Giuseppe’s Brush Set & the Making of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal

free brushes for making video game art

This week’s free brush set is an extra special one created by digital artist Giuseppe di Girolamo. We’re fortunate to have him share both his brush set and the story of how he came to use SketchBook as part of his process for creating art for a new hidden object game, Occultus Mediterranean Cabal. You can download Giuseppe’s Brush Set and install it in SketchBook Pro for desktop, but before you start making art with these brushes, we encourage you to read a bit about how Giuseppe used these brushes to make video game assets. It’s a window into an artistic process you may not have ever considered.

The making of video game art

SB blog header

Where do ideas for video games come from? Sometimes, they simply come out of a group of people sitting around sharing their supreme love of video games. Such was the case with Giuseppe di Girolamo and his friends Luca Alba, and Paolo Gallo, and Filippo M.Vela — together as Sylphe Labs. The four friends, each with a serious love of indie games, gathered together in Palermo in 2014 to share their know-how and work up an idea into a marketable game. Two years later and they’ve just released Occultus Mediterranean Cabal, a hidden-object game for PC/Mac. What’s especially interesting about this game is how it was developed. It’s a mix of 3D and 2D assets and artwork that uses SketchBook as a beautifying step in the process.


The process for this “Secret Backyard” level goes from basic polygonal shapes to textured brilliance to fine, hand-painted detail.

Their game-art process: 3D –> 2D

Originally, the team had thought the best way to approach the art of this game design would be to draw and paint every single asset, background, and character in the game as a  2D piece of art. They were intent on creating a uniform style that followed Giuseppe’s own style of art from a previous game he had made. But after trying out some early stages of the game prototype they built, they came to the conclusion that this process would lead to an insane amount of development time. The number of graphic assets would be absolutely enormous, so much so that creating them would overwhelm or slow down the actual creation of the game.

It’s not uncommon for developers to come to this kind of conclusion, and it’s the reason an initial working prototype is so important. Once you’ve proven to yourselves that the game mechanics work, you then have to divide and conquer as a team. You have to figure out how to break up the work of writing the code and designing the assets into manageable chunks. If you don’t balance the actual work equation among your team, you may collectively feel like you’re always waiting on that one person to finish their part.

One of the best things about creating a game like this is you can add spectacularly detailed art for players to discover like Easter eggs.

One of the best things about creating a game like this is that you can add spectacularly detailed art deep in the landscape for players to discover like Easter eggs.

Creating the artwork in stages

The team settled on an approach that would speed up production and allow them to have a unified look and feel that spread the work across the team to take advantage of each person’s skills. They pre-rendered backgrounds in 3D apps and then worked their way toward SketchBook for finishing. Here’s their process:

  • Connecting & 3D modeling: In the first step, Paolo created concept art of the game environments as a 3D model. In essence, he created the “rooms” where the gameplay would take place. He used Modo 3D, an app that some game developers use to create basic 3D renderings, and Z Brush, which lets you sculpt your 3D models and refine them. Giuseppe helped out with some of the textures in spots (e.g., marble church floors, leaded stained glass windows, paintings). The final result of this step can be flat and polygonal, but it might also have some added detail.
  • 3D Camera shot and lens simulation: In the second step, Filippo set the camera position and shot, as well as adding light sources. Game players view the rooms/levels in find-and-replace games from specific viewpoints, and Filippo’s job is to help make that space look realistic based on the chosen viewpoints. Sometimes that means adding shaders to smooth out polygonal edges or add visual effects to objects, which he did in Lightwave 3D. (For a nice introduction to shaders, check out this tutorial).
  • Digital painting: Finally, Giuseppe took over to enrich the scene with hand-drawn details. His friends jokingly liked to refer to this last rendering pass as the “Giuseppering” stage, which is a pretty wonderful name. Sounds like they had a lot of fun with this process. Finally, Luca put all of the graphic assets together inside Unity 3D using code he wrote to make it all come together.
One great thing about using 3D models as underpinning: You can very accurately simulate light that flows into these church windows.

One great thing about using 3D models as underpinning: You can very accurately simulate the light that flows into these church windows.

Why hand painting matters

Giuseppe felt strongly that the game should have a hand-painted look, and it’s hard not to agree with him. Hidden object games are strikingly similar in their basic objective. You scour a sometimes elaborately detailed painting/photo/illustration and uncover objects based on either clever clues or just plain can’t-stop-won’t-stop looking. What sets the best of these games apart is the artwork. Users will spend hours upon hours looking at every detail of art in these games, so the art style and its execution is a big part of their appeal. What probably makes this process especially rewarding is the amount of control you have over the composition of the scene combined with the ability to work and work the details until you absolutely love the final result.

Of course, that kind of re-working and layer-based fiddling is what makes digital painting tools so attractive. You can focus fully on your skills as a line artist, or you can indulge your love of a particular affect or come up with a completely unique stylization that gives your game a totally unique appeal. For this game, Giuseppe created a special brush set that he used for things like drawing vegetation to save him time and make the work feel like it was being done on actual canvas with traditional paint.

hand painting 3D models

The three-stage process at work: Basic 3D shapes, followed by texturing and smoothing, followed by all the detailed “findable” objects.

The final result

The hard work of these four friends has been realized. The game was published by Anuman/Microids and recently offered for sale by BigFish, a well-know provider of find-and-replace games. You can buy a copy of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal on your Mac or PC or take a level out for a spin with a free trial. (Note: On the day of publishing this post there is a special 70% off sale!). You’ll soon also be able to get it on iOS and Android. When you download and play this game, don’t just think about it as a story of a missing Italian grandfather. While you’re running your eyes over all the details of these 60 locations, 20 mini games, and dozens of close-up scenes, stop and take a moment to think about how what you’re looking at went from conception to completion.

cat gif

One of our favorite details of the game — this dozing cat.

