How painting in black and white can improve your art

Painting in black and white is great, because it makes you concentrate on elements such as composition, value, lighting and form. Of course, colour is a vital step, but the benefit of black and white is that you can focus on the image as a whole.

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Most of the time I opt for a black and white process. Here, I’m going to use the example of a character design, and run through some simple painting techniques you can use to get your black and white designs up to scratch.

I start out with a simple silhouette and then build up to a refined design. This technique also makes creating any variations on the character very simple too, because there’s no need to worry about interfering with any colours you’ve painted.

01. Block out the silhouette

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Keep things rough in these early stages

First things first – I block out the character’s basic silhouette. I always try and keep things fairly rough at this point and avoid going into any detail too soon. Whether your character is a little kid or a hulking great giant, this is the time to focus on their shape and try and emphasise their character. Experiment with silhouettes until you find one you like.

02. Add some values

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Subtle highlights and shadows help define the structure of the body

Once you’ve painted a shape that you’re pretty happy with, it’s time to start adding in some values. When doing this I don’t tend to use any values that are too bright or too dark, I like to keep things subtle while I’m building up the shape. I keep things pretty sketchy and gently add in some subtle shadows and highlights to find the structure of the body.

03. Add some details

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Use a small, soft brush to introduce detail

I’m happy with the shape and structure so it’s time to add in details. This is one of my favourite stages and I could happily detail characters all day long. I start to add in those dark shadows and bright highlights to really bring out the form of the character. I stick with a fairly small soft brush, sketch in and then build up those details, refining as I go.

Remember to try and vary the values you’re choosing. You can use bright white highlights right through to dark greys and black. If you just stick to the middle ground and only use grey it can make things look a little flat.

04. Build and build

How painting in black & white can change your art for the better

Use this process to get rid of any errors in form

Painting in black and white means you can focus on the image as a whole and resolve any glaring issues before you get to the colour stage. From here it’s pretty easy to just keep building up the detail until you’re ready to either go to colour or simply leave it as black and white.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 100.

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48 fish logos that go over swimmingly

Most of the earliest civilizations popped up around fishing grounds. We humans have been fish farming for over 5,000 years. So, it’s not surprising people have been taking inspiration from fish throughout history, from Jonah and the whale to Finding Nemo. (I refuse to acknowledge the sequel.) Some of the oldest known drawings depict fish.…

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Adobe XD's updates make it easier for UX designers to collaborate

The gap between what Adobe XD can do on Windows and Mac continues to shrink thanks to the software’s May update. Bringing the two platforms together is the latest goal of the Adobe XD team, and this release is the first big step in making that happen.

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Headline features include the highly requested Layers panel and the ability to update shared prototypes. There’s lots here for UX designers to get excited about as they’ll be able to collaborate more easily, so let’s get stuck into the main updates.

First up is the Layers panel. You can access it by pressing Ctrl+Y, or alternatively selecting the icon on the lower left-hand-side of the application screen. There’s still no news about being able to drag-and-drop layers to change the Z-order, but Adobe promises this capability isn’t far off.

Next, is the ability to update shared prototypes. In the past users had to create whole new prototypes, but not any more. Simply open the Sharing pop-up dialog, and click Update to share prototypes to the same link you had before. To see your new content, you just need to refresh your screen.

You asked for it, you’ve got it: the Layers panel comes to Windows

Also in the update is a PDF export feature. This builds on the software’s previous capability, which allowed users to export to PNG and SVG. Assets can be selected individually, as an artboard or as a group of artboards. Multiple artboards can be exported as a single PDF.

The copying and pasting function from the File Explorer also gets an update. It’s now easier to import assets, with users able to copy from the File Explorer and paste directly into XD to import the file.

Last on the list is increased language support. Extending to support French and German, it looks like XD for Windows 10 is set to be a whole lot more European-friendly.

