Sketching from the Imagination: Nabetse Zitro

Self-taught and independent illustrator Nabetse Zitro takes us through his sketching process, discusses his inspirations and offers up some great tips on the art of visual story telling.

Nabetse's Website

Hi, I'm Nabetse Zitro...

I'm a self-taught and independent illustrator. My main strengths and interests are storytelling and capturing a traditional look and feel in my digital works. I create characters and illustrations for books, indie video games and tabletop games. I've also made several illustrations for book covers. I work for international clients, as well as for local ones. I started drawing at a very young age and today I sketch all the time, even when I'm riding a bus or hanging out with my friends, they're well used to that!

I especially love sketches because I feel that they best serve my purpose of making the observer involved when they see one of my pieces. Any sketch always leaves something to the imagination. That "something” is completed in the observer's mind, and that stimulates his or her imagination. The "sketchy” look is practically a trademark of my personal style.

One of my pet peeves is that I like to know who my characters are; I don't like that much drawing random characters. I love when I can know their names, who they are and what they do. Yes, I really do want to know all that! Sketching provides me the perfect space of freedom to "get to know” and understand the personalities of the characters I draw.

(All Characters created by Patricia Camp for her book "Los Caminos de Hierro”)

Inspiration and Ideas

I find inspiration in the work of the great masters from the 1940s to the 1960s, like Norman Rockwell and Al Parker, amongst many others. They were so good at telling stories with their characters, even without backgrounds on many occasions, and that's something I find inspiring. Norman Rockwell used to say that he wanted to tell stories through his characters and I want to do the same. Every person is like a small universe and I feel it is my job to demonstrate that. Movies from that era are great for inspiration too, as well as noir films.

I practice expressions.. A LOT!


I always carry, at least, a small sketchbook with me and some 2B pencils. I don't usually use an eraser when sketching, because I think those extra lines and mistakes have their charm.When working in digital, I've always used Photoshop, because of the ease of use it offers me when I need to create. For hardware, I use a medium size Wacom Intuos 5.

Some days are harder than others. For the characters and for the artist too!

Sketching Techniques

I start with simple and fast traces, putting faces in place first. Many times, I use the characters' heads to make decisions about composition and even perspective. I like to use Andrew Loomis technique: outline, shape, light and shadow first, and add details later. In order of importance I would say that the head, posture and contour of the character are the most important for me. Also, the shape of the hands is important because they can tell half of the story if they are used properly.

She brings us a message from the Dragon King

Top Tips

What are they thinking? When I draw my characters, it is very important to me to understand what is happening between them, what is going on through their minds and what are they feeling. I even imagine the dialogue sometimes (very often, actually). Why is he smiling? Why does she look at him with an touch of vulnerability

A moment frozen in time - I also find very useful to understand the meaning of the situation I'm illustrating. When I draw I like to capture a moment that seems to have movement but is stopped in time. I ask myself what I should elicit from that situation, the best moment and its essence. Understanding what the situation means for the characters helps to find an answer to that question.

You should look at…

As artists, we should direct the eyes of the observer by correctly using the points of interest. Faces and hands are always points of interest, so we should use them wisely. I always try to opt for clear expressions and to have the characters doing something. The backgrounds and settings can help a lot too by giving depth and reinforcing the interest points.

Related links

Head over to Nabetse Zitro's personal site to see more of his awesome artwork

Check out Nabetse's portfolio

Or if you are more into the darker side of life SFTI: Dark Arts might be more up your alley

Keep up to date with Nabetse on Facebook

Nabetse's YouTube channel

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