How To Draw Sci-Fi Utopias And Dystopias by Prentis Rollins (book review).

November 24, 2016 | By | Reply More

Looking around to see whether our own genre is covered in the various ‘How To-’ artbooks out there, I came across comicbook artist Prentis Rollins’ book, ‘How To Draw Sci-Fi Utopias And Dystopias’. The sub-title points out that this divides into humans, aliens, robots, vehicles and cities so you get a bit of everything.


Like all of these kinds of books, you do get a crash course in drawing, shapes and shadows and equipment at the start although the bulk of this book is a bit beyond beginners. Rollins is the first artist I’ve come across to recommend more than Photoshop. Manga Studio 5 is also mentioned but not demonstrated although it is a lot cheaper and I’ve been playing around with it when I can in recent months and can see its potential.

art (c) Prentis Rollins

art (c) Prentis Rollins

An odd thing about his figure drawing is that the trunk, because of the extended abdomen, is almost as long as the legs. I’m not entirely sure if this is because of his own stylised drawing but to my artistic sense, it does look a little odd.

art (c) Prentis Rollins

art (c) Prentis Rollins

Rollins is very much a pencil, pen and ink artist first and colour embellisher afterwards. As the title says ‘draw’, so don’t expect any purely painting tips. He works out from showing how he does his own work and what inspires him than guiding you into doing your own work. It might have been handy had he shown the shape building beyond the cities but that might be a question of space. If you can draw a cube, sphere and pyramid, most of the layouts are pretty straight forward. Take a leaf from his book rather than copy and you’d probably learn a lot. Look at what influences you to inspire rather than copy. No one works in a vacuum. Well, I might do from time to time but I do have a spacesuit.

art (c) Prentis Rollins

art (c) Prentis Rollins

There is a hint that Rollins doesn’t always gets his own way with composition, hinting he forgets to layer to enable to change elements in his art software but I think that’s a common problem that I wish the manufacturers really can solve very simply by highlighting which layer you are in so you don’t have to think much but look to work out where you are. For those who are going digital, doing your background in one layer means never having to worry about overlap with the foreground.

If anything, I wish he had focused more on problem areas because this is often what learner artists can then share a frustration and be pointed at the solutions but this is often true of many How To- books, there isn’t always the space or there’s too much to cover.

art (c) Prentis Rollins

art (c) Prentis Rollins

You do get a look at the professional way to draw and colour pictures though. I suspect many of you won’t have a photocopier to hand to do a quick print. However, if your printer comes with a scanner, providing you don’t draw beyond A4 size (I doubt if many of you have an A3 scanner let alone printer), you can go that route to produce your ‘photocopy’ to test out the colouring and chiaroscuro (adjusting dark and light in the picture) before spending time on the final picture. Saying that, I did wonder why he didn’t just block this in using his graphics software as the fill command would be just as effective, providing that there were no holes for the colour to link out of. More so, as he does ink his pictures. For those of you who are wondering, if you’ve done tight pencils, I would probably up the brightness/contrast command to sharpen the pencils to near ink quality if you’d rather not go over the pencils with inks but that’s just me.

Treat Rollins book as the start off point but don’t be afraid to experiment with whatever software you’ve got if you are going to go digital. A lot of the time, artists will do whatever is best for them so you’ll probably need to experiment to see what will work for you and read the manuals. Manga Studio 5’s manual is an eye-watering 1000 page pdf but only a third of it really applies to its artist aspects with the rest devoted to animation and the more advanced version.

art (c) Prentis Rollins

art (c) Prentis Rollins

Please don’t treat this as a putdown on Prentis Rollins’ work here. He covers a wide range of SF subjects and how he treats them. You need to look at his techniques and see what you can take from them and apply to your own work. My previous paragraph is applying things I’ve learnt and thinking why didn’t he do that.

Rollins’ points out that even of the full pictures he did here took 4 to 5 days to complete although he doesn’t say how many hours each day. Even so, that’s still a lot of time to apply to a picture so set out your drawing and painting schedule and be prepared to take a little time off to study each stage and be happy with that before you move on to the next one. His ‘Afterword’ should be required reading for all artists. You are a sponge for all the things that are going on around you and it is the interpretation of these that will become something that might one day become what you see any maybe bring some originality to your art.

GF Willmetts

November 2016

(pub: Monacelli Press. 208 page illustrated indexed softcover. Price: £20.00 (UK). $25.00 (US), $34.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-58093-446-6)

check out websites: www.monacellipress.com and www.prentisrollinsart.com

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Category: Books, Illustration

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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