I've been wanting to do a character sketch tutorial for quite some time now. Finally had a couple afternoons to put it together. So here's a tutorial for this t-shirt design of everyone's favorite ex-wildling Snow-informer (get it??), Ygritte!
Simple stuff. I use a very basic approach and it works well for a wide range of applications. Editing is 100% non-destructive once the linework is finalized, so you can implement multiple styles and flip through them easily. Also, I'll be posting up a link to various locations to buy the shirt very soon. Shoot me a message if you're interested, or sign up for the site alerts (via the blog side bar) to be notified of when the store goes live.
Hope this little how-to helps someone out there. Let's get into it ;D
step 1 - thumbnails
First things first, basic thumbnails in the sketchbook. Next up, forget sketchbook at work and start over in Photoshop ha. Moving on, I keep these VERY loose until I decide which one to pursue (lower left). I knew from the get-go that I wanted to push this as a t-shirt design, so I make sure to check it on a shirt template throughout the process.
Step 2 - gut checker
After deciding on one to move forward with, I worked up another design just to gut check myself. If you go with the first design you choose, you might unintentionally limit yourself.. or, you might not. Gotta check! I limit the painting to 10 minutes and watch the clock like a hawk - because time is a villain out to slay your productivity. Wasn’t feeling this one and my art director (the wife) concurred. Onward!
step 3 - clean up (fall down)
Cleaned her up and tested colors. At this point, I went back to my core goals and re-evaluated. She’s not the right style for the t-shirt I envision. I've been working hard on my pen and ink skills for a few years, and I really want a more hand drawn + flat color look here. So, time to pump the brakes.
Step 4 - Start again
Dropped the opacity on the original sketch and started in with linework. I’m not getting TOO tight here, as I know I’m going to integrate the lines into the base flat colors (more on that in a minute). Still, I keep it mostly clean and try to push some subtle sexy line weight around. I’m thinking back to my heroes of the 80s, but updating with my own personal touches.
Step 5 - reclean it up
Here is where I pull from my studio production roots to finish out the piece. Art directors will inevitably want different colors/materials/textures/light. It’s gonna happen. If you’re captain two layers, it’s a do over. Using this method, you can infinitely tweak non-destructively. Line work, light, shadow, and base colors are all separate. Furthermore, all materials are separated out into their own layer so you can command/control + left click to navigate the document and edit any part of her any time you want. You can change the whole outfit palette without changing light direction. Add multiple light sources while retaining the material values/hues. You can even change from flat color cartoon style to photo-real textures without effect on the light at all. Here’s the breakdown:
01 - Silhouette. I cheat here and magic wand to select everything outside the linework. Then select > select inverse to switch to her silhouette. Then select > modify > contract > 2px. This pulls our selection bounding box into the center of the linework instead of 1px outside of it and gets rid of any minuscule selections caused by stray pixel data. You now have a clean silhouette and you can clip all your layers to it from here on, ensuring the designed silhouette always reads as intended.
(Not familiar with clipping masks? Get into them! Very, very useful, and you can read about it here: Clipping Mask tutorial from Photoshop Essentials.)
02 - Material separation. Lasso tool is your buddy. Make sure the image is hi-res (especially if printing) for super clean shapes. Each of these materials and/or areas of interest is separated as its own layer and those layers are clipped to the silhouette layer. I drop in a few palettes from http://kuler.adobe.com before I start to make the coloring process go much smoother.
03 - Drop Shadows layer. No form shadows here, only cast shadows. If we want to change the light direction later, this layer can be redone easily. Craft those shadow shapes to suit your design goals! They can be used to lead the eye, a somewhat rare opportunity in a single character portrait.
04 - Read. Check that flat color read without lines. If your design looks messy or otherwise not sezzy.. re-evaluate. Try bunching your shapes and/or values together to regroup areas into an overall visual hierarchy. Keep values fairly close together unless you're deliberately creating an area of contrast.
05 - integrate linework. Knowing your flat color is working, push the line work read down slightly to bring cohesion to the entire piece. There are lots of ways to do this. Here, I added a warm tint by locking the line work transparency and filling with a sort of burnt umber. I dropped the opacity of the lines too. Lastly, I duplicated the lines and Gaussian blurred them. This adds a sense of form turning and fakes ambient occlusion with zero painting required. That's a no-work time saver. We like those.
06 - Form shadows. Finish the job started by cast shadows. Kept it subtle here, quick stab brush strokes that are smudge tooled towards the light.
07 - Light pass. Again, keeping it simple. I set up my values and cast shadows to sell the design, so no reason to muddle it up with these minor form defining passes.
08 - Last touch, I added a cool toned rim light using a complementary hue. This is purely to offset the predominantly warm palette and to tie into the snow elements I plan to introduce. Yes, yes.. Winter is coming.
Step 6 - Back to the chest
Now that the main area is finished and the drawing is complete, I get back into the piece as a design. Since it's a t-shirt, I know it can end up with just about any background color. It immediately falls flat here. That's OK, I knew it was coming and I have a plan. Full disclosure, I always say that after the fact.
Step 7 - push design, walk the deep / shallow line
I like the idea of integrating snow, which is why I sunk her in up to the knees. I'm hinting at something that I've always liked with logo design - the idea that the design can "talk" to the logo type to create a story. When done right with a logo, it can complete the name of the company and they have a repertoire. When the customers get it, it's a little Easter egg and it fosters brand identity. Considering it's a shirt, I want to keep it very simple. I decide to go with a tried and true method: environment window + graphic outline. Is it predictable and simple? Yep! Do people respond well on average? Yep! I'm not rewriting the book here, I just want a cool shirt people dig.
Step 8 - Getting too cheeky
I convinced myself that the graphic text from the thumbnail was too simple minded. My art director (... the wife) reminded me that this is for a shirt not an art show. Sometimes when you're sitting on the obvious you don't see it down there, but someone else can pretty easily go.. "hey, it's under you, dipshit."
Step 9 - Wrap it up
So here's the final design. I plan on doing another of these, so the next tutorial will use the same process and actually be a review of my new Yiynova MVP20u+rh tablet monitor. A supposed Cintiq killer. We shall see!
Thanks for reading.