Tag Archives: drawing

Easy perspective in Photoshop and GIMP

Here’s an example of a drawing I started tonight and then completed over a few hours.  This is a really wide opening scene for Saltwater Witch Chapter 2, with Kassandra’s school rolling into view and as you’ll see in the finished work, some interesting stuff going on beneath and around it.


I’m not going to do a perspective how to, or get into transparencies, layering, or any of the tools other than the brush tool (the one with the paint brush icon).  I’m posting this to show you how I do quick and easy perspective drawings using Photoshop or GIMP.  I’ll post some links to books on perspective at the end.

I assume everyone knows what Adobe Photoshop is.  Here’s Adobe’s site for those who want to learn more: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

GIMP (http://www.gimp.org) is a really powerful, feature-competitive, and free drawing, visual design, image manipulation application for native Linux and Windows with a good solid version that runs under X on Mac OSX.  And it’s free.

I use Photoshop, but everything I’m going to explain works just as well and in the same way with GIMP.

Set up: layers and cursors
I usually create several layers for the drawing, one for the horizon line, one for the vertical lines, one for the lines that begin at the vanishing points, and maybe one for a reference image (I'm using my drawing from Saltwater Witch chapter 1 in the example).  Later I will create another to run some thicker lines over the structure, giving it shape.

PSCursors3Before I start any perspective drawing I change the cursor preferences to a standard (ugly in my opinion) “paint brush” cursor.  This helps me see where I’m clicking on the canvas.  I normally use the cursor that outlines the brush and shows its size, but for perspective drawing I’m using such a small brush, usually a few pixels wide, that I loose track of it. In photoshop I go under Display & Cursor preferences and change the Painting Cursor to “Standard”.  That’s it.

The Shift Key
It’s all in the shift key.  Here’s how this works.  Create a new canvas/image whatever your app calls it.  Make it fairly wide, at least 2000 pixels wide by a 1000 pixels high. (The example drawing I’m doing is 9500 wide, 2550 high).

So, here’s the whole trick in one step.  We’ll make a horizon line—one side of the drawing to the other.  Pick a nice spot on the left side about a quarter of the way up from the bottom, and then hold down the shift key, move your cursor to the other side of the drawing, and click. Release the shift key. Photoshop and GIMP will both connect two points every time you hold down the shift key.  With a couple tricks that I’ll get into next, that’s all there is to it. 

Vertical Lines
You probably want vertical lines for your perspective illustrations, but it’s not that easy with the shift-key method.  There are at least two ways to solve this.  I use both of them. In both Photoshop and GIMP (and other apps) the transparent layers have a nice checkerboard pattern, which will give an easy to follow vertical guide.  So, use the click-shift-click method to draw vertical lines. Another way is to use the Rectangle Tool and draw very narrow rectangles, basically two lines with an empty pixel between them. I use this method in the example drawing, but both work well.

Here's a screenshot with some of the structural lines drawn on a new layer:


Here's a much reduced final illustration, with a link to a sneak peak at Saltwater Witch Chapter 2–the leading scene with a few of the not quite finished panels:


Chapter 2 Sneak Peak:

There's a lot more to it!

This shows how the building was incorporated into the opening scene.


Perspective for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea

The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium by Phil Metzger

Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up by Jason Cheeseman-Meyer

There are a bunch of Web and YouTube tutorials



Sketch Progression in Art Rage on the iPad

I see a lot wrong with this one, but here it is anyway.  This is all done in Art Rage on the iPad.  Drawing today at lunch and saving off the work into a set of steps to show my progress–going from a really loose scribbly form and using new layers on top of it to build up the definition, working on the face, hands, background, and finally some light shadowing.

Click for the full view:

Sketching in Art Rage on the iPad

I'm putting together a tutorial for drawing and painting on the iPad, and I spent a few minutes tonight saving off the progress of a quick sketch, focusing on the use of layers in the Art Rage app on the iPad. "Layers" is a fairly common feature in the better drawing and painting apps on any platform/OS–from Photoshop, Painter, Sketchbook Pro, to Art Rage, and a batch of others.

Think of a layer as a sheet of tracing paper you can put down over your drawing to use the underlying line work to guide you–but with a lot more power, including blending modes, which I won't get into.

