Learning Sketchbook 21

There are phases where you plateau when you’re developing a new skill, and then there are phases where it feels like you’re just taking off.  After last week’s relatively low output of two drawings (to be fair to myself, the one I spent the most time on did have two figures who are interacting with each other), I upped it to six.  A couple of them are definitely the result of quick drawing sessions, but the last four have felt significantly more dynamic and visually interesting than anything else I’ve done in a while (and I didn’t use photo reference for them either).

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After doing a few figure drawings, I find that I like to reset with a portrait.  It’s fun to work on a face in detail and try to draw out the parts that convey more subtle emotions.  For this week’s portrait I drew Rogue, and I used a photo reference to get the basic shape and expression, but then I elaborated on it with her traditional trappings, like the big wavy hair with the skunk stripe and the green accents.  It’s pretty obvious to me that I rushed this one (from roughs to colors, I did the whole thing in under an hour), and I feel like with some more care it could have turned out much better than it did.

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This minimalist sketch of Daken was another rush.  It’s probably my least favorite of the set, but I think I did a decent job with the musculature on the back.  Drawing his tattoo was fun, especially because its abstractness and intricacy means that there’s no real set way to do it.  Much of my drawing time was spent just looking for good reference panels of his back, which are harder to find than you’d think.  I feel like the proportions of the arm are slightly off, like if he were to lower it down by his side it’d be far too long in comparison to his torso.  Oh well.

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Here’s where my drawing week started to get really good.  The character is Tempus, who I drew during Inktober this year, so I wanted to try to do something different with her.  I think it’s really fun to draw characters having fun instead of just fighting, so I imagined what sort of outfit she might wear for a night out dancing.  There are elements that are still recognizably Tempus, from the tennis skirt to the purple and white vertical stripes on her top, but it’s generally a far more casual look.  I didn’t use any reference for this pose, so I’m actually very pleased with how it turned out.  If I look at it long enough, I think I’m probably subconsciously mimicking the finishing pose from Yuri’s short routine in Yuri!!! On Ice.  I just realized that; no wonder it looks good!  My primary complaint with this piece is that I didn’t really get the angle of the head right, so the silhouette of the nose feels off.  Tempus is white, but I think I ended up making her look more East Asian in the end.  Still, I feel like the gestures are really strong here, from the arm across the stomach to the set of the shoulders (I don’t think I typically do good shoulders).

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This is the high point of the week.  It’s a real delight to periodically draw a character who’s relatively famous in X-Men fandom, and to have such a clear vision from the beginning of what I wanted to do with the picture.  Rachel Grey as Phoenix has gone through a lot of iterations since she first appeared in the ’80s, but I thought it’d be fun to go with one of her less prominent looks.  There was a brief period just before she got written out of the ongoing plot in the late ’80s where she fully embraced Phoenix as her legacy identity (I think this might have been the first time she actually adopted a genuine costume too) where she had this really rad, super simple outfit that was basically a workout leotard with a gold bodice and red limbs and just a hint of styling on the neckline with the stylized raptor head.  She wore gold gloves in the original look, but I’ve always liked the look of long sleeves hooked over the thumb, so I streamlined a little bit.  The pose is probably inspired by stuff like the double page spread in All-Star Superman where Superman’s flying towards the sun.  I think what I’m happiest about is the deeply androgynous look about Rachel here; she was always a gawky looking character before Alan Davis redesigned her for Excalibur, and I appreciated that nonstandard look.  The Phoenix in the background probably could have been done with more care, but I reached a point in working where I was just ready to be done so I could move on to something else.  I still like it a lot (and the shot works in both portrait and landscape orientation!)

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While Phoenix was the highlight of the week, it wasn’t the last thing I did.  This picture of Juggernaut feels very classic to me; I didn’t play with the costume design at all, and I went for a pretty straightforward action pose, but it generally works.  The eyes are too wide set, but there are some range of motion issues with the Juggernaut’s design that can be hard to contend with when you think about him in action rather than as static images.  It was a lot of fun to draw someone with super bulky muscles though; the proportions feel way more forgiving than on someone who is supposed to be thin.

