Artsy Arsenal

A common question that artists get is “what program do you use to make your art”.  It’s a fair question, since there are tons of programs available at various prices.  For someone just wanting to test out digital art, it can be a bit dizzying.  There’s no “perfect” program, there’s what’s comfortable and works for you.  So, here’s what works for me!


But first, a brief history of Ammo’s Arting and what led her to these choices.  I’ve used a few different programs on my art journey.  One of the earliest was OpenCanvas, which I haven’t used in years but was a great starter program for me.  It was relatively inexpensive and every update had some nice features added.  I could easily sketch, paint a bit, and do nice clean lines.  I also did some dabbling in the free version of Painter that came with Wacom tablets.  As my style grew and changed, I tried more recent, and full, versions of Painter.  I used that for quite a while until I realized that what I enjoyed drawing most was “inked”, illustrative-styled images.  Yes, basically, comic book-y.  Naturally Painter had great tools for that, I made a whole toolbox filled with different ink brushes.  But I felt that I wasn’t using the full potential of the program, my art brain couldn’t wrap around some of the advanced brushes and I felt like it was a bit wasted on me.  I wasn’t satisfied with coloring all of my art with Painter, so I started looking around.  Of course Photoshop is generally seen as the dream program for digital artists, but I started out with the lighter Photoshop Elements for my coloring.  Elements is really a great program for learning your way around digital coloring, and I used it for several years.  Moving on to more current tastes…


Sketching/Inking (line art):  Manga Studio EX 5.


The first Manga Studio program I tried was 4.  I liked it, but the program is a bit hard on newbies.  I used it for quite a while back and forth with Painter, it had lots of great tools once you knew where to look and how to use them.  I put MS4 on the shelf for a bit, and became intrigued when MS5 was announced.  I tried it and was pretty amazed with the changes to the program.  It was now much more user friendly, had a more familiar layout, and I almost immediately fell in love with the feel of it.  I was never happy sketching in Photoshop, I still can’t get the hang of it… and a lot of my particular style starts with my crazy sketching.  I don’t press down very hard on my pen when I work, so whatever program I use needs to be able to catch my light, zippy strokes.. and MS5 is amazing for that.  I also have to mention Frenden’s amazing selection of brushes, several of which I play around with during sketching and one or two I use for all my line art.  I use this for almost all of my art, I do some coloring with it but for polished coloring, I use…


Coloring/Post-production/etc: Photoshop CC


When I first started using Elements, there was no subscription plan for PS.  This year is the first year that I’ve actually started subbing to PS proper, and it’s been a fun learning experience.  I was able to move over my brushes, actions, and swatches easily.  I made a workspace I was comfy with.  It’s been great, and I’m very happy with my current art flow and continue to find ways to improve efficiency and creativity.  I still can’t sketch in it worth a damn, but I love using it for coloring art and editing pictures.  Photoshop is great at being exactly what you expect it to be, but again starting out “lite” with Elements is still a good choice.



My go-to routine routine right now is definitely Manga Studio EX 5 and Photoshop CC.  Other good programs to check out, that are easier on the pocketbook, include Painttool SAI and Sketchbook.  I’ve played around with both, and they each have their own fun quirks and are easy to use and sketch with. Whenever I have a bit of an art funk, I like to shake things up by messing around in one of those programs.


Screenshot inspiration, part 2.

This is part 2 of a series of posts where I talk about how I used a screenshot as inspiration for a picture that I drew.  This is also my next IntPiPoMo entry, #6 of 50.  Although there are a few pictures in this post, most of them are WIPs and I’m only counting the final art towards my challenge count.  I covered the initial inspiration through to the line art in this post and today covers the rest, so here we go!

With some larger pictures I’ve gotten in the habit of doing separate files for the character and the background elements… I use a lot of layers, so this makes the files a bit less insane for me.

Just the flats, ma’am.

First I flatted Novaak, which means I broke down all the elements of his line art into solid colors.  This is a quick way for artists who use this art style to quickly grab a specific element to work on one a piece at a time – for example, I start with the skin first by selecting that area of the flats, and move on to the jacket next and so on.  Colors don’t have to be exact at this point – I was fortunate that his outfit is rather simple.  Anything here can be changed later.  If you have a lot of colors of a similar value, the magic wand tool might grab stuff you don’t want, so sometimes you will use different colors for flatting.  I could’ve given him pink pants here if I really, really wanted to and the end result would still be tan pants.

Figuring out the pieces…
Starting to make sense!

After deciding that I was going to use Yavin 4 as the background, I took a few more screenshots of the planet for reference and began pushing around some colors that I liked on a new canvas.  I started by putting in a line of trees in the background and filled out the sky.  Meanwhile, I had left myself a messy jumble of lines in the middle ground to figure out and somehow transform into a ruined walker.

I messed around with both the sizing of the walker and the character quite a bit until I found a mix I was happy with.  At this point it was time to go back into Manga Studio so I could draw the walker, or at least enough of it to make the picture work.

Flatting and rendering the broken walker.

