I wonder what's the best way to learn how to draw an elf? It seems that this fantasy trope is very open ended. Let's start with something that most people like: a female elf drawing. Why not? These noble princesses of nature are a subject a lot of artists will try to pursue at least once.
When I look at elves, I see them as a species that live with nature. While there are numerous different versions of elves depending on their backgrounds, they usually share one physical trait in common: pointy ears and a tall, slim figure.
Their architecture will usually include bits of nature incorporated into the dwellings. Just knowing this will help me visualize the type of surroundings my elf will have as well as the type of clothing. Other than that, my elf drawing is just basically an altered version of the human form.
With that said, let's see what I can come up with based on my experiences drawing in general. Right now, I envision a female warrior that is both elegant and strong. The background will be a typical forest setting. I would also like her to stand in a way that emphasizes the tall figure.
First, i picked and sketch out a simple pose of my character. She is looking downwards while ascending up a flight of stairs. Since I am looking up at her as the viewer, this illusion should serve me well in emphasizing a tall physique.
Right now, the sketch is not very accurate but it definitely helps me out with looking at overall composition and creating correct the right proportions. Mentally, I am measure everything I can, with the head as the ruler, to develop the ribcage, bust, and hips.
In my mind, I am picturing a character that knows how to fight. It adds a sense of strength and intellect that I am trying to create in my character. The clothes that I have in mind are light for maneuverability purposes while giving some flowing drapes..
It is normal to alter my gesture drawings several times before I find something that I like. That does not mean I am struggling. Rather, it just means I am still deciding on different variations of the same subject. Anyway, once I have the pose I like, I will move on to chiseling it out.
Here is where I refine the sketch by adding a few more details. To make sure that everything is in the correct proportions, I start with the head and work down. A lot of the elements here are sketched very quickly to show depth.
With a large chalk brush, I start filling in the sketch. Speed is the key here. My goal is to block in all the major body parts with a light or neutral color to bring it out from the rest of the sketch. The blocking technique also fades the dark sketch lines away.
Overall, so long as the blocking still resembles the initial sketch, then I am on the right track. Too many deviations from the original sketch will just make this more difficult for me as it's a lot of time wasted revisiting what I originally wanted from the original concept.
Other than that, I also use this opportunity to block out the forest background on a different layer. Now is also a good chance to start working on the foreground. Since I originally wanted a flight of stairs, I can start a new layer with nothing more than the first step of stairs.
This step in learning how to draw an elf can be rather time consuming! To get the fine details, I like to use the smudge tool at 100% pressure with a small brush. This is also where a bit of randomness creates an elegant design naturally.
For elven design, I want lines that exhibit curvature. This creates a sense of nobility, femininity, and beauty as we attribute curves to the feminine form. I am always surprised by the type of designs that can happen based on hard smudging circular directions.
The next layer is the sword. There is a trick to this. Holding onto the shift key, I drew a perfectly straight line and fill it with a random design. After that, I sharpened the ends, copied it, reflected it on the other side, and then merged the layers to form the overall shape.
After that, I locked the sword layer (so I can’t paint outside its boundaries) and begin painting in the shadows. I then moved it to the correct position and rotated it to fit the character’s current pose. Including the details of the forest, this entire section of detailing took me a few days.
Continuous adding of details made my elf layer a bit more lighter than normal compared to the background. This is a good thing because I can add shadows to my elf without it being too dark. The key shading here is to have her blend into the forest background while adding general shadows created by foliage.
I am a huge fan of clipping masks when using Photoshop. A clipping mask will allow me draw shading on a separate layer and have it conform to the elf's shape. Since it's a separate layer, I will not risk destroying any of the time consuming details that I worked hard on
Anyway, I shade in the shadows using a round brush to get a good color gradient going. Sometimes, I use multiple clipping masks and stack them just so I can go back and forth looking at different lighting effects. For foliage shading, I use a chalk brush.
Once I have determined that most of the shading is correct, there are a series of universal gradients that I like to use. With a black and white gradient on a different layer or through a gradient adjustment layer (again, Photoshop only) I set up the gradient to simulate the direction of the key light.
After that, I changed the blend mode of the gradient layer from normal to 'soft light' and adjust its opacity. This will bring out the whites and blacks quickly. There are more than one option but I prefer this particular blend mode as it's not too strong.
The final piece is to sharpen up the entire composition. This is just my personal touch as I like to emphasize the design on the armor. Other than that, I think it's done to my satisfaction. This concludes my take on how to draw an elf. I hope it was enlightening for you as it was for me!
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