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Author Topic: [Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching  (Read 54926 times)

Eregyrn

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[Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching
« on: March 04, 2011, 08:30:17 AM »

This got brought up in a comment thread on a piece of art recently, and it was suggested that it might be useful to start one of these topics for artists to share the techniques they use to start a piece, and sketch or roughly block out a figure (in order to work out proportions and positioning) prior to refining and detailing the piece.

Actually, it was hard finding the right vocabulary to convey this -- and I would be happy to change the title of this thread, if people come up with something that is clearer.  

What I would call rough sketching/blocking as a first stage of a drawing is a technique I've seen encouraged in various "how to" books, but I couldn't easily find tutorials about it online when I went looking.  Plus, I imagine that each artist works out a system and technique that works best for them, so there's no one "right way" to do it.  I regard the spirit of this thread to be more about artists who use such a technique sharing what works for them, and that we might get a variety of examples.

Are folks here generally willing to do this?  And would people find it helpful to see?  

In this top post, I also wanted to include links to examples elsewhere, and I'll be happy to update this if people post more below.


* Examples of how Wendy Pini goes from rough sketch to finished piece:
http://www.elfquest.com/fun/Sketches1.html
http://www.elfquest.com/fun/Sketches2.html


* Sweetwind's page with tips and some illustrations re. how to approach drawing EQ elves:
http://home.earthlink.net/~sweetwind7/arttipsf/art_tips.html


* An anatomy tutorial on deviantArt with an example in the lower left of going from blocking out a human figure in rough shapes, to a more finished figure:
http://odduckoasis.deviantart.com/art/Anatomy-Tutorial-27484310?q=boost%3Apopular%20human%20tutorial&qo=3

« Last Edit: March 11, 2011, 05:31:41 PM by Foxeye »
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Afke

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #1 on: March 05, 2011, 03:20:13 AM »

I'm planning to do this as well, just have to remind myself on time to scan several times in between. I hope it'll help others!

Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #2 on: March 05, 2011, 03:01:05 PM »

I recently remembered to do this for something I'm working on -- actually, I had to stop, and use a separate sheet of paper to recreate the very first, basic-shapes version, because I'd already started refining the figure.  I didn't realize how quickly one step flowed into the other until I was *trying* to stop and scan the intermediate steps!
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #3 on: March 07, 2011, 05:45:03 PM »

Okay, let me see if I can do this properly...

As originally discussed in the comments on the "Darie" piece by Cometduster, I was trying to explain the idea of blocking out a figure first in rough shapes, in order to work on positioning and proportions and how the elements of the figure relate to each other, before beginning to refine it.  Drawing lightly and using simple shapes creates a low-investment first step that will help you avoid running out of paper, or at least make it less work to redo if you find you ARE running out of paper.

To be honest, though... I can't remember exactly when I first ran into this concept.  And I'm not sure what it's properly called.  So I had trouble finding tutorials and examples of what I mean.  Working on something recently, I made myself stop and scan each stage of the drawing before moving on with it, in order to give a sense of the technique and how it develops.

Also seen on this progression is the method I've seen a lot of places suggest for roughing out where to place features on a head.  I'm not sure what the "term" for this is, either.  But it's the technique of dividing the oval of the head in half vertically and horizontally (which is where the eyes go), and then dividing the remaining lower half horizontally in 3rds (the tip of the nose hitting at roughly the second line down, and the mouth at roughly the bottom line).


(Click through to "Details" to see the largest size.  ETA: the first pic, with the inked "simple shapes" - see discussion below.)

The lefthand figure is, obviously, the real illustration of the "rough blocking out" technique I was trying to talk about.  The rest is just refinement of what's there, although as I go on with a drawing, I may continue to find that something I originally blocked out isn't quite working (this happened with this figure's left hand, which I ended up putting in a different position in the very final version).

Further progression of this figure, to finished ink, can be seen here.


Okay, next! :)  I'm really looking forward to seeing how others approach figural work.
« Last Edit: March 07, 2011, 07:21:03 PM by Eregyrn »
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Razzle

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #4 on: March 07, 2011, 06:01:37 PM »

Wow, so you really do draw the nude figure first, then clothe it? Does that help a lot?

I'm not quite sure I'm following the "simpler shapes" in the example with the first three figue stages -- to me, it looks basically the same between 1 and 2, but 2 has had the breasts added?