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Ready, set, play: 8 great ways to have fun at work

When you sit down in the morning to start yet another day at work, do you have a feeling of curiosity, enthusiasm and playful optimism about the tasks ahead? Or do you feel overwhelmed, anxious or bored? Having fun at work and cultivating a sense of play in the workplace can help us be more…

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How to design for emotional intelligence

Sophie Kleber knows a thing or two about AI. The executive director of global product and innovation at Brooklyn-based digital agency Huge is a pioneer in designing with data. She creates future-forward user experiences, tackling design problems for clients ranging from IKEA and Comcast to Thomson Reuters, and continuously pushing the boundaries of ‘what’s possible’ to transform it into ‘what should be’.

Here, she explains how to design for emotional intelligence, lifting the lid on how empathy is becoming an important design element in artificial intelligence.

How do emotions and machine learning go together?

Sophie Kleber: Machine learning describes the process of a machine being able to learn and adjust its behaviour over time without being programmed. Emotions play a crucial role in human behaviour. Detecting, understanding and responding to emotion is one of the first things humans learn, and maybe the one thing we’ll never master. Emotional or affective computing might just be the puzzle piece that moves machines from being the best calculators to actually being intelligent.

What are the main challenges in getting computers to detect emotions?

SK: First, emotions are complicated. They are hardly ever pure in their expression, and they are often subconscious. Detecting these subconscious emotional currents and accurately categorising them is possible only with a combination of voice interpretation (accent, pitch, contour, tonality and timing of speech all give clues about a person’s emotional state) and the detection of facial micro-expressions. These are expressions that, if not always detectable for a human conversation partner, very strongly hint at how we really feel.

Second, it’s difficult to understand the context of emotions. Many experiments with emotional detection are currently conducted in a lab where the user’s undivided attention guarantees a correlation between trigger and emotional response. In reality, emotions linger or are delayed from the actual trigger, or they swell up unexpectedly from memory. Did I mention emotions were complicated? 

What are your favourite examples of emotion AI or conversational UIs?

Affectiva grew out of MIT’s Media Lab and has developed a way for computers to recognise human emotions based on facial cues or physiological responses

SK: I’m always looking for examples that make the world a bit more like the way I want computers and technology to work. It should work for us, and support us, like Big Hero 6. I like any examples that first and foremost expose emotions, but still enable me be in control and change them if I choose, like the Beyond Verbal technology or Affectiva’s technology. 

I also like machines that monitor emotions to keep people safe, like car systems that detect emotions. A good example of an attempt at personality, which is the next frontier in AI design, is what happens when you ask Alexa to sing you a song.

What have you learned from building your own AI agent, Dakota, at Huge?

Dakota, Huge Inc’s own AI agent, is a bit hipster but highly competent

SK: We built Dakota to make our employees’ lives easier. We have a massive network of knowledge, and we operate with a self-management philosophy, so a chat UI was our attempt to let everyone access information and get assistance through the delivery mechanism most natural to us. 

What we learned, aside from the fact that building true intelligence is hard, is that personality matters. Dakota is a cool, no attitude helper that’s a bit hipster but highly competent.

What are the first steps in designing for emotional intelligence?

SK: We developed a framework for getting started with emotional AI – basically you need to answer two questions before you get started:

1. What is the user’s desire for an emotional interaction? Is it the right time and place, the right interaction and so on?

2. Does your company have permission to play in the emotional space? Can you credibly claim emotional intelligence for the user’s benefit, and what’s the cost of being wrong?

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How to paint curved glass on a space helmet

Spacesuits are fun to paint, but the helmet part can be tricky to get right, especially the glass element because you have to take into account its reflective properties, and the fact that it’s transparent.

So here are a few tips to paint this element. The first thing to know is that you almost don’t need to paint it. This may sound odd, but because it’s transparent all you have to do is to suggest the glass element with subtle hints of light.

The second thing to keep in mind is the shape. It’s like a ball, so the light and colours should be depicted exactly the same as any other round object.

Essentially, I’ll be painting a glass ball here. Glass is a very reflective surface/material, so painting the light is crucial. It’s the basis of  everything: the texture, the volume and shape of the helmet, so have fun and go crazy with your space-faring character!

