I am a huge fan of digital sketching. I remember almost 20 years ago playing around with my very first drawing tablet – a Wacom Intuos. It was superb and I must have created enough artwork to fit on a handful of floppy disks :-)
Back then I probably used Paint Shop Pro. A wonderful application that allowed for some fine details. I couldn’t afford Photoshop.
These days I have the full suite of applications from Photoshop through Corel Painter to Manga Studio. They are all superb.
I run an Apple iMac 27″ and have a Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch plugged into it. What a difference 20 years makes in technology. The combination of Mac and Wacom is a digital artist’s dream.
I’m always drawing. When I’m feeling technical I fire up one of the drawing apps and start sketching. My first choice application for sketching is Mischief. A wonderfully versatile and lightweight app that just lets you draw. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s layers but there’s no layer effects. There’s no filters and no fancy text functionality. There isn’t even a paint bucket. It’s just a drawing app. You create your canvas, select a brush and start drawing.
In this step by step tutorial I want to share with you my approach to creating a cartoon (above) in Mischief.
The brush palette is pretty basic but has everything that you’d need to start sketching. For my sketch I chose a pencil and modified it slightly to be less broad. I like the texture that the pencil provides.
Drawing in Mischief is a pleasure. The canvas is infinite which means that you don’t start by defining your image file’s dimensions. You simply launch a new canvas. When you export your image you can select the entire canvas or just a portion of it. More on that a little later.
For now I just want to lay down some marks to help establish the structure of my cartoon.
My main character is rather excitedly controlling a remote-controlled BB-8. He’s leaning back but is stood firm.
I indicate this with a broad red arc. Everything that I draw around this character will now have this red arc at its core.
I also indicate the light source. Later, when I’m inking I’ll reference this light source to apply some darker areas to BB-8 and to also throw a couple of shadows down.
The character’s torso and basic body shape are added. You can see that I’ve also given some consideration to his gaze. I’ve got him staring straight down at the droid. Though I’ve not drawn the arms and hands yet I’ve indicated where I want the controller to be.
In the back of my mind I can picture the character’s facial expression. I know I want him to be smiling but at this point it’s not so important. I just want to create the basic composition.
BB-8 will be in motion and heading from left to right away from my character.
Before I add some detail to BB-8 I want to complete the structure of the character that is controlling him. I add the arms, hands, controller and facial expression.
It makes perfect sense that the guy has a smile on his face. He’s in control.
It’s now time to focus a little on the subject itself.
BB-8 is whizzing along. I angle him back and add some motion marks. In this sketch I place his antenna vertically on his head.
Later, on reflection, I decided that to further emphasise the motion I’d angle them back a little.
To allow me to start inking the lines in I drop the opacity of the sketch layer to around 10 – 12%. A pretty neat onion skin effect that allows me to see just enough of the sketch to add the inked detail.
I confess I love this part the most. It’s a wonderful thrill to be able to add some firm ink lines and start to construct the final image.
From the detail above you can see how satisfying the line is with its varied weight. With just a little pressure I can get a very fine line. As I increase the pressure the weight of the line increases and I get that wonderful variation. Particularly noticeable around the eyes.
Whereas before, whilst sketching, I was ‘zoomed out’ (i.e. I could see the entire sketch), I now enjoy zooming in and adding the detail. This is, of course, something that is a key feature of producing digital art. That ability to fine tune your work right down to the pixel.
I occasionally add extra features such as tiny freckles and fine hair lines.
As the cartoon takes shape it throws up opportunities to add things that I’d not considered while sketching. The cheeky little grin, for example.
Once the cartoon is inked I’m done with the lower layer. One of my signature effects is to ‘black out’ the far side of a character and also those areas immediately underneath something. So in the cartoon above you can see that I’ve blacked out the left leg and shaded the left arm and area beneath the right arm. It adds a little depth to the image and a little more interest.
Also, on BB-8, I’ve added some black to the area just beneath his head.
The cartoon is now ready for colour.
For the colour I use the same pen. It gives a satisfyingly solid finish and I find myself simply ‘colouring in’.
To help emphasise the motion with the droid I white out the motion lines against its body. I could almost write the word ‘WHIZZZ’ alongside it.
For some extra interest I erase some of the colour on the main character to show a little white area. You can see these around the face, sweater and pants.
And that’s it!
Mischief is a wonderful tool for conceptual work but as you can see it is also a perfectly adequate application for producing finished art.
To export the image I have some options.
Hitting ‘M’ on the keyboard places me in Marquee mode. I can drag a rectangular marquee around the image. Specifically the region that I want to export.
Thanks to Mischief’s infinite canvas I can draw without boundaries. But this also means that I need to specify which area of the image I want to export. By default Mischief stores its artwork in .art format files. Obviously this format is not something I can work with on the web or in Photoshop. Not yet, anyway! Mischief uses a vector based model for creating the art, hence its versatility and ability to scale.
So I need to export to a format that I can use.
Hitting CMD+E (Mac) I can then export the selected area.
The dialogue box that appears allows me to specifically capture the selection and alter the dimensions of the exported file. It also allows me to specify a DPI and file format.
For the web I’m happy with 72DPI and PNG format, but using the same .art file I can also export to 300DPI which is perfect for print. Extremely powerful and perfect for any digital artist concerned with both web and print production.
If you’ve not already, I heartily encourage you to give Mischief a whirl. It’s free of charge to evaluate (15 days) and inexpensive to purchase. ($25USD, approx £17GBP)