Make Mischief on an infinite canvas
Nick Harris test drives fledgling software Mischief to create an image featuring ogres, a pixie and a girl in a bit of a pickle…
Every now and again something new comes along that starts you thinking. Fledgling software Mischief is such a thing. First impressions present a basic drawing and painting setup like many others, and indeed it is. The program’s small range of brushes respond very nicely, but it’s not about to have the likes of Corel or Adobe quaking in their boots. Layers don’t offer blending modes nor even some basic functions such as Duplicate or Lock Transparency.
So what has this innocuous, modestly priced newcomer got to offer to make it worth a look? The simple answer is infinity. And by that I mean that the limitation of edges has been removed. Mischief delivers endless canvas in any direction and at any scale you want. You can zoom and pan infinitely, creating remarkably small, native file sizes. Export files are bigger. What’s more remarkable is that results are also resolution independent. Somehow the development team behind it has produced brushes that respond like bitmaps, but are vector based. Download the 15-day trial at
www.madewithmischief.com and try it to understand what this means, and how you might be able to exploit it yourself.
In this workshop I’ll run through some basic operations to introduce you to the software, and I also provide audio commentary on the supplied video.
1 Let’s make Mischief
First things first. Let’s get you to understand just what Mischief is offering that is different. I produced this splash screen for the video for you to zoom into. I created the text in DrawPlus X6 because Mischief doesn’t boast that function yet. Download the trial, open the file and try for yourself. Zoom into the circle on the front of the small figure’s book to get to three thumbnail sketches. There’s some sort of vector architecture under the bonnet that makes this possible.
It’s always a good idea to start with thumbnail sketches, to get the juices flowing. There’s no art brief tying me down, so I throw down some thoughts using the character idea from the splashscreen. Giant mushrooms (Alice in Wonderlandish), the ability to fly and an encounter with a pixie are what spring to mind first. I try to vary the eye level in each sketch to keep things interesting.
3 Go with your gut
Not a medical suggestion, but advice I was given at art college. The third thumbnail just feels more right than the other two to me, so I pursue that idea. Using Mischief’s incredible zooming ability I enlarge the thumbnail without having to create a new, bigger file. I can simply tighten up the drawing on or over the actual thumbnail. I reduce the opacity of the layer and create a new one to redraw over the top.
4 Keep it loose
While I’m reasonably happy with the idea of a lurking ogre about to exploit the encounter between the young girl and the pixie, I’m not decided on how he’s going to look or stand yet. Don’t panic if you haven’t resolved everything beforehand. Yes, that’s the ideal, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. View it as an opportunity to respond to how the image develops as you go.
5 Block and wash over
I tend to block in opaque body colour layers under the drawing, then using semi-transparent layers on top of that to build up tone and shadow. Mischief doesn’t boast layer-blending modes, but I’ve worked without them in the past in SketchBook Pro before they arrived. Furthermore, Mischief does have Highlighters that offer a workable alternative for building up translucent values. I also work volume into the body colour layer.
6 Against the grain
Mischief also lacks textures, save the variety of Papers you can access through the icon to the right of Current Brush. Once a Paper is selected you can change its colour. Here, I don’t think it’s looking textural enough for my rock, so I import a photo and rotate it, irregularly transforming it to lie along the shape that I’ve blocked in. Cut away areas you don’t need with the Erasers, then work into it over the top on another layer to add interest and have it fit the lighting.
7 Ins and outs
As the layer count rises, so navigation becomes more sluggish. I zoom in on the girl and the pixie to work out the dynamic between them. It’s important to ensure the girl’s eyeline is looking straight at our little chap. I get it pretty wrong for a while, but keep at it until it reaches an acceptable state. I then block in the body colour using the Markers and Conte Crayons, and add tone using Conte Crayons again, as well as Highlighters.
8 Change what doesn’t work
Not working out that ogre better in the thumbnail stage comes back to bite me. He simply isn’t appealing, isn’t well drawn or posed, and isn’t providing the fun tension I want. I experiment with altering his scale and position, but that doesn’t work either. Time to bite the bullet and wipe those layers using the X option in the buttons above the Layer palette. As soon as I start sketching two ogres the scene starts to work better.
9 Wash and go for it
As a converted real media watercolourist, I still use washes. Even without layer blending modes they’re useful here. I block in a dark purple/blue tone across the entire image on a new layer with reduced Opacity, and save the colour by dragging the swatch from Current into one of the free slots below. I’ll need it to repair mistakes. I cut into the layer using the Erasers. It all looks completely over the top, but can unify an image.
10 Keep on tweaking
With more erasing, the image begins to make sense. Changing the ogre from one to two also alters the story idea behind the image. Now they’re using their captive human as bait to catch the pixie. It feels like a better fairy tale idea to me. I keep cutting into the wash layer with the Erasers, but also add another lowered Opacity layer above that to accent the darkest areas with the Conte Crayons.
11 Lightening strikes
I continue to work in the same way, isolating the base colours, tone and line of the characters where possible. However, there is a definite limit on how many layers you can have, and occasionally I merge two together to free another for use. I bring warm, mottled hues into the ground plane at the bottom to bring it forward, while trying to add leafy textures without too much detail on the base layer to make those areas recede. The image gradually becomes more sunny.
12 Change of emphasis
Truth be told, I thought only a video of my process was needed, which means I get the layout for a workshop spread later than usual. No problem. I’ve been expanding the composition sideways, but now drop a JPG of the image into my page guide to define the dimensions. Dan, ImagineFX’s art editor, has done a great job of cropping the image in a way that works on its own and with print constraints such as the gutter (where the pages are bound together).
13 That’s handy
The change of composition dimensions introduces a gap on the left, which we agree to fill with another ogre. Positioned in the foreground, he’s necessarily large and so I draw ideas for him using light colours on a new layer that show up easily. I quickly go with a reaching up pose and set to blocking in a thick-fingered hand, using bold colours. The shadow layer knocks them back. It’s a bit close to the gutter, but it should work.
14 Small wonder
An ongoing niggle is that the pixie in green refuses to stand out enough from the green background to focus the viewer on him. I add yellow stripes to his jacket, and lay a light coloured wash over the area around him to accentuate contrast. I erase as needed for crisp edges. Sharp edges and tonal contrasts are generally accepted to work towards bringing elements of an image closer to the viewer.
15 An end in sight
I change Pixie’s coat to red and this helps a bit. I darken the front ogre with more shadow and strengthen the dappled light around the girl. This helps to draw the eye across to that side of the spread. Don’t forget to zoom in and out to assess the overall feeling of the piece. I add warmer colours to the foreground, but also yellow to the left background, fading as the eye travels right. It helps lift the pixie more.
16 The fat ogre sings
A bit more work on the girl’s hands, some general crisping, and a few bright accents here and there and I call it a day. I make a selection and go to file/Export Selection, altering the longer dimension to the maximum 10,000px, with resolution at 450dpi. It should provide the biggest possible file to work with. I process the image using PhotoPlusX7, adjusting the levels before exporting. And I’m done.