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Welcome to PCA's apprentice tutorials, I'm Max, a senior warrior of the Project. This page is here to help users of any skill level contribute character art, or chararts as they are often called, to PCA and our lovely character pages on the wiki. What you'll find here are the basics of charart making, some info on the various art software our users use, and helpful tutorials for the different types of patterns and techniques that can be used to make charart.
If ever in doubt, the warriors and leads (users that are listed as Leader, Deputy, or Senior warriors), are more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Have fun and happy chararting to you! — eilish ゴジラ ()
First and Foremost
Everyone always asks how to become a warrior in PCA, or how to make art. Here's how you do it:
- Join PCA as an apprentice.
- As an apprentice, you can ask questions from experienced users, or just post your art! However, sometimes you might need help with something specific - that's what this page is for! We recommend having a basic understanding of your chosen art program, shading, and basic instructions/critique.
- The journey from apprentice to warrior is also rather simple.
- Having three images approved is the baseline to ranking up.
- But, knowing how to match different images, use an appropriate light source + shading, and giving good critique to fellow user's images is also an important part of becoming a PCA warrior.
Software & tools
Art programs are usually the first thing you'd wanna source if PCA is a starting point for your artistic pathway. Most of the ones listed below are free, open-source software that can be downloaded safely, however, PaintTool SAI and Photoshop are both paid programs. A helpful little tip to remember is that the software does not determine the artist - so it doesn't matter if you can't use some of these if you master one that you like using, then, that's great!
Listed below each heading is an image showing the basic tools that will be most useful to create chararts. Some images may have additional text below for certain tools - so be sure to read in case you're not sure what a tool is used for!
While we have select tool recommendations for the above software, we in PCA, are aware that there is a multitude of image editing/creating software out there. Due to that factor, we are unable to list them all, but, the beauty of art software is that most tools appear in each software (GIMP and Photoshop are both very similar programs, as they are meant to operate for the same uses).
Sometimes written explanations can be a pain in the butt to understand, so I've decided to scope out some very good and well-structed videos that can help understand your chosen art program/software!
- FireAlpaca Tutorial: The Basics
- How to Use GIMP (Beginners Guide)
- Tutorial - Beginners Guide to - Easy Paint Tool SAI!
- Photoshop for Absolute Beginners - Drawing Tools Tutorial
Earpink colours, Pupil & Shading Placement
Sometimes finding the right earpink colour can be tricky - so this is a handy dandy little guide to show you ballpark ranges of pink that work with different pelt colours. This is simply a suggestion of colours and not a mandatory statement. The main thing you want to do when working with earpink colours is that it should be at the very least, distinguishable against the colour of the cat and that it is not considered neon - meaning highly saturated (like highlighter markers).
As you can see, a lot of colours overlap between the different pelt colours so there are heaps of options!
Pupil Placement chart
A handy-dandy chart to show where to roughly place pupil for the blanks. This is by no means the only placement, but, rather a suggestion to avoid making your charart have a cross-eyed look to them. Pupil placement and style is something that comes under "artist's choice", meaning one doesn't have to make changes to it if they don't wish to. If chosen style is conflicting it makes it difficult to interpret, the artist may be asked to change a small aspect so that it is easier to make out the design (pupil + eye shine).
Shading Placement chart
A general rule of thumb with light sources; as long as it makes sense - it's fine to use. This is also covered more in-depth under our Shading basics section. This chart is a beginners guide to shading placement. One thing about PCA and the images created is that light sources vary from charart to charart and between the artist's themselves. This chart shows what shading could look like if the light source is coming from the top left corner.
If you'd like to see other light sources used in the Project, have a browse through the approved images for inspiration and more examples.
Working with solid coloured cats (that have no texture) can be frustrating and painful because a lot of it comes down to how to shade them. A couple of things to consider when having these difficulties is the shading's tint and overall darkness. In my own experience, those are two key factors in getting a solid cat to look nice.
Before we start talking about these two tips - please remember, shading tint & darkness is generally an artist's choice thing! This means it's up to the artist how they want to shade their art - but! If the tint and, or the shading darkness interferes with the quality of matching an image's set, you might be asked to change something!
