Making vector pics

Here’s how I went about making that vector dinosaur pic.

Vector art has to be very heavy on design, because that’s what it does very well: crisp, clear shapes. A lot of great interplay between positive and negative space. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to draw, so I sketched some thumbnails to figure out the design.

The one on the far right was the one I liked best, so I made a bigger, more detailed sketch.

Once I was happy with it, I dumped it into Illustrator and traced over it. Also, I looked at a lot of pictures of Australian Red Tingle Trees. They’re amazing and look like something that would need grazing dinosaurs to keep them in check.

Anyway, this was the rough stage I showed in my last post:

It was okay, but eh, it had some problems.

Here’s what it eventually became:

Here’s what it looks like with all the objects selected:

It has a lot of junk going on it. But vector graphics are nice like that. You can grab them, stretch them, flip them, and drag them wherever you want. It’s almost like making a scrapbook page, or a collage. Except your little paper shapes can be any size, shape and color you want, and you don’t have to mess with scissors. Heck, you don’t even need a stylus. Just a mouse.

Here’s a few individual elements selected.

That’s one leaf element. I just copied it, flipped it, rotated it, etc. about four times to really fill out the foreground foliage.

Here’s the black border taken off. You can see what it was hiding. Scrappy edges!

That’s one of my “cheaty” background shapes. You can’t really see much of it, but it plugs the holes between the trees nicely and gives the impression of dense forest. I have a lot of cheaty background shapes in this pic. You’re not supposed to be looking at the background in that spot, anyway. You’re supposed to be looking at the dinosaurs.

Moral of the story: making vector art isn’t like painting, but it’s still very right-brain creative. It’s just more like making a collage with paper cutouts.

You can get freakishly detailed, too. You just start with the silhouette of whatever you’re drawing, then put small shapes on top for features and details. I think I’m going to do some of that for my next one.


Misty raptor, step by step

I sat down to do a little doodle, and doodled a raptor. I seem to default to them when I’m tired.

I wondered what to do with it, then thought of James Gurney’s latest post on his blog about How to get a feeling of misty light. I’ve been reading that the best way to learn from someone is to copy their work, which is why artists a hundred years ago used to copy the old masters until they learned their technique. Then they went on and applied that to their own works. (They never claimed the copy was their own, though! That’s where the internet gets messy.)

Anyway, I decided to copy the light in Gurney’s pic and follow his directions as closely as I could. The best way to learn is by doing, after all. Take a look at it.

Isn’t that so very pretty? I want the book this is in, Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

Anyway, I laid in a similar background on my pic, first with a pinkish flood fill, then laying in colors with the oil paints > wet brush (my favorite!). (I’m working in Corel Painter, by the way, but you can do this in Photoshop or some other painting program, or with real paint, whichever you’re more comfortable with.)

Then I made my raptor into a silhouette.

Looking carefully at Gurney’s, you can see that the brightest parts of the silhouettes (the orange bits) actually have bright yellow highlights on them that make them look solid. Gosh, his art just makes me want to cry, it’s so beautiful.

He says that this effect, with the orange silhouette close to the light source, is easy to do digitally, but in real media, it takes some careful planning. Let me tell you, it took quite a bit of fiddling in digital to get it right! I painted over and painted over until I was satisfied.

Then I threw in some mid-tone trees to indicate some kind of background, and turned off my sketch layer.

Experiment done for now. I’d like to go back and try this sort of thing on a serious illustration of some kind and really put some time into it.

Airbrush space, part 2

Welcome back to my attempt to airbrush space instead of auto-generating it!

I went back and took a look at my gas clouds, and decided that they were too busy. I’ve also been staring at space art, and it finally dawned on me that the black areas are just as important as the lit areas.

So I erased big black chunks, and went over those with the Chunky Oil Pastel to make them even blacker. Then I added in a few bright stars. Bright stars are always kept to a minimum in really good space art. They overwhelm a sky really quickly.

Whole sky:

I decided that putting a yellow glow over blue moons was a bad idea, so I just went with a nice blue glow instead. I think the whole sky is still a little too bright, but I’m much happier with it than I was before.

Previous post in this series: Airbrush Space part 1

Airbrush space, part 1

After staring at that last showcase pic for a while, I decided that I wanted to do a space pic like that.

