Friday, June 02, 2006

Simplicity and Appeal...Are They Related?

I found this quote in a recent interview with John Lasseter:

There's that funny saying: "I'm sorry this letter is so long, but I didn't have time to write a shorter one." And it's so true. My older brother Jim, who passed away six or seven years ago, was a brilliant interior designer who studied Japanese design. What he loved about their approach is that they'll design something and then they take away until they can take away no more. We have adopted that same philosophy here in our films.

Jim influenced me in other ways too. One day he said something that really hit me: "You know, what I think makes sense in fashion design is to take a really wild fabric and then make a classic pattern or piece of clothing with it. Either that, or you take a classic fabric and make a crazy pattern with it." He said if you design things that way, there is something familiar for people to relate to. But if you do both - take a crazy fabric and make a crazy pattern - people can't make any sense of it.

Very interesting. Especially this line:

they'll design something and then they take away until they can take away no more

This is an essential element to what (I find) makes a drawing appealing. I have been harping a lot on one of my obsessions: every line in your drawing should contribute to ONE idea. If you're drawing a pose that is meant to suggest the character is drinking from a drinking fountain, eliminate every line and shape that doesn't contribute to that idea.

Take away everything that hurts the statement you're trying to make and a drawing will instantly get stronger.

Anyone who's ever designed a character knows how it goes: you start with a drawing that's busy and too complicated. You draw over and over it, refining the design. As you go, you lose what you don't need and simplify until you have something that seems to work (that's how it goes for me anyway).

That's why I love the work of Quentin Blake so much. Every drawing is super efficient. There's only as much there as needed to tell the story he's trying to tell. Nothing extra just to be fancy. And every line contributes to the statement he's making. Every line conforms to the Line Of Action.

I think that's a big secret to making an appealing drawing as well. I find that the simpler the drawing, the more appealing it is. Check out Jenny's recents posts about Freddy Moore drawings to see some proof of that. No one drew more appealing drawings than Freddy and his stuff is always simple. Simple yet very sophisticated.

In my younger days, I was always a big Jack Davis fan. I always thought he was such a great draftsman and for years I collected everything he did and studied it and copied it relentlessly (I even own an original drawing of his). And then one day it struck me that I didn't really find his drawings all that appealing. It's a personal thing, of course. I'm not denying that he's a master draftsman. He draws amazingly well. But being an accomplished draftsman isn't the same thing as drawing with an acute sense of appeal.

Jack draws simply sometimes and sometimes he draws with a lot of detail. He has a "realistic" style and a "cartoony" one too. I offer his work as a counter-point to Quentin Blake because I find that the more detail Jack adds the less appealing I find his drawings. That's why I tend to think that simplicity might be tied to appeal.

I find Jack's more cartoony stuff unappealing as well. One thing he does that I find unappealing is that he draws everything in the frame really solidly and semi-realistically until he gets to the eyes. For the eyes he draws weird cartoon symbols for eyes and it doesn't fit with the rest of the drawing. It looks "off" me, anyway.

There are, however, some artists that can add a lot of detail and yet still keep a sense of appeal. As I've said before, somehow Jordi Bernet can draw tons of detail (and disturbing subject matter) and yet always keeps it appealing. How does he do it? I guess he just has an innate sense of design that I find appealing. Also I feel like Jack Davis sometimes has lines in a drawing that don't seem to fufill any function. Bernet seems to always hace a reason for his lines. For example, all of his wrinkles in clothes describe forms by wrapping around the body. Sometimes Jack's clothes are just exceedingly wrinkled. Bernet only draws a lot of extra wrinkles if the character is an especially untidy person and he wants to show their character. Also Bernet is a master at making fabrics look different from each other - a silky blouse looks different than a stiff wool suit. Jack Davis doesn't seem to do that as much. All of his clothes strike me as having the same amout of wrinkles (but I haven't done a scientific study or anything).

Now that I think about it there are some other artists that consistently manage to break this "rule" (not much of a rule maybe). I will post some more examples soon. For now, all of you Jack Davis fans can start flaming me with your withering comments! Ready....go!


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. I do not like Jack Davis's work at all. It's too detailed and "grotesque" in a bad way. Simple is better.

I remember a quote from Dave McKean on why he started to draw more simply. It was something to the effect that people only look at your drawings for a very short amount of time, why add all the detail?

Scott LeMien said...

nah, I like Davis. I like Davis for rendering what Davis likes to render: dirty compositions to convey, well, dirtiness!

I also love kurtzman or toth or bernet, but if I want a bunch of dirty kids playing in a junkyard, having crazy fun, I'm going to go for Davis.

And to convey crazy crowds or extreme sports, I'm going to choose Davis over Toth (rest in piece, my favorite comic artist) or Bernet, tho not over kurtzman which shows me that this is not really a graphic simplicity argument so much as expressing a personal preference, which is fine. Kurtzman has some great 'simplicity' drawings, but their appeal on a similar subject matter renders them about equal to Davis, imo, not less. Jack's drawing might have him render more than he needs to, but I think he does it a bit better, so I usually find Kurtzman and Davis almost a stalemate. I think they woulda been a better comparison than Davis and Bernet.

