Art Process (as of early 2024)

I've changed my standard process since the last time I wrote about it, although mostly in fairly subtle ways. (Image heavy)

Art Process (as of early 2024)
Part of a panel from an upcoming anthology comic

I've changed my standard process since the last time I wrote about it, although mostly in fairly subtle ways. I'm still primarily using Corel Painter for digital art, but after a brief forray into trying to ditch the lines and go full painting, I realized that the linework stage is actually the one I often enjoy the most, so I've focused on that more again.

I start with an idea, but I have no good way of explaining that part of the process: it just happens. There's a thing I want to draw, and I see it in my head, so I set about trying to make it. Sometimes I try thumbnailing for a big project, but mostly I jump straight into the sketch.


I gather any reference I'm going to use before I get into the sketch. What exactly this is depends on the drawing in question; most commonly it consists of character reference (previous drawings, screenshots, stock image of someone who looks similar in a key way), expression reference, and armor/clothing reference. I usually keep it open on the right side of my monitor and shrink my Painter window so I can see it, but sometimes I also put it on a mostly transparent layer in the image. The second is usually so check proportions, or if I run out of room on the side of my monitor (which is not huge).

Referencing a screenshot of my Elder Scrolls Online character, Anryn Sarethi; it's been a while, but given when I took this shot, I was probably trying to get the colors right on the Dark Brotherhood armor right at this time, and I would've had a difference reference shot for their face.
The sketch is already finished for this drawing of Eko Okano (a character from a short story I've written who appears in the novels I'm working on), but the stock image there was my main reference. I also believe I referenced some pictures of rats on people's shoulders, and maybe a lizard, but this was a few years ago now.
This one of Zemariel Tabris (my first Dragon Age: Origins character) actually probably shows what the reference looks like while I'm working the best. There's a stock image for the pose, and then a screenshot compilation of the character which also serves as an armor reference in this case.

On the relatively rare occasions when I do a detailed background I also gather reference for that, but I don't have any screenshots which show such a case. For landscape reference I'll prioritize referencing my own photographs, but if I don't have something that works, I'll again look at free stock images.

The Sketch

My sketches tend to be fairly detailed, and they're often the stage where I'm happiest with where I'm going. I think this is because I spent so many years effectively just sketching, so I'm more comfortable with that than the rest of the process.

A few samples:

This is from early last year, the sketch for my drawing of Raven O'Malley (my character in a Changeling: the Lost game). There's most information where I feel like I'll need it later, like in their wings and feathery hair, than where I more or less know what I'm doing anyway.
This sketch for a recent drawing of Vethryn (one of my Baldur's Gate 3 characters) is one of the more detailed sort. I wanted to be sure what I was doing with his armor as well as with the memory snapshots appearing in the blood.
By contrast, this sketch of Ithenrael (my first Baldur's Gate trilogy character) is of the less detailed sort and ended up not having enough information. I changed quite a few things from this point, including his hair, his robe, and the general aspect of the wave of blood. I also decided the symbol of Bhaal faintly in the background just didn't work, which is something I would have known if I'd worked this sketch more.
This one (also Vethryn) is about the right amount of detail, I feel; I knew exactly where I was going when I got into the linework, but I didn't get so detailed with the sketch that I almost wished I could just keep parts of it.
This sketch for a still-in-progress drawing of Saryan (a character from the novels I'm writing at the moment) has about the right amount of detail around xir face and hands, but I definitely should have nailed down more things about the armored suit at this stage.

The first sample also shows what my work space is like in Painter. I zoomed out to take that screenshot, but I usually work zoomed moderately far out at the sketch stage, whereas I zoom in quite a bit more after that.


I find working on lines to be pleasant and calming, and this is also where things start to come together, so it's usually my favorite stage of the process. I try not to overdo it, though, or I find I have to erase some things when I get to the final rendering stages.

I usually start with faces. I'm not sure why; probably it's because almost everything I draw is character focused, and so getting the character looking right is my first priority. But if the face is working, I can feel good about maybe taking a bit longer figuring other things out.

From the drawing of Raven, this is after the first session working on lines. I was working on this just after recovering from surgery so I was going a little slower than I usually do, but it's indicative of the process. (I also took more screenshots than usual, so that's why I'm using this one.)

I normally work at round 150% zoom at this stage. I try not to go in too far and get lost in little details that aren't going to be visible in the finished image, which is a risk for me with digital art, so I set myself a rule that I don't zoom in further than 150% unless I need to. So far I haven't needed to.