*is enjoying/benefiting from this thread IMMENSELY, btw*
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #5 on: March 07, 2011, 07:20:15 PM »

Yeah, I always start with nude figures, because I want to make sure I've got the anatomy right (or as right as I can get it) before figuring out how the clothing fits over it (which... clothing and drapery are a major challenge to me, so I'm always struggling with that).

What I posted there was kind of a cheat -- I'm going to go back and fill in a piece, which I'll post here too, which may make the "simpler shapes" part stand out better.  As I remarked to Afke above -- I started out fully intending to stop and scan each "step", but discovered that I had already gotten to the second-stage figure above without realizing it.  So I recreated the first stage, but it's kind of faint.


This inked-over version of the pencil lines should show more of the original polygon (with a few curved lines) version, which is always my first step.  (This scan also shows what the blue pencil I work in actually looks like.  In order to post a pencil sketch, I always have to scan in color and then change the hue of the blue to make it darker and more visible.)

I always begin a sketch with that hourglass torso shape in the center, and then build out from that.  Speaking of running out of paper -- you can't tell from the scans, of course, but the actual feet on this figure were like a half-inch from the bottom of my paper, and I had like 2 inches above her head.  I always forget to compensate for there needing to be more below the torso than above -- I tend to center the torso on the page and then, oh whoops, legs are long, I'm out of paper again, time to start over...

Anyway -- stage two in the 3-figure progression above does start to show some refinement of the lines.  Breasts get blocked in for general placement and size, before getting dealt with in more detail.  But I think it's more noticeable in how the lines of the hips and legs are more rounded, and there's an actual knee there instead of a circle, etc. 

The other thing apparent in the 3-figure progression is that I no sooner lay down rough shapes than I erase those lines and draw more refined lines over them.  Erase, refine, erase, refine.  Even after lightly erasing, the blue pencil leaves a faint enough trace on the paper to serve as a guideline for the next refined line.  It doesn't erase completely (as the clothed sketch in the second image shows, with the faint outline of the body beneath still visible), but I don't mind, because once I ink over it, it's easy to make the blue sketch lines disappear in Photoshop.
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Razzle

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #6 on: March 07, 2011, 09:33:13 PM »

*lightbulb over head* I see it now! Thanks for the clarifications!!!
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Saree

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2011, 10:44:57 AM »

Very helpfull thread. Thanks a lot.... I always put too less effort into the first steps and therefore the anatomy if wrong at the end.
I guess I will give this "drawing a body with geometric forms" a try.

I am not sure if it fits into this thread, but I am always curious how big the elves are others draw. Holly, you wrote you fill nearly the whole paper for a figure from head to toe. What size does it have? A4?
I tend to draw my figures way too small (maximal A5) because I strangely believe anatomical mistakes would not be so obvious then. I shy away from using A4 because I fear to lose the overview, the wholeness... ahrg, do not now how to put it. Does anyone understand what I mean? Bigger pics are harder to draw than small ones... for me, at least.
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Razzle

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2011, 11:20:12 AM »

I don't know what you mean by A4 and A5, but I use 8 and 1/2 by 11 inch printer paper, and usually have my pictures centered with quite a bit of white space around them (that way I can easily crop the image after scanning, then I can decide how I want it centered)! There's usually at least enough room for a figure to either side plus 2 or 3 inches at top or bottom left over.
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2011, 02:28:50 PM »

A4 and A5 are standard paper sizes in Europe, and most of the world, really.  They're part of the ISO 216 standard.

A4 = 210 x 297 mm = 8.27" x 11.69"

A5 = 148 x 210 mm = 5.83" x 8.27"


Meanwhile, 8.5"x11" is the standard letter-paper size (and thus, copier/printer size) in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

8.5" x 11" = 216 x 279 mm


Meaning, the standard A4 sheet in Britain/Europe is a little narrower and a little longer than the standard American sheet.

To be even more confusing... in the U.S. at least, paper intended for artists and sold in tablets is often sold in 9"x12" (229 x 305 mm) size, which is part of a standard used by architects and the entertainment industry.

See the Wikipedia page for fun with comparative paper sizes.


These days, I tend to do my sketching on 9x12 paper, because I bought pads of art paper made for inking, which only comes in that size.  

