Constructing a composition

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  1. #1
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    Constructing a composition

    I'm doing a bit of research and compiling together information on different approaches to constructing a composition in a digital painting, and the tools people use to help them with this. My intention is to find the one best suited to my style, but also be able to give others advice on techniques they can make use of in their work.

    So I want to ask you ladies and gents how you go about composing your digital paintings.

    Do you use 3D tools as a help? If so, which ones, and why those specific ones?
    I've looked at Tonic's work using SketchUp here: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/sho...d.php?t=146591, and this looks like a very practical way of setting up a composition, and one I intend on trying myself.
    Are there any disadvantages to this method? Do employers prefer that you don't rely on a tool in this way? I've seen people describe it as a crutch, which sounds negative. It is, of course, a good thing to know perspective drawing, but when a tool can help you get good results in a faster way, are there any reasons not to use it?

    Perhaps you prefer using traditional perspective drawing? Why?

    To what extent do you use reference images to set up your composition? For everything, or perhaps only the most important parts of the composition? If it varies, why?

    How would you go about finding the pose you want a person to have, and then get it onto the canvas? Do you prefer taking pictures and use them as a reference for this, or do you like using one of those small wooden guys to create a pose for your character? How would you say this compares to the use of Poser or similar software, where you can manipulate a model into the pose you're after, and in this way get a reference for your drawing? Which is more convenient?

    Are there other methods you would like to share?

    I apologize for the question mark carpet-bombing. Essentially, I'm looking for different views on what you perceive to be an effective and/or convenient tool/technique for setting up a composition in a digital painting.

    Thanks!

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  3. #2
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    three basic approaches:

    1. Geometry as a basis of design. See Myron Barnstone. Also see Michael Mentler.
    2. Distillation. The idea is king. Create your image with this in mind, and then subtract everything that distracts from the main idea. If you look up the Gurney Journey blog, he has a couple posts on this topic, using heat maps to see where viewers spend the most time looking at an image.
    3. The Master List. Make sure your composition has every concept in the Master List, and your composition will work. The Master List includes: rhythm, repetition, balance, economy, unity, etc... You can add to the list as desired. To best understand it, I recommend downloading the video tutorial on this site by Jason Manley. It's an incredible resource on the topic.

    Different people lean to different approaches like a religion. Remember, there are no rules, only tools.

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    Yng

  5. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yng View Post
    So I want to ask you ladies and gents how you go about composing your digital paintings.
    The same way I compose traditional paintings: I draw thumbnails and rough sketches from imagination until I have a good idea of what I want the picture to look like. I usually thumbnail on paper, it's quick and easy and I'm used to it. Rough sketches may be on paper or digital, depending.

    Then, once I know what I want, I collect any necessary reference - either live sources to be sketched or photographed, or if I can't get live sources I'll collect as many photos, drawings, diagrams etc. as I can and use them as a source of general information about whatever it is I need to draw. If I'm using refs that aren't from life or my own photo, I prefer not to copy anything exactly, I'd rather study multiple sources and extrapolate a new image from them.

    Do you use 3D tools as a help? If so, which ones, and why those specific ones?
    I've looked at Tonic's work using SketchUp here: http://www.conceptart.org/forums/sho...d.php?t=146591, and this looks like a very practical way of setting up a composition, and one I intend on trying myself.
    Are there any disadvantages to this method? Do employers prefer that you don't rely on a tool in this way? I've seen people describe it as a crutch, which sounds negative. It is, of course, a good thing to know perspective drawing, but when a tool can help you get good results in a faster way, are there any reasons not to use it?

    Perhaps you prefer using traditional perspective drawing? Why?
    I often end up using traditional perspective, though that's mostly from habit. But if the final piece is going to be digital, I might work out the perspective in Illustrator or something - working digitally makes it easier to mess with grids and lines and vanishing points that are a mile away from the edge of the picture, and fun things like that.

    I don't know about using a 3D program, I haven't tried that. I can see it could be an immense help, assuming you can build the environments as fast as you could draw them without a 3D program. If it takes a long time to build the environments, though, it seems like it would be a bit pointless, unless you need to do multiple accurate views of the same environment.

    Also, from that thread, I'd guess it would be best if you have good knowledge of perspective before you try to use a 3D rendering as reference - the SketchUp renderings look awfully distorted to me, I imagine you'd want to be able to manually correct the distortions. (Some of the renderings from other apps seem better, though.)

    To what extent do you use reference images to set up your composition? For everything, or perhaps only the most important parts of the composition? If it varies, why?
    What do you mean, use reference to set up the composition...? I set up the initial composition purely out of my head (thumbnailing and sketching), and THAT tells me what reference I'll need to find, if any. I'd hate to have to build my picture around available reference, that just seems like a compromise - I'd much rather have the picture determine what reference I need.

