Want to understand a professional's concept design process? Technical illustrator, Nigel Gough, shows you his approach to creating a robot (a.k.a., "Mech") using Copic Multiliners and Markers, in this tutorial and video.
In this project, I wanted to demonstrate how I tackled a simple concept sketch. Most artists have their own set ways of doing things. Their approaches become familiar and comfortable, not just in terms of artistic technique, but also as a process of design.
This is one of my approaches to concept design. Hopefully, you can see some seeds of technique in this quick sketch that you may wish to incorporate into your own work. Watch this video for a brief overview of the project.
My brief was to produce a concept sketch of a Mech. I didn’t need the entire body designed, so I just focused on a mood image in a storyboard style. Typically, I would start out with a series of smaller iterative sketches to finesse the design and composition, however, because I was working on a short deadline I jumped straight onto the final image. Sometimes this can be liberating as it can stop you from being too tight by overworking the idea, but it can feel like jumping out of a plane hoping the parachute is going to open. So, here are my steps for this image.
Step 1: Initial Set Up
My first step was to do an underlay sketch using a Copic Draft Blue Pencil to come up with the composition and the design.
The trick, I think, is to draw the extent of the image first by drawing the space that the final image will occupy. In this case, a portrait format rectangle. Next, I drew the line that defined the rough axis of the figure. This line is set slightly to a diagonal to convey a subtle dynamic feel to the figure and to stop the composition from looking too rigid and stiff. Also, to exploit the rule of thirds, the axis has been offset to the right in the final image.
Step 2: From big to small
Next, I work on the big issues and then on to the small issues. The focus of the final image is the Mech. Most things using an additive and subtractive form approach can be broken down into simple primitive solids then finessed from there. In this case, a cylinder for the head distorted into an ellipsoid, and for the chest a sphere…. A big old ball. If you can build your skill and confidence drawing those simple things in all manner of positions, you can quickly draw nearly anything.
The image in the back of my head was a low-level viewpoint, a perspective would make the figure look more dramatic. Hence, I chose a horizon line low on the page. Looking up at the Mech from below increases its sense of scale, as the view of Darth Vader in the cockpit of his starfighter in the first Star Wars movie.
A big old ball. If you can build your skill and confidence drawing those simple things in all manner of positions, you can quickly draw nearly anything.
The next bold lines in the image are the two curves that define the edges if the cockpit. Balanced curves use as a counter balance to the straight lines in the composition.
Once you have all these key elements in place, it’s a matter of building out the detail on this foundation. You have done the hard yards at this point. Dials, leads, gauges, arms, shoulder plates are hung on the underlying perspective and “fleshed out” on the fly to develop the design idea. "Tin can Tech" you might say. The great thing about working initially with the Draft Blue pencil is you can progressively model the image from a foundation and get everything looking right before proceeding ink.
I made the sketch on standard Copic sketch paper. As a hot-pressed paper, it has a fine tooth to the page which holds the ink line well with no feathering and works well with Copic markers.
Step 3: Inking in
The next stage typically is to proceed to ink. In this case, I used black Copic Mulitliners to build contrast into the image. I generally work with about four different pen sizes to create a hierarchy of lines. I vary the line thickness to emphasize planes, forms, and silhouettes to suit.
The 0.3 Mulitliner is the workhorse pen which I used for all the clear design lines on the image -- the physical aspects of the design. Also the 0.5 and 0.7 Multiliners were used for the profile lines on the drawing to define and enhance key silhouettes and to help suggest the foreground aspects of the composition. Lastly, the 0.1 Multiliner was used for the background, fine detail, and contour lines. Contours line are great as they subtly convey the surface properties of an object, suggesting curvature, texture, and reflection.
While I don’t muck up drawings that often these days (that should say I’m just getting better at hiding my mistakes), I have developed some habits over the years from a lifetime of failing my way to success.
Firstly, I deal with the big problems first. If I’m going to muck up an image, I’d rather do it at the beginning than the end.
Secondly, I tend to work on multiple areas when I’m inking in. That could either be because I am trying to build up the detail, contrast, and quality of the image in a consistent fashion, or because I have the attention span of a Goldfish. Either way, don’t overthink it at your end, keep experimenting, always, but ultimately adapt to do what feels right for you.
Also in contrast to some Industrial Design style illustrators, I do enjoy the ink hatching on my images. It reinforces the sketchy conceptual style of my work, it allows me to progressively build up some of the tonal values in certain areas, and it also gives my images a slightly more individual style that I think is cool.
Step 4: Marker Rendering
In this case, the marker rendering stage was relatively easy, as the Inking in did most of the work. A simple question to ask yourself is where the light source comes from. The light in this image was streaming in through the cockpit from the upper left. Once I have made this decision, I work out the basic values in the picture by categorizing the surfaces as either lit faces, mid-tones, shadows, and deep shadows.
As I wanted a cool metallic finish on the Mech, I choose Copic Cool Greys as my primary palette. ( Colors C0,C2,C4,C6,C8,C10.) I kept the lit side of objects the white color of the page and progressively built up my tonal values working from light to dark on the image, saving my darkest tones for the interior of the cockpit. This combination gave the image a good tonal range and hence plenty of contrast to make the Mech pop.
To ensure the head of the Mech looked reflective, I made a point to ensure there were sharp transitions between the lit and shaded side of the image to give a sense of reflection on the surface of the head.
The next item to render was the sky as a graded wash going from dark to lit. With the darkest and most saturated color at the top, and lit tones low down in the sky, as well as a sense of fluffy cloud forms. ( I used B00, B12,B14.) If you are just beginning doing clouds its handy to have a photo reference for visual inspiration, but for a quick concept sketch once you gain some confidence it’s a technique to simply layer in the various colors and loosely suggest cloud forms.
I also made sure to suggest some of the same softer blue colors on the reflective surfaces of the Mech on the lit surfaces, as well as over washing some of the Cool Greys with Blue Violets ( Colors BV20, BV23, BV25.) on the shaded side to freshen the image on the shaded surfaces.
Lastly, I added some reflective highlights on the lit side of the image to suggest the reflection of sunlight in the image using Copic White and a number 3 round brush.
Step 4: Post work in Photoshop
As a designer, it’s important to have a balance of analog skills and digital skills. That way you use the best tools for a given job at each stage of your design process. In this case, I wanted to shift the blue skies of a happy Earth to a malevolent alien world. Photoshop makes this job a lot easier using the current marker image.
Scan the rendering at 300 dpi, a quick color balance to adjust the hue from cool blue to alien red, plus a curves adjustment to push up the contrast in the shadows and voila! Your Mech has quickly changed planets.
Pro tip: Revisit old works
Lastly, it can be useful to revisit images to explore new variations on the same idea. In this case, I decided to do a second study of the same Mech image using Brown Mulitliners and E31, E34 Copic Sketch Markers to give the presentation a more aged sepia effect. It can be interesting to see how dramatically an image can change be experimenting with the rendering style.
I hope this blog was of interest and I look forward to posting here again real soon.