But Painter doesn’t seem to have a Distort > Add Noise function anywhere. It has all kinds of really cool effects, but nothing that basic.

So I decided to see if I could do it with the airbrushes.

Starting with a black canvas, I got one of those airbrushes that just leaves a few dots at a time (I think it’s Tiny Spattery Brush or something like that), and painted in some very dark specks.

They’re in there, even if you can’t see them. It makes an important foundation for starfields, and they’ll show up later.

Picking brighter values of each, I added some red, yellow and blue stars:

Because the real night sky is full of all colors of stars, so a starfield should have something other than white. Or so say the various tutorials I’ve used.

I have all kinds of tutorials on how to make planets, but why go to all that trouble when deviantart is awash in stock planets?

They make nice moons. I just had to get them rotated so the light was coming from vaguely the same direction on both. I didn’t want the mysterious galaxy of twin suns. That’s just shoddy art planning. (Or Tatooine, but I digress.)

Now I dumped in a simple black-to-blue gradient. On top of that, I put a radial gradient of yellow-orange to black, then set the yellow-orange one to Hard Light with an opacity of about 45%.

Now for some nice swirly nebulae. I just scribbled around with a soft airbrush, then used the Smear tool on it. Then I added some lighter pinks and blues with the airbrush. Then I used more Smear tool.

It’s kind of like fingerpainting.

Yanking out that tiny spattery airbrush again, I put some stars on top of the nebulae on a new layer, then went back with the eraser and got rid of the ones that went outside the color clouds.

Here’s how it’s looking so far.

It’s time to do the glow effects and the really big bright stars, but I ran out of steam for tonight. That’s why it’s only part 1. 🙂

Step by step: Clouds progression

This is a continuation of this post. I promised a demonstration of how I layered together my colors, so here it is, rather sloppy and scribbly, but it should give you an idea of what it looks like.

This is just basic painting technique. In oil paints, I believe it’s called fat over lean, because your darks are a very thin layer of paint, while your lights are big chunks of it.

First, the reference pic:

Originally from this photo

First, some kind of warm, sunset background. Just a pink-to-gray gradient with some orange smeared over it, eyedropper-lifted out of the same area in the photo.

I see this particular cloud as kind of a loose pyramid. Here is that pyramid with big chunks of the darkest areas blocked in. I tried not to go for any detail at this stage. I just looked at the biggest, darkest areas in the cloud and put them in as big circles.

Building up some midtones now. This is where I started to flesh out the cloud’s actual shape.

Found I had some additional shapes in a shade between my midtone and my shadow, so I picked up a slightly darker purple and blocked those in.

Now for the second-brightest lights! This is the fun part, because it’s where the cloud really begins to pop. But the best highlights are built on a firm foundation of shadow, as some artist said who I can’t remember. The orange is eyedropper-lifted from the photo.

Notice that I’m starting to make my shapes and “puffies” smaller and smaller and more detailed. The eye goes to those bright areas first, because of the high contrast there, so you want to make the high contrast areas interesting.

And finally some touches of the very brightest color, a very light yellow.

This is far from done, because now you should go back and refine your dark areas, and make them puffy and cloud-like, always paying close attention to the shapes in your reference. My example is just a quick and dirty example of what dark-to-light painting looks like.

Wanderer, step by step

I’ve been staring at really great paintings of clouds lately, and decided I was going to learn to do that. But I’ve had no idea how to grasp cloud structure. They must form shapes, but I’ve never been able to figure out what those shapes are.

Then Stapleton Kerns gave me a clue on his blog. In this post, he says,

“I want to contend that drawing is the most important element in the landscape (excluding design anyway) When I teach, the students ability to paint the landscape is the same as their drawing ability. Those who have had atelier training, before the cast, usually have the best results. Students who have drawn heads, or done lots of still life seem to do well also. I have had many students who just want to do the landscape and have neglected to do the studio work that builds drawing ability and they are more likely to flounder.”

I pondered this and pondered this. Heads and still lifes making it easier to draw landscape? Why would that be?