Peggy -- yeah, ideally, when I'm trying to do a sort of basic elf figure, I tend to make the figure nearly as big as the page I'm working on (the 9x12" paper; which will just fit on my scanner). When I do multi-figure pieces, I usually draw each figure (or sometimes pairs of figures) separately, and then put them together after I've inked and scanned them.  (I think that this is a technique that has its flaws...)  On occasion, I've tried to do a bunch of characters all on the same page, requiring each of them to be correspondingly smaller, and thus, lower on fine detail.  The size of the figure affects how much detail I'll try to put into it, and what inking technique I'll use.  (The calendar piece that I did for River Twine's calendar this year was a rare example of me drawing all of the figures together on the same page.)


Something for folks to think about, since I'm not sure it's widely known these days -- when you look at most comic books, I believe including ElfQuest, you have to realize that the artist usually draws the original page at a much larger size than the final printed comic book, and then the linework was photo-reduced for printing.  I think I've read that comic artists do the originals on 11"x17" paper, or, typically twice the size of the finished product.

So if you are ever looking at a page of ElfQuest (pre-SATS), and you are thinking, "How did Wendy manage to do such tiny figures on the paper, with so much detail and such fine linework?"  The answer is: she didn't, she originally drew them 2x that big.

If I had a scanner that could handle paper larger than 9x12, I'd probably draw bigger originals, too.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2011, 02:32:36 PM by Eregyrn »
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Windrider

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2011, 04:34:50 PM »

Quote from: Eregyrn
Something for folks to think about, since I'm not sure it's widely known these days -- when you look at most comic books, I believe including ElfQuest, you have to realize that the artist usually draws the original page at a much larger size than the final printed comic book, and then the linework was photo-reduced for printing.  I think I've read that comic artists do the originals on 11"x17" paper, or, typically twice the size of the finished product.

So if you are ever looking at a page of ElfQuest (pre-SATS), and you are thinking, "How did Wendy manage to do such tiny figures on the paper, with so much detail and such fine linework?"  The answer is: she didn't, she originally drew them 2x that big.

This is exactly true, as I can attest to personally.  IABB was done at around 11x17.  This is why I have an 11x17 scanner, but Wendy didn't at the studio, so I remember scanning the originals in two pieces and splicing them in PS.  This meant that they had to be put on the scanner perfectly square or the two pieces didn't line up - what a pain.

My usual sketch pad is 11x14, but I am not particular as to what I sketch on for preliminary ideas; faculty meeting agendas, grade sheets, margins of newspapers, etc.  My first thumbnails are always very tiny, sometimes less than 2 x 3 inches.  This is to get composition and lines of motion ideas on paper without getting bogged down by anatomy and other details.  Even when I am just sketching, my artwork tends to be rather "idea" driven, although of course I also do character studies and such that don't require much in the way of composition.  Still, no matter what size piece of paper I sketch on, I am always aware of the edges of the paper and fit the composition to that full space - this is probably a relic of being an art student where such things are emphasized.  I find it difficult to do a drawing that only fills half a sheet, because that other half is always THERE and I NEED to fill it and make it part of the composition!

I will have to see if I have any examples of how I block in figures.  My approach is somewhat different than Eregyrn's only in that when I start drawing a figure, the first lines are all about the lines of movement: gestures and body posture and how those fit into the movement of the composition as a whole (if any).  So the first step often looks something like a more sophisticated stick figure.  Then I block out the body mass of the figure as 3D forms; spherical and ovoid forms for head, ribcage, hips, etc.  I always use curved forms - I don't think I could draw a straight line if my life depended on it.  With male figures, once I start refining the forms I will add more angular lines then.

Okay, I looked and I seem to have thrown out the sketches for my last calendar cover, but I'll keep looking to see if I have anything even if it isn't EQ related.
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2011, 06:16:04 PM »

A big YES to the idea of working out a very rough composition at a really small size.  I totally do that when I'm planning more complicated pieces (like calendar pages).  Working small also tends to hit me mentally as "low investment" and I can get like 4 of them on a page, so it encourages me to do a bunch of quick experiments; also because I know that since it's small, I only mean it to accomplish this one thing, I'm not going to take it any further, so I'm more willing to sketch quickly and move on.

Somewhere around here I think I still have the tiny studies I did to work out the layout for my EQ fan calendar piece of 2010.  (Man, I never throw anything away.)  If I can find it, I'll scan it in.

