fast prep sketching using Brushes HD ipad app

June 3, 2010

I have been playing around with a couple of wonderful ipad apps. One is Brushes for ipad and the other is the excellent Sketchbook Pro. Both allow you to make sketches and paintings on the fly, wherever you are using the ipad. Its turning out to be really useful! Below is a short video of a prep sketch I made this morning for an illustration I am working on called “Tiger By The Tail”. I will post the final piece later.  EAVB_SKVCPUHUCA

I have been working using the ipad sketch done in Brushes as a loose guide and have now gotten around to establishing the basic shoaes in Photoshop for the final illustration. I am very happy with the way that the tiger seems to be shaping up….I always feel that the simpler I can be with the basic shapes, the more powerful and satisfying my final characters tend to be. I don’t do well trying to be too complex!

Well,  I have come to the stage where I can chuck the sketch layer away and start building up the image based on the shapes I have put together in Photoshop. This is a fun part as the illustration begins to take on a life of its own as the shading and deeper colours start to mix together on the canvas….

The tiger is now really starting to take shape. I am really pleased that he is developing his own character from something as simple as a quick Brushes doodle.

Here’s the completed image. I am really happy with it. I played around with adding some type but that just diluted the visual impact and sense of the moment. The flat blue sky and the picket fence add to the humour of the piece and I think this would make a great greeting card. Perhaps with the message inside of “good luck with your new project”, or  “here’s to your new business”……..!

I used a photograph of some grass I took while away on a short break. I thought it would make a great texture here.

Overall, I am chuffed because this image started out as a quick doodle in Brushes for ipad (see above), which for me means that the ipad can have a functional, useful role in my work as well as play!


The centre of operations!

June 2, 2010

Well, this is it. Headquarters for illustration and other things besides. Today is a beautiful day here on the isle of Anglesey so I thought it in order to take a few pics and let you see where I work on images and people (more on that in a bit!)

The studio was built from scratch by my brother in law last July. It took him 6 weeks to do. It is fully insulated and made of panel board and clad in pine. You can live it. Indeed, we use it as an occasional spare room for visitors. it still smells of new wood nearly a year after its opening!

This is the area today right outside the studio. The picnic table was a present this month for my 42nd birthday. The grey object you see is the prized outdoor hot tub. We bought it a few years ago thinking we would not be moving from our previous place…….how wrong we were! We had to get a crane to lift it out and carry it to the new place!

Beyond the screening you see, there is an acre field where we are going to house a couple of pigs and where our chickens roam….

This is my illustration workspace in the right front corner of the studio. I run 2 monitors off a Powermac G5. The extended desktop is now essential for me due to the busy interfaces of Photoshop and Painter. Plus, I can keep spotify open and access it easily! The bookshelf is full of illustration and art books which I use for inspiration. I often take a break by leafing through one or two at random. The chair you see there is an excellent lumbar/core chair from that is superb for maintaining a decent neutral curve in your lower back while working at the screen for long periods.

This is taken from the front door. On the left you can see the workspace, and behind this a larger area which is used for the training and movement therapy components of my other business – I run a sports and remedial massage business.  The studio is perfect for clients who want to train for fitness as well as for rehabilitation from injury. Its a bit different to illustration, but I love the contrasts between the two roles: on the one hand, I very rarely meet clients who I illustrate for. On the other, massage and bodywork gives me the opportunity to work closely and dynamically with different people all the time. I love it!

Here is the massage and bodywork treatment area. I trained at the London School of Sports and Remedial Massage in order to start up this business a few years ago. Clients seem to love the wooden studio environment, which does not feel clinical and cold at all.

If you are reading this and live in the area of North Wales, then feel free to call to arrange a visit and find out more about what we do here. You can read more about Phil Brown Massage at the website.

And finally, here’s Frank, our rooster! I am very proud of him. He is great to take photos of and his feathers look like they are covered in shiny varnish! He looks after his 10 ladies very well!

first mess around with sketchbook pro on my new iPad!

May 31, 2010

This is the first proper experimenting I have done since buying sketchbook pro for my new black slate of joy. Have to say that the program is quite versatile in terms of an on-the-go sketch and paint program. It doesn’t begin to touch Corel Painter or Photoshop for ease of use, but for the way that it turns my iPad into a budget cintiq pad, I am well pleased. I am looking forward to being able to think and draw and paint on the move, then email the results as layered Photoshop files (nice option there) to my studio and use the images later to work up possible images from.

I am using a stylus to do the painting. I bought it from eBay. It is called a Pogo Sketch. It’s a simple aluminium tube with a spongey blob on the end. It works quite well, although a little unresponsive. It makes up for this by providing me with more accuracy and with the “feel” of drawing.