    Reference varies depending on the picture, of course. Some pictures may need a lot of different ref sources, some may not need any.

    How would you go about finding the pose you want a person to have, and then get it onto the canvas? Do you prefer taking pictures and use them as a reference for this, or do you like using one of those small wooden guys to create a pose for your character? How would you say this compares to the use of Poser or similar software, where you can manipulate a model into the pose you're after, and in this way get a reference for your drawing? Which is more convenient?
    How do I "get" the pose...? FIRST I get it out of my head, thumbnailing and sketching until I know what pose I want; then I'll get a real person to hold the pose (or I'll pose myself) and draw or photograph that as reference. That way I get EXACTLY the pose I have in mind, and don't have to compromise my picture to make it work with the reference.

    If I'm doing something exaggerated or cartoony, or I'm strapped for time, I may just work from my head start to finish (with maybe a few trips to the mirror to check things.)

    Those little wooden mannequins have always seemed useless to me unless I want to draw little wooden figures. And I'm a bit leery of Poser - Poser people just look like plastic dolls to me.

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  7. #4
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    TASmith - I appreciate the tips.

    QueenGwenevere - Thanks for the thorough reply!

    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    I don't know about using a 3D program, I haven't tried that. I can see it could be an immense help, assuming you can build the environments as fast as you could draw them without a 3D program. If it takes a long time to build the environments, though, it seems like it would be a bit pointless, unless you need to do multiple accurate views of the same environment.
    This is what I'm trying to find out, so I can't say for sure, but at the moment I imagine it's best to only use a 3D program for a rough sketch of architecture or other things that closely resemble the primitive shapes. Setting up a couple of cubes, cylinders and pyramids, and taking a screenshot of those seem quick enough, and can get you a good foundation to work with. Shapes that are more organic may be quicker to draw from scratch.


    Also, from that thread, I'd guess it would be best if you have good knowledge of perspective before you try to use a 3D rendering as reference - the SketchUp renderings look awfully distorted to me, I imagine you'd want to be able to manually correct the distortions. (Some of the renderings from other apps seem better, though.)
    Which other apps could you recommend?


    What do you mean, use reference to set up the composition...? I set up the initial composition purely out of my head (thumbnailing and sketching), and THAT tells me what reference I'll need to find, if any. I'd hate to have to build my picture around available reference, that just seems like a compromise - I'd much rather have the picture determine what reference I need.

    Reference varies depending on the picture, of course. Some pictures may need a lot of different ref sources, some may not need any.
    I typed the post in the middle of the night, so excuse me if I was a little unclear. I was referring to people who take photos of landscapes or areas that would make a good foundation for a painting, and then paints, for instance, a fantasy or sci-fi version of it, and perhaps adding a car or whatever from another photo they took, and do a sci-fi version of it that fits into the setting of the painting. This way, you build the composition based on reference photos.
    Personally, I prefer your way of doing it. Using photos in this way is too limiting when doing it every time. We're not always painting in a perspective that we can easily get a photo reference for, after all. I do, however, think it's a technique that could work on occasion.


    How do I "get" the pose...? FIRST I get it out of my head, thumbnailing and sketching until I know what pose I want; then I'll get a real person to hold the pose (or I'll pose myself) and draw or photograph that as reference. That way I get EXACTLY the pose I have in mind, and don't have to compromise my picture to make it work with the reference.

    If I'm doing something exaggerated or cartoony, or I'm strapped for time, I may just work from my head start to finish (with maybe a few trips to the mirror to check things.)

    Those little wooden mannequins have always seemed useless to me unless I want to draw little wooden figures. And I'm a bit leery of Poser - Poser people just look like plastic dolls to me.
    Personally I can see how the wooden mannequins can be helpful, because I often spend more time than I should making sure arms and legs aren't longer or shorter than they should be. I imagine having a wooden mannequin on my desk could help me out a bit there.
    Using it as direct reference obviously doesn't work very well, unless, as you say, you want to draw a wooden mannequin. And this is also how I imagine the use of Poser models. They can be used to make a decent approximation on the length and size of the main body parts in the pose you want (unless you're using badly modeled Poser models, of course). But yeah, they do look like plastic dolls, so they're no good as the only anatomical reference. We could spend ages tweaking every little part of the model to look right and avoid the static doll-like look, as the tools to do it are there, but that's sort of counter-productive to the work efficiency I'm after.
    After having dabbled around in Poser earlier, I think I'd prefer taking photos for reference when drawing people.

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