Exercise 08: Material Studies

How Exercises Work and how can I participate?

  • Every Monday we will create a new weekly exercise with a new topic and goal.
  • The community will submit their own work along with myself and provide feedback or tips on the submissions during the week.
  • Every Friday, THIS post will be updated with the new images and any learning tips and techniques learned along the way.
  • Citizen members can download the .PSD along with any resources used in the exercise and will receive direct feedback!

How can I participate? – Take the exercise challenge below and submit your image via the “Submit Image” button below.


Drawing Exercise 08 (E08) – Material Studies

EXERCISE: To create 9 different material spheres to reflect their individual properties, how they reflect/absorb lighting, and how the color would be affected.

To Everyone: You can download the Material Study Sheet (see below) HERE!

This is another common practice for digital artists to work on enhancing their skills with different materials, textures, and surfaces. Every surface on a material is unique on how it treats lighting and it’s properties and as a concept artist, it is your job to capture that. Take a look at each material individually and look at some reference images and really look at the material. Study it’s surface, is it completely smooth, does it reflect light in a concentrated area, does any of the light pass through the object. Keep asking questions for each and treat it like you are studying it. The more you understand a material the easier it will be to translate that in a drawing.

It’s encouraged to keep the objects somewhat spherical, and the gray circles are meant to act as bases for you to work upon.


Every surface on a material is unique on how it treats lighting and it’s properties and as a concept artist, it is your job to capture that. When shaded

 Top group: The classic materials: – Leather, Metal, and Skin

This group contains the three basic materials used for most character concept art and should be a solid foundation for any artist to know and render correctly.

Middle Group: Light passing through – Crystal Gems, Jello, and a Bubble

This group focuses on materials that light passes through in three different subject matters. This is important to begin understanding that light can permeate the surface and can create subsurface scattering

Bottom Group: Light mostly absorbed – Wood, Matte Armor, and an Orange

This bottom group all have an example of a surface that absorbs most of the light and the reflections will either be minimal or very concentrated but these each have a different surface to them, from smooth to rough and bumpy.

EXAMPLES: This is a well known practice that you can find many submissions across the net, but here are a few that really exemplified what the exercise is all about: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3

Lastly, in your examples, try to keep the lighting placement the same, and if it’s a reflective surface, show the different objects around it in the reflection!

The Results Update

Firstly, a reminder that our Candy Cravers Contest ends next Wednesday so we will not be having an exercise next week to give you guys some extra time to focus on your entries!


For this exercise’s update features a video tutorial on going through the process on how I would go about creating each of the 9 materials in the study. Citizen members can download the .PSD files that include each of the materials in their respective folders if you want to check out step by step how each was created. EVERY BRUSH used can be downloaded on our BRUSHES page!

User Submissions


CITIZEN MEMBERS: Selina PearsonJayce Attride, and Erick Garcia. Since you are citizen members, I went and provided you each feedback on your submissions. Hope they prove helpful for each of you!

Once again, Shrapnel really nailed the idea and exemplified what this exercise was all about. Each material feels different from the next, is easily recognizable, and displays a unique interation with lighting.

I think a lot of people were challenged by this exercise who submitted and i think it’s because a lot of them had a similar shading technique applied to each. When a material is glossy or highly reflective, really punched those highlights out and for the materials that absorb the light, focus on the color and low contrasts, and let your hue contrasts create form and value.


This artist has a great illustrated tutorial tip collection for artists who need some advice on pushing values correctly, images looking too flat, and how to use a variety of colors correctly to add interest! I recommend everyone to check out this page for some quick tips because I believe these tips will help a lot of those that submitted but didn’t quite understand how to compose each material correctly. Hope this helps and you can check out the other exercises if you haven’t already!

Remember: You can always submit even after the week is over! These are meant to act as exercises to strengthen your work!

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9 Responses to “Exercise 08: Material Studies”
  1. Posts: 45
    Erick Garcia says:

    I had some serious fun trying to complete this exercise. I definitely learned a lot about all the different materials from the example links. I can’t wait to incorporate some of these materials to my characters/objects in the future. With only 4 weeks of digital art experience, I am handling these exercises well…. but I still have much room to improve.

  2. Posts: 28
    shrapnel says:

    The leather rendering in yours is crazy good, Tim.

    • Posts: 45
      Erick Garcia says:

      I have to agree with shrapnel. I used a touch screen and I felt the stitches on the leather with my fingers. 😀
      This exercise was really helpful, I am now a bit more comfortable trying to incorporate these materials onto my characters and/or objects. However, I am still struggling with the environmental elements such as rocks, foliage, water, etc. :(

      • Posts: 45
        Erick Garcia says:

        I do have a question about the final process used on the leather. At around 1:52 – 1:54 of the video, what exactly did Tim do to make the leather material appear sharper with richer colors as opposed to its previous state of a faded-like brownish gray color? I believe this process was also done for all of the materials. Is it something relating to the hue and saturation?

      • Posts: 390

        It’s a combination of adding an overlay layer to lay down some richer in color and altering the levels to enhance the contrast!

  3. Posts: 13

    Although, I didn’t participate in this exercise, I really found the thoughts you gave at the end really insightful, and the tutorial for beginners was also great. I’m a beginner, so I’ll be frank. I tried the rendering, and it looked awful, so I thought I’d wait for the results and insights of others. I’m glad I did. I’ll give this another shot this week sometime. Big thanks.

  4. Posts: 4
    Karina says:

    I know you say not to put too much time into this, but as a beginner how can I not? :s I just spend the whole day researching for references to the different categories. Then, when I were ready to start on the leather, I got really confused because of all the different kinds of leather and how they react to lighting – especially people’s camera flashes on photos. So I had to do more research… I know you’re a pro and make it look so ridiculously easy :P… but damn, I tried putting in some stings in the leather, but got overwhelmed by how much else I had to learn to do that…
    Should I perhaps do something else? I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I should put digital painting on hold and practice traditionally (I do both atm, it’s quicker and easier with paper and pencil, somehow more manageable, but it also has limits.)

    Sorry for the long comment xD

    • Posts: 390

      I believe that you should constantly work with both mediums, you can gain a lot of fundamental skills through traditional medias. Those skills will transfer to your digital skills! Your digital skills pull from your traditional skills and knowledge. It’s great to hear how much research you are putting behind figuring out how to render leather. Leather relies on lighting to show off the material and if you look at the reference pictures notice how the light interacts with the leather and how the cracks of the leather provide the break in leather and give it that sense of realism.

      Keep going, never apologize for a long comment or question =]

      • Posts: 4
        Karina says:

        Thank you very much for your quick reply..! It’s nice to get some insight and know that I’m going in the right direction. :)

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