This drawing of Vethryn went much faster, this screenshot also being after the first session working on the lines. There are a few reasons for that: his hair is white, not black and feathery, so there are less lines in there, and there wasn't anything physically slowing me down. But I often end up with face + head + outlines of the next thing to work on after the first line session.

This is also where I end up changing things, if that happens. Sometimes (rarely) I have to redo the sketch at this point, but more commonly I just treat the sketch as more of a loose guide when I'm making alterations.

Lines most of the way finished for the drawing of Ithenrael from above. I changed a lot, but there wasn't anything I had to change the sketch for, so it was all done in the line stage.

Some more examples from various points in the process:

From a recent drawing of Yezka'al (one of my Baldur's Gate 3 characters), in the middle of working on their hair. I worked on this in a somewhat unusual way due to the half-and-half nature of the composition, but this screenshot is at more of a zoom than I usually take them.
From the drawing of Saryan, this one shows how I outlined the suit and then started working on it in detail piece by piece.
Finished lines for this one of Vethryn, which also shows that I sometimes use a different color for background elements (in this case red, because the background elements are blood).

I always finish this stage completely before I go on to color, although there have been times where I have to go back and make edits - usually erasing bits of shading that end up getting in the way, or lines that I find I didn't need after all.

Basic color

I like to get all of the color down in a general way before I go into any sort of shading or highlighting or nuance. I have the canvas background fairly light while I'm working on the first two stages so I can see the lines clearly, and sometimes that does mean I also need to adjust the linework a bit darker (although usually not).

This one of Vethryn is at a fairly typical point I leave it at for basic colors: background (a gradient here) in, the main color of everything filled in, and a maybe a detail or two completed (his eyes, in this case).
Similarly with the one of Raven, a few details have been done (their eyes, the stripes on their jacket), and in this case I also added some of the wind swirls in the background so I knew where that was going.

Sometimes I get all the color in, start working the next stage, and realize something went wrong with the basic colors. I'm by far the least used to the post linkework part of the process still, so there's more experimenting.

This drawing of Ithenrael is an example of going the wrong way and realizing it. Everything was very... muddily red, I now realized that the faint symbol of Bhaal in the background didn't work, and I decided I just had to start over with the color again.
This is what it looked like after I'd started over. Much cleaner, more separated; it still needed some work, but I felt like I could move foreward from this point.
This one of Vethryn has a slightly more detailed background, and I went ahead and did the basic lighting changes for the sand and blood in the basic colors, because my idea was to not change them much and then just add a few details later (which I pretty much kept to).
This is the current state of the one of Saryan, where again the most detailed thing is the background, because I want to try to balance it later with the details on the character once I've done those.

Once I've got all that hammered out I move on to the details, or I guess the rendering stage. Shading, highlights, all that good stuff.


I've changed what I do in this stage the most, of late, because this is the part of the process I feel that I'm most still learning how to do (I'm still learning how to do the rest of it better, of course, but this is something I didn't do much at all until a few years ago). I again usually start with the face, in this case because that's likely to be the focal point and I want it to be the most detailed.

This drawing of Vethryn is at a typical first rendering session end point: his face and hair is done, as is his hand (I have the blood layer off for now), but I've yet to get to anything else.
Similarly for the one of Ithenrael here; face and hair done, hands done (I usually do all visible skin at once), nothing else.
A bit further on into rendering, in addition to Vethryn's face, skin, and hair, I've also done the leather bits on his armor. I tend to go more by "type of thing" than "section of image".
At this point Ithenrael himself is done, but I haven't started in on the blood ocean or blood wave yet. Another common stopping point.
Similarly, at this point Vethryn is done, but I haven't begun on the background yet. I didn't take a screenshot of that part of the process; unfortunately for this post, I often don't, because it's the last.
I actually worked on the background first in this one of Earilin (one of my MERP characters), so that's a background example. Usually I would have done this last; I don't know why I did it differently here.

I find I typically end up using about three darker/cooler shades for shadows and three lighter/warmer for highlights, but obviously that depends on what the material is and the lighting and all that. I've been leaving most of the details to the linework but trying to reinforce them with color.


For most drawings, the only thing left to be done after coloring is saving, and then creating web versions with my URL and all. But sometimes I decide to do something different, like add in a texture overall; if something like that is happening, it's the final step before saving.

I didn't take any screenshots that show the difference, but this is the final image of Raven, with the texture applied.

I generally use a multiply layer at something like 25% opacity for textures, but sometimes I use a normal layer with a slightly lower opacity as well. It depends on the image and texture in question. (Usually, if I use one, it'll be a paper texture like in the above case.)

And that's it, start to finish.