Advice & Tutorials
I often share my thoughts & answer questions about making art, I will be collecting these posts on this page.
Please note that these won't be step-by-step tutorials, I'm more interested in teaching understanding why you might do something a particular way and encouraging you to make your own choices than trying to tell you how to do things.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need clarification!
My simplest advice in regards to drawing "Dynamic poses" is this—a dynamic pose is one that's in motion.
Dynamic means to be in a state of constant change, and in a static image your best bet for this is to capture a moment between two different states. Such as in the middle of a cartwheel!
gravity and drag are your greatest tools in conveying motion in a static image.
There's enough information here for our minds to process where edel was moments before, and to foresee where edel will go moments from now, thus in our head there's multiple states she could be in, and so the image is dynamic.
Of course, it need not be quite so extreme of a motion, but if you're conveying movement then the pose will be dynamic.
I recommend using live footage as reference instead of working from just photos—a mixture of real time and slow motion would be best! Letting the footage play while you try capturing it is an exercise that teaches you to capture the feeling of the movement, just make sure not to get too bogged down in drawing "correctly" as that'll slow you down. You can always redo and neaten up your favourite sketches later.
But, the question of how to make poses less stiff and more dynamic is one that I see quite often, and I feel that the actual question people are asking is how to make poses interesting—which is a slightly different topic! A pose can be completely static, and yet still make an interesting image. Tempest isn't going anywhere here, for example:
The key is in the overall shape of the pose—you want to create interesting silhouettes (and, ideally, still be able to understand what youre looking at from the silhouette!)
The idea of appealing shape design is something I find incredibly important to learn but particularly hard to teach, because I also believe what constitutes an appealing shape is going to be different for every person, because that's really your voice in art, you know?
But regardless, while I think how you choose to execute it will be down to your personal tastes, the core principle of creating contrast will be universal.
The idea is you're making something interesting to look at, and any way you can create contrasting differences is going to be interesting to look at. Here's my two favourite ways to create contrast in shapes:
The final, and for me one of the most important parts of posing characters, is their individuality. Conveying their specific personality in how they hold themselves, what exactly it is they're trying to say in how they present themselves, and then showing that through their body language.
I can draw three women in the same chair, but they won't sit the same way and that's interesting, even while completely static!
These are various established characters from my stories, but even if you're the type to create a character for a single piece you can still ask yourself—who is this person, what do they want to say about themselves? How would they hold themselves to convey that? What do they say unconsciously? And so on and so forth.
Trying to find answers to these questions will lead you to making interesting posing choices!
Step 1: Script
Rats squeak and scrounge around on the cold, damp stone floor. There’s a leak in the ceiling, and their wet fur does little to help with the dank, musky smell that permeates the air.
A delicate ear twitches, and the rats scatter—disappearing who knows where.
A door swings open and the dim torch light flickers, “Don’t try any funny business, demon,” a voice spits, accompanied by heavy footfalls that echo through the cold corridor.
“Why,” another voice responds, “I wouldn’t dream of it, darling.” A playful lilt dances its way through the words.
I write my script in prose format, but it really doesn’t matter what it looks like—just that you write one at all! it’s super important!
I read a tweet once, it was aimed at indie game devs:
it’s about the common tendency that independant creators have of starting projects, then getting a new idea that seems so much more exciting than the one that’s currently being worked on.
but more than that, it’s the concept that while an idea is there in your head, it’s filled with infinite possibility—there’s so many different things that it could be, because it isn’t anything at all yet.
but when you start working on it, it ceases to have infinite possibility because suddenly, it already is something.
you could not write anything out at all and jump right into drawing a comic. I’ve done this many times before—I’d be like, “it’s only going to be like four pages, I don’t need to write a script for this!”
But, going from idea straight to comic, all those infinite possibilities have to suddenly become…just one. and if you find that you didn’t pick the best possibility for that page or that panel…
take it from me, it’s much harder to rearrange panels you’ve drawn and keep everything fitting on that one page, than it is to rearrange sentences in a text document!
so, I think, it’s important to confront the different ways you could approach an idea as early as possible with the least amount of commitment to one way.
write it down, feel your idea out!!
Step 2: Find your beats
this is, obviously, a section from a larger script, but I cut it here because it felt like just enough to fit on one page without being too much.
it ended up being 8 beats which, in my experience, at most on a single page I can only fit about 14 panels. that’s really pushing it though, on average my pages will only have 7-8! this one being 8 hits that nice comfortable zone
I prefer to keep the higher panel counts for high activity pages—the more panels you have, the smaller they have to be and thus the less time readers will be focused on them.
if there’s a lot of high action content happening, lots of smaller panels will create that du-du-du rapid fire high action feel, but if it’s a low action page, having lots of panels might make things feel hectic and rushed when it doesn’t want to be!
too few panels though, and things will feel very slow. I have some pages that only have one to four panels, these are during very slow moments when I want there to be a lingering feeling.
just something to think about when dividing up your script! for me, 8 is a nice average not-too-much is happening without being too slow to progress things.
