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Artist insight
Get to grips with fundamental skills you need
to improve your art. 40 unmissable tips on
colour, tone, anatomy and lighting…
o become a great artist, you colour, tonal values and lighting? Learn digital painters – Rebecca Kimmel,

T need a solid grounding in

the basics. There’s no point
trying to be a comic artist
the basics first – and get them right –
and your opportunities as an artist,
both personally and professionally
Marta Dahlig, Michael Dashow and
Philip Straub.
Over the following pages these
for instance, if you’re knowledge of are certain to grow. artists show you some of the basics
anatomy isn’t all that. Similarly, how In order to help you start your artistic through snippets of essential advice.
could you ever expect to be a concept journey, or simply refresh your memory, Then it’s up to you to continue your
artist without an understanding of we’ve enlisted the services of four top development as an artist…

Kimmel runs
the Artistic
Anatomy and
Figurative Art
forum on CG Society.
Her website has become
a valuable resource for
artists studying life
drawing. Artists of all
levels are welcome to
take part in workshops.

92 June 2007
Artist insight Become a better artist!

balances his
time between
illustration for fun and
profit and Art Directing
at 3D avatar site Meez.
com. He loves painting
humorous science
fiction, fantasy and
children’s images.
Michael lives in Oakland,
California, USA, with his
wife and newborn son.

Philip Straub
Philip Straub
is Art Director
for games
NCSoft. He’s an expert
in colour theory, and has
worked with Universal
Studios in the past.

Marta Dahlig
Marta Dahlig
was born in
1986. She is a
talented artist
and freelance
illustrator, and is a
regular contributor
to ImagineFX.

June 2007 93

Art Director Michael Dashow shares his favourite tips
for effective use of colour in your artwork
Colours on opposite sides of the colour
wheel stand out against each other.
Use this contrast to call attention to the
focus of your painting. Balance intense
colour with more muted other colours
in the background.
2 COLOUR VARIETY To really set a mood for your piece, Shadows pick up bounced light from
Objects in nature incorporate a variety choose an appropriate colour for the the environment. Pull in your ambient
of colours. Paint natural objects with sky. I rarely stick with the traditional colour, such as the colour of your sky.
many similar colours. Especially keep blue. Instead, I opt for colours to Light bounces off other parts of your
The bright, warm colours pop
this in mind when painting skin. Areas against the cooler, whiter
heighten the drama and emotions scene, too. Grass, for example would
where the blood is closer to the blues and greens. that I want the piece to illicit. add greens into your lower shadows.
surface show more reds. Areas around
the eye reveal more purples.
Colours on opposite sides Rather than just using a single light
Choose colours that best convey the
of the colour wheel stand out source, consider adding more light
from a different direction. The
mood you’re aiming for. against each other additional light helps round out the
Strong reds get the pulse forms more, and can also have an
going, and impart a sense 6 AERIAL exciting colour impact.
of drama or danger. Cool PERSPECTIVE
blues and greens have a When there’s more distance 9 CHECK YOUR VALUES
more calming effect. between you and other It’s important not to neglect
objects, there’s more the values while you’re
4 ADD A LITTLE MAGIC atmosphere between them. working with colour. If
We’re used to seeing light in warm Add more depth to your your colours are all
colours such as red from light cast by painting by bringing your of a similar tone,
the sun. Blues are familiar from light atmosphere colour into your painting will
reflected from the sky. That leaves objects that are further have less impact.
green and purple as colours we don’t away. Traditionally, this Checking the
normally see. Incorporating them can The sky is orange so the
buildings further back appear
means making them more image in greyscale
give a painting a mystical air. more dull orange too. blue and less saturated. can help you here.

Don’t expect instant
perfection. Just as sketches
are important for drawing
a finished piece, they’re
equally helpful for colour
composition. Make some
colour thumbnails before
jumping into your painting.
I try out different palettes
Using several test thumbnails by using my paint program’s
will help you to come up with
the correct colours.
layers to block out areas of
colour and shift their hues.