It’s clear that a real love of drawing and painting went into this game, and we’re thrilled to have Giuseppe and team share their story and artwork with us. We love both looking at and hearing about the details. Check out the video trailer for a quick look at the look and feel of the game:

Giuseppe’s Brush Set

This brush set has a ton of great options. The pencil is a grease pencil, 4B, very rough (like Disney); it’s perfect for sketching. He includes a soft dirty rubber, which mimics the traditional rubber used on rough paper. Graphite, widely used in school, allows you to create noisy and blurred drafts. It’s ideal for chiaroscuro sketches and illustrations. The smudge brush he included has a particular texture that simulates the surface of the canvas or a rough sheet. You’ll also find a ballpoint pen, a synthetic and standard brush, and a brush just for making fur. He also includes a series of foliage and flower brushes that he used extensively when creating the artwork for the game (e.g., jasmine and bougainvillea found in the Secret Backyard level).  And finally, a few texture brushes that Giuseppe tells us saved his life several times. It’s already one of our favorite sets ever. He even made the gorgeous brush icon art! If you like this set, please don’t hesitate to check out his blog and perhaps even say “grazie” on Twitter — or better yet help support his work by grabbing a copy of Occultus Mediterranean Cabal.

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).


Tone Before Color: Light in Dark, Dark in Light

tone before color header

We’ve all been there. We’re looking at a painting or a sketch and there’s something not quite right — “off” somehow. But can we see what the problem is? Is it a compositional problem? Is it a color problem? It could be any number of things. But, it could be a balance problem. Did you ever wonder why Old Master paintings like this one below work so well? They were masters of light and dark before they mastered color.

vermeer milkmaid color and tone study

This article is really for beginners who are starting to learn about tone. But, you know, it never hurts to remind yourself of some basic visual grammer. This quick post is about a couple of ways to think about and tackle achieving balance (specifically tonal balance) in your sketches and paintings. This tutorial is in black and white so you might be wondering what this has to do with color. It actually has a lot to do with color! All color has tonal value and tonal weight which can really affect your composition. So before you even lay down a hue, you should be thinking about these techniques.

Dark can overwhelm light

The best place to start is to demonstrate how different tonal values have different “weight.” For example, have a look at these two sketches. You’ll see a couple of boxes (“A” and “B”) which have different tonal values sitting on a fulcrum, like a set of weighing scales.

balanding tone between light and dark

In the first sketch it’s fair to say that box “B” looks heavier than box “A” — right? Of course, that can possibly be put down to size, too. In the second sketch, both boxes are the same size. Box “B,” because of its tonal weight, still looks heavier. The darker the tone, the heavier the weight in the picture. Have a look at these sketches below. Can you see how the blocks of tone are being balanced?

black weighs more than white to our eyes diagram

Measuring a painting’s tone

We can apply this approach to our paintings. Easier said than done? I’ve sketched out a couple of examples for you here just to show you how easy an approach it is. On the left is the “diagram” of the tonal boxes on the fulcrum. On the right is the tonal sketch, which shows you how those tonal values have been used.

Examples of tonal balance without considering color

Balance is achieved through symmetrically equal areas of tone — the easiest and simplest method.

Take a look at paintings when you see them from this perspective. Try to ignore the color and focus solely on the tonal values.

tone color

Here, tonal weight is doing all the work. Would it still balance if the three darker horsemen were erased?

Exchanging light and dark tones

There are loads of ways you can explore this and other ways of thinking about balancing tone in your paintings. I’d like to show you one more. It’s a method of balancing tone by “exchanging” light and dark. It’s an approach you see from the Old Masters — like the Vermeer painting below. But you’ll also see a lot of concept artists use it.

breaking color down tone to see how vermeer balanced tones

This is Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid”(1658). I’ve turned it into a black and white image so we can look at the tonal values more easily. I also put it through some filters so we can simplify the painting into blocks of tone. Look at the last one. That balanced exchange of tonal areas (a bit of Yin and Yang) light in dark and dark in light, helps achieve tonal balance.

Light in dark, dark in light

So again, let’s put this into practice. Remember, you could cut your tone horizontally, vertically, diagonally left or right, up or down (or when you’re confident explore what happens if you divide your frame into quarters). Let’s keep this simple for the sake of clarity. Light areas in dark on the left balanced by dark areas in light on the right.

bob cheshire painting with color removed; tone before color

This brief tutorial has hopefully given you a couple of quick and very easy ways to think about and tackle balancing tone in your work. It’s certainly not exhaustive, but it’ll get you started. Basic visual grammer does work. The next time you’re looking at a sketch or painting that isn’t quite working, maybe just take a second to look at its tonal values.

More about Bob

Bob Cheshire is a concept artist who specializes in key-frame illustrations, pre-visualisation, pitch, and presentation artwork for film, television, video games, and theme parks. You can check out more of his work on his site, including some great concept art from Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor 2, and Wrath of the Titans.


Stranger Things Poster Fan Art: Our Own + Our Favorites

stranger things

In a matter of weeks, Stranger Things has taken over fan art. If you haven’t already watched the Netflix series that’s practically an 8-hour Steven Spielberg movie, we predict you eventually will. And you’ll love it. It’s really that good. The series borrows proudly and generously from John Carpenter and Steven King movies, but it isn’t the gore or scare fest you might be afraid of. It’s more of a psychological thriller with extra-dimensional and psychic overtones, which, in this age of never-ending, cookie-cutter superhero movie franchises is pretty refreshing.

Speedpaint video in SketchBook

We’ve been breathlessly watching all of the fan art that people have been making around this show and squeeing at all the creative things that pop up. Our own Kyle Runciman found this old process VHS footage in a box untouched for what must have been two decades. Figure we’d share it with you. It’s a speedpaint video that tackles the main crew of characters in the show:  Lucas, Will, Eleven, and Dustin.

Stranger Things focus on characters

To us (and we talk about this show a lot at the SketchBook office) what makes the show so winning is its characters. When since The Goonies have you seen a cast of middle-school-aged characters leading a storyline that’s aimed at a general audience? For that matter, how long has it been since a quality piece of entertainment came down the pike that could sport a “G” rating that everyone in the whole family could actually enjoy? To my mind, this is the real success of Stranger Things. It shies completely away from sex and violence and focuses on portraying great character moments. It’s a joy to watch and clearly a joy for fans of the show. The art people are creating is staggeringly good.

stranger things eleven

Kyle Runciman’s final Stranger Things fan art of the crew. Only thing missing is a 20-sided die.