Tutorial: Use Photoshop brushes to create a cowboy character from scratch.

May 31, 2010

I create a lot of characters in the work I do as an illustrator and I’m always looking for new ways to work that will keep me fresh and interested,
improve the speed of workflow and sometimes give new and unexpected visual results. I do a lot of my initial sketch work on screen nowadays, using
Photoshop as a sketchbook to quickly sketch and visualise ideas right there on screen and then take those ideas to a completed
stage without ever going near a pencil.
Photoshop  has a great range of out-of-the-box brushes that – together with a Wacom or digital tablet – allow you to imagine and experiment on the fly
from start to finish on a project, using Photoshop as a virtual sketchbook and canvas.

Below I will take you through the steps off creating a fun character in a loose and fluid manner using Photoshop all the way through. The version of Photoshop I use is CS2, but the tools involved are core tools found in any of the iterations.

NOTE: This tutorial assumes you have a good basic familiarity with the programme. I also recommend that you use a pressure sensitive tablet such as a Wacom to try this painting tutorial.  I will be posting more basic tutorials in the future as well, so watch this space!

Create an A4 document at 72 dpi. This will be your initial
sketch file, so keep the resolution low so you can work
quickly with the brush tool and avoid any lag.
Open the brush palette and select the Dry Media brush list
from the palette menu.

Select some of the brushes in the list and play around with them.
Get used to the feel of each brush and the feeling of using the digital tablet
to draw with. Remember to stay loose and have fun.
Click on the Brush Tip Shape option to access the shape controls
to explore variations. Don’t aim to do anything meaningful yet!

You are looking for a small brush that will provide a soft, variable
line allowing for quick, expressive sketching and shading.
I like some texture in my drawing brushes as well, so I chose
Conte Pencil on Bumpy Surface. Vary your brush size quickly using
the [ and ] keyboard buttons
. Practice drawing and shading simple shapes.

Add two or three new layers and name them simply “Sketch1, 2, 3” etc.
Then just start drawing shapes and lines and just doodling.
You can jump between the layers with different sketches going on
at the same time, so as ideas develop they can feed each other.
If you have an idea of what you want, try different versions out in each layer.

Make changes quickly using the Eraser tool – choose brush
settings in the same way as you did for your brush.
Don’t be afraid to increase the canvas size either. Once you get
used to sketching you might find, like me, you need more space.
Experiment with landscape and portrait formats too, as your idea
for a character starts to develop.

If you’re anything like me, you like to have freedom to
draw big. The important thing is to get something fun
and expressive happening, so if you end up with an element
that’s too big for the canvas space, use Free Transform to resize
or rotate. Or just increase canvas size again.

Once you have one or two elements working okay,
you might want to use another of the sketch layers
to work in. Here I have started to add a body on
one of the earlier sketch layers beneath the head sketch.
This way I can experiment quickly with positioning and
relative sizing.

Once your sketch is  working, zoom in to add any details that come to mind.
Although you can add new elements at any stage of the whole process,
it makes the painting stage easier if you have a fairly detailed sketch.
Remember when working in a zoomed view, you will have to reduce your
brush size to work details.

Create a new document at the resolution you want to output at finally.
Flatten your sketch and drag and drop it into the new document.
If the new document is a higher resolution, resize your sketch as needed.
Call the new layer “sketch”. Name and save the document as “Gunslinger”.

Select the Background and add a new layer above that. Call it “Palette Layer”.
Our sketch layer will be the topmost layer throughout. Set its blending mode
to Multiply and adjust its opacity to 40 – 50%.

Although we are sticking to Photoshop’s default brushes,
its a good idea to use the Tool Preset picker to rename and organise the
brushes you’re using during a job. Select the brush you used for sketching
and open the Preset dialogue box in the top right of the toolbar.
Click Create new tool preset and rename it as “drawing pencil”.

Select the Palette Layer. From the Brush Palette start
exploring possible brushes. From the Palette drop down menu
you can load different libraries of brushes.
I chose four brushes as well as my drawing brush. I made some
changes to them and saved them as Tool Presets.

My four painting brushes and Eraser are:
Watercolour Heavy Pigments (Wet Media list).
Rough Round Bristle (Thick Heavy).
Smooth Round Bristle (Thick Heavy).
Stipple Dense 26 (Natural).
Smooth Round Bristle Eraser.
I set Opacity to Pressure and sizing off on all except the watercolour.
I personally like manually adjusting size with [ and ] keyboard buttons.

