Faking artistic competence?

Posted by (twitter: @sowbug)
April 20th, 2009 7:28 pm

Fellow LDers,

I can barely draw a circle, let alone cool monster or robot sprites. I’d like my next LD entry to involve real artwork, rather than just letters and geometric shapes. I don’t expect to ever see my creations hanging on a wall in a museum. But if I need a trash can in my game, I’d like to be able to spend a couple hours in a paint app and end up with something that looks like a trash can, rather than a gray rectangle with vertical lines.

Do any of you know of books or websites whose specific goal is to teach geek coders how to draw simple iconic artwork? If so, I’d appreciate your recommendation.

By the way, if you believe this is an unattainable goal (“it’s a gift — either you have it or you don’t”), or that I’m asking the wrong question, I’d still appreciate hearing what you have to say. I know that people who don’t have the “gift” of computer programming are nonetheless competent professional software developers after being taught how to program, so I hope the same is true with art.

Please help me learn how to learn (or maybe just fake) artistic competence!


20 Responses to “Faking artistic competence?”

  1. LoneStranger says:

    One of the most wisest pieces of knowledge told to me by my fifth grade teacher was that if you try to make something look straight, people will see the crookedness. But if you make it crooked on purpose, no one notice there is anything is wrong.

  2. sol_hsa says:

    I’m not claiming to be an artist by any scale, but here’s my few hints.

    1. Practice, practice, practice.
    2. Keep things simple.
    3. Oldschool art is “easy”. People get nostalgic when they see pixels. It’s weird.
    4. Practice, practice, practice.
    5. Don’t try to achieve some art style you can’t do. If it’s crayons and drawings by a 5-year old, do crayons and drawings like a 5-year old. =)
    6. For color harmonies, there’s tools like: http://www.colorjack.com/sphere/
    7. Practice, practice, practice.

  3. 5parrowhawk says:

    Light-sourcing works wonders, and doesn’t require much artistic skill. If you’ve ever worked with 3D before, it should be intuitive.

    Bits facing towards the light should be coloured lighter; bits facing away darker. Imagine the angles in your head.

    If the object is shiny, add small/thin white specular reflections.

    If you’re not sure where the light is coming from, just imagine it coming from the top right corner, displaced slightly towards the viewer.

    This works especially well with lo-fi “8-bit” artwork.

    Here’s a before-and-after sample of a generic “red gem”. Done in about 15 minutes (I wasn’t keeping close track of the time):

    http://haitaka.googlepages.com/shading_before_after.png

  4. Jach says:

    A small amount of knowledge with any graphical editor more powerful than Paint can go a long way. I use Xara ( http://xaraxtreme.org/) (Linux version is free and open, Windows costs $75 or so), and for the most part it hides a bunch of my graphical incompetencies. I took 5parrowhawk’s example and replicated it in seriously about a minute, and I think it even looks better. I just say “make an octagon, add a little curvature, make it red, duplicate for a comparison, then Bevel inward.” And then resize as needed, done. It’s a vector-based editor so you can get as detailed as you want.

  5. PoV says:

    Yeah, I don’t buy in to the “gift” angle. But like anything, it takes work. Doing it (crappy results and all), and looking at stuff (trying to understand it) is how you get better. Pick up a sketchbook, grab a pencil, and start doing.

    Iconic and cartoon art is all about shape. With that in mind, don’t be afraid of reference. Though you may want an iconic strawberry, look at a real strawberry (photo). Iconic design is about finding and representing the elements unique to something. A strawberry is somewhat rounded to a point (fat on one side), is red, has seeds/white spots, and a leafy stem and top.

    Starting out, try focusing more on shape than detailing. It’s easy to get caught up trying to figure out details, but understanding where to put them can be far more important.

  6. HybridMind says:

    I firmly believe that anyone can learn to draw just like any other skill out there. I think a lot comes down to the fact that we tend to spend more time on things that we like to do or have found a drive for or that our parents may have noticed and encouraged from a young age. This time spent practicing builds our skills over time.