A few of our favorite posters

In particular, there are a lot of people making their own poster art, usually in the vein of Hollywood collage character ensemble style posters. we wanted to share a few of our favorites — as well some of the places you can go to find more of this lovely art or even purchase what we consider to be the best of the best… so far.

kyle lambert original art for stranger things

The original poster art was drawn by Kyle Lambert, who is well known for using iPads to create stunning artwork. His amazing poster art set the stage for all the tributes that have come since. We love how his line drawing looks like a real coloring book page. Check out more of his art on his portfolio site.


stranger things fan art from independent artists and deviant art

Artist Barret Biggers got straight to work and created this stunning poster (left), which you can purchase  from his Etsy store. You’ll find tons of great fan art on DeviantArt, like this emotional speedpaint of Eleven underwater (top right) from Tsabo6. Artists like Luis Burgos have created some great character studies. We really love it when they incorporate details like notebook paper backgrounds.


stranger things collage poster art

You can buy this amazing Eleven/Demogorgon upside-down poster (left) by Michael Regina from his online store. Be sure to check out all the other amazing posters he’s made for his favorite movies and show. Matt Ferguson had the first upside-down poster art we saw, and it’s still one of the best. We love his silhouetted take on it. Finally, Thomas Walker makes amazing one- and two-color posters like this lost bicycle poster for all kinds of other great pop culture entertainment.



Even the most minor of characters in this series is getting reverential fan art treatment. Dustin, here done as watercolor by Pauline Jane Palita (left) and as quick-draw illustration by Marcelo Braga (right), is a fan favorite. But even fellow comic relief characters like Barb have a strong following. People have been making “Missing” posters of Barb, and this graffiti vigil is astounding! Even the boyfriend you’re set up to hate in the show, Steve, is represented, here by verauko on Deviant Art. I’m still waiting for fan art of the nerdaliscious teacher, Mr. Clarke. Bring it!

It’s only the beginning

And this is surely just the beginning. Clearly, this series was carefully conceived and storyboarded, and that makes it ripe for further fan art participation. Have you made any Stranger Things fan art, or do you have any favorites? Please point us to it by shouting out to us on Twitter, Facebook, or DeviantArt.

Free Brush Set: Drawing Leaves and Filling in Foliage

drawing leaves and foliage blog header

If you live under a rock and weren’t made aware, we’ve been giving out free brushes for the SketchBook Pro desktop app every Monday of every single week. This week, you’ll be getting the wonderful Leaves Brush Set. It’s a sixteen-piece set that includes various leaf stamps and some amazing brushes for drawing foliage (or any job that requires some texture). It can sometimes be tedious to paint nature, especially trees. We wanted to save you time and energy by providing you with these brushes accompanied by some helpful tips and tricks below. If you want to read more about how these brushes can be of use to you, keep on scrolling down. Don’t forget to download the brushes through the provided link above. Simply double-click the .skbrushes file to install.

how to for drawing leaves and foliage

Painting trees

If you want to go for a more detailed look, there is no shortage of leaf stamp brushes in this set. We’ve created the stamps to look subtle so they don’t stand out against a backdrop too boldly. You can try using a combination of leaves and foliage brushes to get a nicely blended finish with detailed leaves peeking through.

When using the foliage brushes, it’s encouraged to be messy. Think Bob Ross’s “happy little trees.” It doesn’t have to take hours. It can take seconds to create the illusion of a healthy tree filled with leaves. Trees aren’t symmetrical or neat, so try to create visual harmony or whatever looks right. Like in the example above, create layers with different tones of the colors you’re using. Add gaps of lighter colors where there might be a shortage of leaves and darker tones in thicker areas. Put in the lightest tones where there might be highlights from the sun.

leaves brush set examples

The four main foliage brushes can help you to create some amazing textures so don’t assume this brush set is made exclusively for painting trees. You can also use the leaf stamps for other decorative purposes like banners, frames, or backgrounds. Have fun!

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Jason Scheier: the Art of Sacred Spaces

jason scheier concept art

Jason Scheier is a concept artist who helps create visual styles and language for properties like Kung Fu Panda, The Croods, and Scared Shrekless. You’ve probably seen the results of his work, although most of that work is done well before a single frame of a movie has been filmed. It’s his job to take a screenplay and raw ideas and flesh out a world the characters will live in. You might think this is only necessary for animation, video games, and comics, but it’s also an essential process for some genre films (e.g., science fiction, mystery, fantasy).

Jason’s first SketchBook Pro demo (ever)

Jason sat down recently with the folks from ArtStation to demo SketchBook Pro, and he created some spectacular art. What’s even more impressive about what he’s made in this video is that this was his first time using the app. If you’re at all curious about how concept artists go from blank page to epic work of art, this is the video for you.

The job of concept artist

Concept artists have a huge task. They have to create epic landscapes that are well composed, but they also have to iterate using their skills with color, lighting, and effects — creating version after version after version for weeks on end until all of the input from the team has been incorporated. Although it’s a lot of work with a lot of creative pressure to perform, for the right kind of artist this as to be a real joy. Based on the commentary in the video from Jason in the video, it definitely seems that way for him.

jason scheier concept art examples

Concept art fans: the hipsters of fandom?

Concept art has its own type of fan. I sometimes think of them as the hipsters of the fan art world. Just like a music-nerd hipster might like a particular band’s “early work” (I’m that guy, I admit it), so too do concept art fans revere original pieces of concept art. Although these are often unfinished versions of characters, they’re usually way more imaginative and creatively drawn than the final, highly edited characters. They may carry bad-ass weapons that never made it into the movie, or the art may be of an otherworldly landscape that only exists in this singular painting.

