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Five Tips for Drawing or Painting Archers for Fantasy

Amongst those of us who are archers we have some serious pet peeves when it comes to drawings/paintings of archery in fantasy art (and also applicable to fantasy book cover art and fantasy movies).

Namely it is the often completely unrealistic drawings / paintings / depictions that really annoy us.

But at the same time we do recognize that the artist doesn't know anything about archery and that is why they are making such mistakes in the first place. (If only the artist took photos or used photographs of real archers as a reference point that would be at least a step in the right direction.


That said, here are Five Tips for Drawing or Painting Archers for Fantasy Artists


A Realistic Painting of an Archer
#1. Ideally, you should learn how to do archery yourself, so you have a better idea of what you should be doing so you can be accurate. The more you learn, the more you will understand better how and why archers do what they do.


#2. When possible, use a photograph or ask a friend who does archery to do some poses for you. This way you have references for what a proper archer does in terms of form. (Do not copy films, comic books or other fantasy sources... Such sources are frequently flawed and you could end up copying something that is just plain wrong.)

The sketch below is based on a photograph. It isn't a fantastic sketch, but it is a realistic depiction of a skilled archer shooting a Scythian horsebow.

Having photographs and realistic sketches handy during your creative process will allow you to make artwork that won't be mocked by the archery community.

And yes, we totally mock artwork and movies when they get it wrong.



#3. Pay attention to the details... The arrows, the shape of the arrowhead, the nock, the fletching, the bow string, how the bow bends more as the archer reaches full draw, the elegant shape of the bow, the position of the archer's drawing hand on their face (known as the anchor spot), the positions of their elbows and shoulders, the full draw with their bellybutton pointed 90° away from the bow, the three fingers on the bowstring (split finger style), and the relaxed grip of their bow hand on the riser handle.

For example there are many different kinds of arrowheads. Archers typically don't use "just one" style of arrowhead either. They might use many different kinds because each arrowhead has a different purpose. A broadhead might be good for hunting, but useless for shooting at someone with chainmail armour. A bodkin arrowhead slices through chainmail armour easily, but it would suck if used for hunting. An archer wouldn't want to use a broadhead for small game, for fishing, or hunting birds either... again, they would use the correct tool for the task they are doing.



#4. Don't add ridiculous things to the tips or limbs of the bow. The more weight bow limbs or tips have, the more sluggish the arrow is on release. An elegant bow is more powerful and shoots arrows faster (usually measured in FPS - feet per second). What archers do often add is dampeners to their bowstrings, little puffballs made of fur which makes their bow quieter (less twang noise).

The bow in the photograph below has dampeners made of sheepskin. They help to make the bow quieter, which makes it better for hunting or stealth.



#5. Don't copy someone doing Olympic style archery and give them a longbow or a traditional recurve, etc. That would be the wrong archery style for the wrong bow.

eg. In the Hunger Games films Katniss shooting Olympic style with a longbow = Ignorant Filmmakers. She should have been taught how to shoot a longbow or traditional recurve properly.

There 5 major styles of archery and each has different form, postures, release method, the use of gadgets, etc.

Traditional Recurve - North Anchor (on the corner of the mouth), split finger draw, rarely cant the bow. (Some archers also shoot "Three Fingers Under" instead of split finger, but that is more rare.)

Longbow or Flatbow - North Anchor, split finger draw, often with the bow canted and the archer leaning in to the shot.

Shortbow or Horsebow - Anchor Varies, split finger draw or thumb ring, the bow is always canted. When released they do a "horseman's release" to better balance themselves / prevent themselves from falling off their horse.

Compound Bow - Peep Sight, Sight, Stabilizer, Mechanical Release, zero canting.

Olympic Recurve - South Anchor (under the chin), split finger draw using a tab, Sight, Stabilizer, Clicker, zero canting.

Happy Drawing and good luck to anyone who decides to get archery lessons!

If you live in Toronto Canada I recommend getting archery lessons from www.cardiotrek.ca/p/archery-lessons.html

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