How to paint your dragon

Con­cept artist Trent Ka­ni­uga un­locks the power of Sketch­Book Pro to add vi­brant colour to your greyscale de­signs

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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.

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