Add a Colour Layer and above the Palette layer.
Using the Watercolour brush, quickly block in all the main colours.
Don’t worry too much. Simply aim to get a strong colour base
down. Make the base colours vibrant and a little over – bright, so they
“shine” through the paint layers you will be adding on top.
Fill in the Background Layer too.

Add a new layer called Colour 2 above your base colour layer.
Reduce the opacity of the sketch layer to around 30%.
Paint light and dark colours using the rougher bristle brush. Use the keyboard
shortcut of holding down alt to activate the eyedropper and sample
variations of colour . Vary pressure to vary opacity
and blend with the underlying colour layer.

Some of you might like to use the -now optional – Palette Layer
to paint in quick-access swatches of colour from your painting.
It can help you organise and work quicker sampling quickly with the eyedropper,
but I tend to sample from the painting itself and use the colour picker to
adjust hue, saturation or brightness.

Rework the colouring in the background as needed and keep it separate from
the colour layers.
After working up the light and dark areas you should have
a good sense of shape and mass. Merge both colour layers
to minimise file size and add a further colour layer. Bring the opacity
setting of the sketch layer down even more.

Rename the merged layer colour 1.
Add a new layer above it. Call it colour 2.
Change your brush to add variety – I used my Stipple brush –
start building in more contrast using light and dark tones.
Try to use more saturated colours to bring the face and
clothes to life.
Use zoomed views to work in more detail.

Late on, I decided our gunslinger needs a cigar!
Bring up the opacity of the Sketch Layer and using the drawing brush add a
cigar and reshape the mouth.
Then add another layer above “colour 2” and paint the cigar.
Add another layer for the smoke. I used the watercolour for the smoke.
Painting digitally makes adding in extras  easy!

Add a new colour layer. Use your drawing brush with opacity set to Pressure
to gently enhance light and dark details in the eyes, hand and other areas as you wish.
Then have a blast just painting a loose, colourful cactus straight in
the background and finishing the sky!
I also erased the spurs at this point, deciding against them.

Add a Hue and saturation Adjustment layer just above all
the paint layers
. Bring up the saturation and bring down the
brightness. Set the mask to black to hide the effect, then
use a white brush to paint into the mask as needed.

Add a shadow for the character and some other shading as you like.

Here’s the final piece with final adjustments to saturation and contrast. You can keep adjusting an polishing as long as you want, but I hope this tutorial has given you ideas about how you can play “fast and loose” using Photoshop as a sketchbook and a painting canvas.

5 laxatives for creative constipation

May 30, 2010

Everyone gets stuck. Everyone has times when they feel uninspired. When they feel like they are never going to have a great idea again…….your design work feels stale, your writing suddenly feels predictable, flat.

At times like these it’s easy to panic and that just makes things worse. But there are many things you can do to refresh the well again; to get the creative juices flowing once more. Below are five ways of finding release from the creative doldrums. Believe me, I am talking to myself when I write these. They are a good reminder to me not to panic when the next period of drought seems to arrive……

1. Take joy in the little things…..

This is the Big One in my opinion. Learn to sloooooooooow riiiiiiight down and take some time to find your grounding in the details of each day again. As Ferris Bueller says, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Really, really sage advice.
Try an experiment. For the first part of the day, carry a notepad around with you and write down everything that you notice around you that takes your interest – the way the sun breaks through the trees, the sound of the bin men as they carry away your rubbish, the sound of birds, the movement of crowds and people in the street, the colours of tiled rooftops, the curl of cigarette smoke through the air…….whatever you see and hear and smell. Don’t try to make it a big thing. Relax and let yourself remember that even within a foot radius of where you are at any time, there are inspirations for composition, colour, concepts just waiting to be realised from the minutiae of this world we have been given to live in.
I once read an interview with a well known illustrator who said that when he watched movies, it was the backgrounds, the textures, the odd camera angles, the little things that reinspired him to take out his notebook and make drawings and think…..
You can make this way of seeing and appreciating the world into a habit. It will affect you in your life generally and begin to show through in your creative work.

2. Share with like-minded people.

This is why I love social networking! A great way to rediscover enthusiasm and creativity is to share your stuff with other people and to spend some time discovering their work too. Sharing work you have done in the past, for instance, is a great way – through feedback – to be reminded that you have something special: a God given, original eye, hand, ear or all of these. Sometimes being in a rut can make us lose our confidence about what we are trying to do. Getting positive feedback about what we have already done is a massive boon. And don’t forget that this one works BOTH ways. Think about how good you feel when someone takes the time to make encouraging comment about something you have made. It feels fantastic doesn’t it? Well…..

