Lately, I’ve been getting into concept art. It’s a rather quick, easy and fun way to get ideas down that returns consistently good results, which only get better as you improve. Now, I’m no pro concept artist, but I think I’ve learned enough of the method to start telling people about it. And I think one of the greatest setbacks to drawing things traditionally (sketch>lineart>colors) is that it’s time consuming and discourages people from getting their ideas down on paper. If you learn the concept art method, you’ll significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to draw complex things like, say, a mech. Lol.
Keep in mind, this is not an anatomy, perspective, etc. tutorial. I’m writing this under the assumption that you already know how to draw, basically, and are familiar with your tools. This is a somewhat higher-level style that requires the practitioner to have basic knowledge of art. Now, I’m only going to cover styles of concept art that are lineless (they use values, as opposed to lines, to render). This is because: 1.) Lineart is time consuming 2.) Using lineart then coloring over it is not really different from the “normal” way of doing things, therefore you can probably just find separate tutorials for lineart+coloring if that’s what you’re into.
The first method of concept art I’m going to go over is value sketching which is using light and dark shapes (highlights and shadows respectively) to sketch out a foundation for your piece. The easiest version of this is to use really opaque lights and darks (probably 90-100% opacity in GIMP) and sketching with a hard brush. It’s actually similar to lineart, except you’re using a different set of art principles. You’re using your sense of volume, form and value as opposed to just laying down lines. It actually helps in the long run.
SO, moving on to the actual tutorial!
STEP 1: RENDERING
When concept artists have an idea and they wanna put it down on canvas, the first thing they do is Render. In fact, if you look at a concept page by professional artists, what you’re seeing is a lot of renders or the stage before colors are added. They can either be in lines or values but we’re going to learn the value method because we’re all familiar with lineart. The truth is, most of the gorgeously colored concept pieces you see in games and such start in black and white. This is because black and white (or, in some cases, sepia) are the easiest values to render and shade with. Whereas, when you deal with colors, you have to have a good grasp of color theory and light interaction, be able too blend colors and all of that other crap which is wayyy too time consuming for a “first” or “preliminary” step. There is also the chore of picking colors. Say, for example, you are painting a red piece of metal in purple light: how do you know what color to shade with? What color will be used for the highlights? So forth and so forth. So, for the sake of simplicity, we start off with black and white.
There are two ways you can start this off: from a silhouette, or just freeform sketching. I’ll go over using silhouettes later (as it requires a LOT of precognition as to what you want to draw) and just teach sketching. When I start a concept piece, I already have a vague idea of what I want to draw and I set the dimensions of my canvas accordingly. If it’s a landscape, I use landscape orientation usually in 1100×800. If it’s a person or a mech, then I use portrait in 900×900 and so forth for each circumstance. The general idea, though, is to start off with a relatively big canvas and shrink it down later. This allows you to have good control over details and paint in large, sweeping strokes as opposed to poring over single pixels and such. Painting in large shapes is essential.
1.) For this tutorial, I’ve chosen a subject that is dear to many concept artists’ hearts: generic military man in armor. Concept artists love this guy because he is a simple character to draw and leaves room for a lot of creativity. As you can see, I’ve laid out my values. The parts of the character that will be defined by dark colors are black, those which will be defined by midtones are gray and those which are relatively bright in color are left white. Nothing too complicated. Now what we want to do is start turning these shapes into actual components. Let’s start with the helmet. I usually zoom in to get small details.
1. a.) As you can see, I’ve defined the shape of the helmet more. It now wraps around the head better and has plenty more detail. I also added a new value in order to bring out different parts of the helmet’s design (ie. the lamellar type ridges on the back). Notice that I kept this value relatively close to the base color (black) so that it doesn’t “leak” into my midtones. Also, you can see some sort of body suit worn beneath the helmet peeking out from the sides. Now I will continue detailing the rest of the body this way.
STEP 2: USING BLENDING MODES
1.) Now that the character has more detail, we will tweak the shadows a bit to give parts like the pants more depth. Here, I will introduce blending modes which are a concept artist’s best tool for adjusting lighting and colors on the fly, as well as adding atmospheric effects. The ones I will be using (now and in the future) are Multiply and Overlay. Multiply allows you to add colored shadows or darken areas without affecting or drowning out the details. Overlay works to the same effect, except it doesn’t darken. This is how most concept artists color.
Here, I’ve used multiply on the areas that needed some extra contrast. You can still see the brush strokes from the original render except, now, everything has been darkened to proportion. Now we have darker values to work with, as well as some soft shadow. This would’ve been a lot harder if we laid black over it and attempted to re-render everything. It’s especially useful when you’re at the coloring stages because it saves you the difficulty of picking out your own dark tones. I also forgot to draw a face…so I’mma add that in there right quick.
1. a.) Now we’ll use Overlay to give this concept color. Beware, it’s not as simple as just creating one Overlay layer and slapping the desired color on there. Sometimes you have to layer them to create the desired effect. Also, the tones that Overlay gives you are not always realistic and don’t faithfully emulate reflected light, so you have to work around that by using many Overlay layers. In this case, I want a metallic blue armor that is reflecting some orange atmospheric light and I want to create somewhat of a haze effect. The first thing I did was create an imaginary light source behind the military dude. There will be orange light radiating from it. Then I created an Overlay layer, using orange-brown to add reflected light onto the armor from behind and merged it down. After that, I added three layers of blue Overlay and merged them down. The thing about Overlay is that the colors become brighter and more concentrated if you layer them as opposed to just using a single layer. Then I topped it off with another orange Overlay for the colored light. Now our concept is looking fairly colorful. Well, at least the armor is.
2.) Now, using these new values, I’m going to go back and refine the armor some: cleaning up details, adjusting the distribution of blacks and highlights, etc.
And we’re done. This is the most basic method of concept ‘arting’ and these are the kinds of results it returns. I’ll leave it at just the armor because this drawing was only meant to be an example. Stay tuned, I’ll be making more concept art tutorials.
If you have any questions about this tutorial, you can contact CypressDahlia at the forum.
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