    I’ve often wondered how my life would have gone differently if I hadn’t scrawled out some kind of scribble as a kid that happened to look halfway decent and been so encouraged by my parents? What if I had been in a “musical” household and there were some instruments lying about perhaps and when I smacked a few notes on the xylophone I would have been equally encouraged by supportive parents and my life could have taken a different path?

    I’ve personally seen a few of my friends that I’ve known for 20+ years amaze themselves by learning to draw.. paint.. and eventually surpass my perceived “art skill” by leaps and bounds (meaning, this “art skill” they thought I somehow had but they didn’t!) These were friends that I’ve known who SWORE they couldn’t draw and had no artistic talent and yeah.. sure like all of us, at the beginning they weren’t good. Well, I was very happy to see it turn out that after they spent years drawing and painting they built those skills up and really enjoyed that accomplishment.

    I swore I had no musical talent most of my life and I think it was because my parents just didn’t have an interest in music so there wasn’t that environment. But, I was so burnt out at 18 from almost 16 years of art.. that I took a 10 year break and focused on music instead. Learned to play guitar, bass, banjo.. play in bands.. learn to sing, sing harmonies etc… so that made me really start to question the whole “what are we good at thing?”

    Sorry for this long post.. it is early.. I’m halfway through my coffee… this is just something I feel really strongly about. As someone who has been drawing since like.. day one.. and started programming at age 6 or so.. I’ve often been confused my whole life as people tried to say “are you left brain or right brain…” I think that is a false question and irrelevant. We have both halves.. so use them! They’re there for a reason! :)

    My belief is in people and what people can accomplish through their honest efforts to learn something. I wish you all the luck at learning to draw a better trash can.. as Canjun Man would say… YOU CAN DO EEET!

  7. HybridMind says:

    Oh yeah.. the title of this post reminded me of a great quip:

    “Fake it till you make it!”

  8. 0rel says:

    some lazy, but fun techniques using free graphics software could help, maybe:

    * try auto vectorization (e.g. in Inkspcae)
    * try real 3d rendering/lighting (e.g. with Blender)
    * try image tracing (e.g. in ArtRage)
    * try various pixel tools (e.g. in Gimp)

    …and modifiy the results. combine them. collect them. import/export. process them in various ways. experiment with all the functions of the available tools. – just because, in my opinion, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to handdraw graphics at all… you would need to scan them or draw them with a tablet, and that needs a lot of time and practice… in my experience, it’s hard work, which, for the use in games, is often a waste of time, imho… it’s more about finding a good, fitting [i]style[/i], and a simple and consistent technique to apply it [i]to all[/i] the graphics for the game.

  9. 0rel says:

    (hmm, other post wasn’t display. markup errors or something…)

    some lazy, but fun techniques using free graphics software could help, maybe:

    * try auto vectorization (e.g. in Inkspcae)
    * try real 3d rendering/lighting (e.g. with Blender)
    * try image tracing (e.g. in ArtRage)
    * try various pixel tools (e.g. in Gimp)

    …and modifiy the results. combine them. collect them. import/export. process them in various ways. experiment with all the functions of the available tools. – just because, in my opinion, it sometimes doesn’t make sense to handdraw graphics at all… you would need to scan them or draw them with a tablet, and that needs a lot of time and practice… in my experience, it’s hard work, which, for the use in games, is often a waste of time, imho… it’s more about finding a good, fitting style, and a simple and consistent technique to apply it to all the graphics for the game.

  10. grimfang4 says:

    My suggestion is a little expensive… Forget about drawing with the mouse and get yourself a graphics tablet. I bought the smallest Intuos3 tablet from Wacom on Ebay for a little over $100. Using it in the GIMP, it lets me create my own smooth style. That alone is all I needed to make art that looks (nearly) as good as production indie titles. Of course, the Linux drivers aren’t so hot… grrr…

  11. robot_guy says:

    If you’re more a programmer than a drawer and you have a reasonable grasp on the way shapes can be put together but can’t actually put them down on paper (or screen) you could go the route that I went and use PovRay. This is a 3D rendering tool that uses a text description rather than a GUI tool to describe the objects / image and therefore I feel fits better with people that program rather than draw.

