Lessons from the last contest (add your own!)


  • SVS OG

    This morning I cleaned up all my January contest "tracks in the snow" files before putting everything on an external hard drive. Honestly, I was shocked at how many changes my contest piece went through, and how late some of them happened. And yet, I think some of those last minute changes really helped.

    So I thought I would write down some notes and share them with you guys. What you get out of them--or not-- will obviously depend on your needs at the moment. I'm especially working on trying to get stylistically consistent and solidify my process so I can increase productivity and up the quality of concepts and technique as well. And I would be interested in hearing how your processes work as well, because that's not something we talk about that often.

    First, a huge thank you!!! Because you guys really gave great critiques, I used pretty much all of your ideas, and they made the final drawing so much better! I just hope I can eventually internalize them.

    Secondly, for whatever reason, I had nine different iterations, as in photoshop files, of this piece from the time I chose my thumbnail to posting on the contest thread. I find this is about average. It would be nice if I could get the number down, but generally either I get confused by all the options or the file just gets too unwieldy and I lack the confidence to eliminate previous versions. Hmm...πŸ€”

    A couple of things stayed pretty much the same from start to finish, and I kept them because they were fresh looking. One of them was the drawing of the dog. A lot of the drawing on the trees stayed the same as well, though I changed their positions.

    In summary, what I learned so far:

    -The boards really help!!!
    -Always, always get the compositional problems worked out first!!!
    -Flipping the piece horizontally helps. I have a tendency to develop a directional slant, and while I never eliminated it completely, flipping did help.
    -I'm going to try something else in this style
    -Reference really does help, as does working out drawing problems just after the thumbnail stage
    -Making animal people is fun! I still prefer drawing realistic-ish children, but I'm also starting to loosen up a bit by trying all these different things.
    -Perspective study really helps just after the thumbnail stage
    -You really can produce something personally satisfying from a prompt that doesn't inspire you at first glance

    If you want to see the contest threads, I think you can find two or three of them under my profile.

    What have you been learning in the contests and in your recent WIPs? I'd be interested to hear!



  • @LauraA I just recently started doing the flipping horizontal thing and I agree, it really helps you see your "slant."


  • SVS OG

    I agree with so much of what you said. I, too, was not initially inspired by the prompt and even after I decided to try something, set it aside because it wasn't grabbing me but when I finally made myself finish it for the practice, I really liked how it turned out. Sometimes things need to simmer.

    I also especially agree with getting the composition figured out first (and even when I think I have done lots of preliminary work, I still end up wishing I'd changed something,) using reference for even the smallest things, and flipping again and again. These are all things I've gotten from SVS but am still trying to get them in my brain permanently.

    By the way, I loved your final piece. It's really lovely.



  • @LauraA great write up. I was thinking about writing a blog post about my process for the January contest. I have been doing the thumbnail method for about a year, I always caught up in drawing too early, and lost the train of thoughts on further developing the idea. This is probably the first piece that I feel like I used thumbnails to really develop the idea from a seed to a story. I am beginning to understand the value of spending lots of time developing ideas and working on composition design before drawing.

    I agree with your point of producing something personally satisfying from a prompt that does not sound inspiring at all. This is great learning to deal with sounding boring client-based projects.


  • SVS OG

    @xin-li When you do your blog post, please share it with us. I would be interested to hear how you work and also, really think this last piece you did is the best yet!



  • I spend quite a bit of time thinking about my idea first, so I don’t really use thumbnails to create my initial idea. Then I use post-it notes to create thumbnails. I find it more beneficial for me to use a pencil and eraser on the same post-it note until I see my idea come to life. This seems to work better for my flow, instead of creating the same image over. This time I am going to create more thumbnails afterword for value studies though. Someone did that this time and I realized that would be very beneficial.

    I then sketch my drawing with a traditional pencil first. As I am getting more and more comfortable with the PS brushes, I am drawing less and less detail before scanning into PS. I learned more about defining brushes this month and using the spacing feature. I am getting better at blending, using the blending brush and changing the opacity.

    I am also now creating silhouettes for each character and larger objects, each on a different layer, so they can be positioned just right, I can easily remove backgrounds and the sketch or line work doesn’t get in the way. They also keep me from doing too much line work initially.

    Two classes that I benefited from this month were a character design class with Will and Jake and the 5 steps of goal setting with Lee.

    I benefit from everyone in this group in so many ways. This month I asked for a little bit more feedback than I have been regarding my initial design for the contest and it was really helpful. I made several changes based on the responses. You also come up with great ideas for personal projects. I am working on replicating Book Covers right now. This is such a great way to learn digital techniques. I am also working on drawing 300 heads and 50 hands (per Jake in the character class).