The art of sacred spaces

The thing I like best about Jason’s video tutorial is the way he talks about creating sacred spaces. From a look at his ArtStation portfolio, it’s clear these kinds of environments imbued with feelings of mysticism and holiness are one of his specialties. He likes to let his imagination run wild and imagine he’s in the space he’s creating. He often creates a solitary figure in his paintings who is viewing the landscape just as we are for the first time. Jason imagines what it would really be like to be there in that solitary glen or lost kingdom or magical forest. This kind of real-time drawing and painting that populates on the page as his imagination gears up is a real pleasure to watch. I learned a lot from his video, and I think you will too.


More of Jason’s work

Jason has created art for luminaries like DreamWorks Animation SKG, Warner Brothers Feature Animation, and Walt Disney Imagineering, among many others. You can find a lot of wonderful concept art on his personal site, Parallax Infinite. He’s also taught at Art Center College of Design, Brainstorm School, Concept Design Academy, Laguna College of Art and Design, and Computer Graphics Masters Academy. And, of course, in this video!

Create your own concept art

If you’ve always wanted to make something like this, there’s only one way to know if you’ve got it in you. Try it. For this tutorial, Jason grabbed a copy of Shaun Mullen’s Environmental Textures Brush Set he found on our blog, which is probably a great place to start. Shaun is also a concept artist who makes epic landscapes, and he created this brush set exclusively for SketchBook Pro members. Not a SketchBook Pro member? Grab a free 15-day trial (no credit card required).

How to Draw Dragons: Step-by-Step Instructions from Tooth to Tail

how to draw dragons tutorial

Let’s be honest — dragons can capture our imagination like nothing else. Powerful, oves

agical, and, unfortunately, unreal. We can bring them to our world with drawing, but how to make them realistic if nobody knows what they look like? Actually, we kind of do. We all have a certain vision of what a dragon should look like, which makes it even harder to create a consistent image of them. That’s why in this tutorial I will not show you how to draw a specific dragon — instead, I will give you solid basics to design your own, personal species of them.

dragon drawing examples from monika zagrobelna

Once you’ve mastered these basic techniques, you’ll be able to create lots of creative dragon variations like these I drew while making this tutorial.

General Anatomy: Two Kinds

Dragons aren’t real, but if we want them to look like something living in our reality, their design must obey certain rules. That’s how we decide if a creature is believable or not. The best way to ensure believability of an unreal creature is to base its design on the anatomy of real animals. If we look at the evolutionary tree, we can place dragons in two possible groups: saurischians (the dinosaurs that birds came from), and therapsids (mammal-like reptiles). Let’s take a look at their possible anatomies.

Saurischian Dragon

This could be a saurischian species that evolved membranous wings. They were created out of the hands, so this dragon doesn’t have arms. Probably all carnivorous saurischians were bipedal, so the forelimbs were redundant anyway. We call four-limbed dragons wyverns, and some people don’t consider them dragons, but a different kind of mythical creature. However, this type of dragon  design is actually the most plausible, and that’s how they’re often portrayed in the pop culture today (See Skyrim, Game of Thrones, the Hobbit, Harry Potter series).

wyvern two legged dragons

The saurischian type of dragon (or wyvern) theoretically would have evolved wings out of hands, as in these pop culture and academic examples. Thus, only two feet.

Remember to keep the tail long, meaty, and quite stiff—it’s used for balance. There’s no other animal today that moves like dinosaur saurischians, so you can’t really base the movement on anything else. But you can use two simple rules: the femur can’t go back farther than 90 degrees, and the feet usually copies its angle.

drawing skeleton of a dragon

There are many different designs you can base on this anatomy. For example, your “wyverns” can use their wings for walking. Feathers are acceptable as well in this evolutionary line.

how-to-draw-dragons-vyvern examples

Therapsid Dragon

This one has a different story. It’s closely related to mammals, so it can move like them and be quite intelligent. It’s quadrupedal like most mammals, so it can’t sacrifice its forelimbs for the sake of wings. Instead, a special mutation has gifted them with an additional pair of limbs (it actually happens in nature; see dipygus). It’s very hard to place those additional limbs in a plausible way, and the whole design is very unrealistic when you compare it to most “real” creatures. However, it’s a very attractive vision. It can be brought to life in a convincing way (E.g., Dragonheart, Eragon, Dungeons & Dragons).

four legged dragons from pop culture and historic sources

Four-legged dragons are more rare in fantasy; they are often portrayed as a less animalistic than a wyvern — and more regal and noble.

The tails of therapsids are flexible and are used more for communication than for balance. Dragging it on the ground is fully allowed. To understand how this kind of dragon moves you can observe movement of big cats.

anatomy of a four-legged dragon

Again, there’s no need to copy this anatomy 1:1. You can experiment to create many fun designs, all very different. Keep in mind that fur is acceptable in this evolutionary line!

four legged dragon sketches

Dragon Skeleton

To draw a dragon properly you need to start with a few simple lines based on its skeleton. Skeleton gives form to the body and establishes the proportions before you invest any time in details. Obviously, both “species” will need a different skeleton:

the skeleton of a dragon

You don’t need to know the names of the bones, or the exact shape of them. You just need to know the general proportions, the placement of joints, and the limitation of their movement. You can learn a lot by sketching the animals your dragon is based on.

And here’s how you can start your drawing. You don’t need to finish out the first sketch that turns out well. Experiment, create many sketches, and then pick the one that you like the most.

quick initial sketches of dragon bodies

Dragon Muscles

Muscles give volume to the body and make the creature look strong and powerful. They’re also very hard to draw. If you want some kind of reference, you can try the illustrations below. However, I’ll also show you how to sketch the muscles step by step.

anatomy of a dragon: muscles

Start by giving a very general outline to the front side of the limbs. Add the back part.

dragon anatomy: musculature

Outline the thinner parts of the limbs. Add “supporting” muscles of the upper limbs. Add “supporting” muscles of the upper limbs.

