Saturday, 11 June 2016

Its not all about the 3D...

...but its something that not many feel they need.  And those are the traditional art skills - drawing, painting, sketching.  Yup, that's the stuff that so many graduate CG artists claim to not be very good at, and in all honesty you really don't need to be great at drawing or painting to produce good 3D artwork.

However what I feel (this is coming more from a personal perspective) is that taking time to learn, practice and grow these skills can benefit you and make your own 3D work even better.  I've been trying to instill this on my students, as well as other artists who don't feel its something that they would ever consider.

Because I love the idea of building up my skills with more then 3D related materials (I don't spend time actually practicing drawing), I decided I'd start doing this myself and take my own advice.

The 90's - a time when there was such a thing as 'free time' :)

Back in the 90's I loved drawing - I had no internet (or 3D software) so it wasn't hard to find time to do it.  So, for me, what are the benefits of drawing?


What a great way to relax those brain muscles!  My guess is that its to do with most 3D work containing a mix of not only creative, but technical skills.  Both sides of your brain tend to work hard - creating art, but operating technical software building complex meshes, shaders, lighting and textures.

One thing I find relaxes me, especially when my brain needs a break from marking student work or technical headaches with software, is to stop and do a little doodling...

brain-break!  Scrawl and doodle to get your brain back in order

Just scrawl stuff on a page, maybe coming back to it while sitting there working on stuff, and adding a scribble now and again.  Perhaps when one side lets go (the technical side) it causes the "chill out" effect?  I'm no neurologist, but it sounds like a (plausibly) good theory!

Seeing the world, rather then looking at it

I can look at reference for a shot, I can understand and interpret the details then utilize it to produce great renders of my own in 3D.  That's knowledge I can then use to produce more work.  However when I'm painting or drawing without the software tools I'm really seeing things in a new light (excuse the pun).

Seeing for me is being able to start to really understand what is happening in front of me at a deeper level.  What I find happens when I draw things is that I absorb and retain knowledge more.  Its like the difference between going to a seminar and listening to it, versus writing notes while hearing what is spoken - you just take more information in when you're interpreting it onto paper or through your wacom tablet.

Extending creativity.

Yup.  Drawing things can inspire other ideas that you may have not considered, and its definitely something that a lot of designers do with gesture drawings, silhouettes, thumbnails...  When I'm doodling, I find not only do I draw ideas and designs, I can visualize additional ideas based on the ideas I started with.  (Its that idea-within-an-idea inception effect).  I feel it has helped me a lot in unleashing a little more imagination to help me take things outside the box.

Help me Obi-Kev, you're my drawing hope...

Say that you're now inspired and going to practice drawing to grow those creative muscles and use them to produce amazing artwork...  Having something to actually draw is the first challenge!  For me, I always love doing rough doodles and scribbles when my brain needs an escape from the computer screen...

Here's a few things I do that may offer some options to consider.

Find a challenge - and embrace it

Ok - so I use twitter - its a great way to get real time news feeds from studios, artists, websites and more.  While looking about one day, I found this...  A drawing challenge where someone would throw up a random shape with a red dot, and challenge people to draw something containing the shape.

Two triangle shapes become knights helmets

Banana shape becomes space alien!

Occasionally they throw up a 'portrait' challenge too

Because of the timezone, usually a shape goes up in the afternoon or evening, and its that perfect time to pull out a pen and scrawl an idea on paper.  For these, I figured they would make for a great "10 min doodle challenge" if I could bash out a drawing in that short time.  Its a challenge to come up with a drawing inspired by the shape, but its lot of fun and fun encourages practice!

Life drawing

I've always told students how great life drawing would be to becoming an artist... But as much as I offer advice, I never took it until a month or two ago when one of my co-workers dragged me to one.  I went, music came on and out came the model...  And then everything just chilled out and was an immensely relaxing experience...

light and form

getting the perspective right can be challenge - but its good to be challenged

Sometimes its about just taking time working on one part

Unlike drawing from image reference, drawing from a real-life model is constantly changing as the model poses several times.  Life drawing isn't about amazing art (though some of the more established artists make you question that with their abilities), its about drawing what you see...  And in short time frames, you're forced to see pretty quickly.

Its likely that you've got a life drawing class somewhere near wherever you live.  If not, drawing from life (sit in a park, on the sidewalk, in the office or go to the zoo and look at animals) can be another way to do this...  Though don't creep people out by staring at them while you draw...  Animals at the zoo don't tend to complain, so they're a safer bet.

Painting fan art

Ok, so that subject can be a little controversial I know.  It brings up visions of kids copying pictures of anime characters.  However in this respect I decided a couple months back to start to practice digital painting (it is an area I never touched).  I needed something to paint - so I decided to choose to paint "fan art" portraits from some of my favorite people from history, TV, film or music.

I started looking at people from the early years of home computing that I admire, however a couple weeks ago I decided to paint characters from the show 'Halt and Catch Fire'.  Its a great drama based in the 80's computing era (starting to see a pattern emerging here).  Well worth watching, some great characters and interesting stories behind each of them.

Donna Clark - starts like this...
...and she ends like this

As I'm doing this, I start to see the finer details in the images I reference.  The folds and wrinkles and how the light brings them out...  The way that the skin tones change based on where the skin is thinner and how much of the sub-dermis colour comes through, the form of the head based on the skull and muscles in the face - as you paint you see the way light changes, and highlights the ridges and form.  I did the four main characters from the show...  You can see the full painted images on my Art station , Deviant art or Twitter.

All 4 paintings - compiled into a banner... Just cause...

Its not just helping me see light and shape, its also furthering my understanding of the way the anatomy works visually.


What it really comes down to when you think about things, each of these drawing topics are about seeing - whether its seeing an image based on a shape, the form and detail from a real life model or again the form and detail from painting...  My brain is absorbing that thing that helps me grow as an artist.

But do you feel you are terrible at drawing, so you don't?

That's the problem - the vicious cycle of "I can't, so I won't".  To become better at drawing, you have to practice - and that means doing it.  If you never start or try, you never will.

Just start - and keep doing it.  My advice is to also date your drawings (no matter how bad) and look back on them every other month to watch how you're improving.  Seeing growth is a great motivator.  You'll come to a point where you wondered why you never started sooner.


  1. As an interior designer, I use my drawing skill to communicate my ideas to clients and to visualize what do clients want to tell me just to convince them that I got it, because heaps of clients can't draw.

    And for relaxation, just as what you've said.

  2. That was quite inspiring, Kev.

  3. Yes, I always use sketching to feel out ideas I have about games, It doesn't have to be a work of art to be of use. I think it pays to get thoughts down in pictures, especially before committing time to 3d modelling or other detailed approaches.