Saturday, May 7, 2016

Creating A Coloring Book- Part 3: From Sketch to Finished Artwork

I’m working on my next coloring book, and I thought it might be fun to document the process on my blog as I go along.  

In Part 2, I talked about my process of conceptualizing my book and exploring what ideas I wanted to include in it, and designing my world and the characters that inhabit it.  During that phase, I produce a lot of sketches of my ideas and page compositions that come to me.

Here in Part 3, I'll be transforming my sketches into finished artwork.

My method for this is to scan my hand-drawn sketches into my computer and then basically trace over them and add to them by creating vector art in Adobe Illustrator.

  Er...what kind of art...?

So -there are two general kinds of 2D digital image - pixel (aka raster or bitmapped) and vector.  Pixel images are made up of tiny squares of color (pixels) on a grid, that create an image.  Vector images are made  It's difficult to describe.  It's just magic, okay?

Here's a better explanation:

On a practical level, what it comes down to is that when you want to create or alter a pixel image, you would use a brush tool to lay down colored pixels, and an eraser tool to eliminate pixels.  It's similar to painting with actual paint. 

In a vector image, each line and shape is a separate entity that can be manipulated in a variety of different ways without having to erase and redraw.  You can change an entire shape's color with a single click, as opposed to having to select and paint pixels.  

You can very easily move things around, manipulate lines, adjust and tweak and experiment until you get it perfect.  You can also very easily do things like duplicate shapes and flip them, which is very handy for creating symmetrical images, which I love. 

 A picture is built by creating and layering these individual, fully-editable shapes and lines.
It basically gives me complete control over every aspect of the image, and allows me to experiment and adjust things along the way.  

Hand sketch - Final artwork - Coloring test

Vector images are generally more "graphic" in style - smooth lines and gradients, more precise and "clean" looking, while pixel images tend to be more "painterly" - textured, can have "brush strokes" and mimic photos and traditional art techniques and mediums.  Having said that - there are artists doing photo-realistic and/or painterly work with vectors and very graphic work with pixels - artists tend to do whatever they want with their tools!

But for me, creating an image with vectors is a very enjoyable process that results in very satisfying final images.  And it works very well for coloring book art because you can get lovely smooth lines and shapes for colorists to fill in.

This one started with a VERY rudimentary sketch!

The level of detail that I put into my initial hand-drawn sketches varies a lot.  Sometimes I'll just do a super basic, almost stick-figure-level sketch that does little more than indicate a basic pose or composition.  In those cases, I already have the rest of the details pretty firmly in my mind and feel confident that I can fill out the drawing on the computer without needing much guidance from a detailed sketch.

Other times, I'll spend a lot of time on a sketch - working on poses, filling in little details, refining things and exploring with my pencil at that stage.  Some sketches are a mixture of detailed and rudimentary visual "notes to myself".  Sometimes I'll include actual written notes to myself like "shorten neck", or  "mandala wings" or "Healer making medicine w/ plant's help.  Scientific stuff!  Lots of bottles and jars".  
 I just want to create a foundation upon which to build my vector shapes.

After I scan them in I'll often do a bit of tweaking in Photoshop.  Sometimes something needs to be a bit taller or wider than I originally sketched it, a limb needs to be a little longer or shorter, or maybe I'll adjust the size and angle of the head.  I can do this quickly in Photoshop (which is a pixel-based program, btw.  The sketches are converted into pixel images when I scan them.), by "cutting out" a part of the sketch and rotating it or adjusting the size.  It chops up the drawing and makes it look crappy, but nobody but me is seeing that stage. 
For symmetrical images, I'll usually just sketch out half of the drawing, then in Photoshop I can copy that half and flip it to create the mirror-image half.  Easy peasy!  

Symmetrical image - only sketch half and mirror it  

I open the sketch in Illustrator and put it on a separate Layer that I can turn on or off, make transparent, etc. Layers are kind of like transparent sheets of paper stacked on top of each other that you place your shapes on.  You can make each layer invisible or change it's transparency, lock it to "freeze" it so you can select other things without effecting that layer, move it around in the stack to move things above or below other things.  Layers are wonderful things!

Then I start building up my image on different layers.  For the art in this book, I've generally been organizing my layers into Foreground, Midground and Background.  Using layers helps to keep things organized, makes it easier to navigate all the shapes and can help to create a sense of depth.

Sometimes I stay very faithful to my original sketch, but more often than not, some ideas are tossed, new ideas come up.  Sometimes I try several different options until I find the one that works. 

This phase is the most labor and time-intensive.  It's me spending hours making lots of little things and putting them exactly where I want them until the artwork looks finished to me.   

Once I get everything in place and it looks good, I'll print it out on my laser printer and test-color it.  I've found that this step is really valuable.  It helps me catch any mistakes or weirdness that I might have missed and gives me a feel for how well it colors.  Is there too much open space in this area?  Are these shapes way too tiny to color?  Is the image legible - can you tell what things are?  
Also - I get to color!  :D
As I color, I'll make little notes on the back about any mistakes I've caught or changes I want to make, then go back into the vector image and correct them.

And that's that!  Artwork finished!  And then I do it 24-30 more times with the rest of my sketches!

Next step - Layout! (stay tuned for Part 4!)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your technique, which is so much more technologically modern than mine :) For me, I spend so much time on the computer with other work that it's a pleasure to sketch something on paper and then just ink it in the old -fashioned way.


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