Draw the basic muscles of the neck. Give an outline to the rest of the body. Pay special attention to the hips of the saurischian.

dragon muscles: how to draw them

You can stop here if you intend to add a lot of big scales later, because details of the muscles will not be visible under them. But if you want, you can make the musculature more detailed:

dragon musculature

dragon musculature finished

Dragon Wings

Dragon wings are a complicated subject, too complex to explain properly here. So let me just show you the basics. Bat wings, the only membranous wings in nature today, resemble your hands: You can easily pose the wings by spreading your fingers.

the different types of dragon wings

Dragons are much bigger than bats, so proportions of the elements of the wing must be a little different.

the similarity of dragon wings to bat wings

To draw the membrane correctly, imagine “areas of tension” between the joints.

dragon membranes in wings

Dragon Feet

Dinosaurs make a perfect template for many elements of a dragon body, with feet being especially proper. They usually have three or four toes, and each toe has fewer “parts” than the previous one, counting from the big toe (for dinosaurs it’s actually the smallest toe).

how to draw dragon feet

There are shock-absorbing “pillow” under the toes that give the foot its final form. For a therapsid dragon they may look like actual paw pads. In case of saurischian dragons stick to a more bird-like look.

dragon feet and the padding necessary

All right, let’s draw some feet step by step:

the initial sketches for dragon feet

  • Start with a very general line, like a piece of wire for a sculpture.
  • Add the other fingers around.
  • They should be shorter than the one in the middle, unless you’re going for a straight therapsid look—then you can use four toes, with two in the middle being the longest.
  • Add the foot pads. That big one is optional and depends on the style your dragon sports for walking.
  • Add the claws with gentle curves. These curves shouldn’t point directly to the ground—they can’t impede walking!
  • Draw the rest of the toes by creating a line of “marshmallows.” Their number should be roughly similar to the number of joints.

Finish the drawing by outlining the details…

drawing dragon claws

Dragon Head

The head of the dragon is not easy to draw, but it’s very important for the final impression. Let’s see how to draw it step by step, using any view you wish:

initial sketches of dragon heads

  • No matter which view and which species you want to draw, start with a circle.
  • Add a line showing the direction of the snout. You can cross it with the “eye line.”
  • Add the eye sockets. For a more difficult view imagine them as two ends of an empty toilet paper roll.
  • Add a circle to create a basic form of the snout. Use a big circle for a T-Rex look, and a small circle for a “beak.”

Now we need to go in a different way for a saurischian (1) and a therapsid (2), as the skull is the main difference between them. Draw the points that will establish the shape of the upper jaw.

dragon head drawing how to

In a 3D view cross these points with lines giving them a certain width. Generally, the snout should be narrower than the braincase.

drawing dragon heads next steps

Connect the dots in this special way to create the outline of the upper jaw. Pay attention to characteristic cheekbones of the therapsid.

side view of dragon head

Let’s add the lower jaw now. This method is quite complicated, especially in perspective, but it’s still better than a guessing game. Find the axis of rotation of the lower jaw (different for saurischian and therapsid), and sketch a fraction of a circle between the most extreme positions of the jaw. In perspective, that circle must take a form of a rotated ellipse. Lead a line between the “jaw point” and a point on the circle to define a position of the lower jaw.

dragon head GIF

measuring dragon head

Cast the form-indicating points to the lower jaw.

dragon head perspective and sizing

Give the lower jaw a width similar to the upper one.

how to draw dragon head

The lower jaw needs a depth, too.

dragon head drawing

Outline the lower jaw using the guide lines you have created.

dragon head mouth and hinged jaw

You can now outline the upper part of the skull as well.

dragon skull drawing

Let’s add the teeth now. This is where the two species differ a lot: saurischians don’t have specialized teeth like therapsids.

how to draw a dragon skull

drawing your dragon skull step by step

dragon head and teeth drawing

Finally, outline the head and give it final details

dragon head with teeth

Dragon Scales

Scales (or big “plates”) are what make dragons unique and differs them from dinosaurs. That’s why it’s so important to draw them properly. They seem very time consuming, but if you learn one simple rule, you’ll be able to add them to your dragons in no time!

There are two things to consider before we add the scales. First, locate the areas that must be the most flexible and therefore can’t be covered with big scales.

how to draw dragon scales

Now, locate the areas that require the biggest protection. You don’t need to draw these areas, but make sure you know where they are.

areas where you won't draw dragon scales

Let’s start drawing now (you can download my initial sketch and follow my actions if you want). Draw a line near the bottom of the neck, following its rhythm.

drawing dragon scales

Cross this area with diagonal lines, creating scales covering the throat.

drawing dragon scales 2

Add another line a bit farther, and draw a line between these two. This will be another row of scales.

drawing dragon scales how to

First draw one side of the row…

drawing dragon scales

… then the other. Pay attention to the serration between the  rows of scales. This is what makes the pattern of scales look orderly!


Add another row with the same method.


Once you come closer to the top of the neck, add a row of diagonal lines. Again, pay attention to the rhythm of the neck—a bent neck leads to outstretched scales.


Close them to create scales.


We can use this method to cover all the body, except you need to adjust the shape of the rows to the form of the body. First the huge breast muscle…



… then the thigh.




The tail is a good place to present the scales in all their glory.



The legs contain many flexible parts, so they must be covered with small scales. The less uniform the scales are in terms of size, the more real the dragon will look. A creature covered with same-size scales look simply lazy!




Finish the body by adjusting the style of scales to the already drawn ones. All the parts should naturally blend into each other.


Pay special attention to the head. The scales here should be detailed and carefully placed around the important parts (nose, eyes, jaw muscle).




Here’s our dragon in all its scaly glory!

dragon scales how to

If you want to add realistic horns and spike, simply modify certain scales. Spikes look the best when they grow in rows that start with small, insignificant ones.


You don’t need to draw the scales in the exact way I showed you. The most important thing here is the serration between the rows of scales. The actual shape of the scales is left to your imagination!


Dragon Eyes

Eyes are very important in adding the character to the dragon. However, it’s not the eyes that really show it, but the structures around it.

Start by drawing the general shape of the eye. The smaller it is in comparison to the head, the bigger the dragon will look (reserve big eyes for baby dragons).