Download Mélanie’s custom brushes for this tutorial. 

01. Create the shape

Use Mélanie’s custom brushes for your concept sketch

From my concept sketch, I create a round shape with a custom textured brush. I don’t want the glass to have an overly clean look, even if it’s usually a smooth polished surface. I use a neutral violet colour for this base. The glass shape and volume is only suggested by curved brush strokes and the rest of the helmet.

02. Refine your lines

Try to create a clean, curved shape for the helmet

I refine the previous lines, and erase some dark parts inside the helmet leaving more room for my character. I try to create a clean, curved shape. I work the face as normal; I choose to keep the glass uncoloured, but you can quickly achieve coloured glass by adding colour on a low opacity layer on top of the figure’s face.

03. Bring in some light

Near-white curved lines near the edges will suggest reflectivity

To add light I paint some almost white curved lines on the borders of the glass part, where the glass is the most reflective. Adding some coloured hints of the surrounding environment will increase the realism of your helmet. With a very small round brush I add small dots of light on the edges to bring in reflection effects.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 143; buy it here!

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29 circular logos that deserve a round of applause

The circle is a fundamental shape of the natural world, so it makes sense why circular logos have appealed to brands ever since there were (literal) brands. The shape is so clean and recognizable that it becomes a great vehicle for organizing and conveying information, and the lack of any hard angles makes it pleasing to the eye.…

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Sharpen your hard-surface modelling

In this tutorial I’m going to share the techniques and methods I use to create hard-surface models in 3ds Max. 

I am going to create a 3D version of US Space Patrol, a sci-fi drop ship concept, made by designer and illustrator Virnard Magpantay. The main goal of this tutorial is to show you how you can create any hard-surface piece using simple tools in 3ds Max (although some of the techniques can be applied to other modelling software). We’ll also look at how to create a clean and organised model to fit into a production pipeline. 

I hope you find my tricks and tips useful for making your own models. You can download a video walkthrough of the entire process here, and the files you’ll need are here.

01. Evaluate and interpret the concept 

Decide how you’ll break your model down into different meshes

Before starting to do any modelling, I always make sure to evaluate the concept, so let’s first decide how we are going to break down the model into the different meshes. It is extremely helpful to start the modelling with a good plan of what you are going to do, it will save a lot of time and effort. It is also a good idea to do some research and gather reference images to help in the development of the shapes.

02. Create the base mesh

Make sure you establish initial proportions and gesture

The first thing to do is to create the base mesh of every piece on the model. At this point we are not going to add any detail. Instead, we’re paying attention to the silhouette. Establishing initial proportions and gesture is crucial. 

It is true that the model’s proportions are going to change a lot from the start to finish, but having a solid initial base mesh is a good idea. At this point, we don’t have any details on the model so it is easier to play around with proportions.

03. Avoid triangles

When creating a high-resolution model, avoid using triangles as they are likely to give you a terrible result in some areas when a smoothing is applied. If you really must use them, then hide them in areas that can’t be seen. As a general rule, using four-sided polys (quads) – even Ngons are better than tris.

04. Create the cockpit 

Cut the glass area away from the cockpit frame

We need to separate the glass from the metal frame area, so let’s take the base mesh and make some cuts that suggest the shape of the glass. Once we have the desired shape we can detach the glass object. Now we just need to apply a Shell modifier to the metal frame, and finally we can make some adjustments to the shapes and add supporting loops for the final smoothing.

05. Use connections and bevels 

Create edge connections to make modelling easier

Now take the base mesh and start by making some connections, and move the vertices from one side to fit the shape of the cylinder. Make some edge connections along all the long geometry; this will help make it easier to select different polygons, add bevels, select one loop of edges over another and make extrusions to suggest some paneling. Take the polygons at the bottom, make a bevel and detach them, and add more details to that area.