  • This is a great thread! I just wanted to add two additional "tricks of the trade", which a friend taught me and I used for this contest:

    1. Add a top level layer set to the saturation blend mode, and fill with pure white (or any unsaturated color) so you can see what your image looks like in black and white. I find toggling this layer off and on as I'm adding colors helps me control the values better and see if I'm getting off track.
    2. Another trick my friend taught me is to take a painting/illustration (by yourself or another artist) where you like the value distribution, and make small black and white copy you can refer to as you work (I put it on my phone). This can also keep you grounded as to the balance of values, e.g. it can help you notice if your illustration is getting to dark overall or doesn't have enough contrast.


  • @LauraA great post!

    I used thumbnails for the first time via yellow sticky notes and it helped a lot! It took the pressure off trying to make something good right away.

    This community is awesome too! It was my first submission and I plan on doing every month.



  • @Braxton Great tips!



  • Hi Laura - thanks for sharing. What do you mean about the horizontal flipping thing? Thx πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    Great additions, guys! Thank you!

    @deborah-Haagenson and @Jeremy-Ross Great idea about the sticky notes. It seems freer and easier in many ways than using a digital template. I may try it!

    @Braxton I have never heard of your method of checking values. I'll have to try that too. I have been using another method, which I happened on by chance and will link here because it seems to be very accurate and well-explained, and once you set it up, it's extremely quick and easy to do: Method: Checking Values: Ctrl+Y

    I totally agree about value checking! In fact, I didn't do it as much as usual this time and that may be why @Braden-Hallett had to do a drawover in the end. I was always a bit confused about how dark the snow should be in the moonlight.

    @Rachel-Horne To flip your work, make a flattened copy or else put everything in one folder. Then select all, cmd+T to create an edit box, and go to the menu and select Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal. There is a vertical flip too, which would also help, but horizontal already does a lot for me. You can also do this with any .jpeg in Apple's photos app, or even on your phone, with Edit>Crop> flip symbol (within the crop tool).

    Another weird thing I noticed this time was that although in my style survey I said I didn't want to focus too much on light, this piece was largely about...moonlight! Obviously I still have a ways to go stylistically.

    Bravi! Keep 'em coming! πŸ˜πŸ‘



  • @Rachel-Horne Hey Rachel, I hope you don't mind if I pop in to answer your question πŸ™‚ When people say "flip horizontally" they are referring to the process of having a mirror or your digital program (e.g. photoshop) flip your image along the middle line.

    Here is an example using my sketch:

    b4f491e6-3172-4b0a-9d6d-b2033c27b775-image.png

    By flipping your image, you are able to recognise structural problems or things such as the tendency to slant to one side easier, because it refreshes the way you look at your piece.

    Hope this helps πŸ™‚



  • @Jeremy-Ross I love the idea with the sticky notes! Am def. going to try for this month's competition.


  • SVS OG

    @LauraA Ooo, thanks for the tip on how to check values quickly!



  • @LauraA Hi Laura - thank you for all the info', I think maybe my question was badly put, what I really meant was, what does flipping the image actually do? Does it help notice anomalies more? Thanks πŸ™‚



  • @Cat-De-Pillar Thanks for your input, yes, I was interested in knowing what the point of flipping the image was. πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    @Rachel-Horne Ah, ok! Yes, it's just a way to see the drawing more objectively. It kind of tricks the "left brain."



  • I have been using thumbnails (definitely not 50) which has been helpful in letting me play with my ideas. I always use linework but need to start relying a bit more on color than line in order to improve my color skills.

    Along with these things I also need to incorporate stylizing my drawings. The way I do this (in the last like 2 weeks) is after coming up with a composition I like I play around with the shape designs and character design on a separate piece of paper then incorporate all those components into the main illustration.


  • SVS OG

    @Rachel-Horne I can't tell you the number of times when I flipped an image and discovered that a character's eyes suddenly looked strange, or the profile was a little out of whack, or my lines were slanted. It's weird that I can't see those things until I flip it but it really helps.



  • @LauraA Great discussion! Learning from all the lessons you guys mentioned. I'm definitely going to try the flipping trick next time πŸ™‚ Here's a few I picked up on:

    • Start earlier in the month.
    • Keep doing thumbnails until truly satisfied.
    • Don't skip the values/shading step.
    • For subjects farther away, use lighter color line work or none.
    • Work on it consistently.
    • Get feedback from others.
    • Aim to finish a week early. Then, go back in a day or two and check - does it still look good?

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