Practicing Scenery Through Video Game Art

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you may have read me roasting myself about various art-related weaknesses. Every artist, amateur and professional alike, has certain things that come easier and others that just don’t click. I’m not trying to beat myself up – it’s just part of life! And I believe that discussing art-related challenges can be a productive thing to help work through and figure out how to improve.

In my opinion, my “wheelhouse” is drawing head and shoulder portraits. I’m not an expert or anything, but that is what seems to come easiest to me. There are some smaller aspects of such portraits that can be difficult for me, such as high contrast/deep shadows, teeth, and hair. But overall, I think I do okay there. So, there are little things I can always pick out that need improvement.

I could also categorize my tendency to avoid trying new things (mediums, styles, etc.) as another very broad artistic weakness. But really though, I’ve long considered backgrounds/scenery to be something that really jumps out as needing work. Often in portraits, I don’t even attempt to add anything to the background. Even if the reference has something that might be interesting or compelling, I typically don’t even try to add anything. And when I do try it, the result is often less than satisfactory.

As with most thing, I do think there’s a pathway for improvement. That, of course, is simply practice! I believe I could improve my scenery work to some extent, but I need to put some work in to get there. And I certainly haven’t been doing that. So, recently I decided to find something background-heavy to practice with. Recently, my kids and I have made Saturday morning a fairly regular drawing time. I drink some coffee, we eat cinnamon rolls, and bust out the Prismacolors. Although I have used this time to do some recorded videos (like Santa and an outline), it is more of a casual artwork time, so I thought a laid-back background-heavy drawing might fit well. Of course, that means no progression video to come with the post, but sometimes you just want to draw, you know?

So, while the girls drew a variety of exciting scenes of cats, deer-foxes (from a Netflix cartoon they love), and other colorful creations, I decided to return to a previous topic. Almost three years ago, I tried to sketch something related to one of my favorite video games from the early 90s called Secret of Mana. I loved that game, and actually still listen to music from the soundtrack. Here are a couple of sample tracks I shared on the post a few years ago (yes I know I’m weird listening to old video game music, but it’s great background music while drawing):

My drawings from a few years ago were, if I’m being totally honest, not good. Really these Secret of Mana drawings were more awkward doodles than anything else, and I’d like to take another crack at depicting these characters. Regardless, the scene I wanted to try for scenery practice was the classic cover art featuring the Tree of Mana. The characters in this one are extremely small, and the focus is primarily water and greenery. So it was a nice one to accomplish my overarching goal of getting some more practice. As with the original cover art, this one ended up being very tall and narrow. I included a smaller, full height version at the top of this post. But I also wanted to include a cropped, smaller shot below focused on the characters a bit more for another view.

I did not expect this to turn out as a masterpiece, and that did bear out in the final version. It’s not great, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I think I went a bit overboard on the white blending, which washed out parts of the large tree. I ended up with so much pencil wax layered onto the paper that there was no tooth to pick up anymore – it become totally saturated. I had hoped to add more leaf detail towards the end, but that became impossible unfortunately. But my expectations were pretty low here, so it appears I was able to surpass them, which was nice.

The detail is pretty sparse in the final drawing, but what I can make out isn’t too bad. The Secret of Mana characters turned out fine, despite not being the main focus. I think for people who are fans of the game, they are probably at least somewhat recognizable based on the color scheme and basic look. I wasn’t able to catch detail without leaning heavily on a graphite pencil. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but the heavier use of graphite is slightly jarring compared to the waxiness of colored pencil present elsewhere. Every so often, one of my portraits (if I squint just right) almost looks like a skillful piece of art. Although I like this drawing, it does not at all give me that impression – not that is has to or anything. It’s okay to just have fun with something too without worrying about some subjective (or overly self-critical?) idea of “quality.”

fAs I mentioned earlier, since this was such a casual drawing time (as many of these Saturday doodle-fests are), I don’t have any progressions to share. That’s actually kind of liberating, because I was starting to feel like I had to video everything now, which doesn’t lend itself well to easy-going drawing. Maybe I should downshift sometimes back to progression .gifs of various photos I take along the way. That is much less involved! To be fair though, we still haven’t found a house and are living with family, so I don’t have a permanent art area yet to keep things set up. It will help quite a bit once we can really get settled.

Anyhow, that’s all for this one! I will share some of the drawing materials I used too, hopefully these show up in the widget below:


  • I’ve noticed that you self criticize a lot. I actually like the drawing posted, it’s got a nice flow to it. I don’t much care for realism ya know…This drawing has a real manga feel to it.

    • Hey Matt, I appreciate it! Yes, that’s true I am sometimes a bit critical of myself. I try not to overdo it, but I find it helpful to write about what I was trying to do versus how it actually ends up. It sort of lets me know what I need to practice. Haha hopefully that’s actually a productive thing. Can’t forget about the positives though, keep it a balanced look right?

      I hope you’re doing well!

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