Occasionally I get asked to explain how I draw the comics and sketches you see on these pages. Well, the short answer is, not very well. :) I'm no professional artist, I assure you. The cartoony stuff you see here is fine for posting on the Internet, but that's about all.
Even though I've resigned myself to never being a professional artist, I've learned a lot these past few years, and I wouldn't mind sharing some of it here on this page. One thing I do know is that drawing skills are never perfected; there's always something I could do better and I learn something new every time I draw.
Anyway, here are the basic steps I go through when I set out to make a sketch. First and foremost, I decide in advance exactly what it is I want to portray. For this exercise, let's say I want to draw Sandi (from the Sandi's Trials series) trying to get someone's attention after being shrunk down for the hundredth time. Poor Sandi, she never seems to learn, does she?
Because the hapless Sandi will be the primary image in this picture, we'll start by drawing her. Honestly, I almost never start with a background or other object except perhaps for a perspective line or two. In this case that won't be necessary. We'll draw Sandi first and then sketch in a background to fit.
So with that in mind, let's begin. In my head, I imagine the picture: Sandi's standing there, waving her arms, trying to get someone's attention. Initially, I figure she'll be looking almost directly at the "camera," as if the viewer is the one she's waving at. I expect she'd be leaning back slightly, so her back will be somewhat arched. For some reason I usually start drawing people with the curve of their spine (you might start somewhere else, but this is my preference). See Figure 1.
Some artists sketch a faint stick figure to serve as the baseline for their characters. This is fine, but I never learned that technique. For whatever reason, I find it easier to start with the line of the back or side (depending on angle) and go from there. Whatever works for you, really.
Moving along, the next step is to complete the torso. See Figure 2. Note how the line of the bosom is opposite the top of the back, there's a very slight curve for the ribs underneath, and the whole thing becomes very narrow at the waistline. My ladies tend to have impossibly thin waists and very wide, curvy hips, because that's what looks good to me. Of course, this also lends a kind of cartoonish look to them, but hey, I draw what I like.
Another thing to note at this point is that these lines are still very faint, so they can be easily erased. Honestly, very little of the original sketch ever survives to the final drawing, as you'll soon see. In fact, I've drawn the right side of the torso a bit too high for this body and that will be rectified later, but for now I'm still picturing Sandi with her back in an exaggerated arch.
Continuing with the sketch, let's get started with the legs. See Figure 3. For now, I'll just do the thighs, slightly spread apart as she'll be standing there in a somewhat open stance. I usually start with a very wide curve of the hip and the other side of the thigh sort of points towards where the waist is. The leg on the opposite side starts right at the bottom of the belly.
Note how I've got a couple of sketch lines overlapping each other. This is normal; in fact the drawing will have these all over the place at various times--I just erase what I don't need immediately after sketching them. They just serve as guidelines, to show me where curves meet and where body shapes start to merge with each other.
Already I can see that this figure will require some modifications. As I go along, you may notice subtle changes here and there, when compared to previous figures. A sketch is constantly being refined and as I make additions, I often go back and adjust or tone up a previous area. In general, anything and everything is subject to change on one of these sketches.
Let's look at Figure 4. Now it's starting to look like a real human female body, not just a sketch. The legs have a little bit of musculature sketched in already, unlike the previous one, and the crotch area has some definition, without the extended guide lines from before. I'm still not sure this is the right pose, but again, the legs are just sketches at this point and are almost certainly going to be modified later.
Note how the left-hand side of the leg is really just two simple curves joined together, and the right side is pretty much the same. At this point the legs are really little more than double curves. The trick is to put those curves in the right places. With some practice you can figure this out for yourself. It does take some work to get the proportions right, and I can already tell these are going to be off somewhat.
I'm not going to worry about the extremities just yet, so let's fill out the torso and start getting on with the arms. This is the part of the drawing where I get to sketch the chest! Yay! As you might have noticed, I prefer curvaceous women, and nobody's more curvy than Sandi. With a few refinements, you can see how this works in Figure 5.