I really didn’t have to worry about being precise here, but having a guide to work with really makes a difference.  This walker isn’t entirely accurate, but spending a little extra time on researching it and drawing it out greatly improves the picture – and made me feel pretty darn good as well, because I’m not very great at mech stuff.   So bonus points for accepting and meeting challenge!

Pretty much covered the next part there.  Rendering is basically a different term for painting – I’m fleshing out the form of the figure, making it appear more dimensional.  I really do love this part, I feel like I’m getting better with every picture as I figure out something new, or something in my brain goes “hey, I understand this now!”.  The feeling of growth is rewarding, and it’s also so awesome to see a picture that I’ve spent several hours on really coming together.

Putting it all together.

Now it’s time to put the two parts together!  I actually had one of the walker’s feet up front, but I colored that after I had Novaak and the background sorted in together.  Now I could do the fun stuff – add rim lighting, special effects,  his dualsaber blades, etc.  I finished it off with the remaining walker chunk, some more smoke, and another pass at the lighting.  I can be pretty impatient when I finish a picture and I want to post it right away, especially if it’s a “big” picture and I’m afraid I’m going to overwork it or fiddle with it to death if I don’t commit to a finish.  So if it’s my own personal stuff, I’ll put it up and just go with it.  This image got to sit for a short bit as I went off to do some stuff, also showed it to a few friends for feedback, and when I came back to it a little while later I was still pretty happy with it.  I gave it another look-over, sufficiently satisfied that I hadn’t gone overboard with one thing or overlooked something else.  And so, I decided that it was Done.

Novaak Barsen’thor

So that’s how this picture I drew evolved from a screenshot I took.  Inspiration can have some fun, unexpected, and colorful turns.

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Yeah this pic here!

Screenshot inspiration.

This post is going to be a little bit different.  It’s still part of my IntPiPoMo challenge, and even though there are a few pics here, I’m only counting the screenshot towards the challenge (making it #5 of 50) because the rest are a collection of WIP shots for one image.  This is the first of two posts where I ramble about the process of drawing one of my pictures from start to finish.  Let’s go!

One evening last month I was pulling together sketch ideas for my daily doodle (my personal challenge that I run on my tumblr – drawing and posting art every day).  I was working on a commission at the time, so I try to avoid posting WIPs for those on my artblog… especially when I’m spending a good deal of time on them.  I’d just started playing through Knights of the Fallen Empire in SWTOR with my Jedi Consular, Novaak.  I was really enjoying the story, and also the improvements to the cinematic storytelling.  Flipping through some of the screenshots that I took, I found a cool one that I liked and decided to use it as a base for a doodle.

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Not really spoilery!

I liked the simple-yet-striking pose, and the “coolness” vibe.  So about 40 or so minutes of playing around, I ended up with this:

Daily doodle, 10-21-2015.

I was pretty happy with the sketch, and kind of kept it in the back of my head.  A few days later I was finishing off the commission, and I found that I was 100% caught up on all art jobs (big sigh of relief).  I hadn’t really drawn a lot of personal art beyond random sketching in a while, so I decided to clean up my Consular’s doodle and turn it into a proper picture.

First full clean-up pass.

On the first pass… well, I decided I was going to go for a full pose and so had to finish drawing in his body.  I ended up pushing the pose a bit more, injecting more of an energetic comic book-y vibe into the figure while corrected a few odd things and entirely changing his left arm.  Already the picture was looking rather different from the original.

Ink touch-ups and line balancing. Also many layers.

I was moving pretty slowly on this picture, pretty much enjoying a bit of a mini-vacation and just working at a leisurely pace.  I’d gotten about half-way through the inks when I decided to change the right arm because it just wasn’t working for me.  I streamed on Picarto a few nights, played some terrible music and generally just had fun drawing.  I have a ridiculous amount of love for this outfit, so I wanted to spend time making it look great.

Inks and scribble bg prep.

I learned quite a lot while working on badges this year – mainly ways to speed up stuff down the line and making certain processes easier on myself through various PS Actions and other tricks.  Something I should’ve been started sooner was doing color fills in Manga Studio (which I use for all of my sketching and “inking”) instead of waiting to do it in Photoshop (which I use for most of my coloring).   It’s such a simple thing, I’m  not sure why I haven’t been using it sooner.  I guess it’s just one of those things that you don’t realize how helpful it is until you’ve started doing things that way.  Regardless, I did the fills and also blocked in some background ideas.

Some pictures start out with a decently clean idea in my head, and others are a bit more jumbled.  The screenshot that this started with was from a murky, dark swamp and not what I wanted for the final picture.  As I was working on the inks, part of my brain was shuffling through scenarios to put Novaak in, since this simple sketch had kind of spiraled out of control into something else entirely.  I love the bright colors of Yavin 4, and I always enjoy busting up the Walkers that stomp around in the ruin filled temple area.  So with that in mind, I wrapped up this phase of the art to prepare it for the next… color and rendering!  Which will be another post, because as of right now the picture isn’t quite finished.

I guess I better get working on that!