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Trapper Zoid

How to gain skill and speed as an artist?

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As part of my game development hobby, I'm trying to become adequately skilled in all areas of game development. I'm reasonably confident in my ability to design, program, write and compose music, but I'm not that sure about my art skills. Since games these days need a large amount of art assets, I'm unsure that I can ever get skilled enough for own work. My present strategy is to practice my pencil drawing skills, and to teach myself how to use computer art software. However, I seem to be only proficient in drawing in a cute cartoon style, which I hope is sufficient for my needs. I'm also a bit worried that I mightn't be up to speed; it takes a while for me to struggle with the GIMP to get anything done, and that means I'll have to budget a huge slab of time to do the art assets for my game. Since I know a lot of you are skilled artists, can you share with me some tips of how you can quickly and efficiently draw art with the computer, so when I get to the art stage of my project I will be up to speed?
Here's an example of something I did yesterday, to show you the style of art I tend to do. I'd be happy for any specific advice regarding this picture as well. Image hosted by TinyPic.com

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I'd have to say the single biggest improvement to my art asset creation speed came from getting a graphics tablet.

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That was a quick reply!

I've actually got a graphics tablet; that picture was my first test of how to use it. I've only got the smallest, cheapest, dinky little thing that's most suitable for photo editing, though (it's the easiest one to get your hands on, and about half the price of the next size up, so I thought that would be best as a "starter" tablet).

I've been thinking about getting a cheap scanner however. I find it much easier to draw with pencil on paper than with that stylus; it's just so big and chunky. It's possibly because my pencil grip is slightly fist-like that I don't like fat pens for fine drawing work (I'm a lefty, and so I tend to grip my pencils in a fist-like grip. I can't seem to break that behaviour now).

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Personally I find that the techniques I use for pencil drawing don't mesh well with computer art. I can get the picture to look how I want on the paper, but trying to ink it or color it after scanning always just looks horrid. That's just me, your milage may vary.

But since you already have a graphics tablet, and you are having trouble with Gimp, you may want to try some of the art programs available. I personally use Painter and Alias Sketchbook Pro to augment my work in Gimp. Both those products have free trials, and you might find you like one enough to shell out the money for it. Since you have a graphics tablet, you probably got some free software with it, and Painter at least may recognize some of those packages as valid upgrade targets.

I personally really like the feel of Sketchbook Pro for doing quick art and Painter for doing fine details, then I composite things or do manipulations in Gimp. Though that's for "art" projects and not game asset creation. My latest project has been mostly in Inkscape as I'm working on cartoon style renders that work well with SVG.

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I've had a look at Inkscape, since I tend to make cartoon stuff myself. I quite like the program; unlike the GIMP it's got a much better interface. However I wasn't very good at making anything except the simplest of cartoon creatures; maybe I was mapping my pencil drawing techniques into an incompatible domain? What process do you use to make your art using Inkscape?

I'll have a look at Painter and Alias Sketchbook Pro to see if they're more compatible with my style. I think I have a stripped down version of Painter with my tablet, although that seems to be geared to more paint style work than inked pen cartoons.

Actually, I do remember using a demo of Paint Shop Pro a few years back to do some reasonable artwork; is that any good?

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In Inkscape I mostly lay down circles and ellipses and then use the boolean operations to cut out or merge chunks together. This is done on top of a bitmap image that I freehand in Sketchbook. Or sometimes when working on different frames on the same animation I can just manipulate the control points manually. That can be pretty hit or miss though.

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I didn't try having a temporary underlay rough sketch of my character when trying to use Inkscape; I did with the character I've included in the first post and I think it helped quite a bit. Maybe I'll try doing that and see if it makes a difference. Wouldn't you tend to get blobby spheroid type characters just by using the boolean operators? Of course, that might be just what you want (I've got a series of penciled cartoon characters that are based on ovals that look pretty good). (Thanks for all your advice! You've been really helpful.)

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Yeah, blobby spheroid characters are what I want right now. The game is "The Incredible Edible Cow." It's a children's game about a cow that wants to get eaten. A realistic looking cow getting fed into a meat grinder might be traumatic for young children, whereas a blobby cartoon cow is probably fine. There's a picture of her in my journal if you want to see what she looks like.

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That's a good children's book style cow there, SiCrane. I should probably have a closer look at Inkscape, as it will make animation a bit easier if I could do the first batch of my artwork with SVG. Although I'm also thinking about using pixel art, so I might have to use the old traditional methods as well.

However, I'm not sure how well the horrors of the slaughterhouse will go over with children even with a cute cartoon cow. Is it a parody? Or are you trying to convert more children to vegetarianism (fine my me! [grin]). I suppose it can't be as bad as that children's book by Chopper Read...

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Addendum to this thread: I've tried a few of the demos of the commercial packages (although somehow I managed to invalidate the free trial of Alias Sketchbook Pro so it went straight to the limited version), but I don't think I can justify spending the sort of money those commercial product are wanting. I think I'll stick to the free editors, such as the GIMP and Inkscape, and spend my time in mastering their interfaces.

By the way, does anyone use a graphing tablet under Linux? I can't seem to get my Wacom Graphire tablet drivers to work seemlessly in SuSE, forcing me to use Windows for my artwork.

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