3. Try something new.

If you are an innately creative person, then chances are you can put your hand to more than one activity and surprise yourself. Change your medium of expression and treat it as a fun experiment. If you draw, try painting or pottery. If you like poetry, try writing some yourself. If you have been inspired by stories in the past, try making up a short story. Darn it, go out and make art from the pebbles on the beach. The important thing here is to try something new with your mind and hands and treat it as fun. Don’t be ultimate about it! Don’t expect to be “good” at it. The aim is to find a new perspective and a new feeling by trying something new for pleasure. Be playful. You are not producing anything here to impress.

4. Play again.

This might be the fourth point but sometimes learning to have fun and rediscover our sense of playfulness can be a big key to unlocking the door to fresh creativity. My father in law once said to me that when he ran his plant nursery business, he always treated it as if it were a hobby and a passion, not a job. That way, he was never motivated by anything other than love and pleasure in his work. It is a hard thing to do this considering the financial and time pressures we put ourselves under in modern life, but I like what he said. I remember it.
Sometimes we simply have to stop and realise that in order to continue loving what we do, we need to let it go, spiritually and emotionally. We need to say “hey, it’s only making marks and having fun!”. We need to rediscover the playfulness of children in our work. If we feel stale, this playfulness is definitely missing. Young children don’t worry when they make things. To them it’s play. It’s unconcerned joy. They are not critics. They don’t work to “achieve”. They make things because making and doing and using their hands and discovering stuff is FUN. The results are not judged by them. They learn to judge as they grow up and become us! We, as artists and makers, need to remember who we once were before we restrained ourselves with all the criteria we set for ourselves. We sometimes need to take time out and do whatever we need to play and have fun: paint and make a mess in the attic playing loud music, try making faces out of doodles, try sculpting out of old bits of wood.

5. Move!

A practical one that I can’t forget. I am a keen fitness enthusiast and when not drawing and illustrating, I also run a sports massage and bodywork clinic. I often work with people who have what I call “digital pain syndrome”. They are tight and uncomfortable in the neck, back and shoulders because they sit at a computer all day long. I am a firm believer in how much what we do with our bodies affects us emotionally and psychologically. So, when you are stuck for ideas, get UP from your monitor or desk or canvas and get OUT and walk or go to the gym or go and do some gardening. Let your body stretch and move on a regular basis and you will find your mind follows suit.

The above are obviously my own thoughts borne out of my own experience. Feel free to share your own strategies for regaining inspiration in your work. If you have written on a similar subject, share share! I would love to know what you think!

The iPad arriveth in the UK!

May 30, 2010

Well, I have to say, it is a marvellous piece of hardware. Really really REALLY nice!

Apple delivered my new ipad on promptly this week and I have been having a whale of a time with it so far. I confess to being a gadgethead par excellence. I was the guy in the midnight queue for the first xbox, the chap outside Blockbuster waiting for his new PS3. I even tried out Apple TV for a short time until I realised it was a redundant technology.

I love that feeling of anticipation and excitement as a launch day for a new piece of kit arrives and so I thought the feeling would make a good excuse for the illustration below. If you read the previous post to this you can see the sketch that I based it on initially. It took me a good while longer than the few hours that I anticipated, but here it is. I highlighted the calendar icon in the home UI to emphasise the release date for the ipad in the UK. AS far as I am currently aware, Apple have sold LOTS. At some point, I will post a list of the apps I have bought and am having immense fun with, both games and some surprisingly powerful creativity tools.

Illustration Friday – “Early”

May 28, 2010

Entered this one for the ever excellent Illustration Friday topic:

sketch for “ipad is here” illustration

May 28, 2010

Working this morning on a tech illustration on a geeky subject close to lots of geeks’ hearts this morning…..the release of Apple’s Ipad. Have to say, I am the geekiest of geeks and my delivery of gorgeous sleek techness arrived yesterday via a shining UPS lorry. So far I have downloaded a few apps and cruised the net – the user interface is SUPERB. I don’t know about the term “game changer”, but in terms of changing what technology  consumers may buy in the next couple of years, its definitely up there. If I have time I may plonk a few thoughts and recommendations down regarding apps and accessories (I did buy a Pogo Sketch Stylus to use on the pad when doodling). Anyhow, I will post the final illustration later this morning hopefully. Watch this spaaaaaaaaaaace……….


May 19, 2010

Been doing some experimental work away from the computer and have been excited by some of the results. Moving paint around on a surface is so satisfying and kind be quite the adventure when you don’t have a definite brief or plan. Its also unnerving how quickly you realise how “tight” you have become through working in more defined and perhaps “polished” ways….the result is a sort of fear of being in flux – working on something that seems to have no end or “resolution” in sight….but that place is the best place to be when you are truly exploring.

Wool#1 Cover

May 16, 2010

Love this mag…..