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I really like everything I did with this picture of Wind Dancer (her power is that she can manipulate the wind; it’s very what it says on the tin), but after I finished it I realized that I really need some kind of background to give context.  She’s supposed to be flying, hence the back bend and the arched foot, but because there’s no background there’s the problem of the picture reading like she’s just doing a really bad en pointe (or whatever you call that ballet position).  I tweaked her costume a little bit, but she’s such a minor character in the broad X-Universe that most folks wouldn’t notice.

I have space for thirteen more drawings in my sketchbook, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to fill them before New Year’s (especially because the holidays are going to be so busy with Dad coming to visit).  I’m trying to take a laissez-faire approach to it to it, but I also know myself, and there is definitely the possibility I’m going to mildly fixate on it as we do our usual celebrations.

Learning Sketchbook 20

After last week, where I felt like I was underachieving with four finished drawings, I managed to hit an even lower completion count this week with a whopping two, one of which I definitely did not feel lived up to my expectations.  The other one turned out pretty well, and I spent some time on Twitter discussing how my process went while working on it because I tried to be a little more deliberate in deciding what I was doing at various stages of completion.  If you missed that thread it’s okay, because I’ll be recapping it pretty thoroughly (with a few more thoughts probably) here.  So let’s look at some pictures.

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How hard is it to draw a guy flying headfirst towards a brick wall while angled away from the viewer?  Kind of hard, it turns out.  I started on this one the day after Thanksgiving, but then I had to set it aside because the long weekend filled up with holiday chores.  When I got back to it, I found that I really wasn’t feeling it very much.  The angle of the arms really bothered me, and the scale I’d settled on left me with minimal room to do any interesting detailing on the figure.  I think I colored it in about half an hour just so I could call it done and move on to something new.  It’s a shame, because the idea of Cannonball being so happy that he’s turned in mid flight while careening towards a second wall tickled me a lot when I came up with it.  Someday I’ll revisit the concept, but today is not that day.

My primary artwork this week has been focused on a piece with Cyclops and Emma Frost.  I’m participating in an X-Men fanfic exchange at the end of the month (I did this last year and somehow decided it’d be fun to do again), and I got really excited at the idea of doing some fanart to accompany the fic that I end up writing.  This is obviously putting the cart before the horse because I’ve only had the prompts for a week now, and I’m just barely beginning to piece together an idea for the characters I want to work with.  I don’t have a keystone scene in mind, let alone a plot at this point.  What I do know is that folks love romance, and if I can figure out an angle on a specific pairing then I should be able to put together something at least a little satisfying.  In the meantime, I wanted to practice some romantic couples poses, and I figured that Scott and Emma are just as good as any to play around with.

Image source: Lindsay Adler Photography (click picture for link)

This is obviously not a drawing; I decided that it may be helpful to find a reference for a romantic couple, and this was the image I settled on when I was Googling.  Most of the pictures I saw were focused more on the soft romance, but I wanted to use something that was less cuddly and more smoldering.  My conception of Scott and Emma as a couple is that they don’t hug, even in private; there’s no way they’d pose that way for a picture.

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From that photo, I sketched out to the basic figures with a few tweaks.  Scott appears a little more tentative than the reference guy because there’s more distance between him and Emma and he’s not leaning his head so far down to meet hers.  Emma’s maintaining a bit of distance from Scott instead of leaning into him the way the reference woman leans into her partner.  There’s an impression more of Emma leading Scott rather than them embracing, which works great for me.  Once I had the poses in order, I did some rough detailing on their costumes, but I kept shading with the pencil to a minimum since I knew I’d be coloring everything later (the place where it’s most obvious I was adding texture with my pencil was with the hair).

