I want to take a moment to discuss something that I often hear people say. So often in fact, that I very nearly read it daily on art forums and chats. "I don't have talent." or "I wish I had talent like you." Well, I'll let you in on a little secret: talent is a lie. Yes, I said it. There is no such thing as talent. No one woke up one day, decided "I'm going to be an artist!" and painted their masterpiece. Not Picasso, not Michelangelo. Not a single one of the great artists in history.
You could argue about right- versus left-brained people, and say that you're just more in tune with the left hemisphere of your brain, but a quick Google search brings up numerous reports about the myth of right- versus left-brain. While the two hemispheres do have unique properties, they share information so much that we as a species use both equally. (here's a link to just one article from Psychology Today). You can even see how silly your argument sounds when you look at a famous artist/inventor: Leonardo da Vinci. Are you going to argue that the Renaissance Man himself was predisposed to be better at art because he was more right-brained? But what about all of the mathematics that went into his inventions? He was talented because he worked hard to be talented. Take a look at that study of the bones in the arm. That is called a "study" for a reason, and da Vinci did hundreds of them. These studies are the key to his talent.
A New Definition of Talent
You're probably sitting there thinking I'm crazy. Of course da Vinci was amazing! He was a genius! And while you're absolutely right, there is something else going on that makes artists so talented. I'll even argue that this should be the new definition of "talent," or at least how you should perceive talent. Instead of some intangible, magically innate ability, talent is your drive to practice. In athletics, it's what keeps you running those laps even though it feels like a thousand degrees outside, it's the belief behind the weird motivation posters you see at gyms and on the Facebook pages of your health fanatic friends. In art, it's the same thing. Instead of just driving your body to it's limits, you're also pushing your brain's creative muscle. It's the desire to draw every day, no matter what. Your talent burns inside of you and forces you to get that image out on the paper or that shape into the clay. Even if you don't have this crazy inner burning to draw, being able to motivate yourself to improve every day is still your talent speaking to you. All you have to do is put in the time. Just like working out strengthens your body, practicing your art will strengthen your talent. And just like in athletics, the exercises you will do while you're learning, and even when you are at a professional level, will be relatively boring. And even though you will fail often, if you stick with it, you will have people telling you "I wish I had talent like you."
You need to listen your internal desire to improve and shut out any negative thoughts. Yes, your art will look like a child's when you first start, but just like a child, your creative ability will grow if you correctly foster it. Talent is practice.
If Practicing is the Key, How Often Should You Draw?
In college, my professors all gave their students sketchbooks. Just the standard, run-of-the-mill, black hardcover sketchbook. The exact same kind you can find at your local craft store. I actually love them so much that I still use the same kind today. (in fact, the first draft of this blog post was written in one!). Our professors instructed us to fill up our sketchbooks by the end of the semester, or at least come very close to it. If we do some math (groan! I know, I know...), we can figure out how many pages per day we would need to fill to get an A in the class. An average semester lasts about fifteen weeks, or 105 days, and the current sketchbook I'm using has roughly 100 pages, we can easily determine that we should do at least a sketch a day for each class. But, as my professors liked to repeatedly tell their students, filling up the sketchbook was a bare minimum!
Let's take a look at another number I only recently heard, this one from a much more pop-culture source. You'll probably laugh, but the cool thing about art is that you are always learning, and knowledge doesn't always come from sources you expect. This tip comes from animator Ross O'Donovan (aka RubberNinja) on an episode of Game Grumps. (for those of you left scratching your head, Game Grumps is a comedy gaming channel on YouTube). In an episode featuring Ross drawing Pokemon, he mentioned that he kept reading how artists should strive to fill up a sketchbook a month. Thankfully, Ross does the math for us this time, continuing on to say how a sketchbook a month comes out to be about only four sketches a day. While this number is a lot more than each of my professors required, it's still very reasonable. Keep in mind, these are sketches and practice, not fully rendered pieces!
My personal routine is to try to finish a rather large piece a week and then at least a sketch a day. I work on commissions most of the day during the week, then in the evenings doodle whatever silly thing I want. I'm usually sketching for fun while my other half and I watch whatever TV series we're hooked on that week. Even though completing a large art piece a week might not be feasible, you still need to push yourself to try. I highly suggest drawing while doing other things like watching TV! It definitely helps make some boring studies fun.