Also a YES to sometimes doing even a pre-blocking-figure sketch that is almost stick-figure in its simplicity. I didn't even think about that part of the process when preparing this, since I'd decided to do the stages scanning of a very static standing-figure piece.  But yeah, I've done some of those that were just all swoopy lines and ovals at first.
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Razzle

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2011, 09:25:49 PM »

Heh, yeah I actually knew that piece of trivia! (For once, trivia I actually know!)

For some odd reason, I find it easier to draw the pictures smaller. When I do a full-page portrait of a face, for example, I find that it tends to skew out of proportion and just overall look really... weird. =P Something I'm hoping to improve with, but there you have it.
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Saree

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #13 on: March 08, 2011, 11:42:04 PM »

Quote
For some odd reason, I find it easier to draw the pictures smaller. When I do a full-page portrait of a face, for example, I find that it tends to skew out of proportion and just overall look really... weird. =P Something I'm hoping to improve with, but there you have it.
Yes, Razzle, exactly my point. :D But therefore I have to pay the price of less detail...

Thanks for the summary of paper sizes, Holly. I forgot about the differences between US and Europe.

And thanks for all the information. :)
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Afke

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2011, 02:56:27 AM »

I tend to draw my figures way too small (maximal A5) because I strangely believe anatomical mistakes would not be so obvious then. I shy away from using A4 because I fear to lose the overview, the wholeness...
It is easier to keep an overview on small pictures, that's true. Figuring out the composition first by doing mini sketches like Holly and Carol explained, do help with that. But for proportions; while sketching, stop and hold the paper at least an arm's length away from you -- the drawing will then appear "smaller" and you may be able to spot mistakes you don't see when your nose is on the paper while drawing.

For me, paper size is an element that can vary due to the plans I have with the picture. Elaborate drawings like the calendar pages I do on A4, while the sketch meme pictures are usually done on A5.

When I do multi-figure pieces, I usually draw each figure (or sometimes pairs of figures) separately, and then put them together after I've inked and scanned them.  (I think that this is a technique that has its flaws...)
I don't like drawing the figures seperately, if they're supposed to be all in one picture. I feel like proportions may vary way too much if I don't see all figures in one drawing at the same time. You get, like you said in the description of you example image, that things like heads need to be resized afterwards. So I prefer to do them all in one drawing.
The more figures, the larger the paper indeed, but it's been years since I did an actual "whole tribe" picture. But 4 or 5 figures together is no problem on an A4.

Perhaps for my example I could do a group shot?

Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #15 on: March 09, 2011, 07:04:38 AM »

It is easier to keep an overview on small pictures, that's true. Figuring out the composition first by doing mini sketches like Holly and Carol explained, do help with that. But for proportions; while sketching, stop and hold the paper at least an arm's length away from you -- the drawing will then appear "smaller" and you may be able to spot mistakes you don't see when your nose is on the paper while drawing.

Yes!  I sometimes prop up a sketch so that I can go and view it from several feet away.  I've also found that if I scan a sketch (or later when I scan inks), I will spot things that are off about the drawing when I see it on my computer screen, that I couldn't seem to see when I was just looking at it on the paper. 

Quote
I don't like drawing the figures seperately, if they're supposed to be all in one picture. I feel like proportions may vary way too much if I don't see all figures in one drawing at the same time. You get, like you said in the description of you example image, that things like heads need to be resized afterwards. So I prefer to do them all in one drawing.
The more figures, the larger the paper indeed, but it's been years since I did an actual "whole tribe" picture. But 4 or 5 figures together is no problem on an A4.

Oh, totally.  I've just gotten used to making all kinds of corrections to my inks after scanning them.  I have to anyway, because I actually do not have the steadiest hand any more, which results in a lot of mistakes in my inking that I need to clean up.  That's another reason I tend to try to work on as big a figure as possible -- the unsteady hand makes inking fine details a frustrating process. 

I really do need to make the attempt to do more multi-figure pieces on the same paper, though.

Quote
Perhaps for my example I could do a group shot?

That'd be great!
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Jeb

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #16 on: March 10, 2011, 02:41:49 PM »

I am really enjoying this thread and hope that some more people will share their methods. I've only come lately to the benefits of blocking out the scene before putting in details. I'm still kind of stuck in the method of drawing a face then working outward, realizing too late where the ends of my paper are.

