Tutorial: Forging A Battle Axe

In this tutorial I´m going to create a big and heavy battle axe out of thin air. Well, out of paper and some lead actually. The purpose of this tutorial is not to tell you how you should draw an axe. Its only purpose is to show you how I usually design and draw a weapon as a few people have been interested to know. Hopefully this will give some tips for newcomers who want to design weapons, but aren´t sure where or how to start. This time I try to forge an axe for you :)

Tools of the Trade

Tools Of The Trade

I´ll be using a few pencils, one hard (H), one softer (B) and something in between (HB). The hard one is used for the initial sketching and for very light and smooth shading. HB is used for deeper shadows and B for outlining (kind of a trademark in my drawings :) and really strong shadows.

Also, I´m going to use a ruler for measuring and drawing straight lines. Triangular ruler is my favorite as it´s more versatile than a normal rectangular ruler.

Finally I add a rubber to complete the set. I use it for removing unwanted lines and also shading which I´ll explain later in this tutorial. Oh, one more addition, I need something to draw on ("A table?" *HARHAR*). I´m going to draw on a normal laser-printing paper, A4-sized. It´s cheap and works fine with pencils. Everything seems to be ready for some creative doodling. Ready? Go!

First step, drawing a line.

Let There Be A Line

The first thing I always do when designing weapons is draw a straight line in the middle of the paper. Although it´s only a simple line, it´s going to play an important part during the design process. Everything is build around it, so it´s better to get it right the first time :)

I use the hard (H) pencil for sketching, being careful not to press too hard. The goal is that I can see the lines, but I can also get rid of them with ease.

You Call That An Axe?

Using the first line as a guide I sketch a haft for the axe. I also draw a line near the top and near the bottom to work as outer borders (1 cm from the paper edge), so that the drawing doesn´t overflow the paper so easily. A pommel is added to act as a counterweight to the heavy blade that I´m planning to do.

Near the top I draw a cylinder (a rectangle from this perspective) around the haft. This cylinder will hold and support the blades and reinforce the whole weapon. Couple of horizontal lines are added to mark the top and lower portion of the blades that will be connected to (or through) the cylinder.

Now We Get To The Sharp Part

An axe wouldn´t be very useful without some sharp edges for cutting down your foe. I want this weapon to be big and menacing so I exaggerate the size just a bit. While I draw, I try to think practically. That is, I try to shape the weapon so that it could actually be usable if it was real. Don´t get me wrong, I do not try to create "real-world" weapons but to give them just a little bit feel of reality. The most important thing for me is that the finished weapon looks nice, even if it breaks a law or two when it comes to physics ;)

"Those blades would probably be damn heavy, I wonder if the haft could take the stress..." was one of my thoughts so I decided to add some support below the blades that will spread the mass and stress more evenly along the haft. While it might not be too realistic it adds more style and detail to the somewhat boring basic form, and detail is what makes things interesting.

We´re Getting There

After the main components are there (haft, blades and the pommel) I add a few details. The spike on the top is both practical and aesthetic part of the axe. You can also see that I shaped the cylinder to make it look a bit more interesting. The two circles in the middle of the blade-cylinder depict a bolt (in a depression) that goes through the cylinder, haft and the blades making them more stable.

Taking Out The Thrash

All the important parts are sketched in. I take a final look in case I have missed something crucial or if something looks out of place. Satisfied with the basic form, I erase all the excess lines to bring out the actual form.

Planning Out The Materials

Grayscale medium has a one major drawback and that is the lack of colors. It´s easier to render different kinds of material with color, so pencilers need to find different methods for depicting them. Basically I just make metal a bit shinier and smoother than wood or stone and try to add some texture on surfaces to distinguish them. Stone for the pommel, wood for the haft, leather for the strapping and steel for the blades and the rest of the axe.

Nearly There

I do most of the shading with a hard pencil and then add some darker shadows with medium one. I´ll create two lightsources, one in front of the axe, a bit to the left and one behind it, a bit to the right. This way the axe will look a bit more three-dimensional.

Handle With Care

When all the shading is done I use the rubber to smooth (dabbing very lightly) some areas and to make some areas a bit lighter. Final piece is scanned (grayscale, 300dpi), cleaned and resized in Paint Shop Pro or any other good graphics software. I erase the paper texture and adjust the levels a bit and apply some sharpening until I´m relatively satisfied with the final result. Lots of detail (especially the wood texture in the haft) is lost due to the small screen size, and the lighting and contrast aren´t identical with the original piece, but that´s not usually a big problem as long as you can tell that it´s an axe :)

Finally, when I´m confident that I do not want to change anything, I spray the whole drawing with hairspray. This prevents smudging and the drawing will last longer.

I hope that someone out there got something useful out of this small creation process :)

Jani