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Back to the drawing board

Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Fri, 22 Feb 2008
Subject: Magnetic Billiards: Seriously Casual

Ste Pickford

I made a new year's resolution this year to do some drawing every day.

I used to have a great drawing board when I was a kid, which I got for my birthday when I was about 10 or 11. It was just a piece of ply-board, about A1 size, that could rest on the arms of one of the armchairs in our living room, leaving space for me to squeeze my legs underneath and sit drawing while watching telly.

I spent most of my free time between the ages of 11 and 15 sat underneath that board, drawing comic strips, with only the occasional evening off playing Penetrator on John's Spectrum (when he wasn't hogging it), or drawing loading screens with the pixel editor he'd written. I still have some of the drawings and comic pages I did around that time (although sadly I no longer have the rejection letters from Viz comic and The Mighty Tharg), and when I look through them I can often remember exactly what was on TV at the time. I was so slow that looking at a single panel sometimes brings back memories of three or four movies and a whole TV series!

The drawing board was great because with all my pens and paper and ink piled on top it was difficult for me to climb out from underneath, so I didn't have to get up and make a round of tea quite as often as everyone else in the family.

When I started work at 16 making games my drawing started to tail off. This was partly due to my enthusiasm for my job, and partly because my free time was increasingly being spent in the pub. I had a brief, frenzied period in the late 80s / early 90s when a friend and I made a comic fanzine together, for which I produced an incredible amount of work (about 8 pages every fortnight at one point), but it's probably fair to say that my work suffered a bit as a consequence. Since then I've hardly drawn at all, unless a new game design or concept doc required it.

I did a few bits of drawing on paper for Naked War (some little three panel comic strips giving tips and expert advice), and as well as enjoying it immensely, I realised just how rusty I was. I didn't even have an ink pen of any kind in the house when I came to start on the Naked War drawings!

John and I have done a bit of game design consultancy work since Naked War, and those jobs involved a lot of concept sketches and layouts which I really enjoyed doing, but otherwise almost all my 'art' time is spent on the computer, either in a paint package or a 3D modelling package. I've got a Wacom pad, so I'm not just clicking the mouse buttons, but creating video game graphics is totally different to drawing pictures.

Video game art is all about understanding, working around and working within technical restraints. Even painting textures for 3D models is mostly planning - dividing up bitmaps, lining up UVs - and only about 10% actual painting with the Wacom pen. John's always trying to push me to get more hand-drawn looking stuff into the games somehow, but unless you set out to make a game which is completely based on hand-drawn graphics, or a particular artist's drawing style, it's really difficult to keep any hand-drawn looseness or technique in video game graphics. The process of constant revision, tweaking, and shifting technical requirements mean that the kind of spontaneous expression you get in a drawing will be worn away, smoothed over, or revised out of existence in a video game graphic. Or, at least, it will be using the kind of 'design as we go along' process John and I have settled on for creating original games.

So, I've decided that I wanted to get back into drawing for fun, and made my new year's resolution accordingly. I've not kept it up, but I'm doing a lot more drawing than I used to, and I can feel myself improving from week to week. I'd probably be really good by now if I'd kept it up since being a kid!

I no longer have the drawing board. I don't have an armchair to rest it on, and I doubt I'd fit under it any more.

I'll post the odd thing here on the blog, if I'm happy with it, to give me some motivation to keep drawing in the evenings, rather than lazing in front of the telly.

For starters, here's something I drew a couple of weeks back. It's drawing of 'Old Man Pickford', for the design doc for the game we're currently working on. The design doc didn't really need any such drawing, but I spent an enjoyable evening working on it. Colouring in scanned drawings in Photoshop is such good fun.

As usual, the drawing lost something in the inking stage. The pencil sketch had much more life and energy. I want to learn to capture this in ink somehow:


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