06. Make vents

Follow these steps to make your vents

Take the base mesh, add some loops and select some edges to apply an extrusion. To give a more bevelled finish to this piece, select all the edges of the borders and make a big chamfer. Using the same Bevel/Detach technique as before, we can build the front area of the vents. Now take the detached polygons and make some connections, then select the polygons and extrude them to create the vents. Finally, add the corresponding supporting loops.

07. Add edge loops to support the smoothing

Use edge loops to avoid stretching the geometry

Use the same method of edge connect, cuts and bevels to add more details. Once this is done, it’s time to add some extra loops to support the final smoothing. We need to add loops very close to the edges we want to be sharp. After this first group of loops is done, add another set of loops, this time not as close as the first ones; these will be an extra support to avoid the feeling that the geometry is stretched.

08. Cleaning up unnecessary vertices

Go through and get rid of unnecessary edges

After adding all the supporting loops, we may end up with a lot of edges around the model that we don’t actually need. It is a good idea to make a cleaning pass and remove these so we will have a better smoothing result of the geometry at the end. To do this, check the model and start collapsing all the vertices that don’t contribute on the support task and in no time at all you’ll have cleaner geometry.

09. Model the bottom wing

Start fleshing out your wing with extra detail

So far, we have suggested a very simple geometry for the bottom wing, now go on and add extra loops to give it a more rounded shape. Add one loop, select some of the resulting polygons and apply a bevel. 

Now repeat the same process in the rear area of the model. Select some edges and extrude them to suggest some panel shapes. Once this is done, it is time to add the supporting loops and finally execute the vertices cleaning pass. 

10. Make holes in a cylinder

Don’t follow the obvious route to making holes in a cylinder

When we want to add holes in a cylinder, people typically think of taking the cylinder and making the holes on it, but this will ultimately result in bad smoothing. Instead, here is a simple technique I like to use: take a cylinder, make a hole, duplicate it (collapse the vertices between holes) and apply a 360-angle Bend modifier. Apply a Shell modifier to add some thickness, and add the support loops. Now if you smooth it, you will have a perfect cylinder with perfect holes.

11. Add geometries on intersections

Suggest a point of attachment at your intersections

Details matter when creating an imaginary vehicle that needs to feel authentic and workable. For example, in the areas where two meshes intersect, it is a good idea to add extra geometry to suggest a point of attachment and a more realistic finish: I attached a bevelled inset section to suggest a connecting point.

12. Small pieces

When creating small details like joints or bolts, duplicate them around the model rather than making a new one each time.

This will for help bring consistency to your model, and it will save you precious time. Also, when duplicating elements, make them instances so all of them will take any changes you make.

13. Make cables

Use Beziers to finish off the model with some cables

Once the model is done, it is time to add some cables. Make a simple line of three vertices (for small cables) and add a Bezier. Now start moving the vertices and the Beziers until we have the shape we want. An easier way to work with Beziers in this case is to set up the Reference Coordinate System to Screen. 

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 217; buy it here!

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The 7 principles of design

Design differs from art in that it has to have a purpose. Visually, this functionality is interpreted by making sure an image has a center of attention, a point of focus. The principles of design are the rules a designer must follow to create an effective composition that cleanly delivers a message to her audience.…

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How art can be a healing technique

If you’ve bought anything from Amazon in the past few years, you’ll have probably noticed a surprising number of adult colouring books topping the best-seller lists.  

Once a niche, colouring books for adults are now big business, with users extolling their calming virtues. But why? How effective is art as a therapeutic technique? And does this mean artists are the most well-adjusted people on the planet? 

Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford, whose colouring books for grown-ups have sold over 16 million copies worldwide, attributes their popularity to two aspects: accessibility, and a nostalgic craving for non-digital activities. “I get so many emails from people in all walks of life to say the books have helped them through a tough patch,” says Basford. “From stressed-out 911 call operators in the US, to teens recuperating at eating disorder centres, elderly folks struggling with Alzheimer’s or new mums with post-natal depression.” 

