Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Costume Carnival! and Other Reminders.

Costume Carnival is this weekend, Saturday 30 Oct, 10-4 in Bradley Hall, 540 Powell. Great chance to brush up your clothed figure skills in a fun, fanciful, student-directed way.

The Comic Book Workshop is now weekly at 3 on Thursdays in 540, 1st floor, I think.

Ever wanted to be an intern at Marvel? This is your chance to find out if editors return the calls of people who work for them. For free.

Escape from Illustration Island has been going for a year now. It's a great source for tutorials and career tips for illustrators.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Everything I Know

The key to drawing a thing well is having a strong feeling for its form. And the key to that is getting a workable simplification of it into your blue-pencil underdrawing. Over time you can develop and hold a simple 3D head shape, for example, in your mind, that you can draw from any angle.

The alternative is to have a conventionalized way of drawing a head for each of several angles. That may not sound bad. It worked for years for John Byrne. But it meant that his characters looked quite different when seen from the angles that Byrne didn’t draw as well, and that any two characters, seen from the same angle, looked like cousins, if not siblings.

The little un-glimpsed errors that cling to our work consist almost entirely of shapes and juxtapositions from one view being misapplied to another. All learning artists are accidental Cubists. They unknowingly draw a thing from multiple directions at once.

By the way, these distortions I’m making fun of are come by honestly. These are the mistakes everybody makes in the effort to do something honorable: take what you know and adapt it to a wide variety of poses and angles. The trouble comes from trying to build your general “model” of a body part from the specific surface bits of it or one view of it rather than its actual, overall, 3D shape. What makes accomplished illustration better than amateur is the understanding is that everything in a drawing has to be defined and essentially contained by its capital-f Form.

For example, take this credible-looking drawing of a foot seen directly from the side. Then, a respectable drawing of a shoe proceeds reasonably from the first drawing’s premises. We can see the correctly observed fact that the sole of the shoe rocks up, off the floor, in front.

The trouble comes when one tries to take this flat understanding of the foot into a different view. Let’s go to, say, a more frontal view, from a higher angle--more typical of the way we usually see shoes. The need to foreshorten the foot for this view seems to call us to increase the curviness of that slight S-curve on the top edge of the original shoe. A curious innate human urge to represent the front ends of shoes as puff pastry has given the shoe a distinct echo of Mickey Mouse’s bulbous brogans. Moreover the very slight curving-upward of the sole has morphed into the entire front end of the foot’s hooking mysteriously, painfully, outward. Compared with a photo or better drawing, this is clearly disastrous, yet it is typical of what that we all do before we learn to deal with capital-F Form.

The solution what I’m calling SRSs: Simplified Rotatable Solids.


The artist’s need to draw attractive, dimensional human heads from varying angles makes it essential to start with a simplified rotatable solid. Consider for a second the fact that few appealing, believable drawings have ever begun with a charmless, sloppy, skewed or ugly underdrawing. The need for those simple solids, starting with a headshape, should be pretty clear by now.

You can base your default starting headshape on an egg, or a simplified skull, or a sphere with jaw area added and the sides lopped off. These are all workable starts, each championed in different great how-to-draw books. I use something a little different, as you see here. There is a partial flattening of the front and side planes, as is visible by the faint squarishness of the horizontal centerline. The ears are already in place, just a little behind the vertical centerline for the side planes of the face. I can draw this from almost any angle, and still keep its proportions.

When your faces get weird-looking, when you keep having to redraw the features over and over, it’s usually because you’ve lost your artistic connection to that solid, or didn’t make it very well in the first place. Without realizing, you are likely presenting an impossible hybrid view: the different facial features are drawn as if seen from a variety of directions.  When attempting to draw difficult angles on faces, do you sometimes get the Quasimodo effect?

To fix it: Erase back to that underdrawing stage, grab your blue pencil and make that headshape work, in its simplest, cleanest form, with centerlines that really hug and define that solid. (Centerlines done in a hasty, perfunctory way are worth less than nothing). When you return to drawing the features, locate them very, very softly and vaguely at first with the blue pencil before you refine them. Remember that the eyes are pushed back a little in relation to the eyebrows, forehead and the bridge of the nose. I recommend trying drawing the nose after the eyes, so you can make sure you have the eyes placed, aligned and spaced properly. If it’s still not working, get out some photo reference of a similar view.

When we forget that the bridge of a nose can block our view of the inner corner of the far eye, or when we fear to draw an eyebrow that wraps around to the unseen far side of the head, or forget that eyebrows are mostly ahead of the eyes, we can easily create little, dead, flat zones in our drawings. And we can be slow to recognize them in our own work. One solution is dutiful, analytical attention to the visible part of the far half of the face in 3/4 view, in photos and life.