Step 3: divide the page & arrange your beats
so when I’m thumbnailing my comics and figuring out the panel layout, I don’t think of panels as boxes I’m arranging on the page—instead, I’m splitting the page up into sections.
It’s worth bearing in mind, as you read a comic, panels in a row will be read one after the other, but when you go to an entirely new row, your eyes have to go all the way back to the other side of the page.
that means there’s a slight disconnect between the panel on the right side, and the next panel on the left side.
if a series of beats are connected to each other, I try to keep all of them on the same row, and if a beat is not very connected to the other beat before it, I might put its panel onto a new row. I’ll split a panel in half horizontally if they’re directly connected to each other, or if they’re happening at the same time, also!
but, grouping beats together, then dividing the page into rows that can hold these beats together is how I approach panelling a page
for further reading, I recommend picking up scott mccloud’s books “understanding comics” & “making comics”!
he has a lot of very useful things to say about the different types of panels, how the progression of time works in comics, and stuff like that… essential reads for anyone making comics!
Step 4: Thumbnails time babeyyyy
in writing, the common advice goes “show, don’t tell” this applies to many different aspects of writing, but especially to describing things.
the other advice is to describe using all five senses—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
I prefer to write my scripts in prose format one because I grew up reading a lot of books but two because I think this is just as important to do in comics as it is in prose.
of course, we only really have sight and sound to work with, we can’t describe the way something smells or how it tastes because we can only use visuals and the occasional onomatopeia in a comic,
but how you choose to frame your panels will communicate different things.
the dank, musky smell and scent of damp fur may not be something I can tell my readers about in a picture—but if I focus on the puddles on the floor, and show the rats’ wet fur… you’ll feel how dank it is anyway
this is not to say that I think you should write your script in prose—how you write your script is entirely up to you and your personal preferences as I said earlier—what matters is that you write one.
but, while composing the panels in your comic, consider what you’re communicating through them, and whether you’re telling what happens, or if you’re showing your readers what it feels like to be there and what your characters are going through.
It’ll help you compose more interesting pages!
art block, writer’s block, “art funk”, “burnout”, yada yada… it’s all the same thing, being a creator and wanting to create but having some kind of a wall preventing you from doing this.
this wall can take a lot of different forms, and i’m going to approach this post from the perspective of a visual artist, but no matter the medium, we all have a skill we’ve trained ourselves in and what I’m talking about will apply regardless.
Anyway as I said there’s a few different forms this wall can take. Here’s a few of them that I can think of:
- Disillusionment with your current skill level
- A loss of direction
- Lack of drive
It’s really important to identify exactly what your wall is if you want to be able to dismantle it. This isn’t every way it can manifest either, just the most common ways that I see it manifesting, and you might have multiple at once!
Take some time to really self reflect on what the problem is if none of these are resonating after you’ve read the post, whatever it is you can find a way to manage it.
The most common advice I see for “defeating [creator’s] block” is committing to spending like five minutes a day working on something, anything at all. And that’s good advice! but not really for creator’s block, I think.
It’s GREAT advice if you’re lacking in discipline though, like I can easily get distracted and not work on things for months. So committing to work on comic related things for at least 30 minutes a day (and having this commitment be to other people that I’m checking in with each day, i think thats an important part) has worked really well for me, personally.
But I wasn’t dealing with any kind of a block, I just lacked discipline. I don’t think it’s very useful if for example, you hate how your art looks so you don’t want to draw anything anymore lmao
With that in mind, lets go through that list and I’ll try give you some advice from my experiences, and hopefully it’ll help give you the means to identify the problems you’re struggling with and find solutions to them if my advice isn’t quite what you need.
1. Disillusionment with your current skill level
So! it’s time to pull out everyone’s favourite graphic! this version was created by shattered-earth on deviantart, though the original is by Marc Dalessio
obviously this says art, but again this is applicable to all mediums. It’s an important concept to understand, the idea of a creator’s high vs a creator’s low depending on how developed your critical eye has become compared to your skill level.
If you’re not aware of it and don’t understand what’s happening, it’s REALLY easy to lose all motivation to create anything. Because why bother, if everything sucks? Definitely one of the most dangerous blocks you can run into, I think.
The solution, as with all of these walls, is to be kind to yourself.
Your critical eye improving is emotionally taxing, but it’s also an opportunity for great growth! It’s not easy, though. To get through it, you have to really confront what you don’t like about your work and target your weaknesses, and then you have to put in the time to try and improve them. That’s tough.
