Learning to Draw

I’ve always loved sketching, though I’ve never been good at it. I love the paper, the smooth unspoiled expanse of it. But I hate defiling it with my half assed attempts to create stuff, so I never practiced. I’ve purchased many a sketchbook and I am a fiend in a stationery store. My collection of coloured pens purchased in Japan and rarely used is… inspiring and embarrassing in equal amounts.

So I really loved sketching on a touchscreen with a proper stylus. My first was the original Samsung Note 10.1 tablet, and since then I’ve had the Note 4 and Note 9 phones, and recently I picked up a Galaxy S7 tab. Sketching with a stylus is magical, and after trying it in the shops, I was hooked. When I read it came with six months of Clip Studio Paint, an app which every artist knows about, I was almost ready to buy. And then it dropped in price by $350… Well that was the sign I was waiting for.

So I’ve been drawing. The three things I drew were vegetables, for some reason. And then a turtle and a pig.

And then I started tracing stuff. I loaded up photos I’d taken and started learning how to apply the tools to the bodies. I’d done things like this before, but using vectors in Inkscape.

But it was incredibly tedious work. Without a pressure-sensitive pen these variable width lines had to be made with two lines, drawn by hand. If I wanted it thicker I had to move one line farther from the other, and if it was a badly curved jagged sort of line, well… that was my fault.

Drawing on the tablet was revelatory. I could draw with 4,000 levels of pressure, and that meant I could vary the line widths as I went. Later I discovered I could draw with vector lines this way, and adjust the widths later. But, at the start, each line was drawn and saved as it was. If I didn’t like it, I would have to re-draw it. As luck would have it, the first body I traced with the new pen was the same as the one drawn in Inkscape:

From the start I intended to aim for a more abstracted sort of style. I wanted to capture the flow and grace and strength of my models, more than the specific, accurate details of their bodies. So I didn’t draw every finger and toe. I avoided faces because they’re hard to simplify (and I suck at them regardless) and clothes were filled with scribbled colour rather than carefully delineated spaces. And there wasn’t much in the way of shadow or depth.

I was really happy, these early attempts seemed to have a lot of promise, but they were very rough still. I didn’t have any speed, I was doing one or two drawings a day, and I was using the wrong tools for the job. It took me literally months to figure out that there was a blur tool and I didn’t have to use the poorly suited smudge tool.

When I was finished with this one, I really felt like I was on the right path. This was… Well, I thought it was fantastic! It worked for me. It was everything I wanted to achieve. The last element was the shadow, and that solidified it from a bunch of nice lines to a real drawing, and I was fully energized to continue.

Progress was being made. Control over line thicknesses was improving, but I was still experimenting with styles. Smooth, jagged, filled, shadowed… I didn’t have a handle on it yet. But I started having some successes. Things started to click, or at least the photos I chose matched the style I was working with. These next few were really encouraging.

Still, there was little consistency. Some images just didn’t work with the style I was homing in on, so I kept working laterally, trying new things and, still, making progress. Sometimes it wasn’t a lot of progress, but I never felt like I had plateaued. Always there was improvement, and for this reason I persevered.

Around this time I discovered the vector line capabilities of Clip Studio Paint, and suddenly I didn’t need to be so precise with my pen pressure. This was a relief because I was working my way into considerable shoulder and back pain trying to be so consistent with lines.

I was still experimenting. I did two versions of this image before settling on the simpler design with three thick stripes.

This image was one where I felt the face had to be drawn. And, sadly, so did the tinsel she was adorned with. What an ordeal they both were to draw. But I feel like I captured a little of her strength and what really strikes me as a regal bearing.

Different photos, styles, ideas. Always looking for something that felt right, but still finding that I was creating new methods and styles with every image.

Sometimes I’d do one image, and make changes to it later that made it work better. Like this rope image – it was nice, but became great when I left the skin tones from the original photo in it.

When I was a teen, I had a Patrick Nagel calendar and I loved every single page of it. So, this was my attempt at a Nagel sort of style.

In hindsight, I think that calendar and that style had a very profound influence on the abstract, lines-without-fill style I was always aiming for.

This next image is as close to perfect as I can imagine. I can’t believe I drew it, really. It surprises me every time I scroll past it in the gallery.

And I somehow managed to keep churning out images that I liked. It helps, I have no doubt, that my photo archives contain a lot of really exceptional bodies to draw from (and trace over).

For a brief while I started painting with solid blobs of colour, virtual brushstrokes that had no lines to contain them. It was very… informative, I suppose. I only did three, and I consider the first and last to be successes, but the middle one… Not sure I did the subject justice.

I drew a guy.

These next two images have amazing hair, but while hair is time consuming and amazing when finished, it’s super difficult to create a body that matches it.

And that brings us to today. These last two images please me greatly. I love the tone and detail and the crazed over-enthusiastic use of cherry blossoms.

So yeah. I’m a drawer now, I draws stuff. Tracing, really. I have no illusions about my competency. But I’m having fun and I like what I do.


[ Feb 4 2021 ]

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