Sea creature concept art tutorial

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So you decided to draw a sea creature, huh?

Well, I hope that this tutorial has some pieces of information that might help you in that endeavour.

I'll walk you through the process of painting a deep sea creature like an anglerfish and show various techniques that might be helpful for this task (and obviously also for other tasks!).

I work under the assumption that at this point you have already come up with an idea of what to draw. Anyway, let's get started!

The front view

For this tutorial I've decided to draw an anglerfish-like creature. For this I opened up several pictures of the subject matter on my second monitor for inspiration and reference - but even with the subject of the picture decided upon, the question remains: Where does one start?

A good place to start when creating concept art is with a front facing view.

When creating this front view, we can already make use of the first awesome feature of Clip Studio: the symmetrical ruler!

First select the ruler tool, then select the symmetrical ruler.
Then click on your canvas, hold the shift button pressed and move your mouse downwards and press again.

Now everything you draw will be mirrored on this 90°axis you just added in with the ruler - this makes drawing really easy!

Let's start with a very basic shape for our anglerfish. A body, several fins, a large mouth, and (to make it more monster-like) eight eyes.

Next up keep detailing the fish - this might look like a 'draw the rest of the damn owl' step, but it's really not. The mirroring makes sure that even shaky lines look like they belong in the picture, and because it's a creature, small mistakes aren't too noticable.
Also if you aren't sure what to add, remember to take a look at reference images. Sadly I don't own the copyright to any photos of anglerfish, otherwise I would've added some into the tutorial.

Once we're happy with the sketch of our fish, we can right-click on the small ruler icon on the layer we're currently working on and delete the ruler - we won't be needing it anymore.

The side view

For concept art it's good to show the object (in this case the creature) from multiple angles.
Here we'll try to show the side view of this fish.

Select the ruler from the toolbox and choose the linear ruler. Add rulers at several landmarks of the creature, which would be visible when looking at the creature from the side.

By keeping the landmakrs on the same height as the lines it becomes rather easy to draw the side view of the creature.

As I drew this I ran into the problem of not having enough space on my canvas.

No problem though - with Edit > Change Canvas Size... it's still possible to give myself more room.

After that I just completed the side view sketch.
If you have a hard time imagining your creature from the side, look up more reference pictures. Are there similarly shaped creatures? What do those look like from the side?

This might also be a good point to do some layer management.
Create a layer folder for both the front and the side view and give appropriate names to the layers.
It's always a good idea to keep things organized in the layer palette.

Also create a new empty layer for our next step: the coloring.


Obviously we don't want to keep things to just a sketch, we want to give the thing some color as well! Here's where another awesome feature of Clip Studio comes into play: The 'close and fill' mode of the paintbucket!

We'll start by selecting the layer with our sketch on it and then clicking on the small icon of a lighthouse.
This will set this layer as a reference layer and basically tell other tools to make use of the lines on this layer when filling in color.

A lighthouse should now be visible on the sketch layer in the layer tab.
Let's now select the empty 'base color' layer we created previously (just below the sketch layer) and open up the fill tool from the toolbox.
Then select the 'Close and fill' subtool, and choose 'Reference layer' in the 'multiple referring' section.

For the color it's suggested to use a color that's neither too bright nor too saturated. Something in the middle of the color selection will do just fine.
I chose a dull red as base color, but you're obviously free to use any hue you want.

With the fill tool still selected, draw a selection around the lines you want to fill with color.

Oops, that doesn't look right!
The problem was the following: Because we weren't particularly careful with our sketch, there are a lot of holes in our lineart, and Clip Studio now has to guess how to close these holes before filling in color (hence the name 'close and fill').
Because I'm working on a rather high resolution though, the gaps were too big for the default settings of this tool, and it made some incorrect guesses as a result.

But not to worry! We'll just undo the last step (ctrl+z), and click on the small arrow next to the 'close gap' setting. We're now able to enter a number - this number describes how many pixels apart the tool will look for other lines it could connect to when trying to close gaps.

At the resolution I'm working at, we're gonna need a rather big number.

That's a lot better. There are some artifacts and areas that weren't filled in, but it's still a lot faster than coloring the whole thing by hand!

Let's repeat that for the front view.

Now we're gonna erase these artifacts to get a nice and clean silhouette.

The easiest and probably most obvious way is to just use the eraser tool to get rid of the offending areas - with the eraser selected, just paint over them.

But in some areas we might want to paint in areas that were missed, while also remove areas that were filled in even when they shouldn't have been.

Let's select the pen tool and paint in the missing area first.

Now rather than changing back to the eraser tool, we also have the option to set the color of our pen to transparent - effectively turning it into an eraser! The benefit of this approach is that we can use any brush tip we want, instead of just a normal round eraser. In this case though the main benefit is that it's faster than having to switch back and forth between tools.

Another option is the use of a layer mask. Click on the 'create layer mask' icon in the layer palette to add a layer mask to the currently selected layer.

With the layer mask selected, select the eraser and paint over any areas that you want to remove.
By right-clicking on the layer mask in the layer palette we can enable the mask, turning all the areas we selected transparent.

The benefit of this approach is that it's non-destructive. If we make a mistake or choose to not delete something down the line, we can always undo anything we changed, as the information isn't actually deleted, just hidden.

In our case however we aren't working with any detailed drawing yet, so the layer mask approach is kinda overkill. Let's just disable 'show mask area' and 'apply mask to layer' to permanently erase the artifacts.

After a bit of manual work, the base color layer for both front and side view are done. Now we can move to the next step: Shading!


