Line by Line

Scale Studies

posted June 30, 2014

Tags: art

It's been almost a year since the last time I posted any artwork. Sadly I just haven't been finding much time to draw. That doesn't mean I haven't done anything, though. It just means I'm even slower than normal.

I do have a project that I'm working on. It's taken me a few months of on-again, off-again work and a whole lot more prep work and studies than I expected when I started, but it's getting close to being done. In the mean time, though, I figure I'd better share something so people don't think I've stoppped drawing altogether.

So here's a page of scale studies.

Image: A page of scale studies from my sketchbook.

I also have a 2000 x 1500 px version of the image.

I'm not overly impressed with these, but I think they've given me enough information to get back to work on the drawing itself.

These aren't arranged in any kind of order; I basically just kept moving to the next empty spot that felt good. You can see the earliest attempts toward the middle there, and you'll notice that as time went on, I eventually gave up on drawing cylinders to wrap the scales around.

My first few attempts (actually the bottom-left may have been the first one) were aiming to avoid the sort of shingle-like overlap that usually comes to mind when I think "scales"; it just didn't seem realistic, so I tried for something pebblier like I'd seen in NeonDragon's books. Unfortunately I ended up emulating something I didn't actually like, and wound up with scales that looked like a bunch of different-sized rocks haphazardly glued on.

I tried a couple examples with the more traditional, overlapping scales, and they seemed to work okay but they weren't what I wanted. Plus, they'd be a pain to draw and end up wrecking the finished drawing by clustering too much detail in one place.

So I went hunting for reference and came across The Making of Jurassic Park by Don Shay and Jody Duncan, which had plenty of photos of the animatronic creatures made for the film. That pebbly dinosaur skin was almost exactly what I was looking for, and it led me to a key insight: Scales still have shadows on the edges away from the light source, even when they're not overlapping like roof tiles. I just needed to make sure I was shading the dark sides, and not necessarily the bottoms, which is harder to remember to do than it sounds. Another trick is to avoid letting the shadows/outlines touch each other for the most part.

(Yes, I know that dinosaurs probably weren't all reptilian and scaly and that they probably had feathers. They didn't know that in the '90s, and besides I've done enough feathers for this project already, dagnabbit, and I'm still not done. Feathers are hard. Ugh.)

So that's been my adventure in trying to learn how to draw scales. With any luck I'll have the actual drawing finished before too long. In the mean time, I hope this is of some use or interest to someone.