How to paint your dragon
Concept artist Trent Kaniuga unlocks the power of SketchBook Pro to add vibrant colour to your greyscale designs
Anyone who’s drawn on paper or dabbled with paint on canvas will instinctively grasp the basic interface of SketchBook Pro and be able to start drawing immediately. Yet the level of customisation and available functions establish this software as my first choice for illustration and conceptual design.
I’m normally not the kind of artist to do a lot of either photo bashing or photo manipulation. I like to dig in and get lost in the storytelling of character and environment design. SketchBook Pro removes the clutter of unnecessary functions from the main canvas, enabling you to develop an organic, natural grit and grain in your artwork without all of the fuss of menu diving. This means you’re able to spend more time focusing on your character designs and getting your ideas down on the canvas.
Despite it’s simplicity, I’m still discovering new ways to use SketchBook Pro’s many features, and I’d like to share a few tips to get you started with it. In this workshop I’m also going to share with you my process from thumbnails, to basic composition, character design and finally how I use layer effects to add colour for a finished polish pass.
1 What do I want to paint?
The most important step in creating any image is to know what you want to accomplish. This establishes our yardstick, and it’ll define when the image is complete. In this case, my intentions are to create an illustration of an epic battle from my comic Twilight Monk, featuring one of my established characters. I use the text tool in SketchBook Pro to write out my idea: “Capture the intensity of a tiny monk fighting a mythical beast.”
2 Get some shapes down
I set my canvas to 3,200x1,800 pixels, flood it with white and start to just scribble. It’s important to not become intimidated by the blank page. Just blob down any old colour with any old shape. It doesn’t matter what ends up on the canvas – just defeat the fear of the white page. You could also flood the image with a 50 per cent grey. Before long, I’ve got the hint of a small character who’s up against something significantly larger…
3 Produce thumbnails
To show the desired intense combat, I need to depict the main character, Mao Tenza, facing a mighty opponent. The image communicates a basic story arc in its entirety, and creates a few secondary questions. I could choose many angles for this, and create many thumbnails quickly. But I get something that I like right away.
4 Ensuring that the image flows nicely
Here, I want to ensure that important elements in the image are pointing directly where I want the viewer to look. In this case, I’m confident that the viewer won’t be able to miss the dragon’s head (the primary focus), which happens to be pointing directly at the flying figure of Mao (our secondary focus). The beast’s arms, his tail and even his wings will be enveloping the small humanoid figure. This layout further supports the intended story of our image – one of a fight scene where the odds are heavily stacked against the hero.
When you’re blocking in your shapes, it’s best to use large black or grey blobs and loose lines on a new layer, so that you can later adjust the Opacity and knock it back. It doesn’t matter which tool you use, just a large blobby brush will do fine. Zoom out to make sure that your image reads as a thumbnail, and make sure that you’re not creating awkward tangents in your composition.