Hey! This is Kat, and instead of writing up a Happy Mail or Monthly Round-Up, I’m going to be talking about my artistic process! I’ve been doing digital art around the same time since I started going on BlogClan, in 2012. Throughout all this time, I’ve been learning a lot about how to best execute the drawings I see in my head onto the computer screen. Today, I’m going to share with you what I know while I paint the infamous Warriors villain, Darktail.
Brushes: Firealpaca Marker (with opacity controlled by pressure), Firealpaca airbrush, Oil-paintingy-thing-I-downloaded-online-brush 2 (varying color jitter and hue jitter by the stroke) and another oil-paintingy-downloadable-brush 3 (varying complement by the stroke, Firealpaca flat brush (varying complement by the stroke)
Tablet: Wacom Intuos
Food: Coffee and Oreos, Voodoo Kettle Chips
One of the first steps is also what I consider one of the most important steps: reference-gathering. When I started drawing in 2012, I almost never used references. The time that I started to look at existing pictures of what I wanted to draw and trying to understand WHY things look the way they do absolutely changed my art for the better. Before I start to draw, I collect some references for color, general vibe, and anatomy.
I like to see WindClan cats as reminiscent of Oriental cats, so a half-Oriental cat Darktail would need the aforementioned references. To the right (Figure 1), I have a screencap of all the references I collected. I use Pinterest, Google images, Tumblr, and a particular Tumblr blog, Cat Colours (https://catcolours.com), to find good pictures. Cat Colours is also super amazing because the user tries to collect amazing quality reference pictures of almost every single cat color/pattern to exist. Remember that your goal is not to imitate the reference; it’s to help you better understand the proportions of what you’re drawing, so that you can best execute your own vision in your own style.
Next, I will do a general thumbnail-y sketchy piece (Figure 2) to work out where I want the body, where the light’s coming from, and, in some cases, what palette I want to use. If you’re feeling adventurous, try a website like Coolors (https://coolors.co/), which was recommended to me by a BlogClanner SEVERAL years ago. This provides you with a fun color palette to try and base the piece on, and there are different controls you can use for different things.
After finishing the thumbnail, I’ll either do a basic sketch on top of the thumbnail, or use the thumbnail as the basic sketch (it depends on how detailed the thumbnail is). Keep the sketch loose. I generally have my correction/stabilizer (which controls how slowly your brush moves) on a low level to keep it light. In this case, I didn’t do a basic sketch on top.
Now I increase the correction level/stabilizer a lot for the specific parts of the lineart (Figure 3), like eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, and ears. I decrease the level and have the lineart be less specific for the areas where fur will go, since that won’t stay at all for the coloring stage. While you should use the references when you’re unsure of what exactly a certain feature looks like, don’t rely too heavily on it. If you think that you know what you’re doing, draw it organically. Looking at a reference will mess with your process in this case.
After I’m happy enough with the lineart, I’ll start painting. Usually, I’ll use a full opacity marker to color it all in with a dark, duller base color (Figure 4). Then, I use brush 3 to start laying out some lighter areas. I used to have a tendency to over-color and over-paint, which really made my art look super muddy and gross. In order to avoid this, I’ve started to paint on new layers when the colors are much lighter than what I’ve been doing. Additionally, because I want to make the final product look as if it is lineless, these layers are on top of the sketch layer.
Planning out exactly how and where and in what shape I’m shading lighter colors is defined by both the shape of the object I’m drawing, and where the light is coming from. This is another instance where a reference comes in handy.
Here, I’m painting the lightest white fur on the very center of his forehead, and right beneath his eyes. The darker areas are around where the nose bridge is and beneath the cheekbones.
Now I’m gonna skip ahead a bit to paint the eyes (Figure 5). My goal is to make them as simple as possible. In order to do this, just keep in mind that they are big squishy liquid spheres, so shade them accordingly. And again, use references!
Next step, I’m going to do some simple fur (Figure 6). I use a low opacity brush 3 and color in big clumps with a light-ish color. After I’ve colored in all the clumps, then I slowly get more and more specific with strands, depending on how detailed I want the piece. Include some darker shading at the base of the clumps, and the lightest in the very middle, where the brightness would hit most.
Periodically, I’ll turn visibility of the lineart layer off and start shading the areas that the lineart had originally covered.
Onto the background (Figure 7)! I’m going to keep the colors and details very simple, because I’m lazy and hate backgrounds. I’m just planning out brightness of colors based on where I want to pull the focus. The brightest area is the middle of the piece, and after that I color in some general lightness around the silhouette. On another layer, which I make an “Add” layer (look into layer properties on your program, and test out how different ones turn out!), I use brush 3 to silhouette the with light.
Lastly, I’ll draw in details with the marker brush. I’ll put in occasional light single hairs, and try to remind myself to add in whiskers. I’ll throw in occasional light fur strands in the silhouette. Because I’m trying to draw attention to the center of the face, I’ll add in some detail lights silhouetting the cheekbones and jaw (again with the marker brush). And voila! Occasionally I’ll combine all of the layers to one and then play around with the hue/saturation/brightness controls, but that’s about it.
And now, onto more general advice on improving your art.
One of my inspirations is Devin Elle Kurtz, otherwise known as Tamberella. Her Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube are FULL of amazing resources and lectures, and I really encourage checking her stuff out. If you have some money to spend, she has lots of more specific tutorials with lots of resources (I myself bought the Domestic Cats painting tutorial a few months ago) on her Gumroad (https://gumroad.com/tamberella?sort=page_layout#LUxi). But also; FIND YOUR OWN INSPIRATIONS! There’s amazing artists EVERYWHERE, and be inspired by them! Reach out! Ask questions! They’re often very receptive to questions!
Before I end the article, I would like to emphasize to you that art is difficult. We think of it like being able to roll your r’s, where you’re either born with it or never can. Art is a skill, and the more time you invest in learning, the better it’s going to be. Right now, you’re very young, and you’re not going to be perfect at it. And you never will be perfect.
If you are really serious about art, start to set aside time during the week or during the day to practice and study. LET YOUTUBE BE YOUR UNIVERSITY! Watch tutorials about the program you want to draw on, watch tutorials on the animal you want to illustrate, and watch tutorials on the artistic process itself. And sketch! Study from life! It’ll get tedious and boring, but I absolutely guarantee that the more effort you put into it, the better your results will be.
Lastly, the artistic process is one of being inspired by someone else’s work, being proud of your own interpretation, and then being disappointed in a week that your work isn’t like other people’s. Instead of wallowing in your difficulties, choose instead to learn how to be better. Spot the areas where you need improvement. Take a half hour and do some studies. Let yourself be inspired by other’s work. You’ll get there.