My skills do not lean in the direction of drawing, and never have. I’ve taken a course here and there, trying my best to improve my sketches, but I’m honest enough with myself to admit I’ll never be producing the kind of art found in How to Draw Steampunk from Walter Foster. Written by Joey Marsocci and Allison DeBlasio and illustrated by Bob Berry, this is one of those books that is thoroughly enjoyable to thumb through and drool over (for folks like me) and even better for those with artistic talents who want to obtain some tips on adding steampunk elements to their art or just plain learn how to start from scratch and create some eye-catching steampunk artwork.
It’s a full-color book, 128 pages, and oversized to allow for some great tutorials on a variety of techniques from pencil to paint to digital image manipulation. The first chapter of the book is perfect for me — a brief couple of essays on steampunk and the influences around us that make for good imagery, and then a solid overview of color techniques, supplies, texture design, and perspective, my real weak spot. There are color pencil techniques followed by brief paint pattern explanations and a simplified overview of Photoshop.
Remaining chapters focus on specific areas of steampunk, starting with Chapter 2′s coverage of gadgets. The authors and illustrator start with a very simple Spider, showing how the basic pencil shape is further modified with rough sketches of the details that will cover its surface. The techniques go over the correct pencils to use, as well as adding scale using background images. As a non-artist, I find it fascinating to look at the first image (Step One) and how it changes through a series of “upgrades” to the final image of Step Five that is simply a fantastic image of the Spy-Der, a steam-powered surveillance tool complete with articulated legs, pressure release valves on its back, and dangerous looking mandibles. The illustrator finally throws in a colorized version of the Spy-der done with Photoshop along with a note on where to get more help on turning a pencil drawing into a more refined digital image.
The chapter continues with steps on drawing a steampunk computer, a lightning gun (complete with nice explanation of perspective that gave me a bit more information that I lacked), a pipe organ, and a steam-powered bison and speedster. (If a car like this really existed, I’d have started saving my dollars in high school — it’s a beauty, Mr. Berry.)
Chapter 3 covers character drawing, and the book provides a series of Victorian men and women such as the Gentleman, Strongman and SkyPirate… as well as the Lady, the Aviator, and Lolita. Different techniques of coloring and textures are provided with the various characters so the reader is provided with a nice sampling of final results.
Chapter 4 tackles machines, complete with a version of the Nautilus, a zeppelin, a flying galleon. All of these are demonstrated with pencil drawing techniques, leaving the color decisions up to the reader. Again, I found myself flipping back and forth between pages looking at final image and then comparing it to the steps it took to get there. I know artists probably think nothing of this, but I’m just amazed at how the simple shapes that begin a sketch evoke the final image.
The book finishes up with Chapter 5 and a complete walkthrough example of creating a steampunk cityscape scene and the Time Machine and the workshop’s other items of interest that really make the drawing pop. The book completes the tutorials by providing a full walkthrough on modifying an image with a combination of paint techniques, some interesting uses of aluminum foil, and a lot of diluted mixtures that give the final image a unique look and coloration.
I’ve enjoyed just scanning all the beautiful imagery found in the book, but it’s also lit a fire in me to try (again) to learn to draw. A quick scan of the Walter Foster website shows me dozens of books that I might look at for some instruction. When I was a kid, I remember drawing a pirate ship that impressed my teacher and my parents, but somewhere along the way that skill withered. I have my own ideas for some projects I’d like to do that involve steampunk imagery, and this book has definitely given me an incentive to try to sharpen the old sketching skills once again.