But self study doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Talk with your friends, seek out communities of creators, and follow resource blogs, channels, etc. I really think the best thing you can do is surround yourself with other creators, I’m in a few discords and hang out in the creative section of various forums etc
But this is really important: The act of targetting your weaknesses in order to improve them is going to make it REALLY easy for you to lose track of what you like about your work, and can in fact compound the issue and make you only focus on your flaws.
So, be kind to yourself. If you’re not happy with what you create, take the time to critically analyse your work. What don’t you like? What do you like? Don’t lose track of what you like while you study the things you’re less confident about, and with some patience and work your skill will catch up with your eye again.
I really can’t emphasise enough how important it is to not lose track of what it is you like about your work. The biggest motivation killer is always going to be falling out of love with your work, so do everything you can to prevent yourself losing the joy of creating.
Like, sure, a work might be technically perfect, but did you enjoy yourself while creating it? If you always ensure the answer to that is yes, the mismatch between your critical eye and your skills will be easier to handle because at least you’re still enjoying yourself, you know?
2. Loss of direction
An issue you might run into while spending all this time studying your weaknesses and improving your skills, is a lack of direction with your work.
Your technical skills are improving, but you’re just not happy about where your art is going and you’re left with this generally disatisfied feeling despite not seeing anything technically wrong with what you’re doing.
Thankfully this isn’t too difficult to solve once you’ve identified it! Take some time to gather up works by others that really resonates with you, and look back at your own work and pick out the things you like. Then spend some time contemplating, something about it all really hits. What is it? If you can find it, if you spend time trying to really capture it, you’ve found a direction again. Hold onto that, and if you ever find yourself losing your way, go through the process all over again!
A hurdle you might run into with this is, like, if you’ve focused on developing a particular style for your work. Don’t be afraid to try something new while you try capture what resonates with you, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself into one way of working if it isn’t bringing you joy any more!
And also, don’t be afraid to try something COMPLETELY new. I’m by and large a 2d visual artist, but sometimes I just need to do something different. So i explore things like 3d modelling, I don’t really post my writing but I do do a lot of it for comics work, and i’d like to dabble a little more in music………… anyway point is, try something new if you’re bored LOL
i think there’s a lot of value to be had in trying out something you have no/less experience in. Like, when your focus on one particular skill that you’re really good at, you set your standards higher and higher and its exhausting reaching them all the time.
Picking up a new skill you have no experience in whatsoever, it gives you opportunity to just be really bad at something and have fun with it, and also, you get to have the joy of improving again because it’s so much easier to improve at something you don’t have a lot of experience with!
It doesn’t even need to be a creative skill, I just think it’s nice to step away and do something different for a while. You might find your new direction doing this, or in stepping away from things for a while you might remember what drew you to your original medium in the first place, and you’ve regained your direction.
Fatigue is a rough one. As I said before the solution to all of these is to be kind to yourself, and that very much applies here.
Personally speaking, my unmedicated adhd is at constant war with my chronic fatigue and general health so I have this tendency to work in really intense bursts and be left with long periods of exhaustion after the fact. Not ideal!
My personal solution for balancing out my intense drive to create things and my very limited amount of energy was to heavily strip back my process. The best way for me to explain this is probably like… i took the standard art process:
rough sketch > cleaned sketch > lineart > colours > shading
and I went
rough sketch > clean ed sketch > lineart > colours > shading
in other words, I stopped doing anything beyond a sketch and just spent time trying to improve my line quality so that my rough sketches would be clean sketches, thereby turning 5 steps into one single step. Which meant i could get ideas out with the energy level i had!
and then a couple years ago, missing working in colour but rarely ever having enough energy to colour my sketches, I went
rough sketch > cleaned sketch > lineart > colours > shading
which is to say, i just stopped drawing lines entirely which let me work in colour again.
Now, like, this is a very personal solution to dealing with my fatigue. I can’t really tell you how to manage your own, because I think it requires identifying
- what about your work it is that you need to convey what it is you’re trying to capture.
- what about your work is especially taxing and exasperates your fatigue.
And what this means is going to be very different depending on you, and also your particular medium of choice.
But once you figure out what it is that you need and what it is that is taxing you, you can strip everything back so that you only have what you need and the amount of taxing work you’re doing is as minimal as you can make it.
Remember, if your work conveys what you want it to convey, it’s a successful piece regardless as to how polished it is.
So really identify how much you need to do to create a successful piece, and remind yourself that finished is better than perfect.
4. Lack of drive
For me, the reason I have such an intense drive is, like…. if I don’t create what I want to be created, who will? I’ve gotta take matters into my hands if I want to get what I want, you know? Nobody else is gonna cater to me.
So I think, if you’re struggling with finding the drive to create anything, I’d write down the stuff you want to exist.