It's interesting to hear about the sizes people like to work with. When I was in high school, I asked my parents for a blackboard. So for Christmas I got an 8 foot by 4 foot chalkboard and that's where I did most of my drawing for several years. I like a large piece of paper and think one of my problems with drawing is that I do most of it by moving my arms instead of my wrist. It also makes trying digital art frustrating since all I can afford is a little tiny tablet to play with.
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #17 on: March 10, 2011, 08:52:23 PM »

Okay, one more from me -- an example of doing a first, very rough sketch at a fairly small size, in order just to work out layout/design options for a piece.  The small size equals pretty low investment, and for me, makes me more willing to move on from one that isn't working and start a new one.


These two were 3.5" x 5" sketches I did on the same piece of paper, as the very first step in working out how to do my calendar entry for the 2010 fan calendar.  I had an overall idea but wasn't settled on the composition or how the figures would all fit into it, or how exactly they'd be posed.  I think the reason I did the top sketch in the non-photo-blue pencil (here unadjusted in color), but did the second in graphite, was that the first was kind of hard to see as well.  I wasn't all that hung up, for these, on proportions and stuff.

I can see how I did the first sketch, and didn't like things about Pike's figure or the orientation of the wolf.  The second changed things around a bit, and it's pretty much what I stuck with, as you can see in comparison with the final product:

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Razzle

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #18 on: March 10, 2011, 10:59:40 PM »

Interesting! It looks like, among whatever other things, that in the second sketch you would've been missing part of the wolf's head if that had been the actual picture when you were blocking it, and those rectangle lines had actually been the edges of the paper, am I right?
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Eregyrn

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #19 on: March 11, 2011, 07:07:23 AM »

Interesting! It looks like, among whatever other things, that in the second sketch you would've been missing part of the wolf's head if that had been the actual picture when you were blocking it, and those rectangle lines had actually been the edges of the paper, am I right?

Right.  But, the two sketches shouldn't be taken... literally, if that makes sense.  3.5"x5" isn't quite the same proportions as 8.5"x11".  So the rough sketched rectangle already wasn't accurately proportioned, it was just meant to give me a conceptual idea, "here's the wider-than-it-is-tall space that you want to fill".  It wasn't really meant to tie me down.  The solution to the entire wolf-head not fitting in the composition-sketch was to overall make sure on the real piece of paper that there was room horizontally for the whole wolf head.  (And to make sure that there was enough vertical room for the "flashback scene" -- which, obviously, I didn't even try to address on these sketches except for outlining an arched area where it would go in relation to Pike's figure.)  As I said, the purpose of sketches like this isn't correct proportions, it's relationships of figures to each other and trying out rough poses (like Pike's cross-legged sitting posture, with different arm gestures, in the first sketch, versus the leaning-back attitude o the second).

This was also a year when we needed to work in a portion of the picture that would have a simple background, because poetry text was put directly on the pictures in the final calendar.  So that's why there's a weird squarish shape above the wolf's head in the final version.  
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Foxeye

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Re: [ Tools of the Trade ] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #20 on: March 11, 2011, 12:01:02 PM »

<3 this thread.

I wish I could provide a useful strategy for blocking out, but my workflow is a pretty messy hybrid of circles, lines, and near-finished forms; an amalgam of the different blocking techniques I've read about over the years, and which I cobbled together to what works for me.  

I may try to craft something where I go a little slower, but this gives you an idea of my stages. Is not especially logical or follow-able. :(

Treefox

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Re: [Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2011, 11:22:47 AM »

This threat was a great idea! Not only I'm learning a lot, I find it absolutely interesting to see how other artists are working. I wish I could provide something for this threat... Maybe in the future.
Thanks for all the great insights to your work!
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Wildfire

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Re: [Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #22 on: March 25, 2011, 10:19:59 AM »

Awesome thread, it's always interesting to see how other people work.

I usually start sketching something and then in the end it turns out nothing like it was supposed to xD
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Startear

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Re: [Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #23 on: September 07, 2011, 09:26:45 AM »

Okay, i have a question. When you're drawing someone lying on a bed or branch to keep it more ElfQuest related, is it best to draw the rough lines of what the character is sleeping/lying on, or go on as you are?
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"I know some think me a fool, or that I am too quick with my tongue, or too ready with the blade -- but I live by my own honor, my Way. I would give my life for any of you."

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Afke

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Re: [Tools of the Trade] - Figure blocking / sketching
« Reply #24 on: September 08, 2011, 12:24:52 AM »

The underground (especially when it invloves a branch) is what shapes the body / puts it in a certain pose. When sketching this I'd always involve the branch.
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