For this exercise - let's pretend we need to make a new image for a pre-existing set. So, let's match Egg! A cream-coloured tom - cream is a funny colour to work with sometimes, so this will be good practise!
Let's start by colour picking the base from the first image in the set - which is the apprentice. Add in the earpink and eyecolour on separate layers and now we have an image that's ready to be shaded!
Here's where we can see a difference between shading options. The left kit shows really dark shading being used; the middle kit is using an experimental tint, and the last kit uses a similar colour and opacity as the rest of Egg's set.
As you can see, they all work, but, some work better than others. The two outer images are more pleasing to the eye, but, the first one is still a little bit too dark that it makes the shading look blocky and sharp. The middle image could work, but, the tint offsets the true colour of the image enough that it doesn't match the set - something to consider when using some tint variations. Trying something like the third image is what helps make a solid cat image look pleasing to the eye.
What you should aim for with solid coloured cats:
- shading that doesn't make the image look flat
- appropriate darkness for the colour
- appropriate shading tint (if applicable)
Tabby cats, or "striped cats" as they are sometimes called, are probably one of the most common pelt types seen in this series. They're always a fun description to try and figure out different designs for them. Above are some of the most common types of real tabby cats - of course, these are just some of the more common appearing ones.
- Mackerel tabbies like Tigerstar or Swiftbreeze are classic examples of what a mackerel tabby tends to look like. These tabbies tend to have long thin stripes down their body.
- Classic tabbies like Foxleap or Eeltail (for a more stylized classic tabby) are two very different examples of how classic tabbies can be made to look. The essential thing about this tabby is that the stripes are much thicker and "swirlier" than a mackerel tabby.
- Ticked tabbies are a rarer sight in PCA for some reason - can't seem to find any onsite examples! The main thing about ticked tabbies is that they do have much more prominent face, leg and tail stripes (which the above example doesn't - but that was due to reference). The body stripes are thickly clustered speckles.
- Pointed tabbies like Gorsetail or Reedshine are two different approaches to a pointed tabby. Gorsetail is much more of a classic pointed tabby, meaning that she has darker points where the stripes are placed. Whereas Reedshine simply has thicker face, leg and tail stripes, whilst also having some body spots (like a ticked tabby!)
- Spotted tabbies like Larkwing or Wetfoot are two good examples of this tabby type. Spotted tabbies, like the name states, have clear spotted markings! Some might have some more mackerel-type stripes on the leg and face, but, the body should have clear "dapple-like" markings.
One thing that I personally would recommend to anyone with tabbies is that your main goal is to avoid "triangle tabbies" or "y tabbies". While they are stripes, they come across as less form-fitting to the blank and just space fillers instead. Another thing that can help make it obvious is by adding an "M" to the cat's forehead - real-life tabby cats have this and its pretty much a universal marker for the pattern. Real-life reference can be very helpful to learn how tabby stripes work with the body of a cat - most of the examples above were directly referenced from real-life cats!
A thing to note with tabbies and pretty much every pattern in general with PCA - there is no requirement to be realistic. Keep this in mind when either creating your own patterns, or critiquing other's because everyone has a personal style for how they create their images. Some people may prefer a realistic approach, but, that doesn't mean everyone has to follow with that.
What you should aim for with tabby cats:
- clear, distinct markings (possibly including an "M" on the forehead)
- stripes that curve in the direction of the blank
Tortoiseshells & Calicos
As a foreword, the only difference between the two is the amount of white markings! The more white markings the more the brindled pattern becomes separated into more distinct patches of colour - just a really cool thing in cat genetics!
The amazing thing about tortoiseshell and calicos (which is the proper term for tortie-and-white cats) is that its a pattern type that can be interpreted in many ways. Basically, they have patches of at least two colours - and the ruling around those colours are pretty lax. As you can see in the above example image, in the real world - there's different ways of interpreting this pelt pattern. The examples depict a tortie cat and what can happen when white markings are added - the ginger patches become much more distinct and bold.
My tips for creating a tortoiseshell pattern is to have separate layers for each colour you want to use.
Here you can see I've separated my design into six layers - Blank, Base, Ginger, Tabby markings, White, and Extra patches. Of course, Tabby markings and extra patches are optional layers, I chose to add them because of what I was doing. By having the colours on separate layers, it makes the whole progress a lot easier.