From left to right: a quick sketch to get down the figure in motion and not much else.  Adding a second layer, I reduce the transparency of the first and draw–or redraw–the figure with more definition, bringing out folds in the cloth and giving the face some guidelines. Creating a third layer, reducing the transparency on the second, I now use the work in first two layers to redraw the figure with even greater detail.  

Click the image for the full view:

Here's what the Art Rage UI looks like on the iPad–with the layering menu up at the bottom right.


233 pages of Saltwater Witch are back up

With updated pages! I put these back up last night but forgot to tell anyone. I haven't put up the new pages I'm working on–the rest of chapter 12, but you should notice some updates through the first couple chapters.  I'm still a bit embarrassed about a lot of the art and lettering in chapters 2 through 8, and I'm working on new panels for 12, and redrawing existing pages as I get time.

See Saltwater Witch chapters 1 – 11 + the first page of chapter 12 here.

Here's a new page from chapter 2 followed by the old page–I just realized Kassandra is pointing the wrong way in the old page.  The windows should be to her right:



Drawing on Wood Tutorial


I'm back to drawing on wood–mostly with charcoals, pastels, graphite, and watercolor pencils. I really got into it last summer, but haven't been back since–I'd really like to hear what others are doing with pencil or charcoal on wood, or any tips you have.

I'm working on some board designs for a California skateboard company, and I have a bunch of ideas I want to do with bold lines, with a single subject and a stark background–plain wood, or a single color.

I've tried drawing on maple, oak, but so far I like birch the best. It may just be the way maple and oak are planed–very smooth–for the kinds of things people build with them, furniture, shelving, etc. They're also very hard woods, and don't seem to have enough surface give to take a pencil. For the last couple pieces I've used pretty cheap 9mm or 3/8 inch birch plywood. The birch veneer on the front and back faces is thin and tends to chip on the edges no matter how careful I am with the circular saw–one thing's clear, though: when you cut, put the surface on which you want to draw face down.

I don't treat or spray anything on the wood surface before drawing.

I've included a shot of everything I used to draw and color "3 Diamond"–regular old Ticonderoga No 2/HB pencils, several charcoal and graphite pencils, a couple erasers and an eraser shield, blending sticks (although I mostly use my fingers), and three different sizes of Micron pen for outlining. (I use the 3 for most lines).

Drawing and coloring:
Wood is a tough, forgiving surface on which to draw. I may pencil something and erase twenty times before I really like what I see. I can get rough with an eraser, and the birch seems to take it well. Unlike paper, where the surface is very consistent, wood may be slightly rougher or smoother in some places, with the grain going one way, and different results when you want to draw against it or with it. Be prepared for that. Experiment, test some lines with different pencils, charcoals–I use the back for testing. The 03 Micron pen always seems to work smoothly, but you might run into some trouble with the 02 or 01 when the grain gets rough–almost as if the pen can't get enough tip on the surface to lay down ink. (I usually use the 02 with faces or any details).

The Order of Things:
As I show in the image, I start with a sketch, but unlike digital where you can always move things around, adjust, re-adjust, go back to the first version because you don't like the adjustments you've made. There's no going back. So, what I like to do is get to the point where I think I'm done with the pencil work, then put the board down and go do something else. Over the course of a day or two, I'll keep playing with the penciled work.

When I really think things are set, I'll ink the lines, using the Micron 03 for most of them, the 01 or 02 for detailed work, especially eyes, mouth, nose. Then I let the ink dry, maybe half an hour. Then I erase everything–the ink stays behind, but all the pencil lines are gone. I do this because pencil lines are very smooth and prevent the charcoal from going down evenly.

Time for coloring, shading, charcoaling, smearing, smudging, blending, and more erasing. I usually start coloring and shading with the face, probably because that's the most difficult part. It could also be that if I get the face right, then I have to make sure everything else lives up to it. From there, it's a boardful of drawing and shading fun.

