Before I went to art school, I used to start a project by stressing out about it and thinking of how great I wanted it to be. Then I would gather the courage to start drawing and jump right in, sketching without even having a clear idea of what I wanted the drawing to be. Once I realized using references isn't a bad thing, I began all my projects by doing research and found it much easier to ease into a project knowing I had something to start with.
Once you know what your next project will be about, the best place to start is with research. Whether you have a vague or clear idea of what you want the final product to look like, your work can always benefit from a bit of preparation.
Before you begin sketching, make a list (mental or physical) of the resources you’ll need. This may include:
-Objects like clothes, cars, animals, furniture, etc.
-Reference of a specific pose or angle or research of a particular topic (ex. medieval feast, sushi preparation, psychological disorders, etc.)
Style references (explore various possible styles that would fit the project well)
-What’s been done for this type of project before.
As you do your research you’ll find new possibilities and ideas will come to you. Be open to a possible change of direction. Seeing what others have done can often stir your creativity and make your work better for it, so keep an open mind as you do the research. Consider and experiment with any ideas you find interesting. Remember you’re not limited to your original idea.
If your project requires you to draw something you’re not familiar with, take some time to sketch from reference and familiarize yourself with the subject.
Working on my character Luther, who is a saxophonist, was the first time I ever drew a saxophone.
Before I could simplify a saxophone (which is a super intricate-looking instrument!) I familiarized myself with the real thing. I chose a tenor sax for Luther and drew the instrument a couple of times to get a better understanding of its anatomy. I took note of the way a saxophone is held and played so I could be mindful of that once I began simplifying the design.
Finally, I looked at existing stylized drawings of saxophones to see how other artists have simplified its design. I took note of the elements that were generally conserved and which could be eliminated without making it unrecognizable or nonsensical. This process made it easy for me to come to a design I was happy with. It would’ve been impossible for me to get the same result without doing the research.
Remember to look at research as a brainstorming tool. When you find images that inspire you, take what you like from them and apply it to your project. You never want to straight up copy a reference. Instead, really try to identify what it is that you like about the image and consider how you could apply this to your project in a constructive way.
You also have creative license to take or ignore a piece of information you find. It’s up to you to decide whether the information fits or doesn’t fit with your idea. You know how closely you want to stick to reality and how comfortable you are with straying from it.
Research is meant to be a tool, so don’t let research make you feel restricted. Sometimes doing too much research can have that effect on you. If you start feeling overwhelmed, chances are you’ve done enough research and it’s time to move on to the thumbnail sketching stage.
Sometimes the parts of your project that are hard to plan ahead resolve themselves as you experiment with sketching and putting ideas down on paper. So don’t worry if you don’t have it all figured out before you start sketching. Everyone’s process is different and every project is different. The objective is simply to give you something to start with.
I encourage you to start your next project by doing a bit of research first and test out the results. You might be surprised what a difference it makes. Let me know how it goes!