Weekly Workbook #001
As of this writing, I've seen about a dozen entries in the the current weekly workbook challenge: “Stylish Monsters”. So far, they're great! For those that haven't heard about it, I'm providing weekly drawing activities at the Ctrl+Paint Facebook page, and everyone is invited to participate. This blog post is going to take a look into my motivation for this particular challenge, and how the principles apply to a much wider range of subject-matter.
Observing the rules of style
When you carefully observe a still life, the challenge is to mimic realism. When you carefully observe a stylized illustration, your goal is the same: to mimic what you see. Surprisingly, the most important skill when working with existing styles is knowing how to see. To test this, I assigned creating monsters in the style of “Monsters Ate my Birthday Cake” which has a very simple set of rules. Looking at these designs you can see that shape is priority #1, and that all of the edges are hard. Next, you'll notice that there are no outlines at all, even though it is a 'cartoon' style. You'll also notice that the colors are either totally solid, or use a slight gradation. Finally, there are small details used to add character and indicate material such as scales or tufts of fur.
How did your monster compare to these rules? Looking at the current submissions, there's a range of accuracy. Some nail it, while others missed some of the rules. If you haven't tried yet, I encourage you to enter your own! You can post your submissions on the Ctrl+Paint Facebook wall, or in the Weekly Workbook Flickr group.
Design vs. rendering
Designing the shape of a monster is totally separate from creating an illustration of that monster. Thumbnail sketches, for instance, capture a lot of information about a drawing though are not very detailed. The same goes for creature design. Below you can see two of my paintings: on the left is my example for Stylish Monsters, and on the right is the same design painted in a much more realistic style. They look very different at a first glance, but note that the shapes are essentially the same on both versions. The only thing that changed is the style with which I decided to depict it in my final painting.
Why is this important? Because it takes much longer to paint the image on the right. If I want to design a creature, it's much more effective use of my time to make simple drawings to test out shapes and ideas – even if they look more cartooned like the image on the left. Thumbnail sketches, design sketches, and doodles contain a vast amount of information – it just needs to be 'resolved' by the artist. So making a final illustration is somewhat like unpacking the visual information contained in a sketch and giving it a final coat of polish. In short, be creative with sketches and save your polish for the successful ideas. If you want to learn more about this concept, Design Basics is available in the Ctrl+Paint store.
The value of versatility
Artists often ask me "should I pick a style?". Though there's not a one-size-fits-all answer to this, my experience has been that versatility is useful in the commercial art world. At a single game studio, I worked on kids games and adult games - with very little time in between. Staying flexible made this possible. With this in mind, my advice is to practice a wide range of styles.
But remember: they're all based in your ability to paint realistically... so you have to start with a solid foundation. So keep working on your still life paintings!