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Once I was happy with the roughs, I went back over all my graphite lines with a black colored pencil to make sure the line definition didn’t disappear when I started coloring.  The effect is very similar to how inked lines look, but it has the advantage of not having as severe bleed through in my sketchbook.  The big downside is that colored pencils are not designed for extensive line work, and I have to frequently adjust how I’m holding the pencil to make sure I don’t have a blunt edge making the lines look blurry.  At this point, I noticed some slightly wonky things with the pose, specifically with Scott’s hand on Emma’s waist.  The palm looks a little short for it to be fully extended, which is why there’s a heavy line at the wrist; I was trying to create an effect where it appears that the hand is bending sharply towards the viewer.

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When I color, I typically begin with accents, shift to colors intended for really large spaces, and finish with skin tones. Here I did the gold trim on Scott’s costume first along with both figures’ hair.  Because his costume is all blue, I took considerable time on Scott.  I managed to get some pretty good muscle definition particularly on his arm and torso at this point, although I did find myself sort of taken with the all white costume with gold trim.  I’m even kind of partial to the white pants with blue shirt look that I got when I stopped to take this progress photo.  For Emma, because she wears nearly all white, I left her coloring for after I was done with Scott.  I did go ahead and shade the inside of her cape though, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t get confused about the blobby space between her and Scott.  It’s really interesting to look at the image here and see how much more depth the left hand figure appears to have compared to the right hand one.

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Here I’ve finished coloring Scott’s costume, and again you can see just how flat Emma looks in comparison without any extra color.  Also, I can honestly say that I have never spent this much time thinking about a character’s crotch as when I was considering how to color Scott here.

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And here’s the finished drawing!  Because Emma typically wears stark whites, I decided to shade with the black colored pencil (in some other recent drawings I’ve used light blue, but it didn’t feel like it would give the right look for this costume).  There’s only a bit of light shading along the edges of masses to convey roundness and in areas of depression like the crease along the hip.  It’s pretty wild to me how Emma’s pelvis shifts from being a sort of uncanny blob before the shading to suddenly looking like there’s a working skeleton underneath there.  For the skin, I very gently applied a red pencil to Emma.  There are some spots on her face that are still totally white, which I’m not sure was the right decision.  I think the effect is to make her face look a little shiny, which seems to me as someone who doesn’t play with makeup like not what she would actually want.  The alternative was to make her look vaguely pink, and I really just need to get some skin tone pencils.  For Scott I used a red-orange, which still  weirds me out; who knew that red-orange colored pencil consistently gives a pretty good approximation of semi-tanned white skin?

Learning Sketchbook 18

It’s great how if you just take the colon off the title header, you suddenly don’t have an expectation for a subtitle.

Let’s just start looking at the drawings from this week, because I don’t think I have any broad thoughts about my work as a whole.  X-Men characters continue to be my primary subjects because it is really useful to just have a prompt list to work from when I want to draw.  I’m doing enough brain work thinking about the composition without first trying to decide what the subject will be.

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While there are definitely things I feel like I could improve on with whole figure drawings, overall I’ve reached a point where I’m pretty comfortable with my typical output.  I feel like the proportions and apparent weight of my bodies will be consistent with what I’m aiming to convey.  Extremities are still obnoxious (have you ever thought about the sheer number of potential silhouettes a foot or a hand can create?), but that’s okay.  The big thing that I find myself most interested in improving at this point is how I can give bodies and clothing more detail in realistic ways.  This drawing of Illyana has some weird parts (I was trying to make her boots resemble Doc Martens, but I’m still very inconsistent with feet, let alone the shoes that go on them), but generally I like it.  I tried to accentuate the hips slightly more than normal to get the gesture right.  The colors turned out pretty good though; I’m getting a lot of practice with using coloring to create texture on the clothing, and something like the leather that I always imagine this specific outfit is supposed to be made from comes off looking very dramatic.

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I don’t typically enjoy drawing villains just because I don’t build very strong emotional connections with them.  Exodus is an especially weird X-villain because he has a really convoluted backstory and he’s kind of bland in terms of his motivations.  If you think ex-Crusader (like, actual 13th century Crusader) turned mutant zealot, you get most of the character beats locked in.  Once I got the idea that Exodus’s weird pseudo-wings create this halo effect around his head if you’re looking at him from a low-angle, I got a little more excited about drawing him.  I totally rushed the coloring on this one, so it’s not my favorite, but I do feel like the face ended up being pretty okay.