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Artist insight Become a better artist


Need some help with tonal values?
My editorial illustration, below, is a simple
example of the importance of light. Philip Straub shares his secrets
1 LIGHT All objects in nature are 6 POSITIVE/NEGATIVE
made visible to us by some form of Positive space is usually defined by the
light source. The form of all objects in areas of a painting or drawing that are
the world simply wouldn’t be apparent occupied by a form. Negative space is
without light. the areas of the painting or drawing
that are not occupied by forms. It’s
2 SHADOW If an illuminated important to remember the balance
object is more or less opaque, of positive and negative shapes.
when the light is obscured by The consistent visual
language used in the shapes
that object, the resulting shadow 7 UNITY Like contrast, unity is an and line within the image
is a darker version of the object’s element that describes a relationship below shows unity at work.

colour. By virtue of shadow, all between two or more elements or

objects of nature assume form objects within a composition. Unlike
or shape. contrast, however, unity usually
describes such relationships within the
3 HALFTONES Halftones context of the composition as a whole.
that utilise texture and colour Unity can be said to define how any
should be used in the area where one element or group of elements is
light affects the surface of an object related to the rest of the composition.
and should be made brighter than they
appear. Those that describe form 8 HIERARCHY It’s one of the
should be applied to the shadow area most important qualities to consider
of the object and should be darker. when dealing with value structure, yet
the implications of hierarchy are often
4 FORM It’s possible to have form forgotten. Put simply, hierarchy
without line, and to have answers the question ‘what is
line without form, but important?’ in a composition. By
usually where one exists so making his painting hierarchical, a
does the other. I’d argue painter places the greatest emphasis
form truly defines the on those things that are most
shape of an object. important, and the least emphasis on
those that are less important.
5 CONTRAST Contrast is derived
from a comparison between two or 9 BACKGROUND, MIDDLE An example of applying the
use of line in unison with your
more elements. Most concept artists GROUND, FOREGROUND value structure.
will create the highest point Thinking of your value structure as
of value contrast at the three separate plains in space –
focal point, or the place background, middle ground, and
where they want the foreground – will simplify how you deal
viewer to look. with your overall value structure.

Most drawing relies heavily upon line as a means of defining
objects. While painting also uses line as a means of
definition, it often relies upon it as a sort of infrastructure
upon which the rest of the value structure is built. This
infrastructure of line may be hidden in the final painting,
but its influence dictates what the viewer sees.

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In general, there are two types of
shadows: form and cast. While the
Marta Dahlig reveals ten of her favourite pieces of advice form shadow (1) is naturally generated
by an object in range of the light
on how to tackle lighting in your painting source, the cast shadow (2) is created
by another object, placed in front of
our primary one, blocking the light
1 HALO EFFECT from the source.
If you want to create an aura behind a character, place
the light source behind it. This way, the hair will seem 7 STRONG LIGHT SOURCES
to be glowing. Shading hair like this is different from While the general, ambient light is a
usual because, aside from the ‘typical’ shading of the good basis for a picture and it might be
strands in ambient light, you have to take into account enough for simpler portraits, you might
the additional light source, making the outer edges of sometimes want to spice things up a
the hair lighter then run over the outer strands with a bit. There’s nothing better than a strong
moderately sized transparent airbrush to add ‘glow’. light source to add some drama.

