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A revision to an old tutorial I used to have on my website.
As I always seem to end up saying, if you don’t need realism, then don’t feel obliged to have to draw realistically – if a cartoon suits your purposes, then draw a cartoon! Some days it’d seem drawing realistically is the holy grail of hobby art, and it doesn’t need to be – stylised cartoony artwork is just as good and valid and just as much a form of art as photo-realism.
Plus, the thing about plaits is that they very readily lend themselves to being stylised; watch an animated film (even such highly esteemed ones as older Disney films and certain Japanese anime) and you will quickly notice that most plaits are highly convincing as plaits, but not especially accurate. Which does save an awful lot of bother in the long run – if you don’t need a 100% accurate rendition, then why bother trying to draw one?
Having said all that, I personally didn’t want to draw my plaits in a stylised way, so go figure. *bangs head on desk* And having a character whose “trademark” was two plaited pigtails didn’t really help, as I just got stressed over it – references didn’t help, books didn’t help, I couldn’t see the basic structure underlying the thing and couldn’t then work out a principle to structure from.
It took me a long time to work out an easy way to draw plaits, and when I finally worked it out I was surprised by how easy it actually was – and was annoyed at how long it’d taken me to work out something so simple!
Plaits are actually rather easy to draw once you have the groundwork done – these days I rarely do much more in the way of structuring than a central zigzag and then add the loops on other side. But anyway.
First of all, plan out where you want the plait to go. These days I use a “sausage” shape rather than a zigzag line, as that way it’s easier to get an idea how much space it’ll ultimately take up – if you simply use a zigzag the final piece will be roughly three times as wide. A central line will make it easier to place the next step.
Over the central line, draw a zigzag – how “loose” you make it is up to you, but I like to go for something close to right-angles.
Next, add in lines out from each end of the individual lines of the zigzag, like so, to form a grid. (At least, I find it’s usually easier to get the shape I want if I do this, rather than try and put the grid in from the get go, but whichever floats your boat.)
The curves of the individual strands of the plait then follow these boxes – each outside “loop” taking up the two adjacent diamonds on the “top” side of each line in the initial zigzag. (See the coloured inset.)
…And once it’s inked and the structuring erased, you should have a reasonably aesthetically pleasing and structurally correct plait.
A final couple of dos and don’ts:
One: Don’t make the top of the loop too steep – you should follow the outline of the diamonds fairly closely, simply rounding off the corner. If you make it too curved, you lose the “woven” quality of the drawing – after all, a plait is three “strings” woven together, and it won’t have too many lumps and bumps in it. Look at the diagram for an explanation – if you look at the red diagram, you’ll notice that the black outlines don’t match up from one side to the other.
Two: I find it’s best not to make the initial zigzag too “tight” (C). Although it’s not incorrect, per se, it looks “off” to me – as though incorrectly stretched or resized.
Conversely, if you make the zigzag looser (B), you simply get a looser plait, one that looks like it’s coming undone a bit.
And there you have it! I'm working on a "proviso" to go onto this, taking into account the more complex "celtic-knot"-type plaits, but I probably won't bother putting that up on here. Full tutorial on my site
Incidentally, off-topic, why don't devART have a "traditional art" section in the tutorials section? Do they assume that people will only ever write tutorials for producing CGI? Pff.