So far the drawing looks rather flat - let's change that and give the creature some form - by adding light and shadows (also commonly referred to as 'shading'). We'll also use this to distract from the fact that the front view of our creature is perfectly symmetrical.

We start by creating a new empty layer above the base color layer, but below the sketch layer.
We then click on the 'clip at layer below' icon in the layer palette to turn this layer into a clipping mask.

A clipping mask ensures that our current layer uses the same transparency as the layer below - meaning that we no longer have to worry about accidentally drawing outside the lines. Everything we draw from now on will stay within the shape of the fish.

We'll start with some shadows. It's recommended to use a color that is neither too dark nor too bright, and definitely not too saturated. A completely desaturated color (grey) does also work, but I like to introduce some complementary color into the shadows.

In the color palette we now set the blending mode of our layer to 'multiply' - anything we draw now will make the colours below it darker.

It's a good idea to think of a direction where the light might be coming from and then drawing in the shadows accordingly. Adding in a small arrow to signify the direction the light is taking on an extra layer can help, but is not necessary.

Repeat this for the side view as well. The two views do not have to share the same light source - the most important aspect of concept art here is to visualize the object/creature, so choosing an light direction for each view to highlight the form of the creature is advisable.

Adding scales

Next we're gonna want to give our creature some texture - for fish the choice is rather obvious, as fish have scales. The problem is that drawing thousands of scales would be rather monotonous (and time consuming) - but maybe there's a better way.

Here's where the third awesome tool in Clip Studio comes into play!

We're gonna create a custom brush to help us quickly draw scales!

Let's create another canvas (don't close the one with the fish on it - this might also be a good time to save your work if you haven't so far!).

I choose a size of 1000 by 500 pixel. A bigger canvas really isn't needed (in my case it was even too big)

We want to create a brushtip that loops around from one side to the other, so that we can easily repeat it.

Let's start with the shape of a scale. Once we have the shape, we can click on the 'lock transparent pixel' icon (a small locket with a checkern pattern next to it) in the layer palette. This prevents us from changing the shape of the scale.

Next we add some details to the scale.
(Again: if you aren't sure what a scale looks like you can always look at pictures of fish, snakes or other scaly skin to get an idea).

Draw some more.
(Copy-pasting the first scale multiple times might also work, but I prefer to have some variety to prevent the brush from looking too uniform).

Now use the Marquee tool to make a rectangular selection of one of the scales, so that half of the scale is selected.

Cut and paste this half of the scale, and move it to the other end of the scales.

Copy and paste the scales and move them below the other scales at a small offset, like this.

Now either use the Crop tool (in this picture greyed out), or Edit > Change Canvas size... to resize the canvas to the area which we want to be our brush tip.

The top and bottom aren't as important, the most important thing is that the image is cut off pixel-perfect on both the left and right side, to ensure that there are no breaks in the repeating pattern we're trying to create.

Disable the background paper to have a transparent background, select all scale layers, right-click on any one of them and 'Combine selected layer'.

Then go to Edit > Register Material > Image...

Enter a name for the material (scales seems appropriate), enable the checkbox 'use for brush tip shape' and choose a location to save the material.

Switch back to the canvas with our fish drawings.

Select the Decoration tool from the toolbox (Warning! Might not always have the icon of a hat! It's the icon between the airbrush tool and eraser tool), select one of the sub tools (I chose gold chain), and click on 'Create copy of currently selected sub tool'.

Give this new sub tool a name and icon and press OK.

With the new sub tool selected, click on the small wrench icon in the lower right corner of Tool property (show [sub tool detail palette]...).
In the window that opens select 'Brush tip' and click on the small arrow next to the chain image (or whatever image is in its place if you've chosen a different sub tool to modify).
Another window opens - here you have to navigate to the scales you previously saved. If you used the same settings as I did, they will be under image material (you'll have to scroll a bit - the image are sorted alphabetically).
Select the image and press OK.

The sub tool should now look like this - which is obviously not correct.
You'll need to change the Direction to 90 degrees.

Ah, that looks better.
Now click on 'Register all settings to initial settings' and press 'OK' in the window that pops up.

We now have a brush that draws scales! You'll still need to manually follow the contours of your creature, but this is still hundreds of times faster than drawing the individual scales.

After a short while you'll have covered the creature in scales.
(I didn't mention this before, but please create a layer of its own for just the scales).

The cool thing is that we don't need to leave the scales in the normal blending mode - in my example setting the blending mode to darker will make the scales look less like scales than spikes!

Let's also paint some scales on the side view

We can also push the scales a bit further. The 'darker' blending mode looks cool, but there's a reason we did draw some color and reflections on the scales.
Let's duplicate the scales layer by right clicking on it and selecting 'duplicate layer'.

Now right-click on the layer we used for drawing in our shadows and click on 'Selection from layer' > 'Create selection'

Next 'Selection' > 'Invert selected area'. We've now selected all areas of the fish which are in the light!

With the selection still active, we select the duplicated scales layer and click on the 'create layer mask' icon in the layer palette.

Now we change the blending mode of this duplicated layer to 'lighten' - and suddenly the colorful detail of our scales show up in the areas where the light hits the fish.

Let's repeat this for the side view and we're almost done!

Final touches

The final touches are basically just more of the same. Darken some more layers, brighten up others. Paint over the image where appropriate and add in a simple blue-to-black gradient as a background.

And with that we're finished with our deep sea creature!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and learned some things from it.
Happy painting!


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