Approaching the Unknown

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I’ve talked to a few people recently and they were surprised that I never knew how to draw a boat when they saw Among the Clouds.

I like to think of every piece I do as solving a problem. In this tutorial, I will present to you my thought process and problem solving I did to create it.

Figure Out Your Idea and General Mood

When I first received this commission, I was excited since I got to try something that I’ve never done before. I knew what I was generally going for: an airship flying through the night sky with a moon in the background. I wanted to make something that was a bit more rough around the edges than I’m used to. I set my goal in the beginning! 

Then I began googling pictures that matched that idea. Looking at what other artists have done and how they approached the idea I had in their own work. There is a wealth of information you can get from looking at another person’s work. Rather than looking at it and saying “wow that’s a pretty picture”, try deciphering it and figuring out how they did it. Examine the brush strokes, perspective and types of lighting they used. Try not to copy what the other person did, you want to create something you can call your own.

Reference! Reference! Reference!

When I look at what other people were doing, I also look at reference pictures. For this drawing, I looked at reference of a pirate ship, air ship and clouds. In the beginning, I didn’t really analyze my boat references. I sketched the general shape hoping that it would suffice as that “abstract-like” I was going for (a common mistake).

The more I looked at it, the more I didn’t think it looked convincing enough to be a boat. I went back to fully analyze my photo references. I tend to have a document open on Photoshop filled with references and inspiration I found online. These are usually called Style Sheets. An example of what it looks like for this piece is below.

Research your Object

I feel like this is one of the steps that often goes overlooked (and I myself am guilty of this too!). I often just want to jump into drawing the thing rather than researching it resulting in an inaccurate representation. When this happens, save your progress (if you’re working digitally) or make a copy of your work and then back peddle to change your approach. It’s better that you realize this sooner rather than later so you don’t end up making a beautifully rendered piece only to have to scrap it later!

One of the few things I noticed while analyzing the ships were the variety of sail shapes and the amount of strings/rope it takes for the sails to work the way they do. Even though all you see in the previous drawing is a rough sketch, I really wasn’t thinking about how the boat physically functions. One of the things that really make your drawing look more believable, especially if it is some man made, is to research how it works.  Figure out it’s anatomy, how it moves the way it does, what are it’s limits, physics and how it reacts in different environments (if it is something that appears in all types of weather). The list could go on, but these are just a few things I kept in mind while drawing this.

After researching that, keep them in mind for the world you are creating. What things don’t affect the object you are drawing in this world that does in real life? Are there any additional attributes?

In my case, I had butterfly wings as well as (the less obvious) ring of ovals help it soar across the sky to make the ship more fantasy-esque. In this world, butterfly wings are not as delicate as they are in real life and are even considered the best thing for your sails to be made out of if your want to sail the sky.

That looks A LOT better than my previous sketch up above. Not to mention the perspective is more obvious too.

Keep Drawing!

Even if the thing your asked to draw/or want to draw seems really daunting, keep drawing it. Draw it over and over again until it looks right. It is pushing you outside your comfort zone, training your muscle memory and making you a better artist for it! And if you draw it enough, you may even actually love drawing that object!

One of the things I learned about drawing things you don’t know (if you just want to practice):

  1. Draw what you think it looks like.
  2. Then use reference and draw what it actually looks like.

I can’t remember which artist first brought this up (if any one knows I’ll be sure to link to them!), but I found it really useful for building your visual library.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!