Pencil Sketching

by Max MaxBert Bertuzzi

Introduction, some tips

How to get a good sketch?

This is a question worth 1 million dollars. Anyway I'll try to explain some tricks to get a good sketching, bringing as an example my work, just because I am writing this and it's easier to me to talk about how I did it. I will also introduce some examples from famous artists. Of course I want to precise that I do not think the methods and informations I am going to tell you are the one and only way, nor the best, to accomplish the task. I will care the most to introduce the basics of the sketching, as I learned them by the time, through my studies ( a comics course and an illustration course ) and my personal experience.


What's 'Sketching'?

Sketching is the first step to make a picture, so we could say it's probably the most important. We could say that's like the foundaments of a construction. What would be the 'Empire State building' without its foundaments? So, a good pencil sketch should constitute the skeleton of any graphical work, that could be a painting, a computer graphic, a web page or a magazine/paper page. In this case we are focused on fantasy art, so let's keep to the point.

In many cases even the sketching itself constitutes the final product, becoming a complete illustration. The importance of a good pencil work is primary, and it's too often forgotten in advantage of colors and other effects, also very important stuff in the end, but hopelessly bound to the validity of the figure sketched under them.



It is very important to get a good level of detail from your basic sketching, so that your pencil base will be ready to get the color or whatever you want to apply, leaving you a very few problems to solve about the figure itself, so that in the coloring/refining step you may concentrate on the illustration technique you are going to use, rather than on the proportions, shadows placing, or anything that can distract you from the refining technique.


From sketching to painting

To do this, anyway, it may be necessary to use different paper sheets than the one which the final illustration technique will be applied on. This way you will be able to draw in a more relaxed way, knowing that you can freely 'torture' the paper sheet you are working on, and you won't have to worry about keeping it safe, clean and well-shaped. Then you can 'transfer' the sketch on the final sheet ( paper, canvas or whatever ) by using various tools, like carbon copy paper or graphite copy paper, a back lighted glass table or a projector, or even an inkjet printer, as you prefer, depending on what you are going to do, and on the paper you are going to work with.


Basic & Enhanced Sketch

Basic structures, construction

Everything can be simplified to its basic structures. For example, a head could be simplified as a composition of a sphere and a cuneiform, arms can be simplified as cylinders, shoulders as spheres, chest as a cylinder ( or a barrel ) and so on. It is important, particularly while drawing anything that you are not used to draw, but also drawing things that you are used with, to reconduce the figure to its elementar shapes. It will help you also to understand its placement in space, therefore his tridimensionality.

Bypassing this step might result in deformed and unreal figures, unpleasant to the eye because wrong in their construction. when you see pro artists that seem to draw from nothing, well, in most cases they are reproducing these elementar shapes into their mind, even doing an unconscious process sometimes. But here we are talking about people that are simply too far forward from us, nevertheless in most cases they made the same process to learn, maybe following different paths, but conceptually the same as it is described here.


The same fact that we are considering the basic structures brings us to a logical consequence: the detail must be ignored at the beginning of a sketch. Starting from details might be very dangerous for different reasons: drawing details too soon will probably take away our attention from the global composition of the picture, and will distract our mind from important things like proportions, perspective and such. Below is an example, from the beginning sketch to the final picture.

1. Basic sketch: Less detail than possible. Attention is focused on the posture, proportions, and the basic shapes are very evident ( arms, legs )

2. Almost complete sketch: More detail is added on the basic shapes. Other shapes are built over and the picture is prepared for transfer onto the final sheet.

3. final picture: the sketch is refined, final details added and, in this particular case, the whole picture is inked.


Enhanced structures, light source

In most cases, you will have to understand how the light falls on your subject. Basic shapes are still foundamental to understand how the light and shadows have to be placed. You have to select a well defined light source ( or more than one, but this is more complex ) to correctly place ligts and shadows. This can be rendered in a flat black, comics styled way, as the 'lizard man' above, or in a grayscale solution. The last opition is especially useful if you are planning to use more complex coloring techniques ( acrylics, gouache, watercolor ) or if you are going to draw a grayscale pencil illustration. An example of grayscale below:



References, pro's work

Looking at others' work is very important. many famous artists have published portfolios of their sketches, but often those portfolios display a work that's too enhanced to be really useful to beginners at once. Looking and collecting their work is important anyway, because allows our mind to get an idea, and can help us beginners to get a goal for our art. Particularly, a thing that changed my life is going to conventions and looking artists drawing for fans: some of them draw simple stuff, some of them get caught and draw awesome pictures. In any case, you will have the opportunity to see how they start their work, how they shape the figure, how they get the final result. learn from them, stay there until your feet burn, talk to them if it is possible, steal anything your eyes can steal, you'll have big benefits.

In your quest for the artists to refer, take care to understand what is the artist whose work is closer to your ideal. For my side, I can suggest some artists which are closer to my ideal, as is to say, they draw the proportions generally correctly, and have a fluent and not forced sense of dynamics. Some of those artists are: Alan Davis, Frank Frazetta, Adam Huges, John Buscema, Berni Wrightson, Arthur Suydam, Alan Lee, Jean Giraud. By performing a simple search on any search engine you can find lots of pictures and informations about those artists.


References, books

It is almost impossible, for a beginner, to draw without keeping present a good 'how-to-do-it' book, there are many books around there that can definately satisfy your desire of knowledge. These can be generally bought in any specialized store ( art and such ) and may vary from simple booklets, to manuals, even to complete, wide and heavy books. The more the book gets deep into the basics of drawing, the better it is. A book with amazing hyper-refined sketches may result completely useless to a beginner, if it is not explaining clearly how did they get that flawless result.


Other graphic examples

Here there are some examples that I hope can help you:


1. A simple elf study

1.Basic Sketching: Note that the hind particulars are drawn as well.

2.Second step: More detail is added.


A birdman, from sketch to color



5 months ago
Art / Painting

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