Add a brow that will make it look angry. Make the eyelids look thick by adding little scales to their edges.

how to draw dragon eyes

Justify the angry brow by covering it with protective scales. You can add a row of scales around the eye socket to accentuate its shape.

drawing dragon eyes step by step

Add wrinkles in the soft area under the eye and cover them with little scales. Finish the outline of the eye and add the pupil.

how to draw dragon eyes

Of course, this isn’t the only style you should go for! You can use the same method to create different looks. Keep in mind that the pupil can change everything—experiment with various shapes to achieve the effect you want.


That’s All!

Today you learned all the rules you need to create a realistic, plausible species of dragon. But keep in mind it’s all about fun—feel free to mix the features of saurischians and therapsids if your imagination allows so. Remember—it’s us who make dragons real!

how to draw dragon sketches

About Monika

Monika Zagrobelna is a Polish artist with a specialty in drawing animals and conceiving of animals that haven’t yet been invented.  You can check out more of her work and follow along with her latest tutorials on her Facebook Page.

Oil Paints: Free Brush Set

oil paints brush set banner

It’s Monday again and you know what that means! That’s right, more free brush sets. This week you’re getting the amazing eight-piece Oil Paints Brush Set, a great addition to your growing library of brushes for SketchBook Pro. Now you can create beautiful oil paintings without having to wait for the paint to dry. Of course, you don’t have to be doing traditional style painting to get use out of these brushes. They’re perfect for building textures and especially blending for any type of painting. If you want to go down the route of old-school oil painting, keep reading for some useful tips. As always, click the banner or link above to download the .skbrushes file to your desktop and double-click to install.

oil paints waterfall

Oil painting isn’t about blending

With oil painting, it’s common to go with thick layers of paint as opposed to thin. So don’t be afraid to make bold strokes that stand out. It can also be helpful to lay down all of your base colors to start and add short strokes for detail. Many oil painters used a pallet knife to build up shadows of make objects more three-dimensional, so it’s okay to have areas where there are bold lines or sharp edges. Blending isn’t a bad thing, but the techniques used in oil painting will create contrast in brush strokes. You don’t actually want your colors to be smoothed together too much.

Stay loose

This is yet another style of painting where you need to be loose with your brush strokes. Try to blend as little as possible. You want to be able to see the texture of the brushes. Instead of creating gradients, keep adjusting tones with the brush puck to create shading and light (you can click and drag up and down on the paint puck to adjust the tone of whatever color you’re currently using). If you really want a traditional look, put in a canvas texture on the top layer and play around with the blending modes until you find one that looks authentic.

As always, these are just guidelines to help you along the way. You’ll figure out what methods and techniques work best for you and the visual aesthetic you’re going for by practicing and regularly creating art. If you want some more examples and inspiration, check out Pinterest for some amazing digital oil paintings and tutorials. Enjoy the brushes and feel free to share your creations with us on Twitter or on Facebook. through our social media links below!

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Flipbook Animating: Character Heads

It’s time for the fourth installment of our Flipbook Animating Tutorial series by Andre Quijano. If you’re new to Flipbook, be sure to check out the Introduction to Flipbook as well as our other Flipbook Tutorials on the SketchBook blog. Today we’re going to be animating heads, particularly the motion of a rotating head. We will still be working with some shapes, but this time it’s just for a bit of prep before we start getting into the actual animation. Want to take it with you? You can download the Working with Flipbook: Character Heads PDF which explains the process in more detail.

We’ll learn to turn a 3D shape in an arc from two points so we have a better understanding of how to animate in the third dimension. We will also challenge ourselves by changing the perspective and animating from different angles. First, we will go from left to right; then up and down. We won’t spin our shapes on the spot but turn them around like so:

animating an object turn by turn


Note about .skba files

We’re providing some of the actual Flipbook files for these animations so you can download them and open them in SketchBook. These files have the suffix .skba at the end of the file, which tells SketchBook that it contains animation. If you’ve never played with the Flipbook feature, this is an excellent way to try it out and learn how it works. (The PDF also has download links to the demo files of the examples provided.)

animation files download

Download the .skba files and open in SketchBook to see exactly how they work.

A head start: warming up

These warm ups are meant to give you practice with not only the motion of shapes as they move and rotate but also add the element of lighting and shading to make them more realistic. Practice with the shapes below, and you’ll begin to get a better understanding of how objects move in a 3D space — in particular how they react to elements such as the light around them.

each turn of the dice

[Download the Rolling the Dice .skba animation file.]

rolling dice animated GIF

Try changing the light source and play around with the lighting and shading. It can at first be challenging to figure out exactly where to place shadows, but you will eventually get the hang of it. Always remember you can reference real life examples or online images if you need some help.

How a light source affects turning and rotating

[Download the Rod and Triangle .skba animation file.]


pyramid cylinder animated GIF

This is the point where we move closer to animating the actual human head. The cube and pyramid combo below may seem a bit silly if you think about it as a head, but it’s the human head in its most simplified form. Remember that almost all animation can be broken down into simple forms. So if you ever have trouble with shading or rotation, try to envision the subject broken up into simple shapes.

blockhead drawing in each stage

[Download the Blockhead .skba animation file.]

cube pyramid animated gif

Rotating animating heads

Now we’ve gotten to the good part. For this exercise we’re going to treat the head and neck as one whole object as this tutorial focuses on how the head and face look as they move across the canvas. You can sketch out a simple head using a circle, an oval, and a cylinder for the neck. First let’s review the anatomy and key components of the head:

how to draw a basic head shape

The key takeaway should be that it’s okay to be rough! You want to prioritize capturing the motion and not spend so much time on the detailing of single frames that will be overlooked when animated. Just focus on the timing and placement.

heads: each turn

As you begin to flesh out each frame just think about the placement of the features, recall your studies of anatomy (or just Google search them) and slowly adjust the placements and clean up whatever looks out of place when you play it back.

rotation animating head GIF

[Download the Rough and Quick .skba animation file.]

Pay attention that the placement of the features remain consistent as the head moves across the canvas. After you have more or less roughed out your animation we shall switch to the foreground where we will add the facial details and strengthen out line work and erase the midground sketch.

line drawings of head shapes pre animating

animating head GIF

[Download the Turn to the Right.skba animation file.]