Some like vanilla and hate chocolate. I'm down with both.

Anonymous said...

I like Jack Davis's style, although I can definitely see how anyone could find it grotesque.

But ugh...I can't stand Quentin Blake's work. Horrible childish scribbling. Mind you, I think scribbling can be done brilliantly, but usually when I look at a Blake drawing, I tend to think any seven-year-old could do just as well.

Rocco said...

I've had mixed feelings about Jack Davis' work. As a kid, I always loved his Mad magazine stuff and his monsters, but as an adult I had the same sense as you that it just wasn't appealing to my eye. I've even thought that some of his drawings were downright ugly (I hate to write something like that publicly, and I don't do it with any disrespect).

Recently, at work I've become friends with Stephen Silver who is a huge Jack Davis fan, and as a result I've come to again appreciate the vitality of Davis' work. His unbridaled enthusiasm, and pure, un-self-concsious (I couldn't think of a simpler phrase that I could spell correctly) wielding of pencil, brush and pen that make me wish that I had such a direct emotional line from my imagination to the paper.

The other day we were discussing how the older print cartoonists, in particular, such as Jack and Mort Drucker, were able to develop styles that were very personal, and immediate. Their drawings aren't always "correct" or schooled, but they are obviously more interested in expressing their personalities rather than creating perfect drawings.

The appeal of the drawings, for me, is usually hit or miss, but I admire that connection I see between the cartoonist and the cartoons. Davis, Drucker and the others of their ilk don't fall into readily definable schools, and they didn't seem to be concerned with emulating a style. As a result they became archetypes that others have followed.

Since I forgot to address the topic; I'm a believer in simplicity for the type of work I like to do, but I think that the market these guys work in has a different need. When you're sitting in the john, looking at Mad magazine, you don't want to see a simple, appealing drawing, at least I don't. I want to have lots of crude little details among the pages to giggle at, and every time I open the magazine I can find something new, that I hadn't noticed before.

I do find Hirshfeld's work to have incredible amounts of appeal, and the simplicity of his line forced him to search for the essence of a character with remarkable results. But that shot you posted of the baseball player trying to catch the ball is just plain funny to me. It's not the type of appeal we're talking about, but it brings a smile to my face, and that's pretty cool.

AnimatorNickB said...

Mark I love your blog, You give so much great information about drawing and story! It's great to be able to get this info to help me push my own abilites at CalArts. Thanks!

Doron Meir said...

Interesting post, thanks!

I'd like to suggest Calvin and Hobbes as another supreme example of simplicity that creates appeal. The guy just skips anything that doesn't matter... I think the best example is the way he treats Calvin's eyes. When needed for expression, they are fully drawn; in all other cases they become dots or circles or lines. Backgrounds come and go according to need, too.

chickennuggets said...

is it true what they say about you mark?....that you don't wear any, uh...

ooh la la.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for all the comments, everyone, very thoughtful stuff. I knew not everyone would agree about jack d; so be it.

Nuggets - you should see the panel that comes after that one. I thought I shouldn't post it....I'll bring it to work and when you see it your nuggets will blush!

Skribbl said...

When I was seven I could never draw as good as Quenton Blake could. In fact I can't draw as well as him now! I quit.

UM said...

I spent the last twenty years designing for animation, where every line had to make sense and fulfil a reason. I'm an avid Jack Davis fan because he draws lines that don't need to be there but work beautifully. I've got tons of Milt Kahl drawings too and I met the man just before he died. Milt was a keen fan of Ronald Searle. Searle did the same thing with wrinkles and lines, but the overall simplicity of his drawings always show through. Milt adapted that wonderfully for animation. Nevertheless, Jack Davis artwork has a similar quality without being adaptable. It's just great to look at and you should enjoy it for that.

mark kennedy said...

In the end it just comes down to a question of personal taste. I just don't find jack's stuff appealing.

UM said...

You're quite right. Fair enough.

Anonymous said...

>>For now, all of you Jack Davis fans can start flaming me with your withering comments!<<

You bet.

I'm amazed you use Jack Davis as a bad example.

Jack is a wicked combination of gross and zany. To me, he IS Mad Magazine.

And I find his cartoony stuff very appealing, they're like political cartoons gone Looney Tunes.

Jordi Bernet doesn't do it for me at all. Ugly faces and pointlesss, heavy lines.

Jack Davis' work rewards paying attention to the details, which is not something I can say about many artists who brag about simplicity and unified statements.

Anonymous said...

I find Davis' work extremely appealing. I also like the simple direct approach, and I think that's there in Jack's work as well. He often adds extra details, but underneath it all, the drawing works. It looks great whether you're looking at it from far away or from close up.

Some of his tvguide stuff and his caricatures aren't as great, but his horror comic stuff and his Mad stuff rule.

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