle through for photo references, but I’ll explain why I do that in a minute…
For action shots, I will sometimes film myself in slow motion doing gymnastics, tumbling and flipping, or doing parkour-style stuff. That’s how I got this shot of Halo, if I remember correctly:
Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I knew I wanted a fairly generic pose to clearly show off what the main character looks like, so I didn’t try too many options. After around 30 seconds of slightly moving my body to alter the pose, I stopped recording and scrubbed through the video; and selected the shot I wanted. I then opened the picture on my laptop screen, so I could look at it while illustrating on the tablet.
As you can see, the rough sketch doesn’t perfectly match up with the photo, because tracing typically leads to very boring results; especially for comics. That’s probably not true for everyone, but I’ve found it to be true for me. Also, for the print version of THE PHANTOM PLEASURE, I want the body proportions of the characters to be more exaggerated, and in some cases, outright inhuman.
So I sketched Echo’s body to better fit the strange, doll-like proportions I’m looking for. It looked boring. So I added a tiny bit of dismissive action, by making her upper body lean back. It still looked boring. So then I did the red sketch on a separate layer above the blue. I pushed her legs further apart, shortened her torso (way too much), and made her lean forward, balancing her upper body on a gun. I felt much better about the pose after that. (The diagonal lines are just to remind me to keep some fluidity, to not draw her standing too rigidly).
After that, I lower the opacity on the red sketch and add a black ink layer beneath it. I sometimes will remain in some part of the strange clothing or suit, so I can just look down to quickly see how the fabric bends and how the light ripples on my joints. For example:
(Eagle-eyed viewers may notice some of the items behind my head in the picture above. I assure you, it’s everything an artist needs. Body lotion for keeping the skin soft while sitting on chairs for hours at a time. Eyedrops for when I forget to blink. Sunscreen for when I’m forced to go outside during the forbidden hours. Melatonin to counteract the caffeine and allow me to dream at night.)
Most of the characters in THE PHANTOM PLEASURE are equipped with shiny suits, so wearing something similar while drawing can be a big help. Sometimes it will give me totally new ideas of how the illustrated outfit can be shaped, which brings me to an earlier point I skipped over.
When I do photo references of Echo, I always wear different pieces and outfits from drawing to drawing. This is because the Synth Suit she wears is supposed to be a constantly moving, animated thing. So by wearing different shoes/boots, suits, jackets, whatever; I will get different ideas for shapes, accentuations, cinches, seams, ruches and so on. For example, here’s how this random shot I had in my inventory really helped with a totally unrelated drawing:
I ignored the lighting/reflection (Echo’s Synth Suit isn’t that shiny) and focused on how the fabric bunched or stretched depending on the body part. You can really see what I mean by looking at my knees, how the fabric becomes perfectly smooth with no wrinkles. Oof, another tangent. Sorry. Here are some in-progress shots of the Echo sketch to get us back on topic:
I absolutely love drawing human forms and faces, even when they’re simplified for comics and cartoons. I’ve also learned to love drawing fabric, or in this case, cords and cables and ripples. I usually draw everything at a large size and high resolution, then shrink it down.
And so, here is the way the Echo character sketch ended up in the end:
Hmmmmm. All this may seem a bit pointless, as the final drawing doesn’t look that much like the original photo reference. So you may be wondering why I don’t just skip the photo and start with the rough blue and red sketches? Analyzing the structure of this newsletter may lead you to believe that I love being pedantic and wasting time, but I can explain!
I’m pretty sure that everyone has their own creative process, their own way of guiding their wild imagination. For me, I feel as though I’m getting hit then dragged out by a massive wave of possibilities. So sometimes, a photo reference can help to reign in all that energy before I even begin sketching. Otherwise, I may end up repeatedly changing the destination during the planning of the journey, and get absolutely nowhere. Taking photos can help me see and narrow down possibilities, and at least provide some barriers to stop me from flying completely off the map.
I hope at least some of this was helpful or interesting for you, especially if you’re an artist. If you all like this kind of thing, I’ll do it again some time. Maybe share how I do the full pages or painted illustrations. See you next time!