Inevitably, when drawing breasts, one of them sticks out of the figure in a graceful curve (as on the right) while the other is completely inside the torso (left). The one inside is typically represented by a half-circle and of course the line of the cleavage, which, if connected to the rest of it, would fill out the circle. If you draw a line from the bottom of one breast to the other, and the top of one to the top of the other, the lines should be parallel, otherwise the bosom will appear unevenly shaped and distorted, which isn't cool. It took me some time to master this technique, but these days I don't bother to draw the lines, I just eyeball it. This rule pretty much holds up regardless of the angle you're drawing the figure.
Okay, now to continue with the arms. See Figure 6. I've never been particularly good with arms, probably because I've been so busy studying legs and other body parts. :) I tend to want to draw arms with a lot of curves, like the legs, when in fact most of the time they're relatively straight and uninteresting. Also, I typically erase and redraw arms more than any other body part, even the face. These look pretty good for now, but actually they're a bit short and out of proportion, which I'll rectify later.
At this point I won't draw the hands just yet (that comes next). Instead I begin with some oval shapes to sort of show me where the fingers will go, and to help me gauge how big the hands will be. Naturally, I'll get it wrong at first, but that comes with the territory.
Also, at this point I sketch in the oval of the head and sort of where the neck will go. I often screw up the neck and it winds up either too long or short, but since few viewers look at the neck, I don't worry about it too much. This is one of the lazy things about me that helps ensure I'll never be a professional artist. If I really wanted to get better, I'd figure out how to draw necks correctly, but I'm content with the appearance of the ladies I draw, so I don't worry about it.
One thing about sketching the head oval is that I can kind of get an idea of how big the head should be at this point. I used to have a lot of trouble getting heads the right size, and I still do somewhat. In this case the head looks about right but in fact it's too big, and this will cause me some problems later.
Now on to Figure 7. So far I've kind of followed a standard order for things, drawing back, torso, legs, arms, and face-oval. Now that the basics have been put on paper, I start jumping around the figure to whatever strikes my fancy. First I darken and define some of the lines (note how the face oval and calves are somewhat lighter than the rest) and I put in the first draft of the hands. I'm not really satisfied with them at this point, as the thumbs are wrong and the fingers aren't the right lengths, but it's a good start.
Then, moving along quickly to Figure 8, I add some more definition and darken some lines, and then put in a vague sketch of the feet. Things are looking good at this point, except for a couple of problems. The hands are too big, first of all, and the arm on the right isn't shaped properly. Furthermore, the legs need to be a bit longer and sleeker. We'll fix these things as we go, but first, we'll do the face.
The face is by far the hardest part of the drawing, so I'll devote some extra time to discussing it. Also, we'll zoom in a bit closer (so far the pics have been a bit reduced, while this one is actual size as you see it on my sketchpad).
Take a look at Figure 9. First, I've added an ear about the middle of the visible side of the head. Instead of having Sandi look directly at the "camera," I've decided to have her looking slightly to one side, to give the impression that whoever she's looking at is just not quite visible off the side of the paper. She'll still have a desperate look about her, though.
To begin, I always draw two curved guide lines as you see here. The horizontal line will contain the eyes, while the vertical one shows me where the nose and mouth will be. Also, at this point I tone up the chin a bit and start thinking about how the ultimate shape of the face will appear. Sandi's face doesn't have a very defined chin (it's rounder than other characters I've drawn) so I make sure I include that detail here.
Just where the guide lines meet, I make a little curve to show where the nose begins. The bottom of the nose is a kind of little triangle or "notch" shape. Generally I don't try to further define the nose unless it's a close up view, as the nostrils tend to interfere with the simplistic look I'm going for.
Also, as you see in Figure 10, I draw a quick sketch of the mouth. This one looks fine, but actually it's a bit large for Sandi. Since I know I'll be making changes later, I don't worry about fixing it for now.
Note how I erase the guide lines as I go. No sense leaving them behind to interfere with the details on the face.
Now the eyes. In Figure 11, you can see my first attempt at the eyes for this sketch. Not a bad try, but the expression is all wrong. She doesn't look desperate, she looks kind of crestfallen, which would be nice if that was the emotion I was going for.