Dealing with flaws in the wood:
I've been using cheap birch plywood because the drawings for my current project are going to be photographed and vectorized with the backgrounds dropped out. I'm less concerned with minor flaws in the wood or surface. ( In "3 Diamond"–the work pictured at the top of the post, there's a nasty greenish bit of material that I ended up curling her hair through to hide, but there's also a very small nick in the surface of her cheek–and nothing I can do about it). I think the best thing to do here is choose the wood wisely, looking for cool patterns in the grain, smooth surfaces, very few knots. From here out, I'll just buy better quality wood–which I think is the best way to solve this issue.

On a related issue, I haven't been sanding down the edges or rounding the corners, but I'll probably do that going forward.

I'm using a couple different brands of fixative, including Krylon Workable Fixatif 1306, which is "acid free/archival safe" and seems to do the job well. These fixatives come in spray cans, and I've been going over my drawings with a couple coats. The Krylon one says it allows for "easy rework"–basically, you can draw and paint on top of it. I haven't tried that, but the one thing to keep in mind is that once you've put down a coat or two of this stuff there's no more erasing.

On ideas:
Doesn't matter what I'm drawing or painting, I like to begin with a story, something that tells me what's going down on the paper, plywood, or wacom. I'm an author–I write science fiction and fantasy books and short stories, and so I also have this drive to create the story behind the pencil lines and charcoal. With this one, titled "3 Diamond", I'm going with a combination of ideas. First, two themes you see a lot in skateboarding are skulls and girls. 1) Girl 2) Suit made out of cat skulls. Check. Check. Second, I was thinking about future warfare, where half of any battle is fought far from the battlefield by communications specialists and viral strike engineers. I'm also thinking that armor won't be bulky and tank-like, but powered up impact absorbing force fields that stop or deflect bullets, beams, shrapnel. And so, this leaves a lot of design room for particular divisions, brigades, companies, squads, enough to show their colors–which immediately shift into camo when things get hot, of course. "3 Diamond" shows an anti-viral tech with implants and other cool bio-hardware, stationed with 3 Diamond Company, "Panthers" (which then drove the cat skull armor design).

There, I have a story, a character. Time to draw something!

Here's the final "3 Diamond"


Category: art, tutorial | Tags: ,


Here's my preliminary drawing for a pencil, ink, and charcoal on birch plywood piece I'll try to start this weekend–going to be pretty big, roughly 12 x 24 inches.  I'll post pics as the final work progresses. 



Category: art, Seaborn | Tags: , , ,

Cast of Characters

Okay, here's the last character study for a bit, finished up last night with the gun-toting character on the left.  I'm doing these as studies for a project I'm going to jump on in a week or so, hoping to finish up around the beginning of the new year.  And again, all drawing, painting, adjusting, were done on the iPad, mostly in the Brushes app.  Seriously thinking about sticking with that for this project, too–I know, I've said it before, but this time…I may just mean it!

Click for the full view:


Tutorial 1 – writing and illustrating manga, comics, graphic novels

Panels1-2-COLOR-2-DISP A while back—sometime over the summer—I started thinking about writing and recording video for some tutorials on writing and illustrating comics, manga, graphic novels. 

Unfortunately, the 3.4 million other things I have up in the air got together and conspired against this idea.  But not until I wrote most of a Tutorial One.  It’s been sitting in storage for a couple months, collecting dust. 

I don’t know how useful it is in this state, but I thought I’d just post it and see what happens.  If there’s enough response, I can certainly be convinced to do more.  If not, I hope this is helpful!


My overall goal is was to create a set of tutorials that will be helpful to a lot of people.  I’m going to use concrete examples, but I am hoping to include enough general knowledge that most of this can be applied to any kind of visual storytelling format or style.

I’m also starting from scratch.

I’ve written a new story and chosen a graphical style, and they may or may not be anything like the things you’re doing, but again, I hope to include methods and steps that will work for most comic and manga artists and writers. 

If I’m missing something or not digging deep enough, I’d love to hear from you.  I’d also like to hear any suggestions you have for the current tutorial as well as ideas for future tutorials—like what would you like me to focus on?

Here’s a little bit of background—some highlights about what I’ve done before we get started: I’m an author and illustrator.  My first novel Seaborn came out summer 2008 from Juno Books. SeabornKindleCover-Small   I have several short stories in print and online zines, including one in the June issue Fantasy Magazine.  On the illustration side, I have some pen and ink work in issue 10 of Shimmer, and I’ve written and illustrated the weekly graphic novel Saltwater Witch for a couple years.  Okay, I’m sort of newbish in certain areas, and I’m hoping to learn as much as anyone from putting together this series of tutorials.

