Saturday, September 10, 2011

Drawing Process - 'Sabre Skull Valley'

Greetings! Today I'll to explain the process of developing my latest illustration--a prehistoric landscape on 12"x16" Claybord (Ampersand brand uninked scratchboard).  You can click any of these images to see them enlarged.

Most of this will look pretty rough and scrappy, and I guess that's kind of the point.  It takes a series of steps for me to reach the final state of what appears to be a controlled drawing.  Despite the mass of detail in the final image, I honestly don't have it all just sitting in my head ready to go.  It comes out of a lengthy process of continually refining the composition and values through a series of thumbnail drawings, rough full-size sketches, refined tracings of those sketches, and ultimately the clayboard itself.  

It sounds like a masochistic process when you think about how many times the image gets redrawn, but I've found it's actually the most reliable way for me to come to a final image that makes me happy.  So in that sense, I quite enjoy it!

I begin with a vague concept that I'd like to explore, in this case a dense prehistoric jungle with the key elements of a dragonfly and sabretooth tiger skull in the foreground with a volcano in the background.  These tiny sketches aren't meant to lock down any real detail, but simply explore different combinations of the elements in a composition that leads the eye around the page in an interesting way.

Once I have a thumbnail that I'm reasonably comfortable with, I'll cut a sheet of scrap paper to the size of my final board and do some rough sketching to explore my options.  Here I've used a light blue pencil to start, followed by a regular pencil to lock in some of the elements.  As you can see on the left image below, there's a lot of sloppy sketching going on where I'm trying different things and making intuitive compositional decisions.  

After the first rough starts to come together, I'll cut a second sheet of newsprint paper and lay it over the first on a lightbox, tracing and refining the shapes yet again.  At this point I'll still have areas that I'm not totally happy with, in which case I'll do my best to erase or just redraw over them.  You can see with the dragonfly that I'll sometimes use tracing paper to clean it up some or try variations without wearing through the paper.

I'll then do yet another tracing of the image on the lightbox to double check everything and form a template of the outlines.  This version get's laid down over the final board, sandwiching graphite transfer paper.  Using a ballpoint pen, I trace over the outlines, which leaves a light carbon copy on the clayboard that I can then finalize with micron technical pens (I prefer the 03 (.35mm) width).  

Here's an animation of the final board as it's outlined and then shaded.

I'm always singing the praises of Ampersand's Claybords, and yet again I have to say how much I enjoy working on them as opposed to paper.  Having the freedom to scratch away at the ink for texture or for corrections has truly liberated my process.  The flexibility to draw the values from light to dark, and then scratch them back again from dark to light has allowed me to literally sculpt my drawings until everything feels balanced.  It's removed the fear of going to dark and ruining hours of work, and made the whole process a lot more fun.

I've been working so much in black and white lately that my next experiment is to do a colored version of this to include in my portfolio.  Stay tuned for that, as well as a series of 3D illustration for your retro red/blue glasses!

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