Sculpting a Sketch

Goal: Modify a sketch before digitally inking or light box inking.

Tools:Scanner, Photoshop

Note: This may be done with any equivalent image manipulation software you may be familiar with, however the steps to do similar modifications may be different. I am using Photoshop 7.0, so other versions may also involve different steps.

The best method any artist should use when going from a rough draft to a final piece should simply be draw, redraw, then draw again. But there are other ways to make minor or even major changes to a rough sketch before you ink it.

Let’s say you love the face or the costume, but parts of the body just aren’t coming out right no matter how many times you redraw it. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to draw your ideas and worry about proportions later. The wonderful thing about this method is how quickly you can swap things around and change the original lines.

This was an experiment on my part. I’ll warn you that traditional artists may cringe at my method. Your sketch will look all chopped up and skewed, but who cares how you went about modifying your rough sketch once you ink the final draft and toss out the intermediary steps?

Using the same method that tabloids and advertisers use to manipulate photos of normal people and change them to look like impossibly endowed models, you can manipulate certain parts of your drawing to look more like you intended it to look without scrapping the drawing and starting over. It may sound lazy, so I apologize. But in defense of this method, it still takes a keen eye and steady hands to make a sketch look better.

Preparing your Sketch

Scanned SketchScanned Sketch (click to zoom) Either scan in your sketch into Photoshop or import it from another source, such as a digital sketch drawn on a tablet.In Photoshop, crop the image with plenty of room on the sides to move things around. Insert an extra layer below the drawing and fill it with white. This extra layer will simply make the chopped up image look more appealing during modification

Prepped Image

Chop and Transform

One type of modification in Photoshop allows you to rotate, move, and scale parts of your sketch. Select the part of the drawing you want to modify using the lasso tool. The polygonal lasso tool works best for large selections and square-shaped selections, while the normal lasso tool will work for small, curvy selections. After you have selected the portion you want to modify, then use the transform function found under Edit > Free Transform, or by using the keyboard shortcut CTRL+T.

Now you can drag the selection around, scale it by using the 8 small boxes found around the edge of the selection box, and rotate the selection by clicking and holding outside of the selection as you drag it around.

Tsk tsk, such unlady like posture. In the example below, I make this slouching lady straighten her back out.

Chopping the Image

Or here I decided that her right leg looked oddly off balance, so I straightened out her leg in a three step process.

Chopping Part 2

Okay, so by now you may notice the artifacts left behind, such as white spots where the lines don’t match up or the extra lines overlapping where there is too much. This may look ugly now, but will disappear by the time you ink. Also, the perspective has changed, so things may look different. All of these are things you should keep in mind when doing further edits and when you finally ink the thing.


The Liquify option is pretty well exclusive to Photoshop. In newer versions it can be found under Filter > Liquify, and in older versions it may be found under Image > Liquify. Or you can find it using the keyboard shortcut CTRL+Shift+X. Liquify is a nifty little feature allowing you to quite literally sculpt the image using various brushes and tools.

There are a variety of tools, and they change from different versions. But the most useful tools for this type of application are the following four basic tools. (The changes I made are just exaggerations of their actual usage.)

Filter > Liquify

Warp WarpThe warp tool is the most useful for changing the shape of an object, as you can drag lines around somewhat naturally. You can change the shape of a leg if you feel the perspective is off. You can reshape her shoulders, or move her glutes up. I will warn you that this only really works for curvy shapes. Straight lines are much harder to control, though it is possible if you have a lot of patience and control.
Twirl TwirlYou can twirl the image around clockwise or counter clockwise. This tool can prove useful, but is very hard to control and will distort your image greatly. However, it does have useful purposes, as you can change the angle and curve of a particular line or object.
Pucker PuckerMake objects smaller with the pucker tool. It will cause plenty of distortion, as it basically pulls everything to the center of the brush like a black hole. But it proves it’s worth for several tasks. For example you can make an eye smaller to match another eye, or resize any portion of the body.
Bloat BloatThis is the opposite of the pucker tool. It is also very distorting, but can prove just as useful.


You are also given a number of options on the right hand side of the liquify window. You can change the brush size, and the amount of pressure. Being able to find the right size and pressure will give you an unbelievable amount of control when you liquify the sketch. Options

Erase, Redraw

After some chopping and liquefying, you’ll certainly find things you can’t change using the previous methods. Also, some details may get extremely messy. The best way to modify these parts is to just use Photoshop’s eraser and pencil tool. Create a new layer on top of the original drawing so you can easily delete, move, and swap these digitally drawn modifications. Select a color such as dark blue, that will look slightly different so you have an idea what to change. And draw. It may be a bit tough with a mouse, or with a tablet if you’re not used to it, but keep in mind we are just creating a rough draft to be inked over later. Just as long as you can see how your ideas will look before it is finalized with the inking process, you should be fine.

Copy and Paste

Never underestimate the power of copy and paste. You can take a detail that is used repetitively, such as buttons on a coat, multiple knives, or other details. You can take the copy, move it around using the transform options explained earlier, distort it using the liquify options, and do whatever. It will make similar objects look more consistent.

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