After Hours

Practical illustration for the computer-inclined: Part 2 - Putting pencil to paper

In Part 1—Introduction, I first referred to this as "Practical illustration for the computer-inclined." Here's where the "practical" part, if not the "computer-inclined," comes in. Ladies and gentlemen, here's where you pick up your pencils.

But first, shake out your hands. We're not going to try to create great art here, but simply an idea of form. Just like you might have made a horse out of a bunch of ovals in a high school Art I class, the geometry of the human body isn't that much different—circles, ellipses, lines, and curves.

The best paper to use is something unlined and full-sized—no napkins here. Get yourself a big, blank canvas—so to speak—for all your big ideas. John Lee, creator of Suburban Tribe, uses 9" x 12" smooth Bristol Board (available at most art and/or craft stores). It's what the pros use, and even if you have no intention of turning pro, it's archival so future generations can see you got started. It also holds ink exceptionally well. Nearly every one of his 800-odd strips has started out on it.

Most any #2 pencil can do, although mechanical pencils, if you're accustomed to their weight and feel, are preferable to the basic wooden ones for avoiding potentially distracting trips to the pencil sharpener. A kneaded eraser (the kind that looks like a piece of long-discarded chewing gum) will take care of any stray pencil lines without leaving tiny pieces of eraser gunk all over your workspace. Keep the eraser in your desk drawer for now.

Next: Doodle. We're not looking for detail, just loose, easy sketching. Put on the music you like and use a light touch. Use whatever surface seems right—a desk, kitchen counter, drafting table. Don't feel compelled to sketch an entire body, frame, or story if you're not ready.

It's hard not to notice that female figures are among the most popular of all in geek culture. Whether they represent the woman of one's dreams or the dragon-taming queen of your alternate universe, the curvaceous nature of the female form is a natural for art-inclined geeks everywhere.Haley1-pencils

Courtesy of John Lee

Here we have Haley, a classical musician-slash-secret agent-slash-heartbreaker. As you can see, there are plenty of round areas that we don't usually think of—kneecaps, calf muscles, shoulders—along with the ones we do, such as the head (and I'll stop right there). The axis lines along the head are a guideline for the face to help make sure everything's roughly in proportion (even when something is drawn intentionally out of proportion). We'll add the eyes, nose, and so forth later.

If you don't happen to have your own evening gown-wearing, armed secret agent living at home, briefly set your sights on less lofty subjects—the dog, for example.  Practice that a bit, and next time we'll fill in a few of the lines.

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