Slowly it dawned on me. Drawing heads and still lifes are very measured and precise. Often you spend hours trying to get one element the exact right shape, or in the exact right position, triangulating with rulers or grids. So … I should be measured and precise when butchering my way through a landscape? How would this apply to clouds?

I went and looked for some clouds on Google, and found this one that appealed to me.

Originally posted here

But the light was coming the wrong way, so I flipped it.

And I gritted my teeth and forced myself to sketch out the shapes I saw in those clouds.

And Sonic, because I was going for a sort of lonely mood.

Next up was the background gradient and sky. I colored on top of my gradient, instead of a new layer. Oops.

Then I spent the better part of the evening layering together the clouds, paying close attention to the masses of shadows, midtones and lights. (Tomorrow I’ll do a more detailed post on what this stage looked like.)

And some ground, using the same colors in the sky. I scribbled all over the ground with the Variable Oil Pastel, which pulls nearby colors into itself and smears it around. Makes it look like I really slaved over that grass.

Then I threw some shading on Sonic. He’s really just there to have something in the foreground against the clouds.

And some grass around his feet to make him mesh with the rest of the image, and I called it a night.

I think my first attempt at grasping cloud structure was a success. I just hope this photographer doesn’t hunt me down and sue me. I’m not making any money off this scribble, I swear.

Bad Hostage Idea: Step by step

I had this picture in my head of Shadow holding Blaze hostage with a gun to her head, for some reason. Upon thinking about it further, I decided to add Silver in there, holding a Chaos Emerald. So we know why Shadow’s willing to bother taking Blaze hostage, not knowing that she’s practically a walking fire elemental.

Here’s the initial sketch.

And now with ink …

Nice and crisp.

I’d seen an interesting pic on DA somewhere that used diagonal lighting across a face, and it made it really pop out and be interesting. What struck me most is that light travels in a straight line across a solid object, straighter than I’d thought. So I set about trying to duplicate that effect.

Rough background with some basic color showing where the edges of the light beam ended.

I wanted some kind of a brick wall behind them, so I poked around in Painter’s Image Hose library, and came up with this in about ten seconds:

Just set that layer to Overlay …

Perfect! I thought about adding some graffiti to it, but later decided that it would distract from the standoff between the characters.

Time for the shading.

Alas, this is the refined version. I forgot to take screenshots of the coloring process. Basically I scribbled in the shadows and went over it with the Soft Blender tool, then scribbled some more, then went over it with the Soft Blender tool. The highlights went on very last.

And last but not least … the magic!

All done in about two hours, which is pretty quick for me. Working with such heavy shadows lets me cheat a lot. I remember why I love doing pics set in the dark with small light sources. 🙂

Crash: step by step

Got another commission from Aura, this time for a fanfic scene based on the Fleetway (European) Sonic comics. In that universe, when Sonic turns Super Sonic, he goes absolutely insane and destroys everything around him.

Anyway, in this scene, Super Sonic has just made the Tornado crash. Everybody survived and is hiding, so when Sonic turns back to normal and wakes up, there’s nothing but wreckage and nobody around. And they don’t dare come out for fear that Sonic will go Super again.

I played Sonic 3 with this in mind, and whaddya know … when Sonic turns Super, he does indeed destroy everything around him. Fleetway was pretty observant when they were writing their universe.

Anyway! Onto the pic.

Rough sketch:

I got no feedback on it, but I was rushing to finish because of internet deadlines, so I went on and worked on it.

I did ink each layer, but I didn’t get a shot of that. Whoops.

Anyway, first the gradient …

I’ve used this particular gradient before. It’s very nice for evening scenes.

Then some background work … Very unrefined because most of it is behind other stuff.

Then the foreground trees and leaves, to establish my darkest tones.

Then the foreground characters, inked, colored, shaded, and darkened, to make them look like they’re hiding. Painter’s Soft Blender tool is wonderful for rushed shading. Scribble it on any way you like, then smooth it all out with the Blender.

Last of all, the background with sad, sad Sonic, who is still on the edge of Super Sonic, hence the glowing ends of his spikes.

I need to do a little more work on it, but the biggest chunks of work are all done.

Next up, I want to do a space picture. With galaxies and planets. I downloaded some really nice stock planets off DA, so we’ll see how it goes. 🙂