Monday, November 15, 2010

The Worst Sketch... may ever see on this blog, is in this post.

It's taken every ounce of humility I've got to post it, but I wanted to respond to Christina's recent posting about the creative process.

The art above is something I did last week for my daughter's birthday. She asked me to make her a drawing with a unicorn and a hamster, and I immediately bristled at the thought of combining two animals so different in scale. Unfortunately, once you tell your 5-year old she can have whatever she wants for her birthday, you're pretty much stuck (In fact, I think that's how John the Baptist died, but I digress.)

Here's the eponymous sketch:

Most of my art starts with a really awful, but useful thumbnail. (Actually some aren't even useful —just awful.) In this case I couldn't stand to look at it long enough to finish it, but it was enough to tell me the concept was okay, and it stood as a rough guide for the work ahead.

After pulling a few images of horses in steeplechases, I got a more refined sketch. You can see that I'm still making decisions about the placement of the front legs. A lot of my rough sketches have three or more limbs.

One the sketch is scanned, I tear the elements apart in Photoshop and nudge them. It's nice to be able to make these refinements without re-tracing the image. I've always found that something gets lost with every iteration.

Here's a cleanup based on the sketch above:

In the final image, I've actually superimposed the cleanup over the early sketch.
I don't use this technique much for my commercial work, because it looks too sketchy for most clients, but I like it for personal stuff. My preliminary work almost always hits these stages though, and I keep most of the nicest sketches. (about 10% of the total)


  1. Chuck, you are much too hard on yourself. After all, it's the finished piece that matters. What a fantastic job you did on your daughter's gift illustration!

    It is awesome in every way; characters, body language and expression, layout, color!

    What a wonderful gift to give your little girl. I'm sure she will treasure it always!

  2. Thanks, Daryll! You're too nice.
    I wasn't trying to be overly modest. I'm very happy with the way it came out. I just wanted to demonstrate that every illustration takes a bit of patience and every final piece starts out with a pretty bad sketch. And I'm telling it like it is: that IS the worst sketch I've ever seen on this blog. (maybe we should keep it that way!)

  3. I do really rough thumbs too-almost pictionary quality. After I get out of this deadline black hole I have dug for myself I will post a couple.

    I love this render style over sketch. It seems like there would be a commercial appilication for it.

    There is a wonderful fluid life to your first sketch. It is so hard to maintain that energy.

    I try to trace over as little as possible when I sketch.

  4. Thx, Christina!

    It's always been a comfort to me to learn that lots of artists struggle to keep the sketch "intact" throughout the process.

    I have a theory about why sketches are appealing —even beyond their spontaneity and energy. When a sketch contains a lot of search lines, the exact contours of the character are ambiguous. The viewer sees the total effect of the rough lines, but at the same time, "selects" which lines define the character in his imagination. If the flurry of lines suggest a pretty girl, and there's a softness or ambiguity to it, the viewer's imagination will (to our great advantage) conjure up the prettiest girl that could be extracted from those lines.

    For some reason, people driving down the highway always look like models to me, when all I get is a quick glance. When I'm able to see them more clearly, and imagination gives way to reality, there's a bit of a letdown.

    Same thing with Facebook profile pics. An artist's hand-drawn avatar always impresses me. I invariably click on it to get the larger picture and I'm usually disappointed with the larger, clearer version.

    I don't know if we're all like that, or if I simply assume the best until I'm confronted with the worst. Anyone else?