Posted on Mar 31, 2016 in Helpfull Information, Work Progression

When I talk about “finish” I am referring to a combination of two different things: The amount of effort you put into finalizing an image, and the type of style you use to polish it up. I know that’s a very vague way to describe things, but it’s the best explanation I can currently think of.

I am going to take the time to talk about polish and detail, at least as it pertains to how I generally make art. I still get into my sketchbook every now and again, but just about everything I do is digital. I predominantly use Corel Painter 12. Sometimes I experiment with other techniques too, but I’m going to talk about the ones I use the most. There are not hard rules when it comes to art, and you are free to like/use whatever methods you like.

When I talk about “finish” I am referring to a combination of two different things: The amount of effort you put into finalizing an image, and the type of style you use to polish it up. I know that’s a very vague way to describe things, but it’s the best explanation I can currently think of.

I may be adding more images/information as I find more time. ***just in the writing of this post I have gone back to my painter file to add more variations as they have come up.

*** EDIT *** I have added captions to each image to clarify what steps were taken for each one. This is to keep things straight because the images are not a direct progression.

Rough Sketch

A rough sketch is pretty straight forward. You’ve got the shapes and construction lines. (like the circle I used as a basis for the head, and the quick line used to first define how the neck is bent) You will see bits x-raying through other parts of the body. (the tail through the front wing) Also there is a distinct lack of fine details. Normally I use a pure white background, but for the purposes of this post I have used a coloured fill layer as the background.

dragon - rough

rough sketch

This is also the step where you will most often crumple up the page and toss it. It is the best point to do that. You can polish up a drawing all you want, but if you hate the base sketch then you are going to hate anything that comes from it. Don’t get discouraged though; look at some reference and take another swing at it.

Refined Drawing

I sometimes skip this step when going to an inked drawing. I will ad-lib the details while I ink. (I haven’t decided if that is efficient or lazy) Other times I will take the time to refine the image.

If a penciled image is what you want then take the time to clean up the sketch, removing messy lines and adding more specific details. (like the banding on the horns and adding the claws.) You can spend a load of time cleaning up and adding detail, it just depends on how much you want to add. I sometimes make the rough layer somewhat transparent, and trace a cleaner version onto a new layer.

dragon - refined

refined sketch

Flat Colours

Do you want some flat colours laid down underneath the sketch layer?

dragon - refined colour

refined + flat colour

Pencil Shading

Pencil shading can look great and really help to make a drawing feel more solid. (with or without the flat colours underneath)

dragon - refined shade

refined + shading

dragon - refined colour shade

refined + flat colour + shading

Pencil Highlights

And here is the reason I used a coloured fill layer. It allows me to use a white pencil to add highlights. To make a pencil drawing really pop off the page I can add some highlights using a white pencil. This really does help to make the various parts of a character feel 3D. The fill layer isn’t important if you are using flat colours, but I’m leaving it there for consistency.

dragon - refined shade highlight

refined + shading + highlight

dragon - refined colour shade highlight

refined + flat colour + shading + highlight


I am very partial to strong ink lines. Corel Painter 12 has a class of tools/layers called ‘liquid ink’. I use a hard, flat caligraphy pen. I use the pressure of my wacom pen to determine the scale of the brush. In my younger days I went through a lot of paper. I would tape my drawings to a window, and tape a second paper over top, and then trace the image.

dragon - inked


Base Colours

Because I inked the image, I would have skipped the flat colours, shading and highlights of the pencil images. So again we have the option to lay down some flat colours…

dragon - inked colour

inked + flat colour

or we can blend in some colour.

dragon - inked blend

inked + blended colour


I sometimes add a texture layer. I will set it to overlay and paint in the darker and lighter bits to get a texture. It can be very time consuming, and I will admit that for the purposes of this post I didn’t spend as much time on the scales as I could. (Even now I am resisting going back and changing it. Sometimes you just have to allow yourself to go with ‘good enough’ and not ‘perfect’.)

dragon - inked colour texture

inked + flat colour + texture

dragon - inked blend texture

inked +blended colour + texture

There are many techniques for shading. I will talk about the three that are my preferred methods.


This is called hatching. (even when you aren’t drawing dragons or birds…) I don’t really like to idea of mixing the hatching with the previous texturing. I just don’t think they mix well… but you are free to do it if you want.

dragon - inked hatch

inked + hatching

dragon - inked colour hatch

inked + flat colour + hatching

dragon - inked blend hatch

inked + blended colour + hatching

Two-Tone Shading

The next technique has a few names. I call it two-tone shading. When I do this I will always add the highlights and rimlights because I think it looks best that way. First I will use a multiply layer and add the shadow colours with a solid round brush with no scale variation. I basically do the same with the highlights, just with a screen layer and different colours. The rimlights are on a separate screen layer, and I use a coloured pencil around the edges.

dragon - inked colour tone

Inked + flat colour + two-tone shading

dragon - inked blend tone

inked + blended colours + two-tone shading

dragon - inked colour texture toonSHR

inked + flat colours + texture + two-tone shading

dragon - inked blend texture toonSHR

inked + blended colours + texture + two-tone shading

“Smudgie” Shading

I don’t have a name for this one, but let’s just call it smudgie shading. I will sometimes use a something akin to a grease pen tool and blend the shadows and highlights. It takes more time, but it has a nice painted look to it. I use the same layer setup as with the two-tone shading.

dragon - inked colour soft

inked + flat colour + smudge shading

dragon - inked blend soft

inked + blended colour + smudge shading

dragon - inked colour texture soft

inked + flat colour + texture + smudge shading

dragon - inked blend texture smudgeSHR

inked + blended colour + texture + smudge shading

If you are looking for an artist that can deliver any of the above styles for any project (poster, webcomic, clipart, childrens book…) I am happy to discuss your particular needs.