When we see a face in 3/4 view, especially in closeup, the far eye is just a little more foreshortened, a little closer to a side view. Thus it looks a tiny bit shorter, less wide across. A little of this is due to the fact that our sightline to the far eye necessarily runs a little more across the eye and a little less at it than the near eye.  A little is due to its just being farther away. These differences are greater when the viewer or camera is close up, and when the bridge of the nose is strong enough to cover a little of the far eye. Intriguingly, this is something that some of the very simplest anime and manga styles exaggerate. This gives animators the ability, even in styles of Pokemon simplicity, to draw in a way that heightens the feeling of Form, conquering 2D’s limitations. Ironically, this is something that most anime imitators totally miss, at least at first.

Try this for spacing and placing the eyes in 3/4 views:
1) In your blue-pencil underdrawing, you place that far eye first. Keep it a little shorter on its horizontal axis than you think is right. Use your judgment as to whether the eyeball breaks the contour of the face or if there is a little face showing on the far side of the eye (as with broader faces, slightly more frontal views, anime-derived styles).  Forget the nose for now. Loop in a space-keeper “third eye” right next to the far eye. Because it’s a little closer to us and a facing a little tiny bit more toward us, you make the imaginary third eye a little longer, or longer still if you want wider-set eyes or small eyes. Finally add the near eye at a size that looks natural.

2) The far corner of the far eye should be very blunted by the foreshortening of the eye opening and the sphericalness of the eyeball. In fact in some views that approach profile, that little place where the outer ends of the upper and lower lids meet may be “‘round the corner,” hidden from our sight by the eye itself. But the near corner of the near eye will be extended, displayed to our eye at nearly its full length and pointiness.  Look critically at the interrelation of the eyes and the face, make any revisions, then draw in the bridge of the nose.

3) Hold on! Don’t draw it as a line--it’s an SRS too, Picasso. Sketch it as a wedge with a flat base. “Glue” that base between the eyes, centered right on the third eye. The bridge of the nose itself will tell you whether it’s deep enough to cover some of the far eye. No need to guess. Working this way saves you from this scenario: You draw the near half of the face with confidence, but lose your way trying to cram the eye onto the bit of the face that exists on the far side of the nose.

4) Now make sure that the forehead and thus the eyebrows are a little ahead of the eyes.  The centerline of the eyebrows must be shifted toward the outside, moved out into a “wider orbit” than the plane the eyes are in. Often, very little of the far eyebrow will show and the bit that does will be foreshortened--retreating around the forehead.  (This far eyebrow is the area where people most often fall “flat,” failing to reckon with the roundness of the head. For instance, often when a character is drawn with arched eyebrows, their inner ends will be shown curving down to the nose-bridge with two identical, symmetrical curves. This is never found in nature, because of the spheroid shape of the forehead. Check any 3/4 view photo of any person ever.) Refine the nose to a natural shape.

Look for this unequal eye length in photos of 3/4-view faces. You will always see it, even when the bridge of the nose is too shallow to cover any of the far eye.

When the face is shown in extreme up-shot--as when the jaw takes on a W shape --the eyes appear to “sag” slightly at their outer ends.

Upshot or down, it is imperative to visualize eyeballs as spherical. Even though only a fraction of the eyeball is visible, the lids are shaped by it. When you do a downshot, think of the lower lids as semicircular balconies hugging that sphere of eyeball, for example.  The lines of the eye opening will only appear straight-ish where they come between your viewpoint and the core of the eye’s sphere. As they bend away from you toward the “horizon” of the eyeball, they will curve more and more, due to the progressive foreshortening imposed by the eye’s sphericity. So if you always draw the eye opening as a leaf shape, slot or oval regardless of one’s angle of view, you need to bring some direction to your approach. Check photos of faces taken from high and low angles, especially ones where the eyes are not wide open, and you will gain that necessary sense of the eyeball as a sphere.

These little site-specific heightenings of Form-awareness, by the way, are not airy-fairy extra enhancements of the existing charm of your work. Rather, they are surface telltales of a deeper insight that separates learning artists from good ones and increases charm and convincingness: an ability to draw from 3D Form. My belief is that  paying attention to the specifics, especially with checking against reality and photos, can lead gradually to a heightened awareness of the primacy of Form in general. Some jag-off fine-arts styles may trade on primitive drawing to falsely imply an authenticity of expression. But beyond that insular world, there are very few styles, including those of Power Puff Girls geometric simplicity, that are in anyway diminished by this ability.