Learning to draw: the early going

I’m a programmer and I need to learn to make art for the game I’m developing, K Station. Here I’ll show you where 2 months of drawing practice has gotten me so far. Compare and contrast amongst yourselves.

It was tough to know where to start. What’s the “Hello, world!” of drawing? Fortunately, the first book I used, Drawing: A Creative Process by Francis D.K. Ching, started with simple line exercises to get my pen going:

ex lines

(Sorry for bad phone photos. I can’t afford a scanner.)

Then it was on to contour drawing. I found that I could follow the little natural bumps in contours:

ex rose 1

…but the rose looked totally smushed. My first big lesson was how important proportion is. Get the proportions wrong, and there is no saving the final work. I was so bewildered by that first attempt that I tried again, glossing over the lines more, to see if I could get the general shape right:

ex rose 2

Proportions are still my single biggest concern and fear. I have a feeling it’ll be that way for a while.

I finally went to the art store and bought some darn pencils:

ex cubes

But I still couldn’t capture real things. This is — I kid you not — supposed to be a rock:

ex rock

I kept doing pencil drawings and perspective exercises for a month, 1-2 hours a day. Occasionally I did something right-ish:

ex rabbit

But I remind myself: don’t be fooled by your successes. My goal is to raise the level of my worst drawings, not my best.

A month in, I finished working through my book and switched to Ctrl+Paint, through which I could revisit the basics with a different teacher. I started doing daily gesture sketches:

ex gestures

…along with still lifes. I settled on a daily regimen of 1) gesture sketching, 2) a still life, and 3) a tiny study for basic color practice.

My quality varies wildly from day to day, drawing to drawing. Here’s a still life and a form drawing that I did back to back:

ex still life

ex nail clipper

That nail clipper is just unbelievably bad.

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month. I switched from pencil-and-paper to Photoshop-and-tablet, and that took a couple weeks of getting used to, but now I’m not freaked out by using a stylus. (Note Photoshop and a tablet+stylus do not make you a stronger artist. Drawing is drawing. Your eye is your eye.)

Photoshop drawing is, in a word, slippery:


…This guy looks like he’s about to fall over.

But having a highly easy-to-use set of brushes at my fingertips has taught me how a drawing comes to life not from color or line but from light and dark, a.k.a. value. These days I feel my big “exploration” is how to bring a collection of shapes to life. I’m betting an understanding of value will be crucial to imparting mood to my game’s world, even if it’s all pixels. For example, the shading does the heavy lifting in this Photoshop painting:


To be honest, I don’t see myself taking on any new topics in my art practice for at least a few months. It’s just going to be doing gesture drawing, still life with shading, and tiny studies.

To provide one example, here’s an early tiny study:

ex tiny study

As for actual game art, I’ve only stubbed in a few pixel assets to help me prototype. The first room of the game is just a flat set of blocks:

ex game room

But soon, maybe in a month or so, it’ll be time to try bringing it to life.

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