Once you’re done, all that hard work will be worth it because this animation can play forever and ever. Don’t fall in love with a single frame or even the end result — fall in love with the process. Variety is key to making the exercises more effective. From animals, humans and anything your imagination can conjure, experiment to your heart’s content and make different kinds of heads come to life with emotion.

Not a SketchBook Pro member?

Flipbook is just one of the many perks SketchBook Pro members get to take advantage of. If you want in on the fun, try a 15-day trial membership (no credit card information required). Just activate your Pro membership from within the app.

Rough Primitives: Free Brush Set

Drawing and shading tutorial header

Anyone who’s ever had to take an art class has been there: drawing and shading basic shapes such as the classic sphere, cone, and cube. Maybe not everyone’s most exciting choice of subject to sketch, but did you know that basic shapes make for some amazing shading brushes? This week we’re bringing you a set of very useful tools that take things back to the fundamentals of art. The set includes a number of brushes that can help you create some shading and textures useful for any kind of painting. There are also several stamp brushes ideal for anything unique and decorative. Download the Rough Primitives Brush Set and take a look for yourself! Check out the tips and tricks below to help you along the way.

Shading with primitive shapes

We thought we’d take this opportunity to practice shading basic shapes and perhaps improve your shading techniques. We sometimes forget that everyday objects, and even the human body, is made up of basic shapes. By practicing how to draw and shade “primitive” shapes (cones, cubes, spheres, etc.) you can learn to shade pretty much everything correctly. If you like, you can download the Primitive Shapes.tif file you see below to open up in SketchBook and practice directly on the cone, sphere, and cube with your new brush set.

primitive shapes light

When shading actual objects, it’s sometimes harder to determine exactly how to shade to create a sense of depth. You have to use your judgment to figure out if something has a hard edge (like the cube) or a softer edge (like the sphere or cone). For example, an article of clothing could have a wrinkle that appears to have a hard edge with sharp contrast to make the fold pop out. But it could also have a subtle shade that’s a soft gradient without a distinct cut off. And if you really want a photorealistic look, keep in mind elements such as bounce light (light that’s reflected off of another surface) and how certain objects such as food absorb light in different ways (like the subtle glow of a raspberry). Artistic choices like these take time to master; never be afraid to reference real life examples or do a quick search on the internet to figure out what route you should take.

primitive shapes shading

Pay attention to the light source we’ve provided for you. If you want more of a challenge for this exercise, change the position of the light source or even use some complex shapes or objects to shade from different angles. Like everything in the world of art, keep practicing and eventually it will be second nature to quickly figure out exactly where to shade and where to add light.

How to install and use desktop brushes

Being able to share and install these weekly free brush sets in the desktop app is one of the features for SketchBook Pro members. If you’re using the latest desktop version of SketchBook (version 8), simply double click on the .skbrushes file, and it will automatically install. Check out this article for all the details about brushes and legacy versions. If you haven’t tried SketchBook Pro, you can download a free trial and unlock Pro membership for 15 days (no credit card required).

Photoshop vs. SketchBook: Comparisons, Contrasts, Complements

sketchbook vs. photoshop banner

Should you draw in SketchBook or Photoshop? Believe it or not, sometimes the answer is “both.” Recently, we showed you how brushes compare in Photoshop vs. SketchBook: Brushes. We know that some people use both apps — sometimes even switching as part of their regular everyday workflow. We’re fans of using as many apps as you need to create beautiful art, so we wanted to give our users another breakdown of the differences and similarities between the desktop versions of SketchBook and Photoshop. This time around, we’re tackling all the details beyond brushes. You can download our big Adobe Photoshop to Autodesk SketchBook PDF guide to use as a reference if you’re switching between apps, or just read on for a summary of the differences.

Compatibility between files

compatibility: PSD to SKB

Fear not. The most important detail of all — compatibility between files — is solid. SketchBook is able to read and save PSD files with all layers intact. This allows for flow between the two applications if changes need to be made in one or the other. It is important to note that since these applications do not have exactly the same tools/functions, some layers that were modified using adjustments or effects in one software may not directly transfer with the same editing capabilities. That’s probably common sense when you think about it, but it may not be common sense when you’re in the moment of flow and creation.

Layers and layer menus

Almost all layers-based apps work the same way. So you won’t have any trouble switching between these two. One thing that is strikingly different about SketchBook, though, is the appearance of a marking menu when you click and hold on the circle icon in the center of a layer. This ‘marking menu’ is something like a right-click option you might see in Photoshop, but it’s especially good for use with a stylus. It rings all the options as close as possible around your pen so you can quickly create a new layer, a new text layer, merge layers, etc.

Control: layers in photoshop and sketchbook

One thing that SketchBook doesn’t have that Photoshop does have is clipping masks. Clipping masks can be useful to graphic designers, especially if you’re creating designs that have a lot of geometry or rigidity to them to block out areas where you don’t want any details to appear. SketchBook focuses on drawing, which is usually about laying down successive layers of color and texture and blending them together. If you need clipping masks, you’ll need to do that in Photoshop.

Control: layers in photoshop and sketchbook

One other small but notable difference: SketchBook layers have an opacity slider on each layer instead of at the bottom of the menu like you find in Photoshop. SketchBook users are always needing to fiddle with opacity to get just the right look so we made sure that was always at hand.

Blending Modes

If you don’t use blending modes in either of these apps, you’re missing out on some of the most useful functionality for creating art. (If that’s the case, spend some time learning about blending modes in this video.) In essence, blending modes take the color and tone data in two different layers and perform some math on that data to get some cool-looking or especially useful results. Some blending modes will turn your two layers darker, some lighter; some options will knock out all the fully black or white pixels; some options will completely invert color to create something that looks like a heatmap.

blending modes in photoshop vs. sketchbook

There are a lot of options to choose from (a few more in Photoshop than in SketchBook, and a few in SketchBook that you won’t find in Photoshop), and the math behind how it works can get a little complicated, but don’t worry about learning all of the underlying details. Most people just eyeball it and find that blending modes can be as useful as special brushes in the effects they create. Experiment!


