Pencil Drawing Digital Workflow


My Papermate Sharpwriter and Moleskine Notebook are irreplaceable, go-to tools. I’ve tried alternatives in tablets, apps, and various Wacom products many times, but I keep coming back to this graphite-on-paper solution. Here is my typical sketching workflow. It uses a couple of quick PhotoShop tricks that make simple sketches look like they require actual skill to create.

Sketch-Book-at-Jupiter-big1. Draw something.
A line sketch with no shading works well with this technique. I like to keep this kind of explanatory drawing simple and quick. I usually do a rough line sketch, erase most of it, then use what’s left to trace over the final darker lines. We will create the cool shading in step 6, but feel free to experiment with your own levels of detail and amount of shading.

2. Shoot a picture.
Scanners are great for digitizing drawings, but I seldom carry my Epson flatbed in my pocket. However I always have my iPhone nearby. Find some relatively even lighting and a steady surface for the paper (hand holding the drawing and the camera leads to blurry photos) and snap a couple of pics.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.55.10 PM3. Drag the pic from iPhoto to PhotoShop.
Thanks to Photo Stream, the pic I just took on my phone usually pops right up in iPhoto my MacBook Air. I say usually because sometimes Photo Stream can take seconds, sometimes minutes, and sometimes forever. Too bad there is no way to tell Photo Stream to refresh manually. If it’s not there, you just have to wait. Alternatively, you can use an app like Dropbox or PhotoSync for more control over what happens when.

4. Crop, …
Don’t try to crop something like this in the camera. It limits choices later. Since you are going into PhotoShop anyway, us the Crop tool for framing.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.56.20 PM5. …adjust, …
I use Adjust Curves (Image/Adjustments/Curves) to make up for lack of proper photo lighting. Grab the top node and drag it left to accentuate the contrast. Then dip the curve down to better distribute the light and dark tones. This makes a light pencil drawing pop with definition. But don’t overdo it. You want to leave some stray pencil scratches and paper texture for the shading to come.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 4.58.48 PM6. …and shade.
This step gives a simple line drawing some production value by adding a non-pencil look without losing the cool sketchy hand-drawn appeal. Use the Magic Wand tool to select appropriate internal areas of the drawing. Be sure to fully connect the outlines of these spaces at the pencil stage. It makes this part go much faster, If you missed one, the Clone tool can help you extend lines to plug any holes.

Once the areas for shading are selected, use Filter/Blur/Gaussian Blur to blend the line edges, paper texture, and poorly lit picture areas into a cool vignette-like shading. Adjust the blur amount to taste. A lower setting will give the areas a ghostly blur, while a higher blur setting will look more like shading.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 5.03.54 PMPro tip – The selection area can blur the shading out and over the selected area. For a sharper look, copy the selection to a separate layer before applying the blur. Click the little Lock Pixels button in the Layers window. This will lock the transparent areas of that layer. Now when you apply the blur, it will only happen within the interior of your selected area, and prevent that area from bleeding beyond the lines. Colorizing this layer with Image/Adjustments/Hue Saturation can also offer interesting results.

Roling-cabinet-27. Monotone it.
My last step is to suck the saturation out of the drawing with Image/Adjustments/Hue Saturation. Moving the Saturation slider down to -100 drops the image to true black and white. This gives all my drawings a consistent look, eliminating the variations in the lighting of the original photos. At this point, you could tint you picture to a sepia look, or give it whatever effect you like. Obviously skip this step if you Ted Turnered your image in the Pro Tip (there’s a dated reference).

8. Save a jpeg, then write a blog post about it.
The blog post is optional, but I do hope that you find some of this workflow useful. I have tried to keep the process as non-laborious as possible to keep the time investment vs. value in balance for quick sketches. Once you get the hotkeys down, the Photoshop work should take far less than a minute. Making a PhotoShop Action out of the Pro Tip shading steps would make it all go even faster.

As president of Tracy Evans Productions, Inc. for over 18 years Tracy splits his time between being an animator, director, producer, stage magician, graphic designer, art director, programmer, editor, consultant, speaker and writer of third-person autobiographical blurbs.

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