The advantage to working in a scattered approach is that you allow the paint, lines or brushes to guide your imagination and do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, so you don't over-think the image and lose that sense of energy and freshness.
The best way to achieve this is to work fast and loose and to try several different brushes or approaches. Allow randomness to happen – you'll find that your mind tends to assign meaning where previously there was none. You may find that you've solved the problem of giving your character dramatic lighting without even trying!
It's like when Bob Ross used to talk about happy accidents. You want to make a lot of deliberate happy accidents: try something, see if it works; if not, erase it and try again, or just paint right over it!
When you have something you like – a figure in a particular pose, say – but you don't know what you want to be in the background, or what the character's holding, just create a new layer and experiment. That way you can save what was good while creating something new using those happy accidents.
01. Work fast and loose
First I create a border or bounding box. I like doing this because it gives me a little stage to work within, even though I don't have to be bound to it. I use a pencil-like line tool (which is essentially just a flat Round brush) and I start moving the brush around, finding interesting shapes within that border. The key is to let the forms present themselves.
02. Vary your brushes
Using a variety of brushes, I begin to bring that same randomised approach to adding internal forms and to rendering quick, early values to the form, giving the figure weight and solidity. I have to be either willing to experiment with various shapes and forms to fill out the individual details, or leave things alone for a while if I'm not sure where to go with it.
03. Different dimensions
Don't be afraid to change the dimensions of your work area. If the composition starts to feel cramped, then either change the size of the bounding box or increase your canvas size. If you were working on paper then you'd add another sheet if you started to get too close to the edge – it's no different when working digitally! Use simple forms and shapes to express ideas.
04. Rough is right
Allow the speed of working in this improvised approach to add emotional impact to your image. Don't worry if some elements are looking too rough or haphazard right now – those things can be refined later. Instead, I'd advise embracing the chaos on the canvas and turning it to your advantage. The initial impact of an image is what's most important.
Using a rapid, improvised push-and-pull method of sketching can produce great results, both in terms of creating interesting forms, and also in forcing yourself to think of value in its most simple terms.
Words: Sean Andrew Murray
A freelance illustrator and concept artist, Sean Murray is also the creator of Gateway: The Book of Wizards, and has worked for WotC, EA and Turbine. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 104.