    It isn’t great for some things (people and organic objects) but it handles other things quite well. For you example of a trash can I’d take a cylinder (the can) and union it with a very flat cylinder of a slightly bigger radius and a truncated cone (the lid) and possibly a stretched torus (for a rough handle). A loop would create a group of thin cylinders with half spherical ends around and slightly intersecting the main cylinder and these would be subtracted out to give the form of the can’s body. Put a metallic texture on if from the standard textures, add a light source and a orthographic camera and presto a nicely lit faux-3D trashcan sprite, five – ten minutes tops.

  12. Hempuli says:

    It annoys me that I can’t draw on computer like I draw on paper. Tablets aren’t very good imitations, sadly. :(

    I suggest that you try to scribble a lot everywhere, and slowly you will shape your own style.

  13. sowbug says:

    Hey everyone,

    Thanks for all the informative and inspiring thoughts; keep them coming! FourEyes’s link to Joel Davis’s article is amazingly on-point. Not surprising since he’s in almost the exact same position as me (LD entrant, normally drawing at a preschool level).

    The most resonant theme I’m hearing is PRACTICE. And that makes sense. It takes hours or days to tweak a critical block of code, and that’s even after years coding under my belt. Why shouldn’t artwork be the same? Just because that kid who sat next to me in grade school made his doodling look effortless doesn’t mean that it MUST be effortless in order to be doable at all.

  14. jovoc says:

    Thanks! Glad you liked the article. And I know what you mean about people whose brilliant doodles look effortless — but you find out that’s really because they’ve been doodling since they could hold a crayon.

    A “daily sketch” group is a great way to practice. I noticed that Hamumu is doing one on the “planet” side of this site, and there is a nice good daily sketch group here, all skill levels are welcome:
    http://forums.cgsociety.org/forumdisplay.php?f=130

    Joel

  15. ArmchairArmada says:

    I have always been an ok artist, but recently I discovered a few simple principles that have helped me to grow a little. Here they are:
    * Don’t worry about technique. How you’re creating the art does not matter as much as what it looks like.
    * Don’t worry about being messy. Draw quick and rough with the forms, proportions, and perspectives of the drawing in mind. Lines can be cleaned up later on a computer, with a light-table, or, if the rough drawing is light, on the same page.
    * Don’t think, feel. Does what you are drawing feel right when you look at it? Does it provoke the emotional reaction you are trying to achieve?
    * Be progressive. Only a few artists can go directly from a blank page to an awesome drawing. Instead, gradually make changes bringing a drawing closer and closer to being visually appealing.
    * Stay in motion. Do not focus too deeply on any one part of the page. If you go in close to try to draw ‘the perfect hand,’ for example, you might find that it is too small compared to the rest of the character’s proportions. Jump around all over the place starting rough and loose then work towards refining and adding detail.
    * Keep the big picture in mind. When you start a drawing it might be best to rough in basic shapes (rectangles, circles, amorphous blobs, etc.) just to get a feel for the layout and proportions of the drawing’s elements.
    * Warm up. I find that the first thing I draw usually looks terrible. Quickly get a few rough drawings out before trying to tackle a more serious one.
    * Have fun. If you are stressed out about how your drawing looks it will appear stiff, awkward, and unnatural. If you are simply having fun, though, your drawings will more likely be appealing, dynamic, and pleasurable to look at.
    * Go easy on yourself. People tend to judge themselves more harshly than other people would. Artists can look at their own work and see hundreds of flaws, where other people will likely never notice.
    * Learn with each drawing. Take notice of what can be improved in a drawing and try not to make the same mistakes again. This may seem to contradict a lot of what I previously said, but improvements can only be made if you know what to try to improve at.

  16. Jonny D says:

    To expand a little and cover Hempuli’s problem…
    If you have a graphics tablet, you can draw your figures by hand on some paper, then just plop that down on your tablet and trace it into your PC.

  17. Kate says:

    The best thing you can do is start by mimicking. Spend time doing pictures of items you can hold in real life, or trying to copy others works. You can’t use these commercially, but you can get an idea of how the movements feel and how you tend to draw. (ps – found a post on faking it here – http://convergentstreams.blogspot.com/2009/04/faking-skill.html)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

[cache: storing page]