The different stages of a drawing explained

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Especially when you're just starting out, it may be hard to understand what people are talking about when it comes to different stages of artworks. It's very important though to know what they are and what they encompass. Because this will help you to communicate properly with your client, and it will also help you to set up prices for different kinds of artworks. Sometimes someone may want only a concept, while others want flat colored art and the 3rd person wants full renders. So what exactly does this all mean?

Hi! My name is Tessa, I’m a Dutch artist, specializing in wildlife and creature designs. I love to share my passion for nature, art and fantasy, and do that by creating this archive and community, alongside my company Tez Art & Design.

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The different stages of a drawing explained

Below you will find three different art stages explained to you. However, these are fairly broad. They serve fine when you take on commissions from clients, and I recommend that you do not elaborate beyond this, because just like you feel now about these terms: It will sound like jibberish. But when you work in a studio, or with a studio, there may be far more stages and each of the stages below may be specified into smaller chunks.
This article serves best for people that are just starting out their endeavor to become an established artist that works with clients that don’t know much about art.

The first stage: Sketches and/or concepts

The goal of sketches and concepts is to put an idea on paper. Your client may think he or she has a clear idea of what they want, but these ideas are almost always vague. Even more so because you are not that person. Making sketches and concepts will help both of your narrow down the idea to one viable illustration.

Another important note is: Everybody works in their own way and their own stages. What’s described after this is my personal workflow. Most artists will follow this workflow themselves, but they may vary a bit in the order in which they do things, and the way they present them. Take what I do as a guideline. You don’t need to follow it religiously.

Sketches

One of many ways to approach a sketch.
Image by: Tessa Geniets

Sketches are the quickest way to put down an idea. They’re usually a bunch of scratchy lines composed out of shapes, formed in poses. There are little to no colors, and the same is with lighting and shadows. The upside is that you can work quickly. The downside though is that most people that know little about art, will not be able to translate it. This has nothing to do with the quality of your sketches. It has to do with the inability of your client to visualize such a raw idea. They might feel like you missed the point, or that they need to fill in the assumed gaps for you. I recommend you only do this with clients you worked with for a while, or are in the art trade themselves in some way.

Concepts

Here the design is clear, I just added some minor changes to each of the six concepts.
Image by: Tessa Geniets

Concepts are a bit further rendered than sketches. They often hold flat colors, clear edges, and sometimes even lighting and some textures. These are obviously far more time-consuming, but when you work with clients that know little about art, you might want to go with concepts instead.
When your client is clear on what they want, a simple sheet with a few variations will do. Try to limit your time as much as you can by copying and pasting.

If your client is very vague about what they want, I recommend that you still resort to doing sketches first. It will take you less time to explain what you’re doing than to actually draw out all the concepts. And if your client has a good budget, you might want to start with concepts, after all, offering them something along the lines of a pro pack that includes for example 6 totally different creatures to help land on a fitting concept. Just make sure you know how much time it takes you to illustrate these and potential follow-up concepts and charge them accordingly.

To get a better grasp of what concepts can encompass: Check out these articles:

The second stage: Coloring the artwork

Flat colors are applied in a local color setting. Your art doesn’t need to be this precise, I’m just a sucker for it :p.
Illustration by Tessa Geniets

Some people are true masters when it comes to colors. They have a feel for it. But most of us struggle with color. Those who master colors might skip this phase and go right into the rendering of the artwork. If you are among those that don’t want to render right away for whatever reason, you will continue with so-called flat colors. This is how you roughly decide what final colors go where.

This stage blends in with the concepting stage as more often than not: If you choose to work with concepts instead of sketches, the color will already be decided. In this phase, you will be refining the colors though and changing up the color intensity, which will help you with the next phase: Rendering.

Some artists prefer to work from local colors. These are the colors that are eliminated, but not in a direct light source, like on an overcast day. This is the easiest approach because this color will always be present and tell a lot about your final design. You don’t always show this set of colors to your client though, especially when they are new to the art world and you need to fill in the gaps for them.
Other artists though may prefer to work from a bit darker color. Whatever the case: This is where you change the colors into what works for you best, and you go from there.

The third stage: Rendering

A full render in my own signature style.
Illustration by: Tessa Geniets

The rendering phase is the phase where you make things look ‘real’ or apply whatever you need to achieve the style you want or need to work in. You do here whatever you need to do to finalize your illustration. More often than not, this is the phase that takes the most time.

Things included could be:

  • Main ligthsource
  • Secondary (or more) lightsources
  • Refine and play with colors
  • Cast shadows and form shadows
  • Texturing
  • Atmosphere/depth
  • Movement (with the help of blurring or movement strokes)
  • Etc.

Conclusion

As mentioned before: This is a good go-to when you work with clients. Especially when you are just starting out as well. Over time you will put your own flavor onto your art and your workflow which will at least vaguely resemble the one above. And if you decide to apply for a job at a studio or something like that, make sure that you have a broader understanding of what phases there can be in your workflow. This may differ from studio to studio. Especially when you get into the 3D realm of art.

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