Color is such a seemingly simple thing. But the subject runs deep. Really deep. We’re all familiar with three-color composition like RGB that we see on our computer screen, and perhaps some of us have dealt with 4-color CMYK processing in special print situations. But you might be surprised that RGB colors in combination can create over 16 million different colors on a decent computer screen. And we can only visibly see maybe 10 million of them!

color: copic markers, RGB, CMYK, HSL

In general, there are a few key things to know about color in these two apps:

  • Photoshop: Photoshop has lots of complex options for calibrating and embedding color profiles. If professional pre-processing and printing is a must for you, it has oodles of options. Of course, all those options are complicated. If you’re not familiar with the details of four-color processing and color matching, it can be a little overwhelming. Some people who need to match a very specific color (e.g., using a Pantone color to meet branding guidelines) will start their drawing in SketchBook and finish it in Photoshop to color correct. They strongly complement each other in this way.
  • SketchBook: SketchBook’s colors are more simplified. In the Color Editor you can choose color as RGB and HSL (hue, saturation, and lightness) and randomize color (if you really want to). The SketchBook Color Editor bundles swatches inside the same window, whereas Photoshop sets them in their own Palette window.
  • Copic Library: SketchBook is unique in that it contains the Copic Color library. Copic markers are a brand of markers that are well-loved by artists, so if you are one of those marker nerds you will love being able to choose them.

In short, it’s really about your own color needs, so use whichever app you need to get the color you want. Use both if you need to.

Accessing color tools

Where Photoshop focuses on an unparalleled breadth of color options, SketchBook focuses on making color picking fast. If you draw digitally, you are probably constantly tweaking and adjusting your tools to get just the right look and feel. To meet that need, SketchBook developed a “Color Puck” that you can click to pull up a Color Wheel. That Color Puck also lets you drag and quickly change the opacity (up/down) or saturation (left/right). Photoshop doesn’t have a Color Wheel, but it does have a Color Cube that works in a similar way for picking colors. Opacity changes take a few seconds more, but the difference isn’t that great.

Color puck and color cube

Working with the canvas

If you’re used to holding down the spacebar to move your canvas around, both apps will do that for you. SketchBook pops up a navigation puck when you hit the spacebar (or manually choose it), and it has a few options to click on with either a mouse or a pen. The blue highlighted area on the wheel shows where the cursor currently is and will execute that function based on mouse movement or clicking and dragging to influence the values. Click on zoom, pull your mouse up, and you’ll zoom. Photoshop has always had a hand tool that lets you click on the spacebar and move your canvas around. It also has a rotate option, but zoom is a separate function. The differences between the apps here is not huge, but visually and even  mentally it’s quite different.

transform options

Layer transformation

This is an area where there is a pretty big difference. Photoshop transformation is usually accessed with Control T, which shows the bounding box of the layer. Once you do that, you can choose various transformation tools from the Edit menu (e.g., Scale, Rotate, Skew, etc.). SketchBook places these kinds of transformation tools inside a Transformation puck (V) that is similar to the Canvas Navigation menu. Again, it’s a more visual approach that ultimately comes down to the fact that SketchBook has a lot of users who use a stylus; having to dig into a lot of top-level menus can be a real pain with a stylus.

Layer transformations

Flipping your work around

That said, there are still some traditional menus to navigate, and you’re welcome to use those if you prefer it that way. One essential part of digital painting is having the option to flip your canvas back and forth. This way, you can get fresh eyes on your work. It will often bring out issues with perspective that make you see your painting in a different way. SketchBook has menu options to mirror the canvas or individual layers, and as with Photoshop they are buried inside menus. But — and this is probably the best tip you’ll get all day — you can customize your Lagoon and put all kinds of options in there, including mirroring functionality. Strongly recommended.

mirroring your drawing: flip it

Selection tools

Photoshop has a more extensive selection variety with more settings and influence on selection. This is due to the nature of having multiple uses for the software. For example, if you do a lot of photo manipulation having precise selection tools and options is beneficial. SketchBook doesn’t have quite so much, but it does have Rectangular, Oval, Lasso, Polyline, and a Magic Wand, with Add, Remove and Replace workflows. These selection tools function in a similar way to those in Photoshop. They are useful in painting/drawing because you can quickly change/resize parts of your image whether through rough selection or more precise ones depending on the tool.

Selection tools in photoshop and sketchbook

Tools unique to SketchBook

The above tools are some of the functions that are key to be familiar with when sketching. It allows for flow and to get your ideas down instead of focusing on where to find certain tools during your process. As I sketch, I’m constantly creating new brushes to get different textures, flipping my canvas, adding/deleting layers and using different colors. As an artist who has also used Photoshop, It was an easy transition to be able to draw in SketchBook. But, there are some tools in SketchBook that are specifically made for people who draw. If you already use these tools a lot in SketchBook, they are probably deal breakers for you because they are so handy for sketching. Check them out…

Create crisp straight lines in any direction

Create crisp straight lines in any direction. Essential.


Create elements with various radii

Create elements with various radii. Huge help with underpinning the human form.


3 types of French Curves. Can be uniformly scaled, rotated, translated and flipped. French Curves are used for drafting/sketching to create clean and crisp curves.

Three different types of French curves that can be uniformly scaled, rotated, translated, and flipped. French curves are used for drafting/sketching to create clean and crisp curves.


perspective guides

You have one, two, three, and five-point (fisheye) perspective guides if you need them. No guessing necessary; your drawings will always look like they fit the space they’re supposed to fit.


symmetry tool

This is invaluable for drawing geometric spaces, but it’s just as helpful when drawing faces.


This will help you control your line quality. A little help making beautiful lines never hurts.

This will help you control your line quality. A little help making beautiful lines never hurts.


Create shapes and lines with a single stroke on the canvas.

Create shapes and lines with a single stroke on the canvas. If nothing else, it’s great for making frames around your final drawing.

Verdict: It’s up to you

Not sure which one is right for you? Both offer a free trial, so there’s no reason not to try them both. Download Photoshop and give it a go here. Grab a copy of SketchBook and start a free trial at launch (no credit card required).