It's been some time since I sat down and did any art whatsoever, so my skills are a bit rough. However, I thought I would share with you (and especially you, Kathleen) a little bit of what I know about the beautiful, wonderful world of illustration.
I decided to do an illustrative portrait of my heroine in the upcoming novel Starflower. First of all, I brainstormed for ideas.
These little sketches are called "thumbnail sketches." They are tiny and rough, with almost no details. They are simply ideas for how I might like to arrange my picture and what elements I might like to include. Never spend more than a minute or two on your thumbnail sketches!
Again, the two on the far right just don't quite do it for me. But hey, worth the try, right?
Wow, this last one has some real drama! And it stands out from the others for being horizontal rather than vertical.
After this stage, I pick a couple that I like and sketch them on a larger scale with more detail.
Now I can make some more definite decisions on what I like and what I don't before committing to a project.
#1: I like the composition, but I'm not wild about the girl's pose. She looks too "Tough Girl," almost Superwoman. While my heroine is a strong cookie, she's not a "tough girl" per se. So that one . . . nah.
#2: I really love the drama of her face there! It's very focused on my heroine and her vulnerability. However, I feel I've lost her sense of strength. She is very vulnerable through most of this story, but she's strong too, and I'd like a portrait to reflect that.
I decided to do two more.
#3: I tried one of the thumbnails I didn't care for as much . . . after all, I might like it better on a larger scale! Turns out I don't, however. Too focused on the wolf, and the girl looks a little "posy" again, not natural.
#4: I really like this one! Very focused on her, vulnerable, yet strong. The position is natural. The sense that she's looking over her shoulder gives a bit of tension--like she's unwillingly turning her back on something, perhaps. The composition is pretty good too. I think I'll go with this one!
Now it's time to prep my paper--give myself half-inch margins--and sketch in "blobs."
Always draw lightly until you're certain you have what you want!
Now I begin very carefully defining my shapes. I do this more with shadows than with actual lines. You see the shape of the shadow under her chin and around the side of her face? Because I darkened that, the line of her face pops out and becomes defined, but I didn't have to actually draw that line. This is a great trick for creating depth (not to mention accuracy) in your sketches.
Remember again, draw lightly!!!
Here you see a little more definition. I manipulated the photo so that you could see more clearly, but in reality, I sketched in her features very, very lightly (have I emphasized that enough yet?). I don't get caught up in this stage working on too many details for her. There is a LOT of picture yet to go, and I want to get it all roughed in before I start detailing!
Oooh, our big bad wolf is taking shape! Again, you'll notice that I use very few actual lines to define him. I use my pencil almost like a paint brush, quickly applying large areas of shadow and letting the shadows define his shape. Because I want to create a sense of rugged wildness in this character, I use a very loose, sketchy stroke as well. Nothing is too neat.
Hmmm, but his eyes are looking a wee bit close together, aren't they?
Along the bottom, you can see a little swirly-motif. This is a design I came up with my sophomore year of college, and I like to use it in my illustrations as a little stylistic signature. I also decided--since this is an illustrative portrait--to add a title in that empty space using a loose, natural-looking script that matches the natural pencil lines of her hair, the wolf's fur, and the swirls.
All right, here you see me actually committing to these shadows! I'm still only using a 2B pencil, however. It looks dark compared to how light everything else is, but it's still light enough that I can erase if I choose too.
The key to a really convincing piece is finding your darkest places and pushing those darks as far as you can. That leaves lots of room for variation in your shadows. Look at all the different shades going on in the Wolf Lord. Because I pushed the darkest places so dark, there are lots of medium tones and then his eyes pop out for being white.
Here you can see the text beginning to emerge. And the swirlies are getting lots of fun definition! I like them. I used to decorate the edges of all my notebook pages with those swirls.
Keep your pencil sharp. It's much easier to work with!
Also, to protect your picture from your own hand smearing the graphite, use a paper towel and place it under your drawing hand as you work. Makes a big difference, believe me, and you don't have to erase nearly as many smudges!
All right! This is as far as I've taken it for now. This is still only using an HB through a 2B pencil, which is not very dark. If I was a little less lazy (ahem!), I could take this piece through many more levels of shading, up to a 8B or even a 12B pencil, which is a VERY soft led that is practically ink black. I might still do that with this piece, but . . . not today!
From beginning to end, this took me about 3 1/2 hours (I'm out of practice!). The piece itself is not very big, only 9"x12".
The main things to take away from this little art lesson are the following:
1. Thumbnail ideas before committing to a project. Solves a lot of composition problems before they happen!
2. Use "blobs" to arrange all your key elements on your page before beginning to sketch actual objects.
3. Draw LIGHTLY!!!!!! Because the fact is, you will make mistakes! And you will want to fix them! So draw lightly so that you can erase without leaving marks.
4. When you're certain you've got things where you want them, then go for it with your shadows. Put those darkest shadows in place first and keep darkening them throughout the process as you add more and lighter shadows.
5. Use shadows to create shape. Don't depend on line alone.
6. Photo references are a tool to help you . . . but you do not have to make your picture look exactly like the photo (unless you're doing a portrait in which case, well, maybe a little more so).