An illustration from Johanna Basford’s adult colouring book, Lost Ocean

The therapeutic benefits of art – whether it’s basic sketching, more intricate pencil drawing or painting – have long been documented. And while psychotherapists point out that colouring isn’t an automatic ticket to mindfulness, they do agree that the process of art-making can be a health-enhancing practice, which positively impacts the quality of life. 

Cathy Malchiodi is an international expert, writer and educator in the fields of art therapy and art in healthcare. She believes that while there are times when we need professional support – be that from a therapist, doctor, mentor, friend or community as a whole – art exists as a natural remedy for many of life’s challenges; loss and trauma in particular. 

“There isn’t any one particular way that this occurs,” Malchiodi says. “But many artists have used their creative process to cope with their depression or other issues. Each person has his or her own path to reparation and recovery.” 

A quick look at the rich heritage of famous artists who have explored intense psychological themes in their work proves Malchiodi right: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh… the list goes on. Whether the process is a vent, time out or something more complex altogether, it’s clear that people have long sought therapeutic participation in art.

One strategy among many

Darren Yeow viewed torment as almost a superpower for characters like Wolverine

For concept artist Darren Yeow, it’s proven useful as one of myriad mental healthcare strategies he’s undertaken over the years. However, he points out that art couldn’t ‘fix’ some serious mental health issues he was facing, which needed the guidance of a professional counsellor.

Yeow was sexually abused when he was young and says that he struggled with the fallout for many years. As a child, he drew monsters and “angry, scary-looking things”. He explains: “That’s probably why I liked to draw Venom, Wolverine and Batman: torment was almost a superpower for those guys. When I drew them, I felt like I channelled some of that hurt out on to the paper. It was just an unconscious act of self-soothing.”

In his teens, Yeow turned to martial arts as a way of regulating feelings of shame and hurt, to prevent them morphing into physical violence. Everything was fine, until a few years ago when a period of significant business and personal stress brought up a torrent of latent anger. 

“I found that I hadn’t really tackled the underlying issues,” Yeow admits. “When a particularly stressful incident occurred and I couldn’t recall that I had punched a hole in the wall as a result, I felt it was time I needed to seek out professional help in dealing with my emotions, before things spiralled out of control.”

Incarnations of Immortality, by Rebecca Yanovskaya, is based on the series by Piers Anthony

There’s another angle, too. As every artist knows, the process of making art isn’t always relaxing. For freelancers it can be lonely stuck at home in front of a screen all day, and for all creatives it can be frustrating – as Toronto-based illustrator Rebecca Yanovskaya knows only too well. “As much as I love art-making, it brings me a certain amount of anxiety as well,” she says, “because of the need to create great pieces and live up to my expectations.”

So what about professional art therapy? Do artists have anything to gain in a professional forum? Yanovskaya has visited an art therapist before. She remains unconvinced as to how effective art can be as a therapeutic technique for working artists. “We’re immersed in art in a money-making capacity,” she argues. “Therapy for us might work better if it’s something far removed from what we do every day.”

Non-artists can still benefit

Johanna’s customers find solace in her adult colouring books – in the simple pleasure of putting pen to paper

However, Malchiodi thinks there can be as much value for artists as for non-artists, as long as participants are committed to the process. “If one wants another perspective, and to experience art-making in a different way, then art therapy might be helpful,” she says, “especially since one of its goals is to guide the individual toward new insights and experiences that support a sense of well-being through art.”   

For anyone thinking about getting involved, there are plenty of options. “Online art-making communities offer art-making experiences for self-exploration and self-care, rather than therapy per se,” she says. “Artists who are new to the idea of making art as self-care or as self-exploration may find this approach uncomfortable at first, but give it a shot; it sometimes even provides a new direction for your own artistic style and intentions.”

Just remember to leave your ego well out of it, warns Yanovskaya – and Yeow agrees: “Don’t turn it into a study session or illustration assignment,” the artist advises. “There’s no need to impress other people. Just let the stylus flow.”

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 137; buy it here!

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