What is it that you find lacking? What isn’t being created that you want to see? How can you be the one to fill that void? Constantly trying to fill this void is why I never run out of ideas for things to create.
I’m being vague here because it could be literally anything. if you asked 12 year old me id have given you a list of cool dragons i think should exist, and thatd be a great list! because then id have a list of cool dragons to draw (which is what i did most of the time actually)
if you asked me now, id give you a list of character and story concepts, and boy you’ll never guess for what reason i spend all my time writing and making comics LMAO this bitch is GAY and will make GAY BITCHES
So yeah. If you’re struggling to find the drive to create, lacking in ideas and inspiration, sit down and think about what you want to exist that doesn’t exist. you have the power to make that real!! how can you fill that void?? literally any answers you come up for that are ideas you can work with. and the more you tackle it the easier itll get to make ideas.
thats my advice on how to get through blocks. i hope it was helpful, and if nothing else helps you realise that creator’s block is not just some nebulous force that you have to wait to go away, but something with a root you can identify and smash to pieces with enough stubbornness and a sledgehammer
You can also find this post on Tumblr.
historically, pixel art was rendered on limited hardware, there were strict limits on how many colours could be displayed on screen at once and in a single sprite.
These limits no longer exist, so you are no longer beholden to any of them. Despite what you might hear in certain pixel art spaces, there aren’t really any rules anymore, because there’s no technical limitations forcing you to work a specific way. You can make your pixel art have as many colours as you want, be whatever size you like, and have as many frames as you want it to.
However! the smaller you make a sprite, the harder things will become to read unless you shrink down the number of colours in equal measure.
In a photo you might have. i dunno. 1,000,000 pixels in it or something like that. Thats like a really small photo but that’s still so many pixels that you don’t really notice any of them individually. They all blend together into one big mass to tell you what you’re looking at in groups of hundreds!
On the other hand, in a 16x16 sprite you’ll only have 256 of them. Every single individual pixel can have something to say!
But if every pixel is trying to say something at once, it muddies the sprite and makes it hard to read. However, if a group of pixels are all the same colour, they’re all saying the same thing, and it becomes a lot easier to understand what you’re looking at.
like, for example, take a look at this 16x16 crop of a random photo.
does that look like a whole lot of nothing? yeah . theres 256 pixels, and theres 256 colours. the pixels aren’t really working together to tell you anything, so instead it just becomes one big vague mass. if i reduce the colour count to just 6 colours and increase the contrast, though,
it starts to look less like visual noise, and more like water at sunset!
The contrast is important - part of why you want to keep your colour count low is to make groups of pixels distinct from each other.
But, how exactly do you keep your colour count low, anyway?
a colour ramp refers to the gradient of colours in your palette that are used to shade one particular colour, such as tempests hair or her skin
instinctively you’re probably going to want to make individual gradients of colour for each of these things.
however, if you connect these ramps together, you can greatly reduce the number of colours you’re using in your piece. This also helps create a cohesive palette!
when it comes to connecting ramps, value matters much more than individual hues. you want to have a good range of values to have a readable sprite!
I think actually a really good example of value mattering more than hue in sprites, is this guide to anti aliasing by pixeljoint user ptoing
also just generally good advice, but take a look at this bit in particular
despite the wildly varying hues, they work together just fine. by focusing on the value when you combine your ramps, you can create some really interesting colour palettes!
anyway. now for some vaguer notes on how i do lighting
anyway thems just some thoughts for you all
You can also find this post on Tumblr.
may be wording this weird but like…how do you take a sketch (with lines) and turn it into a line less piece? it’s something I’ve been struggling with
Well…I must confess, I rarely do this actually ghknghjghj My actual process for working linelessly is… i just dont use any lines sobs
Personally I started working linelessly because I have very limited energy and working with lines would leave me with no energy to colour anything.. so I just dropped the lines altogether—thats why whenever you see me posting stuff with lines its almost always uncoloured. From the way the question is phrased (taking a lined drawing and making it lineless), I feel that taking a similar approach would be a good step, so try foregoing lines altogether.
When working without lines, you have to rely on value to create clearly defined shape & form. You need to reframe your thinking a little—while there are no lines here, there is a clearly defined edge by the value difference from her hair & where I've place the shadow. You're not drawing lines, but defining shapes through value difference!
If I run an edge detection filter it creates this. By placing shadows strategically to define the form, there’s no need for me to draw any lines because your brain fills those in for me!
I did actually work with a sketch for the portraits I did recently, you can see that without lines to define any dimension on the flat colours, the distinction between forms is completely lost
it’s through the lighting that I then define everything clearly!
In any case, it’s much easier to take a sketch and make it lineless if you already have experience working linelessly in the first place, so my advice would be to practice drawing without a sketch at all and focusing just on defining shapes and edges through value contrast.