In the list of habits I seem to have dropped over the years, sketching and drawing is fairly high up. Considering the sheer amount of tabletop gaming I do, you’d think that I’d be more inclined to stretch my creative legs, produce some maps, sketch characters and monsters, so on and so forth, but like many hobbies it has fallen a little by the wayside as life has encroached upon my time.
Sitting in front of a blank page is daunting, especially when words come so much more readily than pictures. Much like everyone else, when there’s no paper in front of me there’s no end of images we want to bring to life, but the moment the pencil is in hand they all seem to vanish. Now there are two easy options to help resolve this common problem:
Always have paper – Easy enough, surely? Little sketchbooks are easy to come by, even for tiny pockets, as are tiny pencils, and even in the workplace there’s often a ready supply of paper, even post-its will do. Whenever inspirations strikes (as it so often does at those highly inconvenient moments you’re already prepared to start doodling.
Just draw – Harder option. Draw something even when you lack inspiration, draw things you don’t want to draw necessarily, just put pencil to paper and start moving. Momentum will eventually take over and you’ll find yourself drawing more and more over time, and things that you actually want to do.
As for finding those things that you want to draw, you’ll find nothing sitting blankly before that blank sheet. Read, play games, watch films, trawl Deviant Art or steal ideas, mash them together. Original ideas come out of nowhere in a very literal sense, practically every idea you’ll ever have when you pick it apart for long enough will be very similar to this thing or some combination of those so draw without shame. So many of us have drawn a few pokémon in the past, maybe draw some more, we’re not exactly running out.
Adobe’s seminal picture manipulation software is practically an essential life skill these days, that or GIMP. It’s an expensive piece of software if you leap straight in with the full version but there are ways and means of getting older versions for free that are entirely legal. But even for someone who enjoys randomly pressing buttons to see what they do, trial and error can only take you so far. Courses teaching you how to use it exist for a reason.
Mercifully this is the age of the internet, and any specific task you want to accomplish almost certainly has a video with someone who knows better telling you how to make it happen. What’s most important when watching these things is not to be put off by how much better their work looks than yours, practice will eventually make perfect and you haven’t practised nearly as much as they have.
Taking different approaches to learning photoshop might help too. I for one struggle drawing basic shapes with a mouse but fair better by hand, so I’ve taken to sketching elements of an image, shrinking them, applying them to the larger image and then using the far more useful colouring options in photoshop to finish the job, because I have no idea how to use inks.
These are but the shambolically assembled thoughts of one who has barely begun a journey that may very well take years of productive time-wasting. Here are some fantastically useful videos from people who know better:
Mary Doodles is a YouTube artist who only recently started doing the occasional advice and tutorial video. I say recently, I caught hold of her first one shortly after she released it, but there are more than a few videos up there. Here’s the first one, and it may very well be the best piece of advice I ever recieved on the subject.
Draw with Jazza is almost entirely tutorials, plus competitions, advice, showcases, yadda yadda yadda, you get the idea. Of all his videos though, possibly the best to watch when you’re only just getting started is how to get over the horror of the blank page, tips that I have unashamedly ripped off a little bit further up.
When I went hunting for advice on how to get started in map drawing for RPs and for generally creating fantasy worlds as a whole I found plenty of YouTube channels that tried to help, but actually I found that the simplest advice came from this guy, Jonathan Roberts, simple step by steps that I found more useful than anyone else’s attempts to educate me.
But what’s important is not to take their advice, or my advice, but find someone whose advice works for you, whatever tips and tricks get you started.
Much of this advice is also applicable to other creative things! Can’t write a book? Write an idea, write a scene, write a monologue, it doesn’t even have to be a good one. Take this article for example, do you think I’m happy with it? Don’t you think I’d rather be writing the random books that you find in Elder Scrolls games and making absurd amounts of money for it? Get whatever is in your head out onto paper and make it real, and eventually you’ll be happy enough with it to show the rest of the world.
Would you believe that a few months ago I though I was running out of ideas for these? Now I have a surplus, plans for a podcast, a book, and a brief hiatus coming in February. Not to worry dear reader. Be sure to make use of a few handy links in this week’s article!
In DMing 101 I’ll be giving generalized advice on how to run a tabletop role-playing game. The articles will not presume any knowledge, except being able to read. And maybe knowing what dice are. And paper. And a computer. Maybe some other stuff. I’ll also presume that you can remember that DM means Dungeon Master. Some people call it a Game Master or GM, but I don’t. Suck it up.
There are a few quick start guides on how to DM out there, but DMing 101 will offer a fairly easy set of tips that a novice can follow to make his/her games something truly memorable.