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I’ve drawn Warlock as an accessory in another sketch before, but this was the first time I drew him as a standalone character.  He’s kind of fun because the nature of his body allows you to ignore most of the rules of proportion when drawing him.  He can stretch and squish in ways that other characters can’t, so even though this is a relatively static pose I felt more comfortable being a little less controlled with the line work.  He ended up looking a little blocky, but I adore the way his face turned out.  The vacuum robot is based on our robot vacuum that we just bought.

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The background of this one is pretty bland and forgettable (I have not practiced landscapes), but I actually think the coloring on the figure and the foreground is actually pretty strong.  It makes up for the fact that the shape of the figure looks weird; I wanted to draw him hunched over his workbench, but the curve of his shoulders looks a little weird given the implied musculature.  I really like the shadows on the floor though.

Inktober 2019 Day 31

After days of anticipating the end of Inktober, I celebrated this morning at work by… starting a new drawing.

I know.

This is different though because I started it in my big sketchbook, which is not ideal for inking, so I’ll be sticking to just pencils on this one.  Also, it’s not X-Men related, so that’s a relief.  It is still fanart for a comic series though, because I do have a brand to maintain.  I’m thinking about trying to color this one when it’s done.  I have a pretty limited color pencil palette to work with, but I think I just need to get used to working with color regardless of how well my available tools match what I’d like to do.  The big relief is that the time pressure is gone.  I spent a good twenty minutes on this new drawing today, and it’s nowhere near finished, and I don’t have to go back to it until I feel like it.

The picture for today is kind of underwhelming after all the other stuff I’ve experimented with this month.  It’s a pretty standard front view of the figure with some surrounding environmental details.  I’m not super pleased with the overall composition, but being okay and done is better than excellent and unfinished.  I am very relieved to finally be able to take a break from inks.  After doing it for a month straight, I feel a lot more comfortable with inking, but it’s still not my favorite thing.  Mostly it’s because inking reveals a lot of my flaws as an artist that aren’t so apparent in rough pencils.  I will return to it sometime, but for now it’s going to be nice to rest in my comfort zone.

When I think about my set of drawings for this year overall, the thing that stands out most to me is just how rapidly I branched out from static character portraits.  I didn’t always opt to add backgrounds, but by the last ten days, it was definitely something that I was actively thinking about as part of the drawing as a whole instead of an add-on if the figures ended up being particularly simple.  There was also a shift towards playing around with angles and perspective, mostly because it can get boring to always draw an upright figure from the front.  There are certain drawings that I did this month that I was especially proud of too.  At some point in the near future I think I’ll do a roundup post with links to the entire month’s worth of work and highlight the ones that I like best.

The final prompt of the month is “Ripe,” which put me in mind of the recent developments in the X-Books that mutants don’t stay dead anymore because they have a resurrection protocol fueled by the powers of five specific mutants, one of which is Fabio Medina who just announced in this week’s Excalibur #1 that he’s going by Egg now.  Egg’s power is oddly specific; his body produces gold balls that were recently discovered to actually be unfertilized, nonviable eggs.  With a little reality warping, these eggs are now used to grow replacement bodies for mutants who have died.  Egg’s kind of a big deal these days.

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Inktober 2019 Day 30

In the last third of Inktober I’ve begun to play a bit more with extreme angles for my scenes, which has been really fun.  When the medium is so small, the tools limited, and my skill still very much developing, having something dramatic that I can reliably do, like unusual perspectives, is a really satisfying way to give my sketches some interest.  The one that I did for today is probably one of the more extreme examples of what I’m talking about; I wanted to simulate some extreme foreshortening with the figure’s outstretched hand magnified so that it’s nearly as big as the rest of the figure.  I think there are some slightly cheat-y things about the angle perspective, specifically in the view of the figure body; I probably should have placed the torso more directly behind the shoulders, but one of the things I’m learning about working in an analogue medium is that you just have to live with your mistakes after a certain point in the drafting process.  Anyway, it’s only like two hours’ worth of work from start to finish, so it’s not like there was much lost in committing to the error.  The composition over all still feels like it works pretty well.