Placing your light source behind your character helps if you 8 GOLD EXPLAINED
want to achieve a halo effect in your painting. A common mistake in painting gold is
to only use colours from the yellow
palette to render it. Analyse a golden
3 COLOUR CHOICES object and you’ll see hints of grey,
While it doesn’t matter what basic brown and green, and remember that
colour you choose for the skin of your metal is reflective.
character, it’s extremely important to
pick shadows and highlights correctly. 9 SKIN TONES MADE EASY
Basically, when you choose shadows Use Photoshop’s Colour Balance tool
and highlights for your midtones, make to match skin tones,
sure they’re not only of a different highlights and shadows if
2 LIGHT AND FLESH brightness, but also a different hue. you have characters lit by
When painting a body part a boldly coloured, strong
that’s lit from the back, don’t 4 CONVEXITY light source.
limit yourself to merely adding Sketch an object’s most convex places
a white outline around it (0). (red lines). After you choose a light 10 TEXTILES
Remember the light will also source, mark the highlights Different textiles react differently to
beam between all the lit (white lines). The most light. Silk highlights are bold and
objects, creating rays (1). convex areas are going to strongly separated from the shadows
Furthermore, the light will also be the most highlighted, with a fast, smooth transition. Linen
shine through the skin and and will also create a slight highlights are much more diffused
flesh. To depict that, simply shadow (blue lines). and the transition is seamless.
make the ‘softer’ parts of
the body part more 5 REFLECTED LIGHTING
saturated (2 and 3). One of the crucial things for a painter to remember is that all objects interact with
each other by reflecting light rays that fall on them back on to other objects. In
practice, you can easily implement this effect by adding some extra coloured
shades with a low opacity brush (see arrows below for examples).

Here you can see, by following the arrows, how the dress
interacts with the skin and the skin with the dress. This was
done by adding some extra shades with a low opacity brush.

To depict rays of light between the lit

objects, I ran over the hand with a light
transparent airbrush.

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Artist insight Become a better artist!

Learning to draw anatomy is a lifelong process. Rebecca
Kimmel offers some wise words to get you started
Always think of big, basic shapes Draw large with charcoal to understand
instead of anatomy. The major forms whole forms and gesture, but draw in a
of the body – the head, sketchbook with ballpoint pen or pencil
neck, torso, pelvis, arms, to learn anatomy. Copy drawings from
and legs can be broken various anatomy book. There is no
down into spheres, shortcut to understanding anatomy
cylinders and boxes. and drawing: you have to practise .


It’s always best to draw from life. Try to A master copy is using a great artist’s
spend as much time working in front of work as reference, doing your best to
live models as you can. If imitate that artist’s form and style. Use
you can’t draw from a life your eye to develop forms on the page.
model, do a series of self- Studying master work enables you to
portraits to ensure you get pick up how artists denoted form and
a grasp of life drawing. to incorporate this into your own work


Think across form instead of in terms of Intersperse your drawings from Look at figurative work and build your library
a form’s outline. Outlines don’t exist. Try reference with drawings from your of mental imagery. Find the Renaissance
doing several cross-contour drawings, imagination. Test yourself by seeing masters that you love and analyse what makes
in which you map the topology of form what you know without using any drawings and paintings work for you. Figure
by drawing what you might think of as reference but what’s in your mind. out what you want to say as much as how
an ant’s tracks across the form. This will You’ll be surprised at what you know you want to say it, and combine your artistic
give you a better feeling for depth. well – and what you don’t. goals into a singular vision over time.

4 STUDY GESTURE Test yourself by seeing what

Gesture is the heart of drawing you know using only what’s in
– if the gesture has no life, then
the drawing won’t either. your mind as reference
Gesture is about quickly finding
the essence of the pose. It’s an 10 THINK NATURAL
art form to capture something Draw organic forms that aren’t
quickly and accurately. human, things that twist and have
human-like characteristics. I
wrote an article for the
CGSociety called Opposing
Curves, which describes how
5 TIMED POSES offset curves interact to create
Draw and paint in timed form. Notice how there are rarely
exercise sets of two, five, ten in nature curves which are
or 15-minute poses. Usually a related to one another as
rendered drawing turns out to parentheses; rather curves in
lack the life and vitality that a nature are offset in a DNA/
fast sketch captures. double helix fashion. This
Remember that you are half perspective will change the
of the ‘life’ in a life drawing. way that you draw.

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