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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Drawing Theory
Design

How to Use Layers in Traditional Drawing

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

When I draw traditionally, the thing I miss the most is the layers. Especially when I want to design a creature from scratch and I'm not sure what I want it to look like yet, experiments end up in a confusing mess of lines. But I discovered a workaround that lets me draw separate elements on separate "layers", and end up with clean line art. It's very simple!

What You Will Need

  • Green ballpoint pen
  • Red ballpoint pen
  • Blue ballpoint pen
  • Black ballpoint pen
  • (Optionally) Thin felt-tip pen
  • Photoshop (or similar photo-editing software)
color ballpoint pens

1. How to Draw the Traditional Layers

Step 1

Take the green pen and sketch the general silhouette, a gesture, or a very simplified skeleton.

gesture sketch

Step 2

Check the proportions and fix them if necessary. Add details to the "bones" to see the proportions better.

simplified skeleton

Step 3

Take the red pen and sketch the muscles. Animal anatomy books are really helpful for this!

muscles anatomy

Step 4

Take the blue pen and sketch the details. If you know exactly what you want to draw, you can skip this part and go straight to the black pen. However, it's often good to test your idea first in these safe conditions.

fur details

Step 5

Finally, take the black pen (and the felt-tip pen, if you have it) and draw the final lines. The darker the better!

dark final lines

2. How to Turn a Messy Sketch Into Clean Line Art

Step 1

Scan your picture or take a photo of it and open it in Photoshop. Go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White. Drag all the sliders to the right.

black and white adjustment photoshop
remove colors from photo

Step 2

All the colors have been brightened to white! If you want, you can make them more visible by lowering their percentage. For example, it's good to show some bone or muscle outline to make the drawing more detailed.

adjust black and white values
adjusted black and white illustration

Step 3

Finally, darken the lines with Image > Adjustments > Curves or Image > Adjustments > Levels. Experiment with them to achieve the result you want.

photoshop curves editor
photoshop levels editor
clean line art

That's All!

You have a clean piece of line art now, ready for publishing or further editing! In the latter case, you may be interested in the tutorials below:

from sketch to clean line art
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