Other artists will suggest a doing certain number of hours of drawing a day, or doing even more sketches than Ross's four, but the question of how often you should draw really boils down to "as much as possible". The more you draw, the faster your talents will progress. Aim for that sketchbook a month. Make art your priority. I know it seems like a lot of work, and that's because art IS hard work. You have to practice everyday; you have to push yourself. But just like that silly workout motivational poster above, all that hard work is worth it. know it seems like this blog turned into a rant about practice, but that's because I don't believe in any innate talent. Hard work, dedication, and your drive to improve are what make you talented. You are talented. You just need to put in the effort to unlock it!
It's probably no surprise that I love how I ink. I might be completely self-absorbed, but I love it. And because my inking style is something people ask me about rather often, I figured it would be the perfect topic for my inaugural Tips and Tricks post!
I'll start from the beginning of inking in this post and just cover the basics, and in a later post I'll get into some techniques that can help really bring your inks to life. For this tutorial, you will need to understand the layout of Photoshop and where to find some of the basic tools (Ex: Layers, Eraser, Brush)
I primarily use Photoshop CC for my digital work. I'm sure you could transfer these tips to your program of choice because I don't use many tools that are inherently PS, but you would have to figure out which tools on your program do the same. I also use Windows 10 and an ancient Wacom Bamboo tablet (at the time of writing), so keep that in mind while you read.
Start off with your sketch. You'll want to make a fresh layer for your inks, maybe a couple of layers for inks depending on how detailed the piece is. I like to put my sketch layers into a Group and then Lock that group so I don't accidentally start inking on it.
You can see in my sketch to the left, that it is pretty messy, but clear enough that I know which lines I'll be using in the final piece. Things like the characters are more developed than the backgrounds for this specific piece, but that is only because the backgrounds are so minor. In other works with larger backgrounds, I would spend more time refining that part of the sketch too.
TIP: Put your characters and background sketches on different layers and using different colors! This will help with both sketching and during the inking stages. You can hide the layers you aren't working on, making the others easier to see! Do the same with your inking layers! This will help when you need to clean up your inks, so you don't accidentally erase part of a character while cleaning up the background inks.
I use the brush tool to ink. None of that fancy vector stuff like you PaintTool SAI users can do, no stabilizers like Lazy Nezumi. Just good old-fashioned drawing and erasing, and a lot of practice. Your best friends will be the undo, rotate, and eraser shortcuts.
For my brush, I use the basic brush tool that comes stock with PS. Up that hardness to 100% and turn on Shape Dynamics (aka use your tablet pen's pressure for the size), and turn off Transfer (aka pen pressure for opacity).
TIP: Set up and memorize your keyboard shortcuts! In PS CC, the brush tool is B, undo is ctrl+Z, rotate is R (I suggest holding the key while you rotate. It allows you to use it without having to switch back to your brush when you are done), and the eraser is E.
This first pass with inking will be messy. Right now you need to be concerned with getting the lines smooth and in the correct places, not perfection. They will overlap and be longer (or a tiny bit shorter) than they will be in the final image. In the close-up below, I zoomed in to my initial inking on Melde's head to show just how messy things look. The lines are all in the right place and are nice and smooth, but I definitely have a lot of clean-up work to do!
This stage is where your undo and rotate tools are going to be used the most. I draw my lines in one swift motion, NOT in multiple sketchy ones or slow ones. You're not tracing the exact image and you're not sketching, so don't ink like it! If you struggle with drawing a curve at a certain angle, rotate your canvas so the angle becomes a more natural one that follows the arc of your wrist/arm when you draw. For example, I had to rotate the canvas about 25% clockwise to be able to draw the bottom of Melde's closest horn more easily. Sometimes you might have to rotate the image completely upside-down! If this doesn't make sense, grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a curve by simply bending your wrist on it's natural axis (don't move your fingers!). See how easy that curve is to draw? Now try to draw curve in the opposite direction without rotating the paper. You most likely bent just your fingers to try to create it, which I bet was pretty difficult. Now rotate your paper upside-down and draw your curve again, this time using your wrist like the first time. When you turn your paper back right-side-up you'll see two pretty curves that go in opposite directions! This is exactly the same principle as rotating your image in Photoshop, only you're doing it on the screen rather than a physical sheet of paper (don't physically rotate your tablet; that's just silly).
