Welcome to my tutorial on how to draw mecha using SketchBook Pro. I’d like to put a disclaimer here and say that there are so many ways of drawing robots and mechs. This is just one of the approaches I use. You’ve really got to push yourself and find out what works for you and not just follow what other people do blindly, but of course you can always learn something by watching how other people do it.
Prep: Canvas, Shortcuts, Brushes
I often start with a square canvas that’s 3,000 x 3,000 px, but for this tutorial I went for 6,000 px because I want a higher resolution. I post a lot on Instagram so having a square canvas helps for exporting later on.
Getting to know shortcuts is vital for me to get into a nice rhythm. If I have to go searching for a tool it can mess with the flow of the drawing for me. These are my go-to shortcuts:
- S Key: This is probably the one I use the most. It switches between the last two brushes used. I’ll always have a pencil/brush/pen and some form of eraser on the other.
- Y Key: Brings up the Y Axis Symmetry function. I like doing quick mirrored sketches using this tool. It makes for some relaxing sketching and also means I don’t have to design the other side of the robot. (Also known as me being lazy.)
- W Key: The Magic Wand. Nothing crazy here just helps to know where it is later. Note that if you use this it will turn the symmetry function off.
Finally, to get started I collected a set of brushes that I like to use for work like this. If you’d like, you can download Blackwell’s Mech Brushes and use it as a starting point for your own drawing.
How to Draw Mecha – Scribble and Sketch
I turn on the Y Axis Symmetry function and click the eye on the symmetry toolbar so I don’t have a line in the middle of my screen bugging me constantly. Pick a colour, in my case orange, and then pick a brush that you feel comfortable with. In my case I’m using the Copic Medium Broad Nib brush. Starting is the hardest part so just start making some scribbles. Get loose and have some fun! As you can see this is really messy, but there is the beginnings of something coming. I bounce between using the brush and eraser, making big sweeping changes until something sits right with me.
Continue building until you have something reasonably solid. As you can see my robot is rather humanoid, but I’m not really focused on any details like joints. I’m trying to get a nice overall silhouette — something that is fun to look at. For this drawing, I am treating this mech as if it were standing right in front of me in one-point perspective.
Line Work and Definition
Now it’s time to go in and start refining. I’ve taken my original sketch layer and dropped its opacity and made another layer on top. Now grabbing a darker colour and my ink brush I go straight to the head and start thinking about how it would work. The line work colour doesn’t matter. I’ve picked a dark red for now, but I’ll switch it to black later on. A humanoid robot needs have a range of motion, and while my joints are not always correct at this point they just need to sell the idea that it could move. I’ve added in the spine at the back and a couple of tubes and hydraulics to move the head around.
Now that the head is done, I move my way around trying to get in the major shapes from the rough sketch. Your rough sketch is just a guide. It’s there to help, but often you’ll be able to make better decisions in this phase so don’t be afraid to try new things. I’m still not too focused on all the details. I want to make sure those forearms and big armour plates are a good shape.
Joints and In Betweens
This next step is where we can start adding in all our joints in the in-between sections of the armour. Arm joints need to look as though they can twist and rotate as necessary. Areas like the waist, knees, and ankles need to have clearance for parts to move. If you ever get stuck, try looking up machinery or even other mech visualizations online in places like Pinterest.
Add some heavier ink sections in the areas where typically no light would touch inside the armour. This will help sell the separation in the armoured joints.
Bulking Up: Panel Lines and Stripes
Let’s go in and add those final details. Panel lines are great for showing the 3D nature of the design. Wrap them around arms and legs to show volume. If you are unsure, add a new layer and put all your panel lines on that. I like to keep my panel lines simple, and I also tend to put stripes on everything so you can see I’ve already planned out where I think they should go. I’ve added bolts and smaller details around the place to give the eye something to look at between all the larger open areas. It’s at this point I decided that the lower legs were feeling too straight and rigid. I went back and found that the rough sketch had some flow to it so I adjusted accordingly. Note that I’ve turned my line work black for now.
Hitting W (wand), I select the outside of the mech and then hit the invert selection button. This gives me the interior of the mech design and adding a new layer underneath, I fill it with grey. Hit Ctrl-D to deselect. Hitting Y to turn the symmetry back on and making sure to check the little lock symbol on the lower right corner of the layer, I get a darker grey and make the joints darker.
Shadows and Paint
Now for some shadows. I grab a solid brush, a light-grey blue, and set a new layer to Multiply with a lower opacity. My lighting is going to be fairly standard from the front and top down. I go in and put the shadows wherever I feel like it needs it.
Paint job time. I could drive myself crazy trying to find a nice colour scheme. I’ll let you decide your own paint scheme. As I said, I like my stripes.
Here I’ve dropped in a layer for a gradient background and added another Multiply layer for a ground shadow.
On a new layer set to soft light, I’ve added in a nice warm yellow/orange colour using an airbrush. Then making a layer set to Overlay and using the ink brush I go around using the same colour to pick out highlights around the mech.
Then finally for a little extra flash, I use a layer set to Soft Glow. This makes it look extra shiny.
More from Alan Blackwell
Alan Blackwell works as a freelance concept artist and illustrator in Adelaide, South Australia. You can check out more of his work on his website or follow him on Instagram to see his adventures in both 2D and 3D drawing and modeling.