The eyes, more than anything else, portray emotion on your character. For me, I rarely draw the underside of the eye. It's a simple arc, typically, with lashes at the outer edge, and a little comma-like mark on top that helps define the expression. The lashes, too, give emotion: lashes that tip upward tend to show surprise or dismay, while ones that tip down towards the nose generally depict anger or frustration. You'll have to experiment with this yourself to see how it's done (perhaps I'll do another how-to page about this at some point).
Now let's look at Figure 12. Now this is more like it. Now she looks a bit more distressed. What changed? The shape of the eye, the position of the little comma thing, and the fact that now the eyeball isn't merged with the eye arc. An eyeball that sort of floats there, not touching anything, is helpful to depict surprise or alarm.
Things still aren't quite right, though. The mouth's too big, and the lower half of the faceline is too wide. As you'll soon see, this will make the head look too large for the body. For now, though, everything looks fine to me so I continue on with the rest of the sketch.
Next up is one of the head's defining characteristics, the hair. In Figure 13, I put in Sandi's short hairstyle, and start to work on the jawline a bit (hence the dark area there where the extra erasures are). At this point I can finally see the head's too big. I hate erasing the whole face and head and starting over, but that may be what I have to do. Before I go that far, though, let's finish up some work on the rest of the picture, so I can get a better look at the overall sketch.
One thing that's worth pointing out here is that you have to be flexible when you draw this stuff. You can't get it in your mind that any part of the sketch is fixed or permanent. That means you don't every draw anything too heavily, as you might erase it later. I typically use very light pencil strokes, going over them a couple times when I'm pretty sure something's right, but never so much that erasing them would be impossible.
All right, let's look at Figure 14. I've done some more work on the hands and arms, cleared out that extra hair that was drawn over the arm, and adjusted the hands slightly. Also, I put in the details of Sandi's costume, and worked on the top of the head somewhat. Still, though, it's not quite right. I don't like the lips or the chin, and the expression isn't quite correct. Somehow I need to fix that stuff and I'm afraid the only way to do it is to erase the entire bottom of the face, as well as some of the hair. Maybe the eyes can be salvaged, because I have those just about right, with a perfect expresion of desperation.
Ah, now we're getting somewhere. See Figure 15. The jawline is even more graceful, which isn't necessarily correct for every character, but is exactly what I need for Sandi. I also thinned out the hair a bit, and redid the mouth, so she looks a little bit more like she's crying out for help, and not just surprised or shocked (since she's already yelling for help, she should be past those emotions anyways).
Also, while adding the costume, I decided I didn't like the position and angle of the legs, which seemed too short. Someone like Sandi should have long, elegant legs, not short, stubby ones. Some comic book artists these days make a woman's legs look exaggerated, but actually they should be about the length of her torso plus arms. After modifying the legs slightly, improving the pose in the process, I find I've conformed to this rule without even having to think about it. They just look right is all.
At this point the basic figure is done, so I can start jazzing it up a bit. I add the rest of the costume, plus the boots and gloves. Now she really looks like our little magician's apprentice in that sexy outfit of hers. She even looks desperate to get someone's attention, doesn't she?
All that's left now is to finish off the drawing by completing the rest of the costume details (i.e., the shading and crosshatching) and then putting in a background. For this exercise, let's add a computer keyboard behind her, since there's a keyboard right here in front of me as I do this, and I can draw it easily enough. The best way to draw an object, especially small ones, is to just put one in front of you and practice putting what you see onto the paper. To do this particular one, I made some parallel lines behind Sandi, and filled in the areas in between with the keys. You can still see some of these guide lines, and I didn't erase some of the excess sketch marks so you can see how I put this in. I didn't use a ruler or straightedge at all, which is why it looks somewhat crude, but then I wasn't going for perfection here. It's just a sketch, not a work of art.
Poor little Sandi! Based on the height of my keyboard, she's no more than a couple of inches tall, at best. I wonder how she managed to get herself into this predicament? Maybe she was typing a spell into the computer and accidentally cast it on herself--that sounds like something she'd do!
Regardless of the cause, now she's stuck like that unless she can get someone's attention. Can anyone spot her frantically waving form down there on the desk, or will she have to jump up and down on the keys for hours to send an email begging for help....? Maybe you can continue this story yourself, in your own drawings! Whatever the case, have fun and keep practicing!
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