I plan to dig into lots of things, but I probably won’t spend too much time with drawing and coloring techniques.  Lots of great tutorials out there already.  I assume you already love to draw, may even have your own web comic, or are working on a graphic novel.  Even if you don’t, these tutorials should add to what you already know, and may even get you started—or at least get you thinking about different aspects of visual storytelling.

Nikasia-Anglerfish-DISP2 How is this structured?  Here’s how I envision the tutorial series.  You can tell me if this works. 

I’m not going to start with a work in progress, but with a completely new comic.  I already have a complete story in mind.  I have characters, plot, style, some initial sketching done, and I’m going to build each tutorial from the progress I make.  Here’s how I hope things go: you get to see–in real time–what I see, and I’m going to document what I do, why I do it, when, and even how in most cases.  I’m going to post my complete written story before we really dig into creating a graphical version, so you can read it and know where things need to go along with me.  I’m going to go through my own exercises for pulling out dialogue, developing scenes, building suspense, showing emotions, and driving the storyboarding and design from the plot.  I also have a few tutorials planned on cover design, character development, and storytelling in general.

Okay, let’s get started.

SyrenTears-CoverIdea-DISP I like to start with a story.  Even if it’s not a completely filled out story, you should have a clear story arc, a beginning that pulls the reader in, a middle full of action, an ending that ties most things up for the reader.  And all of this done with compelling characters.

I’m starting with a story based on a couple chapters in Sea Throne (the sequel to Seaborn), with an existing character, Nikasia of the Kirkelatides.  She’s pretty badass.  One of her family’s claims is to be descendants of the goddess Kirke (Circe). 

I’m not going to go too far into the story right now, but before I get to the tutorial on storyboarding, I’ll lay enough of it out for you, with a synopsis and the full text of the story, so you can see everything–as much as I can.  I think that will make it easier to understand why I’m selecting specific scenes, characters, and paths through the plot. At the same time, I’d like to hear from you—post on my blog or email me.  Go to SaltwaterWitch.com for my email, links to my blog, and other stuff.

So, here’s what I think I need to get started–in no particular order, because I think you need them all.  For this first tutorial, I’m going to focus on 2 through 4, but I’ll give you enough of the story to get going:


1. Story (at least a clear story arc)

2. Hook for your opening scene

3. A very clear look, voice, and motivation for your main character.

4. Establish where and when the story takes place as early as possible


I even have a working title for my story:  Syren Tears.

I’m not sure if this is the final title, but it works for now—and on a few levels.  Syren gives the reader the impression that the story is probably about the sea and may have a female main character—mythical sirens were female.  I’m going with a funny archaic spelling of Syren to distinguish my syren from the purely romantic or seductress aspects of the word—focusing on the much more fun ship-wrecking and destructive aspects instead.

On to the story:

Let’s start with the core idea. You should be able to boil everything down to something like this–in one line:


Syren Tears is the story of a vengeance-driven descendant of the goddess Circe, who learns something important about the nature of revenge and what a destructive cycle it can become.


Theoxena-DISP This is the heart of the story.  I’ve distilled it all down to this one line, leaving out important plot points like the chain, a time and place, and characters like the dragon and that fisherman’s son.  I didn’t even mention the main character’s name.  You could, but unless the name is important to the plot, at this level, I’d just leave it out.

The important thing here is to understand that even at this level you can see what the reader has to experience and realize before everything’s done—that this “vengeance-driven” character is going to learn something valuable, and when she does, it should be important enough for the reader feel that the story is complete, or maybe even to think, “I hope she learned that lesson.”

That’s enough of the story to go on—more when we dig into plot mining—that’s the process of going through the story and determining what absolutely needs to be shown to the reader to drive the plot, and what can be left out.

I put Hook second on the list.  This is about hooking your readers, showing enough to get them into the story, giving them more questions than answers. 

My own preference for writing is to make sure the reader comes out of the first scene or chapter thinking, “I need to know more about this character or place” and I even like to push the reader into thinking, “what the hell just happened?”

