Per­fect Pen­cils

Allen Wil­liams’ ad­vice for draw­ing unique art

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Front Page - Allen Wil­liams Award-win­ning il­lus­tra­tor, con­cept artist, fine artist and writer, Allen con­tin­ues his pas­sion for graphite ev­ery day, cre­at­ing strange char­ac­ters and crea­tures. See his art at www.al­len­williamsstu­dio.com.

Draw­ing, for me, has been a long and crooked path. I can re­mem­ber copy­ing im­ages from comic books well be­fore I could read. My fam­ily trav­elled as I grew up. Comic books, pen­cil and pa­per are very por­ta­ble, so that’s what I usu­ally had with me.

I drew noth­ing but crea­tures for a long time un­til, aged 15, I met an­other kid and fel­low artist who only drew nude fig­ures. His mother was, shall we say, pro­gres­sive and to sup­port his love of draw­ing would sup­ply him with mag­a­zines fea­tur­ing taste­ful nudes.

For a long time my work was mostly con­cerned with the fe­male form, and to this day anatomy still plays a huge part in my work, some­times even in the more ab­stract work that I do. I put a lot of ef­fort into chas­ing styles and tech­niques that I would emu­late, in­te­grate or dis­re­gard.

About 13 years ago, around the time my first child was born, I had the grow­ing feel­ing I was over­look­ing some­thing cru­cial. I came to re­alise that I hadn’t spent much time ex­plor­ing what I loved to do.

This was a dra­matic turn­ing point for me. I started pay­ing close at­ten­tion to what it was that most ex­cited me to look at. I had reached a point where, for what­ever rea­son, I couldn’t find a frame of ref­er­ence for the im­ages that I wanted to make. I took this as a good sign that I was on a more per­sonal track, and that’s what led me to the man­ner and con­tent of the work I do to­day. Hope­fully, this work­shop will in­spire you have faith in your own vi­sion.

1 Chose your own path

Be­fore you pick up a pen­cil or brush, de­cide what is the pur­pose of your work: con­cep­tual, per­sonal, nar­ra­tive, ab­stract, ex­pres­sive? This de­ci­sion – and of­ten it’s made on a piece-by-piece ba­sis – can de­ter­mine how you should pro­ceed.

2 Knowl­edge is key

I have to say that you can make do with the most ba­sic ma­te­ri­als if you understand them thor­oughly. In a pinch there’s noth­ing wrong with a #2 pen­cil and a ream of plain white copy pa­per, but dif­fer­ent tools have dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties. Hav­ing a num­ber of op­tions can help keep your work fresh.

3 Your work­ing sur­face

What kind of me­dia do you want to work on? Dig­i­tal or pa­per? If pa­per suits you most then, like me, bear in mind that you don’t have to set­tle for one type or brand. In my opin­ion, you should have a va­ri­ety of pa­pers with dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties that you’ve come to understand through your own ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. Smooth pa­pers aid smooth ren­ders. Rough pa­pers aid tex­tu­ral ren­ders. Sounds ba­sic I know, but you’d be sur­prised at how many pro­fes­sion­als strug­gle against their own me­dia.

4 Use ref­er­ences to suit the piece

Ref­er­ence can be mod­els, na­ture or even out of the brain. I try to pho­to­graph all of my own ref­er­ence, but I oc­ca­sion­ally piece to­gether (or ‘Franken­stein’) ref­er­ence that I’ve found on­line. For fig­ures I try to have the best ref­er­ence I can af­ford. For nat­u­ral ref­er­ence, such as rocks and trees, I tend to shoot ref­er­ence, study it and then put it away and work from the im­pres­sions left in my mind. Of course, all of that ref­er­ence com­bines in my brain and that’s what causes the al­most ab­stract qual­ity of some of my art.

5 Take dif­fer­ent ap­proaches

If I’m do­ing con­cept work for a client I tend to fol­low a more for­mal process: sketch, line art, ren­dered draw­ing. It saves time in the ini­tial con­cept phase if the sketches can be as­sessed be­fore you waste time on an in­ap­pro­pri­ate ren­der­ing. When I do per­sonal work I’ll be­gin draw­ing with the end re­sult in mind. I’ll grow the crea­ture out of a strik­ing de­tail. That di­rec­tion isn’t for ev­ery­one and you have to be sure of your abil­ity to ‘find’ the form. It’s a fun way to work, and with prac­tice can help you find shapes, forms and tex­tures that you wouldn’t have nec­es­sar­ily thought of in the be­gin­ning.

You should have a va­ri­ety of pa­pers with dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties that you’ve come to understand through your own work

6 Rhythm and shape hi­er­ar­chy

No mat­ter what di­rec­tion you take your art in, it’s im­por­tant to keep in mind the rhythm of the shapes within the work. This di­rectly re­lates to shape hi­er­ar­chy. It’s really just an­other way of think­ing about com­po­si­tion. Build­ing in­ter­est­ing pat­terns of light and dark is a good skill to have. You don’t want ev­ery­thing to be too sim­i­lar in shape and size in your work be­cause it can lead to an un­in­ter­est­ing or awk­ward rhythm (un­less, of course, you know­ingly de­vi­ate from that guide­line).

7 Avoid de­sign­ing around eyes

That’s a rough and ready sum­mary of some­thing that Iain McCaig men­tioned in one of his in­struc­tional videos. I’d like to give it a broader mean­ing here: try not to ei­ther de­sign or con­ceive your crea­ture, char­ac­ter or com­po­si­tion from the same start­ing place all the time. This is es­pe­cially ap­pli­ca­ble if you find your­self pro­duc­ing im­ages that feel like you’ve done them be­fore.

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