The prompt for today is “Catch,” which is a pretty wide open prompt when you’re talking about X-Men.  One of the signature features of the X-Men series is the periodic break to play baseball; it hasn’t happened much in recent years, but it was a mainstay of the Claremont era.  Following that concept, I just needed a subject, so I decided to go with one of my personal favorites from the last decade, Ruth Aldine, code name Blindfold.  In addition to general telepathy, Blindfold is precognitive, which is useful seeing as she was born without eyes (blind seers are a long, long tradition).  I thought it’d be cute to show her participating in her typically distracted way (one of her defining character traits is the way she inserts polite expletives into her speech as though she’s constantly conversing with someone else who isn’t present).

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Tomorrow I’ll post my last drawing of the month along with final thoughts about the experience.  It’s been really fun and enlightening.

Inktober 2019 Day 29

Because I’ve been working a day ahead during this Inktober, I only have one drawing left to make tomorrow before I’m done.  I’m feeling pretty relieved to be at the end of the project, because there were definitely a few days where it felt like more of a burden to have to plan and execute a small composition every day without rest.  I think I know what I’m going to do for my last one at this point, though I still have to think through some of the concept details.  In the mean time, let’s talk about the one that I drew for today!

When I look at this finished drawing, it feels very much like it’s partnered with the other hangdog chair-based picture, “Swing.”  There’s something imminently satisfying about drawing someone slouched in a chair with a look of weary contempt on their face.  Aside from shifting perspective to the other side of the chair, so many things about these two drawings are visually similar.  Aside from the posture, both figures are wearing relatively little clothing, seem vaguely dissatisfied with their situations, and have as nearby accents to the composition a helmet of some sort.

Besides the visual connections, there’s also a thematic one here; where “Swing” featured Beak, a fourth string X-Men character who didn’t amount to much in the main Marvel universe (though he saved the multiverse many times as an unsung hero in the Exiles), today’s prompt, “Injured” brings us to Magneto, the arch rival to Charles Xavier and signature X-Men villain who’s not been much of a villain for a long time.  The major beats of Magneto’s history are relatively well known, but he also had the pleasure of serving as Beak’s mentor at the Xavier School while he was pretending to be the mutant Kuan-Yin Xorn (or maybe Xorn was pretending to be Magneto; it’s all very complicated, and most folks just ignore that part of his history as being wildly out of character for when it occurred).  Magneto has been through a lot, and the injuries he’s suffered over the years haven’t all been physical.  I like the image of him brooding with thoughts of his failures and frustrations, all while dressed in his silk lounge wear and generic torso bandages.

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Inktober 2019 Day 28

Everybody talks about how terrible it is to draw horses, but you know what?  It’s fine.  Once you simply acknowledge that you will need to look at reference for a thing, drawing it becomes way less worrisome.  Of course, there wasn’t much in the way of reference for a flying horse (although I did learn that artists are apparently split on where you place the wings–like it makes sense to put them anywhere besides the shoulders), so that took some imagination, but I think I managed okay despite these challenges.

Today’s prompt is “Ride” which could have been a difficult lift except that I remembered one of my other favorite X-Men characters was chosen to be a Valkyrie and actually has a winged horse.  Danielle Moonstar is one of the original members of the New Mutants who used to have the psychic power to project illusions based on her target’s deepest fears or desires.  Her powers went through a lot of changes over the years, probably because writers decided being able to make people see stuff they find personally terrifying isn’t a cool enough power, and then she eventually got de-powered after the mutant Decimation.  The Valkyrie bits come and go as well, but I think she’s most recently working as a Valkyrie for Hela, Marvel’s version of the Norse god of death and the underworld.  None of that’s super important (although I highly recommend any story that features Dani) except that she is friends with a winged horse named Brightwind and she rides him into battle.

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