A balance somewhere between the two is probably best. You do not want to raise so many questions that the story appears inaccessible or bewildering.  You also don’t want to come anywhere near answering most of the questions raised. 

When I say “questions”, I mean what’s going through the reader’s mind at each step through your art and dialogue.  The reader’s mind is going to ask a lot and take in even more than most of us think—raising questions about details like hair and clothing styles, ways of speaking, details in the background, colors, facial expressions—like why is the main character smiling when she clearly should be scared?

You want intrigue, you want to build interest in your world and in your characters, but you also want to leave a lot of gaps—especially in the beginning. 

What’s the hook for Syren Tears?

I think in most stories you want a “hook”, something sharp, shocking, interesting, or perplexing to draw the reader in.  The opening hook I’ve come up with for the opening scene in Syren Tears is my main character turning in circles, cart-wheeling in the ocean somewhere, scowling straight out from the frame, and the word “DEAD” repeated over and over.

I sketched a quick set of ideas for the opening panels, and then went through each one with some detail:


Panels1-2-lines-DISP  Nikasia-Storyboarding-DISP

Panels3-7-DISP2 I’d like to hear what you think, but to me this seemed like a nice way to get readers into the story—one out of a million possibilities, but I grabbed this one up, and I’m going with it. 

In a matter of seconds, readers get enough to understand where things are happening—in the ocean (see the sharks?), may even grasp the when, judging by how contemporary they see her clothes.  This is clearly a woman who looks angry, is thinking, repeating the word, or in some way surrounded by the idea of “DEAD”. 

It also raises a lot of questions, like what’s up with the word “DEAD” and why is she obsessing over it?  Who is this woman?  Why are her eyes orange?  Why is she so angry?  What the hell’s she doing in the water?  Why isn’t she afraid of those sharks?  Why, why, why.

That’s exactly what we want from the reader at this point.

As the artist and storyteller, it’s your job to get your readers to ask these questions.  And you definitely don’t want to answer them all at once.  When all the questions are answered, the reader closes the book and goes home.  Keep the questions coming in your reader’s head by dropping a steady stream of hints, plot devices, dialogue and other story elements.

But not too many.

It’s the balance between these two—readers understanding just enough about what’s happening with questions piling up—that pulls them into the next scene or chapter—looking for answers.  On one level, storytelling is all about keeping that balance, dropping hints for questions on the front when the ones on the back have been pulled off and answered.

Point number 3 in the list of things I’m going to cover in this tutorial is about establishing a clear look, voice and motivation for your main character.

In my mind, the “look” is about two things, the style and reproducibility.  Unlike Saltwater Witch, which is a painted style, rich shaded colors, some lines showing through, heavy use of the palette knife, with Syren Tears, I’m going with a flat look, solid colors, very little shading, and scene depth in a few distinct layers.  You probably already have a favorite style, or one in which you’re comfortable working.

The second part of “look” is about the artist’s ability to consistently draw or paint the same characters over and over with a range of expressions, clothing, and action.  I added this to “look” because this is a particular problem of my own.  All you brilliant comic artists out there, I envy you the skill of consistency, your ability to make a character look alike page after page.  For this reason, I’m going with the simpler style with Syren Tears.

On to a character’s voice.

Voice is about consistency, too.  It’s also about character development and plausibility—the belief your readers have in your character’s actions and manner and words.   It’s not just about how a character sounds, but the words and actions your character uses and performs. 

Here’s a very obvious example: If you’ve already established that Dwight doesn’t know anything about cars, it will throw the reader off when Dwight starts talking about engines and replacing a camshaft sensor.

But voice is much more than that.

I have to think about this some more, but it seems like one aspect of voice is the written analog to consistency in the way characters appear.  So, voice is consistency in the way characters behave and speak.  When you read a novel, and you think “this doesn’t sound like Angela” you could say the writer “lost Angela’s voice” for that chapter or line of dialogue.

So this is one more thing to keep in mind: readers will notice even subtle differences in appearance and tone in the way characters look, act and speak.

The character development aspect of “voice” is around making the dialogue work for your character.  The way your characters speak to each other establishes them in the reader’s mind.  Part of me wants to tell you not to waste words, because it’s powerfully crazy what you can fit into one line of dialogue.

