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Sketching from the Imagination: Fantasy - Ed Binkley

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Date Added: 10th June 2015
sketching, creatures, ed binkey,  

Ed Binkley shares his stunning fantasy sketches along with his inspirations and techniques with this sneak-peek look inside the pages of Sketching from the Imagination: Fantasy

Sketching and drawing in general are, for me, a means to a narrative end. The story behind the imagery drives everything, helping me make decisions and determine even the finer details and subtleties. Sometimes that story is pre-defined for a freelance project, and sometimes it's simply the story that comes into my mind as a creature or character develops; but it's always there.

I try to work without having to think much about technique. I don't want it to be a distraction that snaps the viewer out of that alternate world I'm trying to show them. I work digitally but I try to avoid a computer-like look. I want my images – sketches or finished illustrations – to look like they could have been done traditionally. The important (and most challenging) thing is to make sure that whatever technique you use serves to hold the viewer in that imaginary world that you are creating.

I used to sketch traditionally, then scan into Photoshop for the finished illustration, but about 10 years ago I switched to fully digital – I love it. It makes me bolder and more likely to try something that I wouldn't have years ago. But I think my early traditional training and experience gave me a love for that look which I still pursue in Photoshop.

A full-value sketch, using one of my favorite custom brushes that mimics a broad-tip marker. One big advantage of this approach is that the sketch has the potential of becoming the finished creature, ready to move into a larger composition

I've read multiple stories of dragons abducting maidens, and I imagined a maiden's younger sister planning a counter-abduction in order to negotiate her sibling's return. Dangerous business

I frequently sketch over an existing texture. When the line work is done, I can Dodge or Mask the underlying texture to enhance 3D forms. This is fast and effective, and easy to redo if necessary without damaging the line drawing

Inspiration and ideas

I'm most inspired and moved by creative work that is multi-layered and beautifully crafted, such as allegorical novels or poetry. I love the English Romantic poets, Shakespeare, and modern fantasy masterpieces such as John Crowley's Little, Big. I love movies and have a collection of favorites that I study.

I look at a lot of art and, of course, I have favorites who are constant inspirations to me. I love Rembrandt, Arthur Rackham, and some British Victorian painters such as Waterhouse and Leighton. There are also many contemporary illustrators and artists whom I admire and want to be when I grow up.


I sketch and draw almost entirely with a medium-sized Wacom tablet in Photoshop. I don't have a huge array of custom brushes – maybe a dozen that I use often, but only two that I use 90% of the time. When I travel and can't take the computer and tablet, I carry a small sketchbook and disposable ballpoint pens. Cheap, disposable pens are actually great for sketching and can produce more subtlety than you might think. I later scan those sketches into Photoshop if they're worth developing.

Sketching techniques

Many of my images begin as scribbles; then I look at the shapes like a Rorschach test and let the scribble become whatever it wants. Sometimes a creature or character emerges. Sometimes nothing happens and I try again. This approach is fun for developing imaginary worlds that I didn't realize were in my mind. I sketch sometimes with simple line, other times in full value, depending on the subject and what's working on a given day.

I switch between dark and white (which is easy to do in Photoshop), sketching with white back into the dark, creating texture and dimension that's more difficult to achieve by constantly drawing only darker.

He's the procession-leader in my finished illustration, Changeling, along with Pygmy-possum and Sparrow. This is another result of having seen a real human who made me think of a particular human-animal combination

Both Pygmy-possum and Sparrow are examples of disposable-pen sketches I did while traveling, when I couldn't take the computer/tablet combo along. I later scanned the sketches into Photoshop and dropped a grunge texture behind them to quickly develop some depth

Another study for the Goblin-King processional. I love to create eye contact between the viewer and a secondary subject in my illustrations, so that the viewer might be surprised at being noticed

A quick line study for a procession idea led by the Goblin-King. Medieval clothing fascinates me and I enjoy inventing possibilities based on roughly-tailored cloth and bindings like ropes or sashes. They can be great compositional tools and opportunities

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