If you don't draw it right the first time, undo and try again! Don't get discouraged if you have to undo and redraw your line dozens of times; I know I still redraw a lot! But I promise it does get easier to draw a correct line the first time as you practice more and get that muscle memory formed.
TIP: Use thicker lines for the outlines of objects, when an object is closer to the viewer, or deep folds. Use thinner lines for fine details, shallow folds, and things that are far away. I normally start with an "average" thickness then increase or decrease by a few pixels as needed.
Here's where my inks really start looking good. Finally, right? It takes some patience to get decent-looking inks without tools like vectors or Lazy Nezumi, but I feel like it's well worth the effort (nothing against those tools, I just personally like the more hand drawn appearance better). In this step, you will love your keyboard shortcuts even more (you do have them memorized now, right?). I know a lot of tablet pens have "erasers" on the back, but I like the ease and speed of just hitting a button on my keyboard.
My eraser has the same settings as my brush, so check above for those if you don't already have it set that way. For this stage, I normally shrink my brush size just a bit. For example, I used 15 px for the initial sketch, and now I am using 10 px. Don't feel tied down to a specific size though! Experiment!
To clean up my lines, I used my eraser to fix the messy parts of the lines, especially the parts where ends overlapped. This was necessary on the tips of Melde's mohawk, but I used it to touch up other areas as well. To the left, you can see my technique to create nice sharp points by simply using the eraser. Start off with your messy lines, then use the eraser to follow along the outside of one of your lines so you cut off the unnecessary additional length of the other. Then just repeat with the other line!
You can use this same technique to taper the lines at the tips of your points too. Simply shave off a tiny bit of the outside of your lines as you follow them to the tip so it thins as it reaches the point. This can give the appearance of your point getting even thinner, which allows you to create more interesting linework.
TIP: Taper the ends of all of your lines! Don't simply leave a line blunt and round at the end, utilize that eraser and the same technique for creating sharp points to delicately taper your individual lines to nothing. You can see this in practice on the inner lines on Melde's mohawk.
This is also the stage where I will move lines around that I dislike, completely erase things that I now deem unnecessary, or add in tiny details as I see fit. You can see in the close-up of Melde's head where I added eyelashes. Be patient with this stage, fiddle with it until it's perfect. You might have to redraw a messy line if you realize it does not actually work out in that spot, but you should be only refining your lines for the most part.
TIP: Zoom out occasionally. Sometimes you think a line looks smooth, but when you zoom out suddenly you can see all the problems. Better to fix them as you go along than zoom out, thinking you're done, and then see all a bunch of lines that need fixing!
Your final inking should look something like this! Pretty lines just ready to color! (Oops, except for that stray line! Looks like I need to fix that before I can color!) I did spend more time inking the characters than some of the background parts because I am still deciding what in the background needs to be inked and what will be a more "painterly" style, but overall you can see how I employed each step to complete the inking stage.
I hope this helps some of you! If you have any questions, post in the comments on here, or hit me up on Facebook or on Twitter and I would be more than happy to answer them as best I can. There are more inking techniques I'd like to discuss too, but I'll save those for future inking Tips and Tricks. The steps covered in this post are just the basics to get you started. And don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss the next blog!
I've been thinking about writing a regular blog for awhile now, but kept making excuses as to why I couldn't. Today I finally came to terms with those pesky issues and decided that no matter what, a blog like this would be a good thing, something I can do to give back to the wonderful art community I have been a part of for so many years. I think possibly my biggest mental hurdle was actually deciding what I could write about. I kept convincing myself that I didn't have anything worthwhile to say. Finally these kinds of thoughts lead me to realize that if I was struggling with self-doubt, how many other artists, or even would-be artists, suffer with the same thing? Things like overcoming self-doubt as an artist is one of the many topics I want to discuss through my blog.
Of course, in addition to artist self-help topics, I will be doing art tips and tricks too! And walkthroughs for various pieces, and getting into the nitty-gritty of how to choose the right medium, and even how to do the very basics of drawing!
This blog will be posted every Monday, right here on my website. Which means that next week will be the very first "real" installment! Let me know in the comments if there is a topic you're dying to see me cover. If I end up picking your topic, I'll give you a shout-out in the entry for your awesome idea.
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