Here’s an example:


“Yeah, I didn’t think this would work either, but then Zeke showed up with his toolbox and like a kilo of C4.”


You don’t know who said this, or why, or in answer to what, but let’s look at what’s been said…really said.


Yeah –you just know the character is youngish, maybe twenties, casual, especially when combined with the “like” a kilo of C4.


The fact that this character appears to be comfortable talking about a kilo of C4 (explosives) and that things are now expected to “work” because of it, tells us a lot.


What does the “I didn’t think this would work either” phrase  mean?  It could mean this is a fairly reasonable person, who thinks things through, who projects some kind of outcome, and then weighs what he or she knows to determine if it’s worth pursuing.  It could be this character is a pessimist, and thinks most things will fail.

Overall, it tells us you’ll just have to read on to find out.

There’s so much the writer in you can put into motion in the reader’s head with one line of dialogue.  Don’t miss any opportunity to plant the hints and details about who or what’s going on.  Don’t answer every question—a few of them is okay.  As long as you’re giving the reader more to wonder about.  Don’t beat the reader over the head with info dumps.  Readers are smart.  They pick these things up.

And to wrap up, a tiny bit about character motivation.

The story teller needs to know what drives a character.  I don’t think you need the reader to know everything in your main character’s head.

In fact, by the end of the first scene, I think readers should have a hint, just enough to give them an impression of direction and drive in your character. 

Motivation is tricky for several reasons.  For readers to really buy into your character’s drive, they may need to be with your characters for a while.  You should expect that, and in that case you may want to take your time divulging everything.  One the other hand, in many many stories the motivation is a reaction to whatever the bad guy’s doing. 

If you take away one thing from this tutorial, it’s that the bad guy will be driving much of your plot.  It’s the bad guy who wants to take over the world and your hero is the one who’s in place to stop him.  It’s the bad guy who has wronged your heroine, emptied her bank account, broken her arm, hacked her iPad, stole the most valuable thing in her life.  What’s she going to do?  Hmmm…  That’s right.  Go after him in a big way, get her stuff back, and if possible, hand the bad guy a big plate of justice.

Back to my example story, Syren Tears.  I love internal struggles more than any other plot type.  You may have noticed in my one line core story description, I don’t mention an enemy.  That’s because it’s inside the heroine Nikasa.  She is both the good force and bad force in this story, and the clash is entirely with herself.  Her out-of-all-proportion drive for vengeance is what gets her into trouble, and what drives her to act.

In some ways, this makes the story more difficult to tell.  Let’s see if I can pull it off.

Okay, that’s it for tutorial 1, an intro and a first scene overview—but a lot of ground covered very shallowly.  I hope I didn’t bore the crap out of you, and hope that you’ll check out the next tutorial!


web: www.SaltwaterWitch.com

email: chrishoward.author@gmail.com

Where Saltwater Witch starts…

Saltwater Witch is a weekly web comic I’ve illustrated for a year and a half, and many
panels and pages begin in either my journal
or my drawing notebook, a bigger better version of my Moleskine journal
a big fan of journals–my Moleskine watercolor notebook goes everywhere I go. I couldn’t keep half the stuff in my head
without constantly referring to the other half I’ve put down in my
I love technology, love my iPhone, and I’m expecting an iPad this Saturday, but I couldn’t do a lot without a pencil, pen and a Moleskine.   

So, here’s a little bit of what I did at lunch today, sketching for the next Saltwater Witch set, and this is what it looks like:



Witch WIP

Isn't it funny how mood and health (I've come down with a nasty cold) can affect what you write or draw?  See my witch below?  That's how I feel right now. 

I started storyboarding the next few scenes for Saltwater Witch, one with Kassandra losing her cool and arguing with a voice in her head.  Bet that looks sane.  Then I went off the rails. 

I had a couple quick angry sets of eyes and mouths, and then just went with a whim, ending up with my witch.  She's in a short story I outlined a week ago or so.  I also wrote 600 words or so on it, but haven't been back.

Just pencil right now, but I'll color it when I have time, probably watercolors.  Witches make better watercolors.

Click to see the full view.