Making the patches, it depends on what style you're going for. Sometimes its easier to just scribble in the markings, or to block it out in larger patches and smudge them. There are a lot of different approaches one can take for making a tortie - let's look at some examples.
- Unnamed kittypet shows a style similar to our first example above - a more brindled tortoiseshell pattern.
- Finchpaw's apprentice is a more stylized approach to making a tortoiseshell - by larger patches to show the tortieshell markings.
- Cherrytail's kittypet shows larger, distinct ginger patches with white markings like the third example above. This style is common for most tortoiseshell-and-white cat images.
- Turtletail is a really good example of a "high white" tortoiseshell cat with very distinct patches of colour as well.
What you should aim for with tortoiseshell and calico cats:
- remember that there are different styles of tortoiseshell patterns that you can make
- colours play an important part in this pattern
Sometimes characters get described with pretty interesting patterns, or, something that doesn't match the above patterns we've covered. Below are some different patterns that do crop up a few times and how you can also achieve some cool patterns/designs!
Pointed cat + User
Smoke cat + User
Texturing is a completely optional style used in a vast majority of image sets nowadays. The style adds a level of depth to most images, whether they be solid coloured cats, or patterned cats (tabbies/tortoiseshells). There are a few styles of texturing that can be done, which, in some, is defined by the art program.
Pencil + Smudge
Image + Username
Image + Username
Some characters require minor or major lineart tweaks - or both! Below are some examples of the types of lineart tweaks that a PCA user might come across. A simple way to tweak is to create a new layer and in a different colour using the binary tool is to sketch the tweaks before erasing the PCA blank's original lineart.
Minor lineart tweaks
Ear and fur tweaks
Major lineart tweaks
Broken limbs/tails, muzzle tweaks
The basics of shading really come down to knowing how to use a light source. Once you've got a light source working, you can really push an image's potential. A light source, as shown in the shading placement tutorial, is where your main light would be coming from.
This is what I'd call the standard shading style - blocking out the shading and then using a blur tool to smooth it out to fit the blank's shape.
White cats are painful to shade sometimes <3
also painful but here are some tips
An important part of becoming a warrior in PCA, and being a warrior, is tweaking. There are a number of different reasons to as what can be tweaked on an image - shading issues, light sources, pattern issues, or description changes are just some of the reasons for a suitable tweak. For more information on the suitable grounds for a tweak nomination and such, refer to the Project's here.
So, you need to change the lineart? Is it blurred, missing, or is it just the wrong length for the character? Read below to see how to quickly fix that problem up, no matter the art program!
Image + User
Fixing a light source
Fixing a light source is a pretty common reason for an image to be tweaked. In this tutorial, we'll be using GIMP and fix the problem by adding a new layer of shading and using highlights to remove the old shading's incorrect source - this last step is optional and only helps on certain images. The above image is what we'll be fixing today.
Make a new layer, and draw on shading using either a light source that is sort of being used by the old image, or by using one that actually makes sense. In this image, the light is coming from the top right-hand side.
Use the blur tool to smooth out the new shading layer. For this, I used a size 7 brush on 100%. The rate and size will determine how smooth and blurred your new shading is - keep that in mind. Once you're finished, low the opacity of the layer to your liking.
Next, if needed, add highlights using a lighter shade of the base. On this gray cat, I used white. This helps remove some shading along the back, tail, and chest, where it shouldn't be due to the light source.
Once the highlights are drawn on, blur them out, and change the opacity of the layer to your liking to decrease the highlight intensity. Now, remove the waste, and your image is complete!
Things to remember for light source tweaks:
- if applicable, use a similar, but working light source to the original image
- try to not redo all of the original shading (as this makes the image a redo and not a tweak)
- remember with shading tweaks - try not to lose the original pattern underneath if possible.
- don't be afraid to ask for help if you can't get it looking right! Project leads are more than happy to help - after all, that's what the tweak page/approval pages are for - constructive criticism
Image + User
Image + User
Image + User
Written descriptions hard to understand? Check out some of the vidoes our PCA team have made, showcasing how to make chararts!